US hardcore/industrial metal outfit American Head Charge made a few waves with their 2001 album ‘The War of Art’, released on the American Records label [original home to The Beastie Boys and Black Crowes, sometime home to the legendary Johnny Cash and metal titans Slayer]. It’s opening barrage of tunes hit like a concrete hammer, while the shouty, uncompromising and scratchy vocals from Cameron Heacock bore a resemblance to Sick of it All’s Lou Koller (circa 1998). A great combination of tough musicianship and hard-hitting material proved a winning combination…and then the band disappeared for four years. Perhaps this was a little longer than they should have been away, since by the arrival of 2004’s ‘The Feeding’, the band were reported suffering from internal problems. Not long after, they were missing, presumed gone forever.
Surprisingly in 2011, the band reappeared and took to the road. The experience clearly reignited a few sparks, as two years later they released this long-overdue EP of then-new studio recordings. First off, ‘Shoot’ is not ‘The War of Art’, but after over a decade since that release, it probably wasn’t going to be… It is, however, a worthy addition to their rather scant catalogue and a brief glimpse into a world of darkness and of brooding arrangements.
They don’t come much broodier than opening track ‘Writhe’. Its deep and slow, almost industrial crawl is quite far removed from a huge chunk of AHC’s earliest work. However, looking at it purely on its own terms, it is nothing short of superb. As the solid, near cymbal-free drumming lays down a chunky beat, the full bass grumbles with plenty of bottom end. In contrast, a piano motif breaks through the darkness, and Heacock’s hushed tones croon and whisper spookily. When the band eventually break into a fuller and more metallic sound, the vocals become far more recognisable; the lyrical content regarding the gun against the protagonist’s head continues on a dark path. All the while, the slow, chugging tune continues to plow on, adding something potentially classic to the AHC cannon and already setting the bar for this return incredibly high indeed. The bottom end bass throb at the core of ‘Set Yourself on Fire’ is of the hardcore punk/alt-metal variety, the rattling strings really adding to the meaty sound. Having played a relatively nominal role on the opening track, guitarists Sin Quirin and Karma Singh Cheema step up their game here, churning out slow and chunky riffs aplenty, sounding at their best when Heacock goes for the throaty, full-on hardcore vocal.
The EP’s best track ‘Sugars of Someday’ combines elements from both previous tracks resulting in a classic slice of industrial-influenced metal. It’s midpace allows for the best groove, while the keyboards add a cold edge throughout. The overall vibe comes across like a hefty cross between Spineshank, earlier American Head Charge and ‘Mechanical Animals’ era Marilyn Manson, which combined with a strong hooky chorus is surprisingly commercial…and none the worse for it. As if to turn things around, ‘Sand’ offers the EPs heaviest riff straight out – a brilliantly threatening dirge tackled at Crowbar’s average speed. The verses lighten the mood, shifting back towards the spooky, but when the chorus rolls around, the introductory riff is on hand to crush the listener into submission. If ‘Writhe’ marked a departure from the likes of ‘A Violent Reaction’ and ‘Song For The Suspect’, then ‘Sand’ is a further departure still. Doom metal doesn’t come much finer than this.
In addition to the four original compositions, AHC offer a well-known cover tune as part of their return. The song in question is Patti Smith’s 1978 rage ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll N-gger’. While their treatment of the song is far more menacing than Marilyn Manson’s 2004 cover (little more than a thrashy cast off designed to provoke), the song itself proves a major sticking point. In the late 70s, Smith used the n-word unashamedly to portray those who struggled, those on the outside of society [as per the original lyric; a lyric that’s nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is]. Whether she was right to do so even back then is open to much debate; whether American Head Charge are right to echo such sentiments with the use of such a word (whether their song or not) is almost without any need of discussion. By 2013, use of this word should be verboten from general usage…unless the messenger has a direct and obvious connection (as per Chris Rock) and, for the want of a word, a right to use it [see also disablist terms like “spaz” – all Americans please take note]. American Head Charge probably should have left alone. Okay, so, moving aside from any lyrical quibbles, AMC make this number sound generally menacing with a slow, growling bassline complimented by an equally growly vocal. Although everything settles into a groove that’s a clear metal reinvention of Smith’s arrangement and isn’t as striking as it could have perhaps been, AHC show themselves to be strong players. As for the legendary Patti Smith, maybe it’s time that bands started to look a little deeper into her critically lauded catalogue beyond this song and ‘Because The Night’ when choosing covers. ‘Easter’ and ‘Pissing In The River’ could just as easily be used for real menace. Let’s think about that for a while.
So – cover-tune aside – this long-overdue return yields some great results. ‘Sand’ is enough alone to silence any potential naysayers, but AHC’s other three self-written tunes add plenty of weight to the band’s selective catalogue. If you’ve not heard American Head Charge before, pick this up at your earliest convenience.