The Wind Up record label does a fine line in signing heavy rock acts with a penchant for writing anthemic songs that lead to mass mainstream success, particularly in the more rock-theist nations like the US, Canada and Australia. The now sadly defunct Creed have sold an astonishing (and fully deserved) 20+ million albums in the US alone, Evanescence‘s Bring Me To Life went Number 1 all over the globe (even here in the decidedly heathen UK), and acts like 12 Stones and Seether are gradually burrowing themselves into people’s consciousness, helped in no small part by tours supporting – you guessed it – Creed and Evanescence.
Strata are the latest band to try their hands at the epic rock game, having already impressed with The Panic track on the soundtrack to The Punisher. In fact, The Panic gives a good idea of what to expect from Strata’s “imaginatively” titled debut album, namely verses of intent-filled guitars and menace, followed by loud, crowd-pleasing choruses while Eric Victorino vocalises emotively in his curiously Enrique Iglesias kind of way (yes, really).
The production is as crisp as leaves underfoot during autumn/fall, allowing every bass kick and hi-hat hit of Adrian Robison’s impressive drumming to be heard – a notable achievement given that the band did the studio knob-twiddling themselves.
The first few tracks – Piece By Piece, I Will Breathe Fire, The Panic and When It’s All Burning – utilise this slightly-more-commercial-than-Chevelle template to best effect and by the time Just Like Silk has breezed in with a beautiful vocal, a vaguely Latin vibe a la Breed 77 and a crescendo to an intense finale, you’re left thinking that this could be one of the most assured debut albums for many a month.
Alas, the second half of the album does not quite live up to the first half’s promise. Tracks such as Today, Waiting and You Are Eternal stick to the same formula but don’t have strong enough melodies to raise them above solid-but-unspectacular status. And when things do get interesting in the shape of the haunting, two-minute instrumental Trust Kill Trust, it still feels like a missed opportunity because this would blatantly have made a potent album intro.
If this had been a five-track EP instead of an album then we may have been salivating at the discovery of a fine new band. They certainly have the potential to go far but for the moment at least, Strata’s seam of rock is only intermittently rich.