Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Overkill - The Killing Kind (and kind of their career as a whole I suppose)

This rant's been a long time comin'

Hands up, whose favorite Overkill album falls between 1993 and 2007?  What's that?  Zero of you?  You mean to tell me that between Horrorscope in 1991 and Ironbound in 2010, Overkill released fuck all in terms of worthwhile releases? They're regarded as thrash legends and one of the only bands to fly the flag of thrash throughout the dark ages of the 90s and early 00s despite not actually releasing anything of quality for nearly two decades, none of which during that period even being a fully thrash release in the first place? Well how does that make sense?

I've alluded to this a few times and I've ranted about it outside of my reviews before, but despite considering myself an Overkill fan, placing Ironbound on my year end list in 2010, and claiming Feel the Fire to be the most perfect thrash album ever written and in my personal top five albums of all time, Overkill does not deserve the legacy they have.  At all.  Now I realize that Iron Maiden had a streak of albums most fans seem to dismiss (I personally believe they haven't made a full worthwhile album since Fear of the Dark, and even then that album half sucks) and Black Sabbath has a lot of forgotten albums and Running Wild tapered off tragically at the end of their career, but these bands all blazed paths and become gods of their respective genres through marvelous consistency and stellar songwriting.  They were originals that took their respective fields by storm.  Overkill on the other hand is a product of the times.  Overkill blazed about as many trails as Warhammer. 

But Bastard!  “Sonic Reducer” was in their setlist back in 1979!  That was on Feel the Fire, and you just called that the best thrash album ever!

Suck out farts, you idiot Borisite.  Claiming Overkill as the first thrash band because they were playing a punk cover of a punk song that they tacked on to the end of their first album six years later makes as much sense as claiming Judas Priest used to play doom metal because Sad Wings of Destiny isn’t as fast as Defenders of the Faith.  Overkill gets the same revisionist apologies that Exodus get, with fans claiming they would be as famous as the Big Four if their respective debut albums had shipped just a bit sooner.  Maybe they had these songs written earlier than 1985, sure, of course they did, but using that same logic, do you really think Metallica wrote “Metal Militia” or Slayer wrote “The Antichrist” the morning before they entered their studios in 1983?  I get it, Overkill was one of the first, and I’m not denying that, but I am denying that thrash was great because of Overkill.  Overkill was great because of thrash. 

But Bastard!  They released tons of great albums all throughout their career!  Look at The Years of Decay and even new stuff like The Electric Age!

Hey Forced Naysayer, we agree on something here.  Overkill has plenty of classics, any thrash fan who doesn’t love the first five albums should have their opinion immediately invalidated.  But think about it, all of their good albums were released during the period when the thrash scene was at its peak worldwide.  Thrash fell out of favor, Overkill start playing shitty groove metal.  Thrash gets cool again, Overkill shits out a legitimately great album in Ironbound.  Was that really an accident?  You expect me to believe that they played the kind of music that was the most popular all throughout the 90s and 00s while thrashing during the 80s and 10s because that’s just what they were naturally writing?  Having Randy Blythe guest on Immortalis shortly after Lamb of God released the very popular Sacrament had nothing to do with trying desperately to stay relevant despite running out of ideas over a decade ago?  I’m not buying it.  It was safe and financially intelligent to release thrash again, so they shifted their way of thinking and writing back to a thrashier mindset as opposed to the dumb stomping groovy crap they’d been doing.

Now, I clearly have a deep seeded frustration for Overkill being given a free pass on writing 9 lame albums in a row, but surely they’re not all that bad.  Every band has a stinker or two or at the very least a slight dip in quality over a long career, hell I mentioned earlier that Running Wild, my favorite band, really went out with a whimper, so why do I still consider them legends?  Here, and I hate to admit this, it has almost everything to do with the fans and the hype around the band.  Not one single Running Wild fan considers The Brotherhood or Rogues en Vogue to be proof of the band’s supremacy, whereas Overkill fans readily fly the flag of “THEY WERE ALWAYS AWESOME”. 

But Bastard!  You have to take those albums for what they are!  You can’t hold them against the classics because they’re a different entity!  Look at those albums in their own respective microcosms!

Can it, you butthole.

Actually, I think I’ll do that, it’ll probably help prove my point.  Hell, I’ll even pick my favorite of this era, just to show that even the best they had to offer during this streak wasn’t even really worth that much.  So ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve waded through the previous 900 words without wanting to stab me in the gullet, I present to you, the third (and best) album in the bum streak, 1996’s The Killing Kind.

I’ll give this album props for cleaning up that horrawfully terribad production from W.F.O., and it even starts off on a somewhat promising note, with “Battle” being a highlight for many fans of the album.  Me personally, I think the track is overrated and silly.  I mean, the dorky BUGGADUGGADUGGADUN *boondoon* YEEEEH is just goddamn irritating.  The song also suffers from a problem that many of these songs suffer from, and that’s that they just don’t really go anywhere, there’s no climax.  They mainly follow a fairly simple structure but they don’t feel like they lead to anything worthwhile.  By the time you realize the song is over, you’re already a minute or two into the next track.  The riffing is also focused more on hard chugging as opposed to nuts-first thrashing that the band was so good at doing in the 80s.  I realize I can’t expect the band to do the same thing throughout their entire career, but the fact remains that they just aren’t nearly as good at this groovy, Pantera-y style they go for during this era.  They keep it heavy, no doubt about it (tracks like “Let Me Shut That for You” and “God-Like” prove that in spades), but the style they go for is just damn boring.

I suppose I’ll deviate from my normal reviewing style and be amateurish for a second, and blatantly split up some time to point out the good and bad songs on the album.  As previously hinted, “Let Me Shut That for You” is a fun, high energy track with a catchy main riff and chorus, though there is a long noodly section in the middle that I’m none too fond of, it still stands as a clear highlight of the album, melding the newer groove material perfectly with their ever prevalent punk attitude.  “God-Like”, while not quite as memorable, is another rip roaring thrasher that keeps the pace up and tries adding a fresh, mid-nineties flavor to the sound they were championing on Horrorscope.  “Feeding Frenzy” is by far the best track here, starting with a bluesy, Sabbath style bass jam before transitioning into insanely fun, high-octane thrash metal.  This is what Overkill is good at and needs to focus on more.  This is also the only instrumental track on the album, which raises the question that maybe Blitz himself could be to blame.  Honestly, no, he isn’t the problem.  His snarl, while distinctive and charismatic, reminds me of Zetro in the sense that he’s actually quite annoying when you sit and think about.  On its own, his voice can be headache inducing, but in the context of the band, it fits perfectly and I could neither imagine another frontman in Overkill nor him fronting any other band.  He’s crazy and unrestrained, and I can only imagine blood squirting out of his eyes during any given song.  His over-the-top and completely balls out style is one of the defining characteristics of Overkill’s sound (next to D.D. Verni’s “look at me I’m loud and important!” bass).  And here, Blitz once again proves why he’s one of the biggest draws of the band.  “Certifiable”, despite being one of the lame songs on the album, has some truly raw vocals from him, with his classic crescendo in the bridge culminating with one of my most heartfelt “MOTHERFUCKER”s I’ve heard outside of Samuel L. Jackson or Joe Pesci. 

So with Blitz in top form as always and the production cleaned up considerably from the nearly unlistenable pangy bassy mess that was W.F.O., that leaves the instrumental performances and the songwriting, and oh lord are these ever the culprits with why this album and era in Overkill’s career so damn dull.  I’ve used the word “dorky” to describe the verse of “Battle”, and I think it fits well with the verses in “Bold Faced Pagan Stomp” as well.  Allow me to elaborate on that, because I realize it’s an odd choice of word.  It reminds me of the little ditties I used to write when I had been playing bass for nary a few months.  And let me tell ya, there is nothing dorkier than a twelve year old version of me.  It’s just amateurish and reeks of veterans not trying very hard.  The vocal patterns in the latter track are weepingly hilarious to me.  I hate to continually quote sections of lyrics in the reviews I’ve been doing lately, and I realize this is probably a few lines too many to make my point, but you just have to see this to understand:

Come a kick kick in the dick kick,
Gonna make ya sick kick, suffer you that!
Come the blood spills, get ya kick thrills,
On a will kill?
Suffer you pain.

In a pac wac, got a two on one track,
On a hit n' run smack, suffer you that!
Not tho be the romp or the kick kick whap stomp
Stomp stomp stomp
Suffer you that!

What in the living hell did I just witness?  I understand Overkill were never bursting at the seams with poetic genius but Christ on a cracker that’s on the Five Finger Death Punch sub-level of lyrical ineptitude.  Reading those lines don’t do them justice, you have to hear the bouncy stop-start pattern in which they’re delivered over the slow, churning groove riff to get the full effect of how nonsensically dumb the whole thing is.  If “Bold Faced Pagan Stomp” wasn’t bookended by two of the only three tracks I like, I’d skip it every time and claim it was never written.  And you know the worst part about all this?  “Bold Faced Pagan Stomp” is, along with “Battle”, probably the least terrible of all the bad songs on the album.

A few of the songs are bad in the sense that they just don’t do anything.  “Cold Hard Fact” and “Certifiable” (despite having that memorable moment in the bridge) just go by with little consequence.  Even worse yet is “The Cleansing”, which I will go on record as saying sounds like a precursor to Godsmack.  Listen to that slow, brooding riff that the entire song rides on, listen to that droning, lame chorus, listen to just how uninspired and lazy that song is.  That outro with the low “Jesus, cleanse me…” feels like it goes on for three solid minutes.  That right there is another problem that plagues this album, the songs, despite sometimes just blurring by, all seem longer than they really are, if you can believe it.  The worst offenders of this phenomenon are the aforementioned “The Cleansing” and “Bold Faced Pagan Stomp”, the latter of which I could swear is eight minutes long.  And rounding out the album are the two “doomy” tracks, “Burn You Down/To Ashes” and “The Mourning After/Private Bleeding”, which continue the trademark of being dull lowlights while also being grating on the nerves. Both of these tracks spend a majority of their running time focusing on gloomy and droning passages while suddenly picking up near the end before collapsing back in on themselves.  Why they chose to put two similarly structured yet out of the ordinary for the band tracks on the same album is beyond me.  Maybe it’s just me, but they have always bored the shit out of me when the band tries these slower songs because they’re an energetic band, these slow and gloomy numbers have always just been entirely too dry for any semblance of entertainment.  It’s always baffled me that some fans actually prefer this side of Overkill.  I dunno guys, the angrier and punkier the better, this slower style just doesn’t work for a band with the kind of attitude that Overkill exudes. 

And that is the one thing I’ll concede willingly about The Killing Kind, and that is that the attitude of the band is still here in spades.  That’s always been one of the main draws of the band in the first place and another one of those defining characteristics that make them stand out in the crowded thrash scene.  Their New Jersey origins really shine through in their “We don’t care what you say, FUCK YOU” attitude, and even on these dumb and lazy songs that populate the album, that swagger is still there, and it still helps the album stand up and identify itself as an Overkill album.  It’s the only constant throughout this entire tragic 9 album streak that keeps the albums from being 100% worthless.  While there is a split during this era, with the band focusing on primarily low and groovy stuff for the first five albums and then picking up the pace and getting slightly thrashier (while retaining the heavy groove element) for the next four albums, they keep that perfect marriage of punk and metal in spirit.  Most crossover bands wish they could have the attitude as nailed down and concise as Overkill have it, and it’s that attitude that helps keep The Killing Kind at least mildly entertaining throughout its duration.

But even with that swagger and amount of fucks not given, the album ends up dull on the whole, with only one standout “great” track and a couple other decent ones bogged down in this boring, slimy mire.  Overkill is best when they’re at their most pissed off and aggressive, and it shines through with fast, angry, aggressive metal with a punk edge.  This slow, Pantera style, does not wreck my neck in any way, and that’s what Overkill does best.

RATING - 34%

Also, for added hilarity/embarrassment (and to prove that I DO indeed love Overkill), here is one of my senior pictures proving it.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Children of Bodom - Relentless Reckless Forever

 Ballistic Venereal Sofa

Bodom is one of those bands that really got me to where I am today.  Back in 2003 they were practically the first band to utilize some semblance of harsh vocals that I enjoyed, and as such opened the doors for essentially the entirety of extreme metal for both me and legions of like minded kids who have surely become valuable additions to the metal scene.  I realize how over the top silly they are and how utterly devoid of integrity they've become, but there will always be a warm spot in the cold, shriveled, black stalactite that once existed as my heart for this merry band of naked, drunken Finns.  Ever since Are You Dead Yet? the band pretty much seemed to lay down and accept their fate as the cool thing for the stereotypical Hot Topic malldwellers, churning out uninspired and stupid(er) music at a slower pace than before.  And this, 2011's Relentless Reckless Forever, stands as the band's seventh full length, and probably the one with the least hype surrounding it since their inception.

But why?  For their immense popularity, it seemed strange that nobody seemed to bat an eyelash at the prospect of a new album.  Was Blooddrunk really received so poorly that all the enthusiasm had been sapped out of fans?  Was their steady decline over the last few albums becoming apparent even to the new fans introduced to them in the second phase of their career?  For my money, I'd say it probably had something to do with the fact that their (unfortunately) trademarked silly cover song this time around was going to be Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time" and that the short teaser promo for the album featured a dull chugging riff and people kickflipping flaming skateboards.  Children of Bodom has become so absurdly disconnected with their original fanbase that it's almost on par with the likes of Metallica or Genesis at this point.  Musically they really haven't changed significantly since the beginning, it's the same distinctive melodic death/power metal mixture they helped make popular along with Kalmah, Skyfire, Norther and the like.  However, this fact doesn't change that the  music just feels different somehow.

Perhaps it's the spirit of the music itself.  Dating waaaaay back to the Inearthed days almost twenty years ago, back when Alexi Laiho actually was a little girl instead of just a grown man who looks like one, the band was fueled on raw emotion.  The music was more restrained back then, but the band was serious about its craft.  Through the years, even after becoming one of the most insane and over-the-top bands to gain popularity until Dragonforce became a household name, they kept their quality of songwriting very high.  Melodic power metal with bombastic keys and cartoonishly overdone leadwork, layered over a harsh, high pitched rasp belting out the most juvenile and underdeveloped lyrics imaginable.  And despite the inanity of the lyric work and the complete and utter lack of restraint, the musicianship was so high, the songs so catchy, and the performance so entertaining that the flaws seemed practically nonexistent.  Since those happy, happy times, the band has since started to add more and more melodeath elements to the leads and riffs, tuning down further and focusing more on chugging sections, with the once prominent keys being relegated primarily to the background.  Maybe it's easier for Janne to drink while performing with these newer songs and that's why he keeps it up, despite his talent being so above and beyond the level he's been playing at lately.  Relentless Reckless Forever just continues the direction they've been going.

And after three long paragraphs I realize I'm only just now actually touching on the album at hand, and maybe it's because the history lesson is necessary because, to borrow a Walkyierian pun, history lessens.  On its own, this album isn't anything special, but it isn't anything offensive either.  It's just there, doing its own thing, not really bothering anybody, but when you remember where the album came from and the pedigree behind it, it's just intensely disappointing.  I ragesploded really hard on Blooddrunk four years ago, but really in hindsight the album isn't anything worth getting bent out of shape about.  I could blame myself for being 17 years old and stupid and overreacting to a predictably disappointing album, but in reality the album was a lame and inconsequential release from a band that used to put out some of my favorite music fairly consistently in their prime.  It's basically the '90s Mercyful Fate in that regard.  And that's the same problem with Relentless Reckless Forever here, there's just nothing here.  It's by far the least aggressive output from the band, with the only highlights in that department being "Shovel Knockout" and "Northpole Throwdown".

Good lord, I guess I should address something that anybody who read that last sentence is surely thinking about, I don't have the slightest fucking clue what kind of mushrooms these guys were on when they thought of the lyrics and song titles for this album.  Lyrics were always an afterthought with Children of Bodom, with Alexi making up a majority of them on the spot in the studio.  The lyrics and vocals were never the highlights nor the focus of their music, so it was one of those things I kind of let slide because the high energy melodeath/power metal was so much fun.  But now that the songwriting has taken such a hefty downturn over the past seven years, I can't help but hold them accountable now.  It's just... my god.  Five year olds have put in more effort than this.  It's just lazy and dumb.  "Pussyfoot Miss Suicide", what does that even mean?  "Roundtrip to Hell and Back", we knew it was a round trip by virtue of the fact that you came back.  "Was It Worth It?", I dunno Bodom, you tell me.  Are the new fans and the money really worth your old fans and credibility?  You know what?  That was a silly question, credibility doesn't buy you a nice house.

As I've said a few times throughout this stream of consciousness garbling, the music isn't necessarily bad here, it's just dull.  "Pussyfoot Miss Suicide" rides on a catchy melodeath riff that stands well enough on its own that I don't feel the need to lament about the lack of keys on the track, the title track possesses one of the few moments of old school Bodom in the solos, and "Northpole Throwdown" is a welcome hearkening back to the balls out theatrics of the first few albums that made me fall in love with the band in the first place.  But with that said, I can't tell you a damn thing about "Ugly" or "Not My Funeral".  The entire album is this dull, grey slab with a couple of standout moments here and there.  There are a few lowlights with the primarily low melodeath riff based songs like "Cry of the Nihilist" and "Was It Worth It?", but overall the entire album tends to run into itself.  The band was always at their peak when they essentially just played frantic power metal with insane leads, so when they slow it down or focus on the newer melodeath qualities like they've been so fond of doing on the last three albums, the whole thing just seems to fall apart.  It's a shame too because their talent is still there, they're just entirely out of ideas at this point.  Perhaps it's time to put the band on hold for a time and focus on side projects or maybe just take some time off.  Go ice fishing or... sauna shopping or whatever the hell you do in Finland.  Maybe they're just burnt out and they need some time to recharge, I'd certainly recommend they try.

Also the "Party All the Time" cover can fuck itself with dynamite.  "Funny" covers are useless and only serve to remind old fans how vapid you've become.  Knock that shit off already.