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The debut E.P. from this Californian band would see them set the world alight for a short period, primarily off the back of the massive hit single "Everything About You" which was played to death in my high school days. For that reason, "As Ugly As They Wanna Be" was never far from my ears as a teenager so when I noticed that it was on the Metal Academy database under "Funk Metal" I thought it might be fun to see how it's aged. I certainly didn't remember Ugly Kid Joe being a metal band per se so I was curious to see whether they might be yet another supposed "funk metal" band that would provide further proof for my existing opinion that the subgenre isn't really justified.
I was never a fan of Ugly Kid Joe if I'm being honest so I wasn't ever really expecting that I'd rediscover a long lost love for "As Ugly As They Wanna Be" & I'm glad that was the case because I found the first four tracks to be pretty flat, particularly "Everything About You" which I quickly discovered I harbor a burning hatred for these days. It's only the last three tracks that see my interest being peaked with the cover version of Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" being the heaviest number & the clear highlight. Funk metal number "Funky Fresh Country Club" is also pretty entertaining, as is the frantic 25 seconds of speed metal closer "Heavy Metal". It's just a shame that the first half of the release was so uninteresting really as the tracklisting never manages to recover.
"As Ugly As They Wanna Be" is often tagged as a hard rock & funk metal hybrid although I beg to differ (I know... big surprise there). There's really aren't any tracks that I'd suggest allign with the classic hard rock model here. Instead, we see numbers like "Madman", "Too Bad" & "Everything About You" possessing a much sleazier & more poppy sound that directly aligns itself with 80's glam metal as far as I can see. There's just enough metal on show to qualify for the Academy too though in my opinion. I'm just not sure that there's enough "funk" metal as such with only "Whiplash Liquor" & "Funky Fresh Country Club" taking that direction. That leaves me in a quandry about what would be a better tag though as there isn't another metal subgenre that's better represented here so perhaps I should just let it go.
"As Ugly As They Wanna Be" isn't terrible but it's certainly pretty disposable & lacking in substance. There's no doubt the band can play & front man Whitfield Crane has a decent set of pipes on him but I can't say that I ever feel like this E.P. has the potential to command additional airings in the future. If you live for bands like Extreme, Electric Boys & Living Colour then you may disagree but I'm sure that there must be better material out there for you than this uninteresting record that's resigned itself to the annuls of history through a dated sound & a lack of focus & ambition. I'm afraid teenage girls have other things to listen to these days.
I didn’t get into New Orleans sludge metal establishment Crowbar until much later than some as it wouldn’t be until my return to metal in 2009 that I’d first give one of their albums a crack. I’d very quickly find myself traversing their entire eight-album discography in quick succession from there & tended to find that I liked Crowbar a lot from a purely stylistic & conceptual point of view but that their albums often suffered a little from poor production which saw them never quite managing to reach their full potential. 2001’s “Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form” would be the first record to break away from that curse in my opinion & it would become my go-to Crowbar release over the many years since. The band’s 1991 debut full-length “Obedience Thru Suffering” offered me the least appeal from memory, even though I still remember quite enjoying it. I haven’t returned to it in something like 14 years now though so it’s definitely about time I reassessed that position.
Despite what my vague recollections may have been telling me, the production job on “Obedience Thru Suffering” is actually quite acceptable & shouldn’t be a problem for too many listeners. The quality of the music is way better than I was expecting too, even if it is a touch samey. To offset that characteristic though, the consistency of the song-writing is very strong with no weak tracks included. The album probably just lacks a few more genuine highlight tracks with “My Agony” being the only one that I feel reaches tier one status.
It's pretty common to see “Obedience Thru Suffering” tagged as both sludge metal & doom metal but, despite the album undeniably being chock full of enormous doom riffs, I’m not sure the doom tag is really necessary because sludge metal is essentially a biproduct of doom to begin with. There’s a detectable hardcore flavour to most of this material (particularly in the depressive & gravel-throated vocals of front man Kirk Windstein) that keeps the album centred in sludge territory for mine but doom fans will still be able to relate to it pretty comfortably too. I might be being presumptuous here but I’d be very surprised if Celtic Frost wasn’t an influence on Crowbar as the riffs take a similarly simple yet crushingly heavy format a lot of the time which can’t be a bad thing now, can it?
On the evidence here, it's hard to understand how “Obedience Thru Suffering” isn’t talked about in the same breath as Crowbar’s next six or seven albums to be honest. It’s been many years since I revisited those records so perhaps I’ve simply underrated some of them but I tend to think it’s more a case of this one being underappreciated. I’m guessing it’s a retrospective opinion based on fans of Crowbar’s later material finding the album to be a little different to what they were expecting as the band would only get angrier & more oppressive from here. That doesn’t mean that “Obedience Thru Suffering” should be overlooked though & I strongly urge you to add it to your essential Crowbar list, particularly if you’re into sludge metal artists like Acid Bath, Eyehategod or Melvins.
I've certainly been aware of West Virginia metalcore legends Zao for some time now due to my past involvement with The Revolution Spotify playlists however I'd never taken the plunge with a full album before jumping into their highly regarded 1998 third album "Where Blood & Fire Bring Rest". It certainly sounded like it might be right up my alley on paper but I have to admit that I've been left with a fairly middling (if not necessarily disappointing) outcome. Here we see Zao presenting us with a punk-heavy brand of metalcore with a reasonable amount of experimentation going on that never really convinces me that the band are deserving of the praise this record inevitably seems to draw. The vocals of front man Daniel Weyandt aren't amazing to tell you the truth. He's got one of those really wet & gurgly blackened screams that sounds like he's trying too hard but hasn't really got what it takes. I felt very similarly about Converge singer Jacob Bannon during the first half of his career actually but Converge had the power to pull it off regardless. I'm not so sure about Zao as I find them to be less intense & a little easier on the ear.
To be clear, I'm not saying that I don't enjoy "Where Blood & Fire Bring Rest". It's a pretty decent metalcore record overall but the highlights ("To Think of You Is to Treasure an Absent Memory" & "Ember") don't reach the elite level & there is a flat section during the second half of the album that sees me losing interest temporarily (see "Fifteen Rhema" & "For a Fair Desire"). The musicianship is pretty decent but the song structures sometimes push the friendship, there are more generic metalcore breakdowns than I'm comfortable with & I find the Korn-ish nu metal parts to be a little tedious. So, it's fair to say that I find the album to be a decent way to pass the time but I'm unlikely to return to it in the future. I definitely prefer the more visceral material that bands like Converge, Snapcase & Disembodied were delivering at the time.
Albeit done in a completely piecemeal manner, I have probably listened to Enveloping Absurdity at least ten times over without ever taking the opportunity to sit down proper with it and listen to the album end-to-end. Finally getting around to some critical listening time with it this past week I feel I have finally been able to do a full review some justice. With their Demilich, Adramelech and latterly Tomb Mold comparisons being obvious from the off, Phobophilic offer a wide-ranging snapshot of death metal influences on this their debut release. Unafraid to slow things down to a death-march, Incantation-esque pace along the way, this four-piece from North Dakota showcase their range and capability nicely over eight tracks of thick and cloying death metal.
Running sonic melodies around tracks such as Those Which Stare Back like some mini horde of nefarious demons, there is an accessible urgency to Phobophilic’s sound that avoids the catchy and goes more for the complete experience. All instruments sound like they play their part on Enveloping Absurdity. Structures feel like they accommodate all parts of the group, whether it is the assured yet uncomplicated drum patterns or those harrowing melodies that stab through most of the tracks on the album as the guttural vocals and ever-present bass add the real density and weight to proceedings, each component of the band gets valid airtime.
The lead work is crisp and soaring at times, firing grim light out of the unfathomable darkness that enshrouds the sound. Like futile gestures of hope, or beacons of false security they offer some levitation from the murk that clings to the notes and riffs overall. As the album progresses towards its midpoint things seem to take on even more of a proficient standard with instrumental track Individuation being an unexpected high point for me which leads into the equally excellent The Illusion of Self.
For a debut release, Enveloping Absurdity embraces all that I love about death metal. It explores the true aphotic nature of the genre and offers some glimpses of light around accessibility into the dank underbelly of this beast. Yes, there are times where it loses me just a bit as they go off into perhaps too familiar territory and I find myself wondering if this is a little too close to worship as opposed to a celebration. Overall though this is an excellent album that I really should have explored as a full experience far sooner than I have.