Griffin (Nor) - The ultimate demise 3.5/5

Reviewed: 6-15-07


1. Intro
2. The ultimate demise
3. Down on you
4. Legends live forever
5. Crown of thorns
6. Losing control
7. Angel
8. Pretty hate machine
9. Restless dreams
10. Ain't hard to die
11. Here comes the pain
12. Outro

I thought I was done with this band. Really, I did. I had been captivated with Griffin's 2003 CD, 'No holds barred', a catchy uptempo Norwegian traditional metal affair with good songs, great vocals, and production services supplied by Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom. Unfortunately, Griffin's 2005 release, 'Lifeforce', suffered from a more generic feel and sported a less metal approach overall as the band began integrating unwelcome hair metal/hard rock influences, apparently at the behest of volatile vocalist Pete Beck, who wasn't really from a metal background, from what I gather. Beck and 2 other members split from the Norwegian quintet after 'Lifeforce''s release, leaving guitarist Kai Nergaard and bassist Johnny Wangberg to soldier on with a new supporting cast. I'd read interviews with Nergaard in which he expressed skepticism about the future viability of the band, in light of both the inner turbulence and the apparently less than stellar sales of 'Lifeforce'. In those interviews, Nergaard promised a more aggressive approach on future output if the band survived that long.

The year 2007 finds Griffin returning to the scene, arising from the ashes like a phoenix with a retooled line-up, a retooled musical approach, and even a new record label. The good news about 'The ultimate demise' is that the band appear to have settled on a heavy traditional power metal sound this time around, with biting, sometimes thrashy, wall-of-sound guitars; fast tempos; and a balls-out vocal approach courtesy of new singer Rolf Bakken, all without ever forsaking melody. The hard rock elements have been eradicated, and this incarnation of Griffin is a decidedly leaner, meaner fighting machine than the version that recorded 'Lifeforce'. Perhaps the best musical comparisons would be recent Nostradameus, Freternia (maybe in the vox department, particularly), a touch of Thunderbolt, or even a European metallized version of Meliah Rage. There are at least half a dozen killer songs on here (most notably "Here comes the pain", the title track, and "Angel"), and expert knob-twiddler Andy LaRocque captured the band's meaty yet melodic approach extremely effectively, as a skilled producer should.

But not all is joyful in Mudville. Try as I might, I can't shake the feeling that this CD was tossed together without extensive attention to detail. The telltale signs are everywhere, from the nearly inscrutable cover art to the low-budget booklet to the decidedly miserly 34 minute playing time. (What's with all these bands releasing sub-40 minute CDs these days? As the price of metal CDs creeps ever higher, especially with the dollar's ongoing collapse against the euro, it seems like bands should be working hard to give their fans more value for their CD-buying buck, not less.) Mind you, this 34 minutes includes 10 full songs, plus intro and outro, so most of your songs average just under 3 minutes a pop. To my ears, the result is that the songs don't feel fully fleshed out and developed. It's like the band came up with a cool riff and chorus melody, then dashed out a quick barebones demo of the song fragment without adding the depth, the twists and turns, and the detail work that allow songs to retain a listener's interest for the duration of the song. In an apparent effort to remedy this defect, Griffin packages this CD with a bonus DVD. I appreciate the gesture, but this DVD isn't much of an inducement, consisting largely of home-movie, handy-cam type footage of the band at the bar, on the bus, and on the stage, complete with grainy video and poor audio. To me, the coolest part of the DVD is the footage of Beck's last concert with Griffin. On these 3 songs, the sound and picture quality are much better, and there's even a great rendition of "Praise the rain" (one of the highlights from the 'No holds barred' CD) on display. But if you were on the fence about whether to pick up 'The ultimate demise', the DVD really shouldn't sway you much in one direction or the other.

The final verdict here is that 'The ultimate demise' is a good and sometimes even very good CD. Griffin have corrected the stylistic flaws that impaired my enjoyment of 'Lifeforce'. They've got a strong new singer and have come up with a good collection of riffs and choruses. If the project had been fleshed out a bit more, this would easily be a 4/5 in my book. As it stands, however, a 3.5/5 is probably the fairest and most appropriate rating. Fans of 'No holds barred' and quality Scandinavian traditional/power metal should definitely look into this one, subject to the mentioned caveats.




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