Thursday, August 15, 2013

Scorpion Child - A Most Auspicious Debut

Scorpion Child are having a helluva year - in addition to releasing their first album, the Austin, Texas based riff rockers are getting set to headline a month of tour dates with Mothership, Gypsyhawk, Wilson, and Nuclear Blast label mates Kadavar - just days after completing the Rockstar Mayhem Tour, not to mention a slate of earlier dates with the legendary Clutch. A helluva year.

Everything I read about Scorpion Child focuses on trying to compare the band to this or that seventies sensation, when in fact, what should be talked about is how tight and together this hard rock troop is, and the skill set on display across their debut.

Clearly the instant star is singer Aryn Jonathan Black - and that's not a completely unfair declaration, as the guy has tremendous chops and a very distinctive voice, and he sings like every note may be his last. The rest of the band is razor sharp and on point. This is great album rock with real arrangements that keeps you involved and entertained. They've honed this material to the point where it stands proudly next to any of their distant forefathers first albums. I'm thrilled to hear a debut that rocks with this much confidence. I've been running around a lot lately and spouting out the mantra that 'Rock Ain't Near Dead,' and this is solid evidence. As good a debut as this is, though, it's their next that I can't wait to hear - just a hunch.

These guys are just the next excellent hard rock band in line - instead of trying to draw comparisons, I'll stick to just pointing out that this bunch have to a very large degree mastered the form. Writing great riffs like that of the album's lead single, Polygon of Eyes, is no simple feat - especially 40 years into the topic, but Scorpion Child has two guitarists, lead player Chris Cowart and rhythmist Tom 'The Mole' Frank, who are steeped in the skill. I will say that I hear some Schenker Brother style lockstep Germanic tendencies in the band's insistent riffing, a tendency that agrees with me mightily.

King's Highway opens the album, and while I can't deny that it's a great tune, they may have thrown one of their less derivative tunes on as an opener - they may have squelched some of the Robert Plant/Zeppelin comparisons I'm reading too often. However, again, that's me being too damned picky - any album that starts off this well has a place in my heart, and on my machine. Yeah, there won't be many albums this year that do this music any better.

The aforementioned Polygon of Eyes is one of the best debut singles by a hard rock band I've heard in ages - it's unapologetically hooky and while you have a good idea where it's going, you still can't wait to hear it get there, and when it gets there, you're all smiles. These guys have to be having a lot of fun with this stuff. Drummer Shawn Alvear is a very musical hammer, and bassist Shaun Avants is delightfully nimble fingered - this is a rhythm section that understands that to swing is better than to plod. This struts with a grand swagger.

The swing and swagger continues with The Secret Spot a phalanx of great rock memories come and go across the grooves. Alvear proves the dictum, that 'without a great drummer you're nothing' - he plays with amazing confidence and without fear. He leads the band into Salvation Slave and the band gets slinkier and funkier along with the trademark rock - the guitarists sound huge when they slam chords on the chorus, and when they separate at funky breakpoints they sound like they listen to one another very closely. The solo section/pyschedelic breakdown on the tune's backside works wonderfully. Stunning musical maturity for a debut in 2013.

Liquor is a straight ahead cautionary tale of the bottle, and they sound like they know from where they speak - Black sings with the same conviction I hear in the voice of The Temperance Movement's Phil Campbell. 'Rock Ain't Near Dead, indeed. There are some great young frontmen busting out after decades of shoe staring malcontents too bothered to tune their instruments. Welcome back, hard rock - this is a resurgence that has been mounting a rise on the horizon for the last two years, and it's getting yet stronger with this entry into the sweepstakes.

Things slow down for the pastoral folk/rock of Antioch, until the band take it up a good bit for the choruses. This is where John Barleycorn's ghost resides quite happily. These step ups for the refrains are properly pomp and arena ready. Cowarth slams into his solo with a possessed passion that dynamically fits perfectly. Then it's the soft ride home, and all is well.

In The Arms of Ecstasy is an experimental look at the band's glam side, their trippier side and perhaps serves as a launching point for some future stylistic slides towards a more sophisticated pop exploits. First albums are a great way to exercise out some of a band's more blatant instances of influences on sleeves, and there is definitely some afoot here - to the band's credit it's never theft, but closer to homage.

Paradigm picks up the pace and the band deftly navigates the faster tempo with ease. Black's vocal carries the tune, and I hear a little Clockwork Orange sense of urgency - especially in the dramatic and theatrical guitar breakdown in the tune's midsection. I love when rock gets cinematic, and this is a great example of how cool it can play out.

The album ends with Red Blood (The River Flows), and it's another Aryn Jonathan Black tour de force - the vocal goes from a whisper to a scream several times, and anytime I hear a vocalist evoke memories of Plant and Zander it's a great testament to the abilities of the singer. You have to stick with this one until the end - there are several sections when thing calm down so much you assume they're through, but I get the distinct feeling that with this bunch, you're never quite through. I see three hour shows in their future.

Scorpion Child is a damned good record. Great? Well, I'll leave that up to the individual listener to decide - in any event is a great debut, and should end up in some years end favorites lists for those who still care about well written, well played hard rock. But like I said, it's going to be the second album that I think will come out of this band after a season of touring that they are enjoying - there is no substitute for good seasoning on the road.

Thanks to Scorpion Child, Nuclear Blast Records, and Loana dP Valencia.

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