Now HERE’S a veteran band that most people aren’t going to have heard of!
OK, for the benefit of…well, pretty much everyone, Ontario’s Sarasin formed in 1983, released an EP titled Lay Down Your Guns in 1987 and then, as far as I can tell, took until 2007 to release an album of note, titled The Last Word (I’ve read that the band have released albums before their 2007 one and just don’t have plans to re-release them, but I haven’t been able to find out how many albums this includes, so I’m stuck with the limited information I have on them). This record, and their 2008 follow up Daggers – Lust – Disgust, was released under the name Sarasin AD due to there being another band in Europe called Sarasin (I can’t find details on this band), but it’s taken the band until last year to record their next album, which is a self-titled release. They’ve generally been an independent band, hence the difficulty in finding information about them, so this record being released on Pure Steel Records means that this is probably the biggest the band have been in their whole career.
Still, credit to the band for their refusal to give up, as, from what I’ve been able to find, they’ve NEVER had a hiatus or broken up in their whole career. I don’t usually bring up Anvil, but I seriously think that their career pretty much is like that of Anvil’s, right down to the region of Canada they’re from (they’re both from Ontario, although Anvil is from Toronto while Sarasin is from Hamilton…which, if Google Maps is right, are about 70 kilometers away from each other, or about the distance from Newcastle to Middlesbrough for North East readers). The only major difference between them is that Anvil have had a major career revival thanks to Anvil! The Story of Anvil (which was actually a pretty good watch, if bearing such a close resemblance to what you’d expect from This Is Spinal Tap if it wasn’t trying to be a comedy that I still can’t believe the resemblances weren’t deliberate!) while Sarasin haven’t.
I honestly want to say that this record is truly the mark of an independent band who are finally reaping what they have sown…but I can’t say I’m that impressed with Saradin, if I’m being completely honest. It’s not awful at all, but I expected a heck of a lot more than what I got on this record.
Let’s start with the positives, because there are a few of them here: vocalist Michael Wilson is actually not bad! I personally have to disagree with the press release that labels him as sounding like Ozzy Osbourne (although I do spot that elements of his voice are similar to those of Ozzy’s, as he has a very unique tone to his voice), as I felt that his voice seemed more in the vein of Symphony X’s Russell Allen than Ozzy’s. However, his vocal range is actually fairly good and, while he does seem a bit uncomfortable with some of the non-falsetto higher notes on a few songs, he doesn’t do a bad job overall.
I also have to give the band credit for sticking to old school production values and not falling victim to the loudness war trend: this record is actually fairly quietly mastered and the mix is pretty good overall! Seriously, props to everyone who was involved in the production for this album, as you did a great job!
Unfortunately, that’s where the praise has to end.
The problems come from the rest of the band’s performances and the songwriting. Now, I’ll be fair, nobody in the band ruins the record, but the overall level of technical skill on display on the record is genuinely to the level that you could replace every musician in between every song and nobody would notice the difference. Some of this could be the fault of the material, admittedly, so I won’t be too harsh here, but, if the material on this record is the extent of everyone’s technical abilities, then I have to say that I’ve heard punk bands with more technical skill than Saradin have, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
The other problem is the songwriting. I’m just going to come out and say this: the material on this record is shockingly poor. There’s so little technical skill involved in them that I wouldn’t be surprised if they could be replicated by someone starting out on their instruments, which is REALLY not the level a veteran band should be operating at, the choruses of most of the songs completely fail to do anything that makes me particularly interested in singing along to them (not even the admittedly somewhat fun ‘The Hammer’, which amounts to just repeating “Bring the hammer down”) and the overall memorability of the record is about on par with Ben Stein talking about paint drying. And, again, I must stress, this is a band who have been around for 30 years and have other albums out there somewhere, not an amateur band who have just released their first record! This is a professional band who have released this album, but I genuinely think it might be the worst album I’ve ever heard, not because it was so bad that I had a knee jerk reaction to hating it, but because it offers so little worth hearing on it and is so lacking in memorability that I legitimately have no idea how anyone could listen to this record and say “Yeah, I’d love to hear more of this!”
Ultimately, while this isn’t a record that I hate, I just can’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a die hard Sarasin fan already. It’s just so generally underwhelming on so many levels that I can’t see most people having any interest in this record. As an introduction to the band, it fails to grab my interest in any way and doesn’t give me any desire to listen to any more of their stuff. As an album in and of itself, it doesn’t provide any worthwhile material that I have any real interest in hearing again in the future. As a record by a veteran band, it’s shocking how little of substance it has on it and brings into mind the valid question of whether the band has more become a veteran band through a refusal to give up than anything else (which, admittedly, is admirable in itself if it is true). I won’t say avoid this record, since Sarasin fans will almost certainly enjoy this record and I would still encourage people who want to check the band out to do so, but I will say this: I had no expectations for this record going into it beyond “it’ll pass the time in an enjoyable manner” and I still feel like it failed to reach those standards. This isn’t me having gone into the record expecting to be blown away by technical wizardry that would make Dream Theater look like Busted and songwriting that is absolute perfection: this is me expecting something passable at minimum and still feeling let down.
You may draw your own conclusions from that…
Saradin will be released on the 26th of February by Pure Steel Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.