Hard Aesthetics and Startling Images
Review By Michael Aronovitz
I do not mean to confuse anyone with the title of this review. Plainly, Owl Company is a powerhouse metal band recently signed to Eclipse Records. Their full -length debut album called Iris will be released November 9th, 2018, and I was fortunate enough to be afforded a promotional copy from the label. I listened to it last night. It affected me in a number of different ways, from a variety of perspectives and strike-points, and I hope you will join me in trying to quantify the vision in some holistic way.
First, the record was produced by luminary Matt Wallace (Faith No More, Maroon 5, Train and many others), and the sound quality of this record is sublime, the presentation – one of consummate professionalism. In other words, this doesn’t sound like a debut. It sounds like the culmination of the very best of technician, musician, and composition, a sort of “meme” rarely fulfilled in this business. To put it even more simply, the overall effect here doesn’t sound like compromise. It sounds like a cornerstone of sorts, daringly hewn and perfectly polished, with words of integrity chiseled into the block.
But besides all that, the songs are fun to listen to. Felipe Ruiz and Bruno Solera combine for a guitar-sound that is incredibly satisfying, complimented well by Fabio Yamamoto on bass. The guitar product here is also rather “different” than the norm, and while I am treading into territory of “production” above my pay-grade, I would claim as the metalhead, axe-lover, (and novice) that I am, that Owl Company’s guitars seem “compressed” somehow, brighter and more succinct than what I hear on most metal records (though presented with no less balls and bottom). It reminds me, in a way, of the effect Tom Scholz had on us in 1976 when Boston’s debut came out. We’d never heard that kind of sound from a guitar before, so rich and so full, and Ruiz and Solera “got me” with similar methodology (though Owl Company sounds nothing like Boston).
So, who do they sound like? Hmm. As many bands wear banners of the past like proud flags draped across their shoulders, I hear some “Creed” in the vocals and some “90’s” in the chord changes, especially during the choral hooks. I hear some 70’s punch and 80’s squeal during the platform solos, but to be honest, they sound EXACTLY like Owl Company. And I don’t mean that to be the simplistic play on words that it seems, either. I mean that their “sound” is realized and advanced, putting you in the pocket knowing you are getting a band’s best aesthetic when they are peaking. Again, Iris sounds nothing like a debut. Maybe that’s why they didn’t employ the common self-titling.
As for the songs themselves, I had two different experiences in different parts of the record. The happenstance during the first five songs was more commonplace (though no less enjoyable), especially for a reviewer. I was listening for the “grab-me” introductory stuff, the differences in dynamics between verses, and the hooks in the chorus work. I was identifying the stylistic value and mechanical dexterity of each musician in his element, and weighing how well was the translation of the whole. It was fun. Intellectually stimulating. The opening track, “One Last Time” got me right where I live from the get-go. I checked off all the above-mentioned boxes, and appreciated the funky, honkey-tonk feel, wonderfully accented by Enrico Minelli’s throaty traditional vocal. The second tune, “Boogie Man” reminded me in an odd way, of my favorite band Halestorm’s “It’s Not You,” in terms of the hard, syncopated rhythm track behind the vocal, that which was mesmerizing. “Rise” was more ballad-like, and gave me that aforementioned Creed-vibe, though I found this particular song to be filled with surprises and feeling rather than the former’s rather “formula” approach to the genre. “Antagonist” was placed perfectly in the 4-hole, proving that Thiago Biasoli was fully capable of the hyper-speed bass drum work that seems “required” on every new metal record, and I found the dissonance of the melody wonderfully disturbing in the prior-established context of more standard rock patterning. The song that formed the closing-side bookend to my “intellectual analysis” was “Shattered Dreams,” laced with hummingbird guitar-work that inverted what metal drummers normally handled, the inversion challenging and thought-provoking.
What happened next was kind of strange. For the latter part of the album I had more visceral responses, and instead of picking apart the musical details, I started seeing pictures in my head. Please bear with me. Though my “visions” are of more “personal” value, I want to express to you the way the record made me “feel” as much as I have described the way it made me “think.”
When I heard “Dawn of Days,” I was riding a motorcycle at sunrise through the stunning New Mexico landscape. “Broken Paradigm” had me caught in a flying dream on a faulty machine, going through multi-colored, slanted dimensions. “Disconnected” put me in an arena in ancient Rome, waving to the crowd in my Gladiator armor, the camera then slow-panning to my blood-spattered victim. During “Forbidden,” I was fishing at the edge of Florida swampland, watching my reflection change in the murky water from what looked like an angel to the face of a monster. As “The Other Side” blasted through my speakers, I was up on a crest, looking down at the city of Los Angeles in twilight, wondering how I could conquer this incredible feeling of isolation while still harnessing the power of my dreams. During “Shades,” I was transported to a place deep in the woods, where I was part of a band of savages dancing around a bonfire, shouting up at a cold moon, begging the skies to fire up our adrenaline and ready us for the blood-lust of war. “Door” had me huddled under a New York City bridge, haunted by the crosshatch of shadows trying to poison my soul, and “Angel” made me feel like I was witnessing my own burial through the eyes of a low-swooping hawk, circling the cemetery and finally flying off into the sun.
On November 9th, go on the Eclipse Records page. Pick up Iris. Then tell me.
What chops, licks, and hooks do you appreciate?
And more importantly…what pictures do you see?
Michael Aronovitz is a college professor and horror writer. He has published three novels and two collections. He is currently working on his forth novel titled “The Sculptor.”
MHF Magazine/Michael Aronovitz