HardReviews 4
by Martin Popoff

Joel McIver - Extreme Metal II
(Omnibus Press)

Joel's most famous metal books thus far are his Slipknot: Unmasked and Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica tomes, the latter of which is one of rock journalism's recent resounding triumphs. But five years back, he also penned the first edition of this directory of the dastardly. Now expanded from the original 250 bands to more than 400, the new and louder edition maintains the same high quality layout, profusion of pictures, and solid writing that delivers the facts along with McIver's well-earned views on each band's place within this controversial descriptor - extreme. Perhaps that's one of the cooler resonances from this book, the fact that Joel includes bands that were extreme in their day, but is disciplined enough not to pick at any earlier contexts than the mid-'80s. As well, he flirts with the idea of extremity across genres, yet more or less dutifully sticks to black, thrash and death. I'm sure this is the only place you'll ever see dozens of these bands in a mass market publication, so consider this a goal achieved - an education of some level of "masses" with respect to the world of clanging, banging metal from the fringes.
Rating 7.5

System Of A Down - Mesmerize
(Columbia/Sony BMG)

I've spent all of the System Of A Down albums so far being repulsed (from mildly turned off to nauseated) by the band's jerky jokey sound, only this time, I can't stop playing the damn thing. Essentially, SOAD write painfully addictive sloganeering soundbites, zany left field "sayings" - that's the hook - and then around it, offer beautiful melodic passages, wine-glass stomping ethnic music, and huge grooves. All of that's part of the allure, but with Mesmerize, I'm really drawn by a combination of the ruffs, and the strangely loose NWOBHM-ish delivery of them. On top of that, there's this urgent, vital axe tone that makes me feel very alive. The political lyrics make the band sound important and well-meaning, like nice guys, and then the comedy stuff - no other word for it - makes you think the guys are weirdly both grounded and hippy dippy creative types. That's what, half a dozen rare flavourings, that, combined Rubik's cube-style, make for something like 90 or 120 little exotic experiences as one moves through the band's surreal, possibly partly contrived but "ya just don't care" carousel with metal steeds. A couple on here don't work for me, and the Armenian folk music or reggae never does, but Mesmerize fits the bill as an obsessive album for me - a record with four to six songs that I just play over and over again, notably Soldier Side on the wild and chaotic side, and Lost In Hollywood on the resplendent. Really, I'm quite embarrassed by all this.
Rating 8.5

Hard Reviews Page 5