Review by Seth Wood
Hybrid Sheep, a five piece band from France, are about as metalcore as it gets. They remind me so much of that great era in metal history where bands like As I Lay Dying and Parkway Drive became extremely popular and were playing to sold out venues across the U.S. Like any term used to describe a musical genre, “metalcore” has become a bit of a confusing label. I generally use the term as a way to separate this sort of metal from “death metal,” which is much faster and more technical, “black metal,” “progressive metal,” “symphonic metal,” etc. Metalcore is very laden with breakdowns and harmonized guitar riffs popping out amongst constant palm-muted guitar chugging. This would certainly describe Hybrid Sheep’s sound. Free from the Clutches of Gods, the band’s first full-length release, is unrelenting and keeps a very forceful rhythm throughout. It is a solid metal album, and in cases where the listener is just looking for something to bang their head to, look no further— but for someone like me, who has spent so many years playing in metal bands, going to metal shows and reviewing metal albums, Hybrid Sheep’s first LP leaves much to be desired.
Anyone who has spent years listening to metal will have a hard time finding anything that differentiates Hybrid Sheep from other bands. The one innovative aspect of their music I can point to is the way that their bassist implements his instrument into the music. There are several times during the album where he breaks off from the rest of the band and plays a lead (the first instance of this comes a minute and fifteen seconds into the first track). It is a little irksome at first because when the bass leaves the rhythm, everything sort of becomes thin. Without the bass holding down the low end of the sound spectrum, the song loses a bit of its heaviness, or fullness. Still, I applaud the band for trying to do something different, and I found these parts of the album really interesting. If you take away the impressive bass work though, Hybrid Sheep sounds like many other bands.
Another negative trait of the album is that the transitions between parts can often be arbitrary, like the album started out as this giant conglomerate of parts and then the band chopped them up into 10 different sections to form an album. The songs are indistinct from one another, which is not a good trait for an album to have. No one wants to listen to the same musical idea for forty minutes straight (though I am sure there are a few metal purists out there, who just want something to bang their head to, that would disagree with me).
The album is not without its high points though. I really enjoyed the track “Plague of Locusts.” The song is versatile but very cohesive. Each part makes sense coming the previous one. There is also some experimentation with tone in this track, which is non-existent in almost all of the other tracks: I still don’t know how the guitarist is making that muffled but bright sound in the second riff (my best guess is a pinched harmonic but I am basing that on absolutely nothing). There is also a really heavy breakdown 50 seconds into “A Man Chooses… A Slave Obeys” that I have played over and over about 25 times since I began writing this paragraph.
The potential that this band shows is promising, and I will definitely be checking out future releases. I think some experimentation with tone would go a long way (I would encourage the guitarists to try out some effect pedals or maybe tell their producer to drop in some synth stuff here and there). With some more songwriting experience, which will come naturally as the band journeys on, I could see Hybrid Sheep putting out a wicked sophomore effort.
Listen to “Liar’s Promises” and “Plague of Locusts”
P.S., I just have one more thing to share. I simply want to point out how amazing the vocalist’s shirt is in this promo picture (he’s in the middle):
Seriously, is that not the best possible shirt a guy in a metal band could be wearing in a promo pic? Before I even listened to these guys I saw that picture and said to myself “these guys are going to be heavy as shit.”