Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Deliverance - Hear What I Say! (2013)
Bands break up all the time. Some burn out from touring, some have inter-personal conflicts and can't sustain friendships enough to maintain the band, some just get tired of doing "the band thing". Some bands break up because the style of music they've been playing has fallen out of favor, and rather than dragging fans through a shift to something they might not be on board for, they change the name or break up and reform under a different moniker. Other times, the motivation for carrying on just isn't there, and artistic integrity demands that a stopping point be chosen. Whatever the case may be, we're all human, and we can't carry on making music forever.
When a band decides not to change the name as a stylistic change is afoot, sometimes fans feel slighted. Anyone making music, unless it's absolutely devoid of artistic pursuit or merit, has to be satisfied, at some level, with the art they've created, or it becomes a hollow pursuit. When the artist chooses to do what feels right from an artistic perspective rather than perpetuate the machine that may please fans more, there's usually a backlash. Such is the case with Deliverance, forever in the shadow of the 1st 2 albums they recorded, their eponymous debut and "Weapons Of Our Warfare", a high watermark of tuneful thrash/speed metal and a fan favorite. When band leader and chief songwriter Jimmy P. Brown II decided to begin moving away from that style and guitarist George Ochoa wasn't keen on doing so, the resulting 3rd album "What a Joke" demonstrated that artistic conflict doesn't always make great records like it did with The Beatles. Once Jimmy was back at the helm 100% of the time with George's departure, he took the band in a number of different directions over the next few years, and created several excellent albums. The entire "D" fan base wasn't on board with the move away from thrash, because let's be honest - most thrash fans are a kind of picky.
I'm of the mind that while the band's 1st 2 albums are awesome, they're not the be-all, end-all of the Deliverance musical canon. I happen to quite like some of their non-thrash material as much as those 1st 2 records. In particular, "River Disturbance" and "Camelot in Smithereens" are both top-shelf albums that any band should be proud of. I never felt like a full-on return to a thrash metal sound was warranted, and I believe the band proved me right with 2007's "As Above, So Below". Granted, it was as much a groove metal album as it was thrash, but it didn't sound as vital as it should have, had largely forgettable riffs, and just didn't grab me the way much of their discography had. I had the same experience with the band's "Learn" album, though repeated listens has given me a much greater appreciation of that record. I still don't have much to say about AASB, because it still doesn't do much for me. Now that "Hear What I Say!" is out, and is reportedly the band's last album (again), does it fare any better? I'll answer that with a resounding "YES!" this time around.
Where the previous album was hampered by largely forgettable songs, this album is far tighter and more interesting, in part because Jimmy and company aren't attempting a halfhearted recapture of the "glory days" of thrash . Instead, they wisely choose to provide a sort of stylistic retrospective of the Deliverance catalog via a new set of songs. This works pretty well since the tracks are interesting, the production is much improved, and the whole thing just feels like a concerted effort to make a good album. The album is a bit slight in terms of content, since you have an intro track that segues into 1 of only 7 new original songs, followed by a cover of Iron Maiden's "Where Eagles Dare", and "Entgiftung", which is a German-language version of "Detox". Despite the somewhat slim pickings here, it still has enough meat on the bones to satisfy.
The guitar sound is improved here over "As Above, So Below". Not so much because it's heavier (it's not), but because it has a crisper feel to it. The production helps that somewhat, but both Jimmy and Mike have a guitar sound that is just tighter and snappier than before. I think it hearkens back to an earlier time for the band, and that's a good thing, because the production of AASB was just a bit heavy-handed, with its 90's groove metal sound and wall of sound bass. I'm all for a heavier sound, but when it doesn't enhance the songs or make them sound better, it falls into the "more is just more" category. I'm happy to report that both Jimmy and Mike sound great here, with a meaty tone that doesn't sacrifice clarity or definition. In addition, the guitar solos here have a nice wail and bite to them, where they appear. Acoustic & clean guitars sound great, too, in the songs they're utilized, with that hint of reverb that helps them ring out a bit. Bass is provided again by long-time Deliverance bass guitarist Manny Morales, who has played on more "D" studio albums than any previous bassist. It's only fitting that he would play on the final album. His bass guitar is loud and clear this time around, and is nicely placed in the mix where it provides both an audible companion to the guitar and drums, but also provides necessary weight to the sound. Drumming on this final album is provided by none other than renowned skins man Jayson Sherlock, who many will know from his time in Mortification, Paramaecium (and later InExordium), as well as his prog metal band Altera Enigma and one-off black metal band Horde. While it would have been cool to have Jeff Mason behind the kit again to echo the Deliverance power trio days, Jayson's drumming here is powerful, dynamic, and spot on for what this album needed to really take it to the next level.
Vocally, Jimmy sounds as good as ever, and in my opinion, a bit more focused and on-point than he was on AASB. Jimmy's David Bowie-esque wail has become a signature of his style since he really started singing, and he uses that to great effect here, but there is a bit of variety as well with some shouted vocals, a bit of grit now and again, and a nice rapid delivery vocal in "Angst" that has a bit of a "tunnel" effect on it. Anyone who has been listening to Deliverance for years knows that Jimmy isn't the world's best singer, but he uses his voice as effectively as he is able to get the lyrics out there, and that's what you get here. The slower passages and more mid-tempo bits have the best vocal work, as is par for the course with Deliverance material, and in some of those sections he sounds really well honed. He does some nice dual-layer/multi-octave vocals like in "Hope Lies Beyond", and of course the chorus of "Detox" where there's the mid-range vocal for the melody, and a bass vocal underneath.
In terms of the songs, the new material here is stronger than that of AASB. Firstly, the intro track ties into the album nicely, giving a hint of the main riff in "The Annals of Subterfuge". There's no 11-minute aimless instrumental, no tracks that go on longer than they ought to, and really no filler to speak of. This is a lean album, clocking in at just over 41 minutes. "The Annals of Subterfuge" destroys any of the thrashier or speedier tracks on AASB, and "Angst" pretty well trounces the previous album's material as well. Beyond those 1st 2 major songs, you get a lot of variety in a short time. "Hope Lies Beyond" is a lot of atmosphere with a little riff, and "Detox" is a major groove-fest with a heavy riff and catchy chorus. "Nude" is a mid-tempo song that echoes the band's more progressive outings with its vocal layering, interesting riff, and different melodic structure. "Pass" returns to a bit more of the groove metal sound, but with a melodic riff and more interesting presentation than most groove metal can hope to boast. Rounding out the new songs is "A Perfect Sky", which echoes the balladry on "Camelot in Smithereens" somewhat, with its somber yet buoyant melody, gentle acoustic guitar and spirited vocal from Jimmy. The cover of "Where Eagles Dare" sounds good, with its chunky guitar, Jayson giving Nicko a run for his money, and Jimmy straining a bit to hit a handful of the notes. He really does have a bit of that Bruce Dickinson vibe to his voice, and it's a wonder Deliverance hasn't done a Maiden cover before. And of course the German-language version of "Detox", "Entgiftung" is fun to listen to, especially if you don't speak German, because it's interesting to hear the lyrics of the song delivered in a different language.
If you're going to go out with a bang that leaves fans mostly satisfied but still wanting more, this is the way to do it. You're not giving them so much material to chew on that they'll be analyzing the album for years to come, but enough that they don't feel slighted that you ended on such an abrupt note. This 40+ minutes of music is just about right because it gives that retrospective look at the career with quality songs, doesn't overstay its welcome, and encourages repeat listens through memorable melodies, excellent production, and great performances. Though it's sad to see a band go when their music has been a steady companion for so long, it's nice to see it happen on the band's terms, and to go out on a high note like this. I would recommend this to all fans of Deliverance, and especially those who like the bulk of the band's catalog. Anyone else who is open minded where their metal is concerned would do well to look into the album as well.