Thursday, April 29, 2004

Review: Asskicker - The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze (2001)

The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze

A few years ago I moved from the cramped life of crumbling suburbia to a much more rural, small town setting. One of the first things I did after settling in was visit the local record shop and see what was on the table in terms of local talent. Asking the guy behind the counter which local band he considered to be the "heaviest", I was directed to a CD bearing cover art that for me evoked some of the "underground" thrash classics of the '80s. You know, the kind of artwork the bass player drew during algebra class. Anyway, I eagerly popped Asskicker's The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze  into my CD player for the ride home, determined to hear just what people out in "the country" considered to be heavy. The "Holy Shit!" exclamation escaped my lips almost immediately as my ears were subjected to a rhythmic barrage of pummeling bass, forceful riffs, and tortured shrieks.

Asskicker is a four-piece from small town Michigan that draws heavily on influences such as Children of Bodom and Pantera. They combine well-crafted, thrashy riffs with throaty black/death vox to deliver a genre-crossing album that is as brutal as it is complex. What stands out most are the extraordinary riffs found scattered among the 11 songs that comprise The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze. Proving their talent for consistently composing intense riffs, the band ties them all together with frequent time changes and varying beat patterns. The musicianship is first-rate, with guitarist Ryan Mazur excelling whether he's churning out a murderous riff or launching into a frenzied solo. Derek Mitea is simply amazing behind the kit. His seamless rhythm transitions and furious beats are outstanding. The bass lines from Mike Gay aren't flashy, but he keeps the band tight and adds a ton of bricks to Mazur's riffs. Frank Lazorishchak has a shredded voice that hovers in the upper ranges but doesn't quite fully reach a blackish shriek. Lending the extreme element to Asskicker's straightforward thrash, Frank belts out the gore-inspired lyrics with no lack of conviction.

The first track on the album, "Razor Pussy", is short but harsh, setting the stage for the onslaught brought by the rest of the album. The song sounds a bit like Mudvayne's "Dig", bringing to bear nu-metal stop-start riffing, pounding double-bass, and frantically snarled lyrics. The Pantera influences are most clear on "Lidless Eyes" with the bottom-tuned riffs and distorted leads. From here on out, most songs are predominantly traditional thrash with crunchy riffs and exquisite solos. Multiple time changes are the order of the day, with differing riffs and beat patterns resulting in a virtual cornucopia of metal rage. The highlight of the album comes toward the end with "Grove Of The Flesh Trees". Derek simply goes nuts on the drums while the riffs are groovy and the absolute heaviest on the album. A doomy passage serves as the backdrop for one of Ryan's most explosive solos before the song churns to a close.

Even with all of the positives The Barley and Yeast Brain Glaze has going for it, there are still a couple of things that bring the album down a bit. While the riffs are biting and catchy, the many change-ups tend to dilute the staying power of the songs. Scaling back some of the intricacies would boost the effect of the hooks, so this is simply a case of the band trying to do too much. The vocals are the second element that bothers me about Asskicker's music. They're taking a page from such bands as Children Of Bodom by combining traditional metal with harsh vocals, and while that in and of itself isn't a bad thing Frank simply doesn't deliver the kind of performance needed to pull it off well. The end result is a sound where the vocals don't quite fit the music. Those suggested improvements aside, the band is heavy; they are loud; they do what their name claims - kick ass.

Track Listing
1 Razor Pussy
2 Lidless Eyes
3 See You In Pain
4 Boneyard Diggin
5 Welding Skin
6 Victim
7 Alcoholics Against Sobriety
8 Pigs Blood Blues
9 Grove of the Flesh Trees
10 Slave Grinder
11 The Stoves of Insanity

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