By Sam Graham
When I was asked to review Promethium’s album, the name rang a bell. My memory forked in two directions. One way went to school chemistry back in 2002 and that Pm on the periodic table. The other fork, and the sanest, went to a more recent memory: Seeing them play at the Dog & Partridge.
Promethium, from Lancaster, are a band for fans of old school American metal with hints of British no-nonsense-ness. Their album, Welcome to the Institution opens with what I think is a gutsy choice. It’s a short acoustic instrumental called Distant Illusion. It has elements of Call of Ktulu and Crystal Ann by Metallica and Annihilator, respectively. Towards the half way mark comes a well-crafted hook and then the song fades out before it gets too complicated, thus avoiding the same mistake Crystal Ann made.
I think Distant Illusion is a brave opener, because acoustic pieces don’t show a metal band’s normal vocation all that well. However Distant Illusion is only a short piece and many albums have short intro’s that work really well (see Dakesis’s album review).
If you’re looking for Promethium’s true vocation, look no further than the second track, Visions. It starts off with a Zakk Wylde-esque riff, complete with harmonics to round it off, then the guitars (played by Daniel Lovett-Horn and Rossi) follow the vocals, sung by Gary McGahon. The short pre-chorus is heavy and enjoyable and leads into a ‘building-up’ chorus that peaks with a held scream that if you listen closely, has some funky vibrato. Keeping with the Wylde flavour, the short solo (played by Daniel) that comes in the interlude is very No Rest for the Wicked (1988). This is a nice energetic track that gets the mood of the album just right.
Visions is a good song, but Meaning of Trust is better. It has a very similar vibe to it, the riff, the vocals, the chorus, but what tips the scales in this song’s favour is the extra dose of testosterone it has. It shows the most in the chorus when McGahon gives us some snarl in his vocals. Strangely enough, this song ends very abruptly. At first I thought my computer’s speakers had died, but no; that was the end of the song. It just ends. Like I say, this song continues the same vibe that Visions had to it and is just as enjoyable.
If Meaning of Trust had a small dose of manliness then the next song, Nothing, has a permanent prescription. You might not think so at first, because it opens with some nice clean guitar, but when the chorus comes around, it’s a heavy, in-your-face belter. It’s good to sing along to and it’s full of rage. After the second chorus, this song really kicks it up a notch and raises their own bar for the rest of the album by extending the chorus where Rossi treats us to some wah-infused guitar soloing. Rossi’s style is different enough to Daniel’s to tell apart, but just as cool, and for different reasons. Daniel is more widdly, whereas Rossi is more bluesy. It’s subtle, much like the difference between K.K Downing and Glen Tipton, but it’s there.
Tribute to the Fallen is probably the coolest titled track on the whole album with the exception of Cycle of Vengeance. Tribute starts with the similar kind of riffage as the previous three songs on the album, but with a little bit more umph coming from the chords underneath it. The song doesn’t actually stand out that much until the chorus when we are treat to some guttural vocals worthy of most death metal, from guitarist Rossi. I have no idea what he’s saying, but that’s not important; it sounds cool. It’s not overdone and while it continues to pop up at points in the rest of the song, it doesn’t feel forced or overdone like TestamenT started to do when the eighties ended. Tribute to the Fallen is a lurching song, a slow headbanger, but a headbanger none the less. Speaking of TestamenT, the song takes on a very ‘The Gathering´ vibe towards the end, not just with Rossi’s vocals, but the harmony that follows too. This song is definitely the most stand-out of the album, because it’s the most different. It’s heavier than the rest, but doesn’t push it too far as to strain itself.
My favourite song on this album (and by a very long way) comes in Cycle of Vengeance. It’s classic metal all the way and it ticks all of my boxes. With a catchy intro, provoking verses that are both well played and well sung, this song is the most musically adept and professionally sounding on the album. Like in Tribute to the Fallen, Rossi lends his manly vocals in the chorus’ and the solo that follows sounds like it’s right out of Adrian Smith’s playbook. This song has a lot of energy, a lot of anger and shows it all with that old school style.
Trapped is a bit of a slow starter- it’s a bit nu metal in the beginning- but trust me when I say the riff that eventually comes is worth the wait and the chorus is by far the best bit about the song. It lacks the energy that Cycle of Vengeance had, but with two high-energy tracks almost back to back, this song makes for a nice change and doesn’t make them out to have just one trick. The chorus to this song has been stuck in my head for a while and it alone is one of the finer points of the whole album.
The album ends with Murder Inc, a curious title for a song, but then nobody ever seemed to question Damage Inc, so maybe it’s just me. From what I can tell, this song is about murderers on the road, so it probably makes more sense than I initially thought. The song starts out fairly generic, but like most of the songs on this album, it really gets going at the chorus and like most Promethium songs, it’s the combination of guitar and vocals that makes it cool, unlike a lot of metal where it relies on one or the other. McGahon’s vocals are his best in this chorus. During the interlude, Promethium start doing a Machine Head sort of thing. It slows down and gets heavier and the blend of clean and distorted guitar keep it entertaining. After another verse this song ends very abruptly and at that point, so does the album.
What do I make of the album? On the whole, it’s very good. It’s an album that is best played loud. To play it quietly doesn’t get all the music’s anger out into the air. Best advice, crank it up to eleven and see what I mean. The music is all very well put together and the tracks actually get better as the album progresses.
Initially, I was unsure about Gary McGahon’s vocals, but as the album goes on, he gets better. Personally I prefer him when he has some snarl, some edge to his vocals. It makes him stand out and sounds cooler. His vocal style in songs like Visions might work more for some people, but for me, he really hit his stride in Nothing peaking in the chorus’ to Murder Inc. That’s not to say the cleaner vocals are bad, because they aren’t; I just have my preferences.
I know I said that Distant illusion was a strange choice to open with, but looking back, I can’t think of anywhere else it could have gone. If it was at the end it would have come across as filler and if it was in the middle somewhere it would have broken the tempo of the whole album.
If I had to pick a drawback about the album (and it would be an unfair review if I was to just fellate them entirely), I would say that the style of rhythm guitar from Visions to Nothing can get a bit repetitive. It’s hard to describe, but it goes kind of like this:
D d d D d d D d d D d d D d d
Luckily though, they do mix it up towards the half-way mark.
All in all, Promethium have done well with Welcome to the Institution. It’s an album that I will be listening to for a long while after putting the full-stop on the end of this sentence.
Devil-Horn rating (Out of Five) \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/