Frankenshred - Cauldron of evil 3.5/5

Reviewed: 6-1-10


1. Dogs of war
2. Psychosis of the mind
3. Axe to grind
4. Trial by fire
5. W.W.S.
6. Cauldron of evil
7. The Devil's eye
8. I feel your pain
9. The haunting
10. Let the punishment fit the crime
11. Pray for your sins
12. In for the kill
13. Raise your fist
14. Play through the pain
15. It's your turn to rock
16. Play to win

Depending on your perspective, the name of this band is either cool or goofy, or perhaps both. Perhaps the pendulum swings over to the hokey side if you take into account that the guitarist/bandleader calls himself Dr. Frankenshred, evidently performs in a white lab coat, and has his own visage gracing metal artist extraordinaire Jowita Kominska-Peruzzi's outstanding cover painting as he peers over a cauldron (of evil, no doubt) with his Jackson axe simmering away in the bubbling stew. I have no interest in guitar players who shred for the sake of shredding, because I'm not a musician myself and I'm a fan of songs much more than of players (or their egos). Given these warning signs, I didn't expect to be enamored of Frankenshred. Snap judgments can be misleading, though, and listening to this CD reminded me of the pitfalls of judging books by their covers.

To alleviate any misconceptions from the start, 'Cauldron of evil' is not about wanky guitar histrionics to the exclusion of songs. That's not to say Dr. Frankenshred doesn't burn up his fretboard with the best of them on this CD. He certainly does, and the songs are packed with fiery, speedy, over-the-top licks and tricks that will likely resonate well with aficionados of Joe Stump's supersonic shred machine solo works. But it would be flat-out wrong to pigeonhole 'Cauldron of evil' as a guitar shred album for guitar players and shred enthusiasts exclusively. With a single exception ("The devil's eye", in which the shred parts get a bit unhinged, overwhelming and overpowering what otherwise would have been an awesome song), the guitar showmanship is subordinated to the songs, and I get the distinct impression that the guitars are there to accent the songs rather than the songs being a mere hollow vehicle for the guitars. In Frankenshred's world, the song is king and the guitar solo is servant, not vice versa. That fact is critical to my enjoyment of the CD.

Frankenshred's label, the unerringly reliable Metal on Metal Records, is marketing this CD as a trad/speed metal release in the vein of early Anthrax, Sacred Reich, Meliah Rage, CJSS, and so on. I definitely hear those comparisons. To those I would add Flotsam & Jetsam and the unheralded Connecticut band Machinery, who put out a pair of solid Anthrax-influenced CDs in the mid-90s. Frankenshred vocalist Rich McManus reminds a great deal of Machinery singer Shawn Norris, with both sounding quite a bit like raspier, throatier versions of Joey Belladonna, with a dollop of Flotsam's Eric AK tossed in for good measure. Unfortunately, Frankenshred veer off the thrashy path from time to time in favor of 90s style groovier tracks, such as the boring "Axe to grind," "I feel your pain" and "Let the punishment fit the crime". For the most part, however, this is fast-paced, exciting, thrashy stuff, with good (albeit simple and a tad repetitive) songwriting, memorable hooks and scorching guitarwork. Highlights are the exhilarating "The haunting", "Psychosis of the mind", and "Pray for your sins".

The biggest mystery surrounding 'Cauldron of evil' is why it is only seeing the light of day now. After all, the first 11 tracks (those with McManus on vocals) were recorded back in 2004, but apparently never released before now. I can't for the life of me understand why. Not only are the material and playing strong, but Frankenshred's appeal is boosted by the presence of a "name" drummer, Greg Hall (of Sacred Reich fame). Ol' Dr. Frankenshred is no newbie to the scene himself, either, having logged time in cult U.S. metal band Commandment (where he went by the name John "JR3" Remesnik). Whatever the reason may be, Metal on Metal have tried to dress up the aged main course by tacking on 5 bonus tracks that Frankenshred recorded with a different vocalist and bassist in late 2008 and 2009. The bonus tracks are worthy additions to the release, despite their thinner sound, but they extend the CD's running time to a rather unwieldy 16 tracks and 67 minutes, which is just too much Frankenshred for one sitting. Still, it's good to see that Frankenshred are still writing and recording quality music today, and I'll be quite interested to hear the successor to 'Cauldron of evil', hopefully with the groove parts reined in and the tempos more consistently in high gear. For now, though, 'Cauldron of evil' is definitely worth checking out if you are intrigued by the idea of hearing the shred mentality mixed with early Anthrax, Flotsam & Jetsam, and especially Machinery, all with an emphasis on songwriting rather than showing off.




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