RTX Western Xterminator

[Drag City; 2007]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: heavy metal, art rock, alternative metal, glam rock
Others: 45 Grave, L7, Nymphs, Babes in Toyland

Approaching RTX’s Western Xterminator is not unlike viewing a David Lynch Film for the first time. Simultaneously hilarious and deadly serious, Lynch’s films frequently make it difficult for the viewer to discern whether the director is trying to be profound or just screwing with their head. Western Xterminator, the band’s sophomore Drag City release, finds Jennifer Herrema and company engaging in an unrepentant incursion into full-on, balls-out cock-rock territory, with a healthy dose of glam theatrics thrown in for good measure. Although the entire album is marked by a deadpan sobriety, reinforced by the band’s uncannily deft musicianship, the experience of Western Xterminator leads to an ambiguity as to whether the band are being entirely forthcoming in their glam-metal posturing or undertaking a grandly ironic charade at the listener’s expense. Whichever the case may be, one thing is for certain: RTX’s Western Xtermintor packs an undeniable hard-rock punch and leaves no question that the band have both the chops and the attitude to back it up.

In a previous incarnation as Royal Trux, Herrera’s band famously recorded their “rock history trilogy,” a trio of rock albums, ending with 1998’s Accelerator, which focused, however loosely, on the '60s, '70s, and '80s respectively, and alternated between moments of brilliance and deliberate ineptitude. Western Xterminator could be a companion piece, RTX’s “history of heavy metal,” though the album’s flute-laden, prog-inflected introduction does little to prepare the listener for what is to come. Each track emphasizes a particular facet of the heavy metal genre. You’ve got the NWOBHM stylings of “Dude Love,” the glam rock affectations of “Black Bananas,” the primitive death metal of “Wo-Wo Din,” and “Restoration Sleep,” an homage to the hair metal bands of yore. And what respectable metal album would be complete without a power ballad? RTX even have that ground covered with “Knightmare & Mane,” a catchy, circa-1988 feat of sentimentality rife with enough melodic hooks to have you reaching for your cigarette lighter.

Concentrating primarily on the golden age of heavy metal from the decade between Back in Black and the birth of grunge, which became metal’s death knell, Western Xterminator has all of the trappings of the genre: cowbells, dual guitar leads, artificial harmonics, and disdain for vowels. You want to believe that RTX are being, if nothing else, facetious, but you constantly find yourself second-guessing their intentions, as they simply sound so damned convincing. Even “Restoration Sleep,” an ostensibly tongue-in-cheek paean to glam metal, has overtones of no-nonsense seriousness, particularly with regard to the pokerfaced delivery of lyrics such as, “It feels good to come up from being down/ To breathe deep,” which seem painfully self-analytical (especially when one takes the anecdotal evidence into account).

The beauty of Western Xterminator is that it will appeal to both camps in the Royal Trux/RTX fan base. On the one hand, the naysayers who will deny the earnestness of the album, insisting that it is merely pastiche, can still enjoy the record as a guilty pleasure. On the other, those who are willing to take Western Xterminator at face value can revel in the sleaze and undeniably catchy hooks. But whatever the band’s modus operandi may actually be, there’s no mistaking the fact that RTX are a force to be reckoned with.

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