Alternative metal is among the broadest of genre tags in heavy music. While the concept is simple enough: meshing alternative rock with metallic crunch and aggression, it appears to be a genre that frequently disappoints or is linked with the nu metal fad of yesteryear. Bands as disparate as Tool, Faith No More, Deftones, Helmet, Disturbed and Linkin Park have been accurately or inaccurately lumped with the tag in the past. A few months ago, UK act Zedi Forder impressed with their solid interpretation of the alt metal style on their self titled debut. Alas, I broached this second LP offering from France’s Vital Breath with both trepidation and cautious optimism when I saw they were also listed under the alternative metal umbrella. Firstly, the alternative metal tag again proves a rather inaccurate label to describe the music Vital Breath create. Rather, Angels of Light mostly resides on the shinier side of modern hard rock, with a strong American radio rock influence filtering through their squeaky clean sound.
“The Trust” gets things moving, demonstrating the band’s enthusiasm and straightforward sense of groove, if nothing else. It also introduces the pipes of guitarist/vocalist Jérôme Ponsolle. Here’s where one of the album’s flaws surfaces even before considering the rather bland and generic musical backdrop. Ponsolle’s cheesy, B-grade ’80s throwback vocals are filtered through the band’s modern lens, leading to some unfortunate results. Beyond the painful vocal deficiency, Vital Breath create rock music that’s unashamedly commercial, all safety first, silky smooth, and slickly polished, like the band jammed the recordings through a Shine-O Ball-O machine to pretty up any healthy roughage. The hooks are there from time to time, but these are the kind of awfully grating, endlessly irritating, stuck-in-your-head tunes that prove frustratingly difficult to erase.
After a couple more flat, unpleasantly catchy tunes, forming an audio equivalent of a particularly nasty strain of herpes, Angels of Light descends into the angsty grooves of “Sorceress.” At least on a musical level, the song features a nice chunky beginning and the odd sparky passage, before the musicians go on auto-pilot during the verses and Ponsolle’s cheesy vocals and bothersome melodies do their best to wash away any good work established. But wait, then inexplicably, at precisely the 2:27 minute mark a light electronic break and embarrassing rap takes the song to laughable levels of terrible, reminding me of the obligatory and unnecessary rap segments that used to infiltrate ’90s dance songs. It may represent a low point on the album but the remaining songs don’t offer a great deal of redeemable qualities. Of course you have your obligatory rock ballad (“Unconsciously”) that isn’t fit to be a guilty pleasure’s guilty pleasure, the bleepy, soaring but ultimately plummeting prog number (“Missing God”), and the flat-out weird, courtesy of the metallic nu-crunch styling of the angsty “Witness.” Though in the case of the latter, at least the band bring some heavier chops and swinging groove. Vital Breath also own one of 2017’s most repetitive and toxic choruses, featured on, “What About Love.”
The occasional decent riff, groove or solo, not to mention overall lively performances, are nullified by Vital Breath’s inability to string interesting ideas together enough to pen anything worth a damn. It’s easy to pin the blame on Ponsolle’s insufferable vocals, but musically the band sounds overly polished and generic, occasionally spiked with half-arsed and poorly developed progressive ideas and oddball experimentation. Compounding the album’s woes, is an ear splitting mastering job that puts your eardrums through further punishment across the album’s too long duration.
Angels of Light may not be the biggest musical turd of 2017, but it certainly stands as one of the most unpleasant, cheesy, and painfully grating albums I’ve had the displeasure to hear in many a moon. The overly polished, brickwalled sonic make-up, uninteresting arrangements, clunky song-writing, and incredibly irritating vocal performance combine to derail flat songs that have little redeeming factors to begin with. The fact the band can actually pen some catchy material purely adds insult to injury, as the songs of Angels of Light are generally only catchy in the most annoying, jam a screwdriver in the eardrums fashion. Vital Breath require some seriously urgent musical resuscitation to right the wrongs of Angels of Light.