A departure, but certainly not an | Posted September 27, 2011
If ever a band had a more self-evident name you’d be hard-pressed to find it. Whether it’s their sustained touring schedule, energetic live shows or innovative music, Canadian trio Manic Drive not only attempts to embody their name, but embraces it with gusto. Since the release of their indie project Reason for Motion in 2006, the band has developed a significant fan base and earned critical acclaim on both sides of the border.
At its core, the band is brothers Michael and Shawn Cavallo, who together with “new” drummer Keith Comer, deliver creative, dynamic, hyper-caffeinated music. While earlier albums undoubtedly strayed across both sides of the nü-metal line--à la Linkin Park--Blue and more definitively Epic continue to blur the boundaries between pop, dance & rock.
The production and musical tapestry of Epic is more synthetic and, for the most part, more unvaryingly tempoed than previous projects, drawing comparisons to a certain “Lady” of pop music. And while this reviewer was caught off guard by the overall slickly polished, intensely rhythmic musical direction of this album, there is no dearth of creativity or intensity. Shawn Cavallo’s vocal range and staccato rhyming style only serve to add an additional imperative resonance to each song’s delivery.
From the syncopated beat and “rawk-fisted” pep rally feel of “Count of 1-2-3” to the distorted guitar power chords and fun-but-shallow anthem of “Positive Radio,” most of the songs of Epic are an in-your-face challenge to be uninhibited activists in our Christian faith.
“Halo” employs the goofy grin-inducing meme “rock my halo” to reinforce how a life of holiness should distinguish a Christian from the world at large. The title track, “Epic,” acts as call to be a part of God's action. The sampled vocals of “Money” remind Christians of the value of their lives when compared to things. “Microphone” and “Go Big or Go Home” are meant as encouragements to be genuine and obvious in our faith.
The tracks that really shine are the three that most suggest Manic Drive’s prior sound and direction. “Good Times” is a fun, deceptively simple summertime reminiscence that reminds listeners how a child receives the unconditional love of a Savior. The mid-tempo, piano driven balladry of “Save a Life” bares the band’s soul and calling as zealous proponents of Christianity. “Mountains” stands out because of its musical subtlety and yet is the most distinctly Manic Drive of the three, also evoking sounds of AC chart-toppers Tenth Avenue North and Rush of Fools.
On first listen, the songs of Epic might be perceived as backsliding into lyrical mediocrity, but in spite of being less elegiac and overt, they are no less relevant and perceptive. The band seems to have made a conscious choice to forgo poetic and creative license and instead couch the spiritual truths they address by the clever, yet catchy use of pop jargon. They do so in a straightforward manner without coming off as insincere or sounding cliché, but that choice of simplicity remains a bit of a head-scratcher in light of the band’s spiritual convictions and previously demonstrated creative depth in speaking to the intersection of life and faith.
After the attention and accolades Blue brought to Manic Drive, as well as the anticipation it immediately provoked in me to hear more from the band, this reviewer would chalk up Epic’s (minor) shortcomings to testing their stylistic boundaries and the predominant presence of producer Rob Wells. A quick check of Wells’ music production pedigree and it’s no wonder Epic has the distinct sound reminiscent of a mash-up of late 90’s boy-bands, contemporary Idol winners and modern tween wonders.
A more jaded reviewer might be tempted to make the obvious “epic fail” joke, but the question remains, “Does Epic fail?” No. While it doesn’t quite live up to its name, Epic is no sophomore slump. True, it suffers from an imbalance of style over substance but as a collection of passionate & rousing dance/rock mantras it succeeds as a rallying cry for Christians to live a visibly authentic, radical lifestyle.