Mary and the Black Lamb delivers strong debut
I first became acquainted with the musical stylings of Lindsay Matheson (more commonly dubbed Lindz Riot) back in 2004. While I was immediately impressed with her vocal ability, drive, and eagerness to absorb all that she could from her artistic predecessors, there was something (for lack of a better word) missing from her previous pop-punk project, Princess Riot.
I am not certain if it was her fellow bandmates, the choice in genre, the band's general “greenness” when it came to industry know-how, or perhaps even a combination of all three, but it was apparent to me, fairly early-on, as much as I wanted to award their efforts, that they simply didn't have what it takes to compete on a professional level in the music biz. In fact, many of their “executive decisions” in terms of marketing, and business, along with the band's general mentality, reminded me all too well of my own first experiences in the punkrock scene with my high school all-girl rock outfit, and that, anyone who knows my history can concur, is NOT a good thing.
Fast forward, however, to 2009, and Matheson's career path has quite obviously changed. This time backed by classically trained players producing a fusion of gothic synth, and straight-up rock, the appeal of Matheson's latest, Mary and the Black Lamb, undoubtedly dispels the assertion that second shots are always sloppy.
A little older, likely a little more jaded, even Matheson's lyrical content has grown tremendously in terms of its quality. As she explains, “I think we're an example of taking on the harsher side of our emotions, and turning them into something worthwhile.” With her musical evolution also came an image overhaul, and in my opinion, it was definitely for the better. While admittedly, I was skeptical as to whether her new direction in terms of sound would strike my fancy as I've always been fairly outward in terms of my distaste towards industrial-based music (something I've personally coined “noise pollution”), one-upping even their biggest influence, Evanescence, Mary and the Black Lamb have made me reconsider my bigotry towards said genre. With that said however, Marilyn Manson, to me, has been and always will be nothing more than a cheap (and less talented) rip-off of Alice Cooper. Sorry guys — the convincing can only go so far.
In terms of quibbles, I have a few, but lucky for the band, they are all minor in constitution. First off, songwriting-wise, the fade out on The Price is much too drawn out, and consequently, leaves the listener questioning whether or not they turned down the volume on their stereo. Secondly, the choruses on some of the album's faster titles including, Stay Away, could have greatly benefitted from the simple addition of some vocal harmonies. Thirdly (and importantly from a marketing perspective), I would have listed, Emily, as the opening track to this disc as it is clearly the most developed, and catchiest work on the entire album. Anyone who knows anything about demo solicitation is aware of the fact that you rarely get more than 30 secs of a given label rep's attention, and so, said 30 secs need to be used wisely. Fourthly (and this is really stretching here), I would have liked to have seen more band pix, along with the lyrics in the CD's booklet. And finally…the palm-muted guitars in the intro to Not the Girl harkened back to Matheson's history as a punk performer, and although this attempt in that genre was better than her previous, I'm still not a fan.
Characterized by slick production, slap-you-in-the-face guitars, well-chosen, but not overdone vocal effects, and even an impressive key change in the vein of traditional pop music, As the City Sleeps, is without a doubt a strong debut, and Mary and the Black Lamb's recent selection as guest performers at this year's Toronto's IndieWeek certainly serves as credence to that.
Strongest tracks: Emily, Departed, Gone and Silence