Ultraspank

Progress

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Ultraspank's self-titled debut album was a commercial failure despite the band's extensive touring to promote it, which has affected the lyrics, if not the music of their sophomore effort. The instrumental tracks composed jointly by the five band members (among them new drummer James "Fed" Carroll) are still standard-issue metal -- big, simple riffs played with martial aggressiveness -- with the added variable of occasional synthesizer patterns audible in song introductions and in between the slabs of guitar-bass-drums crunch. Singer Pete Murray alternates between singing the verses and delivering the choruses in a distorted howl. But his lyrics often seem to concern the band's disappointment and its uncertain future if it doesn't start selling records. "I need to make sense to restore confidence," he sings in "Crumble," later adding, "So what, so what you had it all/So why, so why the big fall." The answer may be that Ultraspank falls between two stools: Even its modest electronics dilute its heavy metal appeal, while it remains far too lumbering for techno fans. "Feed," with its cello part, and especially "Click," which sounds like it could earn dance club play with a good remix, suggest that there are possibilities for the band beyond metal, but they would have to explore those possibilities more extensively than they do here really to interest new audiences. So far, a lack of commercial success seems to be the price Ultraspank is paying for being more musically adventurous than allowed in the rigid genre into which their music generally falls. Whether they will change to accommodate that problem, overcome it, or lose their major-label status remains to be seen. With Progress, they are sticking to their guns, but they sound worried. (Note: Though the final track, "Where," is listed as running nearly 11 minutes, it actually runs about three and a half minutes, followed by four minutes of silence and then a hidden instrumental track with a wordless vocal.)

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