Monday, 31 August 2015

Wearing Scars' 'A Thousand Words' - Album Review

It was not that long ago that both Mutiny Within and Sacred Mother Tongue were being touted as the next big things in hard rock and metal. Both bands had recognisable sounds and managed to build up respectable fanbases. Surviving in the music business is never easy though, and both bands wound up splitting up before ever reaching their full potential. Four of Wearing Scars' five members come from these bands. Guitarist Andy James (Sacred Mother Tongue; Budgie; Fields of the Nephilim), bassist Craig Daws (Sacred Mother Tongue), and drummer Lee Newell (Fields of the Nephilim; Sacred Mother Tongue) have regrouped following Sacred Mother Tongue's break-up, and have joined forces with singer Chris Clancy (Mutiny Within) to create a new album of melodic metal. Guitarist Daniel Woodyer completes the five-piece. Soundwise, Wearing Scars are more musically similar to Mutiny Within than Sacred Mother Tongue. The band's debut album A Thousand Words is focused around Clancy's soaring vocals, and places less emphasis on the technicality of the music that made both previous bands so interesting. This works both for and against Wearing Scars' sound in my opinion. On the one hand, the music's melodies are really pushed to the front of the sound. There is no denying that many of the songs on A Thousand Words are extremely catchy with very memorable vocal melodies. Clancy really shines on this album, and his clean vocals (as he does not use any harsh vocals as he sometimes did with Mutiny Within) are the highlight of the band's sound. On the other hand however, the band never really pushes itself beyond a simple, established formula. This surprises me, as both Mutiny Within and Sacred Mother Tongue had a progressive side to their sound that helped them to stand out from the crowd. There was always a restrained technicality to their music that helped to make them interesting. Wearing Scars lacks this quality and, as a result, their sound is less interesting. The songs on A Thousand Words do start to blend into each other eventually, which does hamper my enjoyment of the album somewhat towards the end, despite its obvious qualities. I also feel that James' skills are underused here. He is always portrayed as one of the best modern guitarists, but listening to this album you would not necessarily think so, besides a few excellent moments. I am not saying that every song needs to have a ridiculously complicated guitar solo, but some more interesting and technical playing would have certainly helped his album.

The album gets off to a good start with Become Numb, which has an excellent riff and a slightly techy stop-start rhythm throughout which helps the song to stand out. Clancy's vocal melodies always have a slight whiff of melodrama about them, and the chorus to this song exemplifies this. Subtle backing vocals help to enhance the mood, and Clancy's fist-clenching delivery cannot fail to grab you. This song does possess a good guitar solo, and James races out of the blocks with a hectic effort that is quite different from the mood of the rest of the song. Stand Alone is another solid song, and is more upbeat than the previous number. Newell's driving double bass drumming is the leading instrument for me in this song, and challenges the rest of the band to keep up - which of course they do. Some of the riffs here have a hint of metalcore about them, and comparisons to the more melodic end of Killswitch Engage's material could easily be drawn. I really like the guitar playing throughout the song's chorus. Subtle guitar patterns really help to increase the melodic nature of the track, and Clancy once again sings well. Butterfly is the album's lead single, and as a result it is one of the more accessible songs here. Subtle orchestrations augment the opening guitar riff, and the melodies are really pushed to the front throughout. The chorus really soars, and Clancy's vocals once again stand out. I also really like the bridge section after the second chorus that leads into James' solo. The vocals there are powerful, and the transition to the instrumental section works really well. Heart in Your Hands is a dynamic affair, that mixes mellow, piano-driven verses (no credit for who plays the piano parts), and heavier choruses. It is something of a power ballad, but one that is a little heavier than average. It works well though, and makes use of Clancy's delicate vocals throughout. Waiting for the End is another song that impresses. This is a fast song, with some more metalcore-esque guitar riffing with a fast tempo and an infectious overall feel to it. The chorus is a rapid one that races past, which makes the slower bridge even more powerful in comparison. The extended solo here is one moment where James really gets to let rip, and he shows a little of what he can do. The next highlight is Gone Forever, which is another ballad-like song, has a murky atmosphere that works really well. When the anthemic chorus kicks in, this is banished however, and you can really hear the emotion in Clancy's delivery. He has a voice made for this type of song, and it shows him at his melodic best.

A Last Goodbye is another pacey song that gets the blood pumping. The guitar work here is pretty solid, with a really fluid solo from James that lets rip from the moment it starts. The rest of the song is fairly standard fare for Wearing Scars, but it stands out due to the excellent solo. This is one of the songs where James really shines, and I just wish this was the case more often. By this point in the album however, the band's sound is starting to stagnate a little. A Thousand Words is one of those albums that packs all the best songs at the beginning, so it loses momentum as it goes. Would You Lie is an example of this, and it just sounds a little tired compared to what has come before despite not sounding vastly different. It is not all bad however, as Better picks things up somewhat. The song's verse is a little different and features Clancy almost mumbling the vocals, in style similar to Marillion's Steve Hogarth, while a crunching riff and droning lead swirl around him. While not vastly different from the band's established sound, it does enough to grab your attention again after a couple of more average tunes. The band's self-titled song Wearing Scars is another ballad, that mixes some nice clean guitar patterns with gentle keyboard textures. It is probably the best of the album's ballads, and injects a little class into the ending half of the album. By the time the second chorus rolls around, the rest of the band join in and it picks up somewhat, but loses none of the beauty of the first part. Unfortunately, it is the last really decent song on the album. Letters is a fairly standard fast song, that has little that really stands out. Again, the tried and tested formula is fatigued by this point, and even a half-decent chorus cannot really save it. The fast verses/slower, epic chorus model worked for the first half of the album, but by this point it fails to capture the imagination. There is nothing wrong with the song, but it suffers from being too similar to what has come before. Wounds is a little better, but the same problems are still present. This song also seems to be trying a little too hard to be an 'epic' ending song, and does not quite pull it off. While the chorus is quite powerful, I feel it sticks out somewhat as the rest of the song is quite restrained. It is certainly more interesting than Letters, which means that the album finishes on a reasonably strong note, but it still does not stand up to the material found on the first half of the album. Overall, A Thousand Words is a decent album from a new band that is still finding their feet. I think it is unfortunate that the album runs out of steam towards the end, as the first few songs here are really very strong indeed. I think Wearing Scars are definitely a band to watch however, and with a little more diversity in their music they could really make a name for themselves going forward.

The album was released on 24th July 2014 via Candyman Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Butterfly.

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