Be original! That’s all we ask of today’s young crop of today’s metalcore bands, and considering how many bands continue to emerge from out of nowhere to suddenly garner a million plays on MySpace and score a subsequent record deal, this point cannot be reiterated often enough. Take Southern California-based In This Moment, for example; they know how to make an impression. Musically, they do nothing new, specializing in the same kind of mildly pleasing fusion of hardcore breakdowns and melodic metal riffs and harmonies that every other Killswitch Engage copycat has done, but when singer/screamer Maria Brink steps up to the mic, we take notice. Marketed by label Century Media as a tattooed blonde bombshell, right down to the cleavage-exposing photo on the back of the CD, teenage boys who spend their time drooling over photos of Marta Peterson and Cristina Scabbia will draw to this band like moths to a patio light, but it’s Brink’s voice that quickly becomes the clincher, which exudes enough ferocity and passion to intimidate all her pubescent admirers.
Possessing a unique, self-taught singing voice along with a feral, earsplitting scream, Brink comes off as much more than a simple angry young woman on Beautiful Tragedy, her band’s debut album. Unlike other female bellyachers like Otep Shamaya (Otep) and Lacey Mosley (Flyleaf), Brink brings a lot more to the table, her multiple vocal personalities commanding our attention immediately. One second, she’s spewing spoken word poetry and howling in a husky voice à la Patti Smith, the next she’s displaying the passion and range of Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, the next she’s cooing like a demented Tori Amos, and the next she’s emitting screams so primal, they rival Walls of Jericho’s formidable Candace Kucsulain. It’s an absolutely dominant, charismatic performance, and is the primary reason why Beautiful Tragedy succeeds.
For all of Brink’s vocal emoting and lyrical purging, the rest of the band holds up its end of the bargain, presenting a backdrop that, while sounding a bit predictable here and there, displays enough variety to hint at some real musical growth on future albums. Guitarists Chris Howorth and Blake Bunzel keep things interesting when Maria’s not in the foreground, providing sharp dual harmonies, buzz-saw thrash riffs, more subtle touches that brazenly swipe from the more “emo” post-hardcore sound, and even the odd acoustic moment or two. But for all the six-string proficiency, it all boils down to how well Brink sells each track. The album is not without the odd misfire, but the way the singer bares her soul with confidence, refusing to pander to her audience, compels us to let the occasional gaffe slide.
“Prayers” explodes out of the gate, Brink altering between clean and rough vocals, often double-tracking with both, her melodies strong enough to make her confessional style of songwriting convincing: “These memories run through my veins / Injecting me with one last kiss, screaming why.” Her performance on “Ashes” is brilliant, her snarl during the verses offset by a rousing chorus, everything building to an enthralling, highly bipolar breakdown. “Daddy’s Falling Angel” might stray a bit too close to rote hardcore (including a mind-numbing one-note breakdown), but Brink rescues the song from the metalcore quagmire by singing a compelling, heart-wrenching lament from the point of view a fatherless girl (“In my dreams last night I saw your face / You held me and washed away my tears / Then I woke to realize you’re gone / I’m drowning in solitude again”). Meanwhile, “Beautiful Tragedy” draws heavily from My Chemical Romance and AFI with its goth-infused punk sound, anchored by the album’s best vocal hook, which also happens to feature Brink’s strongest melodic singing on the disc.
It’s enough of a challenge for a singer to perform a song as emotionally raw as “The Legacy of Odio” in any other genre and make it sound sincere, but to hear Brink do so with a metal band is all the more remarkable. Her tribute to a deceased friend takes the simple approach, and pulls no punches during the shockingly majestic chorus (“The time has come for you to fly / Now that you’re free / You will always live in me”), only to completely pull the rug out from under us during the devastating bridge, which has Brink sounding as if she’s choking back tears as she screams, “I see your smiles and love in your sister’s eyes.” A lesser vocal talent would have made such a song sound cloying, but by sparing nothing, Brink wins us over. With a voice and personality so strong, it’s a good bet that In This Moment will easily outlast the metalcore trend. Beautiful Tragedy already has them off to a very assured start.