DEVELOPING NICELY Soundbender.
Some bands burst onto the scene, all bright and shiny and ready for bear. Others hang around, building skill and fans, developing their songwriting, and eventually becoming fully whole. If you write off the latter too soon, you may miss out on something pretty decent down the line. And, for that matter, if you latch on to a glowing-hot Alias Grace too quickly, you get burned when they break up (although Grand Hotel may provide a soothing balm in this case).
Maybe Soundbender aren't the slow-burn type, since a number of people latched onto them quickly when they formed in 2000. But, for me, they're just finding their footing.
Building from a solid base of support in the Old Orchard/Wells area of Southern Maine, Soundbender steadily created a statewide following over the past five years, particularly, culminating in their win of the WTOS Battle of the Bands in 2008, something that just can't be done without a fanbase north of Portland. In their nearly nine years of playing out, they've remained a young band, still steeped in the all-ages crowd, but managed to add depth and nuance to their brand of heavy melodic rock.
Their first full-length, Victory Mile, released in the summer of 2007, was really close, but it lacked a variety and originality that would have separated it from a lot of heavy-rock albums that have come out of Southern Maine. With their newest release, however, Soundbender have varied their sound, polished their chops, and carved out a sound that can more truly be called their own.
At 10 songs, made up of (in rough terms) seven aggressive pieces, two power ballads, and a relatively classic heart-tugging acoustic-flavored number at the finish, Surviving the Fall is firmly entrenched in the rock canon, with those Tasmanian devil screamo backing vocals that entered the heavy-rock lexicon from the hardcore set. Soundbender here walk a nice line, however, between the melodic radio rock of Yellow Card or the Bay State and the more aggressive hardcore of a Lamb of God (who also release a new album this week, by the way), peppering in some classic metal riffs along with way from lead guitarist Drew Gladu.
Jesse Thulin, the band's frontman and de facto recording engineer, has also developed a variety of delivery and body to his vocals that lends the band as a whole more gravitas, whether on the aggressive opener "Torn Apart" or the more restrained semi-emo "Closure." There are touches, too, that give a deeper glimpse into the emotion he's working with. On "Closure," where we're told "even without you/I still feel the pain/I guess I never thought I'd lose you," there's a great bit where Thulin finishes with a breath in and an exhale that tell a story of a soul completely wasted. It could have easily been clichû and overdone, but I think you'll believe it.
The lyrics still tend toward the introspective and the break-up, but there are some better lines here as Thulin develops a feel for how the words turn over in his mouth. In "Torn Apart" he takes the ends of phrases and infuses them with a new energy in the beginnings of others. In "Same Story Different Ending," he ramps up his delivery through a narrative from the verse, through pre-chorus, and into a chorus backed by gang vocals: "Then I think I hear them say/Someone call an ambulance;" it's "a train-wreck scene/The kind that makes you cringe;" "This life/That we have thrown away."
The band can do an old-metal open, full of intricate guitar riffs, as on "What You Are," with call-and-response backing vocals in the verse, just as easily as they can crush staccato guitars into the open of "Shaking at the Wheel," before drawing back into a melodic progression through the first verse that tells us "they're not easy answers to the questions you're asking/You bend, you break, you're too much to take tonight."
I would call the songwriting much improved. Mostly it's in the little things, the two cymbal-hit pause in the middle of "The Struggle," or drummer John Gladu's extended drum roll into the bridge on "Shaking." There's just more to listen for now.
Whether that translates into an ever-widening sphere of fan interest is hard to say. Soundbender have certainly worked hard enough this past decade — now maybe it's time that paid off.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Soundbender with the Sophomore Beat + Joey Aaskov + For the Story's Sake + Better Than + Faster, Faster + the Leftovers + From Jupiter | at the Wells Activity Center | Feb 28 |www.myspace.com/soundbender