Mutoid Man War Moans

[Sargent House; 2017]

Styles: metal, blues, progressive
Others: Cave In, Converge, Wild Throne, Tom Jones

Contemporary metal too often wears a serious face. There’s a point in “Kiss of Death,” the second single from War Moans, where vocalist/guitarist Steve Brodsky guffaws maniacally and comically. In that chortle, centering a chugging track of hubristic innuendo offset by sparring time signatures, Mutoid Man establish themselves as heavy metal’s premier goofball supergroup, a power trio stemming from Converge, Cave In, All Pigs Must Die, and the soundboard of Brooklyn’s metal church Saint Vitus. Weld-tight, ballistic, genre-spanning. Also, irreverent and charming.

Were a newcomer to only know them through their two previous releases — their debut EP Helium Head and full-length Bleeder — that first set of tags would be glaringly obvious. You’d only really know their silliness and charm through their live performances, which bestow upon its audiences a potent optimism and sense of camaraderie reminiscent of “I’m the Man”-era Anthrax. Picture three long-haired freaks absolutely slaying onstage, not missing a step while grinning at each other and using pauses to flip each other off. Brodsky shrieks banter like a Metalocalypse character when not orating in a parodic British accent. Nick Cageo’s bass is held together with a strap endowed with an etched cock. Once, they busked Tom Jones’s “She’s A Lady” on a New York subway car with Converge’s Ben Koller happily struggling to balance on his tiny drum set. A close friend, the one who filmed said performance, told me that Mutoid Man’s goal is to eventually be the first metal band to have a Las Vegas Strip residency. If the debauched Vegas chronicled by Hunter Thompson still existed, they probably would. The affability required for such an achievement is finally embedded into their lyrics, instrumentation, and production. Producer Kurt Ballou’s masterstroke here is not only ensuring that each member’s contributions are well heard, but also packaging what was conveyed primarily in a live setting into a studio recording.

War Moans is the band’s most accessible release. It is the Mutoid Manifesto.

Mutoid Man have never released a poor record, but it took time to find their sound. The most telling example of their eventual direction on 2013’s Helium Head was its closer, “The Manimals,” which was a noodly reimagining of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Like the rest of the record, it was frantic when necessary but confident enough to remain faithful to the track’s soul. Brodsky’s smooth vocals cut through the crunchy/canny production, which reinforced the “two guys in a garage” vibe. Cageo would join Brodsky and Koller later, and their songs would become more measured and collaborative. 2015’s Bleeder is less a run-through of Brodsky’s tasty riff vomit than it is a concise and crisp sequence of recurring vocalizations and melodies. It’s a more patient record.

The backstory behind War Moans is the loss of Mutoid Man’s practice space, prompting them to rehearse on Saint Vitus’s stage, where they have more or less become the house band. With the vocals of Chelsea Wolfe, metal’s answer to PJ Harvey, and the guitar stylings of Megadeth veteran Marty Friedman (via satellite from Japan), War Moans finds an expanded and more boisterous Mutoid Man, through and through. Their music has never been this explosive or progressive; the hardcore tinges are still here, but there’s also balladry, robotics, mathematics, and Spinal Tap-esque cock rock. Van Halen has frequently been referenced as an influence, and one of the more Diamond Dave-like touches comes in the appearance of a vibraslap. It’s risky to put art on a line between irony and sincerity, but given the technical skills, Mutoid Man more than earns the right to plop a song about impregnating Satan’s daughter in the middle of a record. You don’t need a lyric sheet to know what “Date With the Devil” is about; Brodsky just comes right out with it. Everything is absolutely shameless and indulgent. It works.

The confidence is exuded from the get-go on the laser-synth-laden “Melt Your Mind,” which establishes authoritative advice, or an arrogant dare, over a blitzing charge: “In this life we all get left behind/ It’s gonna work out fine/ Don’t let it melt your mind.” Is Brodsky trying to calm us in this uncertain world? Waving his dick? No time to figure it out; he just started cooing. The motorbreath slows a sliver on “Bone Chain,” which only continues the whirling percussion, bonkers vocalizations, and the whole-hearted odes heard on previous records. Love songs are bedrock for the Mutoid Man timeline, and they persevere in “Micro Aggression,” which sounds like what would happen if Voivod got sentimental. It sounds as though the album is about to fall apart, and in a way it does, because here comes the spider-like “Kiss of Death,” which begins like a cousin of Bleeder’s “Sweet Ivy,” re-establishing Brodsky’s most underrated skill: employing sly ellipses. On “Gnarcissist,” the opener on Helium Head, he admits “I’m never gonna fall in love… with myself.” This track, and the follow-up, “Date with the Devil,” are what earn Mutoid Man the tag of intelligent sleaze.

It’s back to breakneck business on the aptly titled “Headrush,” which is a reminder that space rock doesn’t have to be dissonant, a shredful progression from Brodsky’s innovations on Cave In’s Jupiter. Meanwhile, everything about the album’s title track screams climax, an apocalyptic tribute to Rust in Peace filled out by Friedman’s shredding. What stops War Moans from being truly spotless is the placement of “Afterlife” and “Open Flame” in between what would’ve been a one-two punch featuring Wolfe’s understated intensity, which clashes wonderfully with Brodsky’s maximalism. They aren’t bad tracks by any stretch; they just disrupt the flow. But the guitar screeches on “Wreck and Survive” are refreshingly jarring on a record that, until then, had been largely easy on the ears. And that “Bandages” is the tender ballad that finishes off the record may be the biggest surprise, rounding out the album’s fatalistic imagery with a drawn-out whimper.

It’s too bad “experimental” is most commonly associated with being “avant-garde,” for everything on War Moans is experimental in its own way. Party on.

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