With new bands, there isn’t often much of a discrepancy between influence and imitation. The building blocks of a band’s sound tends to consist of large similarities with much larger acts that usually fade over time when the band finds their own sound. If not, they often find themselves at the mercy of the critic’s sharp tongue, chastised as an unoriginal prospect. Cane Hill seem to be the exception to this rule – last year’s self-titled debut EP showed major promise by cribbing heavily from the Slipknot and Korn schools of thought, but on their first full-length Smile, that same jagged nu-metal slam is still as prominent on their sleeves. The reason they get a pass is because, compared to most of the metal scene that they’re occupants of, their darker, more twisted take on the genre is exactly what’s needed to break up the waves of tame homogeneity in a way that feels ferocious and dangerous. Basically, Smile shows its teeth.
Where the aforementioned comparisons really get fleshed out are in Smile‘s lyrical intent, and its primary desire to provoke. Thematically, this is an album exploring the human race’s voyeuristic obsession with such ‘taboo’ subjects as sex and religion, concepts present in everyday life but skirted around at all times. Naturally such themes are bound to present some rather NSFW content (honestly, never listen to Cream Pie without headphones) but Cane Hill find ways to give them impact beyond shock value. Part of this is thanks to frontman Elijah Witt, who contorts his vocals into different forms in order to match the theme and style of the song. As much as it can be viewed as a ‘nu-metal jukebox’ style of performing – BDSM anthem True Love clearly goes for a creaky, Marilyn Manson-esque vibe to fit its exploration of tantric darkness, and the unfettered rage and misanthropy of Fountain Of Youth has more than a few shades of Slipknot – it’s a profoundly interesting direction to go in. Witt’s efforts never feel phoned in, and especially for a nu-metal album, there’s a great deal of diversity on offer.
The band shoot a lot straighter musically, following a similar route of jagged, rusted nu-metal as – you guessed it – Slipknot and Korn, and while they do bite hard on the style of these bands (You’re So Wonderful is essentially Slipknot’s Vermilion by any other name), they at least have presence. There’s no doubting that the likes of (The New) Jesus and especially the eerie, electro-industrial St. Veronica hit a lot harder than the majority of modern metal bands, so much so that it’s easy to ignore the obvious reference points. It also helps that they can pull this sort of thing off unequivocally. As strong as the tracks where they do try to experiment are – the steel-tipped gutter-blues of closer Strange Candy especially – there’s a certain adeptness at nu-metal that the band have got in their grasp. That might sound like the mother of all backhanded compliments, but Smile manages to avoid the chaff and only channels the genre’s top tier with frequently fantastic results.
In reality, it’s a shock that Cane Hill have been given the level of mainstream critical push that they have, given how they’re completely at odds with everything that modern metal stands for. Smile actually feels like a metal album for a start – it’s heavier and darker than the majority of the genre’s current big players – but for as much of a throwback as it is, it’s the brusque shot in the arm that the genre needs, and essentially throws down the gauntlet for everyone else to up their games. Ultimately, where Smile could’ve been Cane Hill’s tentative first steps into ‘big deal’ status, they’ve instead gone for broke and stuck the landing. If this represents the more raw, real direction mainstream metal will be taking, having Cane Hill spearheading the charge is hardly a bad thing.
For fans of: Slipknot, Korn, Marilyn Manson
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Smile’ by Cane Hill is released on 15th July on Rise Records.