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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Self-released ‘Evilution’ lacks intelligent design

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

If you had told me yesterday that I would be writing an article about First Born for this week’s paper, I wouldn’t have argued with you. I wouldn’t have scoffed and I wouldn’t even have said you were crazy.

I would have simply asked, “What on earth is First Born?”

I was introduced to the music of First Born at around 9 o’clock last night as I walked through the Shapiro Campus Center. Sitting on the newspaper box were three or four copies of the same CD, shrink-wrapped in plastic and scattered among the campus publications. Below the band’s name was the title, “Evilution,” and three skulls: one Australopithecan, one Homo sapien, and one distorted and alien. I picked up a copy and checked the back; the copyright was issued to First Born Sons Music, so it was clearly self-published.

Deciding they must have been left as a sort of guerrilla marketing, I took one home and quickly resolved to write a review—I had no other article ideas, and I think the group should be rewarded for providing free merchandise and catching my attention. My hopes, however, weren’t high. Every element of the packaging recalled the laughable death metal albums that my brothers used to torture me, from the tacky pun of the title, to the ghostly inside cover, to the gruesome song titles (“Repeater of Slaughter,” “Feed the Insane”).

Searching for more information about the band proved difficult; their official website has an expired domain, and I was unwilling to wade through the hundreds of bands on Myspace whose names are similar to “First Born.”

What I did find, however, proved heartening. They list their influences as speed metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and prog metal bands like Fates Warning, groups that are much closer to my musical tastes. While I’m definitely no metal head, I do enjoy some metal music, and I think heavily-distorted guitars and double-bass drums can be fascinating additions to a band’s sonic palate. As with all music, however, the meat and potatoes of successful metal music is melodic creativity, and some bands foreswear that in favor of empty shredding and cartoonish posing.

Even better, the few reviews that I could find on comprehensive metal websites praised “Evilution,” dispelling my fears that this was a completely amateur effort. First Born has played together for 20 years, and they must have picked up a few tricks in that time. Oddly, the band is based in Tampa Bay, Fla., and the reader’s guess as to how and why their album ended up in the SCC is as good as mine.

The first song, “Dimensional Traveler in Time,” opens with a slow instrumental build-up, which caught me from the beginning and exceeded my expectations. The sound quality is pristine; in this day and age, a self-produced album doesn’t imply that the band doesn’t know what it’s doing.

By the end of the song, however, my enthusiasm was tempered; the band just didn’t offer me anything I hadn’t heard before. Where First Born’s sound does resemble the aforementioned groups, the differences just highlight the reasons why it hasn’t found greater success. They lack the instrumental acumen that speed metal requires, making their songs too sluggish and their tempos too uniform. Their vocalist wants to sing like Bruce Dickinson but he doesn’t have the pipes for it.

As the album passed the half-way point, I was more than ready for it to end. The songs all blend together in a mass of professional but uninspired riffing and generic science-fiction lyrics. “F.O.D.,” the third-to-last track, tells a slightly different story: The singer complains about his girlfriend, who piles him with demands while all he wants to do is play music. The fresh subject matter breaks the monotony and “Evilution” makes a turn for the better from that point forward. “Nibiru (The Destroyer)” takes its cue from the monolithic epics of Black Sabbath and “Demons Gate” is a delightfully over-the-top closer with the catchiest riffs of the album.

All told, it adds up to a very solid third of an album and makes me want to give the rest another chance. Maybe I’m simply not enough of a metal fan to appreciate its charms; if you are, I advise you to run down to the campus center and grab a copy before they’re all gone. I still think, however, that the broader music community will find little to enjoy in “Evilution.”