Album strikes gold on a few occasions mostly remains trapped under influences
Philadephia-based rock band Sheer Mag is back with their second studio album and sixth release through Wilsuns Recording Company, A Distant Call. Sheer Mag has always worn their influences on their sleeves, with the most obvious example being their band’s logo, a great rendition of their band name in the iconic graphic style of the hair metal and glam rock era. These same mostly ’70s influences manifest themselves throughout the album, primarily in the overall sound of the project.
Track one, “Steel Sharpens Steel”, represents a great example of where the album can work extremely well, and in some other ways, fall short. This track includes one of vocalist Christina Halladay’s strongest performances on the project, but also makes use of some all-too-familiar guitar riffs, rhythms, and tones. “Blood from a Stone” also has just a few too many poor qualities to be a great song, with far more interesting lyrical content (Halladay explores the stress of making ends meet, “What do you expect when you’re living check to check?”), but very sloppy vocals on the chorus.
Despite the inconsistencies of some of the first few tracks and other tracks throughout the album like “Hardly to Blame” and “Chopping Block,” Sheer Mag managed to produce a few truly excellent songs on A Distant Call. The first moment that felt like the band was truly firing on all cylinders came in “Silver Line.” Quality lyrics and content, unusual instrumentation choices, passionate vocals, a great guitar solo and more come together to make this an excellent tune. Halladay’s vocal imperfections even enhance the song, as they make sense within the context’s of the song’s ruminations on the difficulty of looking for silver linings in the face of poor circumstances. It sounds like these frustrations are directly manifesting themselves in Halladay’s voice.
Two tracks later is without question the best song on the album, “Cold Sword.” Halladay opts for some deeply personal storytelling on this song, sharing her stories of pain and abuse. The lyrics are heart-wrenching, the chorus is unreal, and despite the heavy content, the song remains extremely catchy. This is Sheer Mag at its best. The eighth track, “The Right Stuff” is the final major highlight of the album. Here, the group’s influences become instrumental in the strength of this song, but only because Halladay chose to subvert the usual conventions of their influences, and instead write about body positivity and self-love. This use of an older sound as a jumping off point for more forward-thinking ideas results in a particularly impactful song. Unfortunately, these incredible tracks are surrounded by a few songs leaning much closer to mediocrity, and the project loses quite a bit of its potential impact because of these weaker tracks.
Thankfully, the album flows extremely well, with many great track-to-track transitions. “The Killer” into the final track, “Keep on Runnin” is a particular smooth transition that makes this last track all the more powerful as a part of the whole. Essentially, Sheer Mag’s best work on A Distant Call comes when they combine unique content with their clear influence in sound. Unfortunately, more often than not, it feels like the band remains more focused on achieving this sound of a past era than moving forward and exploring new ideas within the framework of this older sound. This is a shame, because when they do truly explore and experiment on this album, they make some excellent music.