Sunday, December 8, 2013

Album Review: Leeja Stark's "House of Eyes" Is Music To All Types of Metal Ears

Fresh off a successful launch of her video for "Supernatural," independent metal vocalist Leeja Stark released her debut EP, House of Eyes, on December 1.

The album gets rolling with heavy guitar riffery and harmony licks in the intro to "Supernatural."  However, listeners don't have much of a chance to get comfortable before Stark surprises them with a vocal twist rarely encountered when there are 7-string guitars and 5-string basses involved.

Where one might expect either female growling a la In This Moment's Maria Brink or the operatic wailing of Evanescence's Amy Lee, Stark's voice is  more reminiscent of pop singers - specifically Britney Spears in parts.  But don't react to that as if it's a bad thing - the combination actually works quite well and doesn't diminish the metallic power of the music.  And as this opening track proceeds into its melodic chorus, it is clear that Stark also possesses more songwriting chops than the typical underground technical metal band.  Rounding out the unique vocalizations on this song is Stark's inclusion of an exorcism chant over the bridge.  If there was a song to set the stage for something that is going to be pleasantly familiar yet refreshingly different, "Supernatural" is that song.

"Story of Me" follows with a more symphonic feel with its layered instrumentation.  Unfortunately, the busy-ness of the music steps on the vocals a bit in the mix.  However, a Randy Rhoads inspired guitar solo more than makes up for that little engineering faux pas.

The beat of middle track, "Afterglow," is definitely the coolest on the album.  Its forceful drive engages the listener and draws attention to some emotional lyrical content:  "Another year is gone/When are we moving on?/Can't take it anymore/But can't walk out the door/Wish I could stay away/Forget the love we make/Erase your sweet embrace/And let my heart escape/But like a drug I fiend/For what you're offering."  The need-to-escape-an-abusive-relationship theme is developed further in "Novocaine," which metaphorically seeks relief from the pain of a love gone wrong.

Though Stark's vocal style appears to be deeply rooted in pop as evident throughout House of Eyes, one shouldn't allow that fact to obscure her capabilities.  In fact, she saves her best for last on "Impossible Things."  The closing track ends quite interestingly with her high-range singing - arguably her strongest of the album - set against a synthesized choir finale.

It is not uncommon to hear old-school metalheads lament the proliferation of "cookie monster vocals" in the most recent additions to the genre's body of work.  Leeja Stark's brave approach to topping off modern metal tunes with pop-ish, growl-free vocals is perhaps just what's necessary to unite all metal fans, both long-timers and newbies. 

# of Facebook page "Likes" for Leeja Stark at the time of this writing:  306.

Helping Hands Rock Reviews prides itself on discovering great bands just before they break.  We record the number of Facebook Likes to watch our favorite artists grow and to track how far we are ahead of the curve.