Review Summary: Red Line Chemistry show their love for grunge and radio metal with some great hooks, but Dying for a Living just feels too derivative to make a serious wave in the crowded hard rock genre.
When I first heard the first Red Line Chemistry radio single “Dumb Luck”, I honestly thought it was some rarely heard Jerry Cantrell side project. These Kansas City, Missouri hard rockers mix in some faster melodies similar to modern day Metallica with a fist-pumping vocal style that’s immediately reminiscent of Cantrell. Lead singer Brett Ditgen does a startlingly good impression of the Alice in Chains guitarist/vocalist, and he isn’t afraid to carry it through the entire album. The rest of the band, on the other hand, sticks more to faster-paced jams that wouldn’t be out of place on a 90’s metal album. When the two come together, it’s a hit-or-miss production. Red Line Chemistry’s Dying for a Living album is a good one with some solid hooks and some surprises throughout, but like many bands who grew up listening to grunge and hard rock, Red Line Chemistry tend to stick to the tried-and-true patterns of rock instead of transcending their archetypes.
When it comes to being radio-friendly, Dying for a Living is one to watch. One of the best and most radio-friendly tracks on the album, “You Don’t Get It,” is a fast-paced song with a great tempo and lyrical content that is remarkably intricate. The overall musicianship isn’t anything to write home about (this is a fine song, but not the most ambitious in terms of melody), but it has a heavy tone that when mixed with Ditgen’s crooning voice makes for a hook-laden track worth listening to again and again.
The single “Dumb Luck” possesses a sledgehammer guitar hit throughout, making it a standout track that doesn’t rely on Ditgen’s vocals to stand out. Compared to the slower tracks that are hard to distinguish from each other, “Dumb Luck” has a powerful one-two punching beat that is just as infectious as it is strong. It’s a pounding track, one of the best on the album. Similarly, “Fire Rising” crunches with heavy guitar tones in its opening but emerges with an ambient chorus that adds a great hook and some solid solo work reminiscent of Metallica. These heavier examples are ways that Red Line Chemistry have taken their influences and refined them into something new.
The significantly faster “Johnny Come Alive” is paced very well by drummer Tom Brown and it feels almost comforting to hear such a big tempo change with Ditgen’s vocals. The solo in the rambunctious song is the kind of driving song that echoes Metallica’s “Fuel.” The next track “Greed” is a similar case thanks to a faster tempo. It’s odd that Red Line Chemistry doesn’t try these faster tempos earlier in the album, where diversity is a definite blessing among the similarly paced grindfests that crowd the early phases of Dying for a Living.
The surprisingly long length of the song “Plastic Masquerade” is the exception, as its slower, mourning feeling could easily be compared to Dirt-era Alice in Chains. It keeps the heaviness and weight of other songs on the album, but doesn’t saturate them with arena rock derivativeness. Its slow start stretches itself a bit thin, but the lyrics like “all the people hang their heads” capture a feeling of repentance and bitter memories. It didn’t need to be so extensive, but “Plastic Masquerade” is a standout track that thankfully shows the band experimenting with their sound.
Though Dying for a Living has some standout tracks, many of those tracks drawing from excellent influences like Nirvana and, once again, Alice in Chains, the other tracks feel like filler and don’t break any new ground. “Vicious Cycles”, a song that reflects the title of the album, is a derivative arena rock song that isn’t a good way to start an album. “Ultragigantor” (a song with one of the goofiest titles I’ve ever seen) is a well-composed song that has hit rock radio hard, but doesn’t feel definitive in the same ways as one other single “Dumb Luck.” It feels written for radio.
The final track, “So Many Days”, is an acoustic ballad that closes the album out in an expectable, but decent way. Ditgen’s uplifting vocals feel too optimistic to be set alongside Alice in Chains’ work on Jar of Flies (it’s not anywhere near as dark as “Nutshell”), and it’s a bit disappointing that the actual lyrics feel tedious and repetitive. Red Line Chemistry apparently needed at least one traditional ballad on Dying for a Living and while “So Many Days” isn’t awful, it feels too much like a phone-in to really make a lasting impression.
Red Line Chemistry is another hard rock group that doesn’t do anything particularly badly, but then again, they don’t take many risks either. The solos feel like they would’ve fit on a late 90’s/early 2000’s Metallica album, Ditgen’s singing is phenomenal most of the time, and they draw from some of the best in hard rock and metal for influences, but Dying for a Living will sadly disappear into obscurity behind the albums of more popular modern rock artists like Shinedown and Three Days Grace. I’m not going to say that Dying for a Living is a bad album, as I definitely found enjoyment from the more ambitious tracks like “Plastic Masquerade” and “Dumb Luck.” Still, Red Line Chemistry is a band that has only dipped their feet into trying something new for radio rock, but unless they hold their breath and take a dive, they won’t be able to distinguish themselves from the massive post-grunge circuit that they are already being labeled under.