[25 February 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Metal has long been such a male-dominated sound that bands bold enough to include female members have often been considered a gimmick by cynical onlookers. Female singers who focus on vocal melodies have managed to earn the respect of their peers, especially in the last decade, but when it comes to the female screamers out there, it’s been a tougher row to hoe, as some people are unwilling to accept the fact that a woman can provide extreme metal vocals as well as, or in some cases, even better than her male counterparts. For all the close-mindedness, however, the ladies are starting to make headway in this war of the sexes by winning significant battles along the way, thanks to a new generation of brave ladies. Crust/doom standouts Kylesa are led by the robust vocals of guitarist Laura Pleasants, young Laura Nichol howls for Bay Area thrashers Light This City, French-Canadian progressive grindcore band Fuck the Facts is fronted by the ferocious Mel Mongeon, and standing out among them all, after years of hard work, the formidable Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy is now regarded as a bona fide metal star.
Candace Kucsulain is doing her part, too. Not only does the lead vocalist for Detroit’s Walls of Jericho have to scream her lungs out to be heard among the usual metal sausage fests, but she’s chosen to slug it out in the metalcore scene, a horribly oversaturated genre where its very tough for a band to make itself heard above the repetitive din. Performing since 1998, Kucsulain has earned a reputation as one of the more confrontational vocalists in metalcore (one of her better song titles is “There Is No I in Fuck You!”), a tattooed, red-headed dynamo with a habit of sustaining the kind of moshpit injuries that would have most males whining like children, and over the course of the last eight years, Walls of Jericho has slowly emerged as one of the fresher-sounding acts in a scene that seems doomed to implode from the sheer volume of copycat bands. Their third album, With Devils Amongst Us All, brings to the table some aspects that other, greener bands are unable (or unwilling) to pull off convincingly, including a genuinely heavy sound that can sway skeptical fans of traditional metal, lyrics that focus on positive messages, a willingness to branch out beyond the limits of the metalcore sound, and best of all, a dominating, multi-faceted performance by Kucsulain that clobbers the vocal work of many of her male counterparts.
“How about we love ourselves without underlying hatred”, shouts Kucsulain during the rampaging hardcore of “Try.Fail.Repeat.”, “Work towards living a life worth living right”. Hardcore lyrics are often a refreshing departure from the usual misanthropic doom and gloom of extreme metal, but while most bands tend to opt for frat-boy sappiness, Kucsulain actually sounds eloquent in comparison, and coupled with the fact that guitarists Chris Hawson and Mike Hasty provide terrific, circle pit-inducing riffs that that rival those of Hatebreed, it’s impossible to not shout along with the earnest refrain of, “We will try! We will try! We will try! We will!” Indeed, this band has a knack for the “gang chorus”, and they put it to effective use on the entire album without making it sound tiresome.
“A Trigger Full of Promises” straddles thrash metal, hardcore, and punk with relative ease, alternating from fierce double-time tempos, crushing breakdowns, and a wicked chorus that has Kucsulain toning down her scream to a more dynamic delivery that borders on melodic. The terrific “I Know Hollywood, and You Ain’t It” combines unrelenting speed and a shockingly catchy groove in the chorus, building to a dramatic climax, while “And Hope to Die” mops the floor with the metalcore pretenders, the band displaying some refreshingly dynamic songwriting, Kucsulain’s performance so convincing that when she tells you to sing, “We’re all fucked!”, you had damn well better comply.
The longer this album goes on, the more weapons are carted out from Walls of Jericho’s musical arsenal. “The Haunted” eschews hardcore for some good, old-fashioned doom in its riffs, yet is the kind of up-tempo song that can ignite a venue, and from out of flippin’ nowhere comes a melodic chorus that sounds yanked from Trivium’s book of metal gimmicks, one that works especially well. “And the Dead Walk Again” strides step for step alongside anything Slayer has done in the last six years, Hawson and Hasty infusing melody into their thrash riffs while Kucsulain emits a formidable roar. The two-minute scorcher “Welcome Home”, meanwhile, paints a harrowing portrait of domestic violence, but instead of sounding exploitative, Kucsulain shows compassion for her subject. Best of the lot, though, is the ballad “No Saving Me”, in which Kucsulain displays some very surprising range, choosing to sing cleanly over the strings-enhanced instrumental backdrop, managing to sound more genuine than anything from the last Evanescence record. It works so well, in fact, that the band has to explore this territory more in the future, and not let this song be just a one-off.
It’s not groundbreaking music, but With Devils Amongst Us All goes about its business in a confident, workmanlike manner for 35 scintillating minutes, its complete lack of hardcore smarminess and convincing, sincere approach, while not bold by any stretch of the imagination, likeable enough to warrant an enthusiastic recommendation over the usual crop of cookie-cutter bands. In the end, after being pummeled by this album, instead of thinking of Walls of Jericho as “that band with the chick singer”, we simply see them as one damn fine metal band, which is all they ever ask.