It hasn”t been an easy ride for the members of Tantric. Bassist Jesse Vest, guitarist Todd Whitener and drummer Matt Taul enjoyed a modicum of rock stardom as three-fourths of the original lineup of Days of the New. When mercurial singer/songwriter Travis Meeks booted them back into obscurity in November 1998, the exiled trio could easily have quit the biz. Instead, they stuck together, hooked up with vocalist Hugo Ferreira (formerly of Detroit band Merge), and signed to Madonna”s Maverick Records. But before Tantric”s demo found its way to the right person at Maverick, the band was scraping to get by. When Ferreira moved from Detroit to Louisville to join Tantric (then known as C-14), he discovered that his new bandmates had swallowed a great deal of pride in order to stay together and make music. When he arrived in Kentucky, Ferreira says, “the bass player was working at Hooters cooking wings, the guitarist was picking up what he could, and you don”t want to know what the drummer was doing.” Eventually they got their break, and the chance to make Travis Meeks eat crow with their self-titled debut album. So at the end of the day, whether or not they achieve any measure of industry success, the members of Tantric get points for resiliency.
That”s the good news.
The bad news is that while the album is long on spiritual vibes and slick guitar work, it”s short on originality and inventiveness. Breaking new musical ground was never the strong point of Days of the New, and their eponymous debut finds Tantric similarly struggling to transcend their early-“90s grunge roots. Many of the songs adhere curiously to the old Days of the New aesthetic, which is no way for the band to make a name for themselves outside of Meeks” shadow. To put it mildly, there”s a great deal of borrowing going on here. The melodies are cookie-cutter Alice In Chains, and Ferreira seems to be impersonating his two favorite Scotts, namely Stapp and Weiland. The opening drum lick to “Live Your Life (Down)” bears an uncanny resemblance to the infectious intro to Alice In Chains” “No Excuses,” and the harmony vocals in “Astounded” and “I”ll Stay Here” sound as if Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell dropped by the studio to chat with Tantric about getting a share of the album royalties, but were instead duped into singing backups.
Larceny aside, Tantric has its moments. The full-bodied production of Toby Wright (who, wouldn”t you know it, also worked with Alice In Chains) accents the band”s strengths nicely, and when the quartet leaves behind the played-out grunge-isms to write songs, the results are remarkable. On songs like the rollicking “Breakdown,” the album”s first single, Ferreira”s vocal delivery takes on an element of confidence and clarity that put Scott Stapp”s best efforts to shame. Lyrically, Ferreira deals in universal, ambiguous sentiments that may fail to get his message across. He redeems himself, however, by singing like a man posessed on songs like “All To Myself” and the catchy, emotive “Mourning,” the album”s most compelling track. “Mourning” is where the band really comes into its own, offering up tasty layered guitars, raw emotion, and even a well-placed piano interlude in lieu of the usual growling repetition of chorus.
The album”s spiritual vibe comes off as less contrived than Creed but less genuine than, oh, say, Alice In Chains. Tantric”s mantra is positivity, but Ferreira has work to do if he wants to articulate his abstract ideas into something more tangible. The words “unfulfilled potential” come to mind when on one song Ferreira hits us with a line like “out of all this hurt we have/beauty thus become” (in “Mourning”), but on the next can only muster up filler like “hey hey hey, i just found my way/all you stupid fuckers walk around astounded” (in “Astounded”). It is this kind of inconsistency that keeps Tantric from achieving post-grunge greatness.
Taul, Vest and Whitener may yet make Travis Meeks regret giving them the axe, but on their self-titled debut, they fall short of forging their own identity. This band, which takes its name from Buddhist sexual practices, has a bright future but it is apparent that Tantric has yet to reach its climax.