Perceptions of SOON tend to arrive with a smirk. The nascent, metal-clad quartet is the secondary concern of Stuart McLamb, whose long-running band The Love Language favors Spector-swept pop that basks in its own romantic glow. Consequently, the slow-moving, low-tuned SOON generated preemptive criticism as a trend-chasing fad (meant to earn its frontman tough-guy cachet) or as a passing fancy (a convenient distraction within a genre that prides itself as a lifestyle). "Poser shit," one might quip.
But the magnetic "We Are On Your Side," which starts SOON's debut, silences the cynics, at least for five minutes. The quartet slinks through the verses, Mark Connor's ominous guitar line snaking through the rhythm section's sinister plod. In the chorus, though, the amps suddenly fire with distortion. The rhythm section of Rob Walsh and Thomas Simpson wallops with purpose. And McLamb crests above it all, an air of menace outlining his refrain's wonderfully theatric arc. It sounds like steel-plated Love Language or, viewed from a different vantage, doom delivered by a classically gifted singer. This is a truly introductory anthem, then, an assertion that this band is some aggressive update on McLamb's past, not some vapid turn from it.
When SOON lets McLamb's preternatural ease with melody guide these songs, the band ensnares its audience with a trap built with high volume and set with a winning refrain. For seven of these eight songs, that's exactly what they do. "Datura Stramonium" pulls a bit of U2's grandeur (and The Edge's love of stereo delay) into its rumble, while "Burning Wood" punches through a bulwark of distortion with the glee of Torche. Acoustic creeker "Mauveine" drifts through forlorn scenes of disrepair, cellos tracing the frown-shaped harmonies. All these tunes use the hook as the ballast; they're so strong you could imagine many of them recast by a rock band.
But when SOON pushes beyond that framework, the entire operation can feel fragile, like an experiment in need of an anchor. For the finale, SOON slips into a fog-shrouded haze of amplifier worship, the tubes glowing like an effete Sunn O))) approximation. It's a trial best chalked up to error on an album that, for the most part, moves assuredly through an alternate universe of heavy hits.
SOON appears Friday, March 4 at Kings in Raleigh. Tickets are $7, the show starts at 9:30 p.m.
This article appears in print with the headline "Sooner and Later."