When I was in seventh grade, I had an argument with my English teacher, Mrs. Folley, over a book report I had written. I recall it being among the finer works of my adolescent writing career. Mrs. Folley agreed. But she still gave me a D. The problem, she said, was that she couldn’t parse the horrendous chicken scratch that was my virtually illegible handwriting. I countered that if it was a writing assignment, I should be judged solely on the quality of my prose, not on what it looked like. Her response: What good is fine writing if no one can read it? She had me there. Though it took twice as long, I typed every paper thereafter and aced the class. The lesson? Presentation counts.
I don’t recall Alive & Well being in my seventh-grade English class. But the local metal band seems to have mastered my hard-learned lesson. Everything about the band’s debut album, The Rot of the World, screams — often literally — that this quintet pays meticulous attention to detail. The result is the most comprehensively impressive local heavy-music release in years. More than a mere collection of songs, the record is a work of art.
Alive & Well trace their lineage to another local metal band, equally noted for their own attention to particulars, Romans. A&W are the brainchild of ex-Romans drummer Kevin Savage — who plays guitar in A&W — and front man Josh Zelazny. Together with drummer Urian Hackney (Rough Francis) and scene vets Matt St. Gelais and T.J. Maynard on guitar and bass, respectively, they form a juggernaut of elegant — yes, elegant — progressive metal fury.
The LP’s immaculate packaging suggests the excellence found on both of the heavy-gauge vinyl records within. Keenan Bouchard’s eye-popping watercolor cover imparts as much frustration and sadness as does Zelazny’s anguished howls on “Starting Fires.” And the gaping skull that winds from the front cover to the back evokes as visceral a response as does the ferocious yet refined, melodic guitar attack on “Carry You.” Hackney’s punishing assaults throughout reflect the sinister tone of the dead rose and watering eyeball gracing the front cover.
You could just listen to The Rot of the World — ideally on a good turntable, and loud. But from near-virtuosic performances to the uncommonly conceived cover art, everything about the album suggests it’s meant to be experienced. Presentation does indeed count. And with Alive & Well’s debut record, it’s practically essential.
Alive & Well celebrate the release of The Rot of the World at Nectar’s Metal Monday this Monday, February 6.