Review Summary: A generic, rudimentary, brutish, ferocious, fiery, transcendent colossus.
The mere mention of The Haunted's rEVOLVEr is likely to send the web’s discerning metalheads and elitist philistines (aren’t tautologies a hoot?) into keyboard-mashing overdrive. Take an ensemble of nineties Swedeath has-beens; a gauche, attention-seeking frontman who can't decide whether he wants to be Henry Rollins or Willie Nelson; and you can whip up a fast and simple goulash of chronometric thrash metal and lurching hardcore, with just three tempos, two keys and one vocal register. It's the perfect recipe for a scenester’s feast of conservative indignation and self-righteous contempt, which, sure enough, has been reheated and tucked into repeatedly in the years since the album's release.
I bought this album, The Haunted's fourth, fully intending to join the feast, having had my trollish appetite whetted by the wretched Made Me Do It. I hesitated slightly upon seeing the ingenious yuppie-baiting cover design. However, being a grizzled scene cop with a hair-trigger keyboard hand and an unshakeable sense of subcultural superiority (not to mention, a yuppie in denial), I prepared to let fly with an irate critical bastinado. Never mind that the artwork alone outclassed the combined discographies of the Trustkill roster. I knew how sterile, generic and boring the album itself would be... didn't I? Well, into my stereo went the CD; and out of the speakers erupted a bloody geyser of postmodern humanity's writhing, amorphous viscera; at once gruesome and fascinating, scalding and saccharine. At first, I could only cower, transfixed, beneath the relentless torrent until it ceased; feeling repulsed, I admit, by the unmodulated chaos of it all. Upon repeat listens, however, the entropic mess of broken glass, sweat, adrenaline, whiskey, newspaper clippings, petrol, and volcanic passion gradually coalesced into a terrible, wondrous and exquisitely human masterpiece.
Those of you with chins chafing from your responses to the latest bubble-wrapped prog-death opus are doubtless wondering how I can write with slavering fervour over such a stylistically straightforward album. And for anyone who hasn't heard The Haunted, don't come looking for windswept gypsy-jazz interludes and hymns to the marvels of photonic engineering here. This sounds like a combine harvester being forced through a traffic jam by an amphetamine-crazed Noam Chomsky wielding a megaphone; and if that doesn't sound utterly glorious, you might want to stop reading at this point. Jagged, granite-hewn riffs lumber menacingly overhead before descending upon you in a thrashing avalanche; impelled by an apocalyptic squall of bloodcurdling howls, d-beat havoc and a seismic bass tone that makes Cronos’ sound like Paul McCartney’s.
Mosh. Gallop. Thrash. Throw in a crooned verse here and there, to lull the listener into a false sense of security; and then thrash again until your guitar shorts out from the blood seeping into the pickups. It’s an exhilarating structural formula, to be sure; but a tried, true and oft-recycled one, and The Haunted rarely deviate from it on rEVOLVEr – if ever. When sustained for more than thirty minutes, this approach can liquefy an album into an opaque, tasteless broth of tiresome rage; and indeed, this album’s harshest critics tend to describe it as primitive, repetitious, generic metalcore.
To these ears, however, there are some crucial differences between the simian cacophony of Hatebreed and their ilk, and the cogent, arresting throsh (yep, “throsh” – it’s better than “mash”) of rEVOLVEr. No matter how many sappy allusions and puerile tropes its exponents clumsily deploy in self-justification, metalcore at its worst is little more than a reeking, foggy effluence of animalistic hatred, aggression and conceit; sentiments betrayed by its stunted compositional vocabulary and intrarectal conceptual scope. rEVOLVEr, by contrast, is not so much a fog as an atmosphere; dense and elemental, but seething with a myriad of diverse, albeit basic particles. The sophisticated dynamic liquidity of “Burnt To A Shell”; the archetypal mind-tunnelling in the lightless lyrics of “My Shadow”; even the sure-footed rhythmic jiu-jitsu that subtly co-ordinates “No Compromise”’s flailing assault – all paint a far more vivid and complex psychological portrait than Jamey Jasta has ever been able to scrawl out. One therefore suspects that a great deal more thought has gone into this deceptively simple neck-mangler than the usual dot-joining between drop-D chugging patterns and the tattooed scenester’s swaggering gait. From the yin-yang complementarity of Fredrik Nordstrom and Tue Madsen’s production styles, to the seamless stylistic splice of Slayeresque stomp with Mansonian gosh (better than “moth”!) that is “Nothing Right”, there are enough seemingly flawless compositional and conceptual dichotomies throughout this album to give Mozart MPD.
Then there are the subtle textural and harmonic embellishments. Often technically simple, they adorn the album’s Lynchian steelscape with blossoms of vivid colour and palpable atmosphere (but they’re METAL blossoms, okay?!). With a handful of middle-register, root-note octaves tolling ominously above the churning madness of “99”, guitarists Anders Bjorler and Patrik Jensen send its vitriolic strains reverberating vengefully through marbled corridors of power. In the background of “Sabotage” hums a mantric, droning guitar, underscoring the spiritual crisis fuelling its feral violence; and the distorted discords of “Liquid Burns” linger mockingly like shadows in a prison cell, trapping the listener in a chemical inferno of bitterness. These flourishes may not be noticed, let alone contemplated, by a listener who isn’t giving the album their undivided attention; but when you’re in the right frame of mind (desperate, disgusted, deranged, or all three), it’s difficult not to be enthralled.
But what really makes this album gleam amidst the rust-clouded junkyard of beaten-down metalbore is the prowess of the band’s cowboy-hatted lunatic of a frontman. Whatever you may think of his baffling side projects and self-vivisecting MySpace posts, it is a simple fact that Peter Dolving could comfortably win a shouting match with a lion. Even the vocals of the mighty Lou Koller, in a guest appearance on “Who Will Decide”, are a bashful murmur compared with Dolving’s wrathful, gale-force bellow. His Kalashnikov diction, steel-wool timbre and leather-lunged stamina comprise a perfect vehicle for his lyrics, which are similarly punitive, raw and deafeningly resonant. Alienation theory appears to be the raison d’etre for their macabre collage of angst-fuelled substance abuse, political bastardry, sexual deviance and meat-grinding justice systems, swirling in a Baumanesque post-industrial maelstrom. Even if you disagree with their philosophical binding, it’s a cold soul who would deny their potency. Whether starkly poetic (Seal the absence of my shadow/An open void/All my dreams condoning arrows/Incomplete), deftly didactic (Contextualize it and justify as the passive servility eats you alive/Like a Japanese girl with a taste for absurdity roped up and screaming for more) or vernacular and volatile (A grade A average with perfect skin/Fight for a freedom to choose/Between *** and more ***), they surgically align, in their intriguing asymmetry, with your weak spots and blindsides; where Dolving, frothing and screaming bloody murder, rams them through to your vital organs.
In short, this is an unhinged album for unhinged personalities; and if you find that you enjoy it less than half as much as I do, you should probably be assured of your good mental health. However, if you have ever lost sight of the line between love and hate, and swayed precariously above the empty pit beneath, I urge you to give rEVOLVEr a chance. In the obscure depths of its vision of suffocating darkness, you may find a light to re-illuminate that most sacred of lines – a lifeline during your dark night of the soul.
Initially published on tangentialstagnation.blogspot.com