It was a major disappointment to hear that Chicago's Znöwhite had broken up after just a pair of EPs and a single full-length album, because Act of God had been perfection and the band was one of the most promising in US thrash. Apocalyptic, barbaric hammering riff juggernauts are hard to come by, especially with a frenzied female vocalist, and I was truly looking forward to more. Well, the musical world was not yet done with Greg Fulton and Scott Schafer, who took the last Znöwhite drummer John Slattery with them and went on to produce the equally inanely named band Cyclone Temple, who scored a deal early with Relativity and managed to develop a little more buzz than their earlier outfit.
The vocals were handled by Brian Troch, previously of Hammeron, who had actually also joined Znöwhite before the decision to start anew was made. He's got a far more Soul-ful voice than Nicole Lee or Debbie Gunn, bluesy and silky and emotive, but also rather dull and bland across the riffing. The intention was obviously to dial down the hostility of the members' alma mater to attain accessibility. Unfortunately, this move also cost the band just about everything I enjoyed about them. The riffs are largely the same battering, chunky force Fulton had mastered for the prior incarnation, some sounding perhaps a little too similar to Znöwhite, as if they were recycled from an Act of God follow-up that never saw the light of the post-apocalyptic day. Very often here, these are the ONLY element of the music that even hinges on entertaining, because the vocalist and the lyrics are awkward and embarrassing through the 52 minutes.
This band has often got a reputation for being 'intelligent' thrash, but let me assure you, this is anything but. The lyrics are heavily based on social issues with a more emotive slant than the nuclear warfare, disease, and hostility exhibited by the band's earlier visage. Unfortunately, they are cheesy and cliche ridden, and with the delivery of Troch in place, they seem like a bad public service announcement for inner city kids. The intention is noble, of course, and the band takes on issues like suicide ("Why") and religious fanaticism ("In God We Trust"), which many thrash bands had been doing for years before this, it's just the way the net is cast out over some of Fulton's decent, pummeling riffs that drags the album down well below the level of mediocrity to the 'don't touch me there' pile.
The slow to get anywhere "Why" opens the album, and it's almost choked to death by dull ass clean guitars and meandering, slower thrash chops, until it finally picks up just after the minute mark to a galloping Fulton rhythm which gives some hope. As soon as the vocals arrive, I was taken back, for they had a gruff emotion to them which seemed like a more emotional tangent to Chuck Billy of Testament...only they become annoying very quickly through lyrics like:
Why Why Why can't I be me
Why Why Smothered from reality
Scream Scream Someone listen to me
Scream Scream Pay attention to me
Now, you're probably thinking, most thrash metal has pretty bad lyrics, so what? Let me correct you: that's not true, it's not an excuse, it never has been, and it's not acceptable here either. Cyclone Temple probably don't have the worst lyrics for the genre at the time, but they come off so fussy and oblivious that I had a hard time swallowing the heaviness Fulton was still trying to churn out below. 'Pay attention' to the singing of the last line, where Troch switches to a shrill register that sounds hilariously out of place here, and it becomes evident that this song went to waste, like so many others on this album. "Sister (Until We Meet Again)" might tug at the heart strings more successfully, as a lament for a passed relative or lover, and the riffs are even more Znöwhite thank the previous song, and Troch attempts a more ghostly range with his vocals. It works for the verse, and seems to soar over the chorus as well, until he overdoes the Sister I'm in pain line to try and put more soul into it.
The album continues much in this fashion, with a few good lines of vocals and then some that are simply lame sounding. "Words Are Just Words" has a decent descending melody in the bridge, which sputters out into a sliding octave chord pattern, but the placement of the lyrics again ruin the track's credibility, especially the I would walk a thousand miles if you asked me to cliche. Oh my god, my heart is broken. You're a fucking thrasher amigo! What is this, an after school special or a bloody thrash record? "Public Enemy" passes muster due to the riffing and gang vocals, which are totally Znöwhite, and survives the vocals, but I'm not sure "In God We Trust" makes it out alive, despite a nice riff break near the close. The title track metes out about 2 minutes of clean guitars and more 'soulful' singing, and I would have actually enjoyed the vocal melody of the chorus if it weren't spitting out such hopeful drivel as: Why do we turn away from the things we don't understand, why do we close our heart when someone else needs a helping hand. Surely we could tackle an important subject like racism with a little more than a six year old girl's pleading?
"March for Me Die for Me" is a war anthem akin to "War Machine" from Act of God, and the riffs do in fact seem to partially return to that era. It's one of the least embarrassing tracks on I Hate Therefore I Am, and "Born to Lose" also shows a little promise with the intricate, mute chugging riff that accompanies the solo. The closer "Silence So Loud" is very adept musically, and this is probably the exact type of track I would have loved to hear with Nicole Lee or Debbie Gunn singing, but Troch doesn't botch it up that badly. In the end, these last three tracks in succession are probably the best stretch of the album, though none are good enough to stand out to memory or illicit a desire to return to this.
I can understand the desire for change, I just wish it hadn't come at the expense of an amazing band like Znöwhite. To be fair to Cyclone Temple, this debut is nowhere near as god-awful as the releases that follow it. There are decent ideas dwelling through the record, and a good chunk of the riffs are worthy of head-banging. The bass and drums are good, and the mix of the album was clearer and less threatening than Act of God, but then that's one of the things I so loved. The Soul-ful shift to Troch's vocals is very often cheeky and corny, especially when the guy's given so many shit lyrics to spit across the microphone, and the entire effort feels fairly moody and processed. In the end, it comes down to a collection of songs that I have no real inclination to ever listen to, and a few that go beyond this to the precipice of suck, thanks to the vocals and juvenile, 'heart felt' lyrics.
Verdict: Fail [4/10] (why must I hurt this way)