It’s kind of endearing when a band formed many years after a genre’s heyday decides to revisit it instead of latching onto whatever is cool then. That doesn’t necessarily translate to quality, as evidenced by all those horrible classic rock acts that play the corner pubs of the world, but you can be reasonably sure that the music is coming from the heart and not the wallet. My favourite band of this type would probably be Firehouse, who caught the very tail end of the hair metal boom but continued living by its rulebook for another decade and a half, completely oblivious to whatever was happening to rock at the time. Cane Hill is a band of a similar sort – who’d expect an act debuting in 2015 to bash out venomous, modernised nu metal"
Nu metal is actually full of loads of untapped potential, as the genre’s emergence into the mainstream led to a very tame form of it spreading like wildfire. Its very core is surprisingly barbaric, and a suitably primal execution can lead to songs packing an unexpected amount of wallop. On the flip side, a more emotional counterpart to the barbarism can lead to raw, cathartic ballad work. At their best, Cane Hill tap into both of these to great success. “(The New) Jesus” fires on all cylinders, showing how fierce nu metal played from the heart can be and acting as a spiritual successor to their roaring, metallic EP. The choppy female chirps form the perfect anti-hook, while the succinct whammy solo and dragging bridge provide some welcome substance. “You’re So Wonderful” in turn offers a perfectly orchestrated gut punch of a ballad. This is the band at their finest, and it’s fortunate that both of these have gotten video treatment.
Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games from here. A fair chunk of the record is bugged by hero worship. It’s the easiest to spot when the frontman is responsible. He strikes me as the sort of guy who you’d snap up in a heartbeat for a cover band, as he can ape Corey Taylor, Dez Fafara or Jonathan Davis effortlessly. The problem is that you shouldn’t necessarily be doing that on an album of original material. Coattails are really heavily ridden when the rest of the band follows suit - “St. Veronica” could effortlessly pass as mid-era Korn. Funnily enough, hero worship this explicit was largely absent from the band’s debut EP. However, that release was more stylistically uniform, featuring six variations on the sort of riffing offered by “Screwtape”, so maybe the aping of the greats is part of their artistic growth somehow" “Fountain of Youth” feels like a Static X party metal rip-off that suddenly finds its own voice midway through the song, further supporting this hypothesis.
All in all, Smile is a decent debut album, showing the collective responsible for it to have potential and desire for musical growth. The band offers a decent helping of the petroleum-soaked, wall-smashing riffage that they do so well, but also try to branch away from it with mixed results. Still, some of the experimentation works – “You’re So Wonderful” is one hell of a song. If they keep at it, their sophomore release is likely to find them standing on their own two feet and moving away from the hero worship that sneaks up on them every now and then. Also, it’s great to hear nu metal played from the heart, by a fresh band in 2016 no less.