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Back in March, I was invited by local band Alabaster to attend the CD release show at El Corazón for their latest album, The Diary I Should Have Burned. For full disclosure, they put me on the guest list and gave me a review copy of the CD. So I feel obliged to give them a review, which I've been remiss in doing. Since they have a show coming up this Friday, again at El Corazón and again with Orison headlining (for their own CD release), this is a good time to take care of that obligation. Fortunately, it's an obligation I'm pleased to fulfill.

Here's the thing: I'm not a fan of heavy metal, in general. The heavier it is, and the more the vocalists shriek, scream, wail, growl, and basically do anything but sing, the less I like it. In fact, listening to the opening act at the March 20th show, it occurred to me that metal music is too often like sandpaper: coarse, gritty, and flat, without substance. It can be plotted in two dimensions: technical skill and emotional fervor, but technical skill is not the same thing as artistry, and too often that third dimension of artistry is lacking. So I went to the show with some trepidation: although I wasn't familiar with any of the bands, I had a fairly good idea there was going to be a lot of metal involved, and I rather suspected I wasn't going to enjoy it much.

And the first three bands mostly lived down to my expectations. The opener, A Hope Not Forgotten, produced metal screams and growls from kids barely old enough to grow beards, and then introduced their third song as their "attempt to do a metal song." What did they think the first two were? And why did it not surprise me that they turned out to be evangelical Christian metal? The next band, Alessa Is Red, were a step up, sounding more developed and musical. They still had some screaming but also some singing, and were more tuneful overall. It still was not my thing, but I could get behind them. Also, they seemed less earnest in their stage banter, which oddly made me take them more seriously. The third band, ViVera, was yet more hardcore metal, this time with synth. They were more refined than A Hope Not Forgotten, but very much similar in style, and they did nothing for me, either. 

Then it was time for Alabaster. And they turned out to be not so much heavy metal as a blend of power pop and hard rock, reminding me of mid-'80s Heart, and that was a good thing. With three vocalists, there was not only singing, but also harmonizing! Sweet harmonizing! There was still some screaming and howling in the vocals, but it was used to punctuate the sound, not obliterate it. When Alabaster made their sound abrasive, it felt like an artistic choice, not an end in itself. And when it did get heavy, the vocalists were strong enough to match the music and still sing. They did have a very mainstream, commercial radio-friendly style, and although that typically isn't as appealing to me, I did feel their music was pretty good, nothing really stood out but it was solid all around. They definitely sounded like a band with the talent and savviness to go places.

"Orison" is an archaic word for prayer, and it turned out to be a fairly apt name for the band Orison's style of hard rock. At first they seemed to be playing classic-style heavy metal, which emphasizes guitar virtuosity, but as their set went on it became clear they weren't really all about the guitar solos after all. Instead, they focused on beautiful melodies, basically playing all ballads, although not cheesy romantic ones. Their sound was still dark and had some hard edges, with heaviness provided by the bass and drums, but it was all done in a very open and clean style, again with actual singing from the male vocalist, not screaming or growling. I ended up feeling it was rather nice—which doesn't sound very metal, but it was good to hear a band working with the metal style and producing something actually pleasant rather than abrasive.

So the concert turned out to be a pretty good experience after all, and I was glad I went. As I mentioned, Orison and Alabaster are playing together again this Friday, August 20th, at El Corazón; I have other commitments and will not be there, but I'd be happy to see either band again and do recommend the show. If you like your music to be metal-edged but still melodic, more than just angry noise, you should check them out.

I almost forgot, I did take photos at this show, and you can see the set here on Flickr. El Corazón isn't friendly to my iPhone, but some of the photos are decent.


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