KOB - Close to dawn 3/5

Reviewed: 7-10-09


1. Fame and glory
2. Who am I?
3. Get out of my way
4. The blank page
5. Kneel before him
6. Come into my world
7. Changes
8. One for one
9. The adventurer
10. The riot
11. Thank you
12. Too young to die

File this one under the heading of grizzled metal veterans. The core of this Parisian metal act has been making music together since 1976, albeit initially under the name of Wotan and with a 10-year break encompassing most of the forgotten decade of the 90s. 'Close to dawn' is KOB's 3rd CD release since their 1997 reunion, and their first to feature new singer Nicolas Blaizeau. I had lost track of the band since their respectable 2002 debut, 'Mekanism of time', so I was curious to hear what the French quartet are up to these days.

The change in vocalists has undoubtedly affected KOB's sound. Unlike the Dickinsonian air-siren wails of his predecessor, Stephane Graziani, Blaizeau is much more in the vein of the Scorpions' Klaus Meine or, even more accurately, fellow Frenchman Jo Amore (of the band Nightmare). That said, Blaizeau delivers a quality performance here, belting out his lines in a powerful manner and enunciating clearly so that most of the lyrics can be understood without consulting the booklet. In that regard, KOB remain in the minority of French metal acts who sing in English rather than their native tongue, and they are to be commended for not taking the easy way out.

But the change in singers seems to have ushered in a musical modification as well, as the Maidenisms of the band's earlier work are largely absent here. Instead, what KOB have presented is a largely mid-paced collection of guitar-driven rockers with conventional song structures and oft-repeated choruses. The guitars are mostly workmanlike and plodding, not bad but not particularly ear-catching or exciting, and the tempos are pretty similar throughout the CD's 53-minute running time, with only "Come into my world" picking up the pace substantially. As a result, KOB generally leave it to Blaizeau to carry the songs. This is a difficult burden because there's just not enough variation or melody in his voice to hold the listener's attention on his own for 12 songs. Things get even more problematic when the bluesy half-ballad "Changes" and the maudlin full-on acoustic tune "Thank you" are aired.

I don't want this to come across as too harsh, so let me be clear: 'Close to dawn' is far from a bad CD. To the contrary, save for the pair of ill-advised mellow cuts mentioned above, it really is an enjoyable listen from top to bottom. And a couple of the songs, most notably the Lord of the Rings-inspired "Kneel before him" and "Who am I?" plus "The adventurer", are quite good, sporting strong hooks and memorable writing. When the smoke clears, there is no doubt that 'Close to dawn' is an authentic, old-fashioned, handcrafted, professional heavy metal CD delivered from the heart. I do not doubt for a moment KOB's sincerity or their abilities. The trouble is that today's metal marketplace is highly congested. It's awfully hard to stand out. To be merely competent may not be enough to merit serious consideration from the metal faithful. I fear that 'Close to dawn' may be too restrained in its tempos, too pedestrian and predictable in its approach and too vanilla in its writing to stick out above the crowd. Part of that, of course, is my own musical biases. I go for speed and dynamics, power and energy, harmonies and epic writing. That's just not what KOB do. Those who favor stripped-down, anthemic, staid, no-frills metal may score this CD much higher than I. As for me, I appreciate and respect what KOB have given us here, but the reality is that I doubt I'll be returning to it too often.




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