St. Paul, Minnesot'as True Metal Record Store (RIP as of Dec. 24, 2015)
OCTOBER 31 (US) – Bury the Hatchet [LISTEN to a preview track]
Hells Headbangers Records
Release date: October 14, 2014
Thanks to HHR for the digital promo. Their timeliness is making me look like a real go-getter this time around.
In three words: Authentic “retro” metal.
What kills: King Fowley, mastermind and beating heart of OCTOBER 31, knows nothing of inauthenticity. If you’ve ever read one of his interviews (try this one, for example), or seen him perform live with DECEASED, you know the man runs on pure jet fuel, destination METAL, no layovers in fucking Posertown. “Retro” in quotes herein as the ultimate irony, in other words.
OCTOBER 31 started way back when DECEASED still fit comfortably within the Relapse Records line-up, which was a death metal label at the time. And they were the first band on the label. No, really. And whilst DECEASED turned from quasi-VOIVOD worship to IRON MAIDEN/NWOBHM/speed metal gurus on their 1997 epic, Fearless Undead Machines, OCTOBER 31 was releasing albums more directly in touch with heavy metal’s past glories. Believe it or not, that was something of a trend at the time after that. No, really. I have paper fanzines to prove it.
Bury the Hatchet vacillates between the dialed-up hardrockers you’d expect from the oldest schools of heavy metal (“Tear Ya Down”; “Under My Gun” [EDIT: apparently a cover song by US power metal band ICON. Good to know!]) and crafty, mostly midpaced madness for the rest. The subject matter on these latter numbers is like Tales from the Crypt or other classic comic book horror. A continuation of DECEASED once again, yes, but a welcome departure from cliché.
Musically I would be hasty calling this formulaic, but a recognizable backbone borne of heavy metal is certainly there throughout the album. Swinging power chords in the verses trade hands with simple melodies in the choruses that send screaming leads at you from every direction. King’s vocals are unique and instantly recognizable (see below for my disclaimers), so any past memories of his work will lend almost a comforting quality to everything here. Keyboards even make a welcome appearance, adding worthy touches of texture on the most brooding and earnest tracks.
The riffs walk well-worn paths and you can probably hum almost everything on Bury the Hatchet by mid-song, so I’m not going to pretend we’re talking originality here. Thankfully, OCTOBER 31 turns just enough blind corners with just enough strident enthusiasm to make it a little unpredictable, which we all know means damn fun. I dare you to claim otherwise.
What rots: I’m not saying this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard, nor that it is for everybody. Above all, there are a few small quirks I know might perturb folks who are new to the King Fowley game, and occasionally also send me, seasoned fanboy, scuffling for my cringe medication.
*Mr. Fowley’s choice of words: No, you don’t have to rhyme all the time. But for heavy metal, the usual advice is to get reasonably close. And choosing NOT to rhyme at the most inopportune times is ear grating. Witness the chorus to the opening track, “Tear Ya Down,” where the final word DOWN goes over like an amplified fart in a megachurch. The rest of the song rhymes, so what the hell. This happens at least one more time, too, and I’ll let you discover it, because then you’ll never fail to hear it and will think of Into the Void Records every goddamn time you do.
*I fucking like his vocals guys. But you might not. On most tracks they are characteristically raspy, loose and amelodic (think Cronos without the aerobics instruction). On others, he attempts a heady warble just above his range; while not awful, it isn’t put out often enough or with the necessary gusto to make it plausible. He could’ve owned the lower registers but overreaches for aesthetic consistency with the genre, which is too bad. A lot of the guitar harmonies crafted for the choruses in particular seem to be there strategically to mask these flaws.
*So, perhaps drop Mr. Fowley slightly in the mix and emphasize the stolid drums, which seem unfortunately distant. The bass (contributed by Jim Hunter of TWISTER TOWER DIRE…there, I mentioned another band besides DECEASED) rules, so keep it where it is. A few twists of the knobs might be warranted to highlight some of the leads as well.
What matters: Dirty, dark heavy metal with drive and identity. Not the usual sterilized Swedish robot imitation, no pretentious airy-fairy bullshit and absolutely no reason for apologies. With all things King Fowley, you’ll definitely get it if you get it. Bonus: if you find yourself really getting it and never became acquainted with DECEASED, you’ll have a nice wishlist compiled by Christmas. You know those decorations go up the day after Halloween anyway.
Tell me more: Did you know King Fowley is in DECEASED?
Disclaimer: New DECEASED comes out on Hells Headbangers soon as well. Good for them, honestly; after kicking around with labels on God-forsaken islands and their own imprints for 10 years, I’m glad they’ve found a worthy, metal-centric with a sizeable distribution and merchandising arm once again. Best of luck to King Fowley and both bands.
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