I don't know what to make of modern rock music. There was a time when I was in touch with the 'mainstream', and loved the sort of stuff that was aimed at radio play. I grew up on that music, and still consider many of those releases my favorites of all time, but I got lost along the way as modern rock turned into something altogether different. The music became darker, the sounds became darker, and everything I liked about the style was stripped away in the name of angst. It's gotten to the point where not only do I not know what's going on in the world of mainstream rock, I cringe when I see the label applied to anything I'm about to listen to.
Gloomball is a modern rock band, for whatever the term means these days. “Overcome” fades in, slowly developing into a less murky version of Black Label Society. The sound is a touch brighter than much of the similar music I hear, but it's not far enough removed from the blueprint to stand out as something unique. Even the vocals sound like the typical cross between Sully Erna and Zakk Wylde, a style of singing I've never seen the appeal of. There's just enough shouting in the delivery to sound off-putting.
But that doesn't speak to the music, which is uniformly better than modern rock tends to be. Gloomball brings enough metal style riffing to the mix, and without draining the guitars of their bite, that they can appeal to fans of multiple stripes. Where much of modern rock pretends riffs don't exist, Gloomball happily eschews that convention and throws a few nods to their metal heroes into the mix. The songs retain their rock ethos, and shoot for big melodic choruses, but without falling into the all-too-common trap of being nothing but background droning and vocals.
There's a hint of a band like Volbeat in a song like “Burning Gasoline”, but lacking their individual personality. Gloomball may be trying to move modern rock in the right direction, but they don't have a distinct identity yet, which does make it a bit harder to commend the album for what it does right. The press release accompanying the album says “the automobile and energy industries prove it on a daily basis: they swear by hybrids, in other words a homogeneous mix of different components which blend past, present and future.” Therein lies the problem. “The Distance” is exactly what is promised, a blend of just about every trend modern rock has gone through in the last fifteen years, but that lets it come across a bit more like an encyclopedia of rock music than a flesh-and-blood album.
Songs like the title track, with ringing open chords and a strong delivery in the chorus, are very good modern rock tracks. I can't say Gloomball doesn't know how to put a song together, because they clearly do. “The Distance” is filled with tracks that would have been massive hits ten years ago, but this isn't that time anymore. What I don't hear is the passion bands need to have for their music. Maybe it doesn't translate through the studio, but listening to “The Distance”, I don't feel the spark of creation, I can't find the fire inside them to make this particular kind of music.
“The Distance” is a good modern rock record. I'm not going to say anything otherwise, just that there's something about this style of music that has become a bit soulless. While I would take Gloomball's take on modern rock before many, many others, I'm still left feeling empty while I listen to it. In that sense, Gloomball is musical junk food. It's good while you have it, but you know you can find better, and you know you'll regret too much of it.