Album Review: ToxicRose – ‘Total Tranquility’

…I have to be honest, I was not expecting to be finding myself covering ToxicRose at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love their song “A Song for the Weak”, but, after hearing about their debut due to be coming out soon for a good while and getting no further information, I’d kind of written off their debut as being stuck in limbo and gotten on with other things. Clearly, limbo disagreed with me…

In my defence, the last time I heard about a record coming soon for a long time on end, I was following Wintersun…yeah, can you blame me for thinking like that, with that knowledge in mind?

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t busy looking up Wintersun and are just wanting me to just get on with the review already, ToxicRose are a Swedish glam metal band that formed in 2010. They’ve not been an especially prolific band in that time, having released an EP in 2012 (titled Toxicrose), a single in 2013 (titled Don’t Hide in the Dark) and comprising of the songs ‘Don’t Hide in the Dark’ and ‘I Drown in Red’ and…erm, up until this album was announced, that was it. I’m not entirely sure why the band have taken so long to release new material, if I’m honest, but that’s a discussion for another time. The musicians in the band comprise two ex-members of the band Lipstixx ‘n’ Bullets (don’t you just love glam metal band names?), vocalist Andy Lipstixx and drummer Michael Sweet (no, not the guy from Stryper: this Michael Sweet is the brother of Crashdiet guitarist Martin Sweet), the ex-bassist of the band Sexydeath, Goran Imperator and the guitarist of Gemini Five, Tom Wouda.

So, after three years since their last release of material, how does ToxicRose sound on their debut album, Total Tranquility? Well…it shows a band with room for development, but who have the potential to be one of the most unique glam metal bands of the 2010s.

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The band’s sound is genuinely one that doesn’t sound like any other glam metal band I can think of. The best way I can describe it is to think of stereotypical glam metal, then imagine it being written by someone with depression who wanted to let that shine through his music. It’s not the best analogy, I’ll admit, but it’s about the best way I can put it: there’s a much darker vibe here than you’ll find in most glam metal and the lyrics are much less cheerful than you might expect to find from the band’s genre. While this isn’t entirely new in and of itself (fans of sleaze metal will be wondering what is so unique about this description), it’s hard to say that ToxicRose fit into the sleaze metal side of the genre either, as, while there’s certainly elements of it to their sound, they don’t completely fit into the typical mold of a sleaze metal band at the same time. I’d personally prefer to label them as “dark glam”, if I’m honest: it might seem like nitpicking and unnecessary to some people, but there’s definitely a difference between ToxicRose and most sleaze metal bands which I feel makes the sleaze metal tag difficult to justify at best.

The songwriting, unfortunately, lets the band down a bit. Now, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong about the songs on a songwriting level: the songs follow typical songwriting structures, but that’s not entirely unusual when it comes to glam metal as a whole, so that’s not a big issue. The problem is that the songs mostly don’t ascend beyond being fun listens. Some nice ideas are certainly tried out (‘Because of You’ being a power ballad that is mostly built upon a piano is an unexpected move and the final track on the album being over 8 minutes long is a rather unusual touch for glam standards) and you can tell that the band has put effort into the songs, but the final result just doesn’t really hit the mark as much as they should do, as the songs aren’t especially catchy (which, for glam, is a pretty bad sign!). That’s not to say the songs lack merits entirely, though: the performance aspect of the songs shows a surprisingly good amount of technicality (though nothing that prog fans will be too blown away by) that arguably pushes the band closer to traditional heavy metal than glam metal and, considering this is the band’s debut album, it’s certainly commendable that the band have managed to nail down their sound so well at this fairly early point in their career. This is certainly something I can see people liking and, to be fair, the songs DO improve upon repeated listens, but it just feels like it’s lacking something to really push it to the next level for me.

The instrumental performances on the record are actually above what might be expected for a typical glam metal band! Comparing this record to ‘A Song for the Weak’, you can really tell that the band have stepped up their game on the performance front in the last few years (and they weren’t exactly lacking in skills to start with). Wouda’s guitar playing is pretty solid, with him demonstrating some good playing in both the lead and rhythm guitar positions and showing some surprisingly good abilities to change the tempo of his playing at the drop of a hat (see ‘Killing The Romance’, where, over the course of the song, he goes from playing at a generally slow speed with acoustic moments to a speed dangerously close to thrash metal levels and quite a few different tempos in between). Sweet’s drumming is similarly quite solid, with some strong drumming that shows off a variety of tempos. He doesn’t show off any especially unconventional drumming for rock and metal standards, but he does a fairly strong job across the record. Imperator’s bass isn’t really that interesting, if I’m honest, but I can’t say he is a bad bassist, just that he isn’t really given a lot to work with.

Lipstixx’s vocals…I’m not going to lie, the vocals are going to be an acquired taste. His main voice is fine enough (he has a glam-meets-punk style which is faintly reminiscent of Reckless Love’s Oliver Hermann during his Crashdiet days), despite some occasional pitching issues that grate on me (his quieter singing at the end of ‘Killing the Romance’ needs a bit of work in that regard), but his falsetto screams are going to divide listeners, as his style is to go for some insanely high notes (he might actually be able to hit notes that Rob Halford would struggle with now) and it doesn’t always seem like he’s quite hit the notes properly. This isn’t a bad thing if done once or twice, but it happens quite a few times across most of the songs, making it hard to avoid the issue. You could argue that it fits with the band’s style, considering the darker nature of the band’s music compared to the rest of the genre (and hey, Sweet did this kind of thing back in the 70s, so it’s not like it’s an entirely new thing), but it still is an issue that is worth noting. Personally, I like his vocals, but I would be lying if I said that I couldn’t see people taking issue with his vocals.

The production is actually not too bad, with a very solid mixing job, the instruments sounding great (they certainly sound like they’ve been recorded properly and gone through the production without too many issues impacting upon the sound quality) and the mastering, despite probably being a bit louder than I would personally find necessary, working to enhance the music rather than hamper it. I think my only real criticism is that record sounds like a studio production, but that’s not really a major complaint overall. Overall, I think the production on this record deserves a fair bit of praise!

Ultimately, Total Tranquility, for all my complaints, is a solid record that only suffers from songwriting that doesn’t work as well as it should do (though still decent in its own right). While I don’t think I can give this a recommendation to anyone who isn’t a glam metal fan, fans of the genre should find this a rather interesting listen and it’s certainly distinct enough from the rest of the pack to say that more jaded fans of the genre wanting something a bit different should give this a shot. I’m hoping the band goes on to improve from here, but what they’ve got on display here shows they have the potential to do well even at this stage in their career.

Total Tranquility will be released on the 16th of May by City of Light Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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