Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ponderous Chain - Shackled

While I might not use the word "burgeoning" to describe the Kingston, ON metal scene, there are a number of talented bands around town. "Promising" sounds like a more apt descriptor. One of those promising young bands is Ponderous Chain and their self-released debut album, Shackled. I've seen the band perform a number of times and have witnessed the band's live show progressively improve. Unfortunately, I've yet to see them play while I was not in an "altered state". So it wasn't without a certain sense of excitement that I undertook the process of evaluating their work properly. The biggest and most obvious difference between the live, intoxicant-addled experience and the recorded material is the ability to actually hear everything. This is important because this progressively-minded five-piece packs plenty of nuance into their sound. Having the time to let those subtleties sink in helped to change my admittedly neutral perception of the band.  
It might be easy to play cut-and-paste with the band's influences, but not for this writer. Many of the influences either listed by the band or picked up by myself or others are somewhat out of my comfort zone. Progressive is usually a term I approach with caution. Maybe it's an attention span thing. But Ponderous Chain and progressiveness are inextricably linked. The band eschews traditional song structures, incorporating instrumental breaks (sometimes more than one), and neck-snapping tempo changes. Meshuggah are the most obvious band to have rubbed off on PC with their sharp, chugging riffs. Other influences (Opeth, The Ocean Collective) may be apparent but I have no tolerance for either of those bands (Don't hit me!). So any comparisons to them goes right over my head. But that's okay. I prefer to let the open, flowing passages between pummelling assaults wash over me without trying to draw parallels. 
While I would assume that jamming has some part to play in the process, the songs seem too "written" to leave much to chance. I'm not saying this in a bad way. In fact, it's what I expected when I first saw Ponderous Chain's lineup. I was familiar with guitarist Zach Aylesworth from his previous band, Rozea Haven. Having seen them perform a few times, Aylesworth struck me as a perfectionist. The few times he missed a note (which I couldn't hear) a pained expression would cross his face. Like he was coming as close to kicking himself in the ass as he could without actually doing it. So it was only natural that the intricacies found in Shackled would bubble to the surface. Teamed with fellow guitarist Colin Sinclair, the duo have crafted songs that can ground and pound one moment and challenge the listener the next. The songs have movement. Speaking of movement, the rhythm section of Jim and Dan O'Handley (bass and drums respectively) are well versed in dynamics, albeit in two different ways. Jim's rubbery basslines course through the album with fluidity. The phenomenal drumming Dan displays at times left my jaw agape. Not to be outdone, vocalist Christian Wolf's delivery lacks any stagnancy. I've seen many young bands with vocalists afraid to vary their bark/growl/roar to any degree. Not so with Wolf. Mixing the harshest of harsh with spoken passages and (almost) clean singing, he melds fittingly into the mold Ponderous Chain has made with lyrics on subjects such as the war on terror, revenge and sociopolitical ills. 
I'd be remiss if I didn't offer the band some constructive criticism. My points are minor and easily remedied. First, at times the lyrics sound forced and somewhat behind the music in terms of maturity. I expect that will evolve with time. Second, and this may be totally personal preference, but the five minute ambient piece ("Liquid Oracle") right in the middle of the album is a major buzzkill. Two relatively minor issues is really no big deal. Those points are overshadowed by the things that Ponderous Chain do well. The songs are well written and well performed. The songs are deep and layered enough that the listener is pushed to actually pay attention rather than let the album pass by as background noise. And while the progressiveness of Shackled is the main impression it leaves, the band still employs memorable riffs and the strong musicianship to really sink those hooks in. The band is young and eager. The fact that Shackled is as good as it is as a debut speaks volumes about how much potential is lurking behind Ponderous Chain. Do your self a favour and come out to experience them for yourself. You might have to come down here to Kingston to do it, but they usually open for some pretty serious acts so it would be well worth it. And besides, you might get to hang out with me.

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