[5 April 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The more popular the whole post-hardcore fad becomes, the more facile and image-oriented the music becomes, and the more saturated the market gets, the more it all begins to resemble the much-lampooned hair metal scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Grunge’s commercial explosion in 1992 obliterated pop-oriented hard rock at the time, ending careers in a heartbeat, and the bigger this post-hardcore bubble gets, the bigger the burst will be; it’s just a matter of waiting to see which new young band will brazenly brandish the pin.
While such preening pretenders as 30 Seconds to Mars, Aiden, the Used, Hawthorne Heights, and Halifax continue to milk the trend for all it’s worth, other much more savvy young bands are realizing that if they want to keep making a living after it all goes belly up, they’re going to have to try to sound unique enough to separate from the rest of the comb-over, girls’ jeans, eyeliner-sporting sound-alikes. The Forecast tastefully combine classic emo with an endearing Americana influence; Every Time I Die has created a blistering hybrid of swamp rock and hardcore; Silverstein combines taut musicianship and brilliant pop hooks; Alexisonfire relies on the best vocal duo in the genre along with an incendiary live presence; and Thrice is the clear creative leader, tossing in the artful style of Radiohead and the post-rock beauty of Pelican. Hell, even heavy-handed bible-thumpers Underoath are now capable of moments as physically punishing as Neurosis.
This leads us to Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, which happens to be fronted by former Underoath vocalist Dallas Taylor. The Alabama-based sextet might be led by a guy who used to be in arguably the biggest Christian band out there today, but their approach is far grittier, not to mention secular, as they bravely attempt to mine the blues and country-drenched sounds of the American South. It’s a tactic we oldsters have seen too many times before, as young rawkers have tried desperately to appear “soulful” by bringing out the country/blues licks and singing with a slight accent (Poison’s “Something to Believe In”, Warrant’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, Keel’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw”, etc.), but starting with their self-titled 2005 debut, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster proved they were on to something potentially cool, and they follow that up in very confident fashion on their new album, the not-so-creatively titled II.
When the new record is at its best, the music is more Clutch than Chiodos, Taylor and his boys swapping hardcore kung fu dancing for a full-on barroom rock swagger. And talk about announcing your presence with authority, as “Memories of the Grove” kicks the album with a raucous 6/8 swing and some killer lead guitar fills, Taylor howling away like Brian Johnson with laryngitis. The band tosses the children a bone with a mosh pit pleasin’ breakdown, but while five of the members pound and scream away, underneath it all is a sly little Southern rock guitar lick, which propels the song into its terrific 4/4 finale. “Dry the River” is full-throttle boogie, possessing a chorus just melodic enough to get stuck in our heads, “Darkest of Kin” goes for a very respectable Dimebag-style chug, while “Plenty Strong and Plenty Wrong” and “Everyone Needs a Hasting” both deliver a decidedly non-Christian cock rock strut reminiscent of Kix and Dangerous Toys.
“Death is an Alcoholic” has the band slipping into the post-hardcore trap, its rote structure and lack of dynamics having no business being on the disc, but the album does end on a very strong note, first with the Southern gothic (sorry, kids, not goth) ballad “Tale of the Runaways”, complete with slide guitar and a very good vocal performance by Taylor, who stops his grating screaming long enough to try a little tenderness, and it works like a charm. Meanwhile, the instrumental “The Day Hell Broke Loose at Sicard Hollow” serves as a somber epilogue to the proceedings, mournful pedal steel commingling with guitar drones and plaintive acoustic strumming. Just as the closing tracks on the last few Clutch albums have offered us hints of their direction on subsequent releases, we can’t help but hope Maylene and the Sons of Disaster continue trudging through hard rock’s backwoods, because the more desolate and dark they get, the quicker they’ll shed the post-hardcore label for good.