At A Loss
1/7/2010 - Review by: Etiam
Helmed by the brothers Schaaf (a guitarist and drummer) Deadbird was formed in 2002 in Arkansas. Like nearly every other early '00 metal band from that stretch of the Bible Belt, Deadbird play a very American form of sludge metal where the riffs fuzz, the vocals rasp, the drums sound acoustic, and the ganja is ripe for the toking. Probably. Deadbird count two ex-Rwake members among them--every member has some other playing experience--so their sophomore album 'Twilight Ritual' was sure to be a fully conceived effort without any trace of identity crisis.
'Twilight Ritual' was mixed by the well-traveled Billy Anderson (Giant Squid, Asunder, Eyehategod, Bongzilla, etc.) and boasts a wonderfully sludgy production with tube crunch for days and ultra-juicy lead tones. To paint a quick portrait for musicians: Deadbird's been known to play through Orange and Sunn amps, and have the kind of guitar players who'll leave their strings unclipped at the headstock. Clearly, Deadbird take plenty of cues from the obvious Southern metal influences, but they also have some strong stoner/doom influences (see: Electric Wizard) that shine through during their harmonized riffs and wandering solos. As is the case with most metal bands, their lyrics stumble into elegance from time to time, but typically consist of heavy Gothic imagery and overwrought symbolism.
Deadbird's vocal variation, more prominent than on the past record, is perhap's 'Twilight Ritual's greatest selling point and one of its most underutilized features. All of us are quite familiar with the gruff mid-ranged bellow--the standard voice used here--and probably the shouted harmonies as well, such as those Kylesa has turned into a calling card. Deadbird's more impressive offering is the high shriek that occasionally rises to the surface (towards the end of 'Feral Flame', to open 'Death of the Self', etc.) and sounds more akin to black metal than sludge. These accents give the album a seething, emotive punch that is a welcome shakeup in this nearly 50-minute excursion. In fact, the normal lead vocals are used enough to fade into the background after a time, so frequently and monotonously do they appear. Considering that four of the band's members contribute, this is not surprising.
Also like many of their southern sludge brethren, Deadbird use acoustic guitar to counterbalance their monster fuzz rock. Unlike some others, however, their acoustic element tends to be more isolated--a solitary guitar rather than one layered among many--and frame nicely the ballad portions (e.g. opening of 'The Riverbed') of the album. Many of their distorted riffs simply seem to write themselves, as anyone who's ever fooled around in a simple drop tuning will know (2:45 into 'Death of the Self'). Their riff ideas are generally catchy--a few are really quite good--and fit nicely into the genre's expected mold: chunky power chords in a triple meter that occasional spin off into some pentatonic cadenza noodle. Unfortunately, the extent of their ideas doesn't carry too far, so by the third song we've heard most of what they have to offer. Yes, they can still be fun riffs, but an album this long needs to bring a little more innovation to the table to be completely worthwhile.
So, by its last leg the moody allure of the first tracks begins to wear to the point of indifference. With a promising first half weighed against the dragging latter, 'Twilight Ritual' falls into a morass where its qualities are sufficient for modest recommendation, but not for distinction. If Deadbird can key in on the balance between acoustic ballads and pit-smashing riff-fests, they will have a marketable niche. But until then, they'll merely be coasting.
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