Monday, October 6, 2014

October 31 - Bury the Hatchet (2014)

October 31 records don't work for me because of their production values, complex riffing mechanics or innovative sounds, they work for me on sheer personality alone. To reach back into one's heavy metal influences and record collection and draw upon only the most raw, visceral fundamentals of the genre, and then remake them in your own image is a noble feat in practice, but one with only about a 50/50 sticking chance. Are you unconsciously making a mockery of this style...this culture that so many of us never took for granted, or are you doing it justice? Are you letting the world know you 'believe' in this, or are you perched beneath the eaves of irony, diving occasionally for the breadcrumbs the in-crowd might throw out for you? October 31's answer to this question has been evident from the start, and even if I was not the hugest advocate of their 1997 debut The Fire Awaits You, the full-lengths they've put out since that time have proven quite memorable...

In fact I liked Meet Thy Maker and No Survivors so much that I often wondered what more would become of the band in the near-decade since. King Fowley had done such a knockout job with the last Deceased disc (Surreal Overdose) that I wasn't sure this would ever come out of hibernation; thus was pleasantly surprised when the Gone to the Devil single came out through Hell's Headbangers last year, and the prospect of a new album on the near horizon. And it delivers. Maybe not to the extent that the last couple did, but it fits in snugly with a lot of the excellent retro metal of late, bands who have come to grips with the fact that they can't just reach back and xerox an era of sound, but can also write strong songs within those parameters which can resonate even in today's wasteland of iPad dreams, disingenuous politics and social inversion. But October 31 are not, and never have been trendy, they've been active for nearly 20 years, and kicked this off long before they thought anyone would remotely give a shit...before a lot of the retro metal-think had even become nostalgia yet. So on the one hand, this is old man metal for those who used to browse a little deeper in the used record and cassette bins than to merely hunt down Ozzy and Maiden bootlegs, for something more primal.

On the other, it's perfectly accessible, angry heavy/speed metal for just about anyone willing to overlook the fact it doesn't sound like it was recorded in a Tupperware factory. Simplistic, pounding chord progressions that we've no doubt heard before, just not necessarily with Fowley's distinctive, bitter and scowling tone casting about stories drawn from his usual alma mater: the horror genre. The rhythm guitars are neither bright nor fluttery like you'd hear in Euro power, which benefits from that sort of blinding elegance; but rather grounded and workmanlike, allowing the leads to just tear off into that semi-sporadic space which allows them plenty of wild, obnoxious gremlins breaking loose in a steel mill. Bass guitars are muddy, throbbing and distorted, sounding like a tightrope or electrical cable about to snap at any moment, while the drums lay out a pretty layman set of beats and grooves which are all you really need in this situation. Beyond that, though, there is a lot of variation here, with riffs channeled from everything from airier NWOBHM in the Maiden vein to American staples like early Armored Saint and Lääz Rockit. Fully consistent, but not at all afraid to measure off more melodic sequences against the pulse pounding roadway metal that is more likely to get the heads banging.

Album really picks up on the third song, "Down at Lover's Lane", with its excellent contrast of that tiny, eerie background guitar against the main melody of the rhythm tracks, and then that voluptuous bass in the little breakdown which sets up the verse. Other favorites include "The House Where Evil Dwells", "Growing Old" and "Arsenic on the Rocks", most of which have these glorious old Maiden melodies coursing against the grimier, bruised under-riffing. When these guys break out a groove, it always transforms the tune's landscape into some 80s battle charge, kind of like you might have felt about songs like "The Trooper" when they felt fresh. But in the end, the album doesn't succeed for me off the riff selection alone...a lot of these, in less seasoned hands, might seem trite or predictable, but it's the context of October 31 which renews them. Even their cover of Icon's "Under My Gun" (from the eponymous s/t in 1984) just explodes out of the speakers, transformed into something their own rather than just a soulless analog for the original. There have been comments that King's vocals and the harder and faster material this band writes is a little too close to Deceased, and I can understand that to a point, but really, these are mostly different guys and there's a difference to how they play. A little less complex (not that Deceased are technical to begin with), and more burly with hearts worn right on their sleeves.

Certainly, though, one band will scratch the itch for the other if you go in realizing this band services a different set of King's influences, and if you also appreciate both the heavy/speed metal traditions and the darker thrash and proto-death metal involved with the other. A good album here, with only a few tracks dragging behind the rest in quality, but overall seamless in pacing and presentation, never wearing out its welcome over 42 minutes. The songs don't often grab me as much as several off Meet Thy Maker or its successor did, but this is definitely worthy of joining the regular rotation, arrives at the perfect time of year, not only for the excellent band name but also the feelings it evokes for when I was a denim-clad teenager with a frizzy, cowlick-ridden quasi-mullet, and a stolen, skunked beer from that cabinet dad seems to have forgotten, watching campy horror flicks like The Gate or Invaders from Mars, or any number of cliche slashers, standard definition pixel paradise, on cable TV. Remember that, when you watched those channels for the movies and not the multiple-season, award winning drama series? Then this record is for you.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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