Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chicago is Burning - American Outlaw (2010)

Music is an interesting beast.  You can do all kinds of crazy things with music that you can't do with other things.  Some animal species can inter-breed to produce a new animal with qualities and genetic traits of both parents, and you can cross-pollinate some plats and even cross-breed some species (I have an apple tree in my yard that will produce 4 different varieties, go science!), but there are limitations to what we in the physical realm can do to "inter-mingle".  But music is an area that you can really go all out with, in terms of "cross-breeding" musical styles and sounds.  The trick is to mix stuff that sounds good together.  It's not always going to be a successful melding of sounds, but the fact that you can do so without harming anyone or causing lasting problems means you can really experiment.  Some musical genres, however, have just never been mixed for some reason, either because no one thought they could, or perhaps no one was brave enough to try.

That's not the case with my man Ash, however.  He has taken the already amalgamated styles of hardcore and metalcore (in quite modern forms) and mixed them with what we know as industrial music.  Now, to be fair, industrial music has long had an affair with the heavy, distorted  guitar sound.  Bands like Ministry, kLank, Circle of Dust, Industry Eleven, Nine Inch Nails, Foetus, etc. have been toying with this formula for over over 20 years now.  The difference here is that rather than mixing either a distinctively hard rock or aggressive metal sound with electronics, as has been done before, this mixture is decidedly slanted toward the modern hardcore and metalcore styles, but with a slightly broader palette of what constitutes the techno-industrial sound.  Thus, Chicago is Burning was born.

"American Outlaw" is the second overall release under the CiB moniker, though this review covers what is the 2nd release of the "American Outlaw" EP, this being the physical CD iteration, which has different (and better) cover art than the original digital-only release.  This is the 3rd release from Iron Guardian Industries (ironically from Australia, despite the album's title and origins), and so far it's the most professional product they've released.  The artwork is fantastic, the booklet is great with interesting art, layout and feel, and the whole thing just reeks of professionalism, so hats-off to my buddy Rowland for picking this one up and making it a real quality package.

Musically, this release has a lot going for it.  Guitars are heavy and crunch with authority, mostly staying in the metallic hardcore vein, sometimes with drumming and riffing that leans more toward the metalcore world in terms of both style and heaviness.  At times, I'm reminded of the one-off industrial project Generation, as that was a heavier, almost thrashy industrial sound at times, but this definitely leans toward the hardcore musical realm more.  However, there is a lot more going on here than the typical hardcore record.  This almost seems to be like a "marriage" between hardcore and industrial.  What I mean by that is, at times you can hear the individual elements or stylistic conventions as dominant within a song (or portion of a song), but other times it's a near-perfect melding of the two styles, utilizing pieces of each to create something new and more unique.  Unlike the small crop of industrial death metal bands that came out in the late 90's and early 2000's, this is its own beast, not just the 2 styles slapped together to make a cool-sounding combination.  This actually feels more like a cohesive stylistic statement than much of the "extreme industrial" that came before it.  Drums are, of course, all programmed, but they work well within the construct of the material and don't sound too fake or odd w/in the mixture.  There is a bit of 808 machine work going on, but not so much that it becomes annoying or distracting.  There aren't a lot of breakdowns here, either, which could be the selling point to casual fans of hardcore who feel the style gets too marred by constant and/or uninteresting breakdowns.

Vocally, Ash is mostly in the high-pitched impassioned scream mode, though he does occasionally sing clean vocals here and there.  The clean vocals aren't his strong suit yet, but when he uses them they make sense in the song and work fine.  I'd encourage him to keep developing that, because if he developed his singing voice to be as strong as his screams, he could have a real one-two punch combo.  There are also a couple instances where he goes into a throatier, almost death metal type of growl for effect, though those are very lightly sprinkled into the mix in just a few brief moments for effect.  Lyrically, the album is split almost in half between militant lyrics with somewhat violent imagery, to more deeply personal lyrics involving love, loss, and personal struggle.  The one possible exception to that is the final track, "Anne Boleyn" (about the Queen of England circa 1533), though the way it's written it appears to be as much a song of love lost, or rather, the lack of love in a relationship.  So despite the historical context, it's applicable to any relationship where it's all give by one party, and take by the other.

While this is a definite improvement over the "Murder City" EP/demo and a worthy release, I still  feel like Ash hasn't quite hit his stride yet with this project.  For that reason alone, I will be highly curious to see what's next for Chicago is Burning.  In the meantime, this is a great little EP that is well worth your time.  The songs aren't as memorable as they could or probably should be, but for its few faults, there's plenty to love here.  That, and the fact that the style he's playing is quite niche, interesting, and isn't really something anyone is doing at this point.  That, too, makes this EP worth adding to your collection.  Recommended.


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