A Dozen Furies / Manntis
A Concept from Fire / Sleep in Your Grave
Sanctuary / Century Media
D- / C
n 2004, MTV televised Battle for Ozzfest, a show in which bands competed for a slot on 2005's Ozzfest tour, Ozzy Osbourne's metal equivalent of Lollapalooza. The show was a strange mix of reality TV and talent competition, with a strong emphasis on the former. After open-call auditions, eight bands were chosen to compete on the show. The catch was this: only one member would represent each band in the competition.
Over 12 episodes, the contestants had to do roadie work, play with Ozzfest bands, wear humiliating costumes onstage, and, while handcuffed and blindfolded, bite the head off a live bat (which turned out to be a hot dog). Their mettle under these circumstances determined whether Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne would let them stay on the show.
Week by week, contestants were eliminated until three remained. At this point, the rest of their bands rejoined them for the talent competition part of the show. After live performances by each band, fans on MTV's website voted to determine the winner. A Dozen Furies, from Texas, won, followed by Cynder (now called Curse Your Name), from North Carolina. Manntis, from California, took third place. Of these bands, A Dozen Furies and Manntis are the first to sign to labels and release full-length albums.
A Dozen Furies play their instruments well, and perhaps they put on a good live show. But their debut album, A Concept from Fire, is some of the most bland, unoriginal metalcore in recent memory, and that's saying a lot.
For the uninitiated, the term "metalcore" originally meant what it looks like—a fusion of metal and hardcore punk. Groups like Earth Crisis, Heaven Shall Burn, and Full Blown Chaos have ably combined these influences into heavy, moshpit-friendly sounds. However, "metalcore" took on a new meaning in the past two years, as hordes of American bands sprang up with the following ingredients:
-Screamed verses / Sung chorusesSomehow, this cookie-cutter formula acquired the metalcore tag and became the hot sound of 2004, dominating videos on MTV2's Headbangers Ball and sales at Hot Topic. In case you're curious what the kids are listening to these days, it's not nu-metal (that's "so four years ago"), but metalcore (which will hopefully soon become "so 2004").
-Swedish melodic metal / American thrash riffs
-Thirds-based guitar harmonies
-Half-time hardcore breakdowns
Thankfully, A Dozen Furies don't wear eyeliner. Otherwise, the band follows the metalcore formula down to the letter. The performances on A Concept from Fire are technically flawless—but that is the bare minimum in an age where metal musicians practice constantly and shredders are commonplace. The songwriting is functional, but the band's downfall lies in its riffs. The riffs here sound like every other metalcore band, and imitating imitators is not a good thing.
To put it another way, this record has already been made, and done better, in Trivium's Ascendancy. Comparing bands against each other is usually unproductive, but the degree of similarity here is stunning; "Lost in a Fantasy" and "Nightmare of a Martyr" should have Trivium consulting their copyright lawyers. However, Trivium outsings, outplays, and outwrites A Dozen Furies. There's no need for this album to exist.
Manntis (named for the praying mantises that infest the band's practice space) fare better in their debut album, Sleep in Your Grave. The material is still nothing original, but the performances are fiery. The smooth yet hot production contributes to the energy, with menacing ride cymbals cutting through the mix.
While the metalcore elements are all present, the hardcore aspect weighs heavily, with some truly crushing breakdowns. The punk influence also manifests itself in a curious way: both this album and its songs are extremely short. The album is under half an hour long, and songs regularly duck in and out under three minutes. The songs occasionally feel a bit truncated, although they never overstay their welcome.
The guitar work here is promising, with some alt-rock influences in "A New Breed of Life and "Second Life Ahead" providing a welcome respite from the usual thirds-based harmonies; for a supposedly confrontational genre like metal, it's amazing how many bands traffic in bog-standard scales learned in grade school. "My Enemy" has honest-to-goodness blastbeats, "Resist and Overcome" has bits of sharp dissonance, and the band even dares to end the album with a pleasant, all-acoustic number. The songs themselves aren't particularly special, but there are enough interesting riffs throughout to give hope for the band's future.
Ozzfest has taken a beating lately, what with all the publicity surrounding the infamous Sharon Osbourne vs. Iron Maiden incident in San Bernardino. Ozzy himself has retired as a headliner from Ozzfest, and the musically conservative tour lost much market share this year to edgier, more diverse metal tours like Sounds of the Underground and Gigantour. Battle for Ozzfest hasn't helped the tour's reputation, either. Unless its alumni start coming up with more original sounds, the show will become merely yet another bizarre footnote in Ozzy Osbourne's legacy.