The dreadfully-named but fairly listenable Rifftrospective is a best-of album that spans the ten year career of Bristolian alt-metal outfit Left Side Brain. Who? No, I’ve never heard of ‘em either, ten year career or not… which is surprising, really, as I saw loads of bands that made a similar noise throughout the noughties, and I’d have thought a Bristol band would have played in my old stomping grounds of Portsmouth more than once or twice. Perhaps they did.
What isn’t entirely clear – despite the hefty verbiage of the accompanying press release – is whether Rifftrospective is a pupation or a swan-song. We’re told it’s a marker for their ten-year anniversary; we’re told it’s not meant for existing fans, but for “the people we’ve missed along the way” (which is certainly me, as the preceding paragraph makes clear). What we’re not told is whether Rifftrospective marks the wrapping-up of Left Side Brain‘s affairs; their website claims gigs and recordings in the pipeline for next year, but a ten-year retrospective with no new tunes has a feeling of finality around it, intended or otherwise.
That’s something of a shame, because this is good competent Brit-alt-metal; nothing particularly remarkable or innovative, but some beefy riffs and grooves (are those Marshall Mode 4s I can hear shoving the air around?), plus sung vocals that avoid chart-pop saccharine and uber-manly metal silliness with equal aplomb. Think of Cortizone (or, if you’ve not heard of Cortizone – who, come to think of it, were probably contemporaries of Left Side Brain, and would have made for a great double bill with them – you can substitute an Anglicised version of Aftertaste-era Helmet) meets Amplifier, with a smidgen of The Almighty’s mid-career swagger and confidence; grungy and a little sullen, but with a Kerbdog-esque knack for knowing just where the next note or change needs to fall. Which leads me to conclude that Left Side Brain were/are one of those bands who just happened about five years too late; if you’d dropped these tunes on me around 2002, I’d have immediately slipped into high-evangelism mode, describing them as a bright hope for edgy metal-sans-macho-clichés with a distinctly British voice, which was a market category that really felt like it was going to go somewhere at that point. But then came Fall Out Boy and the apostasy of Lostprophets, and… well, you know the rest. You lived through it too, right?
Anyways, there’s a remarkably consistent sound across the three albums represented in this track-list; not surprising, perhaps, when you consider they were all produced by the same chap (Neal Calderwood). In some ways, this is a good thing, but it’s also a bit of a downer: tracks recorded over a five-year period should display at least some sort of evolution and growth in a band’s songs, shouldn’t they? That said, perhaps it’s more excusable to stick to your formula when it’s as well-formed as the earlier tunes on Rifftrospective… and yet more PR blurbage from the band themselves says clearly that they weren’t really interested in doing anything other than what they achieved, regardless of the financial consequences. So that’s my issue as listener rather then Left Side Brain‘s issue as artists… and in many ways I have more respect for their stance than that of bands who chase trends and then get bitter when the fame cheques bounce.
I just hope they carry on, as they claim they’re going to; there’s a paucity of trend-free heavy music in the UK at the moment, and I’d like there to be more of it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.