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Monday, December 7, 2015

Review: Rusty Pacemaker - Ruins

Rusty ‘Pacemaker’ Hessel is an Austrian born musician who managed to fulfill many an artist’s dream by teaching himself to sing and play both guitar and bass, building a recording studio from scratch and, if it isn’t enough already, founding a label of his own, Solanum Records, to be able to release his own music. Doing almost everything yourself implies you feel you’re the best man for the job, immediately setting expectations high. If you prove not to be good enough you’ll get flamed in a heartbeat, so you had better make sure what you do is damn’ good. To be honest, Rusty actually did hire a few people: Franz Löchinger, a professional drummer who also played on Rusty’s previous release, Lady K who pitches in some vocal lines, Norbert Leitner, a sound engineer and Markus Stock, for mixing and mastering the album. That, however, does not detract from the fact this album is largely his own achievement, having played all other instruments and being responsible for most of the vocal lines.

It’s hard to describe to what musical style ‘Ruins’ obeys. It has some definite doom influences, but the same can be said from hard rock, gothic rock and a few more genres, so I’m simply going to skip the classification. When ‘Ruins’ opens you immediately find yourself engulfed in a dark, mystic atmosphere that more or less maintains throughout the entire album. The music feels like a river meandering along a path that is usually easeful and slow, but every now and then encounters a rapid. Rusty’s distinct vocals add to that atmosphere, more than once touching the gothic side of music even more than the music itself already does. Though complementary to the overall impression of the album, the vocals are also the only weakness of ‘Ruins’. Rusty’s voice itself is soothing and calm, but with little variation in tone, which could easily lead to boredom. Add to this his obvious germanesque accent and things can get a bit troublesome at times. However, once you have allowed yourself to float along with the music it mostly fades into the background, which is largely due to the great music on this album.

Opener and title song ‘Ruins’ summarizes the entire musical spectrum this album represents, starting dark and moody, building up to a heavier and more speedy pace only to end in the same dark mood it started in. Though most songs have quite some variety, the opener displays the most of it by far. ‘Made of lies’ (with a nice solo), ‘Ocean of life’ and ‘Matter of mind’ are solid songs that are best described as rock songs, although that does not fully cover it. Good guitar work, especially in ‘Made of lies’, equally good drums, a small but welcome vocal variation from Lady K in ‘Ocean of life’ and enough variety in all three make these songs the heavy backbone of the album, where the term ‘heavy’ should be interpreted lightly.

The more doomy side is found in ‘Candlemess’ and album closer ‘Pillow of silence’. Both songs are over seven minutes in length but they never bore. The musical twist in both songs takes away some of the dark-heavy atmosphere commonly heard in ‘true’ doom songs, but that actually feels like the right thing to do in this case. Again both the guitar work and the rhythm section are very good. The vocals are a bit monotonous and, here it is again, the accent is a tad too obvious at times. Nevertheless these are great songs, especially ‘Candlemess’.

To complete the album there’s three more songs: ‘Knowing’ a semi-acoustic song with a much lighter atmosphere and two slower songs, ‘Night angel’ and ‘Forever’. The latter is a short acoustic intermezzo, which doesn’t really add something to the album in my opinion, where ‘Night angel’ is a what I consider a doom metal ballad. Haunting, vivacious in its music, mystifying in its vocals, especially Lady K’s lines. Her voice perfectly matches the flow of the music and is most definitely a huge asset to this song, as it was in ‘Ocean of life’. Makes me wonder what this album would have sounded like when her role had been bigger.

Overall ‘Ruins’ is an album with two faces. Musically it’s really good. Interesting, strong, varied and well executed compositions, covering a large part of what can be considered the darker side of music. Technically there’s nothing to complain about either, solidly mixed and produced. The vocals however, are a point of concern. Due to the somewhat monotonous tone boredom lurks at all times, although it never really struck in my opinion. And then there’s the accent. Like I said, it kind of fades when the album meanders on, but combined with the lack of variety in tone it did take away some of the listenability and enjoyment this album potentially has. The accent is almost impossible to get rid of, but since lady K proves to be a great asset to Rusty’s music there’s an obvious solution for this. I really like this album, even with the vocal issues, but if I were to make a suggestion on how to improve, I’d strongly advice to reduce Rusty’s part in the vocal lines. Still it’s well worth a listen, especially ‘Made of lies’, ‘Candlemess’ and ‘Night angel’.

Written by Henric van Essen

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