Sunday, September 9, 2012

Album Review: Digital Summer - Breaking Point

Album Rating: B-
Alternative metal is a hard genre to be a part of. The proverbial "breaking of the mold" is difficult to do when the style of music relies heavily on recycled sounds that appeal to the average person listening to the local rock station on the morning commute. Because of this, most of the bands that have made it big (i.e. Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Seether) have either tried and failed to make their sound different than the other bands around them or created formulaic music that a machine could have pumped out. Power-chord-driven guitar riffs, almost inaudible bass lines and vocals alternating between an upper-range snarl/whine and a half-hearted scream combine to make entirely uninspired music for the most part. And, since the genre is so jam-packed with bands, whenever a band manages to stick their head above the fray (see Crossfade's We All Bleed), ten more appear to crush them back down into obsolescence. Sure, a lot of alt-metal is really fun to listen to, but from a critical perspective most of it just doesn't have the originality to warrant playing it over and over again. One of the reasons I keep coming back to hear fresh faces in the genre is because I really, really want to hear a new take, one that strays from the path of mediocrity and one that I can truly appreciate as a critic as well as a fan of the genre.

Digital Summer is the latest band to try and do just that. Their latest album Breaking Point caught the attention of many a rock fan thanks to the potential of being the record that finally distances itself from the crowd. And, for the most part, it's a pleasant surprise. For starters, the guitars are much better than those in the band's counterparts. On many of the songs on the album, and most evidently on "Dance In The Fire," a nasally lead guitar plucks out a quadruple-time rhythm over the standard chugging power chords. It really helps to flesh out the sound of the choruses and makes them more interesting the the standard fare, and as an added bonus lead guitarist Jon Stephenson manages to avoid the precarious pitfall of pointless and almost masturbatory soloing. The production on this album is also of a much higher quality than we've come to expect on an alt-metal release. Industrial-tinged prechoruses and a slew of fantastic effects on the lead guitar give the album a much-needed push that propels it a bit farther forward than most alt-metal production would have done. Digital Summer's differing from the norm is especially evident on "Breaking Point," where well-placed pianos and an energetic lead guitar riff are layered over a solid alt-metal backbone of crashing drums and guitars that eventually leads into a bridge that smacks of the best parts of Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory, with guitars that cut out and come back in rhythmically and engaging drums.

Unfortunately for Digital Summer, they eventually fall into the trap of a generic, overused sound. Lead singer Kyle Winterstein fails to separate his vocals from the rest of the crowd, and ends up sounding similar to Seether vocalist Shaun Morgan in terms of both vocal quality and lyrics - and that's not a good thing. It's apparent most clearly on "Fight Till I Fall," which no doubt will be used in countless Call of Duty montages on YouTube thanks to its insipid sound and lyrics. The chorus showcases guitars that are far more boring than one would hope for while Winterstein sings "This is a fight to the finish line, / Nowhere to run, there’s no way out. / Nothing to lose when you blast it up, / To the death, I will fight ‘till I fall." While one might argue that the lyrics aren't flagrantly bad considering a lot of other horrendous alt-metal lyrics, they fail to go above the mediocre level of most similar bands and come off as common and uninteresting. Adding to the generic sound are drums that sound no different from any other band save for some decent toned-down sounds in intros and prechoruses. The crash cymbal bangs at half-time, the kick bumps mundanely along with the bass guitar, and overall there's just not any display of exceptional skill that would detach Digital Summer from the mob.

It's honestly disappointing that Digital Summer came so close to giving a fresh sound to alt-metal. As much as the guitar work is excellent and songs like "Broken Halo" and "Breaking Point" have a degree of originality not seen in the genre for a long time, nothing else on the album really stands out as different. For anyone who loves their alt-metal just the way it is, this album is perfect. However, if you're one of those people who wants to see some life pumped into a comatose genre, this unfortunately just barely fails to do so.


Track List:

1. Forget You
2. Breaking Point
3. Cut You Open
4. Fight Til' I Fall
5. Broken Halo
6. Come One
7. War Against Myself
8. Dance In The Fire
9. Overdose
10. Wanted To Love You
11. Broken Halo (Acoustic)

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