Review Summary: Texas' metal underdogs release The Bear - Watch out!
After their big major label deal in 2003 with Universal/Republic and a featured track on the popular Need for Speed: Underground
soundtrack, Element Eighty seemed to be on the right track to popularity and mainstream success. But they weren’t.
No video, no promotion and a poor availability (at least in Europe) of their second full-length “Element Eighty” led to a lack of interest in this upcoming band from Tyler, Texas. Only the Need For Speed
single “Broken Promises” made a lasting impression, peaking in the U.S. mainstream rock charts at #36. Anyway, the band wasn’t satisfied with the work of their label and left Universal/Republic in late 2004 to found their own label Texas Cries Records and release their third album, “The Bear”, one year later.
With a new bassist, the new label and the help of producer Eric Delegard (Edgewater, Jibes), Element Eighty delivers a strong effort without any squiggles. Right from the start, the first song “Guntruck” offers the direction this record will take: Furious, sophisticated guitar work with huddling rhythm figures and squeaking pinch harmonics goes hand in hand with an adequate rhythm section and a powerful, varying vocal performance that delivers strong screams and catchy chorus-lines.
Hm, not necessarily. Combining elements of Nu Metal, Metal and some Hardcore, Element Eighty accomplish a much more confident and independent sound compared to their predecessor, which gets bogged down in too many different basic approaches, also lacking in songwriting and durability.
On the contrary, “The Bear” is straight from start to finish. Musically variation regarding musical styles and genres is, except for the already mentioned Nu Metal / Metalcore mixture, pretty much non existent. All the 10 songs take the same line in the matter of rhythmic, dynamic, heaviness and songwriting, making the record flawless, but in the longer term more unimpressive than inspirational. Songs like “Spite” or “Boars” bring along a proper amount of heavy, mosh-esque riffs accompanied by pounding double bass attacks, but fail to create a worthwhile song structure. However, the guitar work by guitarist Matt Woods is insanely technical and constructive, with some ambidextrously intersections of lead and rhythm parts, providing the songs with new impulses and giving them much more catchy and memorable nuances. Simple power-chord refrains are just as little to find as generic high-speed solos or an exceeding use of overdubbed twin-guitar riffs. No countless background guitars are trying to create a bombastic wall of sound to deflect from recycled riffs and lacking creativity.
Next to the guitar shines the vocal work of Dave Galloway. Ranging between higher-pitched singing and rasping screams, Dave’s vocals are at its best when his singing styles merge into each other without any lacks in tone pitch or length, creating a flawless changeover. Also you can find some cool vocal-guitar interplays where the vocal line follows the guitar notes in changing intervals, such as in the refrain of “Victims”.
On the other hand his lyrics are pretty average. Only standing out with some cool lines like “This is not me now / can you tell me / why I'm self destructing”, the most writings are typical clichés about relationships and self-findings.
In general the sound of the record is very minimalist, referable to the unspectacular production and the abandonment of stereotype intros or interludes. In the foreground are clearly the lead tools, guitar and vocals, backed by drums and bass and nothing more. While the drums only shine with some cool fills and apart from this with an adequate attendance, the bass is plainly overshadowed by the guitar, only following its root notes and holding the song together. An exception is the song “Beaumont” with its booming bass intro leading into a pounding guitar riff with filling pinch harmonics, hart-hitting and to the point.
On the first 30min long listen, this record offers you 10 well-executed metal songs with a great guitar and a very talented singer, much interesting riffs and catchy refrains. But just off the second way through offers "The Bear" its undeniable faults. The songs are too repetitive and alike, failing to create a prevailing mood that keeps the listener interested for a longer time. But apart from that, this is an enjoyable record with its own congeniality; standing out from most other Metal releases in the past years.
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