Monday, June 20, 2011

God Forbid - Earthsblood Album Review

In the past year to year and a half, I have almost completely stopped listening to traditionally styled metal bands. God Forbid were an American styled metal band that I used to enjoy, but now when they come up on random I almost always hit the skip button. I'm not sure why I've seemingly outgrown this sub-genre of heavy music, but there really isn't much of a draw there for me any more. This was originally published on April 21, 2009. 

God Forbid have been around for what seems like forever, running in the same circles as Machine Head, Killswitch Engage, and Shadows Fall, but never quite blowing up to the same extent as their peers. Having been together for over a decade and never having a lineup change prior to guitarist Doc Coyle leaving earlier this year (he’s been replaced by former Darkest Hour guitarist Kris Norris), you’d think that the band would have everything down to a science and would by now have enough experience to put together an album that would finally push them to the top of the American metal scene. If that was their goal, they didn’t quite succeed with Earthsblood.

Reject the Sickness and Determination, God Forbid’s first two albums, allowed the band to get a feel for each other, work out some of their kinks, and grow as a band before releasing Gone Forever in 2004. This album was arguably their best and most cohesive. It took the raw aggression of their early years, focused it, and unleashed it to the metal world. On IV: Constitution of Treason, however, it felt like the band took a step to the side or even a small step backwards. The songs on IV were more maturely written, but the decision to delve into using melodic vocals was a big mistake. Byron Davis simply doesn’t have a voice suited for clean singing. They seemed to keep the clean singing in check for most of the album, but it did ruin a few songs. On Earthsblood, instead of shying away from the weak melodic vocals experimented with on IV, they stuck with them which, in the process, mars what could have become their best album.

On Earthsblood God Forbid had managed to create a wonderful mixture of American metal song structures infused with metalcore elements. Musically, this is the culmination of the last decade of the band’s musical career. The combination of traditional metal leads, gripping solos, and hardcore breakdowns sounds so naturally blended throughout the album. When looking at it from an exclusively instrumentation point of view, the album is amazing, but as mentioned before the vocals hold the album back from achieving the greatness it is striving for.

After the senseless intro, the album gets off to an amazing start with the three-pack of “The Rain”, “Empire of the Gun”, and “War of Attrition”. The first two of the bunch are perfect representations of the lean, mean, heavy machine that God Forbid has become… except for a couple of vocal miscues. “War of Attrition” is by far one of the heaviest tracks of the album, eschewing any guitar solos and any melodic vocals, instead focusing on sheer brutality. Imagine a more metal version of Unearth, if you will. However, right after this strong set of songs, the band slows it down with “The New Clear”.

“The New Clear” is a perfect example of where God Forbid went awry on Earthsblood. The first minute and a half of the song is made up of noodling melodic guitars and weakly sung clean vocals. The remainder of the song injects some heaviness here and there, but the majority of the song is a nearly seven minute snoozefest. Yes, there is a killer middle minute to the song and a competent solo, but otherwise the song is a complete misfire.

“Walk Alone”, “Bat the Angeles”, “Earthsblood”, and “Gaia” round out the end of the album in a somewhat weak fashion. All four of the songs, which are also four of the five longest on the album, have chunks where the band tends to wander off or dive into some subpar stretches that were obviously created to fit with Davis’ clean vocal approach. For every killer solo or massive instrumental buildup, there is at least one off-putting vocal performance. For example, about seven minutes into “Earthsblood” there is a completely unforgivable clean vocal patch that detracts from the stellar solo that preceded it.

It is really unfortunate that Earthsblood turned out how it did. There is so much potential oozing from this band that you just wish they could have a do-over on this one. If they killed the clean vocals, cut a little bit of the fat, and let their aggression show full-force, there would be no complaints anyone could level against them. Earthsblood is still a very solid effort from God Forbid and is probably the second best album in their long career, but it’s still missing some pieces.

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