Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room straight away. Scissorfight. There I said it. I’m sure messers Paul Jarvis and Jay Fortin, bass and guitars respectively for Supermachine, won’t appreciate my bringing up their former group here as they no doubt wish to forge a new identity with their current outfit, but the fact remains the Scissorfight shadow will loom large over this release. Scissorfight were a force to be reckoned with. Their blend of blues, punk and metal was visceral and unsettling yet eminently catchy and vocalist Iron was a formidable and commanding presence physically, lyrically and vocally. Hell, the guy was plain scary. Scissorfight held sway, they had influence…you did not fuck with Scissorfight!!! With that in mind expectation around this album will naturally be high; the pressure to deliver is most certainly on. Unfortunately delivery falls slightly short.
Firstly, this is a fantastic sounding record. Fortin’s guitar has rarely sounded thicker or more tuneful and his playing remains at the forefront of this release…I’ve always been a big fan of this guy’s playing and it is good to hear him back in the saddle. His lead playing remains fluid and exciting and can still throw out a great riff and groove. Elsewhere Jarvis’s bass and the drums of Mike McNeil lay down a weighty, grinding rhythm section that, sonically at least, puts this album right up there with the best of them. The issue here, for me, at least is twofold. Firstly let’s look at the material. Whereas Scissorfight forged a sound that was as menacing and twisted as it was catchy it seems as though Supermachine are aiming for mass appeal acceptance with an overall sound that owes more to the likes of Alice In Chains with it’s big arena rock shapes. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the material, the choruses are big and largely memorable, the songs are well structured with ample light and shade and occasionally on tracks such as the southern tinged “Josey Wales” they show a fine bluesy swagger and potential brilliance. The songs are certainly heavy as well, of that there is no doubt. The issue seems to be one of soul, it doesn’t always feel as if they’re throwing their full heart into the songs and writing in a style that doesn’t necessarily suit or fulfil them. Also, throughout the course of these eleven tracks there is little in the way of variety of pace. Each track rides along on a mid paced groove which by the halfway mark does start to wear a little thin and doesn’t help any of the songs to stand out particularly.
The second issue lies at the feet of vocalist David Nebbia. The guy has a decent melodic voice with suitable power but has little in the way to distinguish him and stamp his mark on the material. Vocally he comes across as a combination of Layne Staley and Alabama Thunderpussy’s Johnny Throckmorton but lacking the former’s deep seated emotional gravitas and the sheer wild abandon and hooch fuelled menace of the latter. I certainly wasn’t looking for Iron Lung mark two here but I would have hoped for someone with a comparable level of personality and guts but here it just feels like there’s a voice to make the appropriate noises in the right places with mostly anodyne lyrics that offer nothing in the way of insight, humour…or, well anything to be honest. This may sound a little harsh as the guy as a good vocalist…but sometimes good isn’t enough when you want great.
Would I feel as disappointed by this album if I hadn’t been such a big fan of Scissorfight? Probably not as the weight of expectation, anticipation and excitement I felt approaching this album would not have been as great. The next question is, had I never heard Scissorfight would this album seem better? Probably not, as an album in its own right without the history of some of its members, it’s still only a decent enough album and not a great one. It has its moments but displays little that makes it stand out. It’s an enjoyable enough listen for what it is but not one that beckons you in for repeated plays. Lastly, is it unfair of me to be drawing so many comparisons to Scissorfight and to be going on about them so much? Quite possibly, after all Supermachine only comprise 50% of Scissorfight members, the other 50% having their own musical histories and their own input into the overall output. However, when a band does feature former members of a high profile band, and members who played a big part in the overall sound and writing within a high profile band, it is impossible to erase that history and not bring it forward into new projects. The fact is, Supermachine are gathering attention and interest because of their past associations and history, would they even be getting a look in were it not for this? Have a listen to this album and answer that question for yourselves.
I hate being negative about any album, particularly an album on Small Stone, a label I love and cherish, but with the sheer level of their output it was inevitable that something would come along that didn’t really tick my boxes…it’s the law of averages. But hey, I’m only one man with an opinion, the next guy may love this album…it may save his life and that, my friends, would render my opinion worthless.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall