Sunday, September 2, 2007

Wish For Eden (1994)

Wish For Eden is the inaugural release from Tooth and Nail Records, a CD that would prove both highly important, and slightly controversial. No one could have predicted the impact T&N would have on the Christian music world, not even Brandon Ebel himself. Of course, this CD was the humble first release of the label that could, a far cry from the current sounds being marketed today. No, this post-hardcore gem was ripe & ready, even if it was a couple years behind the curve.

The controversy I mentioned is that a few Christian bookstores & retailers refused to carry the album. They thought that "pet the fish" was a masturbation reference, when in reality, it was just a nonsensical phrase suitable for an album title in the midst of the "alternative generation". Needless to say, this album didn't get its due during its time. While many write this band off as a generic Helmet clone, they would do well to listen a bit more closely & absorb the sound of this classic before passing such judgment.

The album doesn't come roaring out of the starting gate; rather, a brief feedback intro barely prepares the listener for the driving riff that "Questions" uses to suck the listener in. Unlike many of the metal bands that faded into obscurity in the late 80's/early 90's, complexity of the riff was not the order of the day here. A groove-laden, driving riff was what these guys were cooking, and it was tasty. The song moves between ebb & flow, with droning versus, groovy choruses, and a dissonant, ethereal bridge that has just enough guitar feedback to keep it interesting. The song swells at the end with more fast-paced riffing & drum work until the abrupt ending. "Ocean" starts with another groove-laden riff; simple, but effective. The vocals have an echo & effect on them that gives them a haunting feel. Lyrically, the song is very basic; I'm not sure I've quite gleaned the meaning yet, even after all these years. "Don't Know" opens with a clean guitar riff, then screams into another groove-based riff backed by solid drumming. The bass lines in these songs pretty much all serve the songs & don't do anything too dramatic, but that's the way some music sounds best. "U Could" opens with some guitar squealing, and yet another groovy riff, along with some decent drum build-up. The vocals in these songs all move from melodic gruff singing to a more shouted vocal & back again. "Me" opens with guitar feedback & a lead-off bass line. Once the song kicks in, another groovy riff takes hold. "Fade" also opens with a low-end bass line & guitar feedback. The closing title track is the only aberration here; it ends the album on a much lighter note, with less droning guitar, sounding more like a grunge rock ballad (in that good Pearl Jam way) than the rest of the material.

The thing that makes this album work is not how different it is; on the contrary, it's how different it's not. This is not highly original; indeed, this sounds like a slightly less heavy, slightly more melodic version of Helmet. Let that not be a deterrent, however. Underneath the hood of this well-oiled machine is a set of solid, if samey songs, all having their place on the record, & all containing the deliciously obtuse lyrics that many post-grunge bands did back at that time. What makes this record work is that it is the first time since the early Blonde Vinyl records releases that someone was releasing music that was out of the mainstream. Some might argue that Helmet flirted w/ the mainstream due to the success of the single "Unsung" from their Meantime album. Indeed, the band had some success with that song, with a video on MTV & rock radio briefly lauding it. Bands like Helmet don't cater to the mainstream, and reviewers who praised Meantime hated the follow-up album, Betty, despite it being as good (if not better) an album as Meantime. Wish For Eden make a slightly less heavy record, which could appeal to the fan of heavier grunge or post-hardcore, but certainly not to the mainstream rock fan, or even the standard grunge fan, except perhaps those into the more abrasive works of Nirvana or other bands who walked on the harder side of the "alternative" rock movement.

No, this album was destined for the cutout bin before its time. This is not because it's not a good record; no, this was simply a matter of the band being caught in a stylistic movement that was pronounced dead on arrival. Unfortunately, it means that the band never stood a chance except with audiences in the Christian market looking for a positive alternative to the post-punk sounds of Helmet, Snapcase, or Fugazi. Where those bands may have lacked the positivity of a band like Wish For Eden, an important niche was fulfilled. Whether the album stands the test of time has yet to be determined; however, it's cultural relevance cannot be disputed.


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