The New Jersey rock scene is one of the most fiercely competitive locations in the country. Bands arrive on the scene quickly and gain a huge following, only to disappear soon after as another band takes over their niche. It's a testament to the level of talent in the region that so many bands originate there, but for a band to thrive and advance beyond the area, they need to have something more than just musical proficiency and practice with the current trend.
The members of Downcast Theory are intimately familiar with this fact, as they have watched many of their peers and friends in other bands come and go since the group formed in 2007. The release of 2009's Damaged Calm started Downcast Theory on the right path, but they were still looking for their "something more". It appears that they've found it, though, with the release of their self-titled album this year. Downcast Theory is a solid hard rock that blends the best current trends with the excellent tried-and-true methods of the past fifteen years in the genre.
The growth that has occurred in the band in just two years is remarkable, with every aspect of the band's sound showing improvement. The songwriting quality is incomparably better, and the diversity found within and among the album's thirteen tracks exceeds that of many veteran national bands. There are high-energy, fast-paced songs showing a touch of metal influence like "Forgotten Within" and "Invictus". There are slower, more ambient songs focusing on emotional response like "Fading Away" and "Isolate". Best of all, there are radio-ready hard rock hits in the making like "In Need", "Look Away", and "Call to Rise". Production and technique have also been tightened up considerably since Damaged Calm. The re-recorded versions of "Prayer" and "Change of Pace" are the only evidence needed of that.
The "something more" that Downcast Theory has to offer is the perfectly balanced skill set that all four members exhibit. Lead singer Matt Simon is capable of belting out high-end notes to punctuate important parts in songs, but is also just as able to croon softly on the lower parts of the scale building into those vocal punctuations, on top of his well-structured rhythm guitar play. Lead guitarist Jake Raynor is equal parts tradition and shred, playing lead riffs and hooks effortlessly before launching into a complex, fret-burning solo, all while adding clean-sung harmonies and lacerating screams to the vocal mix. Drummer Matt Raunick possesses both great subtlety and unrelenting intensity, hitting quiet sections at precisely correct volume and destroying his kit on rapid, energetic parts. New bassist Ryan Sauerman is the final piece to complete this group, showing perfect rhythm on the standard bass lines and breaking out with intricate leads and polyrhythms when bass is at the forefront. With such wide-ranging abilities, there is very little in rock that Downcast Theory would be unable to play.
Downcast Theory is one of the few bands capable of straddling the line between hard rock and alternative metal, while being able to appeal to both sides equally. For hard rock fans, they can offer the consistent, structured format of Shinedown, without their bland, formulaic approach to songwriting. For alternative metal fans, they bring the heavy edge and intensity of System of a Down, minus their chaotic style and often-comical image and lyrics. Downcast Theory is a band focused on expanding and redefining their boundaries, and with this new album, the horizons are limitless.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
1. Forgotten Within
2. In Need
4. Fading Away
6. Look Away
9. Change of Pace
11. Call to Rise
Matt Simon - Lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jake Raynor - Lead guitar, backing vocals
Ryan Sauerman - Bass guitar
Matt Raunick - Drums