[11th February 2014]
01. Sounds Of The Playground
02. Thoughts Behind
03. Instant Silence
04. Ms. Me
06. Saturn Waits
07. My Forsaken
Returning from hiatus with Focus On The Center, their first release since 2006, Chrysalis hail from Barstow, California. It is impossible, for me at least, to hear the name of their hometown without referencing its place in the immortal first line of the seminal novel Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. And, to some degree, this seven track mini-album does represent a short jaunt into bat country.
“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”
- Raoul Duke
Despite its name, Focus On The Center draws on one of the broadest spheres of influence of any release in recent memory, with moments touching most points on the alternative spectrum except the very extremities. Maybe this is the centre they are talking about focusing on. Either way, metalcore, alt-metal, post-hardcore screamo, pop-punk and even flavours of post-metal and flourishes of electronica make an appearance over the relatively short seven track running order.
Opening track “Sounds of the Playground” manages to crowbar most of these touchpoints into just four minutes and in doing so, it highlights the strengths – and unfortunately the weaknesses – of Chrysalis’ scattergun approach. Possibly the single element of the bands sound that is the hardest to swallow is singer Yessi’s vocal approach. High pitched and nasal, it is a style most readily associated with sunny SoCal pop-punk bands. Yessi also takes, at times, a Chino Moreno approach to melody, but his voice doesn’t quite have the character to pull it off, so veers dangerously close to just sounding out of tune.
Passages characterised by jazzy chords and clean vocals sit alongside palm-muted riffing and double-kick drumming in sprawling song structures. “Tumbula” takes a two minute diversion into more expansive, post-metal territory. There’s no doubting the competency of the musicianship on display here.
The band are definitely at their best on the heavier numbers. The screamed vocals are more convincing, and there are plenty of riffs that are pleasingly weighty and groovy. Things properly come together on the final two tracks, with “Saturn Waits” carrying a Handsome-esque feel and “My Forsaken” recalling Taproot in its stomping conclusion to the album. However, this does feel a bit ‘too little, too late’ to save the whole record.
Fundamentally, Focus On The Center is a victim of its own ambition. A broad range of influence is, in itself, laudable – but these influences have not quite coalesced into a cohesive overall sound for the band. Whilst there are enjoyable moments, precisely which bits any listener will find enjoyable will depend on their existing preferences. Therefore, Focus On The Center is more of a pick & mix affair than it is truly genre-smashing.
There is an unfortunate irony to the fact that the principal issue with Chrysalis’ return to active service is its lack of focus. Amongst all the many elements the band fling at the wall, some of them definitely have the potential to stick – but more work is definitely required to blend them together into something more distinctive than just the sum of its parts.