Today marks our 40th monthly local CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and for the first time in 7 months, we're looking at a new Sault Ontario album release, that being local grunge band Haggith's debut album "Dragon Joy Ride"! Released on October 7th through the band's independent label PaperClip Productions, it was recorded there this summer along with material for future planned albums. Haggith were represented on this album by singer/guitarist Curtis McKenzie, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Daniel Horton and drummer/producer Mike Haggith, with Curtis & Daniel handling bass duties in lieu of Caleb Cachagee, who joined the band after sessions ended. Songs on this album were generally wrote by Curtis and/or Daniel, though Curtis' brother Travis has writing or co-writing credits on three songs. "Dragon Joy Ride" can be purchased online at this location for $5, with physical copies available by request through the band's online pages and in person at their concerts. It's also available to stream for free on YouTube at this link (each song title below is linked there), but please support the band and buy the CD in some form!
Featuring 9 songs clocking in at around 33 minutes of music, let's kick off this review with the first song "Wanko"! By far the shortest song on "Dragon Joy Ride", the song kicks off with a fast paced almost swing/southern-inspired riff with very the singing filtered in an echo style in between the music that is somewhat hard to hear. It's a well done little track for it's style, and it ends before it can get repetitive, but the vocal effects do dampen the experience compared to live versions of this song. Second is "The Married Massacre", which opens with a softer and darker bass-heavy opening before building to a mid-tempo rocker with softer verses that contrast fairly well with Curtis' more aggressive singing! With no effects, I can tell that his grungier singing voice fits their sound pretty good on this type of material, and the guitar melodies are complimentary and effective for the most part! I'd like to see the structure of the song shaken up a bit, and maybe include a better ending, but this is an effective grunge rocker that improves on the album's opening song!
Next on the CD is "No Cure For Insanity", a quicker hard rocker that launches with a heavy and fairly catchy groove and nice melodic singing from Curtis, but the backing vocals on the verses here seem out of place and too low for the energy. The drumming here is also somewhat muffled in the music, which is otherwise well played, and I like the effects and riffs at work here! The lyrics work well too, but the choruses are too repetitive. For a heavier alt-rock original, "No Cure For Insanity" packs a solid wallop into it's short length, and fans of early 1990s grunge and alt-rock should enjoy this track fairly well! Then we have the album's longest track "Sandman", which starts slowly with a solitary guitar line before the other instruments join in, though Curtis' singing seems too heavy and out of place for the song's early pacing. Maybe it'd play better if Mike sang the first half? By midway through the track, the intensity of the song builds and gets heavier while keeping the slower timing, and that's when "Sandman" peaks, but the instrumentation's good throughout, and the guitar work stands out well! I just wish the vocals better matched the song's moods.
Fifth on "Dragon Joy Ride" is "Yesterday Frustration" (shouldn't it be "Yesterday's"?), which opens heavily with solid guitar work from Curt & Daniel before quieting down for the verses and chorus, taking on a lighter feel with more reserved singing, while still rocking. While the softer approach fits the song better, the choruses are partially buried within the music, and it'd be nice to hear them at least approached heavily like the song's opening and closing stretches. The song's well played, but it needed a better mix, a less abrupt ending, and more aggression, but Mike's drumming stood out well! That's followed by "Livin' It On The Run", which opens very softly with the quietest vocals from Curtis yet, before the chorus builds into a heavier alt-rock sound that recalls some of their earlier tracks on this album, and the contrast works well here! Though somewhat rigidly structured, the guitar solo was welcomed, and the guys handle the softer verses and heavier stretches equally well without too much instrument burial, so it's a late standout track!
Track #7 is "I Am", which takes on a slower aggression that sounds like it could be adapted well to a harder edged acoustic track, and Curtis' singing sounds both deeper and more controlled to benefit the track overall! The guitar riffing is heavy while still being paced well, but the drums are somewhat buried again, particularly in the verses. If anything, the song is somewhat repetitious, mainly in the choruses, but this shows Haggith playing at their best in terms of the slower/softer material on "Dragon Joy Ride"! Then is "Rage Train", and this longer number doesn't start with a lot of rage, opening with a melodic lower style before building into some nice heavy riffing prior to the verses. Familiar to some earlier tracks, the song has harder edged choruses and softer but darker verses that work well for their sound, and I like that Curtis' singing matches each tempo better! The guitar solo from Daniel is well done too, and it's a bit longer than some others on the album, which I welcome! This is another entertaining track that showcases Haggith's talents well, and it's one of my favourites on the album!
"Dragon Joy Ride" closes with a reprise of the opening song "Wanko", which is over double the length of the original and has a different overall sound. In fact, the first 45 seconds is full of banter between Daniel, Mike, and Curtis over top of some minimal guitar work, which is somewhat amusing! The basic structure and lyrical content have carried over from the original song, but it's slower (aside from the last few seconds), heavier, and leaves out the echo vocal effects, so despite the slowdown, I like this version better than the original! It maintains a solid groove and aggression that the original was lacking despite it's speed, and it ends this album on a good note! So, what's my final assessment of Haggith's debut album? From what I've heard, it's a very solid first release from this new local band, and a lot of promise is evident! Grunge is a tough genre to break through locally with, but this should turn some heads for it's musical quality, and the members are all visibly talented! Curtis McKenzie & Daniel Horton's guitar & bass work was heavy and melodic when need be, and their riffs and leads called back to the 1990s in happy ways more than once, while Curtis' vocals complimented their heavier songs nicely, especially late in the album!