Album Review: Psychothermia – “Fall to the Rising Sun”

“While there are many bands in the hard rock/metal world that like to play with fire, it requires a certain combination of insanity and balls to douse yourself in it.” This opening line of Psychothermia’s biography from the band’s website is certainly true, but if you’re going to play with real fire during a photo shoot, you better have the music to back up these incredibly unique and powerful images.

With images of fire rising from the limbs of each band member in mind, Psychothermia kicks off their album appropriately thanks to Jon Russo’s guitar mimicking a particularly sinister fire alarm. Soon, drums and bass are added into the mix; a common yet effective building technique for the genre. What sets Psychothermia apart from many other bands, however, occurs approximately thirty seconds in when all hell breaks loose.

As soon as Mike Russo takes off on the drums, listeners get their first true taste of Psychothermia’s sound. Although guitar opened the album at the forefront, both guitar and bass quickly take a back seat to the drums and vocals which steal the show early on with enough energy to power a small city. In a genre frequently dominated by loud, distorted strings, it’s somewhat surprising to hear them pushed into the background, but lead singer Johan Maldonado does an excellent job compensating for the mix’s unique focus.

The album’s second selection, “Warbly,” continues with this drum and vocal-centric style, but the tides quickly turn to a more familiar instrumental balance on “Slash & Burn.” With an acoustic intro that lingers into the heavy and electrified lead single, Psychothermia shows off what they’re really capable of as a band in both songwriting and performance. Fans of Korn’s “Coming Undone” will notice a lot of similarities in the chorus thanks, in particular, to certain key inflections in the voice, but Maldonado’s vocals are so far removed from those of Korn’s Jonathan Davis that this can be chalked up to coincidence more than imitation. “Fall to the Rising Sun” and “Warbly” both kicked off the album strong, but the extra guitar focus makes “Slash & Burn” the clear feature track of Psychothermia’s debut.

Although their debut starts off incredibly strong, beginning around “Don’t Look Back,” things start to go downhill quickly for Psychothermia. Most of this can be attributed to what I can only describe as Johan Maldonado audibly struggling to decide what kind of band he’s singing for. As he warbles in and out of key throughout the slower-paced number, he interweaves the vocal styles of emo/punk and metal without ever truly settling on one or the other. Instrumentally, Psychothermia remains strong on “Don’t Look Back” thanks, in part, to a nice guitar solo, but with Maldonado placed in front of the mix, his stylistic schizophrenia is hard to ignore.

To confuse listeners even further, Psychothermia dive head-first into Rage Against the Machine territory on “Here’s to the Angels.” They actually pull it off well, but the style is discarded completely after this selection in favor of even more stylistic variety until “The Fight” attempts to blend the entire album’s worth of styles together. Musically, this variety is quite appealing, but Maldonado’s voice does not transition as effectively. This weakens the otherwise enjoyable ‘90s alternative-esque “Orlando” and the more melodic verse of “Self Inflicted Wound.”

Although it’s easy to point a finger at Maldonado, Psychothermia’s weaknesses can be blamed equally on the mixing and production of the record. When all four members were performing together in the group Canobliss, the vocals were much darker and the guitars were brought out far more effectively making for a much more enjoyable listening experience overall. Psychothermia puts their best foot forward early on “Fall to the Rising Sun,” but most of what follows “Anarchy” is a mixed bag of mostly disappointment. Fans of Canobliss will likely be the most disappointed of all.

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