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City Of Fire - "City of Fire" (CD)

City Of Fire - "City of Fire" CD cover image

"City of Fire" track listing:

1. Carve Your Name (4:35)
2. Gravity (5:07)
3. Rising (3:20)
4. A Memory (3:52)
5. Spirit Guide (5:24)
6. Coitus Interruptus (4:45)
7. Hanya (4:01)
8. Emerald (1:58)
9. Hollow Land (4:46)
10. Dark Tides (4:14)
11. Rain (5:35)

Reviewed by on August 25, 2010

"This album is going to have its critics, especially those that live and breathe the word of Fear Factory, but it’s nice to see musicians step outside their usual surroundings and break ground in new sonic land."

City of Fire is the hard rock side-project of Fear Factory members Burton C. Bell and Byron Stroud. The band’s love of 70’s hard rock, 80’s goth and early 90’s grunge translates well to their self-titled debut album. For Stroud, City of Fire is an opportunity to show off his songwriting chops, while Bell gets to use his voice in ways that his main project doesn’t allow him to. This album is the perfect medium between the craziness of Fear Factory and the artistic reverence of Ascension of the Watchers. “City of Fire” has a little something for everyone, making it an album that has widespread appeal far beyond the fan base of the other respective bands.

The band places much of the heavier material up front in the track listing. “Carve Your Name” sets a menacing tone, creeping like a thief in the night and sneaking up on a victim, before exploding in a emotional outburst of pain. Burton’s patent screams give the song a visceral blow that fits with the lyrics of lost love and broken hearts. A lot of the tracks deal with this feeling of emptiness from the lack of companionship, though it does come across as a little too overwrought at times. It’s an over-exaggerated Depeche Mode with lines like “Carve your name into my heart/Cut it deep/Make it bleed.”

Bell has acknowledged his love of Soundgarden in the past and this comes across on the grungy “Gravity” and “Spirit Guide.” The vocal dynamics between harsh and clean tones are a thrilling spectacle on the former track, while the heavy bass output and sludge-crusted guitar work make the latter tune a hidden highlight tucked right in the middle of the album. The band also tries their hand at a mainstream sound with “Rising,” which has just enough bark to not avoid the legion of fanatic metal fans turning away in disgust.

That might be their reaction to much of the latter third of the album, as City of Fire takes the music in a subtle melodic direction. “Emerald” is a calm acoustic interlude that acts as a segue into The Cult/The Cure-inspired “Hollow Land.” The most welcome surprise is with the last two tracks, as the band writes their own version of “Planet Caravan” with “Dark Tides” and puts a softer spin on their cover of The Cult’s “Rain.” Burton’s vocals on these final tracks are stripped and torn apart, an empty tone that compliments the low-key nature of the songs.

Most of the time, it would be unwise to back-load the album with tracks that lack the aggression of the first half, but it works in the context of “City of Fire.” The album starts off angry and bitter, then slowly over time fades into a depressive state. The transformation from one to the other is seamless and an important part of what makes the album as effective as a whole entity as a collection of individual numbers.

City of Fire comes across as a band unconcerned about pleasing their metal audience on their debut album. This album is going to have its critics, especially those that live and breathe the word of Fear Factory, but it’s nice to see musicians step outside their usual surroundings and break ground in new sonic land. While the band hasn’t been together long in its current incarnation, this act has a lot to offer not only metal fans, but hard rock fanatics as well.

Highs: Burton's wide vocal range, nice mellow tracks, including a solid cover of The Cult's "Rain," a eccentric mix of 70's hard rock, 80's goth, and 90's grunge.

Lows: Overwrough lyrics, slightly uneven track listing.

Bottom line: A far cry from Fear Factory that shows a melodic side of Burton C. Bell and Byron Stroud.

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)