A.Tone Da Priest "October Sky"
It would be all too easy to accuse Marco Restrepo of wearing his heart on his sleeve, but the painful experiences of his past have forced his hand, resulting in a no-holds-barred form of expression. Taking on the name A. Tone Da Priest, he continuously shifts between rapping and singing, keeping a singular vision in his grasp by way of his own mixing and production. October Sky is a dense album, a 72-minute excursion through non-linear compositions from the subconscious mind. A. Tone’s sound is a restless blend of rap and rock with the amps permanently turned up to 11, sometimes at the risk of drowning out the subtleties within certain selections.
Far too often, the listener is hit full blast with sonic distortion in the form of guitars shredding their way through a wall of fuzz. On cuts like “Disguise,” however, this relentless aural pounding helps drive the inner turmoil of the lyrics home. Lines like “I’ve seen the devil’s face in the center of my eyes” barely swim above the rising tide of noise, reducing the drum programming to tinny snares and plastic cymbals. “Blue Sky” stands in stark contrast as A. Tone places a tighter rein on the musical elements. The drum pads thump louder, providing a tether in the midst of instrumental sludge. What Marco lacks in terms of lyrical flow, he more than makes up for with the imagery that his words create. He wisely holds back the guitars until the song’s hook, allowing for a heavy descent into despair.
At other points on the album, the bass guitar acts as a harmonic pied piper, encouraging the rest of the instrumentation to get into the groove. Within the two-chord bounce of “Technicolor,” percussive sequences and electronic bleeps accent a simple yet fun bass line and equally infectious vocal hook. The danceable vibe of “Normal” is obtained through cold industrial drum patterns and slightly gothic guitar riffs, sounding like a cross between The Cure and Front 242 that’s topped off with A. Tone’s rhymes. The groove veers straight towards head nod territory on “Black Doves, White Crows” with sneaky bass tones over stripped-down beats and an eerie whistle emanating from a back alleyway. This song features Da Priest at his most confident on the microphone, perhaps feeling inspired while rocking verses with his longtime band mate Sean Spellz.
Sometimes he’s simply guilty of trying to do too much at once. “Little Girl” sounds like it could be the composite of three different versions of the same song. The serene guitar and rhythmic taps from the intro are shoved aside by an insistent bass line and raucous guitar licks, completely drowning out the keyboard accompaniment. In addition, A. Tone’s singing is not without its limitations. His voice isn’t short on passion, but the notes that are sung are rarely in the key of the song itself. None of the ideas presented here are bad ones; they just sound awkward together. The same can be said for the demented dub reggae of “Blaze Starr,” which features R&B-flavored vocal harmonies housed in dissonance rather than resonance.
Somewhere within the 22 tracks of October Sky is a decent 11-track mini-album and that’s probably the most frustrating thing about this release. You can’t help but root for A. Tone Priest as he works through mental and emotional anguish in his music. If it sounds messy, it is an understandable reflection of just how messy life can be. At the same time, his penchant for cacophony threatens to overpower the hidden layers of his productions that deserve to be heard, thereby doing himself a disservice in the process.
Artist: A. Tone Da Priest
Album: October Sky
Reviewed by Jason Randall Smith
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)