23 February 2011

Cranial Collide: "Surrealevance" EP

My thanks to Steve “Reno” Johnson for keeping me in the loop.

If you had the (mis)fortune of visiting my house lately, you would be treated to the blasting compressed, distorted guitars and vocal harmonies of shoegaze. But then I received an e-mail from Cranial Collide. In full disclosure, the e-mail only stated that the band received my contact information from Steve Moore (of The Unravelling and Post Death Soundtrack) and a private link to an advanced copy of the “Surrealevance” EP (25 February 2011). I turned off the blaring shoegaze and blasted the five tracks … moments later I knew I would be writing this review. For some time now, I have lamented the state of metal (and hip-hop); I have read about the late 1970s, when the Reading Festival was essentially a metal festival, of then cutting edge bands, and I wonder how such a genre of music, with such a rich history, has become so complacent. Of course, that is only on the “popular” side of metal, when you delve in deeper, to the independent artists, free of the shackles of a corporate mentality, your ears are arrested with an array of bands that are amazing and singularly distinct.

Cranial Collide is one of those bands. Combining the power of metal, psychedelic rock, and contemporary trends in hard rock, this quartet has produced viable and urgent music. I do not want to use terms like “progressive,” as I think all artists have a responsibility to be “progressive,” but their intricate movements from one arrangement to another, all the time showcasing more than just the “power” of the guitars, has earned them that title. The band is composed of Kayla Bil (vocals), Ryan Brun (bass), Steve “Reno” Johnson (drums), and Gary Webster (guitar). Now, of course, people immediately assume that the first thing you need in a metal band is an amazing guitarist (they have that), but actually it is a drummer that pulls it all together musically. Johnson is easily the most capable indie metal drummer I have heard in a long time. Combined with the power that Webster brings and Brun’s spot on perfect basslines, musically this band is all about urgency. Sure it can be loud at time, grandiose even, but volume is used only to accent the urgency created by the intricate arrangements. Bil, the lead vocalist, is amazing. I am going to make an odd comparison here; her vocals are as intricate to the band’s music as Siouxsie Sioux’s were to the Banshees. In style, they could not be more dissimilar, but in what they accomplish, giving form to the swirling mass of music, it does the same. The way the band plays vocals and instrument arrangements off of one another makes the relationship between voice and music a much more complex one than found in most bands.

The opener, “Deep Water,” with its slow build, demonstrates the band’s power to create powerful visceral undertow. From big arrangements to softer, more personal moments (with Steve Moore supplying male vocals), what caught my attention immediately about the band’s music is the careful attention to details. Like all the songs that follow, this song is carefully crafted for maximum impact. Followed by “Smash,” there is something alluring about how Bil’s vocals play against the music; typically speaking, most vocalists seem to sing over the music, but in this case it is as if the music is being played over her vocals – a testament to her singing skills. Then “Forest,” the most traditionally metal song on the EP, demonstrates that the band understands what metal is all about and are able to employ a classic format and bring something fresh and new to the format. Of course, my favorite is “Perpetual Enmity,” the epic of the collection, at six-and-three-quarters long. This song is as sexy and sensual as they come, and not just because of the vocals. Musically, the song is alluring and disarming, as it swaggers through different arrangements. Then, the finale, the shortest song on the collection, “Simon Says.” What? The epic is followed by a short number? Is that even feasible? It is, when the band can pack the same amount of urgency in three-and-a-quarter. Not the “hardest” song on the album, the urgency is generated by how all of the intricate arrangements play off of one another, and you are definitely left wanting more.

Now that I am going to continue blasting some metal, consult the links provided below for information on how to obtain a copy of the “Surrealevance” EP and tour dates.

Track Listing:
1. Deep Water
2. Smash
3. Forest
4. Perpetual Enmity
5. Simon Says

Keep up with Cranial Collide at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. If you happen to be in the Calgary, AB (Canada) area on 25 February 2011, join the band at the Distillery Pub (615 7 Ave SW) from 9pm – 2am for their EP Release Party.

Here is a live performance of “Simon Says” from their YouTube Channel: cranialcollide.

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