“The Amber Tide,” the sophomore album by Portland hard-rock band Whitcomb, is a record of gorgeous contrasts. “Gorgeous” is not usually the first word that comes to mind when describing heavy metal records, but it’s more than appropriate to this new release.

Sure, most of the standard metal adjectives apply as well: powerful, aggressive, distorted, etc. But there is a beauty to this album that sets it apart from your standard hard-rock fare, and it’s a beauty that sets Whitcomb apart from its metal brethren, both nationally and in the Portland scene.

The slow-building drones and feedback of the introductory track “Prelude” are misleading, fooling you into thinking you’re in for the standard metal trip. You’re ready for the big guitar wallop, certain you’ve heard this kind of thing before.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, you hear that voice, the emotive wail of vocalist Brant Dadaleares, as he plaintively and achingly launches into the opening lines of “Dream.” In a world of death-metal grunters and hardcore screamers, Whitcomb is blessed with that rarest of all commodities in today’s heavy music scene: A singer who can actually, well sing!

Although Dadaleares’s voice is Whitcomb’s calling card, make no mistake — “The Amber Tide” is definitely a band effort. The guitars (Andy Beavis and Sean Libby) slash and bite, forming the crunchy foundation of the Whitcomb sound. Groove is in ample supply as well, served up by the rhythm section of bassist Ryan Fleming and drummer Mark Sayer. The overall sound is not unlike the urban street metal of mid-’90s New York (think Biohazard or Life of Agony).

Too often, metal records can be noisy affairs, with bands sacrificing sonic clarity for the sake of volume. This is not the case here. A spotless production from Jonathan Wyman perfectly balances crunch with melody, giving “The Amber Tide” the perfect blend of power, melody and, yes, volume.

Whitcomb has managed to deliver a rare heavy metal treat: An album that will surely please the die-hard headbanger, but with enough melody and emotional variety to lure in non-metal fans, even those that wouldn’t know Iron Maiden from Iron and Wine. If you’re new to this band, get in on the ground floor now, because Whitcomb is one local band that may not be local for long.

Rick Johnson is a freelance writer and radio host from Westbrook. He can be reached at:

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