Review Summary: After a promising debut album, Redlight King releases a sophomore album that forgets what the band did well before.
When Redlight King burst onto the Canadian music scene in 2011, singer Mark Kasprzyk (known as “Kazzer”) enacted some mixed reactions with his ballsy sample of timeless Neil Young hit “Old Man”. Imagine all those folks who hold Neil Young in high esteem letting their ears be filled with this rock song that contains Kazzer’s “almost-rapping” lyrical style, shamelessly weaving in and out of the sample in the chorus. Needless to say it got some people’s attention for better or worse. The debut album Something for the Pain
took that sound and tested it over a variety of different tones, some heavy and some more subdued mainstream rock.
Now one thing should be made clear before going further. When I say there are rock songs containing “almost-rapping”, please don’t dismiss it as some immature nu-metal band full of angst-filled old men trying to re-live their glory days. Kazzer ensures that the sound maintains a more mainstream rock feel, rapping about more mature subject matter involving growing up in a steel town (Hamilton, Canada). When he belts out his raspier harsher vocals, he sounds like a younger Richard Patrick from Filter and it sounds comfortable alongside the heavy guitar.
Follow-up sophomore album Irons in the Fire
continues this movement towards mainstream rock and away from rapping. After listening to it you would never guess that Kazzer used to have a solo career as a rapper that even saw him nominated for a Juno award in 2004. What is slightly disappointing is that while this rapping was cheesy in some parts of the debut album, it was a defining characteristic of Redlight King’s sound, something that set them apart. And when it was done well, it simply worked. There seems to be a conscious decision to minimize that rapping style on this new album. We only ever see it pop up sparsely throughout the record (see “Wipe The Floor With You” and “Redemption”) and frankly the album ends up feeling emptier because of its absence.
It isn’t just the rapping that’s missing either. Redlight King used to incorporate strings in a few songs as well, examples being the title track on their debut and “Comeback”. As with other rock bands that incorporate strings such as Red, the mixture tends to work phenomenally well and often bolsters what could have been just a formulaic hard rock song. It appears as though Kazzer intended this sophomore album to be all rock, plain and simple. The heavier riffs seen in opener “Dark Side of the Moon” or single “Born to Rise” are great examples of this direction. However, as is usual among hard rocking albums, it’s sometimes difficult to keep that sound fresh. Eventually it begins to feel formulaic. When “Bleed” quiets down after the second chorus, it suggests a guitar solo is brewing. So when the solo actually comes, it feels a bit too predictable and underwhelming.
It’s not to say that Irons in the Fire
is a huge drag to listen to. It’s a mainstream rock album that has a bit of radio-friendliness to it. So while all the songs are structured similarly and aim to do similar things, there is usually at least a few that will click. But there’s always this feeling that the band is capable of being more than this, capable of truly enormous and passionate rock that was seen more often in their debut than here.
Dark Side of the Moon, Born To Rise, Critical