Riddle of Steel


/ascetic; 2003/



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When first discovering the packaging of this album, you could infer right away that this is a Dischord release. The artwork looks like Bluetip’s while the sleeve unfastens at the front like Red Medicine or The Argument by august Fugazi. S-Louis based Riddle of Steel’s debut full length does not particularly sound like Fugazi but they are undeniably influenced by bands that were influenced by Washington DC’s milestone and their fellow Jawbox. In fact, many songs on Python easily evoke late in the discography successful At The Drive-in. ‘Kissing on Secret’, ‘A Dime for the Curse Jar’ and ‘Time for the truth’ particularly point to Relationship of Command because not only the music tends to associate in the same way explosive passages with quiet ones whose arpeggios underlie tension but the vocals remind of At the Drive-in singer as well.

Riddle of Steel can easily be categorized in the math-rock format even if, regarding complexity, their song structures pale in comparison to American Heritage or Don Cab. They sing in this particular under-mixed way referred as ‘emo’ even if the two singers rather sing than declaim. Raw sound, intricate structures, melody and energy make up Riddle of Steel’s blend. The first two tracks ‘One inch deep’ and ‘Fire is a special Occasion’ are good samples that go straight to the point if you want to know what the band sounds like.

Despite its blatant technical prowess, Python remains easy to comprehend because as opposed to many a math rock band, the trio never favours technical show-off over melodies and often makes sure to treasure and maintain energy, be it in raw staccato parts or in melodic ones which are often very well-off for speedy arpeggios. However, they never suffuse their melodies with an indie feeling such as Faraquet, 31 Knots or Valina do. Their spirit apparently comes from hardcore. Quicksand’s shadow may spread its darkness in some listeners’ mind. Even though vocals are definitely not as vehement as Steve Albini’s, ‘Ass Kicker n°1’ can make one think of Shellac considering the staccato visceral riff and especially Elsner’s raw guitar sound but it later develops in a melodic way close to At The Drive-in.
Some technical passages even nod in the direction of metal. ‘The Gaping Jaw’s second introduction has a metal dimension which points to the likes of mighty Tool because of its technical aspect and makes the song one of the best in the album: this part reappears later on much to everyone’s surprise to create a melodic yet explosive purple passage. On the contrary ‘Double-Fister’ cliché metal-like verse lasts too long and ruins the remainder of the song. Finally, ‘Saturn Eats His Children’ is surprisingly close to Faith No More (circa The Real Thing) thanks to its chorus vocals reminiscent of Mike Patton.
This blending of staccato rawness, of quiet passages paving the way for blistering dense ones that come together thanks to their melody could make Riddle of Steel a great performer.


/sept 15th 2003/