REVIEW: AMERICAN HEAD CHARGE – “Tango Umbrella”
News of a new album from the American nu-metal band American Head Charge will most likely come as a surprise, mostly considering that the group has not released a full-length studio record consisting of solely original material since February 2005. That being said, the time space between albums should not diminish the quality of a follow-up, and American Head Charge is definitely not a band where I have been disappointed with what I’ve heard. The album is entitled Tango Umbrella and opens with its first track “A King Among Men”. Right from the beginning, the track is automatically identifiable with that of one Trent Reznor, giving the song a relatively industrial feel symbolic of Reznor’s band Nine Inch Nails even if the music at hand is quite sombre and piano-based with just the vocal over the top of the composition driving it along. It frankly surprises me that American Head Charge decided to open their new record with a song that lacks all types of traditional rock instrumentation and just lets the emotion of singer Cameron Heacock control the track.
“Antidote” to me is the proper opening song on the album, with the traditional rock instrumentation that was mentioned beforehand making its official debut in terms of Tango Umbrella, but regardless Heacock’s vocals often bounce between very bold and confident, and at other times quite willowed and whispered in order to create a sense of atmosphere. You can hear the band’s past influences seeping through considerably as the music goes on. Following “Antidote” is the track “Down and Depraved”, which kicks off with heavy metal instrumentation and a vibe that just screams Disturbed – if you like Disturbed, you will like this song. So far so good, even if the tracks reek substantially of the bands that American Head Charge give credit to instead of the band testing themselves musically to produce something completely original instead of being a carbon copy which is what I fear at this particular point.
“Drowning Under Everything” slowly draws the listener into the middle section of the album, and settles into a pleasantly distorted-guitar driven groove that is produced well enough to the extent that you can hear clearly what each instrument is doing to contribute to the overall musical stew that is being conjured up. As said before, nu-metal is American Head Charge’s craft, and there is plenty of that on this track from the melodic vocal lines to the physical sound of the rhythm section which is very Korn-like than anything else. Moving on from this is the song “I Will Have My Day” is quite electronic and techno, which is by no means a bad thing if applied correctly and in the right places. For me personally, “I Will Have My Day” is one of my favourite songs on the record due to its ability to do something different, and that generally offers up a welcomed change in direction from the repeated formula that does become tiresome after a certain point.
“Let All the World Believe” picks back up the musical theme first heard on “A King Among Men” and takes it in a drastically different direction before relying on the usual instrumentation. This time, however, the vocals of band frontman Heacock could not sound more like goth-shocker Marilyn Manson. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a positive thing or not. “Perfectionist” does not waste anytime letting itself rip out of its musical cage, with a violent burst of energy before an abrupt change in pace as it settles into melody. This general back and forth pattern happens regularly throughout the song, and it definitely demonstrates a “quiet and loud” theme first popularised by the grunge rock music of the early 1990s that American Head Charge as a musical entity is an eventual product of.
“Prolific Catastrophe” comes up next, bookended at the beginning by a bizarre ringing sound which exists as a backing track to the abstract musicianship and industrial sound that pulls the song along. The groove in this song especially is notable, as it is considerably catchier than a lot of the tracks heard up until this point. The performance of drummer Chris Emery is also something to highlight, as his unique fills, rhythm and general playing really do add something to the song instead of the drumming just being a generic undertone to the music. “Sacred” is the third-last song to be heard on Tango Umbrella, and its atmosphere is one of heavy mysticism due to the whispering of the vocal and the ethereal noises that run throughout it from its beginning up until its conclusion.
The penultimate track on Tango Umbrella is a song entitled “Suffer Elegantly”. This track definitely has the most in common with styles of metal outside of nu and industrial such as thrash, for example. This is most obviously identified in the tuning of the guitar, which reek of what has come to be known as thrash metal. It is interesting to note that the drums choose not to follow suit in terms of the adapted style of music on this song and instead play what appears to be the bare minimum instead of usual thrash metal drumming which thrives on technicality and virtuosity. Tango Umbrella ends with the track “When the Time is Never Right”, which opens with a melodic slow-paced passage particularly reminiscent of what many bands do when closing off their records. The Nine Inch Nails influence again shows itself in the brightest light possible on this song, which at least creates some sense of flow throughout the album in that the record is following a general template or set of rules.
To conclude, Tango Umbrella by American Head Charge is an enjoyable record for fans of industrialised rock and metal, although it is disappointing that the band doesn’t go to enough effort to separate themselves from their musical inspirations.