Intense - _As Our Army Grows_
(Napalm Records, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (4.5 out of 10)
You know why bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden and AC/DC are so revered by metal fans? It's not merely that they're "keeping it real" and sticking to a style of music which, in all of the above instances, they've helped to create and nurture; there are plenty of bands milking the nostalgia circuit, but these bands retain a soft spot in our hearts because (a brief lull here and there aside) they continue to put out artistically relevant material.

And then you have bands like Intense: earnest and technically proficient, but with absolutely no desire to accomplish much more than just flying the flag for a style of music they grew up listening to. As critics who are inundated with a copious effluvium of all too similar material, we may sometimes oversimplify and give the impression that an album is worthless if it's not in some way pushing the music forward. On the opposing front, I don't think the average music fan perceives a band's worth through any sort of arch-analysis of historical aesthetics, but simply whether the music on hand, taken on its own terms, moves or inspires them in any way. For my part, I tend to agree. I'll always be on the lookout for brand new sounds, but there's something undeniably comforting about albums that seem to stand outside of time as chronologically disconnected masterpieces.

But the songs have to be there; that's the bottom fucking line. With many forms of extreme metal, a band can get by on energy and ambience, but with more antiquated styles of the genre I think you have to get back to the concept of melody -- and melody has always been dependent on how memorable (or "catchy") the material is. Melody is to this day the most prized of musical accomplishments across all genres, due to no lesser reason than the vacuous disposability of its nature. Like a classic comedy routine, once a particular melodic passage has been popularized and exploited in all its minute variations, it's done for; finished. New melodies are constantly required to keep the field from growing fallow, much like the seasonal overturning of the topsoil.

Which is where Intense come up alarmingly short. _As Our Army Grows_ is played to near perfection instrumentally and well produced by Threshold's Karl Groom, but Sean Hetherington is a pretty tepid frontman and, most importantly, the songs just aren't there. In the course of reviewing the album I've given it substantially more spins than it actually warrants, and there just isn't a single song on the entire album that isn't rehashed or warmed over.

Furthermore, in a lame attempt at distancing themselves from their anachronistic 1980s forebears, they cite Nevermore and Iced Earth as their two primary influences. Big mistake. Those two bands are probably the great, shining examples of how and why power metal remains a viable genre, yet Intense take the innovations of those influences and drag them kicking and screaming back into the cut-out bins of 1985. There are very few correlations between Intense and the bands they cite as an influence aside from the beefed up, modern production values and a tangential, wannabe Matt Barlow homage in Hetherington's vocals. The songs themselves feature none of the grit or progressive leanings of Nevermore, let alone the memorable hooks and adventurous songwriting of Iced Earth. _As Our Army Grows_ is at heart a first string band settling to be derivative of third string bands a good three generations back. Thanks anyway.


(article published 5/4/2007)

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