In the 1990's a new style was being pioneered in Sweden, Gothenburg to be exact. It was melodic death metal, a sound which has come to be known as "The Gothenburg Sound." It was popularized by acts such as In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and At the Gates and is an intriguing sound that is simultaneously heavy and melodic, often combining clean and growled vocals (although not in every case).
The problem with this Gothenburg Sound, and every new style that makes its way to the masses, is that once it gains any level of mainstream attention and acceptance, you are sure the shelves will be continually flooded with similar acts that do nothing but dilute the music, churning out copies of copies, which as we all know are never as clear as the original. That may be taking it a touch far, as it is possible for these imitators and diluters to turn out solid music. I just never expect it to be groundbreaking. This is where Sonic Syndicate falls.
Love and Other Disasters is the second album for the band since winning a battle of the bands-style competition held by Nuclear Blast Records in 2006, and their third overall full-length release. They made their debut in 2005 with Eden Fire, followed by 2007's Only Inhuman. I have not yet heard either of these albums, but from what I understand, they display some promise. I can only wonder what that was like, as this iteration of the band sounds pretty solid in their music and firm in where they want to go. They sound like a band that is mature and focused, the only problem is that their maturity has peaked too soon and their focus is straight ahead rather than upwards.
When I listen to this album, what I hear is watered down In Flames. Melodic death that has forgotten the death part of the equation, music that has been stripped down, leaving Gothenburg behind in favor of the Hot Topic scene (not to put Hot Topic down, but it is accurate shorthand). From the scream/clean alternating vocal style, chuggingly melodic riffs, and "edgy" character on the cover art, this seems to be programmed for that crowd. It has an acceptable amount of edge, and is loaded up on the poppier aspects of the genre.
This is a record that features uninspired production, leaving everything sounding a bit flat. Despite the lifeless impressions, the music is tight and they definitely know how to come together as unit. However, this brings up another problem. They are so solid and focused that it never really takes off. All of the ability is there, but when it is honed to such a degree in one direction that the edge gets worn off, angling down the well trodden road rather than the overgrown, dark, and dangerous path where skills will be tested.
It starts off promisingly enough with heavy and melodic opening of "Engaged." The song picks up some steam with the interplay between growling vocalist Richard Sjunnesson and clean singing Roland Johansson. Brothers Robin and Roger Sjunnesson lead the melodic chugga-charge on guitars and it would seem I was in store for a rocking time. Sadly, it never takes off.
Now, it may sound like I am unnecessarily ragging on them and I do not mean for it to appear that way. This is not a terrible album; it is just mediocre. Love and Other Disasters is an easily listenable album, it has some nice melodies and catchy rhythms and does not leave a bad aftertaste. This is a band that comes through and delivers what is promised and nothing more.
Bottomline. In the end, I enjoyed the album; it just did not blow me away. The musicianship is good and there is some nice use of keyboards. Just shelve your expectations and enjoy the ride.