[1 November 2007]
There are some album titles that grab you right away and tell you everything about an album before you even listen to it. Seether’s third Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces is one. They’re a band that puts the pain back into music, and a really messy year as an outfit has given them some real reasons to be angry. Frontman Shaun Morgan alone has had to deal with a stint in rehab, the suicide of his brother, and most ludicrous of all, having Evanescence’s “Call Me When You’re Sober” penned about him, taking sop-rock to an all new low.
All of these things take impact on Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces. As the biggest band I can remember to ever come out of South Africa, they’re often accused of trying to be that country’s answer to Nirvana, but they’ve gathered a reputation for forcing out some great radio hits through gritted teeth that none can doubt. Their post-grunge appeal is combined with the practicality of a power trio that literally came out of a garage in Pretoria, though they were so far unable to equate their success to a whole LP worth of material.
Here, that problem is fixed. A ringing minor-key guitar riff hardly has time to register before Morgan starts moaning “She’s coming over like a suicide / And it’s the same old trip / The same old trip as before”. “Like Suicide” is a ripping opener (no relation to the Soundgarden song of the same name), and when the hooks hit, shouldered up on disenchanted vocal harmonies, they hit hard. Always a particularly volatile front man, Morgan completely erupts into a scary guttural rasp in the cut’s bridge: “You set me up to fucking fail this time”!
Drummer John Humphrey is a powerful contributor to the mix, his upfront pounding keeping matters turbulent as slivers of melody primly return. Seether is only a three-piece, having lost backing guitarist Pat Callahan after 2005’s Karma & Effect, but the guitars are more reinforced than ever, giving the songs an extra edge. On the bass-driven single “Fake It” Morgan sounds genuinely bitter, spitting an accusatory rant that ranks among the band’s best. While the song is as attractive as having barbed wire twisted in your gut, it’s nonetheless hugely strong and catchy.
The standards of the opening run are dulled somewhat though as muddy soul-searching begins to take its toll. A band this disgruntled can’t afford to sound resigned, as they do on the generic “Breakdown”. Likewise, “Fallen” has a chorus straight out of lyric school, “I believe (Yeah!) in the fallen”. If that’s an attempt at empathy, it’s pretty unconvincing. The powerfully monikered “FMLYHM” (Fuck Me Like You Hate Me) is the biggest let down. With the potential to hark back to early steamrollers like “Fuck It” and “Out Of My Way”, it opts instead for dumb-rock that uses the f-bomb repeatedly for shock value rather than for emotional gain, in the same sub-class as Hinder’s “Get Stoned” or Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch”.
“No Jesus Christ” restores Seether to their prime, though. This is their “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”. Its seven minutes of heady jamming that keeps coming back to its smoldering, kinetic riff as a point of origin, using it as a corkscrew to turn into several blood-boiling rampages in one. “Put the gun in my mouth and pull the trigger” Morgan begs bestially. Humphrey’s drumming gets kudos again, a powerhouse that crashes through all the tensest moments, and the infectious hooks that come through the washing reverbs of guitars helps it not to feel overlong in the slightest.
Several subtle forwardings of the trio’s sonic palette during Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces quashes their naysayers in one fell swoop. Whoever said Seether weren’t evolving clearly aren’t paying attention. The sheer oddness of “Walk Away from the Sun”, which quickly veers from its MOR singer-acoustic format into shuffling percussion and psychedelic background noise assures it’s a winner. On “Eyes of the Devil” Morgan’s gruff Cobain-esque bleat soars into some uncharted falsetto highs… even though the line “Jesus, save me” should never be captured on a rock record, especially when the earnest “oohs” of the backing vocals are so uncomfortably choral. And, after pilfering the early 90s dirty Seattle grind for so long, “Rise Above This” is underlined with 80s guitar flourishes that make its sole ray of bittersweet optimism feel downright bombastic. On the other hand, “Don’t Believe” and “Waste” are so awash with hopelessness they seem irredeemable, a disappointing and deflated finale.
Seether push themselves on Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces, cathartically and as an ensemble. The sheer coherent excellence of “No Jesus Christ”, the serviceable hook-readiness of “Fake It” and the experimental textures that creep in through the second half confirm this. The songwriting broods and stabs straightforwardly, and with some real soul (NB: there are exceptions). With hardly a distraction or ballad in sight, it is their most direct and focused record yet, and quite possibly their most consistent. It won’t change anyone’s mind, you either buy into the idea of self-serious soft-loud inner torment or you don’t, but sometimes music is as good a therapy as any, and in that respect this is Seether’s tour de force.