The Phantom Tollbooth
This is Solid State Volume 1
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Solid State Records
Length: 16 Tracks/61:12 minutes

Sampler or compilation albums always have an inherent pattern: a couple of  songs that really stand out, and a bunch you can live without.  This is Solid State Volume 1 comes close to breaking that law, but not quite.

Solid State Records, a division of the almighty Tooth and Nail Records, was formed expressly to switch the heavier bands from T&N onto their own label.  Since the move, Solid State has continued to add to its roster, sighing new bands such as Warlord and Stretch Arm Strong, and licensing albums from foreign bands such as Extol and Blindside.  Thus, now that Solid State has grown it's roster sufficently, the time for a stand-alone compilation is at hand.  Still, despite the recent signings, this comp reveals just how thin the Solid State roster is, with five tracks from now defunct artists and a re-recorded version of an old Living Sacrifice song, making for only ten songs by active bands.  Also, the liner notes claim that four of the tracks are previously unreleased, while I know at least one has been released and strongly suspect another has been, as well.

The album starts with the always tight Living Sacrifce rerecording a song from the Nonexistant album, and giving it more of a metalcore crunch to it then the old death/doom sound.  The Stretch Arm Strong track, "Outside Looking In," is a surprise, as it is one of the weakest songs recorded by the band.  One the best Zao songs from Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest is next, followed by an excellent song by Selfmindead, who skillfully flirt with rapcore while providing some great sing-a-long hardcore.  The song by Embodyment, "Halo Of Winter," proved boring and an overall disappointment in quality, while the new Warlord track showed that the band has moved away from their doom/hardcore sound to a more scumcore sound for their new album.  Training For Utopia dishes up some of their insanely chaotic hardcore with "Human Shield," and Extol proves their metal mastery with the tight "Celestial Completion."  If there is one track that stands above all others on this comp, it's Extol, proving the hype is true.  Blindside's song is good if you can make it past the stupid intro, while Spitfire tests the endurance limit of your eardrums with their song "Quintessense."  Living Sacrifice makes a second appearence with "Threatened," followed by a classic by Focused.  Unashemed, Strongarm, Overcome, and Focal Point finish off the album with a block of older bands from the T&N back catalog.

While there are some obvious winners on here, such as Zao's and Extol's songs, the rest fall into the "good but not great" catagory.  On this, Solid State is to be congratulated, as there are no blatently awful songs on this comp, a feat not often accomplished.  Still, if you've been hearing the rumors and hype about many of these bands, Solid State's Volume 1 is an excellent way to discover them for yourself.  You basically can't go wrong with a Solid State Sampler.

Joe Rockstroh (7/31/99)

Complete Track Listing:

1.    Living Sacrafice "Enthroned 98"
2.    Stretch Arm Strong "Outside Looking In"
3.    Zao "To Think of You Is to Treasure an Absent Memory"
4.    Selfmindead "Progress"
5.    Embodyment "Halo of Winter"
6.    Warlord "A Knife In the Dark
7.    Training for Utopia "Human Shield"
8.    Extol "Celestial Completion"
9.    Blindside "Invert"
10.  Spitfire "Quintessence"
11.  Living Sacrafice "Threatened"
12.  Focused "Absence"
13.  Unashamed "Meet Us Here"
14.  Strongarm "These Times That Try Men's Souls"
15.  Overcome "When Beauty Dies"
16.  Focal Point "Broken Bonds"