Raze – Pyrography


You don’t find many grunge revival artists that evolve into a metal band. The pejorative term for the former is post-grunge. Some people in America lampoon it as “butt rock”, as in the mid-west radio stations that play nothing but rock. From these beginnings, grew the seed of Raze, nurtured on Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, and then Alter Bridge. You wouldn’t guess that England is their home. Neither would you expect something trapped in a formula to be so exhilarating. By any objective measure, Pyrography is rock music with a capital R. It’s also a deliberate pivot towards a heavy metal audience that like their riffs crunchy and their choruses edgy and anthemic.

The evolution of Raze from a competent post-grunge pastiche to a modern metal entity is remarkable. Vocalist, Louis Dunham, can take some credit for this. He perfected the husky but contemplative rock voice years ago. Now, he extends his register towards the occasional harsh deathcore phrasings that would not be out of place on a Lorna Shore record. Opener, ‘Maple’, is already a staple of their live set and a genuine crowd pleaser. Ride cymbal accents and clean guitar-pickings give way to melodic distortions of sharp intent. The first verse is predictable but powerful. Listen how the bridge to the chorus switches to a ferocious rasp amid a crunchy assault of circular riff patterns. Dunham’s voice lies somewhere between Maynard James Keenan and Daniel Johns (Silverchair), yet it mutates into a Phil Bozeman (Whitechapel) malevolence at just the right moment. You can applaud the good cop/bad cop technique as an effective chorus until you realise this is only the pre-chorus. Do you think Raze wasted the last few years listening to their Alter Bridge records without learning something?

‘Better Off Alone’ and ‘Roachman’ remind you that grunge used to be heavy. The former subsists on a Jerry Cantrell lick with the finesse of Dream Theater. You’ll need to rub your eyes when you hear the opening guitar sequence to the latter. When was the last time you heard a Nirvana riff to warm you up? Both compositions second-guess you. The chorus is where you expect to find the bridge in ‘Better Off Alone’. Working in an extended middle eight section of tom drums and resonant guitars into the latter gives it a prog metal vibe. Here is a band that understand the importance of dynamic shifts in their music.

Dunham’s ability to deliver a transition from hoarse baritone to harsh guttural could be the key to Raze’s wider appeal. So, why does he do it so sparingly? The heroic uplift in the chorus to the title track will remain in your head after one listen, but it’s clear that the two guitarists saw an opportunity to expand their chops on this song. And they do it in style. You can hear the velocity of the plectrums scrape each string in rapid alternate motion during the Van Halen-esque lead play. ‘W.B.C’ aims to ensnare melody in a claustrophobic net of chunky metallic hooks. ‘C. eixgua’ looks towards the first Rage Against the Machine album for fretboard inspiration. Seldom do Raze step out of the 1990s for their stylings. Your instinct is to exhale like you do after a sip of hot Bovril. Guitar riffs as colossal as these belong on a King’s X record.

The members of Raze grew up on the rock music that defined the 1990s. Sometimes, this presents the conundrum of gifted musicians imitating their ideal of a rock star. They have the chops and the discipline to keep their songs below five minutes, despite the obvious prog metal influences running through their brains. ‘Mellow//Breeze’ is the type of song a major label band would write for a wider radio crossover. But this is 2023 – not 1993. Dare we say it? Some of these songs would benefit from longer extensions. The magnificent guitar trade-off during the middle eight of ‘…Again?’ is more gratifying than a date with a supermodel. Rapid triad shapes and orgasmic pitch bends work through the major scales like crows descending on corn fields.

Raze started in a safe paradigm at the beginning of their career, and they’re not free of this entirely, but closing track, ‘Blue-Sky Vengeance’, might be an indication of where they go next. Inserting a fretless bass solo into this tense mix of grinding Tool riffs and ending it in the throes of a demonic roar is how you disqualify your song from a modern rock playlist on Spotify. You can imagine Pain of Salvation producing something like this on their next record.

Hard rock is often synonymous with dad rock, but Raze show that it can still bare its teeth and drag you into its embrace with the claws of a panther. The metal guitar techniques, tenacious vocals, and prog textures ensure that Pyrography will find traction in the places where the post-grunge overspill can only hope to be.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 28/07/2023

Record Label: One Eyed Toad Records

Standout tracks: Maple, …Again?, Blue-Sky Vengeance

Suggested Further Listening: King’s X – Dogman (1994), Detritus – Myths (2021), Buried on Sunday – Heart of Gold (2022)