There is a niche in the Charleston music scene of up-and-coming bands that blend nü-metal, radio rock, modern punk, and a hybrid rock/indie/emo that seems to be gaining steam more and more. Call it post-modern alternative, if you will. The Lowcountry’s own Chaos in Gotham is well on their way to joining the fray. Even the most cursory glance at their efforts will tell you these guys are serious about getting it done. A rock band with a strong work ethic is a powerful thing.
Kicking and Screaming (Battery Cheves), CIG’s new 12-song debut album, shows this effort in spades. It’s got its sleeves rolled up and its boot straps pulled high. Kicking is the sound of four very determined guys coming together as one, fighting hard for the cause. Though not quite heavyweight contenders, you get the feeling they are bound to connect, if for no other reason than you know they’re destined to keep swinging.
There’s plenty to get behind with Kicking. It’s bountiful. It’s tight. The playing is solid. The musicianship is there, particularly with the drums and bass. Both guitar tones are quite nice, and the interplay between them are especially strong.
If you like fully adrenalized, rapid-fire scream vocals, then you get a full dose of it here. There a few moments of Iron Maiden-esque “whoa” background vocals in “Super(o)official” and “Harriet” that work well to add dynamics to the chorus section. Though some levels could use a little tweaking, the overall production is not bad at all. The kick and snare could be brought up a touch, as could the vocals. The lead guitar (stereo left) could come down a pinch. It’s pretty clean and actually less compressed than most albums of this genre. Hard compression and contrived, accent-ridden vocals are two of the biggest culprits of punk rock ruination. Compared to the balls-out looseness of, say, The Stooges or The MC5, it’s a mystery how the super-compressed, homogenized, one-dimensional stuff you hear on current rock radio can even be called punk.
The problem with a lot of these young bands is that many times, they fall into the trap of arbitrarily fitting themselves into the formulaic trends of whatever seems to be working at the time. Everything sounding (and looking) almost exactly the same is what you end up with. There is no individuality. Everyone plugs into the same thing, cycling and recycling the same color and conventions over and over, practically checking off the banal punk-rock punch list, item after item: the contrived angst, whiney vocals, phony Southern California accent, overly compressed industrial production, standard-issue super-distorted power-chord guitar tone, octave motifs, predictable progressions, mid range-y snare, and click-y kick drum. And there’s the clichéd look, the rock star attitude, etc., etc.
For the record, true punk rock is more than a style. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of life. It’s expression incarnate. The id on 10. It wears no mask. It has no mirrors. It wears no uniform. It plugs into nothing. True punk rock isn’t even “fuck you” because it doesn’t even care enough to notice you. It doesn’t even know you exist. A true punk is almost impossible to find these days. Especially in the music business.
Chaos in Gotham is ready, willing, and certainly able to work hard, so you know they will have their own voice, but Kicking finds itself caught in this conventional trap a bit. There isn’t much dynamic to be found. The vocals are devoid of melody and phrasing. We don’t get a break from the machine gun shouting. It feels claustrophobic and uneven. Much of it is in the same key and the same tempo. Some of this is a mere stylistic preference they are intentionally going for and some of it is a lack of musical maturation, but you really get the feeling these guys have a lot more of their own thing to offer.
The potential is obviously there. Finding one’s own voice is a process and with the tremendous effort shown on Kicking and Screaming, Chaos in Gotham is on its way. They believe in themselves, and they are really going for it. I think they’ll get there.
Chaos in Gotham is currently on tour through the Carolinas and Florida. See myspace.com/chaosingotham for more.