Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Falcon- Die Wontcha

Die Wontcha
Liquid Flames Records – 10 – 53:18

As I am writing this, two years have passed since this album has been recorded. However, Falcon did not release Die Wontcha until a couple of months ago and even now are not going to receive the exposure they deserve – mind you, I am not talking about currying favors with the many potential buyers of all the things currently perceived as “metal”; neither do I expect that the retro craze appreciates the band's second release more than the eponymous debut. Hypothetically though, Falcon could appeal to both audiences, only if some smart label marketed them as cool and authentic – which they are, only that these people won't know without getting it shoved down their throats by some tastemaker. Let us play that part, then.

Live in the backlash of hipper times
When music had much more to say
Not just faceless brutality
A vicious cycle revolves today

No trapdoors. No look beyond any horizon, and not over anybody's shoulder either. This bird perches in backwoods devoid of irony and would rather bite its tongue than put it into the cheek to betray its own cause. The reason for this lies in the respective backgrounds of the band members. Rock.

Trio rock, this is. Singer and guitarist Perry M. Grayson delivered some power metal greatness with Destiny's End before moving on to Artisan and Isen Torr, where he displayed a fond love of more classical forms of the genre. Darin McCloskey is also the skinsman of Pale Divine and now teams up with no other than Greg Lindstrom, former bass player of Cirith Ungol, as the rhythm section of Falcon.

As the band's backbone, Lindstrom and McCloskey do not waste any time with frills and decorations, giving Grayson space to develop his equally heave-ho riffs and especially some delightful solos and leads. This is where one strong influence of Falcon becomes obvious: Thin Lizzy's signature guitar sound, which was both sweet and beefy, thus making for a nowadays rare kind of heaviness - it is refreshing to hear riffs that are actually given a chance to unfold and in return allow bass and drums to be individually discernible... not that Falcon are in any way progressive, but as they do not indulge in redundant staccatos as the conversation-enders and no-brainers of modern metal, their four-on-the-floor beats will do...

...and this already in the energetic opening Jimmy Clark. Why a band of this stripe writes a song about a race car driver (Primus may do that) I don't know; maybe it is because Clark died at the peak of the hippie movement in 1968. Anyhow, Grayson's eulogy sounds familiar immediately to those familiar with the debut. The mention of Tim Baker is almost inevitable with respect to the band's four stringer as well as Grayson's personal preferences, although the two voices are less comparable in stylistic terms than because of their crudeness. Corporate whore shows the frontman as not particularly versatile in his angular approach, but if these melody lines are not catchy, then what is? Actually, the fluent shift between melodic and rhythmic passages is admirable and shows nothing of other bands' frequent ineptness to reconcile both without predictable interruptions. Instead, the breaks in this and the other songs pick up on the lost practice of changing between contrasting (thematically, rhythmically, etc.) motifs without losing the compositional red thread... cool as well how the track returns to its initial motif in the end.

Accordingly and apart from the occasional hint at an harmonic extension especially in Elfland's Daughter, Lindstrom plays in unison with the guitar and locks in tightly with McCloskey, all the time keeping his characteristic plucky tone, which is not as prominent as on the classics of his old band. The song refers to a story of Lord Dunsany; the title says it: fantasy stuff in the old vein, and a love story, too. Cirith Ungol were similarly prone to myth, legend and the more imaginative spheres of storytelling, while Falcon also admit the Grand Funks and Blue Cheers from a better past as influential peers. This branch of hard rock (often tagged “obscure” maybe for the respective groups' lasting status as commercial also-rans) has often procured the kind of frank but brash lyrics that make for a certain embarrassment on the listener's side. Get an impression of it during Corporate Whore, an accusation of former rebels turned conformists, featuring hilarious rhymes of “Hendrix” and “cocaine fix”. However, Grayson's at times clumsily simple truisms ring true in some ears. After all, Finger-pointing to the moneyed usually works from the position of an alleged has-been. Personal hardships read well on the suffering artist's CV, so if you have not encountered any so far, you might dramatize a little – it is all for the sake of good music... did I mention that the bass and cripsy guitar spots here make up for all that?

As an instrumental, The Wreck of the John Deere sidesteps any such issue and pads along bluesy paths in the lead guitar section, adding some keyboard strings for texture: a nice break or alternately the intro of the hypothetic b-side – which starts with a cover version of Leader the opener of Buffalo's 1972 album Dead Forever. The Australians' song passes as one of Falcon's own, being rhythmically simple and lyrically pushing the right buttons once more to blame all the world's wrongs on the movers and shakers. The midsection of the eighth song – named after the band – returns to pushing some synthesizer keys as well as emotional ones, being of a dreamy quality that allows the listeners to drift away for some time; he will be back spot on for the highly memorable Everything There Is To Know with a (fake?) hammond more burning than Grayson's natural organ. The singer stays as distanced from his audience as his lyrics permit, being the straightforward display of basic feelings they are. This text is probably the best on the album, since it is open to at least a bit of individual interpretation.

Finally, we have Show You All, apparently a 1970s tune by Lindstrom for which Robert Garven drew the background image in the CD booklet. Where Cirith Ungol had Michael Whelan, Falcon grabbed an image by sci-fi artist Virgil Finlay for the front cover of Die Wontcha. This rounds up how the band wants us to see them: Falcon carry the torch of the likes mentioned, not to forget Pentagram and Sabbath as the usual suspects. What makes this album so appealing though is of course not its novelty, but the fact that it is a cut above the lasting vintage buzz; Grayson may be in his mid thirties only, but he plays and thinks not like one born too late. The music will seem beyond criticism anyway if you like the references, as it does not force any strained novelty. However, only through Grayson's mouth, the messages turn into truths timelessly valid rather than pushing for mock authenticity and faux nostalgia.

To paraphrase what The Lamp Of Thoth recently sang, doom has nothing to do with laughing, but when I hear sullen reality depicted in such warm colors as on Die Wontcha, I can do with this and any other stereotype. I have been living with this album – this reality – now for some weeks, and I could not prove Falcon wrong so far; rather than belittling what is a dying breed of rock music, I admit it has grown on me.

I'm going through the motions of having a good time
I'm trying to like it, but something just ain't right

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