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Welcome
Artist: Taproot
Label: Atlantic
Length: 12 Tracks/46:48 min

When Michigan quartet Taproot released their debut album, Gift, in 2000, they had everyone from the indie press to heavy metal magazines gushing forth adjectives like "jaw-dropping" and "exceptional." Such plaudits were not wholly undeserved - Taproot's brand of Deftones-influenced rage was one of the brighter moments in a year that was oversupplied with "agit-rock" - and helped push Gift towards respectable sales of a quarter of a million.

Judging by the melodic sounds and harmonies emanating from Welcome, it appears that Taproot have ambitions to sell to far more people than Gift did, something that has been explicitly stated by the band in recent interviews. Opener "Mine" sets out the new Taproot stance in clear fashion. Although it begins with heavy power chords, it quickly settles into a verse with a pseudo-jazz groove, before unleashing a chorus that mixes a radio-friendly hook with unfriendly but welcome guitar crunch. Taproot use this formula of heavy intros, gentler verses and schizophrenic choruses for many of the songs on Welcome. When it works, the results can be mind-bendingly good. "Art," for example, features a delectable moment when singer Stephen Richards asks the question, "Will I make it?," in an almost angelic voice, before answering himself, "Well, I'll try," using a full, death metal growl. The only complaint is that some of the songs lose momentum by Taproot's insistence on "taking things down." Contrary to most heavy rock albums, where there is a need for more light to complement the shade, this is an album where the listener is often left wishing that the band would just keep their collective foot on the testosterone pedal for longer periods at a time.

The spectre of seminal Seattle band Alice In Chains hangs heavily over Welcome. It was produced by Toby Wright, who was responsible for AIC's last full-length, eponymous opus. AIC singer Layne Staley was due to be guesting on the album until the drugs overdose that robbed the world of yet another great rock voice. Most of all, however, the influence is heard in the minor key harmonies that dominate the songs and which could easily have been lifted straight off AIC's bonafide classic "Dirt" album. Unfortunately for Taproot, Welcome is no Dirt. Nevertheless, it does contain enough strong songs and interesting musical ideas to prevent them from becoming also-rans in an increasingly congested hard rock field.

Vik Bansal  10/12/2002

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