By Sam Graham
Scarlet Hollow from Ventura, Canada are a female-led progressive 4-piece who, following their successful EP in 2010 called Sanctuary, have spent a long time making this concept album What If Never Was; which is a badass title if you ask me.
The opener, called The Path, shows off the bands talent for technical playing and craftsmanship. Initially coming in heavy, and then backing up a step for the synth and vocals, both by Allison Vonbuelow. Allison’s voice has a lot of control and presence, but in this song sounds a little bit flat. It’s a little overpowered by the guitars (by Greg Olson), but the guitar work is good enough to not bring the song down. The prog element becomes abundant at the halfway mark as the song drops into an atmospheric synth, then guitar, then vocal-led piece. It’s actually quite tranquil.
Then the guitar solo comes! It busts straight in and keeps a solid pattern going on that suits the music behind it. Given my bias towards guitar solos, I’ll unsurprisingly say this was the best part of the song.
Apathy’s Child boasts better vocals than The Path, more interesting drum work (Diego Grom Meraviglie) and is all-round a better song. From the first few seconds I knew it would be. Opening with a short melody, Vonbuelow’s harsh vocals opposes the clean guitar and makes a great juxtaposition. This one is a slow number that has more of a dark atmosphere, so if it's feeling you’re looking for, this song has got it.
Thermal Winds is a rock song. Just listen to the intro. It’s ace! I was glad to hear that riff come back later on as a bridge as it’s easily the best part of the song. The verses are nice, with some clean guitar and the vocals having more long notes, showing some oomph behind them, but that riff was the selling point. There’s a point toward the end of the song where Olson decides to rip it up! His soloing style is a little bit like Alex Skolnick in the way that it suits the rest of the music and isn’t just gratuitous.
I really liked Around the Bend’s keyboard intro, but it was a little bit muddied by the guitar. If it was just the keyboard then it would have sounded a lot cooler. The guitar has its moment though in the chorus. After a while Around the Bend changes tact and almost becomes an instrumental section. It’s OK and while there is guitar and vocals in it, it’s the acoustic guitar underneath the electric that keeps my attention. It does go on for a bit too long as this track is eleven minutes long and this section is the majority of it. Thankfully the chorus comes back one last time which leads into a fade-out.
The Waiting opens with a bass hook (played by Jeff Mack) that’s a nice change. People rarely use the bass for much. It’s a tragedy really, considering how much more scope a good bassist can provide. The Waiting is definitely a good recovery from the lacklustre Around the Bend. It’s got less atmosphere and more punch. They rhythm guitar in the chorus and interlude is something special. I have to admit I did chuckle a bit of the drum roll just before the solo; very Hawaii Five-0. Ultimately that riff bookends this song and stands out as the coolest bit.
Vonbuelow’s impressive acoustic guitar skills are shown off in the short (well, short for prog) solo piece, Behind the Lines. Interesting to note that this tune features some of her best vocal work too. Soft and melodious, almost a ballad except without the inherent cheese that normally comes with them.
Out of some thunder comes the warm melody of All That Remains. Cool title. The best part of this song comes after the chorus, which features a good build-up, but the bridge after it is so out of the blue. I was expecting it to go back to the verse again, but nope. It’s very similar, but is covered over with electric guitar. A nice touch is how the thunder that started it off also ends the song, giving it that whole feeling.
As the Blade Falls opens strongly, with a lot of punch and guitar which carries on through the verse (which is a nice touch as a lot of the songs turn to clean and soft in the verses. It’s good to see a little deviation). This song actually reminds me of early Godsmack because while it’s heavy and simple, it has a certain delicacy to it that a lot of bands just can’t do.
The penultimate track, entitled 20.20 I’m assuming as in hindsight always being it, follows a very similar format to a lot of the songs on the album and as such, it doesn't really have much that stands out. Clean verses, distorted choruses and I'm sorry to say that this song was a little boring. I'm all for windy vocals, but they were a bit overdone at this point.
Nightfall Overture actually surprised me. The guitar, particularly the hook in the opening segment is fantastic! This whole album could have benefitted from more of that. It’s Iron Maiden-esque, and for a more obscure reference, a bit Dethklok. Even Vonbuelow has picked up a bit. She’s not windy and tired anymore, she’s alert and commanding. She wants to be heard on this song and she gets it. This song is a beast! It might be nearly eight minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it, and that’s what makes a good long song. Easily the best track on the album.
That brings What If Never Was to a close. All in all it was alright. It suffered from the mid-album pool quite a lot and there are a few times when I found myself thinking ‘this was just the same as the last song’, but it’s a concept album, so the weight is in the lyrics. The story the album tells is someone trying to deal with the after-effects of warfare. It’s a deep and popular topic in the world, so that’s worth some weight at least. While the album does have a lot negatives though, there are some gems. The musicians clearly know their stuff. Olson’s guitarwork is second to none throughout and Vonbuelow, while I’m not always a fan of her vocal style, there’s no doubt that she’s good at it. Very good in fact.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/