It's time for our 18th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and the last one of 2010! With new local metal album releases slowing down again (despite the amount that are in the works), we're dipping into the archives once again for today's review! For the first time in over four months, we're taking a look at a Sault Michigan band's album, in what is also our oldest CD review to date! The band in question is defunct local groove metal band Lower S.E.S., and today's review focuses on their 1996 self-titled (and only) EP! Recorded in 1996 at Superior Sound Studios in Sault Ontario, the band won the recording time for this EP at a local battle of the bands at The Tumble Inn in nearby Eckerman, Michigan. If you guys know who produced the album, let me know! This self-titled EP features Lower S.E.S.' classic lineup, including frontman Micah Masta, guitarist Andy Nash, bassist Erik Rintamaki, and his current Half A Man bandmate Mikey Bishop on drums! The EP, which is out of print, features five songs, and all are streamable at Lower S.E.S.' MySpace page! I also uploaded the EP's tracks to The Sault Metal Scene's YouTube channel to increase the band's exposure like they deserve, and the song titles below will send you to our YouTube uploads of each track! With five songs clocking in at 17 minutes of music, this will be a quick one, so let's begin with the first song, "Bold"! (EDITED: 8:54 PM)
"Bold" starts off with the old Disney movie intro "And now, our feature presentation" before launching into a heavy groove riff section that's not too fast, but appropriately heavy! Micah's vocals make a quick instant mark with a nice scream, but aside from that, the first minute is more of the same stuff, with a few minor changes. Well played, but it drags along. Once the actual singing kicks in, you can give Micah credit for very heavy vocals that almost cross the death metal line, fit the songs very well! However, the audio quality makes the vocals very hard to discern. I don't know if this is the production quality or just how it sounds on MySpace, but the vocals sound buried and not very clear. The song is very cool and sets the tone for the EP well, with very heavy guitars and nice drumming from Mikey Bishop! I do sense a nice Pantera influence at parts as well, but the song just seems to be all on the same note. If you hear one section of the song, you'll hear it again later, there's not a lot of variety. No guitar solos either, that would have been a nice addition, especially with this being the longest song on the EP. Still, it's a nice opener and would surely have gotten fans moshing at any of their old concerts!
Second is "Alone", which has a nice breakdown-ish opening and more energy to the overall sound to start! Mikey's drumming instantly captures my attention, and Erik Rintamaki gets a nice bass solo section about a minute in as well before launching into the verses! The overall sound here is more creative than "Bold" was, if a bit lighter in tone, though still heavy! Micah's vocals come in clearer here, but if you asked me to transcribe the lyrics, I wouldn't be a lot of help. 2:10 into the song, things get very fast and very heavy, easily my favourite part of "Alone", which shows a lot more of what Lower S.E.S. have to offer than "Bold" did! That's not a bad thing, I like both songs, but "Alone" shows a lot more of the aggression and talent these guys brought to the band! The ending seems tailor made for fist pumping as well, it closes the song well! I really enjoyed this song, but clearer vocal quality and a guitar solo would have put it over the edge!
Track number 3 is "Beside Myself", which is an album low 2:08 long. The opening's very heavy hitting, and you might find your head banging to it! The song quickly launches in full with Micah using his voice to great effect with nice vocal control, and some crushing guitar work from Andy Nash! If the production was better, it'd sound even heavier! Mikey's drumming is at top form again here! Aside from the lack of a guitar solo (I'm losing faith that there will be any at all), the song seems to wrap up too quickly, and Erik's bass solo, while very well played, kills the momentum midway through. When the full band launches back, Micah's screaming and the band's obvious chemistry shine through, and end the song on an aggressive high! Another quality song, but I wish it was longer and fuller sounding.
Following that is "Larian", which has a very brutal opening that sounds like it belongs at the end of a song! The riffing has a galloping quality at parts, and the drumming matches well! Micah's vocals seem more reserved in their heaviness than on other songs, but things do get more aggressive as the song moves forward! Mikey and Erik really shine here, they're audible and playing with a lot of variety! Another quality track, but I do have problems with it. The song just seems to end out of nowhere, when a heavy breakdown section would have been cool, there's no guitar solo again, and the end seemed very methodical and straightforward compared to the energy captured earlier in the song. Still, it's a very good song!
The EP's closer is "State of the Union", which begins with Erik's absolute best bass solo of the album! If there really are no guitar solos, then at least Erik's helping fill that gap! When the full band kicks in, things are heavy but have a lighter feel than on earlier songs. This song definitely is slower than the past few, but retains a nice metal groove! Nothing too experimental is tried here, it just retains appropriate aggression and heaviness throughout, though there are some buried spoken word sections that sound cool, if hard to make out. Micah's singing is at top form here, especially on the choruses, and the drumming is a standout part of this song as well! This a solid capper to the EP, but I'd have liked to have seen Lower S.E.S. try some different things to make the last song really stick with us to close out the album. Still a very good song though!
So, how does Lower S.E.S.' only released album hold up after 14 years? Well, on a sheer musical basis, these guys were a very talented band, and I can see why they won the events they did in the mid-1990s! They are good songwriters, the chemistry is evident, and each band member had different strengths! Micah Masta has good control over his voice, and can growl and scream very nicely! Andy Nash has an ear for good guitar riffs, and he lays down some very crushing material on this EP! I wonder what Micah and Andy have been up to musically since? Erik Rintamaki's bass work really shines, and his inclusion of bass solos and some creative and audible bass lines helped complete a lot of the songs here! And Mikey Bishop shown here that he's an extremely good drummer, and as his later work with local and Lower Peninsula bands has also shown, he's only gotten better since! It's a wonder Lower S.E.S. only lasted two years, cause they proved to be a more than capable metal quartet, and this EP could have led to some great things had they stuck with it. Songs like "Alone" and "Beside Myself" are proof positive of that!
However, there are flaws, biggest of all being the production quality. To be fair, Lower S.E.S. recorded this 14 years ago, so I'm not expecting anything on a Miguel Gauthier level, but it does hurt each song. The overall quality is muffled in many respects, and I can barely make out what Micah's singing about in any of the songs. I can't tell if this is MySpace's fault or the original recording quality, but it does hurt the overall sound. Another big issue was the complete lack of guitar solos. Again, I'm not expecting the world, but Andy Nash had such skill with his riffs and melodies that you think they'd throw in at least one! Erik's bass solos helped, but for a groove metal band with such a heavy sound, a guitar solo or two would have added to everything! Even still, this was a solid debut effort from Lower S.E.S., and I imagine that had they stayed together, they could have went on to even bigger and better things in the local scene! Though the recording quality dates the material, their sound would go over just as well today as it did then, and they're a great find of a local band that shouldn't be missed, so definitely give Lower S.E.S.' original material a spin and see what you think!
So there is this month's CD review, capping off 2010 on a heavy note! So, what will be our first review of 2011, tentatively scheduled for January 10th-17th? I don't know, but here are my plans. If a new album (or two, or more) come out before 2010 ends, then our first new album review will be in very early January! If nothing new comes out until next month, then we'll take it from there. If no new albums come out at all by January 17th, we will do an archive review from a Sault Ontario metal band, and it will likely be tied in to a scheduled concert featuring that band or a member of that band. What band could be next for a CD review, if it's of a new release? Check our latest "Where Are The New Albums?" post to see what's on the horizon, cause one of those albums could be next! I will say that the next review won't be either of Sykotyk Rampage's new albums, if they come out in the next month, as it will still be too soon after my "Bella Disgusta" review. Watch out in the spring for at least one review from the "Genius Mushroom" series! Time will tell what our next review will be, so stay tuned for updates over the next few weeks!
That's all for today, stay tuned for more local metal news tomorrow! Thanks everyone!