Hard Reviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Labyrinth - Return To Heaven Denied
(Metal Blade)

Getting added to the pink and black Metal Blade line (put all the label's trad metal from Summer/Fall '98 side by side; you'll see what I mean), has to count as a victory for these speedy Italian prog metallers. But if anybody can cash in on this curiously fanatic and collectible corner of the genre (thank God for the Net), it is these boys. Why? Well, Labyrinth are really quite speedy and focused, rarely ponderous, and really quite bent on hair-flipped heroics of a most axe-aggressive nature, even if the production is finicky, high-strung and prone to fits of neurotic hand-washing. Oh, and one of the guys looks like Fabio, another like Pete Steele. One negative: the lyrics suck as bad as their older stuff, not conceptually, but grammatically, Labyrinth carrying on that rockinâ Euro tradition of not bothering to have an English friend spend half an hour fixing, while the band and its army of hangers-on spend hundreds of hours fretting every other detail.
Rating 8

Supafuzz - Supafuzz
(Gotham)

While we all drive around pleased that there's finally another catchy Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies hit, and one suspiciously close to hard rock at that, along comes an equally swinginâ piece of high decibel clobber, Supafuzz pounding through that Wheelies, Four Horsemen, Raging Slab four-wheel terrain with a mod dose of Sugar Ray, Big Sugar and Sugar. Pity the unfortunate band moniker (too many Supers around, and too genre unspecific: it will be lost in a sea of confusion), but clammer bammer this record! Much of the credit goes to enigmatic vocalist David Angstrom, who cut his teeth with under-rated alt.swampers Black Cat Bone. Angstrom is also the band's unbelievably boiled-over guitarist, perhaps from necessity, given the sky-highly rhythmic blast of bass and drums propelling the steam of this band. Crazy crazy energy here, sorta like lost saviors Collision slapped modern by Clutch. Man, just find this record. Here's help: www.gothmrecords.com.
Rating 9

In Ruins - Four Seasons Of Grey
(Metal Blade)

Pretty creepy hearing a Philadelphia power trio carving an authentic and pioneering niche within black metal. But that's what happens here, as In Ruins graft together rock groove, struggling keyboards and Sabbatherian doom, then proceeds to bury all their musicality under a forgiving, acidic mix of hockey barn drums, gut-punched bass and echoey death vocals. The effect is a band that could have sounded too musical, getting stuffed back into the underground. And man, it works, reminding me of those suffocating, isolated tones that emanated so long ago from the first Trouble album, later on through Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, but only when courting their inner Lemmy. The power, fire and sulphur of goth metal proper is here.
Rating 8.5

System Of A Down - System Of A Down
(American/Sony)

Such is the fine line between marketing genius and chaos, System Of A Down buzzing despite a terrible name, a considerably exotic sound and a lyrical canon that is hard to resist. It's like that first excitable, irritable attraction you first felt upon considering Jane's Addiction, at least three curve balls in one band, maybe all of them performing laser strikes, maybe, just maybe, one ending up in the ground and past the catcher. Count me two strikes and a stink. I quite dig the band's confounding mix-up over Coal Chamber, Helmet, Zeppelin, Live and Rage Against The Machine. And even those lyrics, as ugly and pretentious as they are, are a damn good read. But Serj Tankian's patronizing vocals just ruin it for me, the guy being more pretentious than his riotous words, yelping comically, barking, doing Dez, doing Johnny Lydon, doing Marilyn Manson, really distracting us away from the considerably pioneering gumbo of hairy, hoary sounds. It's just all too Important. I dunno, if he's 6'6" and built like Rollins, he might get away with it, but if he's a shaved head geek in a floppy white t-shirt, he's gonna get a lot of flak. Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.
Rating 6.5