Review Summary: It's like Will & Grace, you wish they would have just stuck to Jack & Karen more often, they we're the fresher more up-tempo beat of the foursome. But often, you take what you can get.
32 Leaves comes back trying hard to avoid the sophomore stump with their latest release, Panoramic, which seamlessly delves between simple alternative rock and light progression interludes. What we're left with ultimately is a heavier product with large rations of radio appeal which unfortunately detract from what made 32 leaves so interesting in the beginning.
I was a huge fan of the single, "All Is Numb" and felt it smart when they re-released it cutting out the unnecessary verbal tirade in the middle section. They we're able to add stronger guitar work and vocals as well, boosting the already extremely accessible into now, anyone's hands who was willing to catch it. This is what made me pay attention to the band in the end when it came to listening to their second effort, hoping I'd be just as pleased, and for the most part I am.
Album opener, ignoring the un-needed intro, 'Protocol' is a strong way for 32 Leaves to introduce themselves to anyone who isn't familiar with the band. Barrett Gardner provides some nice drumming here, offering good start stop rhythms, which have a hidden machine gun flavor to them. The drums alone offer fresh life to the band, as the last album seemed to slow down to much and lack a life-like appeal, here we're shown early how engaging the band will be throughout each song. Plenty of style changes with on and off heaviness to satisfy all of the 'apc'/'tool' lovers in wait for the next album to fly in on Haley's Comet.
The band keep things up-tempo and mildly satisfying with the next track which follows the exact same formula as the opener and is easily forgettable. The vocals here are much tighter though, and benefit from some of the albums best lyrical moments, "I lied to save my own mind, Cut me out with an eminent kiss, A pain of the killing kind" Greg Norris slowly emits in a haunting fashion, wrestling between whether he envies Maynard or Jesse Hasek more. With all due respect though, Norris is often able to find his own voice with the band and despite some similarities he tries his best to make each song his own.
Way Beyond is another song from the previous album to get a revamping, and it unfortunately doesn't reach the same achievements it's predecessor 'All Is Numb' was able to gather. Often sounding to over-produced the song doesn't have anything rather spectacular that makes you say, "glad they re-did it". Just as forgettable is the next song 'Seal My Fate', but before you lose hope, we get the experimental side of the band with 'Slave' a great NIN impression induced song with bass riffs, that would make you check twice with who you're listening to. It's a great track with a solid chorus, but the treat here is are the verses.
It's about here with most CD's I experience that ill fated "Second Half Album Curse", and the bands decide to drag their listener through a vast desert of the most mediocre tracks, they can create to just pass an album along. The album taunts us a bit with, 'Sideways' and 'Human' each showing signs of interesting appeal, the latter having a great intro riff, but both sink into an average pool, and we're left with watered down replica's of the first 20 minutes. 'Erase All Memory' is a great standout out track from the last 20 minutes, it takes the band through it's political outlooks and challenges the beliefs in faith. We're given the bands best technical track as Barrett Gardner once again delivers on the drums from start to finish falling back at times into that start-stop chugging mode, but works better with Mike Lopez attacking on the guitars and delivering a nice solo.
'Safe Haven' is the bands sad attempt at a ballad most reminiscent of Tool, it's overly boring not to mention Norris voice/lyrics tread whiny within 1 minute in the song. "Stay, don't leave me alone, You were all I'd ever known" he strains its here we see he can't always save the band. 'Endless Shadow' and 'No Meaning' are almost too little too late, offering nice good musicianship we kinda wish we'd seen earlier. Norris vocals work best on 'No Meaning' as he hammers at each line and offering an aggressive tune for the listener.
Last Word: The album is solid. A step backward in some aspects, where as the band tries new things and either fails, or you'd wish they'd capitalize more on. Like Gardener's drumming, which is really the album savior here, giving us that fresher up-tempo feel that 32 Leaves is actually better at delivering. Suffering ultimately from too much repetition of song structure, and Norris not do very much with his vocals, the bands appears only interested in taking baby steps at the moment. Check back in 4 or 5 albums.