Review Summary: Twelve Foot Ninja can still offer a lot of fun despite changing up things a bit, which is expected from them, anyways.
After breaking into scene in 2012 with their fusion metal opus Silent Machine, Australian band Twelve Foot Ninja quickly set themselves as of the best alternative metal acts in recent years, if not the most unique. Their music videos featured parody and obvious self-awareness of their odd musical choices, but far of being only a gimmick the band already positioned themselves as a serious talented band with past releases, namely New Dawn and Smoke Bomb! Eps, released in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Outlier, the follow up to Silent Machine, saw the band taking a more streamlined direction toning down the funk, reggae and bossa nova influences in favor of a heavier approach.
Looking back to Outlier, while the album was met with a mixed response from some fans, it was a respectable choice to aim for a more djent mainstream sound. It still retained enough of the experimental familiarity from past releases in songs like “Oxygen”, the heavy main single “One Hand Killing”, Mr. Bungle influenced “Sick”, and the stellar Latin jazz fusion of “Point of You”. While Vengeance is by no means comparable to Silent Machine, it’s a return to the weirder side of the band, only this time infusing a heavy amount of electronics and voice effects. “Start the Fire” opens the album perfectly, featuring lead singer Kin’s guttural vocals out of the gate on top of a heavy and catchy riff. The song infuses industrial metal and it’s a good indication of what’s to come.
As mentioned, Vengeance features far more electronics effects and production tricks than any of their other records. The title track, also industrial influenced, uses a loud synth that segues into a calmer noir keyboard sound in the verses. The song alternates between heavy and soft parts; this dynamism is a common trait throughout the album and while being a bit jarring at first subsequent listens might tell otherwise.
“Culture War” is the band’s heaviest song and sees them going full metal, with Kin’s growls on full display. The song is characterized as a Twelve Foot Ninja song with the use of a random mariachi break in the middle of it. Yes, these sorts of intricacies are a staple for the band but sometimes are distracting of what otherwise are good compositions. Another example of this is the robotic verses used in “Shock to the System” which sounds a bit corny. Not to mention this track also uses a cartoonish narration in the middle of the song, which even if it’s fun to sit through the quirkiness it also takes away from the album and it’s just a bit much of the obvious self-awareness they have. The album suffers from this and ultimately ends up disjointed specially in its first half.
The album loses steam somewhere between “Shock to the System” and “Gone”. Even though the latter contains a groovy standout bass performance the song lacks energy and is on the more conventional side for the band. Personally speaking, I think the album flow would have been improved by putting a heavier song between the two, possibly the title track if I had to pick. Admittedly, that may be a nitpick of mine and thankfully the performances are great all around. Russ’ drumming in particular sounds excellent here; a good example is how the drums match the mayhem on the ending part of “Long Way Home” behind the guitars and orchestra that lead the song.
The closing track, “Tangled”, has a great and heartfelt performance from Kin and is about holding a loved one while deteriorating or passing away. This is by far the most honest and strip down song the band has recorded. “Culture War” has politized lyrics which is also very unlike them. The ninja/warrior lyrical themes are largely dropped for more personal lyrics this time around. The oriental and Mideastern musical bits are also completely absent here.
There are more pros than cons in Vengeance, but it does seem that the band are going through the motions. The songwriting is effective mostly, which is a great attribute of the band thus far, but this time they seem to be trying to defy genres for the sake of it. The heavy 80’s synth elements might be something some fans will not welcome, and some of the choices are definitely questionable specially with some of the songs sounding so disjointed at first, but the production is stellar, and this has the best vocal work from Kin Etik yet. All in all, Twelve Foot Ninja can still offer a lot of fun despite changing up things a bit, which is expected from them, anyways.