Some bands have nonsensical names that somehow sound kind of catchy and cool. Some bands have names that reflect the identities of the members. And some band names wear their genre and style on their sleeves like a scarlet letter. Suicide City fall into the latter category. I could almost smell the still-drying nail polish and teen angst seeping out of the ether before I even heard to the album, and a quick front-to-back listening session did nothing to disprove this assumption. If I had left things there, this would have been a “screamo sucks” review and I would have gone about my business being too brutal for school, but I decided to give objectivity and Suicide City’s debut Frenzy another chance.
The first thing that set Suicide City apart from their peers was their diversity in lineup, sporting former Biohazard guitarist Billy Gaziadei, Groovenics vocalist Karl Bernholtz, and former Kitty bassist Jennifer Arroyo, as well as the Sworn Enemy-endorsed drummer Danny Lamagna. This wasn’t the makeup-laden Myspace phenomenon from the suburbs with nasally wails and stock breakdowns for kids to pop Oxycontin to I was expecting. This was a creative Brooklyn group that showed a lot of musical experience and potential in the misleading packaging of something more contrived and by-the-numbers.
So what if the album opens with a brief computerized soliloquy about helplessness? When the rah-rah chant of “The Cutter” came piping through the stereo I was immediately intrigued, caught off guard by the presentation despite the predictable razor-to-the-wrist subject matter. It was an anthemic and energetic introduction to the group’s sound, and I was shocked at myself for not seeing its quality the first time around. The psychobilly verse segments of “The Best Way” further complicated matters, helping separate Suicide City from the boring musical simplicity of similar groups. Then there was “Burn”, full of Cure bassline worship and a hauntingly ephemeral fadeout. “She Waits” rounds out Suicide City’s spectrum with its downtuned double-kick drum metal and screams, more edgy than on the edge.
Musically, the band had deftly avoided being pigeonholed into some kind of tougher My Chemical Romance. Lyrically, however, is where Suicide City falter. Take this snippet from “Sex and Dying” for a representative sample: “Starting out the plot with gloom / Connecting the dots to my womb / I’m going to stop from descending / And this is without my own ending”. A part of me expected this kind of teenage poetry rife with references to something vaguely menacing, Oedipal issues, and, of course, suicide, but I wanted to hear something more befitting the well-crafted musical landscapes heard in each song. Even though the vocals are presented in a wide range of expressions ranging from cooing, shouting, hissing, choral harmonics, and operatic, as on “Painted Horse”, their content leaves much to be desired. It fits the genre’s bill, of course, but the point is that it doesn’t have to.
After the creepy piano ode fades like an youngster in the graveyard’s mist it’s clear that Suicide City are not your typical rendition of emotive rock. Yes, there are Gothic elements sprinkled throughout Frenzy, and yes, the band’s photos do nothing to dispel this image, but the music speaks for itself. They worked hard on creating a dynamic and creative musical sound, and on avoiding the standard verse-chorus-verse arrangement so many bands willingly submit themselves to. Even the electronic explorations aren’t overdone, remaining subtle and complimentary to each song. And while the lyrics are on the trite side of average, they are sung in such an interesting array of methods that this isn’t obvious unless you’re reading them from the liner notes. If the aim was to get you to kill yourself, Suicide City have failed. With verve, some metal know-how, and a dash of ominous sensitivity Frenzy will make you want to dance away any rejection and heartache instead.
// Notes from the Road
"A-WA's debut album Habib Galbi made NPR Music's '30 Favorite Albums of 2016 (So Far)' list.READ the article