April 10, 2010

Album Review: "Scouting the Boneyard" by Sons of Azrael

When Sons of Azrael formed in 2004, the aspect of their music that made it appealing was their appreciation for their influences. The band's debut album, 2007's The Conjuration of Vengeance, had an old-school death metal flavor akin to early Obituary and Deicide. Combined with an intense touring cycle with the likes of Vital Remains, Unearth, God Forbid, Thine Eyes Bleed, and Full Blown Chaos, the band built a strong fan base and earned praise for upholding the original style of death metal amidst droves of boring, copycat deathcore bands. Even though there were some deathcore elements in the band's sound, Sons of Azrael had enough older styles built into their sound to help them stand out from the pack. Such an impressive debut justified the band's contract with Metal Blade imprint Ironclad Recordings, owned by Unearth vocalist Trevor Phipps. However, on their sophomore album, Scouting the Boneyard, Sons of Azrael loses sight of their origins and shifts the sound of their music, resulting in a chaotic mess of an album.

The chief culprit among this album's problems is the new vocal style of Joe Siracuse. On The Conjuration of Vengeance, Siracuse used a high screaming style that's tried and true, and when performed well, is superior to most alternate vocal patterns in death metal. On Scouting the Boneyard, though, Siracuse switches to a raspy throat-growl that has its origins in Norwegian black metal. In fact, the new style has already earned Siracuse comparisons to Abbath, lead singer of black metal stalwarts Immortal. This may seem like a good thing, but upon hearing the new style, it becomes clear that Siracuse should have stuck with his original vocals. The black metal vocals are a total mismatch to some of the music on the album, and in general, it just feels out of place on what is supposed to be a death metal record.

On top of that, the music on the album is confusing and disjointed from one song to the next. The old consistency from The Conjuration of Vengeance is gone, replaced by songs that don't flow well together and have very few unifying themes. One of the only themes of the album that has any regularity is the poor production quality of the music, further cementing the comparisons to Norwegian black metal. However, the songs do not employ traditional black metal compositions, so the poor production values just make the music sound like it's supposed to come from a demo rather than a professional release. And while there are some bright spots on the album, such as closing tracks "Touched by God" and "Frozen in Time", most of the songs range in quality from forgettable to disappointing.

This album is a bit of a letdown from a young group of talented musicians. It's unclear whether the band set out on this album to change their sound. If that was their goal, then they've succeeded, but that's not a good thing for them. Sons of Azrael would have been better served by maintaining their original form and writing fast, intense death metal songs that are reminiscent of the genre's originators. Instead, fans get a poorly written, stale-sounding record that has little direction and very few enjoyable moments. One can only hope that the band will return to their old style on the next record.

Score: 4 out of 10

Track Listing

1. Welcome to the World
2. Mr. Macabre
3. Arson & Apathy
4. Scouting the Boneyard
5. The Grand Design
6. A Numbing Flood
7. The Left Hand Path
8. Howl of the Antichrist
9. Touched by God
10. Frozen in Time

Album Personnel

Joe Siracuse - Vocals
Tony Lorenzo - Guitar, backing vocals
Karl Kirsch - Guitar
Rob Steinwandel - Bass guitar
Alex Chambers - Drums

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