Label: RMS Records
Review by Mortuai
Objectivity is sometimes a difficult viewpoint to maintain when writing reviews – even more so when the artists who created the album are people the reviewer knows and genuinely likes. Such is the dilemna I’ve put upon myself in writing this piece about “My Doom Box”, the third full-length from New Mexico-based project Fateless Tears. Although I’ve never actually met the husband-and-wife team of multitalented instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Richard and female vocalist S. Lee Baysinger who comprise the band’s lineup, the online discussions (and horribly bad puns) I’ve shared with them both have been enjoyable enough for me to consider them friends. But in getting to know them, I’ve figured out they would rightly see that while a gushingly positive review of their work might be a nice ego-stroke, it also wouldn’t be doing anyone any real favors – not them and not the readers of this writeup. So I’ve made this review as objective as I possibly can given the circumstances, mentally distancing myself from the people involved in order to take a hard look at the product they’ve crafted. It’s frequently said “don’t judge a book by its cover” but in the case of “My Doom Box”, even if you’ve never heard of the band before, one look at the cover gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect from the music inside – the on-edge cube adorned with symbolically-connected images set atop a predominantly red-and-black maelstrom-like abstract design positively screams dark progressive metal. And that’s precisely what the album delivers in spades. Clocking in at right around fifty-two and a half minutes in the course of its seven tracks, “My Doom Box” wastes no time at all letting you know what you’re in for, launching straight into a keyboard-backed downtuned midtempo crunch guitar riff on opener “Cages”. Listeners familiar with the band’s back catalog will no doubt immediately recognize a slight directional shift here – the music on this release is definitely the heaviest, most ‘straight-ahead metallic,’ and decidedly most “catchy” the group has put out to date, yet still retains plenty of well-integrated progressive elements…frequent time shifts and complex rhythmic structures, for example…throughout the songs. Guest guitarist Paul Evans makes his presence known shortly, delivering the first of several tasty melodic-shred lead breaks, punctuating the music nicely without pulling the focus towards histrionics. Then, nearly three minutes into the track, we get to why this album is being reviewed for Femme Metal webzine as S. Lee‘s haunting midrange vocals float into the mix. The vocals remind me a note should be made about the production. Fateless Tears is a studio-only project and it does show a little bit. Every instrument is recorded superbly and balanced near-perfectly in the mix, but the overall sound seems to be lacking just a bit of a “live” edge, which may be a minor turn-off to those expecting something a bit more energetically “raw”. S.Lee‘s vocals run into a similar “problem – none of which can be attributed to her delivery, which is consistently smooth, melodic, and – while neither multioctave-spanning nor extremely varied in tone – effective. No, the issue is the reverb effect near-constantly applied to her vocal lines, which does admittantly give them a good amount of depth, but also occasionally makes picking out what she’s actually saying a bit of a challenge. That said, her emotive vocal tone is a near-perfect counterbalance for the musical style, lending a very human element to the hard, mechanically-precise crunch of the guitar riffs. The vocal patterns don’t exactly fit into standard lyrical meters – often times with unusual stresses on certain words – and the lyrics don’t often use standard rhyme schemes, but for anyone familiar with the works of bands like Fates Warning, Dream Theater, and their ilk, this will be no big deal – it’s S.O.P. for any given prog metal group. A bit further on in the track, we get another solo section featuring both Richard and Paul. They work well as a team, for while their styles are reasonably similar, they’re also sufficiently distinctive to provide some additional variety in the listening. Speaking of Richard, he also delivers vocal lines of his own in nearly every track, which brings up the one and only real problem I have with Fateless Tears in general,the clean male vocals. Richard both barks out death metal growls and sings relatively deep-toned “gothic” clean vocals on various cuts. The former sound anywhere from very good to great – especially when backed by a heavy, driving riff. The latter well, sometimes they sound good, and sometimes they sound like he’s trying to channel Peter Steele of Type O Negative and not doing so well at it. Fortunately enough, more often than not Richard sticks to the deathgrowls, and those work really well. Now that I’ve rambled on a while, back to the album. After the nine-plus minutes of “Cages”, we move to “Mercury Dreams”, which is more of a grower of a track…bereft of a chorus as catchy as the one on the track opener, it takes a couple listens to properly appreciate everything going on in it, but it’s well worth taking those multiple listens. Featuring some interesting start-stop riff sections, cool melodic portions, and another great lead tradeoff, it definitely makes for an interesting listen. Those who appreciate death metal will especially like the bit at the four and a half minute mark, which has Richard snarling out some particularly venomous-sounding lines over a hammering drone riff. Next is “My Endarkened Self”, the single from the album and a track which leans more towards the ‘gothic’ side of the gothic-progressive mixture, especially when the dark-toned choir-chant portion hits later in the track. Effective, catchy melodies with great atmospheric keyboard backing, cool guitar leads and fills, emotive multi-layered vocals…a nearly flawless cut and definitely one of my favorite tracks on the disc. Granted, I’m not particularly keen on the brief male clean vocal section but even that’s still pretty good. On the other hand, the clean male vocal sections on the next cut, “Mind Box”, are a bit bizarre – probably attempting to sound either sorrowful or somewhat “crazy”, but for some reason all I can picture in my mind when I hear them is a genetic crossbreed of Peter Steele and David Byrne. “Mind Box” is also undoubtedly the most “progressive” and least “accessible” of the cuts, both in musical and vocal terms. Prog fans like me will enjoy it thoroughly – others may find it confusing or unbalancing. Oddly enough, the track you’d expect to be insanely complex, the sixteen-and-a-half-minute “Since Nascence”, is far more straightforward and – dare I say it – downright beautiful in its melodic segments, especially the piano-and-strings backed opening portion. The song is really divided into four segments but other than a sudden tempo shift shortly after the four-minute mark, it flows together so well you barely notice. Furthermore, while certain thematic elements remain prevalent throughout the piece, there’s enough variety from one segment to another to keep the listener interested and involved throughout the entire track, neither becoming repetitious nor going off on distracting tangents – quite an achievement as far as I’m concerned. “Mesmerized” is up next, a track I’m already very familiar with as it was the cut Fateless Tears contributed to the “Ferocity and Femininity” compilation. Another single-worthy track, this one’s got it all – space-proggy keyboard intro, heavy head-bob-worthy guitar riffs, two excellent guitar leads from Paul and Richard, great emotive verse vocals, some good deathsnarls, and a damn catchy chorus. Probably my personal favorite on the album. Lastly, we have “Annwyn”, a gorgeous piano-driven Welsh-themed ballad which, while not quite reaching the level of tear-inducing, is the most heartfelt-sounding of the songs on the disc. Richard‘s brief clean vocal section sounds really good on this one, but it is definitely S. Lee‘s soaring melodic lines that catch hold of you and guide you along on the path to the Otherworld the title refers to. Really well done, that’s all I can say. Fateless Tears has found solid footing with this album, taking all they have learned over the course of their previous releases and synthesizing them into an overall excellent slab of progressive gothic metal, certainly their best to date at least in my opinion. No, it’s not perfect, and no, the album is not for everyone – it’s not for the catchy-chorus-focused listener or people who don’t have the patience and open-mindedness to dig into the material. But for fans of female-fronted metal with a simultaneously heavy and progressive bent, “My Doom Box” is definitely worth opening up and taking a look inside. And that’s as objective as I can get.