Strange Land - Strange Land

Music is certainly a curious thing. At least in orthodox Occidental tradition, there is nothing available other than twelve notes that are repeated in lower or higher registers to create a song, but the rich quantity of timbres, sounds, regulators, and rhythms at the musician's disposition is so vast that the end result is, without any further insight, anything but predictable. And yet, with such a range of possibilities, there are unique combinations of instruments, keys, and rhythmic patterns that produce music that can often be categorized into general dispositions that piece together the strewn pieces of the musical spectrum into more comprehensible units. During more than thirty years, one of these units has stood bravely in the face of its detractors both in the public eye and in the underground: heavy metal.

Even when metal is the result of a certain amount of musical factors, however, the genre has proved through the years that the combinations resulting from these factors offer new, even if minimal, changes ad infinitum, and thus heavy metal is unlikely to ever stagnate in its entirety. Thus one can have a band that features a host of traits well known to the metal audience and still adds its own share of spice to the mix in order to be considered as unique. Strange Land is such a band. With its self-titled debut, this American unit is firmly rooted in much of the habits of eighties progressive metal, a hint of more modern touches, and a collection of sounds that demonstrate influences from bands such as Fates Warning, Savatage, and Rush, but still garners enough originality and style to stand out on its own. Voila, now we're getting somewhere.

The approach of Strange Land is that of a trio in which the bass is slightly more than just a backing instrument and keyboards surface every once in a while into a dominant role after being absent for a while, but in which the guitar rules supreme and unchallenged, spewing one metallic riff after another and yet keeping things from getting really heavy. Then and again the black sheep of the family rears its ugly head and confronts the norm though, such as in the absorbing and somber piano-led simplicity of "Scorpio," or in the curiously good humored pace of "Flight," but overall the approach is one that is hardly going to give anyone a heart attack with unexpected shocks of surprise.

Of special importance to anyone interested in the work of this band, however, is the fact that the album's production leaves much to be desired. Not only the overall weakness of sonic impact is to be faulted though, as there is something that doesn't quite work with the combination of the band members' respective instruments, partly due to orchestration that requires some fixing; partly due to the record's mix. Then Sean Gill's guitar solos hit the sour note a couple of times throughout the course of the album, and Chad Novell's voice sounds somehow out of place at times, all due to faulty production and all detracting from the impact of this trio.

This album thus situated me in the same position that I found myself in roughly a month ago with Kurgan's Bane's The Future Lies Broken; that of weighing the advantages of the album against its more obvious disadvantages when choosing an appropriate grade, and of giving me a headache in the complicated decision process. Strange Land's fiery sense of conviction finally managed to barely land this album on the better side, but sadly could not erase the fact that the sound on its debut leaves much to be desired and bettered in order for it to attain a decent level of professionalism. It's not that there is nothing to dig into here…it's just that everything's still too rough around the edges and could certainly use some polishing up.

-by Marcelo Silveyra