Maple Cross - Heimo
Verikauha Records
Groove Thrash Metal
10 songs (43'45)
Release year: 2007
Reviewed by Crims

Maple Cross is a Finnish band who has been around since the late 80’s. They have released only 3 full-lengths with fairly large gaps between releases. Though vocalist Marco R. Jarkka has been in the band since the second demo in '89 no original members remain and the line-ups have changed quite a bit from CD to CD with Jarkka being the only mainstay. This release is entitled Heimo, which is the name of Jarkka’s Grandfather and thus all the lyrics are based on Heimo’s experiences fighting in World War II. This is a novel idea for a concept release but the question is how does the music hold up to the lofty concept?

To describe Maple Cross as one genre would be misleading. The band incorporates elements of Thrash (mostly in the vein of old Metallica, early Anthrax, and even Finland's own Stone, who were essentially the Finnish Metallica) mixed with a Dismember/Entombed riff tone and style, and drumming style. This goes hand in hand with elements of Stoner/Doom Metal and Melodic Death. Certain songs focus on one style more than another while others are a mish-mash. A good example is District Of Hate which has a strong early Entombed vibe both with the tempo and riffs, but the pre-chorus has a Stoner Metal riff before going into more of a traditional Thrash chorus. Of course, mixed with all of this in almost every song is deliberately mid-paced melodic lead in the vein of early Melodic Death Metal (certain riffs are echoes of this as well). Though not found in every song a solo and melodic theme leads are often used; and are used even over top of vocals. Also, slowed down Stoner/Doom Metal riffs appear with harmonized chord progression and slow lead build-up. This is usually found just in spurts but was also a nice addition when used.

Much like the riffs and leads the vocal style changes often. Every thing from gruff Stoner Metal clean vocals are found along with more of an early Melodic Death growl- and more melodic and raspy Thrash vocals as well (similiar to bands like Nuclear Assault and various Crossover bands from the late 80's to early 90's). It should be noted that by in large certain songs will focus on a specific theme or vocal style as opposed to being chaotic and progressive by switching between them (though this does happen on a few occasions, it is the exception rather than the norm). Many of the melodies and more Stoner Metal based stuff is fairly simplistic in nature and thus instantly catchy and memorable. An example is a song like 24 hours which follows the most basic of song progression without pushing any boundaries. On it’s own it’s fairly generic and if not for a poppy catchy chorus would be instantly forgettable but when used next to the rest of the songs of the CD (which tend to change mood and themes based on the tone of the lyrics) it thus becomes a little less generic.

When incorporating various distinct vocal and riff styles into the music it’s hard for most bands to keep each style consistently of the same quality and that is this releases downfall. I really like the throwback raspy Thrash vocals and the Stoner Metal style but the harsher versions of the vocals (with the exception of some well-placed deep Death Metal growls near the end of the track listing) were not nearly as effective especially when certain songs revolve around the harsh style almost entirely. The same goes for the riffs—the Thrash versions and Entombed/Dismember stuff is top-notch worship but the modern Stoner riffs seem out of place and result is certain songs losing their immediacy and aggression built up from the more Thrash oriented stuff. The only time I found the Stoner stuff effective was when the entire song or section was based around it like on 24 Hours and Smell Of Fear (albiet just on the verse which echoes of a slower version of Ride by Cathedral) instead of quick spurts as pre-choruses or groove breaks. I should mention that many choruses, as best demonstrated on Smell Of Fear feature throw-back Thrash choruses with gang shouts that bring to memory early Anthrax and Overkill and just about every crossover band in the history of music. By in large the production is done in a classic Swedish Death Metal style and is especially evident during the heavier riffs but becomes less noticeable during the non-Entombed influenced sections, which even then tend to be mostly Thrash based. The drumming features very little double bass but galloping rhythms are common-place and when the double bass is used (regardless of the speed) its impact is all the more powerful.

When songs work for Maple Cross they work very well. The meld of styles that typically don’t get melded is an interesting proposition but the choice to avoid many abrupt styles changes makes the CD instantly memorable. My issues with the release are the harsh vocals, which while not bad, aren’t nearly as effective as the gruff/clean stuff. Also, not every style change is effective with the aforementioned Stoner Metal spurts being mostly ill-advised with some of the Swedish Death Metal style becoming somewhat repetitive do to similar tempos over these sections from song to song. The lead guitar work is also entirely melodic and catchy with very little shredding and the result may be too “poppy” in nature but contrasts well with the rest of the music. I should lastly note that the individual aspects of the band (as is the usually the case with such bands who meld established styles) are pure worship material without adding any new elements or envelope pushing, but this is mostly forgivable due to varied influences present in the band.

More concise song writing and a lesser emphasis on the modern Stoner Metal influences with more of an emphasis on the classic Stoner/Doom influences will really help enhance the songs. Also, certain elements which work really well like the throw back gang shouts on the choruses and early In Flames styled lead work should be used even more because they completely disappear from some tracks. Definitely worth your time to check out this release if you like the various bands and styles mentioned in this review and it would likely be prudent to keep an eye on and ear open for this band and hopefully there isn’t such a large gap between releases again.

Killing Songs :
Battle of Joyhill pt.2 - Last Straw, District of Hate, Smell of Fear, Seven Miles of Hell
Crims quoted 76 / 100
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