Thursday, September 22, 2016

Album Review: Charred Walls Of The Damned - Creatures Watching Over The Dead

Ahh yes, Charred Walls Of The Damned. A band that was branded with the label of a 'supergroup' when they came out, despite the two known members of the band being only known as replacements for more legendary players. The combination of Richard Christie and Tim 'Ripper' Owens combined for what was actually a solid record, and one of the few times Owens was not a complete bore behind the mic. I'll never say he can't sing, but Owens is one of those people with a voice so bland that he makes nearly everything he does sound lethargic and generic. That turned out to be the case for album number two from this group, which quickly reverted into the territory of being mediocre to the extreme. See what I did there?

Part of that generic feeling comes down to how ubiquitous Owens was for a while there, singing on too many records in too short a time, and the other part is that band member Jason Suecof's production is one note, shared by every band he works with. Combined, there isn't anything in the the actual sound of Charred Walls that we haven't heard before.... literally.

The promise of this record is a more direct, back to basics, and punchy album. The opener "My Eyes" delivers on that promise, with four and a half minutes of semi-thrash riffing, shredding guitar solos, and a focus on building a big chorus for Owens to shine on. And speaking as someone who didn't like the second record at all, I have to say it works. "The Soulless" doesn't work as well, despite it's more frantic thrash energy. The issue is that the entire chorus is built around Owens' upper register, which is the weakest and most annoying range of his voice. It's where you could make a comparison to a certain Muppet and not be out of line.

But there's a run of songs through the middle of the record that show what this band can do well. "Afterlife", "As I Catch My Breath", and "Lies" are all good tracks that balance the band's affinity for thundering heavy metal with softer moments, and a real attempt to build big melodies. It's a solid formula, and would work if the band stuck to it. But then we get a song like "Reach Into The Light", which is less than three minutes of stop/start metal with Owens shrieking over the music in a way I can't imagine ever wanting to hear again in my life. It's an uncomfortable vocal approach, but it doesn't matter, because there's not much of a song there either.

And that is ultimately what "Creatures Watching Over The Dead" is as an album. There are some good tracks here that would form the core of a solid album, but there are a couple of tracks that go completely against the grain of what they're trying to achieve, and too much emphasis on Owens' worst traits as a singer. Charred Walls is a pretty good band when they do what they're good at. I'm just not sure they understand what that is.

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