For better or worse, Evanescence made it safe for goth chicks and heavy metal guitar dudes to work together… though, of course, that band’s driving forces, Amy Lee and Ben Moody, have parted ways. What that spells for the long term viability of gothpopmetal on the national stage remains to be seen. This matter seems to be of little concern to NYC quartet the Color Guard; their third album Dark Pop mines the same sonic quarry as Evanescence, but as a band they show unity and a (generally) healthy willingness to experiment.
Give the band—singer/guitarist Lalena Fissure, bassist Jeanne Gilliland, guitarist Josh Zisman, and drummer Caryn Havlik—credit for picking an album title that perfectly sums up their sound. They write unabashed pop songs—or at least follow traditional pop song structure—then dress those songs up in dark, rich material. And by “dark”, I mean “theatrical”, not “gloomy”. For instance, “Your Kiss Is My Command” opens with a slinky flute, then turns into an Eastern-tinged guitar jam, while frontwoman Lalena melismatically wails like a distaff Justin Hawkins (of The Darkness). Casual listeners may find the band too over-the-top, but folks who enjoy a dash of artiness in their music will find plenty to enjoy: the tribal drums of “In a Hurricane”, the martial drums of “Man of War”, the dreamy “October” (this New Englander identifies with that song’s opening couplet: “I feel the first breeze of October / Something fresh, something clean, something cold”).
The Color Guard seems committed to their arty flourishes—indeed, it’s the band’s hook and means of standing out in the scene—but it’s their most “normal” songs that are Dark Pop‘s best. On “Unfinished Business”, Zisman tosses out an infectious, garagey riff (he tends to lean on proggy metal riffs, so it’s a nice auditory palette cleanser), while Lalena boasts a keen lyrical ear that invokes early Liz Phair: “We made war and it wasn’t good / We’ve got unfinished business.” And “Damn You, Hope!” may be Dark Pop‘s best song—a giant, lumbering dinosaur of an opening blooms to reveal a song that is by turns sweet, brassy and anguished.
Dark Pop has its share of missteps, but I’m willing to chalk them up to experimentation and musical exuberance. “My Domesticated Beast” rocks hard, but suffers in its topic choice: it’s not a Stooges-esque “I Wanna Be Your Dog” metaphor, it’s literally about Lalena’s dog. Meanwhile, “The Moral” is too elliptical for its own good (“The moral takes its cloak off at the end”), and I have no idea what the band was thinking when they crafted the closing track, “The Woman Behind the Woman Behind the Man (Oh Mary Magdalene)”, which tells the story of Mary Magdalene’s forsaken lesbian lover. Lalena cancels out her jazzy vocals with blasphemy-skirting lyrics like “Though I know he’s come to heal the world / He’s wounded me instead.” It plays like a bad writing workshop exercise.
The Color Guard may never be more than a niche act—flutes haven’t ruled the rock scene since the days of Jethro Tull, and gothpopmetal only speaks to so many people—but with Dark Pop the band is confidently and creatively exploring their little part of the world.