Calling Hour – The Small Room

(Note: This review is based on a later pressing of the demo, which includes three additional tracks from an earlier release.)

There are many dichotomies in the metal scene, often grinding each other in a sort of war for musical superiority, whether intentional or not. Warmth and human passion versus coldness and machinelike intensity is but one of them, and Calling Hour is a band that seems to attempt to combine both of these styles into one entity. The material on ‘The Small Room’ presents an unusual spin on traditional death-influenced thrash metal that actually works most of the time in a genre where tradition typically outweighs progression.

The music here is a good deal more technical than your average thrash metal, but not merely in the realm of shredding, though a number of very deft solos do occur on this demo. Rather, the music feels more intricate and layered, as well as impeccably timed, with absolute precision in playing creating a bedrock of technical stability for the compositions to grow upon. There are numerous riffs per song, ranging from fairly simple, traditional open string chugging to some more acrobatic slide maneuvers, but Calling Hour isn’t content to merely let them be played. The riffs are inserted into various unusual time signatures (‘Grave Child’) or manipulated by the instruments around them (‘Calling Hour’) to do more than simply exist. Sole member Mark Fanning seems to push everything in his music as far as it can go, pushing the intensity of riffs forward with a sort of tyrannical glee.

Complementing the riffs is a strong bass presence, in this case a thick, smooth cord of heaviness running through each song like a vein of black blood. Fanning’s voice is a raw, slightly guttural, seemingly distorted shout, driven beyond humanity with just the barest hint of electronic toying; minus the distortion, you have something quite similar to Max Cavalera on ‘Arise’. The most interesting contribution, though, comes in the form of the drum machine. The employment of synthesized drums adds an industrial edge to the music much like the guitar tone, which sounds digitally distorted, resulting in a sterile, electric sound in the music. Small bursts of overdubbing in the drums seem to occur to heighten this digital atmosphere. However, one of the central problems of the demo is caused by this fusion of thrash metal and industrial, despite how unique and compelling it is.

The riffing and soloing styles here are very warm, in the traditional thrash style. However, the seemingly digitized instrumentation is at war with this natural warmth, with the synthesized portions drawing warmth from the guitars and the warmth taking the edge from the industrial elements. Thus, ‘The Small Room’ is a demo that exists in both worlds yet neither at once due to this contradiction. However, it appears that some excellent ideas are at work here, and it’s just the cohesion of the sounds that needs to be worked on. The songwriting is very strong; each track is unique and features enough in the way of dynamics to stay interesting. But the sort of cognitive dissonance that the demo seems laced with is a problem that will need to be resolved, either by going in either direction or by making the two styles dovetail more evenly.

Despite its flaws in construction, ‘The Small Room’ is a very solid demo from a promising artist. Go for the thrash, stay for the industrial, be confused by both at the same time.

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~ by noktorn on August 16, 2007.

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