Variety is the spice of life, a change is as good as a rest, both are idioms used to express the fact that you should move out of your comfort zone and experience different things. This can apply to music just as much as it applies to anything else. Now, you all know I’m a huge progressive rock fan and the majority of my reviews reflect this. Recently, I decided to step out of the box and listen to something different, expand my music horizons if you will. I have not listened to much of the so called technical progressive metal music that has become increasingly prevalent recently. Bands like Periphery and Monuments have made this genre very popular here in the U.K. and across the world of progressive and metal music. Maybe it’s my age but most of this music has passed me by without making as much as a ripple in my musical consciousness.
One band whose name has kept peering above the parapet of my prog castle is London’s The Safety Fire. They are said to have pushed the boundaries of technical progressive metal since their inception. Sean McWeeney (vocals), Lori Peri (bass), Calvin Smith (drums) and twin guitarists (I don’t mean they are related!) Derya Nagle and Joaquin Ardiles are quoted as being at the forefront of the genre, high praise indeed!
The Safety Fire released an EP (Sections) in 2009 and followed this up with their first, full length album, Grind the Ocean; I joined the party with their latest release Mouth of Swords.
In general, this is a seriously well constructed album, distinctive vocals that have a high range, pounding drums and bass and the two guitars rocking away and compounding the complex but accessible feel to the album. I had my reservations at the start though, album opener and title track Mouth of Swords seems very generic at first, the extreme vocals not immediately to my liking but, as the crashing guitars take centre stage, it all seems to come together, some excellent, if frenetic, fret work showcasing a decent, if not standout, start to the album. Glass Crush carries on in similar vein, the screaming edge of some of the vocals still grating but, in general, this guy has an excellent rock voice that blends perfectly with the fast paced, hard edged guitar sound. The twin guitars giving the band’s sound an added edge when compared to their peers. McWeeney’s voice really stands out in the more choral sections of the track. The great guitar sound and pounding drumbeat that herald Yellowism lead us into more of the complex sections and arrangements that make this more than just screamo or standard rock. Crashing guitar riffs, pounding drums and strong vocals seem to be the way forward for this band. Beware The Leopard (Jagwar) blends this frenetic sound with a more commercial style and is a real stand out track for this, this is where my ears perk up and I really start to get why The Safety Fire are spoken of so highly, forgetting the growly vocals (which most people know I am no fan of) there is a lot to like in this track, the faster, hard edged style blending perfectly with the slower, more thoughtful sections. A more, hard edged metal style hits you in the face at the start of Red Hatchet, the extreme side to McWeeney’s vocals very prevalent on this song. Very complex guitar sections backed up with the incessant drums, this track could define the term technical progressive metal on its own. Some thunderous guitar crashes slam us through the second half of this track before a much slower and mellower ending to the song that seamlessly leads us into the most soft and ballad like song on the album, Wise Hands. Here Sean McWeeney shows us he can do mournful as well as extreme, his voice lifting us through what is a great, soft edged contrast to the bombast on show elsewhere on the album. The guitar sound has a great, almost acoustic feel in places, just a great piece of music. The absolutely thunderous introduction to The Ghost That Waits for Spring with its Star Wars laser gun effects and extreme vocals knocks you back into what is the core of this band, stand out complex guitar runs, technical efficiency and the ever present hard edged vocals, you have sustained a serious aural battering and come out smiling. A delightful, slow tempo and seriously mellow vocal show us the lighter side of The Safety Fire, I Am Time, The Destroyer then hits you extremely hard in the solar plexus, a crashing, complex guitar with a staccato edge to it that backs extreme and hard edged vocals that, in my opinion only, tend to just grate a little before we are hauled back to the softer style at the beginning of the song, this track is a real piece of Jekyll and Hyde music as we seem to head one way then the other to the end. There is no break as we move seamlessly to the final track on the album, Old Souls, a delightful guitar run backs softer vocals at the start. It’s not long before the tempo lifts and we head off into a really clever track that blends the technical, complex and, basically, hard and extreme side of The Safety Fire with a more mellow edge. The vocals shift from the extreme style that McSweeney does so well to a much more mainstream sound that really works on this track. Crashing guitars and great solos meld with lighter elements to give this band their take on this genre of music. The lighter outro to the song is a delight, it is a great ending to the album and leaves an impression on this listener, they have saved the best until last in this case.
The Safety Fire have produced an album that seems to show all that is good about technical progressive metal, the extreme vocals just seem to grate, that might be just me and don’t let it put you off if you are a fan. Mouth of Swords is a great piece of music that, in places, rises above the competition to really stand out. I am not a true fan of this type of music and am not sure that, however good Mouth of Swords is, I will be converted but, for fans of the genre, I am sure it will be an excellent purchase.