posted on 2/2008 By:
For the three of you who may not know, Arson Anthem is another side project of Phil "I'm In More Bands Than You" Anselmo, this time a hardcore punk venture. Knowing full well what lashes I'm about to unleash, I will state up front that I enjoy most of Anselmo's work, especially Down and especially not Viking Crown. I am able to divorce his musical output from his personal issues, most notably his crippling addiction to making himself look retarded. I also greatly enjoy Hank III and Eyehategod, whose vocalist Michael D. Williams sings on this one, too. I know nothing about bassist Colin Yeo, although, according to ColinYeo.com, he is "regarded as a highly imaginative hairstylist." (I'm going to go out on a limb and say that's a different Colin Yeo. Or at least, I hope it is.) I also enjoy hardcore punk when it's done well. (By that I mean, "when it's done without a tattooed dumbass in a basketball shirt beating the shit out me.") What I'm getting at here, in my patent longwinded manner, is that a) I've been interested in hearing this since I first heard of it and b) I'm predisposed to enjoying it, certainly more so than someone who doesn't like hardcore/Phil Anselmo/imaginative hairstyling.
This self-titled EP contains eight songs, clocking in at only eleven minutes, so there's not too terribly much to talk about, aside from the overall aesthetic. Yeo's bass is distorted and dirty, almost grindcore in tone, and III's drumming is fast and solid without being flashy. Anselmo is the guitarist for this one, and if you've heard his guitar-work before, you know that he's not exactly Yngwie, nor is he trying to be. Williams' performance is the best part of the record; his drug-ravaged voice is always a highlight. He sounds as unhinged and raging as ever, and that’s a damn good thing. On the downside, the production could be a turn-off--the drums are raw; the guitars are mostly just a wash of distortion. "But, wait," you're saying, "you gave it a 4 for production…" Yes. Yes, I did. You know why? Because it sounds like it's supposed to sound, which is, I reiterate, like dung. That lack of production values not only suits the music, but actually augments it a la the grimmest grimness in black metal.
So if you’re still reading, you're probably asking, "what kind of hardcore punk would this be? Is it the Sick Of It All moshing NYHC? Or the angular Fugazi school? Or just pure nihilistic rage?" Yeah, stop there—it's that one. This is crusty bashing, distorted like a bitch and full of blasting fury, d-beats, and chaotic breakdowns. This is the dirty side of hardcore, not the pre-teen skaters-at-the-mall stuff, not the SxE chugga-chugga, not the artsy dischord and rhyme. (I have nothing against any of those, for the record.) This is the sound of amphetamine-fuelled anger, metallic and harsh and flirting with sludge, like Discharge meets Poison Idea in a coked-up rumble in the streets of New Orleans. Arson Anthem reminds me quite a bit of Venomous Concept, the Napalm Death/Brutal Truth/Melvins collaboration whose first album I thoroughly enjoyed and whose second disc I await.
One could certainly argue that the only real problem with Arson Anthem is that there's just not enough here to make much of an impression, neither in playing time nor in actual songs. These tracks are more fast and furious than Vin Diesel, Tyrese Gibson, and Li'l Bow Wow combined, but like those three, they're not going to win any awards for total awesomeness. Mostly, they’re frenetic crashing and burning, an adrenaline rush with the occasional dissonant riff, and by the time you’ve wrapped your head around them, they’re gone. The back-to-back "Cops Shoot Coke" and "The Avoider" are the best two songs on hand because both of those tunes temper their bludgeoning with slower doomier riffs. But one could also argue that hardcore records aren’t meant to be exercises in songcraft—they’re meant to be, to quote a well-respected reviewer, "…frenetic crashing and burning, an adrenaline rush…" (Yeah, I’m quoting myself from like five lines ago. Deal with it.) So what would I argue? I’d argue this: Arson Anthem achieves the necessary crashing and burning, but nothing more, no write-home-to-Momma-about-how-good-this-is transcendence of the inherent limitations of the style.
So Arson Anthem ain't gonna set your pants on fire. It ain't gonna make your top-ten list of anything, neither good nor bad. It is what it is, and what it is is eleven minutes of near-grind crusty punk. Enjoyable, but ultimately still only a side project by guys with other far more interesting bands.
Register to post comments.