"True Southern Californian Black Metal" doesn't sound quite right to begin with. OK, so I added the "true" part and geographic location is irrelevant, but that does not change the fact that hard as they try THE FUNERAL PYRE just do not fully convince with their style of melodic black metal from either an atmospheric or songwriting standpoint. I found elements of the group's sound to be solid on the above-average "The Nature of Betrayal", but on the whole nothing bowled me over. I've still not heard 2008's "Wounds", probably because the previous effort left me nonplussed. So I gave the "December" EP a try and found that it is even less convincing than "The Nature of Betrayal". The new EP has its moments and it is not without value; it is simply musically mediocre and mostly devoid of anything otherworldly or dangerous.
So what's the major malfunction? That's the rub. There is nothing seriously problematic about the five songs on "December". There is just very little that leaves a lasting impression. The trad-BM melodies of guitarist James Joyce skirt the edges of entrancement ("Into the Soil") and can become rather aggressive ("The Last Breath of Man", the album's best cut). But when combined with John Strachan's scratchy vocals (almost as much metalcore as BM) and a drumming style from Al Hernandez that can seem disconnected from the music (some fills and transitions are disjointed), not to mention a bass-drum sound that clicks instead of punches, the pieces just don't fall together quite right. In all fairness, these are not terrible songs. They're just middling. The antiseptic production doesn't help matters and may even detract from the songwriting core.
Yet this is not a band that is easy to dislike. The potential continues to seem within reach. The problem is one of soullessness. Where there should be fire, you get sparks.