CD Review

Urn – “Desecrated Ashes”

By Manda L. Earp

Desecrated AshesI have to admit, when I was asked to review Urn’s newest album, Desecrated Ashes, I was a bit excited. Though I’d heard mixed reviews from “people in the know” (whoever the hell THEY are) about the sound and style of Urn, most of the comments were positive and praiseful. And how could they not have been? When a newer band is compared to such talented veterans as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Type O Negative and Metallica, I had to assume that Urn was going to knock my socks off, that the “people in the know” actually knew their stuff.

Ye gods, they were wrong. I was wrong. We all were wrong. Urn didn’t knock my socks off, it sent them running for the quiet reprieve of the dresser drawer.

The Chicago-based group Urn, comprised of members Dominic St. Charles (vocals, guitars), Mistress Sophia (vocals, keyboards), Rhiobhan (bass), Rich Circo (drums and percussion), and Michelle Belanger (guest vocals) luckily have instrumental talent that shines and saves this album from utter disaster, but unfortunately the vocals kill the powerfully churning, industrial-metal feel that the instrumentation provides. The references to Type O Negative and Metallica are correct, when referring solely to the instrumentation; however, the vocals cannot be compared to either one of those talented acts. They are painfully shallow, flat and technically speaking – they blow.

Track one on the six-song, 34-minute Desecrated Ashes, entitled One Last Day, jumps right into showcasing the powerful instrumentation and the lacking vocals. Though the keyboard opening is a bit simplistic in style, the overpowering and astounding guitar playing makes up for it. And the background synths are haunting and intriguing, adding more depth to the instrumentation. But then, the male vocals start and the whole track goes to hell. Not only are the vocals flat and unappealing, but they sound remarkably similar to Metallica’s Fade to Black – a little TOO similar (minus the flat tone, of course). Given my love of Metallica and their enormous talents, I had to dismiss One Last Day as a song that was trying too hard to be something bigger than what it actually is. When the female vocals begin, the song just gets even worse – the tone of her voice is fine, but her singing does not fit the style of song, nor does it mesh harmoniously with the male voice. Speaking of harmony – well, there isn’t much to speak of. The female voice just sings one octave over the male voice, which doesn’t do much to add depth or intrigue to the track. Toward the end of the track, the male and female voices finally harmonize, but it’s too late; the song is a lost cause. Luckily, there is a captivating guitar solo about three and a half minutes into the track to try and hold the listener’s attention, but other than that there is nothing worth listening to.

Embrace, the next song on the album, opens with the playing of a distorted and heavy guitar which is very fitting to the subculture Urn is trying to win over. The long, stimulating opening of this track showcases the incredible instrumental talent that the group possesses, but again once the vocals enter the scene the song loses its seriousness. The vocals are too light, too jesting, to keep a darker feel to the music. Only the quick and intense keyboarding, which matches note for note the strong, swirling guitar playing, is worth tuning into on this track.

By far the worst song on the album is track four, Angels are Weeping. Indeed, they probably were weeping after being mentioned in such an atrocious, cacophonous disaster of a song. Like Urn’s other songs, Angels are Weeping opens strongly with beautiful instrumentation; in this particular piece, the war-like drumming is catchy and nearly serene, presenting the image of riding horseback over the hills of Scotland. As the beat grows stronger and more concentrated, the influence of Trans-Siberian Orchestra is evident. Had Urn kept this an instrumental piece, I probably would have wept at the beauty of it (well, if I were less of a hard-ass, I really probably could have). But the only crying I considered doing was when the vocals were introduced, which are too muted and off-key to make this piece worthwhile. The sound only gets worse when the male and female sing together, creating a mixture of disjointed, nerve-wracking noise. There is no saving this track from itself; simply put, it’s a disaster.

There ARE high points on Desecrated Ashes, don’t get me wrong. The bass is intricate and skillfully played, the keyboarding is quick and wondrous, the drumming is powerful and steady and the guitar playing is nothing short of miraculous. Some of Urn’s lyrics are beautifully haunting. And it’s obvious that their musical influences enter into play while performing many of their songs. But that’s where I draw the line. The vocals kill what could have been a compelling and captivating album and they make the songs sound so unbalanced and incoherent that I cannot, in good faith, recommend this album to anyone.

I part with this thought: imagine, if you will, a new couple, embarking on their very first date. Both of them think that they can sing well, and so, to show off their talents to each other for the very first time they hit up the local hole-in-the-wall karaoke bar. Once inside they get disgustingly wasted, take the microphone and choose to sing a song together by Marilyn Manson, or Korn, or even Disturbed. The music starts and they open their mouths to sing beauteously to one another – and all that comes out is off-key, trying-too-hard trash. She sings too high and with all of the badass “style” that she thinks she can muster up and he sounds like his balls are permanently trapped in a vice. They love it; true musicians hate it. That’s what Urn’s album is like. Urn must love what they do, because they keep making music and that’s great for them; if you love to perform, then perform. I’m certainly in no position to tell people how to live. But the rest of us won’t love it. It’s not great for us. And that makes this album something that is not worth listening to.

Contact Information:
Lost Antiquities Music
Post: P.O. Box 09116, Chicago, IL, 60609
E-Mail: charlie.hickey@edelman.com
Web: www.urncentral.com