Stemm – Cross Roads (2011)

Posted: September 10, 2011 in Music

The road to success isn’t necessarily a well-lit street or interstate highway. Many times, bands get the ‘expressway lane’ privilege due to good labels or a hit single. Other times, though, they have to get out of their beaten-down piece-of-shit van and move a dead moose or forge their own detour in order to proceed through the mud and gravel.

Such is the case with Niagra Falls’ groove rockers Stemm. They have been around for over a decade in one form or another, but unless you are a UFC fan, you probably still haven’t heard of them. In the last twelve years, there has been name changes, member changes, label changes, and enough chaos to derail most bands. From the ‘ups’ of opening for heavyweights Godsmack and Stone Sour, to the ‘downs’ of being in contract with the dismal I Scream records (yeah, fuck them), the band has run the gamut of the rock and roll lifestyle. But here we are in late 2011, and the band is set to release their 5th full-length – Cross Roads – to the public on September 13th.

Mired in complacency, I was interested to see what this band had to offer (or, more honestly, why they have been pretty much ignored over the last two presidencies.) For as much as I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the scene and consider myself the ‘go-to’ guy for metal news and information, this band – somehow – never hit my radar over the last few years.

Maybe it’s an insult to the hard work and dedication of the members of Stemm (Joe Cafarella, Alex Scouten, Dan Nelligan, and Mario Nobilio), but the fact that it took me until now to even recognize the band’s existence doesn’t speak well to the promotion of the group as a whole. That type of obliviousness leads me to question “Why?”

After the research staff filled me in on their tireless report, it became obvious that this isn’t a bad band – just a band stuck in limbo. No big label = no big promotion, and both I Scream and Catch 22 Records aren’t exactly tearing up the industry with their rosters. But after listening to the Cross Roads, one thing is apparent: it’s definitely not the band’s fault.

This record is gritty, hard, and delivered with the type of ‘performance’ value usually reserved for bands far more popular from a ‘scene’ standpoint. I was, without a doubt, blown away by the sonic boom presented here. It’s heavy as hell, and has just enough of that ‘Pantera/Skynyrd’ whiskey-soaked vibe to keep it cool. It’s the kind of ‘biker-grease-meets-cowboy-boots’ rock that propelled HellYeah and Black Label Society to the forefront of metal. There’s not a ton of bands playing this style these days, so the timing might just be perfect for Stemm.

Cafarella’s vocals are just rusty enough to avoid the ‘clean vocals’ label, but it’s not the indiscernible growl you get from time to time with bands of this style. In fact, his vocal stylings were as genuine and accessible as anyone’s. If I had to describe it, I’d put it somewhere between Layne Stayley and Phil Anselmo. It packs plenty of punch and swagger throughout the album, and is obviously the showcase of the group.

As strong as the vocals are, though, the concentration on them becomes a bit of a distraction after a while. I have a feeling that Scouten (guitar) and Nelligan (drums) are absolute beats – but it seemed the mix didn’t give them the chance to shine as bright as I think they were capable of. I would imagine that stands out more with the band’s live performance, but here it felt muted from time to time.

Don’t misinterpret that and think you can’t hear the music – you definitely can. There are moments along the way here that give everyone a chance to throw an uppercut, and when delivered, they are square to the chin. “Fleur de Lis” packs a few blows, as does “Monster” – but when it comes to the ‘knockout punch’, you can skip ahead to “Smile and Wave.” The track is packed with riffs, drum fills, and bass. Enough to drop you to your knees. It’s obvious these guys have been playing rock and roll for a while – as the precision and skill is impeccable.

That’s not to say this is ‘album of the year’ quality. There are a couple of tracks here and there that will remind you of Nickelback and their army of wannabees. The softer tracks “Before The Storm” and “After The Tide” assume more of a ‘duck-and-dodge” stance, while “Left Behind” and “What Do You Think Of Me Now?” wind up for heavy blows, but just barely graze the chin with an all-too-familiar groove to them.

All in all, though, this is was a decent record. It screams for a seedy, dark dice game in the alley or a night of backyard beer-pounding, with the type of energy and angst that makes you want to tie on a bandana across your skull and punch someone in the throat. You won’t make it through “Pulling Teeth” without wanting to fight someone. And it’s that type of attitude and vibe that just might finally get this band the recognition they deserve.

I hope so, because I’m pretty sure they are needing a new van right about now…


01. Salvation
02. Fleur de Lis
03. Dead Inside
04. Monster
05. What do you think of me now?
06. Left Behind
07. Before the Storm
08. Smile and Wave
09. Supernaut
10. Pulling Teeth
11. After the Tide

Buy at Amazon

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