The Provenance – Red Flags
22/12/2006 § Leave a comment
After the rather questionable and antagonistic rant that was How Would You Like To Be Spat At, The Provenance have returned barely a year later with an altogether calmer and less spiteful approach to making music. Whereas How Would You Like To Be Spat At came across as a necessary evil, an acerbic outburst that the band had to throw off their chests, Red Flags is a lighter offering less weighed down by the drudgery of long, meaningless songs with negative lyrics and hateful vibes. It seems that over the last year The Provenance have undergone some kind of emotional irrigation meaning they have dealt cathartically with their hardships and come out the other side with something more welcome to listen to than the sound of their own problems. In spite of Red Flag’s title though, I can’t pick out too many Communist overtones, maybe they chose it to deliberately throw people like me off. There I was, thinking this was going to be a musical biography of Leninist proportions when it’s just about their own personal relationships again. Ho hum.
There are three big differences between Red Flags and the last couple of albums. The first is the lack of male growls here – in fact, they’ve been removed altogether. This I found to be quite strange since I enjoyed the growls in the last two albums and thought that, in a genre when 90% of the bands overuse the growls and just shove them in when they feel like it, The Provenance were one of the few bands who were able to use them correctly and fit them in only where the music demanded it. But no, they’ve been whipped out completely this time, though that’s not to say that there are no male vocals at all, there are clean male vocals here but they are used quite sparingly. This means that we get to hear a lot of Emma’s voice and so we should do, since she is one of the best and underrated singers in female-fronted metal and listening to this album, I am amazed that the band haven’t got farther with her at the front. However, now that the band are signed to Peaceville, hopefully this will be remedied with better promotion and distribution.
The second difference about this album is its pace. How Would You Like To be Spat At was a terribly bulky piece of work with protracted songs and I remember thinking Speeding To Get By was one of the slowest tracks I’ve ever heard outside Funeral Doom metal. The songs on Red Flags are much faster and this means that the album feels like less work to listen to as well as being more accessible. From the album’s first track, At The Barricades to the fantastic Settle Soon, the whole thing is a hearty canter through metal rather than a bled out recovery jog. The songs are mostly very good, with At The Barricades, First and Last But Not Always, Revelling Masses and Settle Soon being the best of the bunch, and it was interesting to see a 7/4 time signature in Leave-Takings. The Provenance seem to have worked out how to lift the tone of their music and create more elevating atmospheres and this is something that all the better songs on the album do very well.
However, the biggest triumph that Red Flags has as its currency is the fact that it’s so much more unpretentious than anything else that the band have come out with. In the past there seemed to be an emphasis on moving lyrics, deep propositions, trenchantly dull chord progressions and those awful song titles like ‘Considering The Gawk, The Drool, The Bitch and The Fool’. This time round everything has been shaved to a point, albeit not always a sharp one since the songs don’t all hit the mark. In spite of most of the numbers being goodies, Red Flags is let down by one of two dullards such as One Warning with its insipid chorus and The Cost which starts off well and then becomes about as interesting as painting the contents of a packet of Cornflakes. The other strange thing is that the strength of the album’s pace is also something that lets it down. Even though there are many speedy songs here, they are almost too many and it feels like they don’t have enough distinguishing features to be that memorable. In fact, the only slow song on the album, Deadened, starts off honestly and beautifully with no more than bass, drums and the beautiful ringing of Emma’s voice, only to become even slower later on and to descend into pointlessness.
Red Flags could have been an even better album if the label or band had got rid of the less interesting numbers, indeed, with so many albums these days including more and more duff tracks the need for 8 track albums is more necessary. Nevertheless, I don’t get the impression that The Provenance are anywhere near their peak yet. In spite of being four albums down the road, there is a sense of gradual improvement and though this band have always been about hit and miss, there seems to be something better coming on the horizon. I have always thought that The Provenance’s songs were not quite as good or accomplished as they could have been, always getting the outer and not inner bullseye. I get the feeling that there is a great album waiting to be set free from this band but at the moment it’s caged by too much personal grit and the need for meaningful songs. If the band lost the emphasis which they place so heavily on poignancy they could hit the mark that they’ve been missing all along.