The Red Chord
Reviewed on this page:
Fused Together In Revolving Doors - Clients - The Resurrection Of Everything Tough - Prey For Eyes - Fed Through The Teeth Machine - Kinship Synthesis
Another Massachusetts extreme metal band, but rather than Killswitch Engage's post-thrash, The Red Chord plays searing, scouringly abrasive, frequently experimental deathcore. They start with the combination of frenzied, thudding vamps, death growls and grunts, and compositional ADHD pioneered by bands like Cannibal Corpse and Carcass, but kick up the inventiveness, intelligence and clarity several notches - which paradoxically results in a much more ferocious sound. The lineup has turned over quite a bit through the years: only vocalist Guy Kozowyk and phenomenal guitarist Gunface McKenzie are fixtures, and lately they're on hold because drummer Jon Rice is spending most of his time with lesser (albeit more commercial) act Job For A Cowboy.
I saw The Red Chord perform in March 2010, and reviewed it. That's just how I roll.
Guy Kozowyk, vocals; Mike "Gunface" McKenzie, guitar, backing vocals; Kevin Rampelberg, guitar; Adam Wentworth, bass; Mike Justian, drums. Wentworth and Justain left, 2004, replaced by Gregory Weeks and Brad Fickeisen. Rampelberg left, 2005, replaced by Jonny Fay. Fay left, 2007. Fickeisen left, 2010, replaced by a returning Justian. Justian left again in 2011, replaced by Job For A Cowboy's Jon Rice.
Fused Together In Revolving Doors (2002)
The opening "Nihilist" lays out The Red Chord's approach: explosive but meticulous riffing, guttural growls and
multiple head-banging grooves, with everything packed into three minutes.
Vamps other metal bands would kill for are tossed aside after fifteen seconds ("Like A Train Through A Pigeon"), tempo changes pile up so fast you barely manage to keep your bearings ("L Formation"), and occasional jazz-fusion detours are treated as no big deal ("That Certain Special Ugly").
It's remarkable that the band's approach is so well defined on their debut, but there are a few reasons their other albums are better: there's no soloing to speak of; the gentle "He Was Stretching, And Then He Climbed Up There" never develops; and the parsimonious 29-minute running time includes a lengthy, dull "Revolution No. 9" homage ("Sixteen Bit Fingerprint").
Produced by Andrew Schneider; re-released in 2004 with some demos as bonus tracks.
Earth And Sphere (Beyond The Sixth Seal: 2002)
A melodeath side project featuring McKenzie (vocals), Wentworth (guitar) and Weeks (bass), plus drummer Brendan Roche.
Weeks and Fickeisen's first album with the group, and Rampelberg's last.
The constantly shifting, unrelentingly inventive grooves may be their best to date ("Antman"; "Lay The Trap"). The arrangements burgeon with unexpected stops and starts ("Upper Decker," probably the first track I'd play to someone I was trying to sell on the band) and solos that seem to end before they've begun ("Hospice Residence"), but never seem disconnected or random. As with any death metal band, I have trouble making out the lyrics, but apparently they deal with different aspects of the mental health industry ("Black Santa," which integrates all the band's strengths into one song).
The ending instrumental "He Was Dead When I Got There" is pretty decent hard rock/groove metal, but everything else is so much more impactful and original it seems out of place.
Produced with Chris "Zeuss" Harris.
The Resurrection Of Everything Tough (Beyond The Sixth Seal: 2007)
By the second BtSS full-length, Wentworth was out and McKenzie was back on guitar in addition to vocals. While theoretically melodic death again, in practice it's more like Southern groove metal (like Pantera, late Corrosion Of Conformity, or Metallica's Load-era country flirtation) but with growled vocals ("The Twisted").
McKenzie's perfectly fine as a vocalist, though Roche is too straight-down-the-middle for my taste ("I Die At 35").
While the riffs don't have the dizzying unexpectedness of The Red Chord work, they're plenty solid ("Sticken"; "The Twisted Ladder") with few exceptions ("The Law You Have Sworn," an instrumental link track).
So as "blowing off steam" side projects go, this is more than adequate: a three-star rating would be appropriate except that I'd rather steer you to Prey For Eyes. And there's one brilliant cut, "My Terrifying Ally," that's worth hunting down even if you aren't already a fan of McKenzie and Weeks's main gig.
Prey For Eyes (2007)
Jonny Fay was the second guitarist at this point, and I don't know if there's a connection but the guitar interplay is more elaborate (the lead vs. rhythm passages in "It Runs In The Family"), while the songs hit just as hard as before ("Dread Prevailed"; "Tread On The Necks Of Kings" featuring Converge's Nate Newton).
By comparison to the surrounding albums, though, they do have a little trouble coming up with top-quality tunes ("Send The Death Storm," verging on ordinariness), and the tempo changes, while not abandoned, often lack their usual exhilarating quality ("Responsibles").
Plus, this time there are not one but two hard rock instrumentals which drag a bit: "Seminar" and "It Came From Over There."
But it's hard to knock any record delivering two-and-a-half-minute wonders like "Birdbath" and "Midas Touch."
Produced by Eric Rachel.
Fed Through The Teeth Machine (2009)
Fay was gone by now, so McKenzie played all the guitars, which is A-OK in my book: he's strikingly inventive both on rhythm and on lead ("Ingest The Ash"; the three-minute funhouse ride "Hymns And Crippled Anthems"). Though vocalist Guy Kozowyk never stops screaming, the rest of the band shifts tempo and mood unpredictably (the brief lyrical bridge in "Mouthful Of Precious Stones"), occasionally verging on technical death metal ("Hour Of Rats") or mathcore. Throughout it's remarkable how much content they pack into short songs ("Sleepless Nights In The Compound" is the only tune approaching five minutes).
But arty experiments never get in the way of the record's straightforward heavy pleasures, like menacing palm-muted chugging ("The Ugliest Truth"; "Embarrassment Legacy") and intricate riffing ("Tales Of Martyrs And Disappearing Acts") - they strike a fine balance between innovation and tradition in the best album I heard all year.
Kinship Synthesis (Unraveller: 2012)
The latest Gunface side project is 8-bit chip music, i.e. the cheap-sounding synth bleeps heard in old video games like Galaxian. I'm all for artists using self-imposed limits to spark their creativity, and it's safe to say MacKenzie wouldn't bring a melody like "Necrocosmic Robot" to one of his metal bands. Many of the tunes do betray his grindcore roots, though, like the frantic note explosion "Diabolic Frolic," or even the quick-change antics in "The Core Is Becoming Increasingly Unstable," for me the record's keeper track. Much of the more intriguing material, then, is slower than you'd hear from The Red Chord (though faster than anything from his doom/death band Stomach Earth), like the creakily contemplative "Nanogon." Ultimately, there's a lot to listen for if - and only if - you're willing to put up with an hour of tinny blurping. (DBW)
Stomach Earth (Stomach Earth: 2013)
McKenzie's one-man doom project.
The ugliest truth.