It's once again time for a CD review at the SMS, and for this 34th monthly look at a local metal/hard rock album, we're reviewing the self-titled debut album from Sault Michigan/Grand Rapids metal band End of Existence! I apologize for the delay, but exams and final tests took up a lot of my spare time this month. Just our 3rd American CD review in the past 14 months, End of Existence self-recorded and produced this album over the past couple of years, releasing it on February 29th. It's also expected to be their only album under this band name before a planned name change in the coming months. End of Existence are represented on this album by Bob "JagerBob" Helsten on vocals (who left the band just days before the album's release), Steve Giles on guitar & iPad effects, Bryan Kindel on bass, Steve's brother Greg on drums, and Craig Harrison on the keyboard. As well, RedStone Riot frontwoman Rachel Kiger (Bob's former Elipzis bandmate) provides guest vocals on one track. This album is available in mp3 format from Reverbnation, iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby for $9.99 (though Amazon's price is a dollar less), while individual tracks go for 99¢ each, so click each link to purchase End of Existence's debut album! (Updated on November 8th)
With 12 tracks and over 51 minutes of music, let's begin this review with the first track, "The Elements"! It kicks off with a solid keyboard intro and a heavy melodic sound and when Bob's aggressive growling kicks in, it adds to the vibe! His clean singing is as unique as ever, and his harsh vocals help with the epic and brutal feel of the track! The music is solid as well, but Craig's keyboard work is overpowering in the verses, and it should have been lowered a bit to better hear the rest of the band. Late in the song, there's a clearer section to hear their collective talents, and Bryan's bass work really stands out then! The ending also is fairly unexpected, though not abrupt, and it feels like they just ended the song there rather than build to a big climax. "The Elements" is a solid and heavy opener for sure, but the overpowering volume of Craig's keyboard work does detract from the music, and it could have been longer.
Second is the album's only track longer than 5 minutes, "Recurring Dreams", which leads with a nice melodic and almost folksy guitar melody before unleashing into a heavy galloping section that alternates with Steve's solo guitar a few times. Bob's singing here is more traditional with less growling, which does affect the verses negatively, as it sounds a bit more reserved than a song this heavy could use. Luckily, the keyboard isn't as overpowering on this track, but Craig contributes well! Steve really shines on guitar, especially on his proficient solos, and Greg's drumming is more varied and intense, which helps add to this very cool metal song! The choruses are my favourite part for the full band on here, and overall, it's a much heavier showcase for their collective talents than "The Elements" was, making this an early favourite on End of Existence's debut album for sure! "Inside You" follows it on the CD, and after a slow build of an opening, it unleashes into a fast and heavy attack with nice orchestral-ish keyboard work in the background! Bob's growling is more consistent in the verses, and there's a great sing along quality with the chorus! Greg's drumming is on fire here, and the bass and guitar work is almost relentlessly heavy, with a great guitar solo late, though the song ended too soon after it. Another top notch track on this album, the guys have their epic brutality down really well here, but again, I wish the track was a bit longer!
Fourth on "End of Existence" is "Crying Tomorrow", which opens very softly with some interesting effects and minimal drumming before slowly building in intensity. Bob's singing is the softest and cleanest we've heard yet, and he shows his range well in the verses, while guest singer Rachel Kiger adds some nice backing work. Steve's guitar work is solid as usual, but it almost seems out of place with the song's pacing. Craig's keyboard parts flow well though, and the last minute of the song definitely picks up with some solid growling, though the musical pacing never really builds to match it. I'd also like to have heard more of Rachel's vocals here, and I imagine that if she and Bob traded off on vocals, it'd be even more original and unique on the album. This is a good song for sure, but some individual performances are heavier than the song probably needs.
That's followed by "12.21.12", which relates to the Mayan apocalypse theories this December. A slower yet pretty heavy start for this song leads into some aggressive growling and nice guitar & keyboard melodies, though the vocal intensity doesn't really flow with the music as well as it could. Considering the lyrical content, this song needs a faster and heavier pace, and a lot less repetition in both the lyrics & melodies. For a 4:47 runtime, the lack of variance is all too noticeable, and even a short guitar solo would have helped. It's a good and intense song, but as it stands, it should have been cut in half to avoid redundancy. Note that Bob later did a solo cover of this song which you can stream at this location, but the backing music isn't as pronounced or heavy as on the original version. Sixth is "Taken", which answers my calls for a faster and heavier sound from the ger-go, and with some awesome guitar riffing to boot! Bob's singing is mostly fitting for the song's mood, and there's another nice sing-along chorus here, but the backing instrumentation does sound oddly upbeat at times, which contrasts with the heavy vocals. Plus, Steve's first guitar solo is too short and the second shouldn't be relegated to fading out at the very end, it was starting off well! Still, this is another high quality track on this album, and it answers some previous questions well with it's brutality!
Next is "In The Distance", which starts in an epic ballad-like fashion with proficiently played music and a quieter tone, which Bob matches well in the vocal department, and I like the string instrument-esque backing music in the verses! The second verse picks up a bit in aggression without losing it's softer vibe, though the lack of chorus vocals is odd, and doesn't help the song's flow. The music is good, especially for Greg Giles' drumming, and the softer quieter ending helps the song ease out without losing the original vibe! That said, it's a solid softer track that death growling haters can appreciate more, but the lack of chorus vocals is still really strange. The softer vibe continues into track #8, "Deathbed", which is also the album's shortest song. Primarily based around Bob and Steve musically, the song has really nice guitar work, but the vocals almost sound over the top at points, and the song probably could be better served with a more reserved vocal style. There isn't a whole lot to say about "Deathbed", as it mostly keeps the same tone and melody throughout, which is nice and intricate at points, and for what it is, it works really well, I just think Bob should have toned things down a bit vocally.
The heaviness returns on the next song "Arise", which has a catchy guitar intro and some intense work from the entire band, including very solid drumming and excellently fitting vocals in the verses! The chorus singing is too reserved and monotone than the song really deserves though. Musically, End of Existence are on fire, and Steve Giles gets a longer guitar solo, which I welcome readily! It's nice to get another heavier track, but the ending is a bit abrupt. Still, this is a nice and very heavy original, with talent shown all around, but the underwhelming chorus singing doesn't help it out much. Tenth is "Blood On My Hands", which formerly carried anti-Osama Bin Laden subtitles, which is a giveaway to the song's lyrical message. It's an intense and pretty brutal song with fitting vocals around every turn, catchy choruses, and heavy guitar work and drumming! That said, it can be slightly repetitive as it goes along, and there is no guitar solo, but generally, this is a quality addition to the "End of Existence" album, and you can feel a lot of welcome aggression and emotion in this track, which definitely isn't out of place!
Second-last on the album is "Sun Is Gone", which kicks off right away with softer clean singing and a ballad-ish opening, but Bob kicks some growling in quickly as well, building into a brutal chorus with a slow heavy pace! The verses are a complete contrast from the choruses, but they at least flow well, and it's never terribly repetitive. The spoken word section late is a bit over the top, and a guitar solo would have really helped this track in terms of variance, but the contrasting softness and heavy choruses work well and compliment each other better than on some earlier songs, and it's another entertaining track on this CD! The album closes with "Where I'll Stay" (formerly subtitled "...On A Mountain"), which opens with a nice softer beat and solid clean vocals, and the backing effects create a different mood that works for the material! The song is too energetic to be a ballad, but not very heavy either, but it has a unique feel that works and fits the lyrics nicely! It's not my ideal pick to close the album though, as I'd have rather have ended it with a heavier original or their instrumental named "Ending" that didn't make the cut for this CD. Still, "Where I'll Stay" is a unique addition to "End of Existence" that shows their diversity as a band well!
So, what's my final assessment on End of Existence's debut CD? Well, it's definitely an entertaining and heavy mix of original songs that suit their talents well! One might be tempted to compare this to Integrated System of Machines' only album "Apocalyptic Vision", which Bob Helsten & Craig Harrison performed on, but End of Existence has arguably expanded on that greatly since in musical and production quality! Bob's vocals will definitely be missed in E.O.E., as he maneuvered well between brutal death growling and uniqely diverse clean vocals, so he definitely has big shoes to fill! Steve Giles' guitar work was generally excellent, as was his iPad use (possibly a first for an album we've reviewed), and Greg Giles' drumming was fast, varied, and set the tone well from start to finish! Definitely made up for his scattered appearances on Theatre of Night's album. Bryan's bass work was solid and proficient, and Craig's keyboard use tended to add a lot of atmosphere and ambiance to their material! Once a new singer is secured, the band should be completely ready for live shows, if their performance in studio is any indication, as they do sound like a band with great chemistry and talent, especially on songs like "Recurring Dreams", "Inside You", and "Blood On My Hands"!
This isn't a perfect album though, but no album is. Some of Bob's clean singing could be over the top, and his vocal intensity sometimes was a mismatch with the music. Steve needed more and longer guitar solo time, the production sometimes overrode Bryan's bass playing, and though this wasn't a recurring problem, the keyboard was completely too loud on "The Elements". A few tracks also had weird endings or vocal absences (like "In The Distance"), and on songs like "12.21.12", there was too much repetition than was needed. However, the sum is greater than the parts, and if this will indeed be the only album under the End of Existence name, it's definitely a high quality release that suits their talents! A diverse mix of death & epic metal awaits any listener or fan of this talented quintet, and if you're a fan of the members' other bands and the genres they play, you'll definitely enjoy "End of Existence", so pick it up A.S.A.P.!
I hope you guys liked this month's CD review! So, what's getting reviewed for May 2012? I'm not entirely sure. It was nice having the last two months planned out due to new releases, but none have a firm expected release yet for next month, if any. I will confirm that our next review will not be Foothill Road's live CD or of anything by Sykotyk Rampage or Woods of Ypres, as it's too soon from our last reviews of theirs. The former two are summer possibilities though, and I hope to review "Woods III" in the fall if there's a clear month. Anything else either has no firm release date or has a release in limbo at best, and if an archive review is next, it could be anything from Aftersight or Candle Hour to Detroit or The Harsh Heads, or something completely different (just going by heavier unreviewed albums I have access to at the moment.) Time will tell though, so stay tuned for updates on our potential next album review as the month rolls along, and stay tuned for a new news post tomorrow! Thanks everyone!