Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mike McCleary - "Weight Of The Truth" Review!!

To help end the month, here's our 104th monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a look at local solo hard rock musician and Northern Indies Podcast host Mike McCleary's third studio album "Weight of the Truth"! Independently recorded since last year, this album released to Mike's Bandcamp page and other online streaming services on January 29th, just three weeks after his prior "Hourglass" EP, though we chose "Weight of the Truth" for this month's review due to it's length, pre-release hype, and presence of songs carried over from his soon-to-be-revamped 2016 debut album "In Ruins". Featuring Mike on all instruments, this album features 13 songs running for about 49 minutes in length, and can be bought for $9.99 on iTunes and Bandcamp, while it can be streamed for free on the latter and Spotify, with song names linked below to their Bandcamp copies. As well, half of proceeds from sales of both this album and "Hourglass" will go to Michael Landsberg's SickNotWeak initiative, so definitely keep that in mind if you're debating a purchase of either release! Now, let's start this review!

"Weight of the Truth" begins with "So Surreal", a song that Mike wrote about his trip to the Northern Lights Festival Boréal in Sudbury. After a lengthy bass and drum intro, the song kicks in with a familiar rhythm featuring his raw, melodic singing, and it fits the song's laid back nature! The instrumentation sounds like it could use an extra guitar track, but his guitar solo is a nice fit, and the structure has a catchiness to it! Nice casual way to start the album, but he will go into more challenging territory on later tracks. Next is "The Working Poor", which Mike self-describes as "a lighthearted look at how it is living under the poverty line." That lines up with the cheerful, bouncy guitar riff to start things off, but his vocals take on a more determined grit as he makes his lyrical points. The contrast between the music and vocals is effective in this way, and with him really letting loose on the guitar solo, this all helps to put this song higher than "So Surreal" for my personal preferences so far! I just wish the ending wasn't so abrupt, it felt like there was more of this song to come.

Third up is "The Me I Once Knew", which is about being critical about your past, and deciding whether to move on from your old self or live with who you are. An alternative hard rock number in tone, this maintains a casual sing-along nature, and has a clear edge to it without losing vibrance. It's a solid track compared to the prior selections, but my biggest drawback was the layered chorus vocals over-top of the guitar solo, which just seem out of place (I'd have made them a bridge before the solo to set the mood.) The song ends abruptly again too, but this is a quality track, and the leisurely catchiness is a bonus! The album's title track "Weight of the Truth" is next, which is squarely about mental illness and the stigma surrounding it, which has hit close to home for Mike and has been a theme in much of his recent music. Very funk rock-oriented rhythm here (I got Chili Peppers vibes at the start), as Mike continues to contrast a more upbeat rock sound with serious lyrics.

He puts more power into his singing on the choruses, and you can sense the passion and importance of the song here! I don't know if the lyrics and music contrast as well here for my tastes, but for ability and performance, this is a highlight of the album in that respect! Fifth is "Roulette", one of three re-recorded tracks from "In Ruins" last year. Lyrically referencing Russian roulette and it's parallels to struggling with mental illness, this song has another laid back tone, but here, Mike's singing is a fit in tone and mood to the instrumentation, and it has a good pace to it! This is the album's shortest song, and it makes the most of that time with a solid overall performance on all instruments with important lyrics to match, but fans of Mike's more upbeat, harder-edged material may be left wanting more.

The sixth song is "Be The One", which continues recent themes by being about wanting to "be the one" who's free from stress and mental illness. Taking more of a grungy essence here, Mike's singing is at the forefront from the song's start onward, and it's a great usage of his vocal style and tone! His guitar skills get their best showcase yet here, with a lengthy blues-inspired guitar solo that shows a lot of skill and variance! It's almost a tale of two songs here, but both halves are very effective, and this is one of my favourite songs yet on this album! "Clarity" is next, with lyrics about trying to find clarity in life, and wondering if it's worth the effort. By far the heaviest song on the album so far, the pounding guitar work in the verses and melodic choruses give me a bit of a Foo Fighters vibe, and he has the chops to handle that, but the production could have been altered to emphasize the heaviness. Very catchy and aggressive song, and if this is as heavy as the album gets, it's fitting that it comes at the album's exact midpoint!

Eighth on this album is "Date Night With Darkness", which Mike says is "a quick song about ineffective coping methods." Harbouring a sound reminiscent of 1990s indie rock (if that's fair), I like the guitar rhythm and drum beat here, and the vocals are a nice even match to the instrumentation. The verses and choruses are basically one and the same here, but for a shorter track, it's not too jarring, aside from another abrupt ending. Solid song, and with another quality guitar solo to boot! Next is "Snakes & Ladders", which is another song imported from "In Ruins", and is about what can happen when one tried to understand the world. In a return to the contrast of musical tone and vocal style, this song is more of an upbeat hard rocker, but Mike's singing is quieter and more downbeat, aside from some backing vocal input on choruses. In this case, the contrast doesn't work as well to me, but it's a well-composed song otherwise with a good groove to it and well thought out lyrics! I'd just have made the vocals a little louder or passioned.

"Weight of the Truth" continues with it's longest song, "Disease", which Mike wrote about his using alcohol as a coping mechanism, as connected to his love of the shoreline pictured on the album's cover artwork. This effective ballad has more of a dramatic, grandiose feel to it, albeit with a very deliberate pace, and you can feel the emotion in Mike's singing! It's a well performed and structured song with a lot of effort put into it, but for my own personal preferences, I do prefer this album's more upbeat and musically heavier tracks. "The Other Side" comes next as the third and final song to be taken from "In Ruins" (where it was also featured in an acoustic version.) Lyrically about embracing who you really are rather than wearing a mask to cover up mental illness, this has a bluesy vibe while maintaining a hard-edged essence, as contrasted with low downbeat vocals. Again, I like the contrast of the dark, meaningful singing with the hard rocking music, and it's a solid showcase track at this late stage of the album!

Twelfth is "The Best Part", which is about Mike's wife Sara, who has supported and been there for him through thick and thin, and has co-founded the new mental health awareness organization We've Got This with him. Another leisurely paced song, this has solid melodic singing from a clear emotional place, and the lyrics are definitely nice and thankful for all she's done for him personally, so you can't fault this one at all! For the kind of song it is, it succeeds at it's aims, and is a pleasant listen! The album closes with "Overkill", which was a delayed addition to Bandcamp copies of this album, but was always included on the free Soundcloud posting. An minimalist acoustic ballad that Mike always felt connected with, this ends things on a soft, reserved note, but it's a well performed song with good gritty singing and a casual yet emotive mood! I'd have ended the album with a more upbeat song to finish on, but I'm glad this made the final cut!

So, what are my final thoughts on Mike McCleary's newest solo album? Having never listened to one of his albums full through going in, I'm glad to say that he's a very talented musician with mature lyrics and strong ambitions, and he should be able to make a big impact locally if he keeps at it! Given his very real struggle with mental illness and how he's advocated for related causes in recent months, this album's large lyrical focus on it means all the more to it's lyrical impact, so people in similar situations may want to pay closer attention! Musically, Mike takes from numerous inspirations for a sound that, while often hard rock based, could also dip into blues, funk, and alternative rock where need be, and his guitar skills in particular are a boon on these tracks! I was most struck by the contrast between his vocal styles and musical styles on various tracks, often singing in a downbeat fashion against a lighter song in tone, and more often than not, this approach was very complimentary in a positive way!

Songs like "The Me I Once Was", "Be The One", and "Clarity" were among my favourite tracks, but there's something for many tastes here, and I definitely recommend checking out "Weight of the Truth" to see what you think, which you can do at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and look for much more on Mike McCleary's recent music work in an upcoming news post, plus our next CD review of Telephone & Address' "Monster" next month! Thanks everyone!

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