With Baited Breath

Poised For The Worm

Monster Licker Records, 2002


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


The instant the furious opening blasts of distorted wah-wah licks explode forth into your eardrums, it becomes apparent that Poised For The Worm is no run-of-the-mill indie rock band.

Indeed, if you are a rock fan and the thought of Black Sabbath riffery melded with Cheap Trick-style power-pop hooks played with the rawness and intensity of hardcore does not have you instantly salivating, then you simply are not a true rock fan. Poised For The Worm have developed a sound that is distinctly their own, taking the best qualities of their influences to produce some of the most promising sounds to come out of the hard rock underground in a very long time.

How refreshing it is to see a new band come out of the gates swinging with this, their debut CD, With Baited Breath, and hit a home run. Remaining fresh and vital over the course of a filler-free 10 tracks, the band sounds tight, determined, and passionate. Perhaps most impressively, they manage to avoid the pitfalls of genericism and clichés that plague most newcomers to the rock scene.

Another positive aspect that struck me right away is that while the music is consistently powerful and aggressive, the arrangements always remain tasteful. It is obvious that the musicians are all experts at their respective instruments, but their individual virtuosity is unleashed in subtle doses rather than self-indulgent wanking, which often happens to be the case in this genre.

Drummer Travis "Paco" Watts displays an awesome knowledge and control of his kit, particularly during his practically insane tom-tom rolls on the intense "Carousoleil." Drummers of such astonishing technical ability are certainly a rare breed in rock in general, to say nothing of the indie scene.

Steve "Honey" Brown matches Watts every step of the way with his effortless bass contributions. Know how most bassists more or less tend to follow the guitar riffs to act as an anchor without ever really standing apart on their own? Not this guy. His almost improvised sounding basslines fill out the background with countless rumbles and twangs that are completely independent of the main guitar riffs without serving as a distraction. That's what's called mastery, folks.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Guitarist and main songwriter Gerald "Rev Fear" Fratzl (full disclosure: yeah, he's my brother) shreds out loads of blistering riffs that immediately grab hold of you and refuse to let go. His hyperactive strumming and raw, punkish tone is nicely balanced with bluesy, and occasionally even Eastern-style lead lines injected into the fray to provide the proceedings with soulful melodies that most bands of this nature usually lack. But, like his bandmates, he refrains from providing needless displays of his ability despite it being rather clear from his layered and well-composed lines that he is entirely capable of doing so.

Singer Allan "Zeus" Grego rounds out the line-up, and while at times his voice is slightly flat, his style suits the music greatly, bringing a distinct personality and charisma to the fold. I particularly like the fact that he brings a vulnerable sensitivity to his delivery on occasion, having the overall effect of making the music more believable and respectful than it would be with the ridiculously macho, testosterone-fuelled bullshit that is all too common in the hard rock genre. Top marks for that.

As if there wasn't already enough to praise, I must also add that the lyrics, written by both Gerald "Rev Fear" Fratzl and Allan "Zeus" Grego, are uniformly excellent. For the most part, they are dark and heavily cynical, overflowing with an uncertainty, despair, hopelessness, lament and anxiety that even a master such as Alice Cooper would admire. Especially the bleak and brooding "Asylum" is evidence of this, and just may be the standout track on the album. You can just feel the dark, heavy riffs tightening like a noose around your neck as the perfect musical accompaniment to the claustrophobic lyrics.

The brilliance of the album is that despite the dark subject matter, the music never depresses you. The quick pace and the catchy melodies provide the perfect antidote to what might otherwise collapse under its own ominous mood.

But the band is not completely humorless. An unexpected, almost Tubes-like deviation into disco territory complete with swirling strings, a funky beat, and liberal use of cowbell during the otherwise hard-rocking bridge of "Crisco Fever" is one example of this, and they pull it off amazingly well. If anything, that section should be a lot longer than it is. The other point where humor rears its head is during the closing track, "Gleam," hilarious parody that is quite possibly the most savage lampoon ever written of suburban ginos with their obsession over self-image and compensatory "Peacock syndrome" of collecting and suping up wimpy imported cars. The song even ends with a monologue by Grego from the perspective of the lyrical victim adorned by a mellow, basement-stoner melody that recalls Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan." Simply magnificent.

The only faults I can find with the album are rather miniscule to say the least. Some of the guitar riffs seem a bit too similar to each other in certain places. I would like to see more variation in that department, although all of the 10 songs have very distinct main melodies that set them apart. And despite my praising of the band's restraint, I would like to see them cut loose just a bit more. I'm sure they are capable of providing some dazzling arrangements and I'd like to see that aspect develop on future releases.

Poised For The Worm is a surefire hit just waiting to be discovered by the insatiable hard rock hordes. The band has all the potential one could imagine, and with the right luck, management, and promotion, they could fully realize their immense promise.

[Visit Poised For The Worm's website at www.poisedfortheworm.ca for more information and soundclips.]

Rating: A-

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© 2003 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Monster Licker Records, and is used for informational purposes only.