Widow - On fire 3.5/5

Reviewed: 10-14-05


1. An American werewolf in Raleigh
2. The preacher's daughter
3. Here to stay
4. Re-animate her
5. Sinderella
6. Not alone
7. Dead end
8. Misstery
9. Family affair
10. I'll bury you alive

Having spent 5 years living in North Carolina before relocating to hurricane alley, I can candidly say that it's not a particularly "metal" state. In fact, of the few local bands that existed and gigged around N.C. while I lived there, Raleigh-based melodic death metallers Sorrow Bequest were the only ones that ever piqued my interest. I remember one triumphant April Fool's Day gig in particular at Kings Barcade in Raleigh where Sorrow Bequest headlined over King Fowley's October 31 maniacs, even as half the audience was glued to the television monitors showing Final Four basketball action. A couple of years later, Sorrow Bequest added a few more traditional metal influences and incorporated some clean male vocals to go with the blackened shrieks. Bam, Widow was born. After releasing the solid debut CD, 'Midnight strikes', on Tribunal Records, Widow return with a new platter entitled 'On fire', on Cruz del Sur Records. This time around, there's a new drummer, Marc Anthony, but more importantly a 3rd voice, as the dimunitive, raven-haired, Doro-shirt-wearing Lili adds a mid-range female vocal layer to the simmering stew of harsh/clean male vocals.

Let's start with the positives, because there's a lot to like about this CD. 'On fire' is in many ways reminiscent of the rollicking, fun-loving, retro vibe of Wolf. That comparison can be a bit misleading though, inasmuch as Widow sport a more accomplished, flashier guitar duo and have never copped Maiden riffs and arrangements as blatantly as those Swedish meatballs. The 6-string artistry of Cristof and John E is a twin-axe aficionado's delight, with gorgeous harmonies, ripping leads and compelling riffs all over the place. Songs like "American werewolf in Raleigh", "I'll bury you alive", and "Re-Animate her" are an air guitarist's paradise. Also appealing is the triple-microphone attack, as the 3 different vocal styles constantly weave in and out of the songs, adding a slightly chaotic feel because of the unpredictability of which singer will kick in to deliver the next line. Lili may not win any awards for her Kim Goss-styled vocal prowess, but she does a competent job and adds a welcome new dimension. And let's call a spade a spade: There are some enormously catchy tunes on this CD, with a handful of instantly memorable and easily distinguishable songs.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for 'On fire' is tempered by a couple of factors. I've never been enamored of party/joke/overtly raunchy lyrics in my metal. So when the Widows sing about a girl who's "in church on every Sunday / but she's in the bushes Monday" in "Preacher's daughter", I lose interest. When Lili breathes "You'll feel me from inside, now take me from behind," on "Dead end", I'm wondering if I've called a 900 number by mistake. And the final straw is "Family affair", a fine song that is ruined by the lyrics, in which Lili laments that "my brother is my lover" and a clean male voice cries, "my sister is my mistress," as both of them wail that they were just waiting for a way to tell their "other" significant other about their unconventional familial bonds. Call me a humorless old coot, but if I'm not going to stand for this crap when Edguy bust out "Lavatory love machine", I'm not going to go for it here either. The other problem is that there are a couple of moments when the clean male vocalist veer a bit too close to Vince Neil/glam territory for my tastes, and when I wish the heaviness were amplified by a step or 2 just to keep a safe distance from cock rock tendencies. Those caveats notwithstanding, I find myself reaching for 'On fire' repeatedly as a satisfying and sometimes downright excellent journey in metal, North Carolina style.




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