FEEL – This (1994 Feel)
Russian Blue followed their critically acclaimed demo tapes with a full length CD, but perhaps it was the long wait that killed their chances. Between 1991 and 1994, the entire musical landscape had turned itself upside down. A name change was in order to suit the new climate, and after using the name Deadmoon for a little while, they settled on Feel. Simple: one word, one syllable, and trendy. Would they be able to maintain a level of quality over a full-length CD?
Almost. There is very little dead weight on Feel This.
“I Become You” is brutalizing, menacing, grooving detuned grunge. The presence of the bass is felt on this heavy recording. What Feel had that was different from other bands was the Axl-like screech of frontman Jo E. Donner. Indeed, when Donner multi-tracks his high voice with his lower register, the overall feeling is very Axl. Donner bellows forcefully, blowing out the speakers but not without help. Guitarist Richard Gauci and drummer Mike Willerding were capable of playing challenging rock. The drum patterns are busy and and Gauci is able to both shred like a hero, and also create the kind of noise that you needed to do in the 90’s. The band were between bassists. Robo was no longer in the band, so there are a couple session players on the CD.
Several smouldering tracks in a row occupy the first half of the album. “What You Made of Me”, “Wild Eye” and the lengthy “Brotherhood” all boast heavy guitar and vocal hooks. Wimps need not apply; Feel go for the throat even with a slower tempo. The songs sound well thought out, with attention given to every shriek and guitar noise manipulation. The bass grooves are absolutely key to all of this. Rumbling and shaking like a good Soundgarden line, they deliver the bass chills that fans of such sounds love. But was it all too similar to the chilly winds that had blown in from Seattle? Feel had been growing heavier and groovier on the demo tapes already, so I believe this to be a natural evolution that happened independently from the Seattle scene. Witness other Canadian bands such as I Mother Earth, who also evolved on their own into something that fit into that 90’s box.
The centerpiece of the album has to be “I Am Your Mind”. Long with a droning, irresistible chorus and cool lyrics — what’s not to like? This tune takes only one listen to bore its way deep into your medial temporal lobe. Building dramatically, every guitar hook will sink in hard, only for Donner to hit everything home with his powerful larynx. Everything is perfect — a song of this quality could easily have been on Badmotorfinger or Superunknown. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
The second half of the CD has fewer highlights. After being slammed in the face with so much heaviness, Feel were wise to put on an acoustic number next. “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong” is good, and shows off the band’s Zeppelin influences especially in the vocals. It’s just that Feel unplugged doesn’t have the kick that Feel does fully electrified. On the other hand, another listener might say it’s the best track. The first skipper is “Under My Wing”, too slow and boring. Not enough Sabbathy slow, just stuck in the wrong gear. Back to the groove is the killer “Drip Sweet Blood”. Making use of trendy 90’s vocal distortion, Donner blows the speakers especially around the 3:15 mark with another hair-raising bellow — just awesome. “Stand on Walls” sounds something like a Skid Row outtake. It’s nothing outstanding, but it’s only 3:38. Closing the disc is “All”, which was formerly known as “Black” on the second Russian Blue demo. The psychedelic intro from the demo was axed, tightening up the song and amplifying its power. Alternating from soft to loud, “All” kind of does have it all, at least for 1994.
Feel could have got themselves off to a great career with This as a debut album. Unfortunately I think by 1994 it was already too late.