The 2015 Arsies: January 16, 2015

January 16, 2015 arse

What a way to end the week: tongue-in-someone's-cheek hair metal against heady post-metal. I swear, I didn't plan the matchup like this. Well, perhaps this contest will be a good indicator of which of my heads is more in charge.
Steel Panther begins the fight tonight, so let's just get into it. The first minute of the opening track Pussywhipped pays an homage to Metallica (Battery, anyone?), transitions into unapologetic bun-shaking and a Diamond Dave shriek, all before the first vulgar verse begins. And, believe it or not, every bit of this music is really well done! The riffs are straight out of pre-Cowboys Pantera, the leads are smokin', and lyrics are unflinchingly silly and crude. This music is of course illegitimate without the greater context of 80s hair metal, but we are all familiar with the source material that Steel Panther so faithfully and lavishly lampoon. Now, some tracks go a bit farther than I even I would, and considering what a rotten bastard I am, that's saying something (see Gloryhole as an example). But that's not the album's biggest weakness. The issue here is that All You Can Eat is intentionally disposable, yet too well made. Take the pitch-perfectly Whitesnakish Bukkake Tears for example. The song's a fucking joke, right? And yet, lose the vocals, and it sounds completely legitimate (if dated). Welcome to Uncanny Valley, Steel Panther. There goes the neighborhood.
It's hard to imagine a more antithetical contender tonight than the Austerity Program's Beyond Calculation. The latest album from a duo with a drum machine, this is 38 minutes of sneering at the impression of punk or metal. Indeed, its basic self-denial and nihilist bent makes it even more punk and even more metal. You can hear Ministry and The Jesus Lizard and Zombi and a dozen other iconic flavors in this antisocial cacophony, if you use the right kind of ears. The Austerity Program are college metal, if ever there was such a thing. And that's my main complaint about them: there is a conspicuous and all-too-intentional quality to these proceedings. And yet, I like them. I like them, not just because of course I have to like them (or else admit that I don't do my homework). Above the reek of pretense that hangs on Beyond Calculation, the music improbably, inexplicably works. There is a mad kind of alchemy here that is obviously the product of two musicians who have been iterating on this material for a long time. It is not always easy to listen to, but it is far more surprising and interesting and emotive than the Steel Panther. So, I'm going to give the round to The Austerity Program.
But I'll be very honest: it almost went to Steel Panther.
Next week, we start the metal mayhem with Ne Obliviscaris and Alestorm.

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