Warmachine - The beginning of the end 4/5
3. Beginning of the end
4. Safe haven
7. Forgotten demise
8. Taunted souls
9. Eye for an eye
10. Dust to dust
Warmachine appear to be undergoing something of an identity crisis in the metal media. In researching whether or not to purchase this long-toiling Canadian act's debut CD, I encountered descriptions ranging from thrash metal to prog to traditional power. To further confound matters, Warmachine are signed to Nightmare Records, who are perhaps most renowned for their acts toward the hard rock end of the spectrum. Plus, the band have prominently invoked the services of ex-Megadeth mainstay David Ellefson, who co-produced 4 songs and played bass on 3. Of course, Ellefson's involvement is no guarantee of either quality or stylistic integrity/purity. (F5, anyone?) And then there's the proggy-looking cover art, showing an abstract black-and-white image of a shirtless boy shivering in the cold as he exposes a fearsome skull tattoo on his torso. Hmmmm. Put all of these head-scratching ingredients together and I had no idea what to expect when I finally bought 'The Beginning of the end' and loaded it into my player.
Color me both impressed and pleasantly surprised, as Warmachine have turned in a fine effort here. To address the stylistic ambiguity first, I would characterize this band as traditional metal in the U.S. vein with the occasional thrash element (in riffing style, not tempo), perhaps owing most in sound to the more aggressive tracks on Metallica's black album and 'Youthanasia'-era Megadeth, with the occasional 'End of all days'-era Rage melodic vibe and even a bit of Meliah Rage or late-period Wargasm (check out the piledriving main riff in "Safe haven" or the buzzsaw guitarline in "Taunted souls", which could have been Rich Spillberg all the way). The focus is on short, snappy, mid-paced 4-minute songs with a high memorability factor, catchy choruses, and strong melodic sensibilities, without ever sacrificing crunchy riffage along the way. I hear no prog whatsoever, as there are minimal (if any) keys and absolutely no self-indulgent musical interludes. The reviewers who attribute a progressive sound to Warmachine are either (a) suffering from a major chemical impairment, or (b) simply assuming that the Nightmare Records tag must mean a lighter overall sound, without ever listening to the CD. Nonetheless, I do think there is a Lance King / Nightmare influence in place here, in terms of the smooth production, the gargantuan hooks galore, and the polished choral vocals (no gang-shouted vox or bombastic Hammerfall-style choirs).
Vocalist/guitarist Joe Di Taranto definitely bears the laboring oar on this CD, but he acquits himself admirably. His voice has a pleasing mid-range timbre that doesn't sound exactly like anybody else, but at times reminds me of the vocalist from long-defunct San Diego metallers, Zaxas. And his guitar work may not be awe-inspiring, but Di Tiranto has a penchant for a well placed lick and a talent for weaving solos skillfully into the framework of the songs. But it is those songs, and not any particular player, that make 'The Beginning of the End' a success. From the very first time I heard songs like "Forgotten demise", "Eye for an eye", "Empty", and "Safe haven", I was smiling and singing along with them like old favorites. "Taunted souls" is a hammer-down skullcrusher that prevents things from settling into a placid midtempo groove. And the acoustic guitars of "Eternally" immediately call to mind "The Unforgiven".
Warmachine certainly aren't going to revolutionize the face of heavy metal in North America. But that's not what they're trying to do. What they are doing is taking the best elements of heavier mainstream U.S. metal circa the early 90s, and incorporating them into a batch of well written, endearing songs. Warmachine may be playing it safe, but they do so with style and grace, and have won me over with their stellar songcraft.
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