Monday, July 12, 2010

Beyond the Embrace - Against the Elements (2002)

Imitation is the sincerest form of attempting to turn a profit through a willing audience, whilst you simultaneously pull the wool down over its eyes. In the case of Massachusetts' Beyond the Embrace, the design was not only to emulate their Swedish heroes In Flames, but also up the ante a bit. This was to be accomplished by adding a third guitar player to the roster. So the same dual leads you heard from the European heroes can come off stronger in the live arena, with a rhythm guitar still chugging away beneath them, or the band could simply rip out a triple harmony. In principle, this is not a bad game plan, and having seen the band live, it's effective enough from the sheer sonic standpoint.

Metal Blade saw this potential, and in the midst of helping snag up ever halfway competent band playing melodic death metal in the wake of the genre's titans (In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates, Soilwork, etc), a deal was born. Beyond the Embrace tweaked a bunch of tunes from their s/t 2001 demo and headed out on the same road to success that worked for their state peers All That Remains, Unearth, Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, and so forth. Unfortunately, Against the Elements suffers from the same ingredients it so wished to thrive upon, and the album is really just a clone of 1996-2000 era In Flames, with a mix of Anders Friden and James Hetfield vocal styles, lacking all of the power of its 'host' band.

You can't really just string along an entire album of cutesy melodic leads and hope for the best. The reason these worked so wonderfully with In Flames and the other Swedish bands was due to the general uplifting nature of the music, the glorious surge that the traditional metal melodies could take in a head-on collision with the extreme vocals and thundering aggression. Beyond the Embrace are craft enough to write a thousand or so noodling riffs, but the rhythm guitar consistently sucks, and the result is the band sounds half like Sum 41 or Blink 182 with Trivium + Anders vocals and metal guitar leads. Listen to a song like "Mourning in Magenta", which is basically four chord rock tripe which would only be fit for the Warped Tour second stage. "Compass" gives me the same feel of momentum as At the Gate's "Slaughter of the Soul", only in placed of the 'Go!' break they segue into another set of melodies and awful, howling vocals and tapping which might actually have worked wonders in a better song.

The tragedy is that the album never really gets much better than this, and quickly sinks into a footnote, just another band trying to cash in on a popular sound. Like the intro to "Moonshield" or the instrumental "The Jester's Dance" from The Jester Race, Beyond the Embrace try to show their somber, 'deep' side with the acoustic/lead instrumental "Drowning Sun", but it comes across an exercise in futility. "Rapture", "Release", and "The Bending Sea" have between them enough decent riffs to fill out a filler track on Come Clarity, and the remainder are even less apt to stir the fire within, as the band's creative benefactors once did. The vocals never strike out into their own identity, too much the product of this guy's hard-on for half of his CD collection.

The production isn't great either, but that's hardly the straw that breaks this camel's back. This camel never even got his bit and bridle, he fell ill and was executed before transporting a single man across the desert. The lyrics are the same personal, existential morass of 'emo with heavy guitars' that so many melodeath bands vomit forth. Life is such a burden. Call my psychiatrist. There is no doubt that the members of Beyond the Embrace can perform their instruments well enough, even through emulation, but they're such an uninspiring, safe knockoff here that I found absolutely no moments of release in this debut. That they got any attention at all seems to have been a simple benefit of being in the right place at the right time, a time when labels were desperately seeking the repeated success of European bands that had struck gold in the 90s, only culling these doppelgangers from the escalating US scene.

Verdict: Epic Fail [2/10]

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