Arizona-based trio Seven Storey used to be called Seven Storey Mountain, and had two independently released records to their credit before North Carolina-based Deep Elm Records picked them up in time to issue 2000’s Based on a True Story. That release found the band mining some powerful-yet-poppy post-hardcore territory, marked first and foremost by singer/guitarist Lance Lammers’ laconic vocal delivery, and second by his dissonant-yet-catchy guitar work. The whole thing gained a great deal of backbone from the rhythm section of Jesse Everhart and Thomas Lanser, who were equally adept at pummeling your face in and playing it relatively low-key (which only served to make the inevitable pummeling that much more dramatic).
Now, in 2002, Seven Storey Mountain returns, minus the Mountain, and minus Everhart and Lanser, who have been replaced by Dave Norwood and Chad Kinney, emphasizing the fact that this band is definitely Lammers’ baby. Dividing By Zero sees Lammers streamlining the sound of his band, which has two effects. Firstly, the songs are more direct and straightforward than before, usually based around a central guitar figure played by Lammers. Secondly, mainly due to this directness, many of the songs wind up blending together, and can usually be broken down into a formula: song starts out with an angular, twisty guitar figure, played cleanly by Lammers. He sings the first verse quietly, almost meditatively, but then on the second verse, the distortion kicks in, the rhythm section kicks the song into full throttle, and Lammers starts yelling. Virtually every song on Dividing By Zero follows this formula, and needless to say, it starts to become tiresome after the fifth or sixth song.
In total, the band sounds like a mix between the Foo Fighters’ poppy, accessible rock, and Helmet’s more aggro tendencies. Lammers, while quite a good singer, has but two modes: soft singing and abrasive yelling. He never quite breaks into a full fledged scream, but he also doesn’t seem to realize that there are ways of getting one’s point across that don’t involve raising one’s voice. There are also two instrumentals that seem rather out of place, and break up the flow of the record. The first, “Instr. 1”, is unfortunately positioned as the leadoff track, and takes a good two minutes to build up some steam, which has the effect of testing the listener’s patience before the record even gets a proper start. The second, “No Return Address”, in addition to being rather bland and characterless, features perhaps the most annoyingly cliched sound effect of the past ten years: the modem-connect noise. I would be a happy boy if I never, ever had to hear this in a song again. It was silly ten years ago; it’s about 100 times sillier now.
Dividing By Zero‘s main problem is that none of the songs really distinguish themselves from each other. Taken individually, pretty much any song on here would satisfy the average fan of heavy, melodic rock. However, taken in total, the songs all sound so similar to each other that it’s fair to say that if you’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. There are a lot of things that a band can do with just a guitar, bass, drums and a voice, and merely because a band limits themselves to these relatively Spartan components does not necessarily mean that the end result will be boring. Seven Storey, unfortunately, seem unable to break out of the formula that they’ve written for themselves, and the end result is that Dividing By Zero ends up not leaving much of an impression at all.