They may have a bonehead name and a sound that’s been around since dinosaur bands like Chimaira and Killswitch Engage, but they pour it out on the floor like 500 Lego blocks and then rearrange it into something different. In Alcatraz 1962 smashes the old building blocks of hardcore metal together into 12 songs so close to extreme melodic death metal that it’s possible to hear a bit o’ Sweden above the din.
Tyler Baldwin chews through the tracks with a competent growl. He’s more interesting on clean vocals. The Drive starts off with a mercifully short 37-second skin tag, “Breaking Through,” whose title is probably a nod to Frank Morris and his inmate bros busting out of the infamous penitentiary on The Rock back in 1962. “Still Strong” quickly shows up on the saddle of a bass line whose Peter Gunn inversion is an indication that the band’s stringmen aren’t the usual strum-chunkers.
“Still Strong” is a thrashy metalcore mash-up that keeps threatening to flash a new trick, yet never quite produces it. In the Lego block arrangement, the guitar duo of Chris Smith and Allen Call sneak hints of sophistication on a couple of the guitar lines behind the choruses. Their stealthy melodies are some of the reasons that nudge In Alcatraz 1962 and The Drive a papier mache head in a jail-cell bed above the average rabble.
“Eloquence” continues the peek-a-boo with possibilities, yet as in “Still Strong,” leans heavy on the heavy and less on originality. It’s a scrap-iron anthem that takes 40 seconds to get out of the blocks before picking up the beat for a minute. Drummer Josh Zupovitz is the star of this track. His rack kit seems to fly in every direction, banging offbeats and driving the getaway van with speed demon kick drums. Zupovitz is heroic throughout, bending the bars apart to let the rest of the band push through. “Eloquence” is a solid single cut, ready for those hungering for something fresher than the umpteenth replay of Pantera’s “War Ensemble” or Slayer’s “Angel of Death.”
Speaking of Slayer, producer Don DeBiase seems to have channeled back to Haunted Chapel for The Drive’s overall reverb profile. The usual smoggy sound that emanates from Studio D. is missing here. DeBiase uses cavernous reverb to good effect and gates it tightly enough to keep all the instrumentation in focus. The Drive is a precision production as well as new standard for DeBiase to maintain.
Five consecutive tracks, “There to Take,” “The Fatal Flaw,” “Over These Years,” “Winter Sun” and “Submergence” demonstrate how good these guys are. “There to Take” and “The Fatal Flaw” are muscular, speedy and almost uplifting, as far as quasi-death metal goes. Both tracks have epic backing guitar lines behind the clean vocal breaks and choruses, all hammered home with nail gun crispness by Zupovitz’s violent drums.
“Over These Years” doesn’t even have vocals, yet stands on its own. Acting like a fanfare, it leads into The Drive’s most fully realized song, “Winter Sun.” Everything intriguing about In Alcatraz 1962 is found in this track, from bi-polar heaviness melting into melody, musicianship fattened by serious touring and a message that doesn’t get cock-eyed by hatred.
Perhaps In Alcatraz 1962 can find a way to paddle The Drive across a cold, inky bay, away from a prison of anonymity and toward the bright lights of recognition. Do some hard time with The Drive and it’ll be easy to hope they make good on their escape.
(released October 9, 2012 on Standby Records)