(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
Last year (2006) I reviewed an album by the American rock band Deep Rising. It was their second album, Shards, actually recorded back in 2004 but it never really got much promotion at the time so I ended up reviewing it as though it was a new release. It was a good album though not an outstanding one, an interesting mixture of US grunge and alt. rock (such as Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, and Incubus) and some slightly more proggy and classic rock influences. It was an album of great promise, but didn’t quite sound like the finished article.
Well Deep Rising are now back with a new line-up consisting of Nick Kerzner (vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboards), Peter Smith (drums) and Glenn Burgos (electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals, and bass) and this album represents a noticeable improvement on Shards.
Stylistically there’s not much of change – Truth Be Told represents a polished collection of ten rock songs with their roots in both classic rock and more contemporary alternative rock styles. There are still definite nods to the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Incubus, and there is also that slight proggy influence that was apparent on Shards but which was hardly “in your face”. The same is true here: no epics, nothing over five-and-a-half minutes in fact, and no mellotron solos or wildly off-kilter time-signature changes. But this can be described as mainstream rock with a proggy edge, in the same way that you might apply that tag to the work of Kino, Spock’s Beard, The Police, Incubus, Always Almost and Peter Gabriel. At times I also think there’s an overlap between the music on this album and some of Porcupine Tree’s recent shorter and heavier songs.
The proggy edge here comes not from the more clichéd and unsubtle elements found in the work of neo-prog bands, but from Deep Rising’s song arrangements, vocal harmonies, occasional use of keyboards, and from their instrumental work-outs that offer up interesting twists and turns in what might otherwise be quite straightforward tracks (one classic example of this can be heard on the excellent instrumental section of the track “Nothing Means Nothing”, another example comes near the end of the album opener “Sirens”, and there’s a particularly beautiful and very proggy sounding example on “Hides Inside”).
One of the things that makes this album such a big improvement on Shards is the number of tracks and the quality of the songwriting. Shards consisted of 14 tracks and although none of them stood out as particularly weak or below-par, there was still considerable variability in the songwriting. This time the band have wisely chosen to feature less songs and the songwriting has gone up that extra level, which means that there’s less what might be described as filler material and at 44 minutes the album is pretty much of a perfect length.
As with Shards this album features a mixture of hard rocking numbers (e.g. “Sirens”, “X”, “Nothing Means Nothing”, and “Cheater”) and some quieter songs (e.g. “Hides Inside”, “Inside You”, “Xel-Ha” and “Rebecca”) but in keeping with the generally improved songwriting on offer on Truth Be Told, even the up tempo heavy numbers that sounded a little formulaic on Shards are much more impressive here. There’s a new dimension and an added maturity to the band’s songwriting and it seems as though they’ve been experimenting a bit more with variations in tempo, timbre, and mood. Only the track “Cheater” comes across as a little bit simplistic and unsophisticated, both musically and lyrically, when compared to the rest of the album, but even this track has a certain naive charm to it.
Another big improvement with Truth Be Told is the quality of the vocals. On Shards Nick’s vocals sometimes sounded a bit strained but here either Nick’s vocals are simply stronger, or the material has been written or selected so that it is better suited to Nick’s vocal range, or most probably a bit of both is true. Either way I was very impressed with the vocals on this album and it’s good to be able to say that Nick has an impressive style of his own that doesn’t obviously borrow from other singers (the band members are fans of the vocals of Seal and Peter Gabriel but Nick wisely avoids directly emulating either of them).
Overall this album turned out to be a wonderful surprise because although I greatly enjoyed Shards there were clearly areas where it was lacking. With Truth Be Told it’s as though they took every one of my criticisms onboard (though I’m sure I had nothing whatsoever to do with this it’s nice to think that I did!) because this is an improvement on almost every level. The strengths of the Shards album (particularly the songwriting) are still apparent but I think they’ve been improved upon, whilst the weaker elements (the formulaic nature of some of the songs and the occasionally strained vocals) are virtually absent this time around. It’s still true to say that this won’t appeal to all (prog) rock fans, for some will expect something a little more musically adventurous, but of its type you won’t find many better albums in 2007.
Best tracks: “So Frustrated”, “X”, “Hides Inside”, “Nothing Means Nothing”, “Inside You”.