For over a decade now, there’s been an almost entirely hypothetical civil war within metal fandom, a struggle of “true metal”—generally whoever’s making the case for the war’s existence—against “false metal”—you know, the poseurs, the metal wannabes who secretly crave disco or something. The French duo Carnival in Coal’s thoroughly weird second album takes a stand in favor of the latter. It’s a sincere act of apostasy, in fact: an argument that metal is a matter of style rather than content. Seven of French Cancan‘s nine songs are more or less unlikely covers, mostly dolled up in Scandinavian corpse paint. Michael Sembello’s “Maniac,” with quadruple-time drums and fan-blade guitar grafted in, suggests Jennifer Beals as an ax murderer (it can cut you like a knife!); their chuggy brutalization of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” swaps a lighters-in-the-air solo for the sax part and trades off real singing and metal ghuuuur at random.
Singer Arno Strobl has the Napalm Death roar down just fine, but he’s funnier (because he’s more convincing) when he switches to a conventional on-pitch croon. He can sing Genesis’s “Mama” and sound way more invested in it than you’d think, which doubles its creepiness factor, and Axel Wursthorn (who plays all the instruments) matches his fearless gusto. They decorate their Ozzy and Morbid Angel covers with formally inappropriate synth-pop touches, but the only time they let their smirk show is on their closer: Pantera’s “Fucking Hostile” hocus-pocused into a sort of lounge-calypso jingle, stripped of its flashy aggression and left mewling on the floor. See? it says. Your hero and your enemy are the same thing, just wearing different fashions.