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Cruel Melody

I Am: Wolfpack (2007)
Rating: 4/10

Speaking as someone who held a lot of animosity towards Limp Bizkit (it’s best not to get me started on the “why” part), I had always felt that founding member Wes Borland was a great guitarist trapped in a pop music machine. Unfortunately, his many side projects since leaving the band have fallen significantly short of the mark with both audiences and critics.

Time seems to be telling us that Borland performs at his best when under another person’s creative control. Black Light Burns, aka Wes Borland’s latest solo project, is perhaps solidifying proof of that statement, although his current stint with Marilyn Manson could prove to be an effective tool in proving this statement as well if it results in an album featuring his guitar work.

Cruel Melody features Borland alongside friends Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle) and Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv). While this is not the band’s touring line-up as a result of known prior commitments, they do make an interesting combo. As you may expect with Lohner and Freese involved, this sounds very much like Nine Inch Nails’ early work. Cruel Melody is tinged with electronics, Borland’s droning, monotone style vocal, and a general distortion during the heavy parts that makes everything sound as if it is being filtered through an AM frequency.

Opening with the semi-laughable goofiness of ‘Mesopotamia’, wherein Borland simply declares continually that Mesopotamia gives him the creeps, the album is off to a shaky start at best. ‘Animal’ and ‘Lie’ are up next and while I certainly enjoy the songs, the Nine Inch Nails comparison immediately dominates your thoughts. There are a couple of times I forgot I was listening to Black Light Burns. The positive side of that is the fact that if these were Nine Inch Nails songs they’d rank among the band’s best work!

The title track is the first to break out of the formula, offering a looser feel coupled with an odd melody that is reminiscent of the mid-90s alternative rock scene that Borland was a part of. The semi-spoken word, semi-industrial, semi-big band sound of ‘Stop A Bullet’ also makes your ears perk up, but the hook is so short that it doesn’t give you ample reason to come back around after the initial spin.

While most of the album straddles the line between good and bad, there are some stinkers here for sure. ‘One Of Yours’ and ‘4 Walls’ were likely written for and not used by Limp Bizkit during their failed reunion with Borland. It would be very easy to imagine Fred Durst fronting those songs. If you enjoyed Limp Bizkit they may actually get you excited about what might have been. The instrumental ambience of ‘Iodine Sky’ ends the album on a tremendously weak note. It sounds out of tune and recorded poorly. Considering it’s the album’s final thought, you really have to motivate yourself to listen again.

Overall, I guess I just don’t get it. Borland has all the tools to be a massive success yet he doesn’t seem to be able to go it alone. If you are a fan of early Nine Inch Nails then I highly suggest you pick this up, because the first half of the album is exactly what you have been waiting for for the last 15 years. If you are a Limp Bizkit fan you may find some things here you’ll enjoy as well but, for the most part, Borland does a proper job of distancing himself from that name.

Mark Fisher

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