Grip Inc. - Nemesis (1997)
Los Angeles groove metal outfit Grip Inc. are an artist that I’ve been acutely aware of since their inception back in 1993 but I’m going to have to admit that I’ve probably been guilty of making assumptions about their sound based on a subgenre box-ticking mentality to be honest. Dave Lombardo-era Slayer is undoubtedly the absolute peak of music (if not our overall human existence on this planet) as far as I’m concerned however I’ve simply refused to have his legacy tainted by his subsequent foray into a subgenre that (with the exception of its godfathers Pantera) I’ve always found to be predominantly underwhelming. That underlying fear has kept me from ever allowing myself to experience a Grip Inc. record in full to this very day & after going through the process of having my misconceptions removed & royally stuffed up my closed-minded & inherently stubborn backside over the last couple of days I’m feeling a little ashamed of myself. I’m also feeling particularly proud of my younger brother Ben who has once again nominated an incredibly underrated release for Metal Academy feature status. Most of you probably don’t know this but Ben is completely deaf in his left ear & knows very little about musical theory or technique but time & time again the dude has proven himself to have a greater level of discretion in that single ear than most packed metal venues do & refuses to let the masses influence his judgement too. The fact that Grip Inc’s 1997 sophomore album “Nemesis” has been such a wonderful surprise to me is simply further testament to that fact.
Unfortunately for Lombardo & co., my initial impressions of “Nemesis” were somewhat clouded by having listened to it directly after our The Guardians feature release in Grand Magus’ “Hammer Of The North” which sports a superbly thick & heavy production & this resulted in the feeling that the “Nemesis” production job was noticeably lacking. It’s certainly true that it feels a lot thinner in comparison with a lot more high end, significantly less bottom end & the drums & guitars not having anywhere near the same sort of weight but once I’d given myself a day to let it sink in & returned to it with fresh ears (this time through quality headphones) I was able to reach a happy place where those comparisons faded away very quickly. The other early talking point for me was about just how little generic groove metal I heard. I mean, I was expecting something similar to Pantera, Machine Head & “Chaos AD” era Sepultura but found myself struggling to make the link very often during my first listen. I heard a lot more thrash than I did groove metal to tell you the truth &, as a result, I made a point of giving that notion a strong focus on subsequent listens.
Given my life-long passion for classic Slayer, I often find myself scoring releases that manage to successfully harness that sound a little higher than your average punter & you can count “Nemesis” amongst those that do it exceptionally well so Slayer fans will be feeling quite emotional (if not violently so) from the word go with this record. Opening number “Pathetic Liar” is a sensational example of a band that’s taken that Slayer blueprint & used it to create a piece that may sound familiar but also rips you a new arsehole in no uncertain terms. The influence of Lombardo has no doubt played a big role in this however there’s a lot more to Grip Inc. than that as both Kerry King & Jeff Hannemann would have been over the moon if they had created some of these riffs. Vocalist Gus Chambers sports a wonderful voice for aggressive metal music too. It’s gruff enough to punish you during the more aggressive parts & his screams are used beautifully in highlighting the climaxes however he’s also got more than enough substance to handle the more atmospheric sections of the album so I actually think he’s a big part of the appeal of Grip Inc.
After pummelling you with those first couple of thrash-fests, we see the album settling down a little & taking you to more expansive & ambitious places than your average thrash or groove metal outfit are capable of. In fact, by the end of the record you’ll be left wondering how you’ve managed to take such an interesting journey without the slightest sign of any jarring transitions or sudden u-turns. I actually think this may be the best attribute of “Nemesis” to tell you the truth. It’s simply so much more than what it’s touted to be & I’m tempted to say that it hasn’t been done any favours by its having been pigeon-holed with the likes of Soulfly & Machine Head. There’s an amazingly well-defined use of texture & atmosphere here that is much more in line with post-metal than anything else with Lombardo consistently utilizing tribal drumming techniques to build tension & create drama. At first I thought he may be borrowing the technique from Sepultura who had been so successful in integrating their local heritage into their sound on a record like “Chaos AD” however the result is much more in line with the likes of Neurosis which is a big compliment if you know how much I adore that band. Guitarist Waldemar Sorychta often opts for dissonant open-string guitar work that would feel a lot more at home on an industrial metal record than a groove metal one &, when combined with the intelligent use of repetition, we see the tension building until an immense Devin Townsend-esque scream from Chambers will lead the band into a huge climax or a drum roll from Lomabardo will see the band ripping back into a chunky groove metal riff or a rip-snorting thrash beat. Wow! This is a group of musicians who well & truly know what they’re doing & are not to be over-awed by the presence of thrash royalty.
The tracklisting on “Nemesis” is extremely consistent as there’s not a weak moment across the entire duration but there are also more than enough highlights to see me reaching for the higher scores. Whether it’s the afore-mentioned opener “Pathetic Liar”, the tension-building tribal interlude “Descending Darkness”, the up-tempo thrash-fest “War Between One”, the “Seasons In The Abyss” feel of personal favourite “Rusty Nail” or the maturity & class of “Myth Or Man”, “Nemesis” offers tier one quality in everything it touches. It’s also worth mentioning that, when taken in holistically, it doesn’t really sound like anyone in particular & is subsequently fairly hard to categorize. I mean, I don’t think I’ve heard a thrash/groove metal act taking this more atmospheric approach before &, after sitting through this wonderful album, I have to wonder why not because it adds an additional element that increased my emotional & intellectual engagement. As a result, I also find myself wondering why I haven’t heard more about “Nemesis” over the years. There can be no denying that it’s horribly underrated & I can only speculate that the cheap cover art might have something to do with it as it really is a long way from acceptable. Please make sure that you don’t let that flaw taint your musical experience because Grip Inc. have the ability to satisfy a lot more than just your violent urges.
For fans of Slayer, Exhorder & Sepultura.
Perhaps it is the benefactor of lowered expectations, but I had very little motivation to check out Grip Inc.'s sophomore album Nemesis. For me, I have had such bad luck with thrash metal in recent years that I've almost begun to start doubting the quality of any thrash metal record released beyond 1990. As we found ourselves moving further and further away from that era, it became increasingly clear that thrash metal bands were less than willing to push the genre forward instead of relishing its golden years of the 1980s.
Someone didn't tell Grip Inc. that. This is probably some of the most fun I've had with a thrash metal album since Vektor. Imagine if Kreator and Pantera had an offspring and you pretty much get the idea as to what this record is all about. There are some faster thrash grooves, but most of this album feels like slower Kreator tracks, complimented by some very obvious Pantera songwriting tips, such as pinch harmonics in the guitar, sung/scream vocals, and strong hooks. Unfortunately, the band were unable to take the great production of those albums with them, most notably in the bass; it is there, but heavily muted due to an overabundance of rhythm guitar.
The sound of this album does feel like a hybrid of those two bands mentioned earlier, but never feeling like a direct ripoff. Grip Inc. know what they want to do with their influences and thankfully transform them into a unique sound that is fresh, even by today's standards. This is probably the most noticeable during the second half of this album from around "Scream at the Sky" into "The Summoning" and carrying on subtly through the album closer "Code of Silence". And that is the Tool influence, which I was not expecting. I was getting a lot of Ænima vibes on these tracks, only heavier to fit in with the thrash/groove vibe of the album. The harsher vocal delivery has throwbacks to Opiate era Tool, but also shares a lot of similarities to Kreator's Mike Petrozza, which I appreciated.
It's a bit of a shame that this band broke up in 2006 because their approach to Thrash/Groove metal through the 1990s into the 2000s was heavily underappreciated. While so many acts were contempt with playing straightforward thrash metal and were unashamed to their blatant idolization of giants like Megadeth and Slayer, Grip Inc. were expanding the genre far beyond simple riffs and solos. This was a treat to hear and a very welcome surprise.
Another great groove / thrash metal album by an underrated band.
I was happy to see that Grip Inc. kept the same line-up for their second outing Nemesis. I found much to enjoy on their debut Power of Inner Strength and was looking forward to seeing whether what was originally a side project could develop into something not only permanent, but also relevant. Being the band that contains legendary Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo means they were always going to face comparisons to the thrash metal kings, which is why I think they made a great decision when they decided not to directly compete. Grip Inc. is not a Slayer clone, and even if the debut (and a couple of tracks on Nemesis) hints that the band wanted a piece of the same pie, Nemesis expands their sound well beyond the realms of thrash metal, and only occasionally ramps up the ferocity into Slayer-like territory. Instead, the band performs a sort of groove metal / thrash metal hybrid that also touches on progressive metal on the odd occasion. Think Pantera mixed with Slayer with a sprinkling of Devin Townsend. But enough about technicalities, just how good is Nemesis? I’m happy to say that it’s damn good and in my opinion is just slightly better than the already great debut.
When Grip Inc. play fast they do remind of Slayer on more than just a percussive level, but it must be said that they lack the sheer intensity to really match them and suffer for only containing a single guitarist. Tracks like Portrait of Henry and War Between One rip it up in no uncertain terms but could really do with a thicker rhythm section to get the most out of them. Thankfully, most of the Nemesis is mid-paced and filled with variety, so that weakness isn’t exposed a heck of a lot. Scream at the Sky is the track that brings Devin Townsend to mind, not only due to Waldemar’s clean vocal style being reminiscent of the crazed Canadian, but also the progressive elements of the composition. It’s not my favourite track on Nemesis by any stretch, but it’s certainly a nice mid album variation to keep things interesting. All the remaining tracks are cracking mid paced pieces that combine aggressive vocals, a combination of grooves and shredding riffs, and Lombardo’s awesome drumming. Grip Inc. sure know how to write memorable material and while the track lengths are not particularly long, each one offers something slightly different with the result being an absorbing, entertaining listen.
I’m a bit confused about the themes behind Nemesis. The name itself may be derived from the Greek Goddess of Retribution, which seems likely when you consider the rather mythological stone figures found on the album cover. But then the same artwork offers up a Middle Eastern atmosphere (desert sands etc.), and it’s this sound that raises its head throughout the album. A few leads, such as on The Summoning, certainly have a Middle Eastern flair and Lombardo’s tribal styled drumming on Empress of Rancor, Descending Darkness and Code of Silence just scream of some primal ancient culture. These tracks are the highlights of the album for me along with opener Pathetic Liar, which makes me wish that the band had embraced the theme more completely and injected it into the entire album. Then again, I guess we always have Nile to fulfil that need for historical ethnicity in metal. In the end I’ve Once again found myself immensely impressed by Grip Inc. and am surprised that they don’t get more recognition. I can only assume that the band missed the boat that would undoubtedly have given them great success back in the late 80s, early 90s, and instead remain an underground gem for treasure seeking metal fans.
Grip Inc. and I don’t get on. There, I said it. They are just one of those bands that I have never been able to connect the hype to the output they deliver. I cannot go as far as to say that all their stuff is bad, not by any means but I have always been completely underwhelmed by the late Gus Chambers and he is such an integral part of the band’s sound it is kind of hard to look past his performance.
At times on Nemesis he reminds me so much of a less capable Tom Araya I have to check I haven’t got shuffle on Spotify active and it is playing me post Seasons In The Abyss material from Slayer. This vocal challenge is by no means the overarching experience of Nemesis I want to share. However, the fact is that although the album has some real potential built on some solid ideas and robust performances from Lombardo (is he capable of anything other than brilliance?) this album happens to be one of the worst structured records I have heard in a long while.
Compositionally the record is all over the place which is not something I would always have a problem with but this variety in track-length and tempo is just really confusing and at times the album feels like a demo with a glut of ideas just thrown together. At times it feels like a groove metal record delivered like a Discharge album only without any authentic gnarl or grit behind it. Yes, Soryctha’s guitar work is admirable and (again) Lombardo is as clinical as you would expect him to be but it all just feels like a jam session that got recorded and released.
It is a collection of songs to my ears, not really an album so to speak. It lacks cohesion and structure which results in a disjointed and rough listening experience
Not only have I never heard Grip Inc before, despite the presence of legendary ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, I had never even heard of them prior to this month's feature (probably due to the fact that I was listening to very little metal in the band's heyday in the early to mid-nineties). I am no great aficionado of groove metal, so this omission will surprise absolutely no one. Anyway, moving on from the gaping holes in my metal knowledge, this wasn't at all what I was expecting. With a name like Grip Inc I was expecting an album of second-rate crossover thrash, but this is definitely not that.
There is a surprising amount of variety to the tracks on display here and the pacing is expertly done, allowing the album as a whole to really flow. Sure, there are some Slayer-esque tracks - War Between One and Silent Stranger definitely move in the same circles as South of Heaven, Seasons in the Abyss-era Slayer. But there are also tracks that create a great atmosphere too, varying anywhere from industrial dystopian to middle eastern desert sands. If I was pushed I'd say they sound like a cross between Kreator, Fear Factory and Countdown to Extinction-era Megadeth.
Vocals are handled by the late Gus Chambers and are suitably hard-edged from the Mille Petrozza school of metal singers. The riffs are great and nicely hook-laden and although the songs tend towards short runtimes, they pack so much in that they seem more substantial. It's impossible to ignore the fact that Grip Inc have such a legend of a drummer in their ranks and he really shows his chops here, being more free to exhibit his talents than he was whilst occupying the drumstool in Slayer - the ritualistic rhythms of Descending Darkness being just one particular example. The band as a whole are an exceedingly tight unit and I've got to admit, they really have won me over with their sheer proficiency and songwriting skill - Dave Lombardo's supporting cast these guys are not and this album is a testament to the superb combined qualities of the whole band.
If I had any substantial complaint, it would be that at times I feel they would benefit from a second guitarist to fill out the sound and add more power to their already impressive arsenal. That minor quibble aside, this is a real underrated gem and I loved it so much I intend to get hold of a physical copy which will definitely get repeated spins.. and man, that Code of Silence is a killer of an album closer.