You know, it’s almost a lost art now. Since the agro/alt/cookie-monster/hard-radio-rock boon of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s been taboo to enjoy bands like Breaking Benjamin or Linkin Park or Nickelback or Godsmack or insert-your-DC-101-act-here. They are butts of jokes. Most are dismissed as low-rent musicians. Some of them end up playing small-town dive bars just to make a living anymore (Saliva: Coming to a town near you!). A plethora of far too many reasons to list here has made it virtually impossible for artists like these to exist anymore with any level of credibility.
To their credit, local teen trio Marzy Maddox isn’t concerned with jaded naysayers. And with their most recent EP, “The Tragic Fate of Arthur Volunte,” they make the case for this type of music to be respected again somewhere within the hip annals of popular culture. There’s a reason bands like Chevelle can still make a living off bringing their music to the masses and these guys prove that said reason is enough to carry the genre into an entirely new generation of fans.
It begins with “Broderie Anglaise,” an uptempo track that owes as much to Coheed and Cambria as it does to Sevendust. Building to a structure with more crunch in it than a Nestle bar, drummer Colin Waddington provides more-interesting-than-you-think drum fills to help build an expectation for the song that ends up being met. Smartly laying out through each verse — allowing only drums and bass guitar to lead the way — shows how much these guys value mature songwriting. The result isn’t just competent; it’s excitingly fresh.
A lot of that success is credited to band leader Phoenix Johnson. With each piece of lyric, his voice sounds more and more like Taproot’s Stephen Richards, and that’s a good thing. It’s the same off-kilter whine that made the “Again and Again” singer so interesting nearly 20 years ago and it serves this type of music well. If nothing else, it announces Marzy Maddox as more than just another heavy-handed rock act.
Another piece of proof? Check out the two-song suite in the middle of the set, “Part I: Creation” and “Part II: Age Of Man.” Both tracks aim for simplistic grooves until the presence of a 6/8 time signature switches the feel enough to make things interesting. Credit needs to be given to these guys for knowing how to stray from the watered-down radio-rock formula in such fearless ways at such a young age. Plus, the transitions are as seamless as they could be, which is a hard thing to accomplish whenever predictability is the enemy. The songs’ angular nature never feels forced and, even better, enhances the performances more than complicates them.
Which is also why is seems so useless to growl as much as they do at times. “For Greetings and Goodbyes,” the EP closer, is littered with gratuitous background screaming that marks a sign of immaturity (which, to be fair, can be forgiven for obvious reasons). But sorry or not, Johnson’s croon is good enough to carry these guys as far as they want to go, so the silly howls turn out to be overextension at its worst, despite the well-thought double kick-drum patterns Waddington produces each time the introductory refrain comes around.
Conversely, the screams work best when they’re vague. A tiny bit of it creeps into “9450” with taste and purpose and the added touch helps make the song the set’s most impressive. Complete with a bridge that breaks down just the right amount, it’s the perfect mix of aggression and simplicity (despite some questionable lyric choices in verse two). The staccato guitar-turns during the song’s middle part don’t hurt, either. They earn the band praise for using their imagination at times when they probably don’t have to.
Yet it’s that attention-to-detail aesthetic that makes Marzy Maddox a promising young band and “The Tragic Fate of Arthur Volunte” a solid listen. If nothing else, it’s ambitious in all the right ways. It’s clear these guys take their craft seriously, and a cliche such as “hitting the ground running” doesn’t do them anywhere near the justice they deserve. Sure, they might not be tackling a genre of music that is respected much these days, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is worthless.
In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Because without knowing any better, Marzy Maddox have successfully and impressively tapped into a scene that has, in essence, become a lost art. In some ways, they’re brave, a group of musicians who appear to love what they do, all cool-kids-criticism be damned. It takes courage to even think about going down that road, but it takes a certain level of raw talent to pull it off effectively.
Thus it must be said: Not all youth must always be wasted on only the young.
** 2 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 **