I sit down with Bob and Matt.  Also there is John, Dryvel’s new bassist, who recently replaced Nick.  We talk in depth about the record, life, and the band.  We listen to the tracks.  A week passes and here I am, no closer to the review being done.

The problem is objectivity.  It’s hard to be objective when reviewing as hard working or likeable a band as Dryvel.  I happened to go to school with Bob and Matt and I know they’ve been plugging away at the band since their high school days.  Now in their mid-twenties, the band is a bigger part of their lives than ever.

Bob juggles the band and a full time job in the construction and home repairs business.  Matt left a professional engineering job to devote himself fully to band.  And John, the newest member is also finding the time commitments required to call yourself a member of Dryvel.

But its not all work and no fun.  The band enjoys a very loyal contingent of local fans, appreciative of the band’s dynamic live shows, and the band also has an increasingly polished sound to show for all its hard work.

Dryvel: 2010 era

Dryvel: 2010 era

In light of all the band’s sacrafices and gains, it’s thus hard to be objective and unbiased in this review.  But here goes.

He Walks Alone was produced in 2009 and finished in 2010.  It marks the band’s second full length release  – the first in eight years, and their first one since high school, more notably.  It is a concept album to boot.  The concept is the story of a young guitarist who is trying to find his way in life and faces a lot of struggles in his quest for identity.

It falls roughly into the punk/alternative genre.  The closest example I can come up with for a similar artist is Rise Against.  Like that band, they feature fast-yet-catchy guitar riffs, emotional lyrics, and chorus-style vocals.

I hesitate to call it emo as there’s relatively little focus on love-issues, with most of the drama being focused on personal struggles with drugs, depression, expectations, the search for meaning, and other demons.  Surprisingly many of these plots are attacked from atraditional angles.  For example, lyrics about drugs have no foundation in personal experiences with drug abuse — rather they are a dual account of personal medical experiences and inner emotional demons.  That’s a bit unusual for a rock band.

Also relatively unusual is how incredibly polished the record is for being entirely self-produced.  The instrumentals are well-executed, and the vocals are much improved since earlier releases.

One song that really showcases the band’s progress is “The Train That Stopped My Ambulance”.  It features key shifts, wonderful guitar work, pleasantly chugging drums, and wonderful hook-filled chorus.

Another song I personally enjoyed was “The Good Word”.  It featured an incredibly catchy chorus that really sticks in your head.  It also was one of the album’s more uplifting tracks.

Speaking of uplifting, the band made a conscious effort to keep the overall feel of the record positive despite the album having its fair share of darker parts and “downer” tracks.  The band is fond of quoting the line from “Go Time”: “Hold your head up high, and carry on just fine.”

Again, I have to emphasize that the record is VERY polished, and really enjoyable to listen to.  The tracks are catchy, which is generally what you want to see in the pop/punk/alternative genre.  I would compare the album to early Blink 182 (e.g. Cheshire Cat) or Sum 41 in catchiness, in fact.

The album also grows on you over time, something the band emphasizes.

So is this a good record, or a GREAT record?  That depends on your perspective.  For a self-produced effort, this is pretty close to being a great record.

But evaluating it against all bands past and present, it’s also a bit safe.  It’s a fun record to listen to and you’ll find yourself playing it more and more frequently, but it doesn’t really push the envelope.  Again, I draw the comparison of Cheshire Cat or Sum 41′s All Killer No Filler.  I love both of those albums, but they’ve already been done.  The concept adds a bit of originality to the project, but it’s not out there enough (see the bands Of Montreal/Coheed and Cambria for tutorials on how to create f*cked up and attention-grabbing concept albums) to save the project from feeling a bit retread.

In other words, if there’s one weakness of He Walks Alone, its that for all its catchiness and independent charm, you’ve heard it before, or more aptly heard something very similar.

The sad fact is that despite the fact that Dryvel produced a damn good record, they may not get the recognition they deserve in part because of this, and in part because of the luck needed to get such a nod.  The band will doubtless keep plugging away, but the question becomes whether or not a larger indie label like Epitaph, etc. will take notice.

In order to get that attention, they may have to push the envelope a bit more — go in a new, untread direction musically or instrumentally.  That’s no knock on the band.  After all Kevin Shields struggled for more than 7 years with a murky goth sound before, underpaid and high on ecstasy, he started experimenting with the tremolo.  The result was My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless — often regarded as one of the best rock albums of all time

On the flip side of the coin, the band is pretty darn catchy and He Walks Alone shows that.  For what it lacks in treading new ground, it makes up for in listenability.

This is Dryvel’s first full length release as a mature band (2002′s work was self-described as more of a hobby effort), so they still have plenty of time to experiment, now that they have their sea legs, so to speak.  Just getting a project like this out the door without outside help is a tremendous accomplishment.  The process should be a lot easier the second time around.

Competition is fierce, but hopefully this work will attract the attention of a major label.  Honestly, I could see this band as playing on a label like Epitaph or Victory Records.  The record is starting to get local radio play on WXOU, Oakland University’s radio show and on 89X’s “The Homeboy Show”, which should help.  Perhaps with a little luck, a lot more hard work — and just maybe a bit more experimenting next time around — they will get their label nod.

There — that was relatively objective.  Writing a review of Dryvel’s latest effort was hard — listening to the album was far easier and more enjoyable.  Go listen to it for yourself, say I.

Our Summary:
Lyrics: 8/10
Vocals: 7/10
Instrumentals: 8/10
Originality: 5/10

Overall: 7.5/10

Dryvel currently is: Robert Grupido (guitars/vocals), Matt Marriott (drums), and John Cottone (bass/vocals).

Nick Coccia is the band’s former long-time bassist, who played the tracks on the record.

The band spoke to me at length about the record.  I’m working to post the majority of that interview in the near future, as soon as I can, so stay tuned!!!