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Groove metal, that dumbed down version of thrash and traditional heavy metal that took hold of the commercial end of the metal world in the early 90s and paved the way for everything that is considered the scourge of what we know and love in mallcore. Like all alleged innovations, this one started off as a rather intriguing one; basically a slower alternative to the speed and fury of the high era of the Bay Area scene with a few interesting rhythmic devices. But not long afterward it immediately collapsed into a fit of mass pandering and self-parody, as can be gleaned from the stark contrast between “Cowboys From Hell” and “Far Beyond Driven”. Fight’s 2nd album “A Small Deadly Space” essentially followed suit and presented a less intricate, awkward, annoying, dumbed down version of “War Of Words” with the weaknesses highlighted and the strengths downplayed.
While the previous Fight album was a rather interesting mixture of crossover elements and Exhorder style riffs repeated often and varied little, it included a fair amount of variety and a strong vocal performance out of Halford. This just abandons all of the positives of that formula and focuses entirely on simplicity and repetition, while the famed ex-Judas Priest vocalist literally avoids sounding like himself. Rob is still recognizable, but the vast majority of the songs on here features a flat sounding, yelled vocal approach that was present on the last album, but also accompanied by some occasional high ranged scream gymnastics to keep things interesting. “Legacy Of Hate” and “Never Again” are exceptions to rule, the latter being among the better songs on here, but both find the vocals sounding closer to an Axel Rose sound mixed with Layne Staley elements.
From one song to the next, this thing just goes through the motions, banging out the traditional verse/chorus format with the occasional guitar solo and doing so in the most predictable manner possible. There’s very little life to the riff work, the drum work is bare bones simple enough to make Vinnie Paul sound like Neil Peart, and the production sound is so processed and dry that the entire album comes off as a slow marching automaton with the most rudimentary of programming. Even quasi-animated half-thrashers like “Beneath The Violence” and “Gretna Greene” function as slightly faster versions of the better elements of Metallica’s famed 1991 stylistic departure (think “Through The Never” and “Holier Than Thou”) and do little more than inspire an occasional head nod at first listen, before the riffs become played out which surprisingly happens in 2 songs that don’t even hit the 5 minute mark.
In much the same respect as with Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford has generally managed to associate himself with high quality studio work, and this album functions as his “Angry Machines” (we’ll just forget that Two ever happened). This is basically what most of what mainstream metal passed for in the mid 90s, a tired, drawn out set of derivative thrash riffs played at half speed with about half of the feeling, ergo half-assed. And in much the same respect as Machine Head’s “The More Things Change”, Fight actually finds itself taking ideas from Korn (“Mouthpiece” sounds fairly similar to “Blind”, especially that annoying ride cymbal intro). Often groove metal struggles to be good, and at its worst it barely manages to be metal. “A Small Deadly Space” mostly tends towards the former, but every now and then they actually stumble into the latter on here.