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Strange Here : II

Both more and less than Trad Doom, Strange Here's idiosyncrasies can certainly win listeners over.

Strange Here is the Italian duo of former Paul Chain member Alexander Scardavian and Dom Lotito. They have issued their debut album titled 'II' despite the fact that there was no 'I' unless you count Scardavian's 2001 solo record 'Strange Here?' as the first one. The 2001 Scardavian solo is strictly Trad Doom in the vein of his work with Paul Chain, while this new CD contains a vastly greater array of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal styles ranging from bluesy Psychedelic Rock to Hammond Organ driven Hard Rock to menacing Traditional Doom Metal. If Rock titans Deep Purple were a Doom band (fronted by a drunken demented Muppet) it would sound like Strange Here. And while I admit that this description doesn't appear to be all that appealing, once you get past the oddness of it all it's really quite awesome.

The liner notes call this work an 'Opera', and while there is a melodic theme common to several of the tracks, I don't hear an overall story line. The lyrics are written in Italian (though sung in English) and I can scarcely understand the vocals, so maybe there is a story here... I just can't suss it out. But I don't let myself get too hung up on that and just enjoy the songs for what they sound like, not what I think an Opera should be. And what they sound like is a powerful amalgam of 70's Rock styles. Strange Here have acted like Magpies, collecting shiny trinkets here and there from their favorite bands, and hoarding these treasures to utilize for their own devices.

The album opens with a rather standard Doom cut, before lumbering into the bluesy 'Kiss of Worms' (which lifts its simple but effective guitar riff from Tony Iommi's underrated 'Heart like a Wheel'). The highlight of 'II' for me is the outstanding track 'Black, Grey, and White' with it's atmospheric acoustic guitars and swirling Jon Lord inspired organ playing, shrieking/moaning singing with filthy, sexual lyrics about... Well, give it a listen and decide for yourself what the lyrics are about, but I caution you: don't let your mother hear it!

The production is very strong, everything easily heard within the mix and the focus is suitably divided between the guitars, keyboards, and vocals. It's a modern sounding production job without being too muddy or bass heavy in the guitars. The top end is shining and bright without being too brittle (which is a pet peeve of mine when listening to modern Metal drums). The guitar tones are all classic and warm, heavily over-driven but not too distorted. They have zeroed in on the aural 'Goldilocks Zone' and should be commended for their efforts. Scardavian and Lotito should give deep consideration to upgrading guest keyboard player Enri Zavalloni's status to full time member in the future. His contributions to the overall sound of this CD are first-rate (again, listen to the track 'Black, Grey, and White' to see what I'm talking about).

While I truly enjoy this album, there are a few glaring weaknesses. The most obvious to any listener will be the singing: already in this review I've used the phrase 'demented Muppet' and the word 'shrieking' to descriptively convey my thoughts about the vocal technique. But that doesn't mean that I don't like it... I actually do like it, but I recognize that this won't be to some people's taste. I believe that Alexander Scardavian understands his limitations as a vocalist, and goes for style over substance with his abilities, but for me this works out nicely. Especially for a band with a name like Strange Here, the growling and warbling are apt. With the songwriting my only complaint is that the song 'Acid Rain' is overly drawn out at 10 minutes. The song doesn't really go anywhere after the first 2 or 3 minutes and perhaps should have been trimmed back to a more succinct 5 or 6 minutes, but this is really only a minor quibble.

Strange Here's 'II' is classified as Trad Doom, but it's both more than and less than that. I hope that they can find an appreciative audience for their blend of styles. Doom fans can be a particular bunch about their sub-genres and Strange Here doesn't easily fit into any one definition. But it's worthy of your time, money, and attention, and it's my hope that you give it a chance to win you over as it has me.

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Reviewer's rating: 7.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Still Alone
2. Kiss Of Worms
3. Born To Lose
4. Black, Grey, And White
5. Acid Rain
6. Only If...
7. Shiftless

Duration : Approx. 46 minutes

Visit the Strange Here bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-03-06 by Kevin Baird
Rotten Copper
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