Drawing from Celtic, Norse, and even some Pagan influence for the creation of their sound, SoCal prog-rockers Scarlett Hollow have released their first full-length album, What If Never Was, on Melodic Revolution Records. What If Never Was is a concept album, following up after their 2010 EP debut Sanctuary.
Even with two years of songwriting behind the album, What If Never Was still feels unprepared for the world. This is not a commentary on the production quality of the album. That is good, B-quality work. But a crucial step seems to be missing from the creative process of this unintentional concept album, which “tell[s] the tale of a person’s spiritual and emotional journey as they try to heal from the after effects of war,” according to singer/songwriter Allison von Buelow.
There is a great deal of potential in What If Never Was and from Scarlet Hollow as a whole, but for me, that potential was just at their fingertips, just barely beyond reach. Von Buelow struggles to reach certain areas within the range of her vocal line. One would expect, if she is writing her own music, she would choose to avoid those areas where her pitch wavers and falters and, even more so, areas where she is doing little more than speaking on pitch. And these rough areas are only emphasized by moments of awkward phrasing. Von Buelow alternates between breaking words on their syllables to adding so many extra syllables that the words are no longer recognizable. Words like night are reduced to a string of repetitious “i” sounds.
What If Never Was opens with promise. A driving hard rock rhythm eases into a melodic metal sound and shows what Scarlet Hollow truly has to offer. As an instrumental group, following the lines of acts like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and David Garrett, Scarlet Hollow makes quite an impressive showing. And with a seven-minute track pulling listeners into the overall story of this concept album, it is well on its way to “epic.” Enter Allison von Buelow on vocals and that melodic power and strength begins to wane.
Instrumentally, considering the melodies and harmonies created in pitting acoustic guitar against electric, I could definitely add Scarlet Hollow to my ever growing collection of voice-free tunage. But dwelling on the negative, I simply cannot enjoy the vocals. There are too many little problems that add up to the one big one—that Allison von Buelow has written herself out of her own range.