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Shades ; Directions by The Casino Brawl

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Reviewed on 26th August 2009.


Shades ; Directions

By The Casino Brawl

North-East based five-piece The Casino Brawl occupy the middle ground between Bullet For My Valentine's accessible metalcore, and The Ghost of a Thousand's not-so-accessible hardcore. The result is an album that switches back and forth between accessibility and heaviness, and is such just as likely to lure in those who wouldn't normally listen to something so aggressive, and those for whom The Casino Brawl is a bit of light relief.

Album-opener 'Time And Tide' is a perfect example of The Casino Brawl balancing act. The combination of thin, swaying riffs, scatterings of squealing, 'duff' chords and chugging guitars makes this a snappy and accessible metalcore clatter. However, The Casino Brawl then push 'Time and Tide' to the more extreme end of the metalcore spectrum, with frontman Jonny's hoarse-throated bellow and thunderous breakdowns of detonating-bomb drumbeats and sandpaper guitar lines. It's a perfect balance, although the smattering of clean vocals towards the end does feel a little superfluous.

However, The Casino Brawl do have a tendency to overcomplicate things by veering off on random, one-shot tangents. This means that, initially, you'll struggle to get to grips with some songs. 'L Is For Liars' and 'Into The Light' are two of the worst offenders.

'Into The Light' has its fair share of standout moments. It brings the clean secondary vocals into the main body of the song, instead of having them as a tacked-on extra ala 'Time And Tide.' Frontman Jonny and guitarist and back up vocalist Adam trade their contrasting vocals over 'Into The Light's metalcore gallop. The interplay between Jonny's bellow and the bristling riffs, and Adam's soaring clean vocals, is a perfect example of how to turn out metal with a killer, hooky flipside.

'Into The Light' also hits the spot with a chorus of towering vocals, heady electronica and crashing guitars that's suddenly and unexpectedly epic. However, the rest of the song lacks direction. The opening forty seconds is particularly confused as 'Into The Light' struggles to decide what sort of song it wants to be: synths wind through crunching guitars and drum rolls, before The Casino Brawl give the alt-electronica leanings the elbow and lurch into a full-on heavy metal trudge, overlaid with booming deathcore vocals. Even after it's settled into its stride, 'Into The Light' still keeps drifting off course, particularly towards the end, but it has just enough standout moments to have you coming back for more.

The thunderous metal assault of 'L Is For Liars' is the same frustrating mix of great moments, and random tangents that muddy the waters and make it initially a challenge to find a route through the song. On the positive, 'L Is For Liars' is cut through with twisted riffing that'll call to mind spazzcore crew Rolo Tomassi. When The Casino Brawl wrench those guitars into torturous shapes, 'L Is For Liars' is a heavy metal head-twister. The choruses mimic the expansive feel of 'Into The Light,' with sky-scraping clean vocals and apocalyptic guitar-noise once again on the menu.

On the negative, are all the times 'L Is For Liars' veers off course, as The Casino Brawl indulge in two spoken-word voiceovers, a jangly drum solo, a section of finger-clicking drumbeats, and a hammer-like blow of deathcore that really does come out of nowhere. Despite its many standout moments, 'L Is For Liars' is determined not to make things easy for the listener.

'You Can't Save Them All' initially seems like it might be about to suffer the same fate, as the guitars switch back and froth and struggle to get into their groove. However, after much shunting about, 'You Can't Save Them All' streamlines into a chugging metal behemoth with a swaggering, rock and roll slant. After a brief period of silence, 'You Can't Save Them All' unleashes an epic sweep of tormented noise. 'You Can't Save Them All' is a song of three parts - two of them good - but it does lack overall cohesion.

'Faith Is Believing What You Know Ain't So' and 'That, Is Tosca's Kiss' are The Casino Brawl at their most hardcore. 'Faith Is Believing...' throws up walls of shrapnel riffing and the dual vocalists battling to be heard above the storm of guitars and thundering drumbeats. The only respite is a bridge section of distorted voices echoing in the distance, against swirling guitar lines that'll send the listener on a head-trip before casting them back into 'Faith Is Believing...'s straight-up hardcore.

'That, Is Tosca's Kiss' is one long, hardcore rasp as every instrument and sound has an abrasive edge, from the continuous stream of rough guitars, to the crunching riffs and even the spine-tingling introduction of eerily warped warbling and static. After leaving the listener suitably creeped out, 'That, Is Tosca's Kiss' launches into flailing guitars and howled vocals. Occasionally, it allows the listener to surface for air with passages of galloping metalcore, but even those gather to tangled webs of riffs and screamed backing vocals. Although, no hardcore song should ever end in a fadedown, which 'That, Is Tosca's Kiss' does.

At the other end of the scale, 'The Cause and the Definite Effect' presents a lighter, more melodic side to The Casino Brawl, thanks to a greater predominance of clean vocals. Disjointed guitars give the song a jigging, infectious energy that feels like a breath of fresh air after all that claustrophobic heaviness. The chorus is even more melodic, as heartfelt vocals arc above the guitars and The Casino Brawl move, suddenly, into lighters-in-the-air territory. On the negative, the two lines of squeaky female vocals at the end of the song will leave you scratching your head and wondering what purpose they serve but, beyond that, 'The Cause and the Definite Effect' is a big-hearted metal-hardcore ballad.

The award for most pointless song goes to 'Transition/Remission.' As a reward for sitting through an arty-farty introduction of whispered voiceovers and blasts of ear bleed-inducing noise, the listener gets just over one minute of chugging riffs scrawled all over with sharp guitar lines that seem to be snowballing towards some dramatic peak. And then 'Transition/Remission' screeches to a halt. Presumably, there's a purpose to 'Transition/Remission,' but what exactly that purpose is, only The Casino Brawl know.

The punishing, heavy metal head-twister 'A Tower of Silence' brings 'Shades ; Directions' to a suitably grandiose conclusion. Even when it's galloping along in the standard metalcore vein, The Casino Brawl keep applying the thumbscrews to those riffs, wrenching them into brief, painful shapes before allowing them to slip back into that snappy metalcore clatter. As an album-closer, 'A Tower of Silence' doesn't disappoint.

'Shades ; Directions' gets the balance between heaviness and accessibility spot-on, and as such will appeal to both metalcore fans and people who usually like their music much heavier than this. While The Casino Brawl, frustratingly, take a few good songs and overcomplicate them, and while their constant switching back and forth between hardcore, metal and metalcore means that it's difficult to pin down The Casino Brawl 'sound,' 'Shades ; Directions' is an accomplished debut album. Thoughtful, well-produced and eclectic hardcore/metal/metalcore with epic flourishes and the occasional alt-electronica moment.



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