IV: Constitution of Treason
od Forbid is a band that's much more than the sum of its parts. The drummer is solid and precise, but nothing extraordinary for metal, a genre teeming with virtuoso drummers. The guitarists are skilled, but not the fastest shredders around. The singer's dirty vocals aren't the scariest, nor are his clean vocals especially noteworthy. Yet the band has certain intangibles working for it: fiery energy (its live shows are killer), a tireless work ethic, a knack for catchy songwriting, and, most importantly, its own sound. This last factor is key for the metal subgenre in which God Forbid trades—metalcore. Yes, that M-word. But we'll get to that in a second.
This New Jersey band began in 1996 playing straight-up brutal, atonal death metal. But over albums like Out of Misery and Determination, God Forbid's sound became increasingly melodic, taking on Swedish metal influences. 2004's Gone Forever was the band's breakthrough, yielding anthems "Better Days" and the title track. Clean vocals had become vital to the band's sound, placing it squarely in the company of other metalcore bands doing clean/dirty vocals, Swedish riffs, and hardcore punk-influenced breakdowns. Yet the band's predilection for minor chords and raw, edgy production helped establish its unmistakably bleak sound.
IV: Constitution of Treason is an expansion of the metalcore sound of Gone Forever. Interestingly, the result is both more metal and more hardcore. Metal-wise, the riffs are thrashier, the solos are flashier, and in general the guitar work is more intricate and interesting than before. Yet during vocal sections, the band inevitably falls back on midpaced grooves and halftime breakdowns. To be sure, the hardcore-influenced riffs are stronger than ever; kids will be two-steppin' and floor-punchin' to these songs like no one's business. But at times one finds oneself wanting the band to let loose with some good old-fashioned speed. "Into the Wasteland," for example, starts with ferocious double-time thrash riffs, but deflates into a midpaced groove when the vocals enter. If the song had kept up its initial energy, it would have been unstoppable.
"To the Fallen Hero" transcends these limitations, and is the album's hands-down highlight. Emotive riffs, inventive chords, anthemic vocals, and tempo changes combine for a truly great, epic song. The band really stepped up its songwriting for this tune—if only it could make a whole album like this!
Instead, IV: Constitution of Treason is merely solid. The sound quality is one big reason. The production and mixdown are technically flawless—almost too much so. The guitars are chunky, the vocals are nicely layered, and the bass has a full, warm presence. However, the drums are round and compressed, quite reminiscent of Andy Sneap's production and mixing, the hot sound in metal at the moment (see recent albums by Nevermore, Arch Enemy, Trivium, and Killswitch Engage). The sound polishes away the raw edge that distinguished God Forbid from its contemporaries. The band does experiment with some lush textures here, so ultimately the sound will be a matter of taste.
The album's murky title concept also holds it back. The artwork has provocative Statue of Liberty and American flag imagery, and the liner notes set out the album's concept with this preamble: "In today's current state of greedy war mongers and dictatorships disguised as democracies, the straw finally breaks the camel's back, and nations engage in a worldwide nuclear onslaught that obliterates our way of life." But what could have been an incendiary political statement becomes a vague sci-fi story through lyrics like these: "Into the wasteland we ride / Aftermath of this guilt-stricken world / Misled and deprived... conscious... a call to arms / A pawn in this new world order." When an album's title is this loaded, and its liner notes promise a unifying concept, the lyrics had better follow through, and here they don't.
A final note: the domestic version of this CD is a Dual Disc with a fascinating making-of documentary on the DVD side. It's a geek's dream come true, covering all phases of the album's production, from writing to recording to mixing to mastering. Album producer Jason Suecof is the surprise star here; he cracks jokes, whips the band into shape, and does a priceless imitation of metal vocal styles. Dual Disc features like this documentary add much depth to the listening experience, and provide compelling reasons to buy, not download albums. Record labels that can afford this technology would be well-advised to explore it.