(Lone Fir 2018)
Listen, I love traditional metal as much as anyone, and I am ecstatic at the high volume of quality new albums being released in the genre these days. But if we’re being honest – and goodness knows we should be – we must admit that the originality quotient isn’t terribly high on most of these recordings. It’s no surprise, really. After all, this is a narrowly circumscribed style of music, with rigidly defined boundaries and a highly conservative fan base. By and large, we aren’t interested in pushing the envelope; instead, we place primacy on top-notch songwriting and outstanding performances that adhere slavishly to the time-tested genre tropes and conventions we know and love. All of that said, when a new band comes along and does something truly innovative in the traditional metal space, it can feel incredibly refreshing and invigorating.
Case in point: Idle Hands from Portland, Oregon. In the wake of the spectacular Spellcaster’s tragic and premature demise in 2017, bassist Gabe Franco (now on guitar and lead vocals) and two other members from the final incarnation of Spellcaster (guitarist Sebastian Silva and drummer Colin Vranizan) formed Idle Hands, adding David Kimbro on bass. Idle Hands’ debut EP, Don’t Waste Your Time, was self-released earlier this summer. And it’s something special. The band’s roots in the traditional twin-guitar bombast of the likes of Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy and the glorious New Wave of British Heavy Metal are readily apparent. But they mold and channel those influences into something altogether different. The most immediately obvious deviation from the trad metal template lies in the distinctive voice of Gabe Franco, whose clean, solemn, melancholy delivery has much more in common with gothic/new wave/pop bands such as Depeche Mode or The Cure or something than it does with the likes of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford. The same is true of the lush, highly melodic songwriting, the laidback approach, the relaxed tempos and the clean, often delicate arrangements. What makes Don’t Waste Your Time fascinating from the standpoint of a True Metal Lives reader is that Idle Hands somehow fuses this overtly gothic Sisters of Mercy vibe (not that I’ve ever listened to Sisters of Mercy enough to know what kind of vibe they have, mind you) to a polished steel, traditional metal backbone. Indeed, for all the gothic overtones on display, the big power chords, crunchy riffs and beautiful guitar harmonies of Silva and Franco remain very much intact and integral to the band’s sound. All told, the effect is something akin to mid-period Paradise Lost (Icon or even the heavier bits of One Second, perhaps?) or late-period In Solitude (the controversial Sister) in places, but mostly succeeds in sounding fresh and unique.
How will this outside-the-box approach go over with the reactionary true metal audience to which Spellcaster catered? I can’t say. For me, though, this compact 5-song, 19-minute EP is captivating. I’m haunted by “By Way of Kingdom,” especially, a song that is heartbreakingly beautiful with brilliant traditional metal guitar melodies and melancholy vocals coming together in a manner that is sheer perfection. Just the way Franco sings lines like “To meet my enemy / to know you don’t think the way that I do / That you will die and I survive,” hits me on such a visceral level. “Time Crushes All” and “Blade and the Will” are likewise standout tracks. The subdued, mournful, yet still heavy beauty of Don’t Waste Your Time is impressive, and this EP has been a mainstay in my player for weeks. Give it a chance if you’re feeling bold, open-minded, pensive and maybe a bit down in the dumps. Don’t Waste Your Time may not lead you out of the darkness, but it’s a fine and welcome companion while you’re there. The good news is that Franco recently announced he is going “all in” with Idle Hands, and that he expects 2019 to find the band releasing a full-length album and embarking on extensive touring activity.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~