Saturday, September 3, 2011

Diamond Plate - Generation Why?


I've made some extremely bold claims in the past in regards to this band.  I've said that Diamond Plate deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Warbringer, Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste, and other big name thrash acts of the 21st century.  I've compared them to legends like Megadeth, Exodus, and Overkill.  I've declared their live show not only the best for a band as young as them, but among the best thrash performances imaginable. And possibly boldest of all, I declared them the unequivocal, indisputably best thrash band of the decade.  All this before they were even signed or had a full length album out.  Well since my last published review for the Relativity EP, Earache Records realized the potential the young trio possessed and snatched them up, finally giving my hometown prodigies the recognition and opportunity they so deserved.  And with this, their first full length album, Generation Why?, we can finally see what the band has matured into.

And frankly.... I'm not all that sure I like it that much.

I'm gonna review this in a slightly different way than usual, as I'm gonna give a whole journey, as opposed to simply my view on the album at hand.  I feel like there was more at stake for me here, this isn't as big of a disappointment as say, Nostradamus. And while that album features the dying whimpers of not only one of my personal favorite bands and also absolute legends of heavy metal, I wasn't there when Judas Priest started.  I didn't see Priest open for some legendary band and blow them away in the process, I didn't push an online praise campaign for them and yell louder than a jet engine about how badly they need to be signed and exposed.  I didn't see them in the early stages and witness their songwriting grow and evolve.  That's why this album is such a soul crusher for me, since I was around since relatively near the beginning, watching Diamond Plate open for Destruction and give the stalwart thrash legends a run for their money.  I was there when they debuted "Relativity", I immediately bought the EP when it was first made available and the only reason I don't own their first demo is because a buddy of mine bought the last copy.  I ranked them as the absolute, 100%, all around best thrash band making music in the 00s.  This was my pony, I was gonna ride this wagon all the way to superstardom and beam because I was there when they were still relative nobodies.  Earache signs them, they get a full length out, I honestly, seriously, feel extremely proud of these guys.  They've come a long way, and I feel good knowing that I helped them get where they are.

But with all of that said, I'm severely disappointed with the end result of this arduous process.  I'd like to consider myself "the average fan" when it comes to metal.  I'm not in a band, I'm barely a musician, I write about it as a hobby, I'm no better than Joe Schmoe McThrashypants in the grand scheme of things.  As the average fan, the thing I loved the most about Diamond Plate was their youthful energy and unbridled fury that manifested itself through layers of professionalism and finesse.  They were truly a unique beast.  I loved the aggression, the speed, the energy, the anger and disillusionment with the state of the world.  Everything shone through in their music, and it was the perfect representation of a youth brought up by the same shit with which I was brought up.  The age of the internet, unpopular, senseless wars, rampant corruption, just shit that doesn't matter and has taken away the human element of social interaction.  All the big Cold War and Reaganomics themes of the 80s thrash is still in effect in just a different form nowadays, and Diamond Plate realized that and made music to match.  They were confused and angry, and they only knew one way to express the pent up frustration.

But where is that now?  Where is that energy?  The rage, frustration, and anger?  It's all gone, it's now a shell of what it once was.  The fire of youth, the burning passion for this music has been put out seems, the youthful energy I loved so much has been replaced with a cold, unfeeling calculation.  Generation Why? feels manufactured in almost every way, instead of entering the studio with a dream of an album and a strong heart, the band approached the writing/recording process with a lab coat and tweezers.  I don't feel the soul in here anymore.  I think part of the blame falls on Neil Kernon's production.  When it was announced that he'd be producing, I was stoked for the band.  That opportunity they deserved so much was being given to them just like I'd hoped.  They got signed to a major label and were given a chance to work with one of the biggest names in the game right from the get go.  The one thing I seemed to forget was that Kernon is a lot like Andy Sneap in the sense that he specializes in a very sterile brand of production that many decry as one of the main offenders of the "loudness war".  And really, I finally understand how the old fogey thrashers feel when they bitch about how lifeless and sterile the production is for these new bands.  Diamond Plate always had pretty clean production, but here it is completely crystal clear and squeaky clean, there's no real aggression anymore.  It's all been replaced with anger from a bottle clearly labeled "rage" and just the exact right amount according to the measurements taken before recording was poured into the big DP vat.  The production adds to the whole package that makes this, in the end, sound like Trivium.

Really, think about it.  Approach this album with the mindset that this is the new Trivium album and you could easily fool yourself.  There are these strange metalcore tendencies thrown in all over the place that were never present on earlier recordings.  There are tons of chugging parts that would usually be considered "thrash breaks" or "mosh parts" in the context of a thrash song, but in conjunction with the vocal style and overall simplifying of what the band had been previously doing, it's approached more like a traditional metalcore breakdown.  The vocal style is something that had been a point of contention for a lot of people, and a quibble so severe that many people had cited them as the sole feature keeping them away from the band.  Jon has always had a really hoarse shout, and most (myself included) attributed it to his young age and figured he would grow into a more healthy bark as time went on.  Hell, we've all heard the barely pubescent James Hetfield shouting his adorable little peach fuzzed lungs out on early Metallica records and it was just part of their character.  But here it's only deteriorated, his voice has never improved.  I have a friend who refers to the vocals as "whisper shouts" and I can kind of understand what he's saying when he says that.  They're very hoarse and lacking in power, and unfortunately, remind me of Matt Heafy, once again reaffirming my Trivium comparison.

I also mentioned the oversimplifying of the songs earlier, and this is a HUGE problem to me.  Fans of the Relativity EP will certainly notice a few things upon first listen.  One is that the track "Relativity" is shorter, and the other is that "At the Mountains of Madness", the band's trademark song, is longer.  Both of these are for the wrong reasons.  "Relativity" is shorter because they cut out the thrash break (a legit, awesome, stomping, Anthrax-ish thrash break) and cut right to the fast section after the second chorus.  Seriously?  Yeah it was just a variation of the main riff but it was an awesome variation.  It added a bit of diversity to an already lengthy track that could easily use it.  It was one of those small things that I realized Diamond Plate was exceptionally good at, and that was writing one riff and finding several unique ways to play it, keeping it interesting.  A prime example would be "Criminal Justice", which spends roughly the first minute playing the same idea but with different back beats and rhythmic choices in between the defining chords.  If you'd like to actually hear what I'm talking about, you'll have to find a way to buy Relativity because for some reason, "Criminal Justice", despite being a fan favorite and their most masterful blend of intensity with melody, is not included on this fucking album.  I asked Konrad about this and he shrugged and said "It's something we'll bust out live occasionally for the old fans who have the EP, but for the most part 'out with the old and in with the new'".  Oh, and remember that awesome double bass passage after the first chorus in "Relativity" that I raved about in my review for that EP?  That's gone too, replaced with an alternating triplet and gallop pattern, totally sapping the energy out of that particular section.  "At the Mountains of Madness" has been raped as well.  Using simple problem solving skills, one could assume that because "Relativity" is shorter due to a section being cut out, then this song should be longer due to them adding something, correct?  Wrong again, jackass.  "At the Mountains of Madness" has just been slowed down to the point of once again sapping all of the energy out of it.  Where's that Lovecraftian insanity?  Fucking gone down the commercial drain in order to satiate some idiot exec or something, hell if I know.  It's only some thirty seconds longer, but you'd be amazed how much difference it makes when the entire song is a whole 15% slower.  That energy I loved so much... replaced with this completely calculated and soulless rendition of a track that once carried the fire of Olympian gods.  It's saddening to the point of being nearly repulsive.  What the fuck happened, Diamond Plate?  Did the major label force you to do this?  Surely this couldn't be the direction you were hoping for?

Apart from the butchering of old favorites, there are indeed a couple new tracks.  They've been playing "Waste of Life" since before "Relativity" was even written, so OG fans should recognize that one at the very least.  It ends up as filler on this album though, as even after listening to this countless times I still manage to forget it's even featured on here.  "Pull the Trigger" and "Tomb with a View" were both played live once or twice before this was recorded, so it's another one old school fans should at least halfway recognize, it's just unfortunate that they fit in with their new idea of manufactured aggression.  They both just kind of plod along with only a few standout sections between them.  So this leaves the only fully new tracks to be "Generation Why?", "Fool's Paradise", "More than Words", and "Empire Tomorrow".  "More than Words" is a simple instrumental interlude with some nice soloing and a very Nevermore-ish riff for a backbone, not much to sneeze at but I guess it serves its purpose.  The title track also gives me a huge Nevermore vibe, particularly with that opening riff.  Yes, it's thrashy, but it's also very "modern" in the derogatory sense.  There's no passion here, it's like this riff was designed to sound cool, so we will input the proper reflexes into our synapses and play that riff exactly as calculated or whatever.  I just can't get over how soulless and unfeeling this is in comparison to the fire of their previous recordings.  These kids are younger than I, and I'm barely old enough to drink in the US.  They're young, dumb, and full of cum, as they say.  Where is the youthful swagger that so perfectly intertwines with the aggression and unbridled intensity of thrash?  I can surely tell you where it isn't, and that's on "Fool's Paradise".  That sounds like a warm up song, this can't be the finished product, not if there's any real passion left in these guys.  They seriously chose a plodding, boring, half assed track like that over "Criminal Justice"?  I don't fucking understand the thought process that went behind this album, I really don't.  I guess "Empire Tomorrow" is part of this horrible disappointment as well, but it really doesn't stand out at all apart from the bass solo which is still pretty hard to care about at this point and the fact that the closing melody reminds me exactly of "The Heart Collector" from, once again you guessed it, Nevermore.

Actually, I know the mindset behind recording this.  It was heaviness, that had to have been the band's endgame here.  They've adopted the (frankly silly) slogan of "Why so heavy?", and promoted every bit of news about this album using the words "heavy" or "tight".  They wanted to make one of the heaviest thrash albums imaginable, and I can appreciate a goal like that.  The problem is that they lack the passion to undertake such a monumental task nowadays.  I really, really want to blame Earache for this, as all of my complaints manifested themselves either directly leading up to their signing and afterwards.  You want to make something more brutal than Slaughter in the Vatican or Tapping the Vein?  I applaud you for wanting to, but with what you're giving me, I can tell you that it will never happen.  The production is too weak and crisp, the songs lack energy and passion, the chugging parts all come off as plodding instead of crushing, just... everything is wrong.... This was supposed to be their magnum opus, their breakthrough into the consciousness of thousands more metalheads, and what they've delivered is a stale, sterile, manufactured disappointment.  This isn't a case of "Yeah well they're popular now so they suck", not in the slightest.  People always like to brag about their pet bands that woulda coulda shoulda been huge, and here's an instance where it's actually happening.  With a major label backing and their still phenomenal live show, Diamond Plate is still poised to make a worthy name for themselves, and I'm still happy for them.  But as a fan, I just can't get over how massively uncool Generation Why? is.

It's hard for me to really put into words why this is such a bitter letdown for me, I realize I keep using the same seven words to describe everything but I'm really at a loss for anything more complex that what I've been saying.  Listen for yourself.  I still obviously support the band and encourage everybody to do the same, because I can attest that these songs are all great when played live, but on record they completely fail to grab me in any way.  It's modern thrash by numbers with a slightly metalcore spirit in parts and bad vocals.  Even though I've done virtually nothing but tear this apart, I still suggest at least giving it a try.

Also, Konrad, you promised me the third track was going to be called "Napalm Satan".  You lied to me.

RATING - 47%

UPDATE: I have to point out a mistake of mine here, as I never realized until now that the final track, "Empire Tomorrow" is actually an older song as well, originally titled "The Omega Revelation".  I attribute me not realizing to the fact that I only saw them perform it live once or twice, and even at the time I thought it was underwhelming for what they usually write.  So my opinion hasn't changed, I just want to get my history right.


  1. I realize that this is a few months late, but I just came across your review on metal-archives and I just had to reach out to you some how. I too have been a fan from the very beginning. I remember seeing them at a small shitty venue when they were 14, looking at Jon and thinking "Pft, he's just trying to be Dan Lilker." The first song shut me up.

    I can't agree more with your review. Everything I've felt about the album is right there. It really saddens me to think that a band I loved so much has gone so far down.

    The reason I really wanted to reach out to you though is because of your comments on Criminal Justice. It seemed like you haven't heard about their issues with that song. Their old guitarist apparently wrote it and was really peaved that they were still using. So much so that he stormed the stage at a show while they were playing it. I've even seen the old guitarist's band play and he has a little Dave Mustaine-esque speech before Criminal Justice. There is definitely more to the story, but I speculate that this is the main reason for that song being left off.

  2. I was actually at that show when he and some other shlub ran up on stage, unplugged an amp (I don't remember who's) and spat in Jon's face. They then flipped off the crowd and threw a ton of flyers for Atomizer over us. I see now that Konrad was probably just trying to be diplomatic when he said "out with the old, in with the new", but if he had just said "JR wrote it and he's being a dick about it", I'd've probably understood a bit more. Regardless, it's a shame that the song seems to no longer be a part of their set and seemingly won't be in the future either, because apart from the last recording of "At the Mountains of Madness", it's pretty handily my favorite song of theirs.