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Hope In Anguish - East West (2003)

The freshman release from Orange County hard rockers East West, 2001's The Light in Guinevere's Garden, was a breakout success. With Garden pulling down the Dove Award for Hard Music Album of the Year, copious Christian and mainstream chart time and nearly universal critical praise, the follow-up effort, Hope in Anguish, indeed has some pretty big shoes to fill. Songs like "Drink Me," an engaging, pop-inclined version of much of what appeared on Guinevere's Garden, find the SoCal foursome well up to the task. The likewise interesting "Seven" features a slowly-building crescendo that pulls the listener firmly into its groove. And "For Every Wish" is a driving piece anchoring sludgy post-grunge sonics to a melodic hard-rock underpinning with decidedly winning results.

Other entries don't fare nearly so well. "Murderer" and "Envy" are mostly aimless melanges, while "The Great Facade" and "The Final Say" are similarly incongruous workouts that come across as more perfunctory than inspired. "Carpe Noctum" is a far-too-long exercise in instrumental noodling and random sound effects that most listeners will be hard-pressed to listen to more than once. And songs like the leadoff track, "Vacant," are indicative of the lion's share of what's left: enervated, by the-numbers post-grunge and nu-metal run through a flat, overly thin production aesthetic.

In fairness, the group did log some 200 tour dates in support of the Guinevere release and had only two weeks to prepare a demo for the new album. And recent roster changes have certainly added at least a degree of uncertainty to the equation. A handful of Anguish's songs might have gone toe to toe with the freshman outing had they been graced with a fuller, more lively production sense, and the next release may very well find the foursome fully gelled and ready to return to their previous high water mark. As it stands, though, the new record reveals a group teetering ever on the verge of truly opening up and cutting loose, but, with very few exceptions, never really doing so.