Orajel of the Species


Mook rock, punk jocks, even if it’s rap schlock, it’s still rock and roll to me. A nice sentiment, and one I firmly believe, but that doesn’t make rock, circa: now, particularly good or anything. We’ve reached a lull, the kind which prompts critical types to convincingly and with sarcastic lamentation declare that metal (among other things) is dead. Again.

What’s this, the fifth or sixth time? To be fair, the obituary is as understandable as it is erroneous. The last time metal got as stagnant as now—the late ’80s—it was killed off by better metal (a/k/a grunge, industial, etc.). The same is bound to happen now, as the sub-genius genus does its Darwinian dance. In fact, it’s already bubbling over.

Theatre of Tragedy were among the first acts to meld gothic overtones with the white noise of black metal. Their atmospheric, serene brutality has since become commonplace on niche labels, which might be one reason that their new Assembly sounds more like Peep Show-era Siouxsie jamming with Ace of Base. Guitar is MIA for over half of the disc, and Theatre’s “beauty and the beast” trademark, trading off tranquil female yin with growling male yang, is gone. Sultry Liv Kristine Espenæs still smoothly emotes dark ‘n’ diva-like, but now Raymond Rohonyi’s choral contribution is a mechanical, eerily calm spoken word. “Play” sounds like “West End Girls” if the Pet Shop Boys donned black lipstick, and the most metallic moment, “Universal Race,” is just as danceable as “Superdrive,” the most disco moment, is heavy. Theatre of Tragedy realize, as like-minded Norwegian metal hobgoblin Mortiis did on his recent synth-pop opus Smell of Rain, that the view from a dancefloor is just as appealing as that from a mosh pit.

Purists demanding less prissiness in endeavors metallic need heed existentialism. Fab Friedrich observed, “The process of evolution does not necessarily mean elevation,” and he could have been prophesying Custom’s debut album, Fast.

If Beck grew up actually liking Judas Priest, and not in some ironic Heavy Metal Parking Lot wink-wink-nudge-nudge way, and he thought the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” was the best single in 1996, he might have wound up like this.

Your first taste was probably the supposedly banned-by-MTV “Hey Mister,” an open letter to a dad whose daughter is the requited object of Custom’s lust. “God gave her the perfect body, now I’m all up in it,” he sneers triumphantly as industrial funk-metal blurs by. But the six-foot-eight skate-rat New Yorker comes across enough like a stand-up guy on the rest of his album that you wonder if he makes love to you and fucks everyone else.

“Morning Spank,” about how “a friend doesn’t let a friend bang another friend’s girlfriend”, also hits on sexual politics; other fare ranges from introspection both American bad-ass (“Daddy”) and spiritually contemplative (“One Day”). In “Like You,” an MC 900 Foot-sized scrap-mettle melodrama, the poor guy even admits he’s lonely.

Give or take minimal contributions from the unlikely likes of Duncan Shiek and A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel, Custom (né Duane Lavold) plays all the instruments on Fast. So he’s most likely of the Keanu Reeves school where acting dumb only means nobody is going to expect much from you. Stupid people don’t rhyme “excuses” with “how loose she is” and “juiciness.” Custom may be a smartass, but he’s no dumbass.