When I first listen to album of any sort – whether to review or just enjoy – the key question is always whether the music catches my ear. Especially when reviewing albums, I generally tend to subject them to the background test. If I have the record on in the background and yet I still find myself listening to it, having grabbed my attention, then I know there’s something good there.
The reason I’m mentioning this is that it’s the simplest and easiest way of offering a verdict on Italian metal band TerrorWay and their debut Blackwaters. This is by no means a bad record, with completely competent musicianship and polished production, and when the music is at the forefront of your attention there is much to like. However, this is not an album demanding to be heard, nor does it remain long in the memory after conclusion.
I thought I’d get the negatives out of the way early on. Having said all of the above, I’ll gladly go on record stating that there is much to listen out for on this album, with some very strong moments.
TerrorWay have been advertised as modern experimental metal but this is not how I’d best describe the band. Without wanting to sound too damning, I could not hear a huge amount on Blackwaters which immediately jumped out as ‘experimental’. This is nothing to be ashamed of though – instead the strongest influence I heard on this album was the straight-up groove-thrash metal reminiscent of Machine Head, with smatterings of Lamb of God and At the Gates, a strong mix, certainly.
One of the first tracks to really catch my ear and pass the background test was the fourth, ‘Keep Walking Silent’. Although opening with a beautifully heavy riff, bringing to mind the better moments within The Blackening, the sense of balance in structure and songwriting is for me what made this track one of the stronger on the album.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, variety of texture/sound/mood is what truly creates a record with punch. The highs become higher and the soft moments softer – if an album is constantly turned up to 11, it becomes a monotony. Eventually the listener is turned off and the brutality of the record fades into routine.
TerrorWay are strongest when they allow their grooves to open up, giving the songs that sense of space and lighter texture. This can be put down in a large part to the impressive funk-inspired playing from bassist Giovy, giving the more ‘restrained’ (for want of a better word) moments a little flavour of uniqueness and individuality. Perhaps the best examples of this can be found in the verse to track three, ‘In A Swamp’, and the build-up to the climax of the seventh track ‘Renewal’.
Partially as a result of the ear-catching basswork, the biggest disappointment for me were the vocals delivered by Vale. Delivered in a mid-range yell (again reminiscent of Machine Head’s Flynn) taking us closer to the hybridisation that is deathcore, the vocals did not offer a huge amount of variety. Just like Flynn shows, you can employ vocals of this kind and still manage to deliver a full well-rounded performance. Like I mentioned earlier, variety is the key – for me the album’s stand-out track was the sixth, ‘Chained’, the only song to really offer vocal variety and a chance for Vale to demonstrate his ‘clean’ vocal skills.
I want to reinforce that there is much about this album I like, especially all aforementioned individual tracks. Positively, too, the record improves as it progresses, and the close to Blackwaters with the acoustic riff on ‘Ruins’ is fantastic.
As you can probably tell, I’m rather ambivalent about this album (makes for quite a hard review to write!) This is a band with great potential, if they allow themselves to open up more with that sense of space and variety. Whilst actually properly listening to the music, there’s a lot to appreciate, and I’m sure I’ll return to the record once I’ve finished this review. The only problem is that there’s much filler between these moments of appreciation – filler which fades into a single sound, failing to really catch the ear or stick in the mind.