Straight Line Stitch are a hard core/melodic metal band formed in 2000 in Knoxville, Tennessee. 2003 saw the genius move of enlisting lead singer Alexis Brown into the band with a rather distinctive mix of death metal growling and beautiful harmonious singing in her vocal repertoire (unusual for a woman in a male dominated niche) which matches the bands own fusion of intensely heavy and frenetic guitars with counterbalancing melodic passages. The band are still looking to hit the big time and are currently spending most of their time touring - I had the fortune to see them as the support act for Lacuna Coil back in November 2011 in Northampton and they are a formidable live act. Off-stage they are quite different from their rather insane on-stage counterparts as they did a meet and greet in the interval and I even got a chance to talk to Alexis Brown who was surprisingly sweet which was just plain awesome. Hopefully the respect they have for their fans and their hard work will pay off...
Their first studio album "When Skies Wash Ashore" (2008) produced by Rob Caggiano on Koch Records, receiving favourable reviews but not much chart success and it was a further 2 and a half years before their second album "The Fight of Our Lives" (2011), now on the Entertainment One Music label and produced by Grammy award nominated Johnny K, was released. This album met with a little more success by reaching #5 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and #34 on the Top Independent Albums chart, both in America, but not so much on an international stage. This second album also has perhaps a slightly more refined edge to it, losing the puppy fat from their first album with the majority of songs now having a much more measured and balanced feel, yet in keeping with their now trademark split personality.
A few of the tracks on this album are undeniably at the explosive end of the heavy metal spectrum. "Bar Room Brawl" has an incredibly dark, heavy, machine gun style intro and the rest of the song pretty much progresses in the same manner. Vocally this song is dominated by the disturbing death metal growls with a tiny bit of respite with an opposing melodic style, but in a similar fashion the music is unrelenting throughout and this is an overwhelmingly angry and fearsome song, enhanced by some angst ridden lyrics - "Tell me how it's supposed to be. I've done to you what you've done to me. So many fatalities so many broken dreams. So many unheard screams it's beyond extreme". One for a bad mood I feel. Likewise "Tear Down the Sky" is very hard core with some rather dramatic guitar riffs and a high intensity of death metal growling, but there is slightly better mix here with more harmonious and catchy vocals which actually softens the edges of this song just a touch, but not enough to detract from the onslaught. Lyrically once again they are poetic in their pain - "My deepest darkest fears come to life. Everything you are was just a lie to tear down my sky".
"Sound of Silence" also follows suit with the eardrum bursting guitar riffs and positively demonic vocals. Again this song is non-stop from start to finish and is a little hard to pick the tune from with the overpowering guitars which have a furious intensity. It's a great song to just unleash your inner rage to and a head-banger's dream, but I find it a little too extreme for my tastes and it is not a favourite on the album. I do enjoy the darkness of their lyrics though, and even though you struggle to hear them through all the growling on this particular track, this takes nothing away from the horrific nature of them - "My plight has have fallen on deaf ears, but you don't hear. In shallow graves we lay, living as we all decay". Another song threatening to fall into the same trap but escaping the same fate smoothly is "Conversion", the first single released. This song starts in a similar fashion with vicious guitars, but after the intro it softens noticeably and a beautiful melody springs forth amidst the crunching guitar riffs which lowers the intensity enough to make this song much more enjoyable, not to mention a return to the much more pleasant and beautifully sung melodic vocals Brown is capable of during the chorus. Once again there is an unflinching brutality to their lyrics - "What be this beast here that lies deep asleep right in the heart of me? They say I'm not the person that I used to be but I don't know what's changed me".
But, the biggest positive to Straight Line Stitch is their Jekyll and Hyde mentality, and whilst the aforementioned songs all fall within Hyde's realm, there are plenty of tracks which invoke the spirit of Jekyll to produce a fabulous and much more agreeable balance. "One Reason", the second and final single released, is the perfect example of this marriage. With a sharp and unnerving intro with just the lead guitar taking centre stage without being overpowered and with angry, but not growling, vocals this song has already been taken down a notch. The chorus is relatively slow and catchy with beautiful vocals that counteract the simmering, but not overflowing outer passages majestically. Lyrically this is just as evocative as ever - "You send out your spies, I can hear them scratching at the walls and I got no time to think when your inside my head". This is the perfect blend of their styles and one of the best tracks on the album. "Living Dead" is another prime example of this union of seemingly impossible styles. Heavy and strong yet slow, this is a gradually building song with an explosive chorus. Once again the guitars are not overpowering and the vocal performance is strong despite the absence of growling which shows just how powerful Brown's voice is, which all allows the melody to shine through. Lyrically, this song is on top form - "Falling in your sleep don't wake up just hit the ground. It's real but you don't realize you're dead you only act alive".
"Laughing in the Rearview" is similar with heavy guitar passages being interspersed with a much more tuneful chorus, but it is harsher, with a return to more dominant guitars and more death growling. Still, there are a lot of catchy moments in the song, as well as some enjoyable guitar solos towards the latter part of the song and all in all this is another example of the great way they can balance their warring sides. "I hope you see my face as clear as day and it continues to haunt you. Maybe someday you'll be able to breakthrough but you don't have that kind of virtue". Somehow, despite one of the UK bonus tracks intending to be Sepultura's "Attitude" I seem to have an original song "When This Life is Over" so no idea how I managed that. Anyway, if you repeat the same trick it is a pretty groovy song with the balancing of their opposing traits again with effortless skill. Heavy guitars have a much more recognisable tune to them, and the growling vocals are kept to a dull roar, with much more natural vocals dominating, and the chorus is slow and captivating for a much more restrained song. Lyrically, there is less of the usual anger and it takes on a more morose quality - "We all live this life alone, we all die this life alone. The sudden burst of sunlight hits me like I've died and I cannot shield my eyes and I cannot shield my eyes from the distant light".
"No Tomorrow" again highlights this fine balance between the explosive, angry end of the spectrum and the melodic, sweet end and if anything shows what they can achieve when moving to this more melodic pole. No doubt the heavy passages with death metal growling are electric, but there is a big emphasis on their softer side which is really enchanting and once again the real strength of Brown's vocals gets a chance to shine through. This song also has great variation all the way through and is easily one of the catchiest tunes on the album. Lyrically they are just as dark as ever - "You bend you break you crumble. Your kingdom has fallen you stumble. Fight for your life to not fall through the cracks". Sticking to this softer side, they demonstrate that they are also masters of ballads in the metal world - is there no end to their talents? "Never Surrender" is a beautifully affecting song with a hint of heavy undertones but an incredibly slow tempo and a wonderfully tragic melody with an empowering message to the song - "So hold on say you'll never surrender, if there's a chance of losing hope let it go". Brown shows off just how emotional her vocals can get in poignant style.
"Cold Front" is another exceptionally slow tempo song, yet with the usual, unmistakable heavy undertones. Once again, the vocals, as the melody, are beautiful in their heart-rending manner, and this song has a big element of hopelessness to it which makes it all the more haunting - "I've turned my back on feeling (I'm cold). I've given up on dealing, take my life break the ice". Showing that they are not one trick ponies "Ashes in the Wind" is another example of just how mellow they can be in amongst the turbulence. This is a sad, yet hopeful song - "I've never fallen so far from where I've been. This road has ended but a new one begins and I wash away my sins like ashes in the wind" and the beautiful tune dictates play, with yet another deliciously slow tempo and fairly lightweight guitars, which really only show up with some stunning solos. Once again, vocally this is sung superbly with real emotional all to produce yet another stunning track. Which finally leaves "Without You", my favourite track on the album, which is the second bonus track, and for me the album would be poorer for its absence. This is another beautiful ballad with a standout melody and is sung with such a haunting quality that it gets me every time. I particularly love the tragic tale this song weaves - "Where there is no you there is no me and I can't exist, I'm lost and everything is nothing in this abyss". It is easily the gentlest song on the album and is a final testament to the band's amazing range from an anger fest to haunting ballads.
Moving on from their first album, Straight Line Stitch have delivered a much more refined and epic album, with their usual mixed bag of astoundingly heavy guitar riffs and scarily intense, growling vocals, dark lyrics portraying wonderfully gloomy stories full of angry emotional outpourings all skilfully balanced against stunning melodies and a softer, more tragic side with at times angelic vocals to create one of the most varied albums I've ever had the pleasure to hear. For metal fans there is something for everyone here - if thrash metal and death metal growling isn't your thing then you have an assortment of ballads and plenty in between. Thoroughly recommended and hopefully they will get the success they deserve.
1. Tear Down The Sky - 7/10
2. Conversion - 8/10
3. Laughing In The Rearview - 8/10
4. Cold Front - 9/10
5. No Tomorrow - 9/10
6. Bar Room Brawl - 7/10
7. One Reason - 9/10
8. Never Surrender - 9/10
9. Living Dead - 9/10
10. Sound Of Silence - 6/10
11. Ashes In The Wind - 9/10
12. Without You (UK bonus track) - 10/10
13. When This Life is Over (Attitude?) (UK bonus track) - 8/10