Debut full length Reign of the Unblinking Eye from The Bendal Interlude is an exercise in riffs-a-plenty done with a southern groove metal swagger. They flirt with a few different approaches throughout that don’t stray far from this formula but by and large groove reigns supreme. At first the familiarity of the sound is welcoming but this ends up being the album’s downfall as a whole. It’s just too familiar, meaning almost identical to an entire subset of metal.
Since 2005 this UK band has amassed three demos and two EP’s that all share the same southern metal approach. Their sound has progressively improved but as of their last EP Odourama they still retained the nasty edge that had been a constant. This helped matters since originality has never been a strong suit. So, at the very least their output was overtly aggressive and as nasty as swamp water. For this debut however, the production job is by far the best they’ve had but the sacrifice is their filthy edge in previous works is gone. Couple that with the ongoing issue of lacking originality and the album gasses before the finish line.
Most of the songs within share striking similarities to many bands that have a prominent southern metal flair. “Triumph of Fortitudo” could have been a bonus track on a Beaten Back to Pure album and “Pint of Bodies” has a riff centric groove that in one moment vibes on Dimebag Darrell and in the next the duo of Pepper Keenan and Woody Weatherman, despite the fact that it begins with a healthy dose of thrash. The band’s tightly wound riffs and explosive percussion are well done, so no knocks on their collective talent. It’s evident they can play but the songwriting is stale and shows no progression at all in that regard. As much as some of these songs have their head bobbing qualities, once or twice through only makes the listener pine for the originators emulated here.
Vocalist Nat Gavin anchors the outing and at least gives it a semblance of the band’s vicious past that the clean production robbed from the album otherwise. His acid torn vocal chords do the most damage on “The Block”. But the band as a whole are the best here as well. Mixing trudging tempos and down-tuned chords with some of the finest drumming on the album, the band nail the atmosphere and feeling associated with southern metal — the hopelessness and utter disregard for musical harmony. And Gavin somehow still forcefully takes the spotlight with extra emphasis on his incensed sounding garbled rasp. It’s the most convincing and original track of all offered here as well as the best written, easily taking the albums highlight spot.
It’s a shame really that Reign of the Unblinking Eye only yields one truly great track. Had The Bendal Intelude paid more attention to the songwriting this could have been an absolute beast of an album. But as is its just too close — near carbon copy — to the many influences echoed to near hero-worship proportions throughout. In addition it’s too repetitive, groove is a great thing in moderation but here the band doles out the whole handle in one sitting and the album suffers greatly because of it.