I was excited for the Black Keys’ El Camino, I admit it. While the Keys lost me on Attack and Release with its awkward polish, I fell in love with them again on Brothers. Sure, it was only the first half of Brothers that did it for me, but that combination of bop and blues put me right where I wanted to be like any perfect summer album should. By all rights, I should like El Camino—it embraces glam and bop—two things I can usually get behind, and it even picks up the pace. The songs are frantic, seemingly taking a key from the Clash moment of “Tighten Up,” the radio hit off of Brothers. But what the band gain in glam-rock accessibility they lose in soul and grit. The blues sound that brought them to the dance is discarded for straightforward rock. Perhaps the Keys are tired of White Stripes comparisons. The trouble is, the Stripes abandoned their blues rock eventually as well and went for the rock-pop jugular—and they did it much better.
The first single, “Lonely Boy,” has a catchy pulse, but its robotic riffing is reminiscent of a Queens of the Stoneage toss-off. The allure of the Keys for me has always been the scrappiness that comes along with being a blues duo—the screaming feedback, stops and starts and howls. There is nothing primal on El Camino. This is a band who have made it and know it. Slick ’70s-style keys drip polish over riffs that are just missing that raging distortion. “Money Maker” and “Gold on the Ceiling” are decent rockers that fail to incite the soul. “Nova Baby” has the refrain “Cause you don’t know what you want,” and a chorus that sounds oddly similar to Metric’s “Gimme Sympathy.” The band sound a bit lost. Am I going to complain if this album is on in a café? No. But if I had to listen to a Black Keys album, this would not be my choice.
A new Lamb of God album is just about as relevant to modern metal as a new release by Korn—in other words, absolutely irrelevant. With each release, Lamb of God have proven that, while they may have decent metal chops, they can’t write songs. And on Resolution the band continues a trend of releasing mediocre albums with embarrassing attempts to widen their scope. The album starts with the promising sludge of “Straight to the Sun”—the slow grind hinting at something new in the band’s repertoire. Maybe they’ve learned a metal type of subtlety but, alas, the song ends at two minutes and 26 seconds, before it even gets started, and then it is back to the same-old same old. To say that lead singer Randy Blythe’s vocals are bad is an understatement. Blythe does his best to ape Phil Anselmo, while the band do their regular Slayer-meets-Pantera routine—this time trying even harder to put on the Southern-fried shtick so loved by Johnny Reb Pantera fans. Ironically, Blythe spent eight years bashing the Republican party and conservatives. One has to wonder just how much of his soul Blythe sold to achieve this level of mediocrity. It sounds like he is checking into the office and putting on his metal voice—which makes sense, as this is a major-label release.
What is so different about Mastodon’s new release The Hunter? Critics could normally fill a vomitorium with the kind of praise they puke out for the band’s albums, but Hunter has critics only hiccupping, with maybe a little acid reflux. It seems the difference maker is that Hunter hasn’t been trumpeted as a concept album. Otherwise everything is exactly the same—even the concept. The last three Mastodon albums could have easily been called Hunter and still kept to their “theme.” Let’s recap: 2004’s Leviathan is a concept album based on Moby Dick—you know, Captain Ahab’s hunt for a white whale; 2006’s Blood Mountain was about a man’s quest to find a crystal skull on top of Blood Mountain (he encounters wolves and giants along the way); and then 2009’s Crack the Skye is about a paraplegic who “astrotravels” through space and hell all on his journey back to his body. So, yes, their last three albums have been about a hunt of some sort—just like their new one The Hunter.
And, yes, the songs are pretty similar as well. Each album opens with a track propelled by tribal drumming and a fairly standard metal riff—this album’s version is “Black Tongue”—which pays more than homage to Ministry’s “Stigmata.” Like their last three albums, the songs open up a bit and get a little more progressive and jazz-influenced as the album goes on, like on The Hunter’s “Stargasm” and “The Octopus Has no Friends,” but the formulas remain the same. Some of the songs on Blood Mountain and The Hunter are practically interchangeable. “Hurl of the Burl,” the supposed pop departure, features some Mötley Crüe riffage and a really bad Lemmy impersonation. You can find a similar “departure” earlier in the band’s catalogue on “Colony of Birchmen,” where Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme lends some pop-metal vocals off of similar Mötley Crüe-influenced riffage. This is the life of a once-creative metal band who have spent six years signed to Warner Bros.—it keeps you in metal-package tours and your shirts stocked at Hot Topic.