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Side-projects always maintain some sort of second-class citizen status within the realm of metal; they're delegated as to being an outlet for musicians who are committed to a band who play a specific style. The only exception to this rule of Stephen O'Malley; to my knowledge his power increases with every new side-project/band he forms, with extra boosts to his power if the name is either long or relates to some obscure mythology. At this rate he'll be able to take over the world. Ghoul are no exception, playing a mish-mash of crossover and death metal with an emphasis on campy horror and humour. 'Maniaxe' isn't a particular adept album, whilst the appearance of thrash does attempt to spark my faith this album is something of dull flint.
This album screams crossover riffing, plenty of simple metal riffs infused with Sodom/Kreator influences. Coupled with the Carcass-esque vocals that have been carted over from some of the member's main band Impaled and you have something of a crossover tribute to German thrash. The production and mixing is pretty stock standard, and the instruments are mostly clear with the bassline making the odd appearance. Drumming is nothing special, and is a good mix of double bass kicks with snare drum work. The vocals are not only the previously mentioned Carcass-esque variety but also a range of low growls, gang-shouts and even narration in one track. The campy horror becomes readily apparent in the narration.
The album has some great high points however; the riffs for "Sewer Chewer" are some of the best, coupled with a great solo early on and a catchy chorus. "Mechanized Death" makes me think of an insane zergling hopped up on pulse (vodka/red bull mix) going absolutely full bore across a battlefield and shredding everything in sight, and then throwing up violently the next morning when hungover. Reminds me of Fridays... I digress; this is the best song on the album with amazing speed, solos and riffs. They plod for a bit in the middle, but it works because they speed up again. Obviously there are low points; "Numbskull" is very slow and chugging, basically post-thrash boredom with no solo either. "Ghoul Hunter" is a narrated story with interludes from the band containing the chorus, the story is essentially comedy/horror but otherwise I tend to skip this track since there's nothing really out-standing. "The End" is a surf-rock styled outro with heavy bass, and is really off-putting in the whole scheme of the album, same with the cover of "What a Wonderful World". Last I checked, Children of Bodom were the only metal band to do inane and ironic covers, and they're about as cool as the goth/emo kids who hang around that fucking church in the middle of Perth. Otherwise the rest is fairly average with the occasional ball-busting solo and plenty of Kreator/Sodom worship throughout.
The problem with this release is that is reeks of worship rather than being a stand-alone band/album that defines its own sound. As mentioned it borrows heavily from Kreator and Sodom in terms of riffing, and at other times I heard Carcass worship both instrumentally and vocally. It's essentially a tribute band formed from the members of other bands, as a result the album as a whole just doesn't take as well as one would hope. Why listen to a half-rate copy when you can listen to the real thing? Kreator's ‘Endless Pain’ or Sodom's ‘Tapping the Vein’ do a superior job and both sound like proto-death/thrash albums.
Regardless, 'Maniaxe' is a fun album that has a sense of humour about itself and some good metal moments. If you're a fan of Impaled you'll enjoy this side-project, otherwise go listen to Zombie Ritual whom do a much better job of Carcass worship in the death/thrash vein.