Kittie
Until the End
Artemis
2004
B+



let's be honest: you've only heard of Kittie because they're chicks. They play straight-up metal and they play it well, but they stand out from the crowd for one reason and one reason only. They acknowledge this right off the bat, of course, through their name. It's not like they're trying to hide their gender behind a name like Dismember, Steel Prophet, or Pungent Stench.

But Kittie's no novelty act, playing half-assed rock and getting by on cuteness alone (I'm looking at you, Donnas). Gender represents only an asset (the vocals), never an excuse. Their third full-length is a serious bid to make the "all-female" disclaimer in their basic one-line description completely superfluous: Kittie is a metal band. Period.

The band pulls off the standard moves without a hitch. They chop up the mosh-ready mid-tempo octave riffs of the title track with stop-on-a-dime breaks. They downshift into melodic grunge anthem mode on "Loveless." They flex their tempo-shift skills on "Pussy Sugar," veering from an old-school 2/2 hardcore jam into a series of odd time signatures and hollowed-out stutter riffs. They do pretty much everything but solo. There are no guitar solos, 'cause they don't need 'em.

There are thousands upon thousands of metal bands out there, and most of them sound pretty much the same. Two things distinguish the better ones: the swing and the sing. If the band can lock into a tight rhythmic groove rather than just bludgeoning away, they'll stand out from the crowd. Ditto if a band has a distinctive vocalist doing anything other than the hackneyed roar that Slayer's Tom Araya (a top-notch metal vocalist himself, so he should know) derisively refers to as "Cookie Monster" vocals. Kittie swings and sings. Hard.

A good metal groove hinges on the drummer, and on Until the End Mercedes Lander (killer rock name, right there) turns in her best performance yet, matching the machine gun strums of the dual guitarists. One of the keys to metal drumming is proper, subtle use of the double kick: while the amateur pounds away ceaselessly, the seasoned professional drops a few lightning shots in the middle of a half-tempo beat, or spices up a big fill just before plowing into the chorus. From the intro to "Career Suicide" onward, Lander gets it just right.

But Kittie's foremost asset is the vocals. Morgan Lander's throaty roar is impressive enough, but her big advantage over the genre's countless dick-swingers is her feminine side: she can really sing, and often does. What made the first album's "Charlotte" and Oracle's "What I Always Wanted" such great singles was her ability to shift gears abruptly, from a full-on scream to a melodic croon and back. "Into the Darkness," the lead single off Until the End, is essentially a rewrite of "Charlotte," right down to the quiet bit after the second chorus, but adds a neat trick to make the most of Lander's dual vocal personae. Whereas previously the vocal styles would trade off, on "Into the Darkness" screaming Morgan sings backup for melodic Morgan, doubling the lyrics throughout to create a twisted harmony. It's a simple idea, and it works perfectly, letting the band display a thin layer of its blistering metal sound just beneath the surface of a poppy, radio-ready should-be hit. (An inferior version of the song with the backing screams removed is inexplicably tacked on at the end of the album as a "Vocal Remix". Why? It's not even the video version.)

There's more singing on this album than their first two, split roughly 50/50 with the screaming, and the melodies are pushed further up in the mix than in the past. It's a risky move considering Kittie's core audience, but the band successfully dodges the stylistic trap of nu-metal by avoiding any traces of self-pity in their aggressive lyrical stance. The result is not so much a compromise as a move toward the mainstream without succumbing to it. The payoff is Kittie's most fully-realised and, for non-metalheads, approachable album yet.



Reviewed by: Bjorn Randolph
Reviewed on: 2004-08-03
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