Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dragon's Kiss - Barbarians of the Wasteland (2014)

Heavy Metal as a genre takes on many forms.  Add fast rhythms, start/stop dynamics, and chugging riffs, and you have thrash metal.  Intensify that even more with blast beats, faster rhythms, hoarse shouts or growls and you've got the makings of death metal.  Add speed, extra melody, soaring vocals and a bit of grandeur, and you may have some power metal.  But the sound that birthed the genre, "heavy metal" itself is often harder to define, simply because what constitutes the sound of heavy metal has changed since its inception, and isn't always agreed upon.  Though it sounds somewhat arbitrary, the sound of heavy metal is one of those things that seasoned listeners can discern, as in, "I know it when I hear it."

Despite the myriad sub-genres of this thing called heavy metal, the constants include distorted guitar riffs and rhythms, guitar solos that do more than just ape the base melody, and vocals that reach out of the speakers and slap you across the face.  Heavy metal also includes thumping bass lines, and hard hitting drum rhythms that make it obvious that someone is doing much more than just tapping the drum heads with wooden sticks.  To that end, Dragon's Kiss meet all the requirements for the essential Heavy Metal sound.  The question is, do they do it well?  That depends on your viewpoint of what real good heavy metal truly is.

Dragon's Kiss is a project by Dawnrider guitarist Hugo Conim and Adam Neal of The Hookers (formerly of about a half-dozen other bands).  Adam's pedigree is as much hard rock as it is metal, but Hugo seems to have been in the metal scene for a number of years.  Either way, I don't think anyone could deny this album's metal credibility, because this stuff sounds a bit like Motorhead crossed with early American metal and early NWOBHM.  There's a lot of energy on this record, and a fair bit of attitude as well.  Whether that energy and attitude carry the record will ultimately be up to the listener.

The first thing that hits you right away with the album is that although it has a classic heavy metal sound, the production is fairly dense.  Bass guitar pulsates quite a bit in the mix, and the guitars have a good crunch, and have a feel to them that is at once modern and classic at the same time.  It's hard to describe, really, but one listen to the album and you'll likely pick up on it.  One thing's for sure, Hugo plays with gusto, and is no stranger to a classic metal riff sound and feel.  The drumming on the album also merits some mention, because it's quite solid.  Other than the cool roll during the intro, it's not overly complex or notable, but certainly gets the job done.  Vocally, Adam is all gravel, sounding like he's channeling Udo Dirkschneider, if Udo was channeling Lemmy.  Adam lacks the tunefulness of Udo, but his enthusiasm and attitude do give his performance a bit of charm it would otherwise lack.

My biggest problem with the record is that it's just not very memorable.  I appreciate the classic sound these guys are bringing to the table.  I think them covering two relatively obscure bands (Marquis de Sade's "Somewhere Up In the Mountains" and The New Order's "Rock 'n' Roll Soldiers") is a good thing, and will help bring additional recognition to some songs that perhaps never got their due.  But when the covers are the most memorable tracks on the album, that's a problem for me.  If you can't write melodies that will get stuck in the listener's head, it diminishes your music's ability to become a regular part of their listening experience.  At best, the album is a solid batch of tunes that sound great while you're spinning them, but are relatively forgettable unless you're listening to the album over and over and over again.  I make that kind of investment to write reviews, but the average listener may not be willing to, even a seasoned NWOBHM fan who has separated the proverbial wheat from chaff among the countless bands from that era.  Dragon's Kiss need to step up their game and write more memorable material that has staying power, and Adam should try and develop his vocal approach just a little, to try and include a bit more melodicism in his singing.  If they could do that, it would go quite a ways in helping their next record have more staying power.  These guys are talented, and this CD shows that.  Now they need to hone their song craft and give us a release with tunes that get stuck in our heads.  If they can accomplish that, they'll be on their way to securing a place in metal Valhalla.  As for now, they're toiling in Purgatory.


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