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Originally published at http://suite101.com
When the subject of black metal is discussed, there are specific stereotypes and tropes that are sure to come up just about every time. Even when looking past the various crimes that were committed by the genre’s more infamous adherents, one is likely to call forth images of corpse-painted faces and hypnotic song structures aided by lo-fi production. Maax seems to be one exception to that rule as they have disregarded the modern standards and opt for a more primal approach. While this is their second studio album, it happens to be their third release overall as they previously put out the Dawnbringer full-length in 2009 and the Six Pack Witchcraft EP in 2010.
Several listeners have tried to place Maax somewhere on the line between blackened thrash and death ‘n’ roll (The more you think about it, the more you realize how ridiculous the names of metal subgenres are these days), but their overall sound doesn’t seem to be too far off from what Venom was pioneering in the early 80s. This influence is best demonstrated on “Do What Thou Wilt,” an upbeat anthem that feels like a modern version of the classic “Welcome To Hell.” But while Cronos and his merry bunch may be the leading influence on this group, it’s not the only one to be found on here. One can find clear references to punk, thrash, black metal, and even some classic Motorhead here and there. Fortunately all of these elements work well with one another, reminding one of how most of them had their roots in a singular dirty force.
Speaking of dirty, this album is also made distinct by its production. In a way similar to “Six Pack Witchcraft,” the production is incredibly raw and helps give the album a very live feel that works in its favor. The band itself doesn’t sound as distant as it did on the EP, but there is still a great deal of chaos and intensity to work with. Speaking of the band, they generally put on some good performances though there’s nothing particularly mind-blowing on display. The production aids the guitar playing and drums, making them both sound quite filthy throughout. In addition, the vocals are delivered in a raspy, mid-range bark that makes one wonder if they should be cleaner or harsher. Either way, they carry the songs well and show off a lot of energy.
In terms of how the songs themselves play out, Unholy Rock & Roll is somewhere between the two releases that came out before it. While the songwriting is generally more elaborate than Six Pack Witchcraft and has lengths similar to Dawnbringer, the songs are mostly executed in a very direct, upbeat fashion. In addition to the Venom worship on “Do What Thou Wilt,” “Rot ‘N’ Roll” and the title track are by far the strongest tracks that this release has to offer. Not only are the riffs catchy, but they also throw in some solid gang vocals during the choruses that do a lot to benefit the barroom atmosphere.
The opening tracks known as “Coldest Steel” and “Fight With Fire” are also worth noting for they show off a nice touch of early 80s thrash influence. While this does lead to the tracks having introductions that are respectively similar to Metallica’s “Hit the Lights” and Slayer’s “Angel Of Death,” they quickly become their own tracks with the latter featuring a particularly pounding hook.
Of course, there are a few outliers that move away from the album’s largely rock-oriented nature. The interestingly titled “Purge of Depravity 2: The Pentagram” is a two minute interlude meant to serve as a melodic break from the violence while “Overthrone” seems to take cues from the band’s purer black metal roots. They might not be the most immediate tracks on here but they are still pretty solid in their more dramatic nature.
As any musician will tell you, it is a nearly impossible task to capture the energy of a band’s live sound onto an actual studio release. However, Maax does manage to come pretty damn close to achieving this feat though they may still have a bit more work in terms of their songwriting skill. But for what it’s worth, this may be their most enjoyable album to date and one of the most fun releases that 2011 has to offer. This isn’t a deep album by any stretch of the imagination, but rather one that’s meant to be blared in hopes of pissing off your neighbors. And judging by the lack of complaints that I’ve gotten from mine, I either have really awesome neighbors or just need to make it louder…
“Fight With Fire”
“Unholy Rock & Roll”
“Do What Thou Wilt”
“Rot ‘N’ Roll”
"Black Thrash 'em All"