Project 86 has been bringing their brand of hard rock to the masses now since the late `90s, and unfortunately, if Picket Fence Cartel proves anything it is that the band are victims of their time. You see, for all intents and purposes, these guys are still rocking an extremely outdated nü-metal style. While there is some competent playing throughout and the occasional stylistic variation, things ultimately feel like a band grasping at straws, because this is a pretty boring record.
"Destroyer" begins with a pretty uninteresting crunchy riff but they add a pretty cool siren-like effect in the background that complements the clean guitar lead quite nicely. That is where the good stuff ends, as the band seems to get a little carried away with production techniques and forgets to write a good tune. They then shift to their goth rock tendencies and put this horrible effect on Andrew Schwab's otherwise strong vocal performance that reminds me of Lonely Island's "Jizz My Pants." While most of the songs have underwhelming guitar work, that seems to try and work as a showcase for Schwab. "Cement Shoes" ruins some of their catchiest guitar riffs with goofy lyrics like "So we bow it to, bow it to, kneel before you," which are repeated and don't even seem to make sense grammatically. Perhaps experimenting and failing is more admirable than moments like "The Butcher" and "Cyclonus," which are just forgettable, monotonous slabs of nü-metal indistinguishable from the plethora of songs played by anonymous bands opening for bands like the Deftones and Godsmack in the late `90s.
When the band tries to go into full-on hardcore territory, the results are, as the title "Cold and Calculated" would suggest, containing one of the most boring breakdowns I've ever heard. Surprisingly enough, when the band does attempt Quicksand / At the Drive-In-eque post-hardcore on "The Spectacle of Fearsome Acts," it actually all works really well, from the riffs to the guitar effects. Similarly, when Schwab uses a vocal delivery reminiscent of Shudder to Think's Chris Wedren on "Dark Angel Dragnet," it elevates an otherwise average song.
It makes sense that the band trying to expand upon their formula would have a misstep or two, but when your original formula isn't anything that desirable to begin with, those missteps become obvious sore spots highlighting both the band's ineptitude at a style and the formulaic nature of the songs surrounding them, and that's what tends to happen on Picket Fence Cartel. If Project 86 were to just isolate the few bright spots on this album such as "The Spectacle of Fearsome Acts" they might have something there worth listening to.