Post-rock pioneers Slint included a note on their seminal Spiderland album to anyone who bought it on CD – “this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl”. It was a bit late for informing the listener of that, like telling them to turn the smoke alarm on after the house has burned down. Perhaps taking a leaf out of Slint’s book, Suzaku Avenue have also provided instruction for their ‘Let’s Pretend’ EP – “These tracks were mixed to be played loud so turn them up.” Now, for your average music fan this is stating the bleeding obvious when it comes to listening to metal. In context though with how they’ve mixed the EP, it’s a requirement.
Was it necessary for Suzaku Avenue to mix the EP this low? Over the course of the EP, it’s a resounding ‘no’. There are definitely other issues with the mix. The vocals and instrumentation feels muffled even at full volume. It comes across as demo quality, with the guitar riffs feeling undercooked. Stephen Moody on lead vocals provides stream-of-consciousness lyrics but delivers it without any real conviction especially when they go into hardcore mode. Musically there are some interesting dynamics at play during the songs – shifting from intricate prog wig-outs to hard and fast metal.
It works best on Ben Bulben where it jumps back and forth like some kind of wild musical parkour. Title track Let’s Pretend covers so much musical scope over its nine minutes but is frustrating in that not all the components work. The backing vocals towards the end of the song suffer from feeling like a bunch of people trying to talk over each other in a pub. It’s incoherent and sounds watered down. A Butterfly’s Shadow starts with the most straightforward metal riffs and song structure. It contains the screaming vocals which are the staple vocals of thrash metal, but in the mix they feel underwhelming.
All the tracks are weighty and lengthy (the shortest is six minutes), taking on a post rock tone in terms of how the songs build, change and in their pacing. Credit has to be given to Suzaku Avenue in that they know how to construct a tune that has constantly shifting dynamics. They have unquestionably got some great ideas in their music, but the execution of committing them to a recording has let them down badly. In the hands of an experienced producer the ‘Let’s Pretend’ EP could have been stellar; instead it’s a case of what might have been.