The first time I heard Grade 8's debut album, I had worked for 34 hours straight on some juicy R&B, and this made the perfect album to put on. From the opening lick, this band is about the big, muscular riffs. Drums are huge, guitars are huge, bass is solid (though tucked under the guitars a little too much), vocals are clear. This is a solidly well recorded album, but what else would you expect from a subsidiary of Atlantic Records? To quote one of the their A&R men, "Anyone can make a good album, but only a major label can make an expensive album."
There are many familiar ingredients here...the chugging guitars of Biohazard, the vocals influenced as much by Pantera as Linkin Park, the inclusion of 'beats,' though these are no break beats dropped in, these are crushing metal beats. Spicing up the guitar riffs is a willingness to butcher the normal tone with lots of effects pedals. Track 4, "Adenachrome" is a good example. When the song starts, the guitar has a heavy ring-mod effect on it, which combined with distortion, makes it sound just plain old sick! When the effects drop, and the band kicks into the main riff, the guitars feel even heavier just for the change in texture.
Lyrically, ideas are suggested, but never made explicit. An example is "Empire Falls," which could be about a family disintegrating, but some of the lyrics don't seem to work with that interpretation. Wow, you mean the listener will have to think and come up with their own meanings, and that songs may become personally held by different people for different reasons? Cool! It is a fine line, though. Depending on levels of, for lack of a better term, activism, such non-specificity can be a hindrance (see also the panned reviews of Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire.) However, this band doesn't appear to be a political movement kind of band, so it shouldn't be a big problem.
Some songs don't seem overly well assembled. Case in point, "Let 'em Know," which appears to be the Grade 8 theme song (well, they mention themselves in the chorus, at least.) The track starts with creepy guitar and bass, and the rapid-fire metal-rap over it is ok, but suddenly the chorus kicks in, and it has nothing to do with what came before. Admittedly, when the chorus ends, its a cool effect dropping back into the creepy guitars, but mostly just because they are so good, compared to the chorus.
About 7 or 8 songs in, this album starts to sound really familiar. While it was interesting to hear their influences in the first few tracks, Grade 8 seems to have trouble really carving a niche for themselves. The songs echo themselves, the grooves are repetitive from one to the next, the vocals all start to sound the same. Amusingly, the last track adds a monkey wrench to the works though.
Titled "Celebrate," coming on the heels of an albums worth of violently self-affirming "kick ass and take names" lyrics, the final track steps up with lyrics a la "I just want to celebrate another day of living, and I just want to celebrate another day of life." With an injection of P.O.D. posi-metal, the band does an about face. Of course, after reading the lyrics, its hard to tell if the band is making fun of positive people or ragging on them, but then, that's one of the charming things about Grade 8. All in all, a solid album, but with not enough fresh ideas to keep it going for its full length. Cut out a bunch of tracks, make it an EP, and this could have been fantastic. As it is, its not the worst, but it sure ain't the best either.
Dustin Kreidler is a Contributing Writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.