May 2, 2013

CD Review: In four excellent songs, something for every heavy metal fan in Maine

Heavy metal is alive and well, and living in Portland under the name of Whitcomb.

By RICK JOHNSON

One year after the release of the excellent album "The Amber Tide," Portland heavy-metal stalwart Whitcomb has returned with a crushing new EP, "The Conqueror." And though it's shorter than previous efforts, this may be the band's best work yet.

Courtesy photo

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HOW IT RATES

WHITCOMB: "THE CONQUEROR"

*** 1/2

PRODUCED BY: Jon Wyman

Based on a four-star scale

On this release, Whitcomb unabashedly flies the flag for all things heavy, and listening to these four songs is like taking a trip through 40 years of heavy-metal history.

The opening track, "Blind," gets the cannonball rolling with a fat, stoner-rock groove generated by the killer riffs of guitarists Sean Libby and Andy Beavis. The rhythm section of bassist Ryan Fleming and drummer Mark Sayer lock into a very subtle but very cool low-slung '70s vibe for this song, something we've not heard before from Whitcomb. The soaring voice of Brant Dadaleares delivers the anthemic chorus with power and conviction, cementing the song's status as a new classic in the Whitcomb catalog.

The tempo slows on "Wrangle," and that plodding pace, combined with a bit of wah-wah guitar, give this track a very Black Sabbath feel. Dadaleares combines the best attributes of both Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio, which helps Whitcomb pull off the unique feat of having this song sound like both '70s and '80s-era Sabbath. However, the crystal-clear production courtesy of Jon Wyman keeps the sound fresh, modern and firmly rooted in the 21st century.

Drummer Sayer keeps things interesting, and shows his athleticism with some amazing drum fills on "To a Skull" (how's that for a metal song title?). Backing vocals by Libby and Sayer provide just the right touch of sweetness to offset the crunch of the guitars. Libby and Beavis pay homage to mid-period Iron Maiden toward the end of the song with some nice twin lead work.

The title track is as epic as it gets. Here, Whitcomb expertly combines multiple metal styles into one monumental masterpiece that will have horns raised and heads banging all across New England.

The up-tempo verses and Sayer's pummeling double-bass drums evoke the spirit of '80s European power metal; the chorus, with its cry of "he plunges into the crimson sea," is pure doom metal; and the screaming black-metal backing vocals at the end provide a menacingly perfect counterpoint to Dadaleares' emotive wail.

"The Conqueror" is a tour de force with something for every heavy metal fan, all packed within the space of just under four minutes.

This release is virtually flawless, the only criticism being that it's way too short! For the metal-starved masses of Maine, a four-song EP is merely an appetizer.

But it does serve as a welcome reminder to local head-bangers: Heavy metal is alive and well, and living in Portland under the name of Whitcomb.

Stream the album for free and download it for $5 at whitcomb.bandcamp.com/album/the-conqueror. And be sure to catch Whitcomb live at an EP-release show on May 11 at the Asylum in Portland. There's more information at facebook.com/WhitcombMaine.

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

rjohnson.rock@gmail.com

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