I’ve been tracking this darkly aggressive industrial-metal team for many years now, and while they’ve yet to receive all the same recognition of big-label acts in the same genre, they’ve been consistently dedicated to their sound, their fans and their work ethic, putting themselves out there year after year… and it looks like the world is finally beginning to sit up and take notice. The band’s successful 2006 album Unsaved was their first chance to bridge the chasm between the world of hard-working independents and high-profile power players, but the grueling years of promoting that record took their toll.
Fortunately, they’ve come back strong with a modified lineup and a more refined sonic attack, as proven by their upcoming release Coat Of Arms. The new material turns down a slightly new path, with a surprisingly mainstream feel at times, but on the whole it maintains a brutal take-no-prisoners attitude, and that’s always a good thing. Read on for a preview, and maybe learn a something new about the DSA crew…
DeadStar frontman Dearborn has described Coat Of Arms as “a new unbridled chapter for the band” which allowed them to channel their collectively chaotic mood after the end of the last album tour. “We returned from the Unsaved tour battered and mentally on the fringe,” he explains. “The band wasn't getting along and we opted for internal genocide.” But where this might otherwise have resulted in complete dissolution, Dearborn decided to slightly rework the DSA lineup, bring some long-absent players (namely keyboardist MUBO) back into the fold and return to the songwriting process immediately. So like the mythical Phoenix, DSA rose from its own ashes, its talons sharp and ready for battle.
That’s not to say the newly-energized group didn’t encounter its share of problems during production… according to Dearborn, technical issues (including a total hard-drive failure at one point) forced them back to square one on some tracks. But those issues turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as they led the group back to their former producer Luis Duran, aka OSS (who hadn’t worked with DSA since their self-titled debut album), whose offbeat electro skills ended up transforming the album’s sound in unique and effective ways. Also joining the team are co-producer Jeremy Staska (Poison the Well) and mastering engineer Adam Ryan (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle).
That jagged but well-oiled sound design emerges just after the swirling feedback and pensive piano strains of the brief intro/title cut, storming forward with the down-and-dirty opening riff to Arm and a Leg – a muscular anthem that sets its harsh guitars and vocals in a smooth, expansive synthesizer setting with multi-tracked vocals providing a call-to-arms kind of energy which effectively sets the tone for the entire record. F.Y.G. (Fuck Your God) goes for a deeper, more caustic version of this same formula, and is one of the strongest, most powerful and brutal tracks of the album... too bad the title pretty much cancels out the chance of wider airplay, because this one would be a badass single on its caustic power alone.
Mid-tempo number The Darkest Star is basically a dialed-down version of its predecessors, and despite some strong vocal harmonies lacks the same punch... but things quickly recover with Shadows, a nightmarish and effective cut that hammers home the band's industrial origins. The surprisingly melodic vocals and expansive guitars of power-ballad We Fade Forever demonstrates that the band can carry off more pensive tunes without losing its edge, and the follow-up cut Already Dead seems to reveal the dark underbelly of the same theme, which is a nice touch.
Not only does the horror-punk flavored Blood Bags have a nifty title, it's also one of the meanest-sounding tracks of the bunch, with a great crunchy riff that slips effortlessly into double-time and back again. The appropriately breathy synth intro for Breathe for Me rolls smoothly into a piano-driven ballad that may be the closest DSA has ever approached to a pop song structure – and they actually pull this off very well. That uplifting tone is given a high-voltage jolt with Rise Again, an electro-metal blaster that benefits from some well-arranged vocals. In Secrecy was actually a good pick for a single, as it manages to forge a solid link between the melodically sweeping feel of the previous cut with the acid-etched brutality of Arm and a Leg. The menacing Curtains closes the album with a mighty gut-punch, reminding you that, despite the new harmonic tendencies, these dudes ain't going emo anytime soon.
I was surprised at how quickly these tracks sped by… the momentum is consistent enough to keep your attention without any one track over-staying its welcome, and they all hold up to serious volume-crankage without any ear fatigue (not taking into account any less understanding neighbors you might have), which can sometimes plague super-compressed industrial-style riffs. But it’s the melodic hooks that really propel these tracks, and after stepping away for awhile I found myself coming back to the strongest – namely F.Y.G. for its high-octane fury, and Breathe for Me for the melodic counter-balance. Overall, I can definitely hear the progression since Unsaved, and it’s clear that Dearborn and company have honed their songwriting chops to produce fat-free melodies worthy of repeat play.