Stolen Babies: Naught

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Stolen Babies: Naught
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Stolen Babies: Naught
Avant-Garde, Hard Rock, Gothic Metal
No Comment Records
October 16th, 2012
Release length: 41:37
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Stolen Babies was born in the early 2000’s from a High School theaterical performance group, and stormed onto the scene in 2006 with their debut full-length album, There be Squabbles Ahead. The recording, the next step after their 2002 demo and self-titled EP, and their second demo in 2004, was met with plenty of praise from fans and critics alike, though never ventured too far out from the underground. The group’s Gothic Rock and Metal sound, laced with a thematic Avant-Garde approach spoke volumes of their talent, and what to expect from them on future releases. It’s been six years since that groundbreaking, yet still largely underrated effort was released, but they finally return through No Comment Records to issue the long-awaited follow-up release, simply titled Naught. But, have the six years gone to maturing the sound for a far more impressive offering, or have they lost some of the magic that made such a strong impact among their fans?

Naught definitely tries to benefit from a modern digital quality, but unfortunately ends up only hurting the final product. Instead of a creepy, thematic offering that plays with your emotions, this new approach ends up largely mainstream, as well as a bit too loud for its own good. The guitars have a mild distortion to them with a slightly higher pitch without being too rich, and the bass ends up higher in treble than anything. It still fills the music, but doesn’t help to keep things grounded. This causes problems given the female vocals and some of the varied effects used that can make them a little sharper as well, though it’s better without them when the clean singing hits. Sadly, some of the changes can make certain sections very shrill to the point where it becomes ear piercing enough to make you wince or cringe. The drumming also greatly suffers. The tighter snares carry a slight echo, but end up in the background and blunt, while the very light click of the bass kick has about the same benefit to the final product as the bass guitar, though often lost in the mix. The cymbals are the loudest, and while effective in the filling the music well, they also are really washed out and a bit rough to listen to.

With all that said, there still are some songs that throw back to the unique Stolen Babies sound without suffering too much from the audio quality. “Never Come Back” has that Avant-Garde sound, though more of a burlesque style laced with a Garbage appeal and plenty of vocal distortions. The additional carnival elements are subtle, and the rhythm is quite infectious when not shifting into the eccentric and aggressive passages that incorporate the sharper, sinister shouting. “Splatter” is a little more laid back, pushing the thematic elements when necessary. This one is driven far more by the snares and bass kicks thanks to the emptier verses, showing how great they can sound when not drowned out by everything else. But, “Behind the Days” is the most impressive of all. The softer track finds a rather emotional performance that is largely thematic with clean singing and some layered background vocals that are simply emotionally burdening. It’s just sad this beautiful composition doesn’t even last two minutes, but thankfully there’s “Swimming Hole,” which is essentially the same thing, but with a stronger atmosphere, and a little more enthusiasm in the vocals. This is what fans of the band are more than likely expecting, and it’s great that such a superbly gorgeous song finally hits. Unfortunately, it’s the last for quite a while.

After “Swimming Hole,” things become horribly generic, and largely unappealing. “Dried Moat” finds the group abandoning much of the thematic sound for a straight forward eighties Rock approach just shy of synthesizes and electronic drum kits, but also carries some Marilyn Manson atmosphere in the chorus, just without the additional aggression aside one screamed line before switching over to it from the main verse or prior bridge. There’s also “Prankster,” which does touch on the group’s signature sound, but also incorporates the aforementioned electronic elements to present a song largely composed of Oingo Boingo worship. This isn’t a bad thing, as the song is still really enjoyable with a surprisingly deeper sound. These are the worst offenders of them all, but there’s still plenty of this influence to be found throughout.

There’s a little more to this album that needs to be touched on, such as “Mousefood.” This had the potential to be an aggressive track with that signature Stolen Babies sound, but there’s too much speed and complexity to use what little bass exists. Instead, it sounds like a twanging, monotone mess, especially given the dominance of the cymbals. Even with these problems, you can still bob your head to the rhythm and enjoy it for what it is. Aside that, there’s also “Birthday Song,” which is this album’s odd offering like the previous one titled “Push Button.” Unfortunately, it’s far from as enjoyable. The music and atmosphere is upbeat despite a mid-tempo performance, and the lyrics are as simple as you would imagine. Sadly, sitting through it is rough, as there’s nothing that really grabs you at all, coming off as filler to pad out the release. “Civil Disguise” can’t be overlooked either, as it’s easily the most impressive. There’s a decent amount of bass to give the song a nice edge, and the more intricate chords benefit nicely from it, moving from some hostile material to catchy, melodic music in the chorus that still retains a decent amount of speed, complimented with the singing vocals that don’t go too far overboard with energy.

If you have been anxiously awaiting the new Stolen Babies album, chances are you are going to be greatly let down by this one, especially if you go in expecting a more consistant sound similar to There be Squables Ahead. Naught is a completely different beast that has a good deal of afflictions to it. The audio quality is simply horrible, and there’s a good deal of songs that are uninspiring, or end up reminiscent of popular eighties and modern acts, sacrificing the thematic Avant-Garde sound for a traditional Rock approach that can sometimes cater to more of a burlesque environment than the carnival one. However, that also exists on this release, making the atmospheres, and what you’re supposed to feel, rather confusing throughout. That doesn’t mean all the songs are bad though. If you approach this as a new version of the group, or generally give it time to grow on you, chances are you’ll see past the faults and enjoy the music for what it is, and what it could have been. There’s no denying Naught simply doesn’t deliver, but it does show the group trying to evolve the original Stolen Babies sound. Consider this the band wrapping themselves up in the coccoon that’s hopefully ready to be shed in order for the beautiful winged majesty to show once more.

01. Never Come Back – 2:56
02. Splatter – 3:14
03. Second Sleep – 3:34
04. Behind the Days – 1:41
05. Mousefood – 2:41
06. Don’t Know – 3:41
07. I Woke Up – 2:34
08. Swimming Hole – 3:29
09. Dried Moat – 3:42
10. Prankster – 3:46
11. Birthday Song – 2:30
12. Civil Disguise – 3:12
13. Grubbery (Burn to a Crisp) – 4:37
Overall Score: 6/10
Stolen Babies (band)
Stolen Babies
Digital review copy of this release provided by No Comment Records via Adrenaline PR.