Released: 2007, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
When the debacle that was the resurrected Combat Records mercifully imploded in 2006, one of the bands left in a state of flux was the Texas-based eclectic metal unit known as At All Cost. Their debut, IT’S TIME TO DECIDE, was a unique album to say the least. With metalcore as its base, the band also had flamenco guitar, strings, Casio keyboards and heavily-processed clean vocals at their disposal. This recipe was a difficult dish to digest and while wholly unique and admirable in their approach to cross boundaries, the album seemed directionless and a just a tad contrived. When Century Media Records announced the signing of At All Cost earlier this year, many people—including myself—raised an eyebrow at the label’s decision to add such a radically different band to its roster. However, on the band’s sophomore effort and Century Media debut, CIRCLE OF DEMONS, things are far less gimmicky and the songs are noticeably better overall, as well. Andrew Collins’ vocals still twist and turn like a raging river, one minute a coarse howl or robotic drone, the next a clean croon dripping with distortion effects. Musically, At All Cost combines sing-songy melodies with flashy guitar runs, the occasional breakdown and plenty of quirky additions to once again bewilder, titillate and frustrate the listener all at the same time on CIRCLE OF DEMONS.
Blasting forward, the title track is unrelenting in its aggression with a raging tempo, Collins’ ferocious bark and rapid-fire, moshpit-ready riffs backed by a melodic-sung chorus that captures the band at its best. “Let It Rain Death (Blizzard of Snakes)” and “The Wall That Divides” remind me of A Life Once Lost with surging tempos, meaty riffs and accessible choruses. Trey Ramirez shows off his chops on the flashy, shredded intro of “Step One” but the whiny, cleanly-sung vocals in the chorus have been so over-processed that they stomp on any balls the track otherwise possesses. The same problem befalls the majestic “We Won’t Give In” with strings augmenting the climbing riffs only to be stopped dead in their tracks by the ultra-gay pop-punk vocals in the chorus. When Collins’ channels his inner Mr. Roboto in “Leaving Forever,” the result is so nauseating and forced that it is hard to bounce back from a critical standpoint.
Once again, At All Cost has delivered a mixed bag of tracks that encompass the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. When this band gets it right, they really nail it but they can sure stink up the other end of the spectrum, as well. As they did on IT’S TIME TO DECIDE, the very thing that At All Cost uses to set itself apart from the pack is also its fatal flaw. Those annoying, processed vocals really have got to go. It’s a shame, too, because if you take that out of the equation, the rest of CIRCLE OF DEMONS is an entertaining and interesting listen but hearing Andrew Collins’ using the same vocal effect that Cher and Madonna use sounds even worse in practice than it does on paper. Hopefully on album number three, they will continue to stretch themselves musically and not be pigeon-holed by continuing to buck pre-determined archetypes. Just ditch the vocoder, fellas.
KILLER KUTS: “Circle of Demons,” “Let It Rain Death (Blizzard of Snakes),” “The Wall That Divides”