Thursday, October 20, 2016
While I personally acknowledge its limitations, in particular the rather predictable form many of the riffs take, I hold a soft spot for this record due to its unflinching horror noir aesthetics, the Grand Guignol nature of its presentation. The prior albums were good, but had a slightly harder time in snaring my attention, where this one caught it immediately upon the record crackling and doomed, melodic onset of the title cut. The entire record is staged like a carousel of corny theatrics, whimsical organs and even a couple King Diamond ringmaster laughs, meshed with spurts of atmospheric black metal circa Emperor, Limbonic Art or Hecate Enthroned, but it just sounds so great due to the clarity of the mix. The strings and keys sound vivid and bright, and Jack's occasional use of clean vocals soars off into the album's near-threatening nightscape akin to a lot of his Norse countrymen like I.C.S. Vortex.
There is a sliver of experimentation here, like the industrial beats used to fuel segments of "The Murdering Mind" or "Elegantly Decayed", which would also be explored on the subsequent Morgul offerings, all tastefully entwined within the morbid modus operandi, rather than creating a heavily eclectic or scattered style like on Arcturus' The Sham Mirrors a couple years later. I had mentioned Jack's clean vocals, but that's only one of numerous styles he incorporates. Roaring black metal rasps, wavering and eerie chants, breathy whispers, or whatever fits his mental asylum narrative. The bass is not an enormous presence throughout much of The Horror Grandeur, but it does keep its end of the bargain so that the album has depth across a number of frequencies. The drums successfully shift from the more traditional rock and metal patterns into the electronic areas and back seamlessly, with a bright snare sound that offsets Ripper's harsher vocals fairly well.
I had mentioned that the riffs lag behind creatively, and that's mostly the case, whether they're the traditional black metal explosions with tremolo picking, the blackened thrash parts, some of which even seem to mimic the presence of Ministry circa their Psalm 69 album. They're all functional and well-suited to anchor the delirious atmosphere Jack is creating here, but often too predictable and not intricately woven with catchy melodies or truly diabolic chord patterns that a lot of other Norse bands were bringing to the medium years before this. That said, the slower, graceful melodic doom passages which sparsely populate the album are among its most magnificent and memorable, and the rest are at least percussive enough not to disrupt the flow of the album or its haunted house aesthetics.
I feel like fans of Arcturus and Dimmu Borgir at the time would probably have dug this despite the fact that it's not as unique as the former nor as massive as the latter. It's actually the Morgul record I break out most often, whether that's around the autumn time of year or just when I'm in the need for an interpretation of classic horror themes through this style. Lyrics cover subjects like evil dolls and Poe-like death obsessions, eloquently penned to stick to the narrative structure of the music, and it's just one of those underappreciated gems which tread slightly left of the beaten path without setting any new trends, while mutant and elevating the one-man band into a form that could in some alternative timeline hold its own against its kin.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10] (rattle your puppet limbs)
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
For the most part, this is business as usual. The somber Sisters of Mercy inspired Gothic rock clad in more meaty, metallic guitars, sent back in time a century or two, with synthesizers and acoustics used tastefully to complement a set of dependable if not always entirely unique chugging and driving rhythms. The Unknown is mildly heavier in terms of drumming, speed and thundering riff structure, at least on a handful of tracks like "From Wolf to Peacock". If the band had changed its name to The Vision Bleak With a Vengeance, it wouldn't have been without merit. But despite its marginal sense of urgency, this disc has a fair degree of variation between it's murkier, Gothic doom swells "The Whine of the Cemetery Hound") redolent of Paradise Lost and the more urgent, aggressive material. Thick palm muted patterns perform a percussion unto themselves while the vocals and guitars drift above them, as if afloat between dark valleys of jagged rock and wolf-prowled pine groves, elevating tracks like "How Deep Lies Tartaros?" to seismic, sodden glories that I wouldn't have expected in their opening moments.
The true calms here are relegated to shorter pieces like the intro or the instrumental "Who May Oppose Me?", but these are all perfectly placed to allow the listeners a chance to breathe after what ever Transylvanian (or Victorian) terror has stalked them through the woods or streets. The vocals of both Schwadorf and Konstanz provide elegant, brooding mantras which assist even the most base of the guitar progressions to hypnotize beyond their due. Instruments are mixed very well. Production is polished, and complexity minimal, but the oblique nature of the lyrics (EXCELLENT lyrics) and note selections keep it from broader accessibility. That is not a negative. This is definitely not an album which has many sugary spikes of catchiness, even by comparison to some of their own past material. The songs all work rather well, both on their own and in unison, but it's the overall mood and imagination of this album that had me absorbed more so than its ability to compose some nuanced riff. You've heard a lot of it before, just not put together quite the way this duo accomplishes it, and The Unknown, while not the standout of their career, is another reminder of how a project's convictions can persevere well beyond the trendiness that might have provided them some grand entrance eons ago. Try and grab the version with the bonus disc, both of the tracks are also worthwhile.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (drag yourself along the twine)
Thursday, October 13, 2016
This is largely the same neo-Incantation style, with the grungy rhythm guitars and pure wall of growl that the prior albums mastered, only a lot of the riffing structures and drums are focused more around a basic groove that occasionally treads into blasting territory. The bass has a nice distorted tone to it which sounds cool where it appears on its own, but also adds some reinforcement to the tremolo picked patterns, some of which retain that morbid appeal of predecessors. Once this album lays it all out with hammering drum tracks and Rotten's murky ravings moving simultaneously with a pure 1990-93 guitar progression, it definitely reiterates the character of Macabre Kingdom, but where that record just felt so over the top and hostile and cataclysmic, this one just seems more of a laid back affair. Some tunes like "Through the Vortex to Aeons Past" and their ilk have a slightly more overt nod to the Swedish aesthetics of bands like Dismember and Entombed, which Rogga has already beaten to death in other projects, but the majority of the material hearkens back to the first few Incantation discs, maybe some Rottrevore, or Finns like Purtenance in their earlier years.
Didn't love this one, since it seemed slightly neutered from its older siblings, despite its obvious attempts to branch out and flow into a broader songwriting realm than the duo had achieved prior. The Juanjo Castellano cover art is great, and the lyrics are on par with the first two records, glimpses at vistas of Cyclopean horror, but the music just doesn't leave me the same squashed up mass of entrails and ground bone as I was after Macabre Kingdom. That's not to say I didn't enjoy this, because at least half the songs hooked me, and overall it doesn't have many other weaknesses beyond few too familiar chord patterns that lack the atmosphere or thrill of their betters. I think listeners will find the production to this most approachable; the second album was quite caustic, especially with the mix of the beats, and yet that ended up lending it an otherworldly character strangely suited to the archaic fictional beings it summoned. Here you've got a cleaner effort which thankfully doesn't dispense that great guitar tone or Rotten's subterranean vocal effects.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (to lunge itself into times spectrals)
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
On its surface, this album is a stylistic doppelganger to what they've produced before. Harsh vocal driven murder thrash with convulsions of the death and black metal traditions that the band had mutated from early on. Largely in those same vocals and some of the drumming, or in the rhythm guitars that seem occasionally indistinguishable from other Scandinavian death/thrash or melodeath. The issue here is that while the note counts and the structure of these songs is comparable to prior efforts, so many of these tunes head right in one ear and out the other, largely due to exhaustion with so many well-rounded thrash acts possessing this level of competence and execution but not the capacity for memorable songwriting. Written in Blood is an able record if you just want to bang your head and possess audio evidence that the Swedes are still firing away, but the highlights are few and far between, and nothing like a "Babes" or "Nightcrawler" or "Dance With the Devil" really turns up.
It's not a total wasteland. Raise Hell have always understood how to induce some variation and balance to their LPs, and that exists here between pure ragers like "Dr. Death" or the Exodus paced "Six Feet Under" and more dramatic, melodic pieces like "A Blackened Resurrection" which are a little more successful as reincarnating the charm of older songs. Some tunes are little more than meaty, brickhouse thrash boredom like "We Arise", while others like "The Bell of the Reaper" are nearly worthy to be mixed in with better tracks from City of the Damned and Wicked is My Game. Clean guitars are used effectively in a few intros, acoustics glimmering before the distortion elevates the threat level. The rhythm guitars are constantly chopping and hacking like professional butchers, the drums circa the band's one new member to this recording are perfect, and Jimmy Fjällendahl's vocals remain consistently hellish throughout, though he lacks that raving, zany charm Jonas Nilsson brought out for Not Dead Yet.
Leads are proficient and timed right here, and there's no shortage of melody in general, but half of them are merely elegant rather than catchy. A lot of the riffing framework is structurally sound but inescapably predictable, and while that might have been par for the course with prior releases, they had those extra pieces of personality there to seal the deal, where this just seems a more soulless and obligatory exercise that impersonates its predecessors. Granted, it's been almost a decade since the band were releasing albums, and their scalpels might take a little dusting off. Written in Blood is by no means a bad record, and it has the same fixation on both slasher and classic horror themes that they've had since the earlier albums, but beyond a serviceable EP's worth of stronger content it just lacks the resonant engagement I had really hoped for a post-hiatus Raise Hell. Not a large misstep, but unlikely to be something I'd choose over the four older discs.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (crawls out from the dark)
Thursday, October 6, 2016
So I'm pretty bummed out when I spin the Russians' latest record Swamp, My Neighbour and the first things that blow out of the speakers sound exactly like EVERY other European, charging folk metal band with the driving drums, predictable and majestic melodies, keyboards presenting atmosphere in the most overt, expected ways and a lineage that clearly owes more to Finntroll and Ensiferum than anything hinging on originality. This stuff should sound like demonic fauns dancing nimbly around a glade, or the cobwebbed laughter of an old crone, but it's just the usual glory-hounding cheese with the same Wagnerian swells and indistinct barking, hoarse black metal vocals deliver about as many chills as a warm bath. The riffs are largely just gallivanting chugs and melodies meant to imbue into the keyboards, never haunting or particularly catchy or even interesting. It literally sounds like they just let the synthesizer come up with the melody and then whatever the first palm-mutes they could produce were then set in stone as the bedrock from which the band would achieve its metalness.
I'm not trying to say that Svartby are terrible at this, because they possess the base level of competence to pull it off in time and a couple quirky uses of keys and female vocals that round out the sound to make it listenable. But this really just feels like someone obsessed with Finntroll, yet not willing to go the full distance and include less of the humppa music parts, though some tunes like "Bog Bar" definitely flirt in that territory. I mean, this is no Midnattens widunder, more of a mediocre descendant of Jaktens tid; so in that regard, they're more alike an Equilibrium or Ensiferum writing passable LARP music. The creepy creatures, elixirs and witching ways that the cover artwork hints at are relegated to the lyrics alone (which are decent), and never manifest with any spooky progressions of chords, notes, not even the vocals which are as banal and blunt as their harsh inflection can get. A few later tracks like "Clock Tower" are catchy enough that I wouldn't want to skip through them, but not in the way that the outward aesthetics of the band would hint at, and that's really the biggest disappoint I feel here, another folk metal band that thinks everything needs to be a dance party in Medieval shoes. File 'em away with Trollfest and just stick to the original.
Verdict: Indifference [5.25/10]
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
They pursued a modified sound which is to most ears more accessible than the duo's alma mater, but not entirely rounding off the menacing, erotic striga edges of her past performances. The riffing and structure of these songs is a simpler and more familiar, perhaps a little less ambitious than they had worked with before, but not exactly mainstream in architecture. As the operatic intro to "Spell" dissolves, they lurch into these palm muted, chugging doom/thrash Candlemass riffs which work very effectively as Cadaveria shouts out an angry, vitriolic harpy tone similar to Nicole Lee of ZnöWhite obscurity or the late Dawn Crosby from Detente and Fear of God. However, there are also traces of black metal charge rhythms, and proto death metal tremolo riffing and a slight degree of classical note progressions woven through the material that keeps it fresh and expansive, and when she wants to turn up the heat she'll erupt into some blacker rasping vocal lines that seem like a more strained mutation on the higher pitched parts, although I have to admit I prefer those.
Elsewhere, The Shadows' Madame is a fairly well-balanced production with an appreciable level of proficiency, especially in Santos' drumming which retains a lot of the faster black/death metal components employed by the previous band. Bass lines are fairly average, but the rhythm guitar tone is rich enough to pop right out, and you get a lot of inflection to the chords, the climbing and falling patterns of the original guitarist Frank Booth. Leads aren't the most well-developed aspect of the band's sound, but they definitely bring enough frizzy and wailing rock & roll antics to offset some of their fatter supporting riffs. There's also this overall depth to the recording which makes them feel like a much larger band, yet they don't overdose on symphonic ingredients or other pompous aesthetics you might expect; this is a very pure, riff-driven record at its heart, with a subtle use of atmospherics or electronics and sound effects that serve only to underlie the grime and groove of the riffs. I can't promise that a lot of those riffs are individually very interesting, but combined with the subtle strangeness and Cadaveria's haunting angst they're lent a lot more personality than they might otherwise harbor.
For an album obviously meant to associate with the darkness and horror she'd long been working with, I can't say it really and truly delivers, at least not beyond the imagery evoked in the lyrics. It's much more of a straightforward, groove and burst of an extreme metal pastiche as opposed to an effort that can evoke the morbid fascinations and nostalgic rituals of bands like Mortuary Drape and Opera XI, nor the rich legacy of Italy's horror directors spanning back about 40 years before this. The Shadow's Madame is more of a vehicle for direct destruction, easier to digest without abandoning the extremity from which it was a borne, a hearse meant to spill its human cargo out on the red carpet of rock stardom rather than some desolate castle up in the hills where a psychotic nobleman waits to carve them up. As a post-Opera IX vehicle this album works well enough, it still sounds fresh and punchy behind the better vocal lines, and it's easily one of Cad's stronger works beyond the turn of the century.
Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (devoid of evening and morning)
Friday, September 30, 2016
Now I had hinted that this outfit hadn't made any major missteps with this debut, and I think the real issues were just its presence on a nearly invisible record label, and the fact that it comes across like an also-ran when compared to a lot of bands that used its formula to craft more exciting, memorable songs. At it's most thrashing and biting, the guitar tone reminds me a lot of a brasher alternate to what Anthrax were putting out around this time, and a similar comparison can be made to the inflection on some of the vocals, which aren't a far cry from Joey Belladonna even though the range sounds more like a punkish crossover and not so melodic and reedy. There were a few individual lyric lines and riffs which also recalled old Death Angel, and a substrate of crude speed metal which reminds me of the rougher production on some of the early Exciter albums. The vocals do have a bit of an unevenness to them, even from track to track. That's not to say they lack personality...only it's just not a sort of charisma that resonates long after the record is over, even when there are shouts to back it up and drive it home harder. At worst they feel slightly sloppy, but not unintentionally.
I do like the rhythm tone, something not a lot of bands would try getting away with today unless they were striving for the low-fi retro aesthetic, but bright and nasty all the same and wouldn't be out of place on a punk record from the same time period. Bass lines are exceedingly simple and do little else but climb around the primary riffs, and not very far, but at least you can make it out and it keeps a steady headbanging pace circa classic Priest. The drums are vibrant and fit just right against the rawness of the guitars, and there's a lot of double bass energy driving the snares and the blunt force of the songs as a whole, with fills flying off everywhere that are occasionally even a too loud and cluttered for the mix. Leads and melodies are spurious and scattered appropriately throughout the play length, but this was probably one of the record's biggest failings since none of them even border on evoking anything emotional or catchy, so they feel like an obligation more than a carefully constructed component to the songwriting, a mediocre pizza topping with just enough added savory flavor to feel as if it belongs.
Though the lyrics in cuts like "Welcome to the Hell House" and "Madame Guillotine" are solid enough to convey the band's appreciation for horror and dark history, another downside to Hell House is that it just never feels scary or evil. It's more like a mixture of enthusiastic Bay Area and New York thrash reduced to a series of unambitious riffing passages and chord progressions that hardly even come off cruel or vicious by 1988 standards, and since they lack a lot of the inherent musicality of their betters. If you just took "Alison Hell" alone off the Annihilator debut, it has more quality guitar work and faux-creepy vibes to it than this entire album. The only atmosphere provided is just through the production alone, and so it's one of those records that really only comes up when you're digging into the deep, dark corners of the niche and want something tonally genuine to that period. It's not a bad album at all if you just want to crank some raucous 80s testosterone through your speakers, and a few tunes like "Nightmare Reality" storm harder than the rest, but you were simply not short of options in those days, and you definitely aren't now...so it kind of just wanders through its own hellish gates and disappears before you know it.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10] (it's not an illusion)
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Siebenbürgen, named for the German of Transylvania itself, was another Scandinavian group whose earlier buzz seemed to revolve specifically around this niche, and like their far more popular British counterparts, a weaving of Gothic rock elements and melodic black metal that offer some measured of 'refinement' over that genre's crude roots. Reviled by some purists, but approachable for those who might have arrived at black metal directly through Cradle or the Romantic elegance that stood in stark opposition to the barbaric hordes who populated its underground. Granted, these Swedes skewed much further towards the 'black' than the Gothic in how they structured the material for their Napalm Records debut. Melodic tremolo picked guitar lines dominate Loreia, both against the slower rock beats and the moderately blasted, thundering drums, and these are rarely interrupted save for the more majestic chord patterns that are occasionally left to stand on their own. The band wasn't as savage as a Marduk, or as meticulous as an Emperor, but had more in common with middle run bands like Finland's Catamenia whose riffing patterns were quite similar via the reliance on overt melodic composition rather than intensity or, I dare say it, evil.
In fact, the only areas in which this debut might distinguish itself from the throngs of its corpse-painted peers is in the use of Lovisa Hallstedt's wailing, over the top vocals and violin sequences, neither of which were completely unique within this genre, but are mixed in so professionally well for this album that it seemed to stand head and...fangs...over a lot of the competition. As cheesy as Loreia can often feel with its constant attempts at emotionally wrenching the listener through its simple, predictable guitar lines, there's also something charming and appreciable about just how consistently it was assembled, without any particular region of the 51 minute play length feeling weaker than any other, even though there's an undercurrent of sameness running through it that betrays any notion of a pleasant, pleasurable surprise. There is no sudden, shadowy figure staring at you from your windowsill at night, entrancing you with its eyes before succumbing you to its horrible appetite...no, you're pretty much in Vampire Land™ from the very start, a fantasyscape of ivy strung Gothic castles, and lavish glades through which pale nymphs dance and bathe in the moonlight.
The mix is really well balanced, with the writhing, catchy tendrils of rhythm guitar given space to breathe over the tight-woven beatsand fat but obvious bass-lines. Marcus Ehlin's black metal rasp was hardly exemplary, assuming the position almost lethargically over the verse measures, but it does strike the right nerve once its being contrasted against Lovisa's shrill, almost ethereal presence, and by no means a bad performance on its own. The violin is sparse but sounds great where it appears, to the point that I wish they had included more of it, but where a lot of bands would dowse this sort of sound in loads of organs or other keyboard pads, Siebenbürgen keep it clean and powerful so you can ride the crisp propulsion of each rhythm like a bat carried along the prevailing wind pattern. I'd have liked to hear more varied songwriting, but I feel like a lot of bands of this ilk were trying to play it safe enough that they could establish themselves firmly within the genre's listener base and then execute their most insidious designs later on.
Whether or not this band ever accomplishes such an evolution is up for debate, but if you've got a soft spot (of neck flesh) for this mid-90s era of friendlier black metal, Loreia is an album which still holds a degree of nostalgic value, just not a lot of memorable songs. I myself would greatly prefer a record that can channel some of the dread, mystery and pathos of this theme which have always been my primary attractions to it, and Siebenbürgen came up a little short there. You won't shiver from any chill, in fact you'll feel almost like your sitting by a hearth with some red wine and a Gothic playmate while any storm or pitchfork-waving mob rages at a safe distance, appreciating but probably not understanding the lyrics; but that doesn't mean that this band eschewed an obvious effort to get this arranged and recorded, and so it remains a minor curiosity to sate fishnet-garbed connoisseurs of Laurel K. Hamilton, Sheridan le Fanu, and a long-locked Brad Pitt.
Verdict: Win [7/10]
Monday, September 26, 2016
Tinny, dramatic rhythm guitar hooks draw a mix of comparisons to Denner, Shermann and LaRocque, at times swerving a little more closely to the playing of one or the other sides of the KD legacy but ultimately finding a happy medium, with both the meanness of Fate and the gloss and glamer of the solo band. Fed from the same trick or treat basket of NWOBHM, speed and proto power metal as their influences. Leads are even airier, tinny and piercing, and they use a lot of briefer flights of melody to glitz up the verses in the title track. Bass lines here are a bit primitive and tend largely towards just pumping along with a few notes misplaced from the rhythm patterns, par for the course of their times, but not terribly significant. The drums are solid in the first track but felt a bit more cluttered in "The Baroness", largely because that has a looser structure through part of its run where the guitars are drawing atmosphere unto themselves. Count Hawlok's falsetto doesn't deviate much, it's tonally appropriate to the brightness of the guitars below it, but he doesn't intersperse a lot of lower-range, grimy character here like Diamond does on some of his classic recordings, nor does he shriek out much by the way of the memorable lines that built a 35+ year career for their forebear.
As drifting back ground music, Black Wings Over Transylvania is a passable paean to the masters which doesn't really suffer from any delusions of purpose, but where so many such loving Xeroxes of classic records fail is that they don't write music that can really stand on its own beyond just that niche crowd which is looking to catch up with its childhood through a source other than the one that was....you guessed it, actually there during that childhood. Kingdom Come might have borrowed the aesthetics of Led Zeppelin to an unhealthy extent, but at least for a few years there they were writing absolutely fantastic songs in that style. Primal Fear has more Priest in its DNA than some might wish to admit, but they put such power into it that it occasionally felt like you were hearing the original at a new, contemporary level. Put quite bluntly, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to listen to these two songs when you've got a copy of anything Kim Peter Bendix released in the 80s on hand, because even the least impressive songs of that hot streak eviscerate anything in these two. That's not to say that I think Dracula are bad, or that the material has any major issue beyond its obvious derivative nature, but when you've already got groups like In Solitude, Portrait, Attic and Trial which managed to start with such a strong KD/Fate influence and then spin off into fresher strains, a project like this faces a steep uphill battle, one it hasn't yet even begun to scale.
Verdict: Indifference [6/10]
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Listening back on this lost and forgotten record now, I feel like my decision was the right one, but not because Possession Park is an utter shitshow. This was essentially a crossover thrashing punk vehicle which was helmed by Dukey Flyswatter (aka Michael Sonye), an actor for some low budget horror and exploitation flicks like Nazi Surf Punks Must Die whose own infamy has long outlived this musical project. The cover promises EXPLICIT LYRICS and some Satanic Amusement Park fun, possibly with zombies and clowns and all manner of colorful 80s horror kitsch, and staring at the artwork kind of arouses nostalgia for Halloween parties with stuff like green punch, bobbing for apples, ghost decorations made out of bunched up tissues and really bad Dracula costumes. So at the very best I figured I'd be in for a metallic "Monster Mash" with some more controversial fare, and yet it doesn't really deliver on any of the promises that its outward aesthetics might hint at. The lyrics do delve into campy horror flicks and possesses a little inappropriate edge to the lyrics, but it's hardly like they're just uttering 'fuck' and 'shit' in endless succession throughout every single track, at least not where I can make out the lyrics. It's actually a little more of a timid experience than you think you're getting into, but not one crafted without a modicum of competence.
Musically this is a mash-up of party punk rock and the sort of harder crossover that West Coast bands like Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies popularized. A closer comparison could be drawn to the GWAR debut Hell-O, before they adopted a more thrashing edge to most of their material on the sophomore. Airy, distorted riffs involving just a few chords here or there, no more than you're like to hear on your average Offspring joint, but brought down to street level by the plunking bass lines and the urban edge to what patterns those chords are fashioning. There are a lot of lead guitars which were very similar to Rocky George's approach, bluesy and wailing and elevating the songwriting from the graffiti-smeared ghettos into a more fanciful 'metal' territory, but rarely memorable and in some cases just plain excessive and unnecessary to the detriment of the tracks in which they were placed. As a general rule with this record, the more filthy, shorter and 'punk' the tunes get, the more respectable they seem, with stuff like "She-Freak" even coming across like a bastard stepchild of the Misfits and antique Voivod. But even though there is some coherence to the style throughout, there is a sense here that Haunted Garage wasn't 100% sure what they really wanted to accomplish, a flaw that is forgivable on a debut album but doesn't exactly endear it to me either.
Bands like this often lived or died on the distinction of their front men, but while Mike Muir and Glen Danzig and even Excel's Dan Clemets put their own individual stamps on their bands that happened to be supported by great music, Dukey Flyswatter often gets lost in it. Personally I find that he sounds like a raucous blend of GWAR's Oderus Urungus and Blaine Cook of The Accüsed, with a lot of Rob Zombie's splattered rock & roll waaahs and yeaahhhs thrown in there, but the lines he spits out just feel sloppy and goofy and not to the music's benefit. Probably more entertaining in a live setting where he's got other antics to sate the crowd, but on the disc here it just never feels nasty or catchy enough to care, especially when the material he's shouting over is just paint-by-numbers boring rock with a slightly punk frill to it. Tunes like "Torture Dungeon" are all right because of the mean turns taken by the guitars, and his tone is effective, but even then there's just nothing special on Possession Park that will keep you engaged beyond just a handful of spins through some of the better numbers, and the rest are vaguely tolerable for just a single play.
The production does tend to hold this together. Drums are lively and tight enough to flirt with both the standard rock momentum and hints at a faster, hardcore lethality, while the bass lines are fat enough to support themselves even if they're just following the guitar. Leads are always apparent and take charge, but the gain on the rhythm guitar can feel a little too grainy next to the vocals and rhythm section. Still, it's often bright enough to forgive this, and the album sounds more professional than I would have expected, and probably more than it even needs to be, since fans of this niche often value the smattered, violent and lower fidelity mixes which enhance the vitriol and aggression of the bands. If you like how Scumdogs of the Universe or America Must Be Destroyed sound, though, then you're not going to have much of a problem here, and when the band stretches itself a little with acoustic guitars or weirdo guitar sci-fi effects ("Little Green Men"), it's handled pretty well.
Haunted Garage trends a little weakly for me, and doesn't manage to attain the levels of fun and engagement that many of its peers achieved years before it arrived. It also commits the crime of naming a subpar song "Welcome to Hell" when there's already a perfect song called "Welcome to Hell". BUT...it's not completely awful, and the band themselves must have felt some spark of nostalgia since they've recently reformed. If you're a huge splatter rock/crossover fan or you really enjoy all those GWAR-related gimmick bands like Green Jelly and the X-Cops, then this is a curiosity you might wish to at least sample, but Possession Park is not some absolute failure that I can entirely write off without acknowledging some of the corny care that was obviously put into it. But man, I miss that little record shop. I'd have gladly blown the $7.99 on this tape if it could have helped keep the place in business.
Verdict: Fail [4.75/10] (my horns grow, they swell)