I'm always rubbish at categorising music but I reckon the band Straight Line Stitch can best be described as hardcore mixed with melodic metal. Originally formed in 2000 in Knoxville, Tennessee the band released a series of EPs in 2001, 2003 and 2004 with limited success. Vocalist Alexis Brown joined in 2003 to complete the current line-up of Seth Thacker (guitar), Kris Norris (guitar), Jason White (bass) and Kanky Lora (drums). Brown first appeared on their self-released album "To Be Godlike" (2006) followed by their EP "The Word Made Flesh" (2007). By a fortunate twist of fate the director of their "Remission" video from "To Be Godlike" formed the Raging Nation Records label as part of Koch Records and signed them up and along came their first studio release "When Skies Wash Ashore" in 2008.
This is a band I'd never come across until, would you believe, my mother introduced me to them (imagine my mother as a full on head banger gothed up to the max in white makeup, leather and metal chains and you've got my childhood...it may explain a lot). They are certainly not mainstream yet, but they have a reputation as being grafters by spending the majority of their time touring which is why they were brought to my attention as they will be supporting Lacuna Coil in a concert I'm going to see. I decided giving them a whirl as there's nothing worse than not knowing a band at a live show and I since I love Lacuna Coil so much I trust implicitly their knowledge of up and coming bands and lo and behold as a result I've now discovered a whole new band to get all excited and obsessive over.
Straight Line Stitch are foremost a heavy guitar based band which borders on thrash metal quite a bit of the time with ridiculously fast paced and frenetic guitar riffs (not to mention some insane drumming) often with that rampant machine gun style and to be honest this is not a style I overly enjoy in day to day life. However, this style is intriguingly counterbalanced by some fantastic melodic tunes which works brilliantly and I find myself actually quite enjoying the thrash side of things which is not something I ever considered would happen. Likewise, with the vocals there is a heavy bias towards death metal growls (you know the one that sounds like Gollum on speed) which I normally find a little offensive to the ears as you usually can only understand every fourth word, but, maybe perhaps as it's slightly softened due to it being a female vocal, for Straight Line Stitch again I can actually bear it on this album, undoubtedly because they have got the balance right between this type of vocals and the rather beautiful vocals Alexis Brown is capable of.
"When Skies Wash Ashore" houses all these different styles into one rather fabulous album, albeit a little short at only 10 tracks - but, to quote an old cliché, its quality not quantity that counts and in this case 2 plus 2 really does equal 4. The opening track, "Never See The Day" really does set the tone for the whole album with fairly heavy yet discernibly melodic guitar riffs and a mix of full on death growls alongside rocky, angry vocals followed by a clever switch to softer guitars and beautifully emotional vocals before a final return to the vitriolic death growls to close the song out. Lyrically this song is a dark tale of defiance against oppression with some powerful emotions evident - "There's nothing that you can take from me that you don't have to a certain degree. God help me feel something 'cause I feel nothing".
There are a few tracks which are almost entirely at the thrash metal end of the spectrum with heavy emphasis on death growls and the spewing forth of bile which can only really be listened to if you are in a certain mood. "World Made Flesh" is one such example with 90% sung in an intense death metal growl over some frantic guitars which feels a bit random at time which is a little hard to understand at times. However, there are a few fleeting moments of respite with a return to slow guitars and Brown's softer vocals but overall this song is anger in the extreme - "Breaking my bones this friction its burning like a sick addiction. I refuse to place the blame but whoever you are go back from where you came". The lyrics are poetically written and are full of suffering which sadly does get a little lost in all the commotion.
Likewise "Black Veil" begins with the same machine gun guitar effect and manic drums and is overwhelmingly sung with death growls but in a similar fashion to "World Made Flesh" has a few passages of slight relief from the intensity. Again the meaning of the song gets a tad lost by the frenzied style of the song - "So many unshed tears to undergo, a pain so severe. You try to take me by surprise, I see right through your eyes. Wicked, malicious are blameless and faultless". "Taste of Ashes" again is the same with angry guitars and vocals, with the exception that the passages of respite are more melodic and captivating than its two counterparts and thus it becomes a more noticeable song and is in some ways less angry despite the nature of the music with an air of hopefulness - "Don't be afraid of the dark, you're still held up by the stars. The light will carry us over".
So from one extreme to the other, Straight Line Stitch shows how multi-dimensional they are by getting in touch with their softer, more emotional side. "What You Do To Me" takes on a completely different style with an almost acoustic element to their guitars with the melodies shining forth in a very catchy number. There is not even a hint of the death metal growl, and we are left with a good old fashioned heavy rock tune. Brown still shows off her strong and gravelly vocals, yet in fact never taps into the depths of the emotional pool she has access to so "What You Do To Me" stays on the wrathful side despite the transformed musical style. Lyrically again this song is full of depth and emotional suffering which is quite enthralling - "These days I cannot cope at all I need some kind of miracle to shake me from this confusion, its' what you do to me".
"Eucharist" follows suit with this transformed style, but is slightly more melodic both vocally and with the guitar riffs but is ultimately just as catchy as "What You Do To Me". This is one of the most restrained songs on the album, and as for the lyrics these feel a bit more surreal with an enigmatically fantastical side to them - "But the wind still blows and the story goes, lend me your wings fallen angel, I, I'd like to fly away from here". Another song which is disarmingly melodic is "Seneca Tragedy" which is probably the most fluent song on the album with velvet smoothness to both the music and vocals not really felt on most of the other songs with their somewhat disjointed nature. The chorus is beguiling and moving with Brown at her most emotional. Once again there is a poetic quality to the lyrics that helps bring the song to life - "Lost in the shadows outside this room take my last breath, I would die for you. Wake me from this dream where everything is so unclean". But, by far the gentlest song on the album is the final one of the album "Yesterday's Gone". Vocally, Brown is on top form with a genuinely affecting emotional outpouring with some bleakly raw lyrics - "You opened my eyes and set me free but yesterday's gone. Now the wind whispers your name in memory 'cause yesterday's gone". The acoustic and soothing edge to the guitars enhances these vocals perfectly to culminate in easily the most touching song from the album.
So, naturally with two extremes there must be something in the middle and the song "Promise Me" certainly falls into it. It starts off with a gentle, melodic intro before exploding into a cauldron of death metal growls and rocky vocals broken up by a very catchy and harmonious chorus. The balance between the insanely angry and emotionally touching is much more equal within this song and is interspersed throughout compared to the other songs which the two elements were much more segregated. Again there is a captivatingly surreal edge to the lyrics - "I'm calling on you angels of truth tell me that you'll never fall through. Promise me. Promise me. Don't crumble like paper-mache".
The only remaining song "Adult Cinema" also falls in the middle of the two extremes, and for me is one of the standout songs from the album. The passages of the typical death metal rage are a little forgettable, but it is the other passages of grungy almost sardonic guitars alongside an acerbic chorus which make this a very appealing song. Again, there are intense and thought provoking lyrics which strengthens the song - "These delusions of grandeur, why would you wanna be anything so deceived? Is this how we choose to live our lives? Feeding off others pain just to survive".
If you're not a fan of death metal vocals or thrash metal don't let that put you off this album as even though those are definitely an element to this album, the enthralling melodies this band produce, not to mention the pure class of Brown's vocals (which can flit between an intense growl to beautiful effortlessly) counteract the rough and raw intensity to produce some genuinely captivating tunes. This is a band that deserves to rise to the top of their profession and I really hope they get there.
1. Never See The Day 9/10
2. Promise Me 9/10
3. Taste Of Ashes 8/10
4. Eucharist 9/10
5. Black Veil 7/10
6. Adult Cinema 9/10
7. What You Do To Me 9/10
8. Seneca Tragedy 9/10
9. World Made Flesh 7/10
10. Yesterday's Gone 9/10