It is now time for our 133rd monthly CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, as we're taking a look at Sault Michigan hard rock quartet Tarnished's debut EP "Down To The Wire"! Independently released to streaming and download platforms on Friday, this was recorded at Rock Hill Sound in Rochester Hills (outside of Detroit) in February with producer Matt Dalton. Tarnished are represented on the EP by singer/guitarist Alex Traynor, ex-Lift The Broken guitarist Nathan Webber, and Josh Fair on bass. Alex handles drums on the EP, as the sessions took place between the departure of drummer Tommy Korcal and the addition of his replacement Gary Croad. Tarnished have helpfully linked fans to most music services hosting copies of "Down To The Wire" on their Distrokid page, including new copies on Napster and Medianet, though it's Amazon sale page is curiously not listed as of this writing.
If you want to download the EP, it will run you $6.49 on Amazon or $7.99 on Google Play. A physical CD run of "Down To The Wire" has been alluded to, but as of this writing, it is strictly online only. With 5 songs running for about 20 minutes in length, let's begin this review with the opening song, "Cocaine Riot"! This one will be familiar to some readers, as it began life as an original song by Alex's prior classic/hard rock group Banned, which you can hear a live version of at this link from back in 2012. Compared to the Banned version, Tarnished's updated take is slightly longer, has more of a dramatic flourish, and benefits from having two guitarists on hand, but the basic structure is intact. This is a solid showcase for Alex's melodic yet aggressive vocals with solid guitar work and a good solo, but the sped up section in the last chorus felt unnecessary, and Alex's songwriting has gotten more technical with time. Solid opener, and a nice throwback for Banned fans!
"Cabin Fever", which has more of an ominous slower opening that suits the title theme, but Alex's vocal range is a much better fit to upbeat hard rock, and that slowly edges into frame as the song progresses. If anything, this song works better instrumentally, with an Ultimate Warrior-esque bridge between the second and third verses and a catchy drum beat, and Alex and Nathan really let loose on the guitar in the last stretch. I like where the song was going conceptually, and it's a fun listen, but the vocals don't mesh with the darker tone. Third on the EP is "Metalyn", and this one instantly reminds me of AC/DC in music (very 1980s essence) and vocals, the latter thanks to Alex's higher register vocals and very familiar pro-rock lyrics. It is a testament to Tarnished's talents that they can make this work as well as it does, and while it's not as original as "Cabin Fever", the assembled parts feel glued together in the right places, and Josh's bass work is definitely an asset!
The penultimate (and ironically, the longest) song is "Shortcut", which shows a bit more of their southern rock influence while still being decidedly harder-edged, and the guitar lines between the verses are particularly catchy! The song has a good forward momentum and pacing, and I like the enthusiastic performances, especially on guitar, but the vocals could be tuned down a little compared to the already upbeat song, and for a third straight time on the EP, the song ends a little too abruptly. "Down To The Wire" closes with it's shortest song, "The Path", which feels almost like a companion to "Shortcut" tonally, but with more of a straightforward hard rock sound and slower, more reserved verses. The drums get a nice moment to shine during the choruses, and the song has a lot of catchy qualities within, with Alex's singing a good compliment throughout! While not the riskiest song on offer, it hits the right notes throughout, and fans of Tarnished's brand of rock will be right at home!
So, what are my final thoughts on Tarnished's first CD? Overall, it's a solid first outing that showcases what the guys can do, and they inject the 5 tracks with enough variety to keep things interesting despite the short runtime! It's easy to compare "Down To The Wire" to Alex's solo EP "Crazy World" from last year, but nothing feels like a carbon copy, and these 5 songs are definitely heavier as a whole than on that release. Alex's vocals are upbeat and melodic throughout, and he and Nathan play off each other well on guitar, while Josh's bass work was reliably steady, and the drumming was always a compliment, though it'd presumably have been ideal had the sessions involved a permanent drummer. I liked all 5 songs on their own merits, as helped by all having their own distinctive sound, though I admit that none jumped out immediately as my absolute favourite of the bunch, and I do have some points to nitpick and recommend.
Despite Alex's capably upbeat vocals, they weren't always a great match to the tone of the songs (especially on "Cabin Fever"), the abrupt endings on most songs was unfortunate, and I'd like to see some more structural risks on these songs beyond just slotting in a different genre to take influence of. That said, I did enjoy "Down To The Wire", especially now that versions of these songs exist that aren't impaired by the audio issues from their acoustic live-streams, and I definitely recommend seeing what this rising young band can do! Give the EP a listen at the above links, and I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming up in August? I'm not sure yet, but here's what I can say. Due to our 6 month anti-bias buffer rule, it will not be of an archive Inner City Surfers or Mike Haggith album, but the sky's the limit for anything unreviewed of a heavier persuasion. Ideally, I'd tie something in with a live concert next month, but yeah, we all know the odds there.
I do have some ideas in mind for an archive review next month, but I won't commit to anything just yet, especially as something could be released new in the month ahead, for all we know. In any event, stay tuned for more news and updates on the site in the near future! Thanks everyone!