Review Summary: Compelling and frustrating; a hybrid of their former works into a collective album that bugs me but makes me smile...The flaws don't outweigh the good, but the flaws are still too big for a band as ingenious as this.
There was a time when I was perplexed by this record so much so that I refused to listen to half of the songs.
My own growth between that time to now has been great as a product of simply getting older. In addition, with The Blood Brothers being my favourite band, I know from their prior records that nothing they do is easy to like.
There were the obvious songs on Young Machetes such as "We Ride Skeletal Lightning" a chilling trip through a bizarre choice of chords and irritatingly shafted breakdown (yelling half-assed instead of their signature screams which they related back to very little on this record) and "Set Fire to the Face on Fire" which is the only song that I could see being placed on their 2003 release, "Burn Piano Island, Burn".
Now, allow me to repeat myself:
The Blood Brothers are my favourite band. They are my favourite; amongst all else, and this means that as an avid listener it was and is my duty to defend any and all aspects of the band. However, as a reviewer I am supposed to remain neutral in such affairs that would signify obvious bias. And because I am big fan, it is also my duty to ensure that justice is done to the album. Now that some time has gone by since the release, I can really sit down and give example to why this record did and didn't work.
Young Machetes is at times a signature failure for the band. This album is a bridge between "Burn Piano Island Burn" and "Crimes" both of which took on very different styles. An attempt to harness all of their collective inspiration onto this 15 track disc succeeded greatly at some points and failed at others, these nuances ruined what could have otherwise been a polished record.
While BPIB had striven to create a fast paced roller coaster of noise and insanity, Crimes delved deeper into the roots of some of their influences such as David Bowie and the result was an album that left people confused and outraged by the shift in styles that, frankly, depicted the band as 'less intense,' 'sellouts' while laying claims that they had lost their touch and whimped out.
Crimes was a necessary album created to implement any musical qualms the band had about their former works. On BPIB there were songs like "I Know Where the Canaries and Crows Go," with insane breakdowns and haunting melodies filled with underlying chaos. Crimes created chilling ballads reminiscent of old horror films, where Johnny unveiled a brand new set of notes unreached by Justin Timberlake, and Jordan tried his hand at singing and harmonizing.
Young Machetes is the gap, the transition previously unaccounted for between BPIB and Crimes. It is the lost selection of tracks that were supposed to ease listeners from BPIB to Crimes. Why they decided to merge the two styles now is beyond me. I among others would have envisioned this record before hearing it as either the band refining Crimes with more solidity, or returning to their frantic days of BPIB or maybe even "March On Electric Children." Quite frankly? It isn't.
Really, the more I think about it; there are songs I like a lot here and songs I dislike strongly to the point where it pains me because of the fact that I anticipated this record so greatly. Still, for every good song, I have to remember that "Set Fire to the Face on Fire" IS good, but is not as good as the worst of BPIB.
My biggest qualm about the album is Jordan (Cody's increasingly simplistic guitar in some songs is not as alarming because of his creativity; but really hurts their image of complexity they developed years ago). What happened to his vocals? They were once raw, unrefined, unscathed blade-like roars that rivaled the likes of the most metal bands on the market. Crimes saw the beginning of the digression from his more shrill vocals to his slowly more melodic ones (toned down most likely to fit better with the 'true front man' Johnny Whitney). On this record, every scream he does begins as a scream and always ends of with an odd yelling note. Listen to the atrocious "Johnny Ripper, Stevie Ray Henderson" which a Jordan solo track. Some people really like it, I hate it because it builds up to nothing and features some of his most half-assed vocals which are apparent on most of the songs regardless.
Crimes was good as a soft album because everybody knew they weren't trying to change pop into metal. Listeners knew it was an experiment and interpreted it as such. Young Machetes is supposed to harp back to their earlier days (as said by the band) but instead just comes off as a less intense, less riveting, less unpredictable version of BPIB. They throw in songs that are intentionally melodic such as tracks 7-9 (Spitshine Your Black Clouds, 1,2,3,4 Guitars, Lift the Veil Kiss the Tank).
Spitshine Your Black Clouds works. It has melody and a breakdown that is better fitted with the yells Jordan issues than screams - the only place where his new vocal tactics work for me. 1,2,3,4 Guitars has fun moments, but the build up is too long and too lacking in substance to be deemed a good song. Lift the Veil Kiss the Tank has its moments, but the song has received a lot more hype than I believe it deserves. I didn't begin to like the band because they could harmonize and end the song with repetitive guitar riffs. I liked them because they were unconventional. If anything, Young Machetes is as marketable as Alexisonfire.
The fair majority of Young Machetes? Many songs really do work (songs like Rat Rider comprised of a lot of very high pitched singing which somehow hits me as hard as Johnny's screams) but there are those that render the record imperfect for its class (more than imperfect; almost annoying). There are songs that make it appear as though it is nothing more than a failed attempt at recreating a sound they've basically abandoned (the sound that got them where the are) and songs that let me know that they're never going back to the days where shivers went up my spine when I heard them scream "BURN PIANO ISLAND, BURN!" in perfect high pitched harmony.
Young Machetes is good, a bland stamp of good. It has songs that allow me to dance. It has songs that I scream and sing along to. But if I pair it beside their previous works, it is an album that bothers me. For a band that became so great only to degenerate into a group where I could actually expect with confidence what was to come next? I don't know. It's a shame.
I listen to this album still; but it has ceased to grab my absolute attention like their former works. Get this album if you are a fan. There will be songs to add to your favourites bin, but there will be songs you skip almost every time (the first record of theirs that has skip-able songs). With a measure of about half the songs being good, and half being average, bad, or good with mixtures of bland in them, the record falls short of greatness but is still a record far surpassing that of most bands trying to mimic the same bridge between pop and hardcore.