Polarising & mediocre.
At some point, inspiration and influence can become nothing more than simple imitation. This is a fine line that’s walked by many bands and one such band is New Orleans newcomers, Cane Hill.
Cane Hill, AKA "The Latest Not Safe For Work The Band Doing The Rounds" have taken countless leafs out of a multitude of young and old books to help create their dark, nu-metal-tinged, cathartic heavy sound. From Slipknot and Korn; to their peers in Sworn In and My Ticket Home; to older artists like Pantera and Marilyn Manson; the major and subtle cues these guys take from other bands would take a far bigger word count than I’m prepared to write to fully cover. So please just take my word for it; it’s a very long list of influences they've pulled from. But see, while the influence and inspiration of those aforementioned bands is painfully obvious in Cane Hill's music, the very imitation of said acts is as well. From the guitar riffs, melodies, vocal styles, song-structures, to how their songs flow; everything about 'Smile' weaves between blatant imitation and mere musical influence.
I mean, honestly, during my first run through of ‘Smile’, I half expected the band to suddenly break into a cover of Korn’s ‘Got The Life’ at a moments notice.
With that analogy, and as some may have already gathered, the Cane Hill boys embody the current musical trend of integrating the modern, polished heavy metal sound and production with the edgy, groove-heavy vibe of late 1990’s and early 2000’s nu-metal. Just minus all the turntables and vinyl-scratching in this case. Many - and I repeat many - a band has jumped on this bandwagon (Sylar and Fire From The Gods being just two examples of late), and I'd say it's attributed to these newer, younger bands being blooded on the older bands and classic record of the genre(s), who are now coming into their own as musicians and playing what they loved as youngins. That really seems to be the case here but to their credit, Cane Hill pull it off in a passable manner and these two styles do mix together very well (hence this whole nu-metal revival movement of late). Now, this band has made it no secret of their not wanting to be associated with the 'nu-metal' tagline, but tough fuckin' shit guys - you're a part of it to some degree and you don't get to choose how the world perceives your band. So I'd say embrace it and move on.
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And sweet baby Allah, where was I going with all of this? Ah yes! I enjoyed ‘Smile’, but only for the likes of ‘MGGDA, 'Ugly Idol Mannequin', ‘Fountain Of Youth’, ‘St. Veronica’, and ‘True Love’ - which is the good stuff here! However, ‘Smile’ does come with some BIG caveats.
First off, vocalist Elijah Witt has a really diverse vocal range and he and the rest of his band know this. He constantly delivers many different styles across the record, but this is a double-edged sword as it feels all over the shop. His screams are reminiscent of Sworn In’s Tyler Dennen and Ocean Grove’s Luke Holmes, just beefier here. But his screams here aren’t anything too special. Then when he delivers his edgy, whispered vocals, he sounds like Marilyn Manson mid-therapy session, both in their tone and in lyrical content. Likewise, there’s the rapping and spoken word parts of what is essentially ripped from early Korn, and Witt sounds scarily similar to Jonathan Davis at times in timbre and tone - almost down to the fucking T. Still on the vocals, Witt occasionally rips out some clean singing on a couple songs. Despite having a really good delivery (just in general, really - he is a solid vocalist), I found that the near-constant chop and changing between the various vocal styles at his disposal - sometimes all within a single damn song - subtracts from the songs rather than adding to them.
Song wise, while ‘You’re So Wonderful’ and ‘Strange Candy’ are slower changes of pace for the record, they aren’t really where the band’s strengths lay. Sure, these two songs make it slightly harder to pigeonhole Cane Hill, but being hard to define doesn’t necessarily make your band 'good'. Also, I really could have done without the new version of ‘Screwtape’, too. It’s not a bad re-take of the original song from their debut EP; on the contrary, I actually prefer this version! I just would’ve preferred something that’s actually new to fill out this record further.
Now, for all of the dark lyrics and the obscure imagery this album conjures up with its music, just one song undermines the album's tone greatly. That song is ‘Cream Pie’. When I first saw that title, I thought, “Oh man, wouldn’t it be a laugh if they used a few mid-orgasm vocal samples a la Emmure in this song?” Oh, if only I knew how right I was about to be.
At first, the song sounds like a lost Slipknot B-side from the ‘Vol. 3…’ era, with possibly the best groove of the album, but then said porno sample (for lack of a better phrase) shows up in the middle and takes you right out of the moment. Everything that the song was building to is suddenly replaced by pure cringe. But I pushed onwards. “Okay”, I thought to myself, “Maybe that’s it?” Nope! As the song winds down, squirting-like sounds are heard as a woman screams mid-orgasm as a man’s voice encourages the lewd spectacle going on right before your very ears. Well, there you go people, there's Brazzer's newest soundtrack for their 'creampie' videos.
Now, I do agree that sex and pornography are still stigmatised to a crazy degree in this day and age, but this one song was the musical equivalent of Hideo Kojima's writing in the Metal Gear Solid games. You know how it goes; everything is flowing at a dark and serious pace and any sense of tone goes right out the window as all that build-up is completely butchered by an awkward, "comedic", cringe-inducing sexual situation or encounter. Seriously, I laughed hysterically upon hearing this for the first time because I thought that bands in the heavy music scene were past all of this cringe-worthy nonsense or at least would've figured out how to deliver content like this well. But clearly not. If the band's objective was trying to be "shocking", then they really failed that one. I mean, this song is just so fucking stupid that it’s almost great. Almost.
So. Excluding what is easily the dumbest fucking song I’ve heard all goddamn year, ‘Smile’ isn’t THAT bad of a record - it’s got some solid tunes on it! However, the individual parts of the album are definitely greater than their sum. Now, I know that that’s not that glowing of an endorsement, but that's simply because that this record, while kinda strange and somewhat interesting, is only decent and competent at best. But hey, if you love your dark, edgy metalcore/nu-metal bands, then Cane Hill could just be for you. Maybe. I dunno.
2. The (New) Jesus
3. True Love
4. St. Veronica
5. Fountain of Youth
6. Cream Pie
7. You’re So Wonderful
8. Ugly Idol Mannequin
10. Strange Candy