Countershock’s debut album walks down the already well-beaten trail of modern alternative hard rock. Fronted by M’Lisa, the lead singer and only female member of the group, these Southern California natives have been playing in the area since 2004. The band’s MySpace page cites influences such as Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Tool and Alice in Chains, but also promises a ‘unique twist’ to the genre.
‘Toys,’ however, feels like it carries the listener down the same musical path that’s been heard time and time again. Although shrouded in songs that are sometimes indistinguishable from the mainstream, ‘Toys’ also has music that shows great promise from the local music circuit.
When it comes to musical ability, the Countershock musicians show that they know their stuff. UC Irvine engineering alum Paul ‘Friz’ Frislie is solid on guitar, but doesn’t take great risks in his playing. The album is devoid of solos and most of the melodic work is relegated to M’Lisa or the drummer Jeff Lyons, who also plays bass on the recording.
Lyons shows off his skill as both a rock-steady drummer and a proficient bassist throughout the album. The bass lines are reminiscent of those of Justin Chancellor (of Tool fame), moving around M’Lisa’s vocals.
Though the musicians show skill on their respective instruments, their sound is not one-of-a-kind. With a few notches up on their individual virtuosity, any of these songs could easily appear on the albums Countershock’s musical heroes have put out.
It’s probably not the first time Countershock (or their previous incarnation, Disclaimer) recorded at a studio, but at points it seems like the engineers at the soundboard are still learning the basics. M’Lisa’s vocal overdubs, especially in ‘Weakness,’ don’t harmonize well, throwing the whole track off kilter. The use of extra echoes and effects only harm the songs. The group is regarded as being a great live act, and they probably sound much better once they’re stripped of the added effects that sadly made this album overproduced.
‘Waiting to Fall,’ however, provides a break from the standard feel of the album. The poppy number is incredibly catchy and shows off M’Lisa’s strength as a female vocalist. The links to Maynard James Keenan, Layne Staley and Scott Weiland fall off and give the group a sound that’s all their own.
The closing track ‘In the Dark’ is a solid acoustic piece, stripped down to just Friz and M’Lisa, and wraps up the album pleasantly.
The album also sets itself apart with M’Lisa’s presence as not only a female singer and songwriter. In a genre dominated mostly by male performers, M’Lisa’s lyrics filter the typical alternative hard-rock angst and anger through the eyes of a woman, a perspective that even in today’s music is not always seen.
Countershock emulates the songs and styles of their highly regarded influences. The genre of alternative hard rock has been explored extensively by other bands and, although enjoyable after a first hearing, ‘Toys’ is entirely indistinguishable in feeling from any of the many bands that have claimed the sound as their own. The band still feels as if it’s in its earliest stages, looking at the musicians they admire and writing songs according to the formulas that worked so well for them.
If, as Countershock’s MySpace says, they are ‘set to take on the world,’ they should keep in mind that the world has heard this music before. If they want it to take notice, they need to work on making their unique twist more unique.