Widow - Nightlife 3.5/5

Reviewed: 9-7-07


1. First born
2. We will meet again
3. Beware the night
4. Teachers pet
5. Cult of life
6. I'll make you a star
7. At the end
8. Beauty queen
9. Nightlife
10. Ain't talkin' 'bout love
11. I stole your love

The pride of Raleigh, North Carolina, Widow have returned with their 3rd CD, 'Nightlife'. Their 2005 opus, 'On fire', turned some heads with its tasty, ripping twin-guitar melodies; its chaotic amalgamation of black metal shrieks, clean male vocals and clean female vocals, and its strong songwriting; all in a musical package that combined traditional metal sensibilities with power metal tempos and Gothenburg-styled riffage, with even the occasional (unwelcome) nod to glam. Given their fairly unique sound, yet traditional leanings, Widow are a good fit for the Cruz del Sur label, whose roster also includes the likes of Slough Feg and Pharaoh. Not that Widow sounds like either of those acts (they don't), but philosophically they're not that far off.

Fans of the aforementioned 'On fire' will be pleased to hear that, with one exception, Widow's sound has remained largely intact this time around. The caveat is that female vocalist Lili, who did a fine job on 'On fire', is no longer in the band, and published reports on the Internet (take 'em with a grain of salt, of course) suggest that Widow have no interest in replacing her. For that reason, the female vocal dimension is missing from 'Nightlife'. To my way of thinking, however, that's a positive development, not because I disliked Lili, but because the triple-vocalist attack sometimes became distracting, overwhelming and even annoying on 'On fire', as one singer after another randomly swept in over the top of another with a spotlight-grabbing vocal line. Without the female vocal aspect, Widow's music sounds less disheveled, more controlled, more focused and altogether more cohesive because there aren't 3 different voices battling each other for airtime anymore.

Otherwise, however, 'Nightlife' is very much the son of 'On fire'. The fiery guitar duels of Chris Bennett and John E. Wooten are a treat, as always, offering both fantastic melodies and strong shredding for the discerning metalhead. The songs are mostly catchy and to-the-point, with tracks one through 3 making the strongest impression with an uninterrupted burst of crunchy metal goodness, one after another. Opener "First born" sees Widow at the top of their game, a nifty speedy track with semi-tongue-in-cheek lyrics about what a bummer it would be if the little bundle of joy you metal parents bring home from the hospital turns out to be the spawn of Beelzebub himself. The Bennett/Wooten fretwork, with old In Flames-type harmonies, grabs you by the throat and never lets go, and the different vocal styles mesh well here. "First born" represents everything I love about Widow. Several other songs are similarly strong, with particular props going out to "Beware the night" and "Nightlife".

Unfortunately, Widow sometimes are their own worst enemies. The lyrics, while never as ridiculous as the worst offenders on 'On fire', sometimes descend to the level of embarrassing schlock. "Teachers pet" may have worked with Venom used the same lyrical concept and song title back in 1982, but here it just sounds hackneyed and crass. "At the end" is perhaps even worse, amounting to little more than Winger-style "hey baby, I'll show you a good time" kind of lyrics. Also, the music sometimes regresses too close to glammy, cock-rock homage for comfort. Again, "Teachers pet" and "At the end" deserve special ignominy here. The other flaw to 'Nightlife' is that it's just too short. The CD as a whole runs 44 minutes, but the running time is padded with 2 wholly unnecessary and largely unenjoyable covers, Van Halen's "Ain't talkin' 'bout love" and Kiss's "I stole your love". I never cared for the original Van Halen song, and Widow haven't done anything here to endear it to me. As for "I stole your love", it's a great tune and it's cool that the band sped up the tempo, but Widow wrecks it with all of the harsh, demonic screams, which are definitely out of place. Take away these superfluous covers, and we're talking about just 38 minutes of music, hardly enough to justify paying full-CD prices.

I like Widow. I've liked all of their CDs, and 'Nightlife' is no different. It's just frustrating that a band with such great potential continues to squander it with their proclivities for dumb lyrics, Britny Fox idolatry, and failure to write a full CD's worth of solid material. Still, the good stuff here is very well done indeed, and well worth checking out for fans of Widow's previous output, or for people who enjoy a twist on their usual recipe of tried'n'true traditional heavy metal.




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