Honestly. Close your eyes, take a couple seconds to think about it, and give some thought to exactly what it is you would think a band with a name like Charm City Devils would sound like. All right, are you back yet? Good. Because here’s the reality of the situation: Whatever it was you had playing in your head — that’s exactly what the Charm City Devils sound like, and such is more prevalent than even a devil in a bar at 2 a.m. on the Baltimore group’s latest record, “Sins.”
Earnest singer-songwriters? Nope. Bluegrass twang with pretty harmonies? Not a chance. The type of ska/punk bands that seem to formulate by the minute throughout the greater Frederick area? You’ve got to be kidding. Audioslave-sounding hard rock that clearly takes its cues from late ’80s hair metal suggesting it would fit perfectly on DC 101 or 97.5 HFS? You bet.
Naturally, then, there will be a clamor to instinctively dismiss these guys, if only for how loathsome that type of categorization has become in recent years. The intriguing part of this equation, though, is how well the Charm City Devils do what they do. Yeah, you might not like it, and sure, it certainly isn’t “cool” to identify with these types of bands anymore, but had these guys been around when Filter was still yelling about men and nice shots, it’s hard to think this five-piece outfit wouldn’t be enjoying a lucrative life of rock stardom by now.
The most striking track here isn’t even their own. Dick Burnett’s almost-100-year-old classic, “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” appears, hard-rocked-out, and no sooner than you can say “Family Values Tour,” it becomes instinctive to fall into a face of disgust and turn away. But again: What would you expect a band called the Charm City Devils to do with one of the most popular folk songs to ever appear in a Cohen brothers movie? That in mind, the rendition serves its purpose, providing a hook that may bring potential new fans to the party, all the while staying true to the riff-heavy formula these guys do so well. The lazily heavy verses even evoke the aforementioned Filter song at points, adding a nice, dark touch to an already pitch-black song.
That type of aura expectedly hangs over every other track “Sins” offers. “Devil Is A Woman” is so aggressively repetitive, it’s impossible to think the song’s chorus could ever leave one’s mind. Not only is it the most memorable original of the bunch, but it’s also the point at which this Baltimore group removes itself from other local hard rock bands, vaulting above their peers because of the song’s accessibility and musical sense.
“Still Alive” may be the best bet for a cross-over single because of its acoustic guitar beginning and Puddle Of Mudd-like approach. Some may consider such a comparison derogatory, but conventional wisdom may suggest otherwise — such a sound seems to be exactly what the Charm City Devils are going for.
“Spite” is the perfect beginning to a record aimed at being, well, spiteful. Lead singer John Allen’s vocals screech like the best of them, combining a hint of Chris Cornell and just a tiny dash of Axl Rose with his own original twist. And “Love N War” is the requisite “punk”-influenced song these types of bands are usually good for at least once or twice a record (punk is in quotation marks here because, honestly, punk is the Clash or the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, not some dude who could belt out the best Sevendust single, if such a thing actually exists). The change in pace is welcome and while it shows the band’s willingness to dip their feet into other bodies of water, it also regains your attention late in the record.
Why that even matters in the first place is why “Sins” suffers when it does. The problem with these types of bands lies in the inevitability that many of the tracks begin to run into each other, combining for one big slug-fest because of the similarities each song shares. “Unstoppable” isn’t the worst thing you’ve ever heard, but falling directly after “Spite” doesn’t do it any favors, thus highlighting how much one might get lost in the redundancy of it all. The same problem applies to the aptly (and ironically) titled “Problem.” There’s just only so many mid- to fast-tempos and crunchy guitar solos one can take before losing the type of interest required to consistently tune into what’s going on.
Though what’s going on here is actually a lot better than one might be willing to admit. It’s a shame, too, because the reality is that the Charm City Devils and “Sins” could have thrived in a different time and a different era. Bands like Fuel, Taproot, Velvet Revolver or Staind have all had their day in the sun, but this type of music has been shunned to the point of near-extinction for years now. And that’s fine, really. The world is probably a little bit better without having to deal with a huge number of acts who insist on being angry and edgy all the time. But regardless of whether 12 is the over-under on the number of times Allen puts his foot on a floor monitor in the span of one concert, or whether these guys seem to have written every entrance theme for a WWE wrestler in the past three years, the Charm City Devils should certainly have a place in any traditional power-rock fan’s conscious.
And “Sins” serves as a reminder that not only is that notion essential to the ebb and flow of popular music, but here, it’s also justified. Yeah, you may have figured out what the Charm City Devils sounded like far before you got to this final paragraph, but that doesn’t mean predictability always results in bad and/or thoughtless music.
Well, unless your name is Creed, of course.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **