[21st April 2012]
04. Gryphon Wing
05. Path of the Chosen Arrow
07. Of Kings and Cowards
08. The Desert
Charlottesville’s Corsair’s self-titled debut LP Corsair is an album that almost makes it, but is dragged down by a host of problems that obscure the underlying potential quality of the music. From a general lack of direction to a lo-fi sound that just doesn’t work, Corsair is repeatedly tripped up by avoidable mistakes.
Corsair is the band’s first foray into full-length territory, having released two serviceable EPs, alpha centauri and ghosts of proxima centauri. This debut LP sees Corsair moving away from their spacey classic rock roots to focus more on elements of progressive rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM). This proves to be an admirable, but somewhat uncomfortable, change for the band; Corsair loses some measure of purpose and clarity in their drive to push their own boundaries.
As a general rule, I prefer to avoid describing a band’s music purely in terms of other bands’ music; however, it must be noted that portions of Corsair sound as though they were lifted from an unreleased Thin Lizzy record. And the opening licks of “Gryphon Wing” sure sound a bit like a NWoBHM band covering The Dropkick Murphys‘ “Shipping Up To Boston”. These similarities are not necessarily negative, but they are noticeable and detract from the listener’s ability to get a sense of the band’s personality. At various points on the album, one gets a feeling that Corsair are lacking a coherent understanding of their own music’s direction.
There are some more pervasive problems on Corsair. For a relatively short record, it has its share of filler. The saccharine “Path of the Chosen” simply cannot justify its own existence, sounding less like prog rock than background music in an 80s teen rom-com prom scene. The instrumental opener, “Agathrysi”, is too long by about half, with the same riffs taking turns over and over. The listener might be forgiven for assuming that all of Corsair is instrumental, as the album takes its sweet time getting to the vocals. Corsair generally have a tough time with transitions: many of the extended instrumental portions fail to adequately mesh with the rest of the songs, leaving the full-album experience rather disjointed and unsatisfying.
Further contributing to Cosair’s multiple personality disorder is their use of different vocalists with vastly different vocal styles. As on previous releases, the band’s bassist and both guitarists contribute vocals of their own, exacerbating the impression that Corsair is a collection of loosely-related songs, rather than a cohesive whole. The transition between lead vocalists is jarring; when the singing on “Gryphon Wing” begins, it seems as though an entirely separate album has started playing by accident. This lack of direction is one of the underlying causes of most of Corsair’s problems, but not all.
The most glaring problem with Corsair is the production quality. While there are genres that can survive lo-fi production – some may even benefit from it – progressive rock is not one of them. And while I would not normally fault a self-released record for sounding less than perfect, Corsair sounds objectively bad. Nothing sounds well recorded on this release and that is a huge disappointment, because – despite all its flaws - Corsair could have been a truly good album. Songs that are interesting in conception are stillborn in execution, hampered by amateurish production. There are some cool guitar leads that cry out for proper recording and mixing technique, but their begging goes unsatisfied. This is exceptionally unfortunate, as Corsair’s previous releases overcome their lack of polish in a manner that their full-length cannot manage.
All the aforementioned problems aside, I’ve enjoyed listening to this record pretty much every time I’ve listened to it and, as far as I can tell, that is one of the most important things a record can do. The problems with Corsair are what keep it from being a solid album. It feels like something your friend’s band made and you’re really let down, because you know that they’re a good band and the album fails to reflect how good they actually are. There are nice ideas on this record, including some memorable moments of excellent rock. Corsair makes a commendable effort at crafting something great; like the band’s EPs, Corsair is driven by passion and it shows – these guys clearly care about making music. However, Corsair is ultimately just another self-released album that could have been better but is not. It’s a shame. But I can say without hesitation that when Corsair releases a new record, I will listen to it and I will, in all likelihood, kind of enjoy it.