Sound — 8
Chances are that if you're checking out Wearing Scars, it's for the formidable guitar skills of Andy James - but this band is so much more than that. Joining forces with vocalist and producer Chris Clancy (Mutiny Within), Daniel Woodyer on guitar, Craig Daws on bass and Lee Newell on drums, the band form a tight ensemble all topped off with excellent production skills from Clancy. There is a heavy metalcore influence present (Killswitch, BFMV, early Trivium) but the vocals feature no screaming, which makes for a pleasant distinction.
The album kicks off with the track "Become Numb" which opens the album with a dark, accented and phrygian-feeling riff which strays into an odd time 17/8 time signature. Some listeners may think there's a slight djent element there, but it doesn't last throughout the album. Vocalist Chris Clancy enters with a slightly gritty tone, which compliments the overall sound of the band. The song features a moody harmonic minor-sounding solo from Andy James.
The second track "Stand Alone" is one of my favourites. A more upbeat and up-tempo song than the opener, it features an empowering chorus that is fondly reminiscent of "Tribute to the Fallen" by Killswitch Engage. The song feels like a modern take on the metalcore bands from the past decade - fans of Andy James will know he has made many learn-to-play DVD's of these type of bands, so this is an understandable influence.
Track three is the radio-friendliest track and one of the singles, entitled "Butterfly." Vocalist Chris Clancy really lets his vocals shine here, offering an anthemic and uplifting chorus. Andy James completes the track with a solo his signature melodic shredding style, which is thankfully never abused on this album.
"Heart in Your Hands" offers something different by beginning with piano and a highly emotive vocal delivery from Clancy, who demonstrates his impressive dynamic range throughout the track.
"Waiting for the End" is one of the more aggressive tracks on the album, but it features an effective contrast in the emotive middle-eight section followed by what may be the most impressive guitar solo of the album (perhaps even one of Andy's best yet).
"I Could Never Say" is another empowering sing-along, but it doesn't feel quite as strong as the other songs.
"Gone Forever" is the one of the big ballads of the album, featuring more fantastic clean vocals and a sweeping chorus. The other instruments step back during the verses to allow the vocals the room to shine. It's definitely one of the most emotional tracks of the album, featuring fantastic performances all round. Despite the sad nature of the lyrics, the chorus is very uplifting and would encourage fans to sing along.
"A Last Goodbye" is perhaps less memorable than other tracks, but it is a solid track featuring an effective solo.
"Would You Lie" features an upbeat palm-muted riff that is simple yet carries the song forward to an effective chorus and bright solo.
The beginning of "Better" sounds a little similar to "Gone Forever," perhaps the same chord but it this is forgotten as the song progresses. An verse featuring emotive vocals and a heavy riff is sadly let down by the chorus, which feels somewhat bland- the drums are pretty much the kick drum on every beat.
"Wearing Scars" brings us to the track that shares its name with the band. A sombre verse builds to another anthemic chorus. The solo actually blends with the final chorus, harmonizing with the vocals in a highly effective manner.
"Letters" picks up the pace again with an upbeat verse and peaks with a blistering solo from Any James.
"Wounds" is the closing track of the album, and whereas it is a fine song in its own right it doesn't feel like a last dance before the album is over. Myself I would have chosen "Wearing Scars" to be the big finale.
I'm no expert on production and mixing, but I noticed no flaws or imbalances throughout my dozen or so listening sessions. Everything sounds just where it needs to be, and the production is tight and clear.
Lyrics — 8
Much of the lyrics across the album appear to address personal feelings and emotions, which sounds far cheesier in writing than it actually is. The lyrics compliment the melodies well, and function excellently as vocal hooks to draw in the listener. Many of the songs have the kind of choruses that I can easily see a crowd of fans singing along to at a live gig.
The lyrics excel at being relate-able- anyone who has gone through dark or distressing personal issues can relate to the lyrical matter, but the music is hard enough that it doesn't leave you feeling miserable afterwards. I feel like this is the kind of album that could help somebody through a breakup - the lyrics are emotive, but also empowering - examples as such "As we fall, we stand alone" - seems simple in text form, but the delivery by Clancy in "Stand Alone" has a strong sing-along feel to it. The sweeping ballad "Gone Forever" is perhaps the most emotional of the album, but strangely has an upbeat feeling which one may think wouldn't match the lyrics - but trust me, it works.
A criticism of mine would be the lyrics to "Butterly" - "Like a butterfly, we'll find our wings and then we'll fly so far away." It feels a little too cheesy for a heavy metal song, but we have to bear in mind that this is the most radio-friendly song of the album.
Overall the lyrics are intelligent and relate-able, and Chris Clancy feels like the ideal choice to deliver them to our ears. A point for improvement would be to write about a wider range of topics.
Overall Impression — 8
Chances are that if you're checking out Wearing Scars, it's for the formidable guitar skills of Andy James - but this band is so much more than that. Those who are here for the guitar riffs and solos will be pleasantly delighted, but it is respectable to note that Andy knows when to step back for the sake of the overall composition. Vocalist Chris Clancy is perhaps the star of the show, demonstrating impressive vocal range both in terms of pitch and dynamics.
Wearing Scars excel at writing anthemic choruses that audiences would love to sing along with, delivering emotive lyrics without becoming cliched. There are a few moments where the riffs have strayed a little close to the sound of metalcore bands such as Killswitch Engage and Bullet For My Valentine - again, this is understandable as Andy James has made many instructional DVDs based on these bands. A little more care may be wise when writing their follow-up album.
I love that this album is so easy to listen to. Certain bands may require me to be in an appropriate mood in order to enjoy them, but the debut from Wearing Scars is one where I can simply press play and enjoy. My personal highlights are the tracks "Stand Alone," "Wearing Scars" and "Gone Forever."
Points for improvement:
- Wider range of subject matter in lyrics
- Be mindful of personal style.