Kittie – Until the End Review

“Until the End”
Artemis Records

Somewhere along the way they got lost…

In the fall of ’99, a rumbling came from the great white north – an all-female (teen) metal band from Ontario under the moniker of Kittie. The band was getting constant mention with the likes of Slipknot on commercial radio and, by the time their debut album “Spit” hit shelves in January of 2000, there was a steady enough buzz surrounding the band to warrant stardom.

But the teen trio seemed unable to live up to the task.

After steady touring in support of “Spit” the band lost guitarist and secondary vocalist Fallon Bowman (leaving frontwoman Morgan Lander to handle all guitar and vocal work). The band soldiered on a three-piece for its second offering, “Oracle.” But for everything “Spit” was — metal meets heavy punk with a one-two punch of screeching vocals and melodic singing — “Oracle” was not.

Gone was the musical hybrid the band had embraced and crafted nicely with its debut … replaced almost entirely with death metal and chunky riffs.

Gone was the vocal range of the band’s lyrical delivery … not only was Bowman no longer on hand to deliver vocal “comebacks,” but Lander had all but abandoned her melodic singing, preferring instead to gutturally growl throughout the disc except for spots here and there. (To be fair, this was not a new development as the band performed using the death-metal vocals prior to the release of “Oracle” and could almost be seen as a natural progression.)

In the end, this second offering did nothing to expand the band’s fan base. In fact, if anything, it pushed the members further into a corner. Bassist Talena Atfield quietly bowed out of the group and the Lander sisters (the band featured Morgan’s sister Mercedes on drums) were left alone in their musical playpen. The duo recruited bassist Jennifer Arroyo (formerly of LA underground metal-rap outfit Spine) and soldiered on.

A lengthy lawsuit with label Artemis Records took up most of the band’s time in the later half of 2003. The suit was eventually settled and the band spent a month holed-up at Longview Farm Studios in Massachusetts hammering out the tracks that were to finally become “Until the End.” The band also welcomed guitarist Lisa Marie into its fold and is once again a quartet.

So after a nearly three year wait, is “Until the End” everything fans could hope for and more? In short, no.

After all the history, Kittie really does seem to just be a toy for the Lander sisters to play with. (All songs were written by Morgan Lander, melody, lyrics and guitar riffs, while Mercedes had a hand in “additional arrangement” on six songs and Arroyo on two. Marie was added towards the end of recording and it isn’t clear how much part, if any, she had one this album.)

“Spit” seemed raw and the band seemed to show some sort of promise. But instead of developing into a formidable band with direction, the trio floundered around in the death metal pool for its follow-up and, on its third full-length (there was an EP to follow each album), the band continues to feel directionless and unformed pulling in elements from each of the previous albums.

The addition of “scene” veteran Arroyo helps in some respect. She is able to form the songs and add a nice back-beat to keep things somewhat on track. The band’s “sound” does seem more fleshed out, production-wise, from the opening of the first song “Look So Pretty.” But Morgan’s vocals just seem to lack that certain something evident in fellow female growlers like Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy. Maybe it’s the switching between the death metal growl and the melodic singing (which she does pull off with haunting success). Or maybe she just lacks something in the death metal delivery.

Speaking of the vocal switching, it’s back in full-effect on “Until the End,” and is actually quite welcome as “Oracle” just felt overbearing with the lack of melody. On the album’s title track, Morgan remains rooted almost entirely in the melodic vocal delivery, and it pays off as this is probably the disc’s best song.

On the guitar front, all the riffing sounds more full than anything the band offered up prior (again, probably due in part to the production). The riffing on tracks like “Red Flag” and “Career Suicide” sounds great.

As for the real star of the band, Mercedes has continued to develop as a drummer and it really shows. The back-beats throughout the album are meaty and energized. In interviews, staff working on the production side of things at Longview pointed out Mercedes could pound out track after track in perfect time without any aid. The drumming on each and every song is something to behold and definitely the star of “Until the End.”