For Morgan Lander, one of the big differences between Kittie's first CD, Spit, and the recently released follow-up Oracle can be summed up in one word: confidence. That shouldn't come as a surprise when one considers the band's experiences over the past two years.
When Spit was recorded, the four original band members -- Lander, her sister, Mercedes Lander (drums), Fallon Bowman (guitar) and Tanya Candler (bass) -- were between the ages of 15 and 17.
By the time the CD was finished, Candler had been replaced by Talena Atfield and the biggest show the group had played was a multi-band festival in Hartford, Connecticut before a crowd of 5,000.
In contrast, when Kittie went to work on Oracle early last year, the group had spent two years on the road including stints on Ozzfest -- music's premier heavy-metal festival tour -- and opened for Pantera. All told, the band had trotted the entire globe and sold more than 500,000 copies of Spit.
Lander said the travel and the opportunity to watch the music industry at work as Spit was marketed and promoted provided invaluable learning experiences for the band members.
And though they lost one guitarist, Bowman, who bowed out before recording sessions began on Oracle, what they gained far outweighed the setback, Lander said.
"More than anything I think it's self-realization," Lander noted, summing up the growth of Kittie over the past two years. "I know more about who I am now. I mean, when you're younger you're confused and you're not sure exactly who you are yet because that's what being a teenager is all about. And as I'm closing in on being 20, in like a month, I think I know myself and I think Oracle is showing a band that's more confident and comfortable with what we're doing."
This sense of self-assuredness had a direct effect on the music the band wrote and recorded for the new CD, added Lander.
"I think it's a little less one-dimensional," Lander said, comparing her two albums. "Whether it was intentional or not, there seems to be that extra layer, that extra dimension. And just the way we're arranging [songs] and thinking now, there's just more focus on specifics and the little things that make a great album a great album instead of just flat and monotonous.
"There's more room for depth and sort of reading into things, both musically and lyrically."
The music on Oracle bears out Lander's assessment. But the trademarks of Spit remain: the thick, roaring guitar riffs that drive the songs, the band's jackhammer rhythms and Lander's ability to alternate between fierce screams and sweetly sung vocals.
What's different are the specific and sometimes subtle differences that have given Kittie a more developed sound. For one thing, Lander has also improved considerably as a vocalist. New songs like "In Winter" and "What I Always Wanted" use her rich vocal tone to help provide full-bodied melodies that provide a stark contrast to the grinding riffs also present in the songs. Even Lander's feral scream has taken on a deeper tone, reaching a startling roar on songs like "Mouthful of Poison" and "Pain."
"I think that just comes with time and me feeling confident with my voice and knowing through touring and experience what I can and can't do with my voice," Lander said of her growth as a vocalist. "I know my voice now. I know how it sounds and I'm a little more comfortable with it. But definitely there's more attention to melody just because -- well, really, I don't know what to say, it's just something that came out."
The success of Spit and the acclaim Kittie received during Ozzfest 2000 -- when the band earned notice as one of the buzz bands of the heavy-metal festival -- undoubtedly created expectations for Oracle.
But Kittie tried to ignore any pressures that a band might typically feel going into a second CD, said Lander.
"We weren't sort of setting out to make a heavier album, like we had something to prove." she said. "We did a year and a half of touring, and there are a lot of things we've learned musically about ourselves, about each other, that really weren't realized until we came home and said, 'Let's go to work!' We'd been playing the same songs for that year and a half. We didn't realize how much we'd improved until we got back and said: 'All right, here we go.'"