Review Summary: Tweedle tweedle tweedle are we cool yet?
On a sidewalk in Houston, Texas, during the month of April, in the year of our Lord, 2009, I came upon an object that I feel represents the pinnacle of American culture. This object sits, unassembled, inside a relatively small metal cart, that is hauled around the city by a man who can't possibly stand much taller than 5" 6' (that's around about 167 centimeters for those of you outside the States). This object is a humble hot dog, that has undergone a process which has been ever so eloquently dubbed, "porking". "Porking" is a process that involves splitting the hot dog down the middle, filling it to the point of bursting with a foreign, cheese-like substance, wrapping the entire hot dog in a bacon straight jacket, dipping the hot dog in egg batter, and finally, deep frying it...twice. This completely reprehensible food stuff not only serves as my new favorite representation of the American state of mind, but it also conveniently serves as a startlingly accurate physical representation of The Syncope Threshold's debut album, Tale of the Complex Circuit. The aforementioned "porked" hot dog combines many of my favorite food items (bacon, cheese, hot dogs, and fried food), but it does so in a way that makes the end result utterly inedible. In much the same way, Tale of the Complex Circuit attempts to combine a few fairly enjoyable elements employed by modern heavy music (technical shreddy bits, thrashy riffs, catchy choruses, and dueling vocal patterns), but it does so in a way that makes the end result fairly painful to get through (though it's not completely
To be quite frank, Tales of the Complex Circuit can be summed up in one recurring statement; "Hey bro, come listen to this sweet guitar part". From start to finish, the guitarists of The Syncope Threshold make sure that you're aware of their technical ability by constantly forcing their self indulgent, noodly guitar work into every single nook and cranny of the album, leaving the listener to wonder if there's really anything else going on underneath the constantly distracting weedly deedly of sweep picked arpeggios and tapped guitar lines. However, the problem lies not in the constant shredding, but in the simple fact that 90% of it feels sterile and recycled. Even during the few instances where it feels like you're getting a welcome reprieve from the obnoxious shredfest that is Tales of the Complex Circuit, like the pseduo jazzy trumpet filled interlude in The Conchoid of Truth, those same recycled arpeggios somehow manage to muscle their way back into the soundscape. Still, though you'd be hard pressed to believe it during the first or second listen, there actually are other band members here who try their damnedest to be heard over the cacophonous tweedling produced by the incessantly dueling guitar lines. Sadly, these other members, the ever so (un)important rhythm section, do very little to stand out underneath the onslaught of guitar work. The bassist actually puts up a fairly admirable fight, as he attempts to make his case to be heard a few times throughout the album, but "thankfully", the guitarists manage to beat back his advances with a wall of harmonized nonsense. Still, at least the bassist makes a few admirable attempts to stand out, which is more than can be said for the drummer. To simply describe the drumming here as "standard fare" would be a bit of an understatement, as the same rehashed fills are thrown out every twenty or thirty seconds, the crash cymbal is almost always used to keep the same 1, 2, 3, 4, beat, and the double bass patterns rarely stray out of mind numbing chug mimicry territory for the duration of the album. Normally, a situation like this could be saved by a fairly apt vocalist, yet sadly, The Syncope Threshold doesn't have one in their possession. However, the vocals aren't necessarily "bad"; they come off as more of a self parody than anything. The whiny, high pitched clean vocals have a overt nasal quality that seems almost intentional, and the harsh vocals usually sound fairly similar to somebody who can't scream doing their best to mock Randy Blythe. When all of these elements come together, it really just turns the album into a constant fight to be heard over the guitarists; a "losing battle" in the truest sense of the word.
At this point, I would very much like to tell you that this album ends up being more than just a collection of ceaseless guitar wankery, but sadly, that's just not the case, as the idea of "songwriting" hasn't simply taken a back seat here, it's been entirely jettisoned from the car. The riff collectives (or songs as they would normally be called), switch constantly from riff to riff with seemingly little to no thought put in as to how the switch is supposed to occur. This songwriting technique has been employed in the past with great success by bands like Between the Buried and Me and Protest the Hero (two bands which The Syncope Threshold quite obviously look up to), but a band as young and unbalanced as The Syncope Threshold simply does not yet possess the know-how to pull it off. This haphazard approach only serves to create a poorly thought out string of parts held together with low quality scotch tape. Still, that's not to say that the band doesn't occasionally stumble blindly into an enjoyable chorus or too; as the old adage goes, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. In album opener Definitive Behavior, the band actually manages to simultaneously craft an infectious chorus and
keep the guitar work tasteful, a feat which proves to difficult for the band to repeat more than two or three more times on the album. Sadly, even when the band manages to stumble into one of these bright spots, they tend to undo their progress fairly quickly by throwing in a section that ends up sounding eerily similar to something previously recorded by one of their easily discernible influences (i.e. the Aesthetic-y breakdown that closes out Definitive Behavior).
In short, when they aren't aping their influences, fumbling their way through awkward song structures, or trying to melt your speakers with constant barrages of excessive shred, The Syncope Threshold does display an inkling of promise. Sadly, you'd be hard pressed to find more than three or four instances in Tale of the Complex Circuit where The Syncope Threshold isn't doing two out of the three things listed above. As it stands, the band simply isn't mature or balanced enough to focus their talents on creating something memorable and lasting. All that's left to do know is hope that at some point in the near future, The Syncope Threshold does something to realize the potential that they clearly possess.