CURARE, Zeit (2000, self-released)

The skull:
The deep scratches made in a wall barely covered in peeling paint, plus the feverishly scribbled title (which means “Time”) are nearly enough to suggest a truly grim vision of a long-incarcerated prisoner clutching at the last straws of his sanity. But then there’s that stupid skull, which was clearly painted over top of the scratching, making it clear that this grim prison was shuttered for years before it was opened as some kind of vaguely historical tourist destination, and in which some asshole teen on a field trip managed to break away from the class long enough to stencil in spray paint the rad skull he designed for the skateboarding company he’s going to start just as soon as he gets his fucking degree, man. The desperate etchings of a broken man wiped out by the callous vandalism of some punk: same as it ever was.

The music:
This is vaguely industrial-sounding groove metal sung in German, which in my world means Curare are a Rammstein knockoff, even if I can objectively note that Curare are at a minimum more metal. They’re definitely boring, though. The real bitch is that this almost sounds like it could have been good. Their better riffs aren’t a million miles removed from, say, Pitch Shifter in the early 90s, but they’re just off enough to be totally dull. For starters, they don’t capture the sociopathic bleakness that was encoded in everything Pitch Shifter did (before that remix EP that signaled the end of all good things.) And then the singer in Curare sounds less like an angry anarchist and more like a guy who’s just trying to get the party started, or at least trying to impress girls with dyed black hair and Siouxsie Sioux eye makeup. At their most keyboardy, Curare sound a little like Rabies-era Skinny Puppy, which is just another strike against them. We don’t cover a lot of industrial metal here at Skull HQ, and as with most of what we come across, Curare aren’t totally awful, and if this sort of thing is literally all you listen to, then maybe you’d even like them, but I think it’s a lot more likely you just wouldn’t totally hate them.
—Friar Johnsen


DESYBES, RN 6-32-4  (2007, self-released)

The skull:
I’m almost at a loss for words. This cover is an affront to big dumb skull covers everywhere, the very definition of laziness and it displays utterly horrid taste in design. DEATH TO FALSE SKULLS!!! They can’t even come up with a decent title for this EP. None of this bodes well for the music.

The music:
The four songs here are well-rendered but hopelessly faceless modern metal, masquerading as rocking melodic death/thrash. I guess. Although not exactly pristine-sounding, the style of the music here and the look of the dudes has me thinking they’re going for a Scion endorsement, or maybe even a Converse ad. They’d take a small cash infusion from Jagermeister too, if offered. But the music? I guess maybe Gurd meets Soulfly meets a really bad Soilwork song, but that’s being entirely unfair to Soilwork. The world doesn’t need more shitty groove metal, especially French groove metal.
— Friar Wagner


THE NEW BLACK, II – Better In Black (2011, AFM)

The skull:
So, what, this flaming skull was stenciled onto a shed or something? Painted on some random hunk of wood, or maybe, yeah maybe the sign above the swinging doors of a dangerous biker bar? The New Black Saloon, enter if you dare! Art like this, trying as it does to evoke the grit and recklessness of some half-remembered or imagined motorcycle culture, is a sure sign that the band it’s advertising is not particularly rowdy. I basically believe that there’s really no such thing as a dangerous musician, and if there is, he probably isn’t signed and definitely isn’t making albums that look like this. Practicing your instrument, writing songs, posing for promotional photos: these are not activities willingly undertaken by the genuine badass. At most you’ll get the likes of Zakk Wylde, spoiled alcoholics with beer muscles and unkempt beards. An album cover like this is supposed to say, “I don’t give a fuck!” Instead, it loudly broadcasts, “I give quite a few fucks, actually, and I’m deeply invested in your believing that I am really tough. Please feel threatened by me, and maybe just a little aroused.”

The music:
I guess you could call this radio metal, or something? I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe these new pop metal styles, stuff made for the mass market in the post-nu-metal era. There are tons of bands like this out there – you hear them on the radio in the rental car when you forgot to bring a CD, or maybe at sports bars or something. I guess Alter Bridge and Stone Sour are the pacesetters in the genre, a sort of ubiquitous, low-grade quasi-metal that sounds edgy if don’t pay attention, but won’t offend if you do. These guys would probably recoil at the notion that they’re basically the same as Papa Roach, but really there’s no great distinction. As metal, this shit barely passes: there are almost no real riffs, the songwriting is barely a step up from pop punk, and everything is polished to a plastic shine. With a band like The New Black, you might actually imagine their favorite Metallica album is Load. When I hear this sort of music, I immediately assume the entire enterprise is a cynical grab for rock stardom, but when you notice all the little ways they stray from the top 40 path, like a guitar harmony here or a solo there, you have to consider the possibility that these guys just have atrociously bad taste and honestly just want to make exactly the sort of bland dad metal they’re making. And that’s how a band like this ends up on AFM, I guess. If they were just in if for the money, they wouldn’t even bother slogging it out for three albums with an indie; they’d either land that Roadrunner deal or they’d give up, each dude reappearing a year later in some new band that wants to be the next big thing. I don’t know what’s more depressing: making music like this in a mercenary effort to underestimate the taste of the public, or making it because this is where your sad-sack muse led you.
— Friar Johnsen