Killing Machine - Metalmorphosis 3.5/5

Reviewed: 6-30-06


1. Killing machine
2. Scarred beyond the black
3. Fatal chances
4. Praise the day
5. In for the kill
6. Redemption from genocide
7. Loup garou
8. In the storm
9. What makes you God?
10. Burn in the wind

Killing sells... but whoís buying? The sophomore CD from this traditional metal "supergroup" deals out a sublimely executed call to pure 80s metal excellence, with one nagging flaw in its production. This band features guitarist Peter Scheithauer, whose most notable project to me prior to this was Belladonna; Agent Steelís Juan Garcia; Megadethís David "Junior" Ellefson; Jimmy DeGrasso, who I remember best from Y&T but also handled the drums for Alice Cooper (including a 'Wayneís World' appearance) and Megadeth; and perhaps most importantly, James Rivera, late of Seven Witches, Distant Thunder, and Destinyís End, and of course Helstar, among others). The band's talents are put together with all the skill you could hope for, like an uncanny NBA veteran who translates his experience into deftly executed wily skill, rather than showcasing the wear and tear on the legs that one could fear. The music itself is pretty much very direct 80s style Metal Blade metal, along with plenty of Judas Priest influence, and yet manages to just catch the right hooks, with enough well played diversity to make it that much more memorable.

Putting aside for a second the CDís production, Rivera shows plenty of typical Riveraisms on here, but there is a wide variety of other styles shown. The eponymous opening track blares out, both vocally and musically, in pure, unadulterated Judas Priest 'Painkiller' (the song even more specifically than the CD) worship, while "Loup garou" (French for werewolf) has James doing the verses in an imitation of Udoís mellow vocals, while the song starts out with more of a hard rock feel, before a magnificent melodic lead kicks in. "Scarred beyond the black" has essentially black metal vocals for the chorus when the title itself is sung, and damned if that doesnít work well (although itís about the appropriate amount of black metal vocals for an entire CD). Songs like "Fatal chances" and "In the storm" just drive through with pure, skulle kicking metal burn. As a contrast, "Redemption from genocide" has a beautiful, totally mellow metal ballad thing going through the whole song... until Rivera starts peeling off the paint in a screeching chorus, not unlike the same contrast on Priestís "Beyond the realms of death". "Burn in the wind" kicks off with that perfect subtle majesty of pounding rhythm that just gives you that instant, sweet adrenaline rush of magnificent metal. After listening to the CD a few times, it really grew on me, to feel that this band wasnít just going through the paces, but were pouring out excellent work.

So what, then, is the single nagging problem? The production, but more than anything the use of occasional filters on Riveraís voice, that, although subtle, really grate on me, you hear it worst on songs like "Fatal chances", and I just, frankly, hate it. When turned up louder itís not as bad, but the mid-range punch is a little hard to take when you do this if you donít have any EQ mercy at hand. Additionally, the overall production tends to make whatever filters there are sound both more prevalent and more pronounced, due to the raspy, almost tinny, old-school production, and the frequent layering of Riveraís vocals with higher pitched lines. The production is so brash and sharp it is along the lines of Anthraxís 'Spreading the disease', and on vinyl no less! Thus, to the extent I can discount what sounds like filters based on the rasp of the production itself, it bothers me much less, and the overall quality transcends this one annoying aspect. But it would have been so easy to avoid! (Reminds me of a great video game ruined by some unforgivable flaw like no mid-level checkpoints in massive stages.) The production overall, as well, has that brash sound, including a lot of white noise residue from the cymbals, but, while it could be better these days, isnít as bad as the effects on the vocals.

Itís natural to make comparisons with the recent Seven Witches CD, given this was Riveraís project one CD ago, and they arrived at the same time for me, and that CD, like this, contains another distinctive journeyman vocalist in Alan Tecchio. That CD, though, has a much clearer production that would have sounded great on this CD. So while I started fearing a rather stale CD, I was left with one that I absolutely loved the performances, the songwriting, and the pure metal energy. Unfortunately, only one thing draws it down, the fuzz in the production.




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