Artist: Red Novella
In the melodic metalcore of Red Novella, the lows set up highs, and the highs drop you off a cliff. Julie Andrews was only partly right: The hills are alive with the sound of music, provided all that hilly undulation doesn't slow the sound of squealing guitar.
The title of RN's standout album, Failure by Design, is not just taken from one of its song lyrics. It's a hint of what's to come. The thematic arc starts at self-inflicted wounds: “Your words kill like a thousand cuts / And it's you that has to live / With the consequences and the blame” (Won't Back Down); “Did this go as you planned? / To self destruct … / To break down and be something that you're not” (Pieces); “You put the noose around your neck / And wonder why it's getting hard to breathe” (Broken Down); and “We can survive / If you swallow all your pride” (Survive).
At first glance, it appears most of RN's narrators would opt to stay stuck in admittedly awful situations (e.g. Won't Back Down, Survive, and Embers Never Fade). But then something happens. Near the end of the song cycle (Ashes Fall, Broken Down), we get the feeling that RN's romantically flawed narrators are nearly fed up. And it's here where inspirational lyrics (liberally sprinkled throughout the album) play a role. Most metal/-core bands avoid such constructive observation – e.g. Won't Back Down's “It's the past that makes us who we are / And guides us along the way ... Time heals all of our broken dreams / And all the scars … I'll stand my ground / I won't back down / I'm prepared to fight for this life” – to sidestep the appearance of being soft, even when doing so can come at the expense of establishing a deeper connection with the listener. On Failure by Design however, it helps to close the loop: It clues us in that RN's composite narrator will ultimately move beyond denial/acceptance to action. (And to think: It all started with the realization that the significant other's failure was by design.)
But in melodic metalcore, all the lyrical themes in the world would be nothing without metal or melody. With Red Novella, there are multiple moments that memorably meld both vocal and musical melody: Won't Back Down's “But I'd do it again, I wouldn't change a thing” (at :52); Pieces' “Tonight I sing this song for you” (1:19); and Ashes Fall's “My stomach turns / It's filled with envy” (1:08). These typically occur when the vocal lead is coupled with harmonies to evoke yearning.
As for metal, there's a reason I call Red Novella “the riff armada” (beyond the fact Groove Armada was taken). Examples are everywhere. To observe the important role that riffs play in the dynamic development of RN songs, look no further than album-opener Won't Back Down. After two minutes of its verse/chorus song-in-chief, when other bands would think about awkwardly ending it, RN simply goes off. Just as the screaming fades (at 2:22), RN's drummer and guitarist resume hostilities, trading punches until double-bass and screamo signal yet another round/layer of knockout riffage (2:32).
Like the best bands of the genre, Red Novella is blessed with a tremendous sense of melody, dynamic song-writing, and lyrical themes emotionally suitable to the musical heartbreak.
(In other words, they kick Julie Andrews ass.)
*** The author of this review, Martin Simmons, plays the madal for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8