How do you stand out from the crowd? You dress a certain way. You color your hair. You grow an awesome beard. You do things, whether consciously or not, so that people will see you, and remember you. It isn't easy, of course. We are, largely, anonymous. Tall, short, long hair, short hair. Many of us are faceless bodies. The same goes for musical exposure. What can you do to stand out? It's a question with a million answers, most of which aren't viable options. But the easiest answer to give, and hardest to achieve, is to just be better at what you do than the rest. Sweden's Sideburn are a doomy groove fur piece looking to break the surface of the water in the ever growing sea of musicians. On their newest album, Evil Or Divine, they come to the table with a truck load of riffs, and a trunk of good ideas. But can they separate themselves from the rest?
The sheer number of memorable grooves spread over the duration of the album seems preposterous, yet they are here in droves. How many of them play out, however, is a separate distinction. While each song has no less than one signature lick to hang your hat on, there are a few play out in a radio rock fashion, trading continuity for accessibility. By no means is it feast or famine; there is plenty of meat on both bones for you to nibble at. It's more of a question of where you'll feed, particularly on the first half of the album. It's an uneven path to maneuver, with tracks like Masters And Slaves taking two very different forks in the road. Early and late, it's a burner, relying on a singular guitar riff to drive the track. But somewhere in the middle, it treads dangerously closer to smokey ballad, an odd left turn in what could be a straight line. It's an easy corrected detour, though, one the band avoids for most of the remainder of the album
The stomping grooves of The Seer (Angel Of Death) provide plenty of sustenance, but, more importantly, open the buffet line for the second half. You won't find any strange deviations from the median here, as Sideburn stays on their well worn path, injecting hazy riff after hazy riff into the mix. This is where the band is most comfortable, even shredding through a few short, but well crafted solos. It culminates, for all intents and purposes, in Evil Ways, arguably the best song on the album. It not only highlights the strengths shown thus far, but it takes a vocal performance and elevates it. It brings to mind the work of vocalist Jo Amore of Nightmare, and in particular his work on The Burden Of God. It remains gritty, but sees Dimitri Keiski push himself to the very edge of his range, something he fails to do on the true album closer, Presence. This song, perhaps more than any of the others, is indicative of the unevenness present here. Part ballad, part stoner romp, it fails to gel cohesively.
Taken at face value, Evil Or Divine is an album that gives you just enough to be glad you listened. There are plenty of stand out moments scattered over the duration of the record, which on it's own would be a victory. Solid guitar work, rock steady rhythm section, and a serviceable vocal performance all add up. But what it lacks more than anything is a signature moment, one that you'd play for your friends as a selling point. The album is ambiguous that way; it never really reveals itself one way or the other. It's cautious and safe, not reaching for the a major high point, and not risking a major low. They fit right in the meaty part of the curve, making the goal of standing out all the more difficult. And that is, possibly, the most dangerous place to be: a good band, with a good album. That might not be enough.