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After Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater, the end of the world was nigh. Panic was in the streets, children were crying, men and women were cleaning out their bank accounts. It was chaos.
Then, like any rational human, they realized that it wasn't the end, but merely a new chapter. In early 2011, Portnoy announced that he was forming a new band. Many rolled their eyes. A supergroup? Those are lame, they never work. But they still held their breath, hoping for a winner.
Bringing together the talents of Russell Allen from Symphony X, Rich Ward from Fozzy/Stuck Mojo, Mike Orlando and Paul DiLeo, they have recorded a total winner of an old school, dirty heavy metal EP. Kicking off with the crunchy, rifftastic "Psychosane", the band shows that they will be a force to be reckoned with.After that comes the slower "Believe Me", an excellent track that shows a more emotional side of the band. Then comes the highlight of this EP, "Hit the Wall". Featuring crunchy riffs, blazing solos and guttural screams, this song combines everything good about metal and kicks it into high gear. Following that is the weak point of the album, "Down to the Floor". Still a good song, but not nearly as good as the prior three songs. Finally, we have their cover of Black Sabbath's "The Mob Rules". With Allen doing his best Dio impersonation, and the guitars crunching away, this cover does total justice to the original, including an excellent solo from Orlando.
As far as the cast goes, everyone is in high gear. Orlando is blazing away, Allen is screaming like a banshee, Ward is blasting his signature crunchy rhythms, DiLeo keeps an excellent groove and Portnoy goes back to basics, playing much simpler beats than in his Dream Theater days. The band meshes very well, playing together and playing for a united sound, something that escapes many supergroups of the past. As far as an overall sound, this is straightforward, to the point heavy metal. Massive riffs, blazing solos, heavy metal galore. It's an ode to old school metal, with no real turning of the wheel. One of the main issues is that the riffs do have a tendency to sound samey, and you could argue that Portnoy plays too simply, but that would be nitpicking.
At the end of the day, this is an excellent EP that shows off what this band is capable of. A full length is expected in 2012, where we will see these guys at full fucking throttle, with their foot all the way on the gas.
Normally, I wouldn't give any album a zero. I used to think there were no albums that had no redeeming qualities, and that I could find something I enjoyed in every one. Sure, St. Anger had a horrible steely drum sound and awful production, but it had a raw emotional aspect you can't get from any other Metallica record. Sure, Reroute to Remain may have been alt-rock sludge with Anders Friden providing some of the worst clean vocals in history, but at least it was more interesting than any other faceless modern rock band I could name. They may still have sucked, but the artists were at least trying, and these albums at least had one or two strong tracks.
I held onto this belief until this began streaming online.
Over the year since his departure from Dream Theater, I got totally sick of Mike Portnoy. Through a series of whiny interviews attempting to big up his importance to the band (considering how good A Dramatic Turn of Events was, maybe he'll shut up now), Portnoy revealed himself as a pompous, self-righteous douchebag who couldn't move on from Dream Theater. The only thing that kept me paying any attention to him at all was the name of Adrenaline Mob. Russell Allen and Mike Portnoy playing together? Holy shit, that sounds awesome! I also checked out the two guitarists, Mike Orlando and Rich Ward, and they're both pretty good. And even if Portnoy said it didn't sound like Dream Theater, who cares? I didn't expect it to, anyway.
What I expected in its place was a sort of harder-edged variation of Dream Theater's shorter heavy songs (think "The Mirror" or "6:00" with no keyboards for what I was thinking of), and maybe a power metal influence from Russell Allen. Then Mike Portnoy mentioned Black Label Society and Disturbed as influences, and I got nervous. Seriously, dude? Is that really what you want to imitate? Then this album hit, and it looks like those references hit the mark. This isn't anything like what I pictured at all. This is straight up nu-metal.
Now, I'm not going to claim that all nu-metal is garbage, because I do like a few nu-metal bands, but this is a joke on everything Dream Theater stood for. Russell Allen does his damndest to sound like Phil Anselmo, with a few high notes lifted from Dio. The problem is, he sounds awful, straining himself on the long notes and sticking to monotone yells most of the time. He wants to be Dio but ends up as David Draiman, but even he would be embarrassed to give a vocal performance like this - when he attempts screams and rougher low vocals, his voice sounds dry and cracking. He at least has some life in him, though, which is more than I can say for Portnoy (who at least has the good grace not to sing here). We expect crazy fills and huge slamming double-bass passages from Portnoy, right? Well, here, he appears to have learned a few tricks from his stint in Avenged Sevenfold, sticking to generic double bass patterns and canned fills. He still puts in a strong enough performance, but I expect a lot better from Portnoy.
The guitars sound like crap. It would appear that the Black Label Society reference was right at the money, because they mostly deliver squealy mosh-riffs in the vein of Zakk Wylde. The difference is that Zakk Wylde manages to make them sound interesting, these are just canned Dimebag-isms with pinch harmonics scattered throughout randomly. Lead guitarist Mike Orlando seems to think he can make up for it by shredding as fast as possible in every solo he does, but his tapping runs sound sloppy and he uses a pile of guitar effects to make up for a lack of ideas (Korn, anyone?). Oh, wait, there is a talkbox solo in "Psychosane" which sounds like a duck being sodomised with a bagpipe. That's different, I suppose. Besides, even if the solos are in danger of getting interesting, we still have Rich Ward to keep up the chug for the bros. The bass is mostly audible throughout - hey, props for having audible bass in a groove metal record! - but it resolutely refuses to do anything interesting, plonking away at root notes through every song.
As for the songs themselves... "Psychosane" is the only one of any real note, but hey, I do seem to have got my references to Awake right, because the main riff sounds uncannily like "Lie" as played by Dan Donegan. Why is it of note? Because it's hilarious. The horrible title, the soggy wad of a riff, the "MUTHAFUCKIN' PSYCHOSANE" chant before the solo, the terrible lyrics (surprise, surprise), the aforementioned talkbox noodlings - it comes out as an unintentional parody of nu-metal, and a brilliant one. (Best lyric: "GOIN' PSYCHOSANE, MUTHAFUCKIN' PSYCHOSANE")
Unfortunately, "Believe Me" loses the record's humour points, because it has EXACTLY THE SAME RIFF as "Psychosane". It tries for a bit more melody, and fails miserably, with Russell Allen choking the life out of stupid catchphrases with his overly affected raspy voice. At least they had the dignity not to break the talk box out for this one, though I'm not sure if it's better or worse that the solo here imitates the vocal melody at a few points. (Best lyric: "Believe me, it hurts me to break you down to the core")
Then... hoo boy... we get onto "Hit the Wall". This is the nadir. This is one of the worst things ever created by anyone. Waking the Cadaver has nothing on this. The riff is at least different from the ones in the first two songs, but it has nothing resembling structure. The song is a complete train wreck, with the guitars and drums both sounding sloppy and out of sync with each other while Russell Allen hollers like a post-lobotomy Dio as usual. He does attempt to switch it up with some cleaner vocals, but he sounds shit, even more tired and strained than Howard Jones. Also, he shouts "GO!" before a rubbish breakdown. The main problem is that this song is six and a half minutes long (twice as long as it needs), and attempts to be "progressive", here meaning it switches tempo a couple of times and has a breakdown or two. (Best lyric: "Tired, frustrated, this life is overrated". CRAAAWWWLING IN MY SKIIIIIIN, anyone?)
Finally, there's "Down to the Floor". This song's a bit more hard rock than the groove metal tracks we've been getting so far, in the vein of metalcore pukes like Bullet For My Valentine. This appears to be a "get yo hands in da muthafukkin air and mosh, bros!" track, complete with fake cheering in the intro and Russell Allen shouting "COME ON!" at several points. Oh, and if you were getting annoyed at every song having the same riff, this song makes up for it by having no riffs whatsoever (come on, you can't call those featherweight rhythm accents and chugging power chord chorus a "riff") and featuring Mike Portnoy bonking on his snare like a metronome. The chorus is semi-memorable, at least, but it's so empty and thin this hardly registers. (Best lyric: "Come on, give me some more!" Do you really need to resort to that?)
Oh, and there's a pointless cover of "The Mob Rules", which is semi-OK but ruined by Russell Allen's toneless shout and an overly shreddy solo.
Sorry that took so long, but there's just so much concentrated FAIL in this EP it had to be this long. In conclusion... WHY? Why does this band exist? Why is this album on Metal Archives? Why did Mike Portnoy and Russell Allen, two talented musicians, feel the need to crank out sub-Slipknot garbage like this? More importantly, why did I waste 20 minutes listening to this? Screw you, Mike Portnoy. You officially don't exist for me any more. Rejoin Dream Theater, because it's the only way anybody's going to pay any attention to you now, chump.
Reccommended tracks: Are you joking?
No, seriously, what the fuck is this shit? Okay, so here's the basic gist of Adrenaline Mob: Get two of the leading names in prog metal (Mike Portnoy and Russell Allen), round up three no-namers, and make the opposite of prog music. Not just the opposite, the complete fucking antithesis of prog. This is downtuned, modern hard rock in the vein of Alter Bridge or Seether with two prog leaders at the helm for whatever strange reason. Yeah, this is better than Seether (not that that was too hard), but only in a technical sense. The guitar solos are fucking insane (or should I say... Psychosane?), and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. But I'll explain about the guitars later. For now, let me discuss what I know-- Mike Portnoy and Russell Allen.
Oh, Russell, what happened to you? You used to be a pretty credible guy, leading the vocal helm of Symphony X and doing many other side projects that kicked ass, too, like Star One and your presence even helped elevate the what would have been otherwise mediocre Allen & Lande. But I just don't know what to think anymore, after the horrendous "Iconoclast" and now this. Allen has a wide vocal range, but you wouldn't know it listening to this half-assed EP. He's still in that shitty "constant shouting except for the choruses where he tries to sound as much like Dio as possible" mode from Iconoclast, and... yeah, it still sucks here.
Mike Portnoy's drumming is fairly adequate, but hearing him behind the kit for this mediocrity is just... sad. There's no other way to put it. Touring for Avenged Sevenfold seemed to put it into Mike's head that "Hey, I can do that, too!" So, he churned out some half-assed nu-rock garbage in all its cliches--- right down to the obligatory shitty, "tough"-sounding portmanteau (here in the form of Psychosane)--- and Portnoy'd it up, I guess is the word. You can tell it's Portnoy playing, but nothing he does here will blow you away.
Considering that Mike Portnoy is the man who wrote the goddamn AA Suite, and most of Dream Theater's songs since, like, 2002 (ya know... back when they were sticking, like, 2 or 3 20-minute songs on each album?), hearing Mike revert to the generic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structure is appalling. I mean, I understand if he wants to do something different, except for the fact that the shit on this EP is not anything different from, say, Godsmack or Disturbed. Remember when Dream Theater did nu-metal for the album Train of Thought and how much that kicked ass? That's what this band could and should have sounded like. A whole album of "As I Am"s and "Honor Thy Father"s. Man, that would have been awesome. *snaps back to reality* Oh, yeah, this shit. Ugggh...
The songs themselves aren't bad, just underwhelming as fuck. Okay, fine, they're bad, too. The only songs really of note are "Psychosane" and the Black Sabbath cover "The Mob Rules," and one of them is only of note because of how batshit insane (or should I say... Psycho--- oh, wait, I used that joke already) it is. "Psychosane," I can even begin to... What? That fucking solo! It's all over the place! And not even in the John Petrucci way where it's just so fast, you can't believe what you just heard, there are so many sound effects and techniques used in those 30 seconds or so, you really don't know what hit you. "Oh, hey, that's cool--- Whoa, wait, what's he doing now? Oh, that sounds cool, too--- Oh, WHAT NOW?!" And the Mike Portnoy spoken part... No. We shan't speak of it again. As if there wasn't enough of that shit in Dream Theater, Mike had to bring one of the worst aspects of modern Dream Theater with him when he left? He REALLY thinks this is somehow gonna catch on? IT'S NOT, MIKE, LEAVE THE MICROPHONE ALONE! Geez, Guitar Hero was right: "Don't give the drummer the mic. It'll just end in tears." Also, "Psychosane" has the only even vaguely memorable chorus on the EP. The rest is, like I said, modernized, whammy-abusing, cliched nu-rock with nothing new added to the table besides more technical drumming, more technical guitar, and a better singer (who unfortunately sucks here).
Except... "The Mob Rules!" YES! That's what this project should have been! A traditional heavy metal cover band! This cover fucking kicks ass! No pinch harmonics, no downtuning, no bullshit, just the best of old-school heavy metal with one of the best modern singers at the helm! You can actually FEEL energy coming from this song! Russell Allen's Dio impression serves purpose! Hearing this cover makes me think of so many other covers they could do... Maybe some Rush (and then I can finally hear somebody singing Rush without my balls shrinking! ZING! Naw, but Rush is cool), some Scorpions, some Dio solo stuff ("YOU ARE A RAINBOW IN THE DAAAAAARK!"), maybe even Saxon? Budgie! "BREAAAADFAN, OPEN UP YOUR MIND, OPEN UP YOUR PURSE, OPEN UP YOUR BONES, NEVER GONNA LOOOOOSE IT!" That cover of "The Mob Rules" just opens up so many opportunities that are all probably gonna go unrealized if Mike Portnoy doesn't realize that this "me, too!" nu-rock garbage isn't gonna get him anywhere.