Burn The Boats
From Under The Waves
Little T&A Records, Houston TX 2014
by Andrew C Schlett
There is no sound in the world quite like that of the needle dropping lightly upon
the vinyl surface, sliding into the groove, and making a good full rotation of the platter
before the actual record starts. In that empty, anticipatory, crackling and popping little
space lays the promise of music near at hand soon to be filling the air with notes and
sounds. For only that moment you hang suspended… waiting… one last breath before
the thrill ride begins. Record albums present themselves in a much different way than do
the more common digital formats used today; whereas with Mp3 or wav files you can
skip around and jump song-to-song at will, with an album its more like being on a roller
coaster. You set the needle on the track, sit back, and enjoy the ride until it’s done. Then
you turn it over and repeat the whole process. Some platters, like some coasters, are
more enjoyable than others, and it is up to the artist to craft within that groove a ride that
the listener will remember, and want to ride (hear) over and over again. Creating a record
album is an art form unto itself, one which has experience enormous resurgence in recent
times. The vinyl album, once considered as extinct as the dinosaurs, now breathes again
with vibrancy and new life.
Such were my thoughts as I spun From Under The Waves for the first time. This
album, the debut recording from Burn The Boats, has been long in the making but the
results are entirely worth the wait. It’s kind of short, spanning only seven songs and just
over 32 minutes in total, but it’s a damned fine thrill-filled ride throughout the entire
groove. Drop the needle and hang on for dear life.
Opening with “Lost At Sea”, the guys in BTB pull the listener immediately away
from the current, modern world of mundane regularity and into that of myth and legend.
As students of Ancient Greece, their album carries this theme through the whole
experience and chronicles the adventures of those larger-than-life heroes in songs with
titles such as “Oedipus”, “Blood of the Titans”, “Spear of Destiny”, and “Spartan”. One
song, “Flight of Icarus”, does unfortunately share its name with an Iron Maiden classic,
but that is where the similarities end. The lyrical content of these songs necessarily
follows suit; if you have ever browsed through Bullfinch’s Mythology or read the works
of Homer, or even if you’ve watched “Clash of the Titans” more than once, you’re likely
to get into this record. Indeed, lead singer Stevie Sims has frankly admitted that he wrote
the lyrics to “Release The Kraken” one day while actually watching the original version
of that timeless movie.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it was “Kraken” which first brought this band to the
attention of Rivethead Magazine. Way back in 2011, on a lazy Saturday afternoon while
listening to DJ MetalLord’s “Throne of Metal” internet radio show which is streamed
from Houston, he played that song and I met BTB’s guitar player in MetalLord’s chat
room. Within a week or so we had a crude performance video of “Kraken” up on our
Rivethead Facebook page and we’ve been behind them ever since. That was three years
ago. We’re very excited for this release, but like I told y’all just before, it’s been a wait.
Musically, the album captures the practiced abilities of the individual band
members and the band as a whole at their absolute apex; each player slaughtered their
parts with such ruthless precision that the end result couldn’t be anything less than
gargantuan. These are not the sounds of lyre and reed flute heard by Ulysses as he drifted
through “The Odyssey” a few thousand years ago, but the sonic odyssey laid down
throughout the groove of this record is no less tempestuous of a journey. Drummer
Brandon Newton and bassist Floyd Willis work together to lay down a tumultuously
rhythmic foundation upon which guitarist Charles Sepulveda can overlay solidly
structured riffs and, at times, fast-finger fret work that soars so high one fears his wings
might melt in the sun. All of this is put into course and context by the singularly unique
vocal presentation of singer and lyricist Stephen Sims. To say that Sims sings is not
totally correct; to say that he screams isn’t exactly right either. What he really does is
present these epic mythological stories in kind of an opera-singer fashion set to thrash
metal, complete with overreaching octaves and the occasional full-throated roar, in a way
that sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before yet suits the music he’s interpreting so
seamlessly. On many of these tracks, you can actually understand the words he’s singing,
which is not something that can be said of every metal singer in the world.
The end result of all this is a sound which hearkens back to the finest traditions of
old school thrash. Burn The Boats does not sound like any other one band in particular,
but if they were on a bill with, let’s say, Death Angel, Forbidden, and Testament there
would be no conflict with that. They are that badass.
In the interest of objective fairness, though, and to be the dickhead critic for just a
moment, there are a couple of points about this album that raise questions. One is the
audio production itself, which sounds to my untrained ear sort of… dirty. I’m not saying
this is a bad thing, and actually it’s due to the fact the band went into the studio and laid
this album down live. As opposed to sitting in a soundproof room one by one tracking
their parts, instead they sat down and jammed together to record the master. They did
this with a bare minimum of re-takes and very little overdubbing, which is why it features
a more raw grittiness over the crisp clean production sound favored by many bands.
There is too much overproduction these days anyway, but I myself might have tried to
clean it up just a little bit more. Maybe that’s why I’m not a producer.
Another observation I could make is the length of this album. Now, if you’ve
read this far you’ve probably figured out that I am not only a fan of this band, but also
their friend. So I know for damned good and sure that they have more than seven songs.
This had to be a decision made by either the band or the label; it may have something to
do with the Seven Seas or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, or some such thing,
but my only point is that if I’m saving up and spending all that money to go into the
studio and cut a record – a real record that is going to be pressed on vinyl – I would
probably have tried to go for like ten songs. Cause, you know, making a record isn’t
something you do every day.
(On the other hand, now that Burn The Boats has been reviewed and exposed by
Rivethead Magazine, who knows? They may soon be touring the world and making
records with Lemmy over in freakin’ Amsterdam or somewhere. It’s probably a good
thing they’re keeping a few songs stashed in their back pocket.)
Lastly, I did also notice the obvious absence of any liner notes. They did not take
time to thank God, the Academy, their parents, all the little people who believed in them
and helped make their dreams come true, nobody. At first I found this curious. The
record includes a photo insert, about 10”X10” square, that has the basic production
information listed beneath a picture of the band onstage, but the reverse of this sheet is
totally blank and not filled with the several columns of liner notes that pretty much any
other album would have. The more I thought about it though, the more I came to realize
the genius of this omission. When you write liner notes, the people mentioned feel
stoked and accomplished, but it is impossible to include everyone and somebody always
feels left out. As well, besides the band themselves, the studio, and the post-production
guys, no one else is actually involved in the production of that album and so thanking
them for its creation is largely honorary. If you are somebody who might be mentioned
in a band’s liner notes but aren’t because no liner notes exist, then ultimately you are ‘not
mentioned’ along with very good company. Or, it could be that they simply ran out of
time and weren’t able to write any. The world may never know.
Well, I never intended to spend this much time ripping on the album, because I
really do seriously dig it. Another facet of album production that I have not even touched
upon yet is cover art. In earlier decades of rock-n-roll, album cover art had risen to the
level of legitimate gallery display, but with the advent of CD’s and their much smaller
cases album art has been somewhat diminished in recent times. This cover, in stark black
and white and looking almost etched into slate, depicts the last few seconds of a poor
undersea helmeted diver’s life as he faces off defenseless against the enormous Kraken.
Shouts go out to artist Christian Stanley for capturing this moment so vividly upon the
cover. It may never make Rolling Stone’s Top 100 of the Decade, or maybe it will, but
either way I think it’s pretty neat.
From Under The Waves can be purchased on colored vinyl (red or blue, mine is
red) directly from Burn The Boats themselves (I bet $1 that Charles still has a few extras laying around) or from the Little T&A Records website:
Also, by exclusive arrangement with the band, Rivethead Magazine is pleased to
stream the entire album for listening on our website. It’s not downloadable, but you can
hear the whole record and then decide for yourself how many copies you’d like to buy.
From Under The Waves Side 2
From Under The Waves Side 1
Be sure to check out Andrew C's comprehensive interview with BTB guitar-slinger Charles Sepulveda right here!!