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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Project 86 -- Knives to the Future


Darren King is the guitar player, and I am assuming primary songwriter, for the rock band The Overseer. I saw the cover artwork for their 2012 debut album, We Search, We Dig, and got really excited. However, upon listening, I was a little disappointed. King's guitar playing is unique, and very enjoyable at times, but it also has no recognition of the term "space." His style is angular, by which I mean if you were drawing a line to attempt to correspond to the frequently changing sounds coming out of King's guitar, you would be making a lot of angles--it's like his hands have ADD. It's like he's trying to create a tango with a heavily distorted electric guitar. This can get tiring, and it is extremely difficult to create a song in this style that can run for longer than three minutes.
For Knives to the Future, Project 86's second crowd-funded album after the incredible Wait for the Siren, frontman (and only remaining member), Andrew Schwab, enlisted King's talents on guitar. Andrew Schwab doesn't play any instruments, which left King to write Knives to the Future's music. Unfortunately, in this case, King's style is so singular, Knives to the Future ends up sounding like an Overseer album with Andrew Schwab on vocals. Added to these problems, whoever mixed this album almost completely forgot about the bass, and the low end of the drums. The first couple of songs sound like cymbal hell, trebly distorted guitar and no bass to speak of. This, after the much lower-budgeted Wait for the Siren killed it in the mix--you could feel the low end in your gut. Thankfully, Knives to the Future's bass and non-cymbal/snare drum pieces get turned up in the fifth track's bridge, and hang around the majority of the time after that, but how could the mix, overall, be so bungled? Considering Schwab got the same bassist from ...Siren to return, and that that bassist presumably has the same rig, here, there is absolutely no excuse. And there's no way new drummer, Ryan Wood, wants his kit to sound like this. In the album's worst moments, it's like someone is just spraying a hose at the cymbals and mic'ing it. Just dreadful!
I am being more abusive in my verbiage because of how disappointing all those factors are, after the absolutely perfect Wait for the Siren. After piecing together such an absolutely stunning album out of parts for that one, Schwab conditioned me for greatness. Knives to the Future is nowhere close to the level of ...Siren.
With all that said, Knives to the Future is not a terrible album. Despite the lousy mix, and the fact that King hasn't yet learned that he doesn't have to constantly strum his guitar and change chords every second, Knives to the Future is solid. A major reason for this is the consistency of Schwab's concept, lyrics, and performance. Knives to the Future tells the story of a soldier who wakes up on a battlefield, surrounded by corpses, with no memory of who he is. Schwab's passion permeates every line, going from screams, to howls, to quite respectable singing. Many times, the songs work, even if it isn't on a consistent basis. The album also get better as it progresses, peaking at the stunning eighth track, "Genosha." Schwab used some of the crowd-raised Indiegogo funds to pay for strings in a few songs, just as he did with celtic instrumentation on Wait for the Siren. While the strings aren't utilized as well, and aren't as memorable of Siren's additional instrumentation, they are still appreciated, particularly in the intro of the powerful "Genosha," which describes a dysfunctional father-son relationship.
 With the album's protagonist finding peace in death at Knives to the Future's end, the album actually feels like a fitting swansong for Project 86, even if it doesn't come anywhere close to the peaks of some of their previous work...but it's not. Andrew Schwab, with what looks like the same players featured on Knives to the Future, has crowdfunded yet another Project 86 album, in time for the 20th anniversary of Project 86's founding. He got yours truly to donate yet again. The album is coming this autumn. We'll see how it stacks up.
I wrote this review at a Starbucks.

2014 Team Black
1. Intro 1:10
2. Spirit of Shiloh 3:47
3. Acolyte March 3:12
4. Knives to the Future 3:17
5. Son of Flame 3:38
6. Captive Bolt Pistol 2:32
7. Ambigram 2:36
8. Genosha 3:38
9. Pale Rider 3:47
10. Valley of Cannons 2:55
11. White Capstone 3:40
12. Oculus 6:43


Anonymous said...

I wrote this review at a Starbucks. Heh.


Azure Ides-Grey said...

Java Chip?

Nicholas said...

I had a massive Mountain Dew before going there, so I just ordered a caffeine-free passion tea, and some kind of bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit. Gnarly.

Neal (BFS) said...

I dunno, that Spirit of Shiloh really kicked this album into high gear for me. Sounds like the opening to a seriously awesome action movie that Hollywood generally can't make! Though I didn't really know Project 86 well before we got this album (thanks again!), so maybe it's partially an expectation thing? I actually had a harder time getting into Wait for the Siren as a whole (though Fall Goliath is awesome fun). That might be context, too, though. I think I listened to Knives a lot in the car, where it seems to do the trick, while Wait for the Siren is a Spotify listen, which means I usually have other stuff going on when I'm playing it.

And whew, Oculus gives me the tingles still when it takes the album out. There are some elements early on in that one that remind me of Pink Floyd, interestingly enough. Which is a good thing! I don't own any Pink Floyd, not because I don't like them, but because some college mates played them all the time and I hear them all the time on classic rock stations, so it's like the Beatles, I get my fix everywhere else. :p

Nicholas said...

Neal, I always feel like I am unfairly biased against this album. Having crowdfunded this right after Wait for the Siren, I'm certainly willing to admit that I have unfair expectations that I've yet to move past. Also, the way it is mixed really does negatively color my opinion of it--and that may be where you, coming at it as a non-fan, might be at a bit of an advantage. Almost all previous P86 albums, and certainly the best ones, heavily lean on the low-end, and I'm not sure I can totally get over this one not doing so. As a musician, I also favor playing bass and drums, so that adds a further bias.
I hear you on the radio thing--that's the same reason I've never purchased a Rush album!

Anony Cat said...

Yeah, fan and non-fans can have such different reactions to things. I had a debate with someone once who said every U2 song sounded the same, and it's maybe slightly arguable for some of their bigger radio hits, and All That You Can't Leave Behind had hit recently (the major fault for me with All That You Can't Leave Behind is that it went back a little too much to Joshua Tree's "anthem" song styles). And the guy I was arguing with was into music but did not know U2 at all well. I did my best to talk about the huge range from Boy to War to Joshua Tree to Pop, etc.

For me coming into this album, I just kind of remembered that P86 was that scream rock band that Jessica liked some previous albums of (I'm forgetting which really impressed her), but I hadn't ever really taken the time to listen to them. So first I had to appreciate the screaming aspect of it (though I liked how the album mixed that with singing): it's admittedly not a category of listened much to, even though I'm not a stranger to hard rock, etc. After that, then I kind of just absorbed it, and I got into it more and more. The second track/Spirit of Shiloh still draws me in well, but I do think that a lot of my favorite songs are later in the album, after the 5th or 6th track (I'd need to play it again to recall perfectly). So there might be something I'm feeling from the mix that you're just hearing better. I will readily admit that I am a better critic of movies and books than music (other than some stuff I know really well, like U2!).

But it might also be that I really do enjoy the guitar/main through line of most of these songs. I love the thready/sliding nature of the guitar in "Captive Bolt Pistol," for instance. Not that I don't think bass or drums aren't important, it's just the guitar I remember and come back for with Knives.

Speaking of bass, one of my favorite U2 songs is still that 5th or 6th track on The Unforgettable Fire, where it's just The Edge and Adam Clayton playing together, and the guitar is definitely the background, elevating the bass in that one. And yeah... I think I've said before that the strings found in the song "The Unforgettable Fire," (which are being played on the lower end, even if they aren't cellos) still make that song my entry point for loving U2. --Neal