Reviewed: September 2019
Released: 2019, Pure Steel Records
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with basing your sound around something that came before. If you have a set of favourite bands, a favourite genre, and really would love nothing more than to recreate that same kind of music, then that can yield some fabulous results. Music’s history is littered with plenty of classic albums that refined something that came before, and honestly, all music is in some way an evolution of older styles. Even the most original of offerings owe plenty to previous artists.
Why this long preamble for a review of Fretless’ sophomore album Damnation? Unfortunately it’s because, while there are ways of playing something old-school while still keeping it fresh and exciting with good writing, Damnation represents the other side of that coin, just playing it too safe and relying too heavily on the tropes.
It’s unabashed hard rock/heavy metal, and to some that’ll be enough to appeal on its own, I’m sure. It does benefit from some excellent production, always clear and never lacking in hard-hitting power coming clear out of the speakers. Where it falls down is in the actual musical content, and even then it’s not atrocious. It’s serviceable hard rock, but very little stands out or gives the music a clear identity of its own. A lot of the riffing and song layout sounds inherently like you’ve heard it a hundred times before. To some degree this is the nature of the style, but as I tried to outline in the opening of the review, I think there are examples of how to do this right (Rival Sons, Horisont, recent offerings from Riot or Pretty Maids).
Many of the songs are also just too reliant on repeating the title/chorus line over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with doing this in and of itself, but leaning on it as a crutch weakens the product. This became downright funny in “Let’s Get High”, which sounds amusingly over the top in title alone, but became even more so when I couldn’t stop hearing the continual yells of the title as “Biscuit time!”. Patte Carlsson’s vocals, while certainly powerful on their own, also feel a little disconnected from the music: we have very U.D.O.-like wails and snarls, but laid over much more melodic music.
Ultimately, the song-writing here is too simplistic, and needs more development. Not every album needs to be progressive or especially thought-provoking, but even a simple catchy number needs some pacing and variety.