Let’s face it, guys: power and speed metal can be pretty cheesy from time to time. Not all the time, of course, but sometimes it is. And that’s why I like it: because the ones that are (are) so endearingly cheesy that they wallow in their own cheese like a pig in fondue. You’ve got flashy guitars and drums flying around at the speed of sound, singers often reaching registers in pitch that border on being dangerous to themselves and others, and lyrics that can sometimes sound like they’re plucked straight from a Dungeons and Dragons game occuring in someone’s mother’s basement. But at the heart of it all lies genuinely great musicianship and songwriting skills, taking considerable finesse to pull off successfully. But upon listening to Chevalier’s newest release “Chapitre II”, I can’t say they’ve hit the mark.
Chevalier formed in Helsinki, Finland in 2016. Chapitre II, their third release after a prior EP and a split with Legionnaire, is the band’s return to the “comfort of their rehearsal space”. Tracked entirely within their rehearsal room, the band claims that this style of recording has given them a unique “reverb soaked sound” akin to some older NWOBHM bands. And whilst I can hear influences in the songwriting and performance styles to some of those bands, the final product just isn’t solid.
Just as described, the tracks are just drenched in reverb. The drums and the guitars are just caked in it, as if left to marinade in a tub of it for a week. This in turn just makes the mix sound messy, undefined and overall just inaudible. There are points where the drums are just eaten alive by the rest of the mix, which is a shame, because the actual performance is quite good. The drumming is tight and punchy, as it should be in a speed metal band. The guitar work is also fairly tight, but the direction of the riff writing is a bit boring and unoriginal. There are some reasonably interesting riffs and passages, but there were also a lot of repetitive or “generic” sounding riffs that were just so-so. They aren’t bad, but leaving a lot to be desired. The bass is probably the best element to this release, it’s interesting and tight, however it just sounds too far forward in the mix, which is a minor issue given the other elements that pull this release down.
The major letdown with this EP is the vocal work. The defining swathes of reverb are ever present, but to make matters worse there’s also been a slap-back delay added on top. It’s so invasive that the first word of a line is still heard three or four words later, and the end of a vocal line still lingers around into the next. It’s like this voice is bouncing around in your skull before it finally falls out your nose. It’s confusing, annoying, and just plain unlistenable. The performance isn’t particularly fantastic either. The high notes just sound weak, shrill and often out of place, and the backing vocals are even weaker again in some parts, sounding like the people performing them just don’t feel comfortable singing in the register they often are. Other significant issues are the phrasing and note choices. They just seem generic and boring at best, to downright annoying. There is little variation in pitch throughout the verses, and when a chorus finally comes around with the expectation of changing direction in melody, they turn out, again, to come off as rather boring. As well as that, the actual rhythmic phrasing just seems repetitive and lacking in interesting syncopation, and like the note choices lead to boring choruses. The first track “The Messenger” suffers from this the worst, featuring this shrill wailing of the hook “The Messenger” as a chorus after monotonous first verse It’s just low energy, obnoxious and, well, cheesy.
Cheesy speed metal is certainly not a bad thing, and can often lend itself to a band’s fun, lighthearted charm. But there is an art to being “good cheesy”, and it can be absolutely disastrous when it turns into “cringe cheesey”. There’s elements there in the concepts the band wants to convey that could have made this a cool, fun release. The problem is in production and execution it just didn’t work out. It sounds more like an amateur recording in a rehearsal studio of an upcoming local act that are still trying to find its’ legs. And that’s what this EP really is, in an objective sense. Within a few years they absolutely have the potential to do something really interesting and fun, but they just aren’t there yet.