City Of Fire - City Of Fire
Candlelight Records
Alt. Rock/Metal
11 songs (47:30)
Release year: 2010
City Of Fire, Candlelight Records
Reviewed by Goat

A reinvigoration of Byron Straud’s old band Caustic Thought, City Of Fire features Burton C Bell on vocals and so can’t help but sound like a defanged Fear Factory, focusing on 80s Rock riffs rather than the expected Industrial Metal stomp. It’s all rather mellow, really, reminding me more of Burton’s Ascention Of The Watchers side-project than anything – if Fear Factory suddenly realised that robots aren’t going to annihilate the human race, this might be the sort of relieved ‘oh, well that’s all right then’ album they’d make. Unhappily for them, however, it also sounds like a natural progression from the lightest moments on their ill-received 2005 album Transgression, U2 through an Alt Metal lens, and so if you are listening from the perspective of a long-term Fear Factory fan, be prepared to grit your teeth at moments such as Rising, a disgustingly uplifting riff fitting in badly with Burton’s gruff vocals, and the almost twee A Memory.

City Of Fire does have its moments. It’s clearly made by professionals who have been around the block a few times, and if you can get over the lack of machine-gun riffs and blastbeats, then those more inclined towards the alternate end of Hard Rock will find much to appreciate. Few will feel pessimistic after opener Carve Your Name storms in, a great song that takes a sort of industrial backing atmosphere and adds competent upfront Rock drama with some of the best harsh vocals on the whole album. Sadly, the rest of the album feels like quite a step down in comparison. Spirit Guide approaches Alice In Chains-esque misery, but notably has to have some sort of vocal effect on Burton, whose screamy moments in generally really should have been cut out, especially Coitus Interruptus which would have been far better if he was actually singing rather than bellowing. There’s some good guitar playing generally, but those vocals can be very distracting – a shame, since Burton has a nice singing voice when he tries.

Ultimately, City Of Fire’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be – tuff guy Alt-Metal or singalong-y melodic 80s-throwback rock. Both are present, often in the same song, and often in a dreadful heavy-light effect where stodgy riffs and grunty vocals give way to an uplifting melodic chorus – I’d say they were trying to mimic Tool at the start of Hanya, although the ensuing downtuned mess is very forgettable. It speaks volumes that the best tracks present are the lighter ones, nice ballad Hollow Land a good example, and the near-ambient calm of Dark Tides with only a distant violin to upset the relaxing effect of Burton’s droning vocals being another. Otherwise, the likes of Gravity are competent but dull, Burton’s vocals being stretched to the point of credulity – he’s never been a marvellous vocalist, but his general flatness is exposed horribly when anything too far from his comfort zone is tried, and there are plenty of wince-worthy moments here, which drag it right down and show him up as the band’s weakest link.

The band and album are apparently named a nickname for Vancouver, the city they were formed, and there’s some lovely nonsense on their painfully slow website about how it’s full of artists and creativity is like a fire (better than a declaration of arson, I suppose). It’s a shame that City Of Fire couldn’t produce anything more creative – a greater focus on their more melodic and experimental elements would produce far better results next time than seeking some half-arsed Fear Factory-lite album. Worth a listen for fans, but ignore otherwise.

Killing Songs :
Carve Your Name, Hollow Land, Dark Tides, Rain
Goat quoted 62 / 100
Alex quoted 62 / 100
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