First off let me put this out there, I am a closet metalhead. Although I was raised in the trenches of punk rock and came of age to the freaky-deaky Dead meets punk sounds of groups like The Meat Puppets, I've always had a secret jones for the metal. Many a night I can be found sludging along to Motorhead, Slayer and even darker fare such as Mayhem and Xasthur. Metal, Punk and Hardcore have always shared an uneasy alliance. The haircuts may differ but they all tend to appeal for similar reasons. The riffs, speed, distortion, distrust of authority and image of all of these genres blare out at the listener's psyche and body. The tone of the music demands the demented Tourette's syndrome like gyrations associated with the mosh pit. Heavy music is also cathartic. We listeners hear ourselves up there or in there. We hear our pains, fears, hatreds and excitements magnified and given form. Heavy music gives size and potential to our strongly felt impulses. It reflects them back at us while also projecting them out at an often hostile and dangerous world. Of course the other side of this equation is our human fascination with explosions. Who doesn't like to stuff an M-80 into G.I. Joe's head and blow it to shreds? In light of these sentiments I come to consider the music of Speaker For The Dead's new album, “Prey For Murder” (Magna Carta Records).
At first blush the requisite, and perhaps overused, elements of the metalcore genre are all present. The scorched out vocals, the motoric blasting drums, ominous tempo shifts and thematic tone of the album could come from and number (perhaps all?) of the bands currently in rotation on MTV2's “Headbanger's Ball”. The playing is excellent throughout and in particular the rhythm section of Gary Shipman (drums) and Rob Slocum (bass) score high marks for their solid bottom end and tone. Vocalist Curtis Shamlin is at his best when he strays from the screechy histrionics. He actually manages to convey more power when singing in his own quite strong and full voice. Towards the end of “I've Become” he drops any pretense of wailing and provides one of the albums best moments.
The overall highlight of the set is the song “Long Way”. While pays some obvious debts to more melodically heavy bands such as Jane's Addiction and Tool, this is actually a good thing. This song coveys a sonic depth and maturity most of the rest of the album lacks. You actually find yourself pulled into the center of the heaviness rather than being bludgeoned by it. This is one of the more beautiful and dangerous elements of extreme music in all of its forms. There is a way it has of surrounding one in another person's singular vision. We experience thoughts and emotions that may not bear any particular relation to our own. The sonic overload shuts off our reactionary mind for an instant and we're swept up in some else's dream or nightmare. “Prey For Murder” is an interesting if at times bland listen.
The band should follow their more creative impulses and pull away for the herd of other metalcore sound-alikes. When they do, they can create moments of dreamy, devastating beauty. When they don't, they fall victim to the predictable and formulaic routines of so many of their contemporaries. While I know that this predictability and sameness can also be a part of the appeal for fans of the heavy genres, I think it's safe to say that those who cast off further from shore tend to find new land first.