Personnel: Billy Keeton (vocals); Greg Tribbett (guitar); Matt McDonough (drums); Perry Stern (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Jay Baumgardner.
Recording information: Studio Samadhi (08/2014-01/2015); The Porch Studio, Orlando, Florida (08/2014-01/2015).
Photographers: Tracy Ketcher; Adam Neal Gonzalez.
Natural Causes marks the debut of a power quartet whose members include guitarist Greg Tribbett (Mudvayne/Hellyeah), drummer Matthew McDonough (Mudvayne), bassist Perry Stern, and former Skrape frontman Billy Keeton. Given the collective pedigree on offer -- turn-of-the-century alternative, second-school nu-metal Pantera worship, etc. -- it may be easy to discern musical sources, but when it comes to the assembly of this album, things are a bit more cagey. Tribbett calls this unit a progressive hard rock band, which is intriguing. Opener "Headshot," a pre-release single, welds that sound to more extreme modern music with nasty screaming vocals, chugging metal riffs, intermittent galloping grooves, and syncopated refrains. "For All We Know" contains a mercurial Eastern modalism, equal parts Drowning Pool and delirium-inducing Alice in Chains. Unfortunately, we arrive at the album's most bone-headed track, "LYLAB" ("Love You Like a Bitch"), which is as adolescent musically as it is lyrically and derails the established momentum. Second single "The Calling" does manage to get things back on track with its slower pace, hypnotic guitar and bassline, and strident, hard rock drumming. It is one of the set's best tunes. The storm and crunch of "Disguise Your Devils" rumbles along in midtempo, but the hook is infectious. "Burn the Sky" is a bit faster, more consciously on the metal tip, its riff more attractive than its melody. "Darken the Rainbow" takes the metal cue further -- it's the most extreme cut here. Just before an abstract sonic outro that is pointless but inoffensive (and closes the record with a yawn), we get "Frozen Scars," the longest and most sophisticated thing here. It's simultaneously dreamy and dark as it combines a nearly hummable melody with punishing, nearly crushing heaviness (especially in the drum breakdowns). Audiotopsy's Natural Causes may not be perfect, but it is interesting. With solid songwriting and arranging, in its best moments it extends the parameters of extreme music, prog metal, and hard rock to a bleeding edge on the musical horizon. ~ Thom Jurek