There are a lot of stereotypical roles for women in metal, whether they are the operatic Diva providing some archetypal “beauty” to the “beast” of the traditional metal sound, or providing orchestral or keyboard textures within some overblown musical onslaught. It’s somewhat bittersweet that Suzanne Sterne, being the songwriting mastermind, bassist and studio guitarist for Ruby Bullet, is something of a rarity in the metal scene, but that fact can be easily overlooked; compared to many competing releases within the realm of avant-garde metal, Splitting Heirs is a polished set, taking an approach to complex, math-oriented metal that is refreshing, organic and not completely overcooked.
Citing Tool, The Mars Volta and Rush as influences (among many others), one can immediately tell at what musical altar Sterne and drummer Pete Vassil worshipped. While each of the five tunes here fit pretty snugly into song form (having memorable hooks, verses, choruses, and dynamic shifts), the songs feature an appreciable balance of simplicity and complexity, where compound time signatures appear to have a purpose other than to trick the listener. The best moments on the album are the most stripped down, where the overdubbing is kept to a minimum and one can really appreciate the rhythmic interplay between each instrument. Sterne describes herself as a “bassist at heart,” and this comes across in her use of a five-stringed instrument, which is at the heart of the most memorable moments on the EP. Vassil’s drumming is ornamental but not overbearing, and he and Sterne have a complementary interplay that you don’t often see in a metal rhythm section – and seeing video clips of Ruby Bullet’s live performance, in which the guitar duties are performed by Aurelien Budynek, you can really see an energy present that is sometimes lost in the mix on the EP.
That’s not to say that Ruby Bullet isn’t a good studio band – just that sometimes there’s a bit too much where there doesn’t need to be. Sterne’s vocals are well layered and feature some distinctive dual lines and harmonies that add an extra punch to the lyrics, and there are some moments where the massed sound of the bass and guitar tracks congeal quite well. But some of these moments seem tentative, and I often wished that the group had chosen to strip back a few of the overdubs so that the quality of the songwriting can be fully appreciated. For most of the EP, however, there is a confidence that allows these songs to celebrate their leanness. I’ve heard countless other progressive, math and avant-garde rock and metal bands overcompensate with tons of layers and endless studio tricks, creating an unlistenable mess, and there are many great moments on Splitting Heirs that prove this band is more assured in their approach.
Ruby Bullet is a relatively young band, with two releases under its belt, and I can see many good things in their future. A future, full length album would give them the chance to toy around with their material in the ways that are hinted at here, and I look forward to such a release to see how Sterne and Vassil rise to that particular challenge. In the meantime, Splitting Heirs is a well-focused 19 minutes of music that teases the listener with a few expectations, then defies most of them.
Release: April 2009
Label: Victorious Pirate Records
Avantgenre: Mechanical Serpent Metal
Official site: http://www.rubybullet.com
Review online since: 16.06.2009 / 22:37:11
01 – Machine
02 – One
03 – Tell On You
04 – Two
05 – Poison