St. Paul, Minnesot'as True Metal Record Store (RIP as of Dec. 24, 2015)
This week will be difficult for me as I’ll be venturing into dangerously hyperbolic territory in praise of their 1985 full-length and magnum opus Winter Kill. While I’ve only been familiar with this title a relatively short time, it has jockeyed into a position near the top of my all-time classics list, no small feat for an album going against a man like myself of deeply entrenched prejudices against the unfamiliar.
So as a show of solidarity please say it with me: SLAW-turr ex-TROY-us. That’s ChiCAWgan for: another cryptic metal band name that will most assuredly cast a pall over any chance of sustained success. Given the stratospheric caliber of compositional might from this four-piece on Winter Kill, the name must have had a hand in keeping SX in deep obscurity. That’s hopefully what I’m here to correct in my own way on our humble record store blog.
As it turns out, their quirky moniker, however misguided, is a fitting one. Nobody sounds or has sounded like these guys. Their motivations and influences are opaque and vague. Their presentation is as comic-minded — that is, seemingly serious yet light-hearted — as their spelling.
Who then are these mythical men with the twisted name who have so captured my heart? I’ll admit to having no satisfying answers as I’ve been too entranced with the music itself to have looked long into the historical info. What should be obvious to a first-time listener though is the utter extremity of their creative essence. SLAUTER were a veritable font of fanciful arrangements, technical excellence and personality ridden narrative. All of traditional metal, progressive rock, arena rock and any pretentions to classical music thereof circa 1985 congeal into this massive and heady production spanning a mere seven tracks and 37 minutes.
To save you from too much cloying banter let’s get to the dark heart of the matter. Winter Kill begins with its title track, a micro-epic riff fest showing off all of SLAUTER XSTROYES’s rhythmic muscularity, deft instrumentalism and cockeyed showmanship from vocalist John Stewart. Imagine a world where ATHEIST time-travel to jam with KING CRIMSON while MANILLA ROAD floods the room with nitrous oxide and SLAUTER XSTROYES just may have been in the practice space next door, drinking whiskey and stealing all the good ideas.
From there the album is seemingly everywhere: “No Idea” is a slow and particularly proggy track rife with introspection, “The Stage” is self-goading and deep inner mockery, while “City of Sirtel” is a moody and strange fiction with some excellently goofball medieval metal iconography. The variability is as surprising as the performances are jaw-dropping, and it all comes together so flawlessly that it seems preordained by some deity of epic metal anonymity. With no demos to their name, who knows where SLAUTER XSTROYES got their inspiration anyway.
The cheese factor throughout is overplayed to the extreme in the best, most self-aware way possible. By virtue of his spectrum of vocal madness, Mr. John Stewart manages to convey endless turns of mood, from lovelorn loss to pride to pathos with nary a whiff of the irony of the outsider. Check out the strange soul baring of “Black Rose and Thorns,” where the irregular cadence forces a sense of desperation on the listener in sympathy with a man rapt with an uncaring love. That this is can be done safely on Winter Kill within the confines of a heavy metal framework, with heavy metal tools, is perhaps the accomplishment beyond all others for this fantastic album.
I hope, as I have, you’ve found something truly special in SLAUTER XSTROYES, one of many gems produced by our big-shouldered neighbor city to the east. This won’t be the last stop in Chicago before the end of the alphabet and I promise some more classic and hidden old metal that I hope you’ll find equally enjoyable.
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