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District 97 - Hybrid Child CD (album) cover

HYBRID CHILD

District 97

 

Crossover Prog

3.48 | 106 ratings

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Wicket
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The discovery of District 97 has always confounded me. Sure the American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt makes for an interesting footnote, one worthy of intrigue. Still, I just wasn't sure exactly where this band was going to go style wise.

I'm not even going to bother reviewing the newer albums, mainly because to my musical ear, the quality has diminished drastically, and the material just isn't captivating or groundbreaking. Personally, I believe this debut effort is by far their best work so far, and even then it's not a brilliant album in comparison to other bands of similar caliber.

The opener starts off with a catchy chorus, it's the kind of hook that wants to drag you in, but it's instantly noticeable from beat 1 that this is no ordinary radio band. So the first few three minutes entertain me for a good time, until the band fades into this b-section I honestly can't remember anything about, before coming back to the main chorus roughly 50 seconds from the end. "I Can't Take You With Me" suffers the same effect. The main theme almost sounds akin to classic Dream Theater riffs, and while I like the melodic progression singer Hunt takes, apart from the organ-like bridge in the middle, it's not really moving me much.

"The Man Who Knows Your Name" suffers the same effect. The instrumental opening sounds like it's designed to be a prog metal intro, meant to shake and rattle and bring the house down, but it honestly sounds half-assed, a bit tinny, and seriously, I almost laughed at how pathetic it sounded at times. I'm not being mean at all, but there's something about the quality that this band has always struggled with, and it's mainly due to the quality. The licks and solos in this particular song are honestly, fantastic. These guys can shred, no lie. They just seriously need a completely new studio and recording crew. Quality issues aside, though, this is of the standouts on this album.

"Termites" is another intriguing prospect. It's not so much a quality issue, but rather the grungy, dirty opening the band foreshadows should've been met with the same approach from Hunt, but at times her voice seems a bit too delicate. Perhaps if the volume dropped considerably once she stepped in (Hunt included), the band could aim for a more mysterious approach and it would've been more effective. However, that's mere nit-picking at this point. I really like this track. A somewhat "meh" opening two tracks has lead to a fantastic inner two.

Which now takes us to the "epic". About 27 and a half minutes long, "Mindscan" scares me. This is a talented band that has a few issues with sound quality. I BS'd about it when I listened to "Troubles With Machines", leaving behind optimism that with a band of this caliber, the quality can only get better from here, and with "In Vaults" it actually got worse. Thankfully, though, the spacy intro riff leads nicely into a beautiful piano melody in "Entrance". The transition to "Realization" though seems a bit abrupt, as if the guitar and keys players where enjoying playing licks up different scales before realizing "oh crap we gotta move on", and suddenly shifted gears. The instrumental licks are fine though from there on out, and "Welcome" is a nice little breath of fresh air, and the light pizzicato's in the background accompanied by a sweet cello melody seems to create a very scholarly air around it, as if it was accompanying a love story set in a London bookstore.

The biggest flaw by this point is the abrupt end to "Welcome" with no segue into "Examination, and I do mean abrupt, as if the band literally had no idea how to move on from there and just had to cut off, and "Examination" in of itself is weird. It just sounds like a collection of materials used to scare people in horror movies with a girl whispering in the back before again cutting off altogether before the nice sweet piano melody returns to close it, as if someone with bipolar disorder composed this entire track.

"Hybrid Child" is a nice and beautiful ballad, a wonderful song that frankly should've been a stand-alone track, while "Exploration" is a cool little instrumental bridge highlighting drummer Jonathan Schang on drums underneath what sounds like a synth drone akin to an Indian tanpura (the instrument that creates that typical drone). The segue to "What Do They Want" is nicely well done, though I wonder if it might have been better if both tracks were combined into one. Nevertheless, I'm still enjoying the song.

The transition to "When I Awake" is good as well, as is that tasty guitar solo towards the end, all as it's wrapped up with "Returning Home", a finale that almost seems to recap "Entrance" and "Realization" in one hectic finale. The finale is impressive actually, a bit more memorable than most finales in big symphonic prog epics where they typically lull and drone by with nice fluffy "Ahhhhhs" dragging along a slovenly, boring drum beat. The piece closes out nicely, though, one of the better epics I've heard recently.

VERDICT: I've tried listening to the later albums, and I haven't gotten even 5 minutes into each before I just completely turned away from them. This album as of right now typing this review is LIGHT YEARS ahead of both "Trouble With Machines" and "In Vaults", and I've given this 3 stars. I'm going to try and listen to both albums and give reviews on them soon as well, and it may take a few listens to figure it out, but honestly, the sound quality just gets worse with release, and it STILL doesn't sound like they don't know what kind of sound they want to make.

The band sounds like they want to rock out like Dream Theater. (with "The Man" and "Termites"), but there's still a desire to create catchy songs, like "I Don't Want To Wait" and "Open Your Eyes" off "Trouble With Machines" (which actually is quite good, by the way). The best bands that instantly appeal to my palette are bands that have their signature sound all sorted out, and these guys (and gals) still don't.

Again, I'm gonna listen to both albums in depth and (hopefully) my opinion may change. All in all, though, this album it still worth a gander from both a prog metal and a simple prog rock fan's perspective.

Maybe I'm just not on the bandwagon yet, I dunno. We'll see

Wicket | 3/5 |

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