I've been thinking that this year might mark the official death of melodic modern rock in the mainstream. Rock music hasn't had a true hit single in years, and most of the recent ones have been by either Nickelback or the Foo Fighters. Both of those bands have new singles on the airwaves, and their new contributions to rock and roll are both notable for their complete lack of melody. The idea of writing a rock song that has a strong melodic chorus is almost a thing of the past, the kind of thing only done by dinosaur bands who are pleasing their old fans who don't know that such music went extinct along with their youths.
October Rage is one of the few bands trying to keep that tradition alive, writing the kind of rock music that filled the radio when I was in my formative years, the kind of music that has turned me into a bitter old man yelling at the young whippersnappers about how much better things were in my day.... because they were.
“Valkyrie” kicks things off with a big, down-tuned riff that chugs along until the chorus hits. The vocals try to make the hook soar, and the effort is appreciated, but the spark isn't there. The production of the EP hinders that from happening, as the guitars are so dark and bass-heavy that there's very little chunk to the muted chords, and when the chorus tries to open things up, it washes out in a haze of low frequencies. There is nothing in the track, aside from the guitar solo, with any treble whatsoever to it. So no matter how good the song might be, it's not easy to listen to and make out.
“Signal Fire” fixes that problem by opening with a lone piano figure, which is a smart way of adding texture to the music, although the sound is so compressed that you can't hear the full depth and clarity of the notes. It's not just the choices that are better, “Signal Fire” is a far stronger song, with an excellent chorus that has plenty of bite in the hook. They actually recall the mid-era of the metal band Savatage, which is a strong comparison. Dramatic piano and heavy rock can combine beautifully, and October Rage does it here with a song to be proud of.
The rest of the tracks here reinforce what I already concluded from the first two songs; October Rage is a band that can conjure drama well, but doesn't do it often enough. “Signal Fire” is easily the best song here, but the ballad “Heart Of Stone” mines similar territory quite effectively. That sound proves well-suited to their writing style, and the tones of the vocals and guitars. The more pounding numbers are where October Rage isn't as convincing. “End Of Days” doesn't have a strong enough identity, and the darkness in the sound makes the hook flabby. “White Walkers” straddles these two identities, and hopefully shows the future of the band.
This EP has promising moments on it. October Rage can write some great songs, but it's their focus on being a modern rock band that I feel is holding them back. When they embrace their inner dramatist, that's when their songs come to life. If they want to try to be a more mainstream version of “Streets” era Savatage, I'm all in. If they want to play what everyone else is playing, I'm afraid they're not doing a good enough job to stand out.