Review Summary: Hitting the sweet spot
The sweet spot for bands that fuse modern commercial hard rock with heavy metal is often only a hair's breath away from failure. For every Alter Bridge there are a hundred or so pale imitators and also-rans that went too far one way or the other and ended up with something not sugary enough for the mainstream or riffy enough for the metal crowd. Band Maid's [i]New Beginnings[i/] finds itself nicely in the sweet spot, although a few mis-steps leave it a little left of the centre.
In the space of nine tracks New Beginnings
spans the gulf between the storming, high energy pop-metal of Halestorm's more upbeat tracks (think 'Love Bites') and the not-quite-there-yet mid-tempo riff-driven material of a local amateur act enamoured with Avenged Sevenfold's later output. That's not to say tracks that encapsulate the latter, such as 'Thrill' or 'Real Existence' are poor tracks, but quality is not consistent across the record.
It's certainly not the instrumental performances or the pleasingly major label production that lets the record down though. The guitars switch things up between catchy-if-unsurprising metal riffs, layered power-chord choruses and surprisingly competent soloing, whereas on the frequent occasions where the bass is thrust into the spotlight there are some great licks and fills. Nor is it the quality of the tracks themselves that let the record down either as even the annoyingly repetitive 'Arcadia Girl' redeems itself with a pretty pre-chorus and a big sugary hook.
What pulls the album away from the shiny 8/10 one likes to reliably expect from modern pop-metal is the inconsistency of the vocals. Saiki Atsumi pulls off sweet, catchy pop vocals like a champ but frequently lacks the power in her voice to make the individual cuts rise above the generic in the way Lizzy Hale or Hayley Williams can. Saiki's delivery, whilst always enjoyable and capable of bringing out the big chorus hooks, often feels a little detached and lacking the confidence that defines a truly great hard rock singer.
But when it does all come together it works very, very well. 'Don't Let Me Down' opens with some nice, dirty heavy metal riffing and barrels through it's verses into a huge chorus in which Saiki gives by far her best performance on the record. The tradeoff chorus vocals of 'Freezer' are wonderfully done, and the entirety of closer 'Shake That' is a home run, with a big, fist-pumping shout along chorus and a big chunky riff towards the end of the bridge.
So what we're left with is a nice, solid 7/10 pop-metal record from a young band with a lot of potential. And if the vastly improved vocal performance in stand alone single 'Alone' (released after this album) is anything to go by, their next record is absolutely going to hit that sweet spot.