Death By Stereo

Death Is My Only Friend

Written by: AP on 23/09/2009 16:39:11

Some say that Death By Stereo's music blurs the lines between traditional punk rock, hardcore and metal, blending metallic riffs, soaring melodies, catchy hooks and countless solos to create a sound noted for its originality in a scene said to have become stagnant in recent years. The band's unique sound is hardly an accident though, considering their vast spectrum of influences, ranging from melodic death metal, thrash and heavy to punk and old school hardcore. And with the amount of guitarists that have passed through the band's line-up during their 13-year career, it should come as no surprise that most of their albums are easy to distinguish from each other. Since its inception, the band has distanced itself from straight-out hardcore with metallic nuances and moved toward a predominantly heavy metal sound with hints of punk and hardcore. "Death Is My Only Friend" is the culmination of that progress, and could cynically be assigned the label metalcore. Some critics have even compared it to Atreyu's recent produce.

The album begins with the somewhat disappointing "Opening Destruction", the first seconds of which nod toward the band's earlier material with a thoroughly pissed off scream kicking things off before vocalist Efrem Schulz reveals the weakest link in this band's prowess. It's as if James Hetfield caught a cold, dressed in camo shorts and a baseball cap, and provided Death By Stereo with a cameo, and it fails to invoke any intrigue whatsoever before plunging into a chorus so awful it threatens to tear my soul apart. Fortunately the next song "The Ballad of Sid Dynamite" comes to the rescue with Schulz's exceptional screaming (which admittedly brings to mind Alex Varkatzas) and one of the most memorable choruses on this album. Granted, Schulz is no tenor, and in the majority of songs his singing comes across as sub par, but here his vocals unleash a chilling amount of power and emotion - which begs the question, why was this song not selected for the music video instead of the following "I Sing For You"? Not that the singing in that song demands particularly harsh criticism either, but the chorus simply does not carry the same emotional weight.

The interesting thing is that these two songs, not to mention countless others, prove that Schulz can elevate his singing to a formidable plateau, yet for every instance of grandeur he also lets it descend into that pseudo-rock n' roll style that alienated most of Atreyu's old fanbase. His screaming, as mentioned, is top notch as is his hardcore shout, but when it comes to singing it feels like two conflicting personalities trying to break through. Or maybe it's that in most songs his clean passages receive supplementary melody from the rest of the band in the form of whoa-ohs, and one cannot help but wonder if this is to compensate for Schulz's inability to provide enough on his own. The mid-album piano ballad, "Forever and a Day" certainly favors that conclusion, because this is the first instance yet where his vocals are to drive the song on their own. There is much attempt at grasping the higher notes, but Schulz just cannot get there. In fact there are audible hints of M. Shadows in there, which should raise a couple of warning flags. However, given that two paragraphs are necessary to describe merely the vocals on this album should suggest that this scribe is baffled, confused and divided all at once. It's easy to acknowledge that this isn't the height of technical ability, but what Schulz cannot accomplish he compensates for with infectious, long-lasting vocal hooks that you will hate yourself for loving.

Then there's the instrumental side of things. With three guitars at the band's disposal, the band fulfills all expectations with a neverending torrent of riffs, hooks and solos. Some will say that ten tracks in the formula starts to feel a little too familiar, with avid use of traditional verse-chorus-verse structures being the band's weapon of choice, but queue tracks 11 and 12, "We Sing Today for a Better Tomorrow" and "D.B.S.F.U.", and you've got yourself a sudden change of direction with a couplet of pummeling melodic punk songs. Then, in comes "Welcome to the Party" with an old school thrash aura to ensure that things remain interesting on this 15-track mammoth before "Fear of a Brown Planet", clocking in at just 1:46, reverts the band to its roots with hit n' run hardcore efficiency. Dual-piece "For All My Friends (The Unity Song)" finishes things off in similar spirit and after an abrupt pause, you will find yourself wondering if your playlist accidentally jumped to a Darkest Hour song.

Some diehard fans may find the change in direction too distressing to overcome, but what we have here is one of the most varied and interesting (melodic) hardcore albums I've listened to. It blends genres seamlessly into an infectiously catchy, versatile album with plenty of memorabilia. As long as you are willing to forgive the cosmetic flaws in Schulz's vocal delivery and a few hit-or-miss tracks, "Death Is My Only Friend" is well worth a spin or ten.

Download: The Ballad of Sid Dynamite, I Sing for You, Wake the Dead, Welcome to the Party

For the fans of: A Wilhelm Scream, Evergreen Terrace, Ignite

Listen: Myspace

Release date 07.07.2009

Serjical Strike

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