Even as the old saying goes, "you can't judge a book by its cover," most readers of this website will associate Trapped Under Ice with the hangin-on-the-stoop promo picture that also adorned the band's 2007 demo 7". However, if you're coming into this review expecting a bashing on this band and a general dismissal of so-called tough-guy hardcore, you are mistaken. Even though this band plays a mix of NY-inspired hardcore mix of heaviness and groove, the simple truth is that it is done so well that it would be impossible to deny this band its place as one of the best bands currently playing hardcore.
Delivering on the promise of its breakout 2007 Stay Cold 7", this debut full-length keeps things straight to the point. With no song making it to three minutes and six of the 12 tracks staying under two, the band is in it and out and never overstays its welcome, laying out a string of catchy and solid riffs underneath the vocalist's gritty take on urban decay and personal struggle.
A clear standout of the record is the second track, "Believe," which features catchy heavy riffs and a pessimistic look at urban life: "No hope -- I can't believe. No hope. What's left to believe in? Believe in what I see, believe in hate, believe in sin. Lie, cheat, and steal -- in the name of death." Amazingly, the track segues into a sample from the musical Hairspray, with its bright and peppy lyric, "Good morning Baltimore, every day's like an open door‚?¶" The juxtaposition makes for a both compelling and humorous satire of the disparity of the realities of life in major urban cities.
While the first half of this record does outshine the second half, it is still a solid release and shows the band delivering on its massive hype.
"Massive hype" is right.
Even during the band's infancy, everything from daily MySpace bulletins to word-of-mouth via casual conversations at local shows had sported the name Trapped Under Ice in some form or another. From the driving, slightly cracked hi-hat behind their playbook of unsettling chord changes, the band easily dismissed the title of "hype band" with a promising demo and a close to flawless NYHC-inspired EP -- their debut full-length Secrets of the World could not have been recorded under more pressure.
And they deliver, for the most part.
"See God," "Gemini" and "TUI" all share some of the more lovable aspects to the band: catchiness. The rhythms stick in your head and the lyrics and flow grab you like a good rap hook, while the remainder of the album demolishes your tender ear drums with heaviness, though sometimes risking quality control over the lyrics. It's a bit of a misstep considering how refreshing Stay Cold was lyrically, but the songwriting of the instrumentals makes everything that much better. The latter half of Secrets of the World takes that "songwriting" and flirts around the border of their comfort zone. "Eye Hand" breaks into a grooving melodic guitar solo to segue into some diminished layers; "From Birth" actually throws in a metal-esque single note riff; and, in general, there's a sense of the songs "breathing" more instead of riffing clutter.
Sure, the gang vocals should have been turned up, but Trapped Under Ice have done exactly what they should have done with Secrets of the World as a debut. "Highly recommended" is kind of an understatement.