Metalcore is one of those subgenres of Metal that I've never really been able to get on with. It's always put me off that there has been this persistent 'scene' around Metalcore and the pretentiousness of a lot of the fans I find deeply annoying. Musically it's a genre that I've just never been able to get my head around. I've never really found the attraction of it. Believe me, I've tried, it's just never clicked.
Glass Cloud are going someway to helping me understand Metalcore with their debut album 'The Royal Thousand'. What we have here is a mini supergroup. The band is formed around former Sky Eats Airplane vocalist Jerry Roush and guitarist Joshua Travis, formerly of the wonderfully titled The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. Both bands made serious waves in the underground technical Metal scenes and the resulting splits have contributed to other bands who are beginning to make serious waves in the tech/djent scenes.
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Roush and Travis wanted to try something a bit heavier for Glass Cloud so moved toward straightforward Metalcore. They enlisted Travis Sykes and Chad Hasty (bass and drums) to complete the band then proceeded to go and make something heavy.
Believe me when I say (and I know I say this a lot, but it's true here) this album is HEAVY. Really heavy. Heavy like a particularly overweight elephant sitting on your little toe.
Glass Cloud bring low tuned riffing to the front with Travis sporting one of the thickest eight string guitar sounds I've ever heard. There is some severe low tuning going on here. For those who don't know, your typical electric guitar comes with six strings, tuned low to high from E to e, a full octave. Now as you can imagine an eight string has two more (shockingly, I know), tuned lower. So where you have a six string tuned normally as E, A, D, G, B, e, on an eight string you have Gb, B, E, A, D, G, B, e. This extended range allows for massively low notes as well as unique and interesting chord formations and more comfortable fretting for intricate chords (in some cases anyway).
So, two extra strings of lowness. No where is it typified any better than the intro to 'Ivy & Wine', with a semi galloped riff on the low Gb string sounding loose and low. Most of the current bands using eight string guitars wouldn't dream of using them like Travis does. Most of the people using eight strings are djent bands like Meshuggah, Monuments, Chimp Spanner and Periphery. All of these bands are keen to have low tunings while still sounding tight, avoiding that slack, clanking sound that comes with obscenely low tunings. This doesn't bother Glass Cloud. Their use of the eighth string is noisy, it's brash and (just like the band themselves), it's heavy.
Travis does move from the lowest end of the fretboard at times. 'All Long' features some interesting staccato riffing throughout while the opening track, 'White Flag', is built around a quirky tapped pattern which belies the heaviness that comes in with the chorus. It's worth bearing in mind though that if you're looking for shredding and guitar solos then you're in the wrong place. GC are all about the riffs, the dirtier and chunkier the better.
Vocally, if you have heard Sky Eats Airplane then you know what to expect. Roush is a mix of screaming mad man and tortured clean singer. Sometimes he jumps between the two mid line. 'White Flag' is one of the best examples of this but 'Prelude For A Ghost', one of the quietest parts of this album has Roush singing softly and cleanly until it jumps into 'All Along' and things get really fucking loud again. Roush even gets a bit Devin Townsend with multi layered quiet singing at the beginning of 'She Is Well' And 'Nothing Can Be Ill'. The album is full of little surprises like that which is definitely pleasing as I was expecting things to get samey very quickly.
When it comes to the bass, my general experience with Metalcore is that the bass pretty much gets mixed out in favour of the guitars. I'm glad to say that this isn't the case and Sykes can be heard throughout the album. In fact he acts a lot like a rhythm guitar when Travis moves up to the high strings, Sykes kicks on the bass distortion and riffs away. One of the most surprising moments of bass work is in 'She Is Well' And 'Nothing Can Be Ill' where Sykes plays this rapid, rolling tapped bass riff. It's hard to pinpoint the notes of it, it just washes over like a wave of bass notes, but it really does work. Then you get the quiet intro of 'Memorandum' where Sykes goes a bit jazzy over the top of the ambient sounds and off beat drums.
Of course when things are heavy, that's where Sykes really gets to have some fun. When he's not poking holes between the guitar riffs to be heard, he's joyfully matching the mental guitar riffs and helping to thicken the whole affair up. 'If He Dies, He Dies' is a great example of this. Punishing riff after punishing riff with the bass following the guitar for maximum heaviness. It's bliss.
So when you've got a band this heavy, you need a heavy drummer. You need a drummer who can pound his kit like it's wronged him in a previous life. Enter Chad Hasty. My God this man can drum. There is an intensity to his performances that you don't often get in modern Metal bands these days. You can almost visualise him grimacing and sweating with pure rage as he powers through each track. It's possibly the most visceral component of an already intense band.
'Falling In Style' features a bizarre little drum solo at the beginning which genuinely sounds like a drumkit being thrown down a set of stairs, but it then continues into a fast, complexly arranged pounding for Hasty. 'From May To Now' has Hasty holding a more sinister feeling than the other tracks on the album during the verses and making the widest noise he can possibly achieve during the huge chorus section.
Now, this being a Metalcore band, GC stick well to the conventions. A mix of clean and dirty vocals, heavy riffs and huge breakdowns are all in effect here, but GC manage to sound very different to most other Metalcore bands I've heard. They revel in their noisiness; this is a well produced, yet very raw and powerful album.
There are concessions to the producer, in the extra layers of clean guitars, or synthesised sounds in places on some of the songs, which give them a very slick sound. Conversely (and especially when Travis drops to that low string) things get very heavy and an artificial distortion becomes ever so noticeable, as if it is underlining the sudden change in dynamic and to give the impression that the intensity is just too much for your speakers to take. It's an interesting trick and a clever mental deception on the part of the production team. I'll not point out where they do it, that would spoil the effect, you'll have to listen to yourself.
'The Royal Thousand' can only be described as a first degree assault to the senses. It's loud, fast, heavy and staggeringly brutal. Yet it also manages quieter moments and features some genuinely interesting ideas. I will admit, it took me a while to 'get' this album and it's by no means perfect, but it's a deceptively clever album full of moments to headbang and mosh to.
Take a chance on it, it might just be your thing.