[26 May 2008]
Back in 1997, a ragtag group of scrappy unwashed teenagers from the Midwest, under the name Days of the New, stormed onto rock radio with a concoction of aggro-acoustic neo-grunge. Despite being far from catchy and further from original, Days’ first single, “Touch, Peel and Stand”, topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for a record-setting sixteen weeks. (That record has since been toppled by former Tantric tourmates 3 Doors Down’s “Loser”.) But stardom unleashed the inner asshole in Days’ frontman Travis Meeks, and by the proggier sophomore disc, Days of the New was basically a one-man band.
The defectors, however, plugged away and plugged back in. They recruited a new singer named Hugo Ferreira, amped up the electric guitars, and more importantly, the hooks and harmonies, and started a new band called Tantric. Their self-titled 2001 debut went platinum and spawned three hits. But after a underperforming follow-up whose most memorable moment was an unpleasant Fleetwood Mac cover (“The Chain”), Tantric was dropped from the collapsing Maverick Records, scrapped an in-progress third album, and pretty much disbanded.
Now, Ferreira is back with a new record, new independent label (Silent Majority Group), and entirely new band, featuring former Fuel drummer Kevin Miller and violinist Marcus Ratzenboeck. The irony is that a band once marketed as a splintered-off Days of the New has completely shed its Days of the New participants, and Ferreira has committed an almost-Meeksian overhaul. Despite the new lineup, Tantric’s music remains both more melodic and organic than typical active rock fare—-and a lot like Tantric’s first incarnation. There’s few noticeable digital accouterments, a la Daughtry or Three Days Grace.
In fact, the entire album sounds like a portal into 1994, the jams of simple guys who’ve spent their entire summer spinning Jar of Flies nonstop. It’s even got a guest spot from flannel-clad also-rans Candlebox’s lead singer, who still can’t sing worth a damn. Though the rockin’ violinist gimmick may veer too close to Yellowcard territory, Ratzenboeck lends some straight-outta-Kashmir violin to first single “Down and Out”, which helps it transcend a fairly homogeneous format. Sadly, Ratzenboeck is underused, with only “Down and Out” and closing track “Lay” providing suitable showcases for his classical training. Vocalist Ferreira mimics Eddie Vedder’s grunty baritone a bit too blatantly, but he seldom devolves into Scott Stapp bombast or Alex Band blandness. Producer Toby Wright again replicates the accessible sheen he’s given to Alice in Chains, Korn, and Sevendust.
On the whole, the songwriting is superior to 2004’s dismal, simplistic After We Go. “Love Song” and “Lucky One” boast modestly hummable choruses, not flashy or insistent but tough to dislodge. But horrid lyrics—broad statements of defiance and resistance to nothing in particular—cripple even the strongest songs. Any words over three syllables are awkwardly placed and sometimes misused. Aside from the record company indictment “Monopoly”, it’s tough to definitively establish what may or may not refer to Ferreira’s recent travails, or if that even matters. The opportunity for something confessional or initimate is unseized. Instead, we get a steady verbal stream of aimless, concentrated angst, which grows tiresome and predictable, especially as the songcraft weakens on End’s second half.
As torch bearers, Tantric are a far cry from Alice in Chains, their most obvious antecedent. However, in honoring thick harmonies and meaty choruses amidst the riffage, Tantric are truer to this influence than supposed AIC worshippers like Godsmack or Staind. And much like Alice in Chains didn’t let a little thing like the lead singer’s death stop them for very long, so Ferreira keeps trucking amidst adversity and turmoil.
Like many commercial hard rockers, Tantric are workers more so than artists. Purists may scoff at their mass-audience considerations, but this is competent, no-rills rock clearly intended for airplay in a narrow-minded format, and a grunge-loving fanbase that knows what it wants from a Tantric record. In that sense, The End Begins delivers: standout potential singles, lyrics broad enough to be relatable, skip-button-baiting filler. For both Tantric and their genre, it’s nothing new or groundbreaking. But it is a solid throwback that proves Tantric can do a lot with the same.