Review Summary: Paper Wings loses a small amount of the catchy, straightforward appeal of Cauterize's debut album, but more than makes up for it with its own hefty chunk of well-written pop-punk songs and some much-improved diversity.
When your first album (disregarding the two released under previous moniker T.O.E.) is as consistent and single-textured as Cauterize's So Far From Real (2003), consolidation isn't really an option. Though the dark, melodramatic pop-punk found on that debut was pretty impressive, the lack of variety held it back from any sort of widespread appeal and it was instead received with mostly pleasant, but decidedly lukewarm, reviews. There was something about this band, if only they could find
it and figure out how to harness that potential. Their independently released 2005 record, Paper Wings, makes a lot of progress in that regard; it seems like a natural expression of the band branching out gently, and still keeping (largely) in contact with the aesthetic that nearly made So Far From Real successful.
Opening track Wake To The Sun hints at it, although not before Cauterize have taken the time to remind you how they sound. Two guitars fight for control, building into a heavily distorted backdrop which soon plays host to a brilliant guitar line, the high-ish vocals of Jesse Smith, and titanic drums. It's an emphatic and adrenaline-packed introduction to the album, and serves as a statement of intent; from there, the song works its way through numerous transitions, including a hushed bridge, and that's the first indication that Cauterize are trying to do something slightly less formulaic. Wake To The Sun is such a perfect blue-print that when it fades out, expectations have shot through the roof; if the band can pull that sort of energy off across 12 tracks, it's going to be one hell of a ride.
And there are some phenomenal songs on Paper Wings; the next song, Closer, is a track whose bassline creeps and crawls between enigmatic lyrics about butterflies and moths, which explode into an immensely cool refrain. Despite its relentless momentum, the track shows a restraint in its verses that suggests a new-found self-awareness, which serves to heighten the tension rather than remove it. Fourth track Minor Key Symphony is another fantastic slice of violent pop-punk, whose drumming builds each section to an increasingly passionate climax, and which has no problem keeping that intensity going throughout. There's no doubt that Paper Wings houses some of Cauterize's most prolific material.
Unfortunately, it's far from plain-sailing. For all their attempts to introduce more dimensions to their core sound, too often it seems that these stamps of identity serve more as straight substitutions rather than the co-existence of two ideas; the closer and title-track, as an easy example, is a mediocre ballad which seems to assume it can stand on the merit of its melodramatic lyrics and their delivery, and is wrong. Its acoustic guitar does nothing to stand out, and the theme of the song - a dying friend - is addressed in a fashion which seems far too distant to have any real effect. The deliberately-heavy Miracles Of Medicine isn't pulled off convincingly enough, the verses seeming prosthetic and the chorus being far too repetitive and ineffective to make any sort of impression. It's very rarely that the mis-steps are so easily distinguishable, though; the other tracks that trip up do so because they fail to mould new ideas well enough, like Tremble, whose radio-rock background vocals are thankfully rescued by a typically pumped-up chorus.
It's quite ironic, really, that the moments where Paper Wings stumbles are the places where Cauterize, admirably, try to introduce new elements, and would instead have been better staying safe with their hooks and more tried techniques. Ultimately, though, the record does benefit from this willingness to try new things, since a number of the mellow, heavier or more interesting passages here add a lot to the music. There's even an argument that the less successful experimentation trips up the flow in a way this album's pre-decessor could have profited greatly from. Paper Wings loses a small amount of the catchy, straightforward appeal of Cauterize's debut album, but more than makes up for it with its own hefty chunk of well-written pop-punk songs and a consistently enjoyable experience by way of its occasional swings into softer/heavier/slower/faster territory. It sees a band with a lot of potential start to realise some of that untapped resource, and it's a hell of a good ride to boot.