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Due to different reasons, "Something Wicked" was ill-fated. Anthony Bramante and Dan Lilker were no longer part of the line-up. In view of grunge and other then modern confusions, the trend was not the band´s friend. Finally, they had once more remarkably redefined their sound and the label "Nuclear Assault" seemed to be wrong. It had already been indicated on their previous work that the band had become a heavy rocking syndicate. Partially very heavy, but neither rapid nor target-orientated. In biological terms, the band was completely uprooted. The first and simultaneously last song that appeared as a tribute to their own past was shamefully hidden on the ninth position and it paled besides their early classics because of its artificial spontaneity. However, this nostalgic memory stood in conflict with the vast majority of the remaining tracks. Let me pick up the title track. While being also the opener, it was condemned to be representative for the full-length. But heavyweight riffs, stomping mid-paced drums and a passable guitar solo did not display the kind of representation I had hoped for. No doubt, the guitar work was effective and the chorus did not lack of eeriness. But it did definitely not refer to their relentless outbursts of "Game Over" or "Handle with Care". By the way, the actually good song was at least a minute too long.
The lyrical statements had always been a trump card of the band and John Connelly had still something to say. "The son of families of millionaires is representing the masses / I thought that most people I know are broke", taken from "Chaos", shined with his typical cynicism. The lyrics of the nearly philosophical "The Forge" were carefully thought out, too. Nevertheless, they almost sounded like mockery. Connelly sang "A strange feeling has come over me" and I agreed while realizing the approach of the here presented full-length.
With regard to the quality of the compositions, Nuclear Assault commuted between mediocrity and world class. But to be honest, "Behind Glass Walls" marked the only piece that represented the second category. Its piercing staccato riffing and the strong vocal performance of Connelly hit the bull´s eye. As so many times before, he expressed the lyrical content in a very convincing manner. But too many tunes fell short of expectations. "Another Violent End", for instance, was too disperse and clearly lacking focus. Especially the guitar solo failed. Irrespective of this, the vaguely defined composition did neither justify a length of more than five minutes nor the exposed location on the second position of the running order. This suited well to the fact that the entire arrangement of the songs was incomprehensible. For example, Nuclear Assault offered two more or less calm songs in the middle of the album which were directly placed after one another. At the end of the album, they tried to score with two nonsensical song caricatures. This way of proceeding made no sense at all.
Last, but not least some small comfort. The production was heavy, transparent and vigorous, although the bass guitar was slightly neglected. Furthermore, I have to give the newly assembled team credit for trying to release a varied product. Nevertheless, it is hard for me to have fun while listening to this record. Nuclear Assault was in search of itself. Unfortunately, this quest remained unsuccessful.
Something Wicked has the potential to be something really special, but the old curse of '93 rings true yet again as it falls somewhat short of it's desired "non compos mentis" appeal. That's not to say it is a complete throwaway, because when this album begins firing on all cylinders it really gets going. This just isn't Nuclear Assault as we know them, for better or worse.
In some aspects this falls into many of the same lurid pitfalls as later Dark Angel. The proclivity for unnecessary acoustic padding and ethereal drop-out passages reminds me of Time Does Not Heal at times, minus the protracted compositional style. "The Forge" is a complete throwaway thanks to these experimental elements. It constantly wafts back and forth between stately mid-paced grooves and Connelly's cleaner crooning. His inflection is actually quite impressive, but it does little to add to Something Wicked's appeal with the manner in which it is used. The song tries to break into overt thrashing just before the solo, but to little effect. The acoustic textures that open "No Time" are actually quite memorable and technically impressive, embodying the only time where their inclusion is actually welcome. Others like "Madness Descends" are neither here nor there from a songwriting standpoint, being stomping, groove driven behemoths that embody an interesting albeit overused niche in the post-Metallica world they were released into.
"To Serve Man" and "Poetic Justice" are stylistic twins in terms of both unhinged excess and lyrical abandon. These are both highlights, especially the latter's gut-busting lyrics. It reads and sounds like something you would find etched into the underside of an elementary school desk, but it is worth a listen for entertainment value alone. Of course, it helps that these two exist as sub-three minute bursts of classic atonal thrash. A few more of these, and Something Wicked would be a forgotten classic. Some like "Behind Glass Walls" and "Chaos" have a punishing allure, but grow tiring without enough heterogeneity in their riff delivery. The title track is in a similar vein, but the ascending main riff and memorable chorus help make it a keeper at the end of the day. The final two tracks can be viewed as a single collective waste of time. Two individual tracks required to deliver less than a minute of even more meandering acoustic pointlessness? No thanks guys.
The rhythm has a solid, underproduced crunch to it, but it is the solos that soar high and mighty above all. The solos on this album are all spectacular and lift individual moments to greatness no matter how tepid the surrounding arrangements can be. As it stands, Something Wicked still fails to inspire on a level even approaching Nuclear Assault's earliest material, but it isn't deserving of it's abhorrent reputation either. I find this to be far superior to the meandering Out of Order that preceded it. I suspect that the unspeakably vile cover art has shied many potential fans away from this album's grooving appeal, which is something of a shame to me as there is a lot of classic Nuclear Assault material on here. Come on you assholes, it's not that bad.
My first recollection of Something Wicked was that John Connelly had joined Megadeth in the 90s, because certain songs here reminded me of Mustaine's writing for tracks like "Symphony of Destruction" off of Countdown to Extinction, or perhaps something from Youthanasia. A painfully simplistic, chugging riff leads into an escalating lattice of melody, primed for easy radio accessibility, and somehow lacking that dystopic nuclear fervor that made me such a fan of their first three albums. As one progresses through this record, the motif seems to hold up, and it feels about as different an experience from Nuclear Assault as John's side project John Connelly Theory which put out an album in 1991. Sure, his vocal inflection binds the groups together, but if not for his presence, and the logo on the awful cover to this record, I wouldn't have even known it was a Nukes release.
Ironically, it's his vocals that prove one of the saving graces for this album, keeping it from plunging fully over the precipice to utter suck. He adds a little more rock and roll spice to his formula, while keeping that raw, urban harshness that defined the earlier works. Almost like an East Coast Chuck Billy, with a few traces of former Whiplash singer Glenn Hansen (in fact, Something Wicked does occasionally remind me of their 1989 LP Insult to Injury). He even pulls off the moodier pieces like "The Forge", with dire, bluesy acoustic guitars, or "No Time", the sorta power ballad in which he pulls off some of his most refined melodies ever. In fact, this album has more clean guitars than any other in their catalog, a sign they were striving for that added mainstream penetration, that late breakthrough they never quite reached in the prior decade. Unfortunately, the brighter points to Something Wicked are counterbalanced by one of the most mundane riffing selections you'd find anywhere: nothing offensive or lacking in variation, but pitifully average at a time when the genre had been largely reduced to just its most ardent supporters, and the dustbin.
I realize there's a more horror spin to the lyrics here, what with the Ray Bradbury inspiration to the title/title track and the Twilight Zone-themed cut "To Serve Man" (both cool topics in my estimation). The Cold War had receded, the street fighting mutant clobbering Damnation Alley aesthetics of the past records probably seemed moot. There were also two new members in the fold: David DiPietro of Jersey might-have-beens TT Quick replaces Bramante, and bassist Scott Metaxas has some huge shoes to fill with Dan Lilker having gone off to focus on grind superstars Brutal Truth. The former's flashier guitars are certainly felt through the album with the added licks and leads that burst out through pieces like "Another Violent End", while the latter just doesn't have those same, pulverizing rhythmic chops that his predecessor brought to the band. Neither is incompetent, but certainly their performance here contributes to the album's clear separation from their prior outings, and when they've only got such generally simplistic, chugging post S.O.D./M.O.D. riffs to work through, what could we really expect?
Reinvention I can handle, but not at the cost of that vital, youthful energy the band thrived upon through the 80s. Tunes like "Something Wicked", "Madness Descends" and "Chaos" are capable of getting the head banging for a few seconds, until one realized that nothing surprising or memorable is coming down the pipe. So many of the guitar progressions and lead sequences remind me of something Dave Mustaine would have written around this time that it's almost a distraction. They've also brought back a few of the useless ditties that plagued older albums, with the 9 second "Art" and a 40 second acoustic variation of "Another Violent End" called "The Other End". Only a few tunes like "Poetic Justice" (pre-profanity bridge) are ultimately able to conjure up that violent momentum of a Game Over or Survive, and while Connelly and Evans each deliver a decent performance, I found the album a sliver less impressive than Out of Order, which was already a letdown for many of the band's fans.
All kinds of ways to look at and review this album go through my head. Just listening to ‘a’ Nuclear Assault album? Or listening to what Nuclear Assault could pull off after the ‘Out Of Order’ debacle and change in line-up? Or even listening to it as if it were a new band? Whatever option I choose, the album won’t score higher than ‘average’ and history has almost forgotten this piece as well.
Let me start by saying when you’re used to hearing their first three albums over and over, this album just doesn’t do it. There’s a lack of speed save a few sparse moments (‘To Serve Man’ and ‘Poetic Justice’) and John Connelly’s manic screeching vocals are nowhere to be found. Thirdly the leads and solo’s are more blues scale orientated and diminish the energy and aggression even more. It’s okay and logical if a band develops and grows through the years but for me just too many characteristics are missing here to speak of ‘a’ Nuclear Assault album. It must be said though that this still can be considered a thrash metal album albeit slow and quite melodic. Not ridden with groove like other thrashers would do at this point in metal history. Also I must admit ‘Something Wicked’ is probably the best produced and heaviest album in Nuclear Assault’s history.
Now there’s the comeback moment after the ‘Out Of Order’ debacle. 50% of the line-up is gone (of which one was an important song writer) and obviously this has done good for the continuity of the album in terms of style consistency. When compared to ‘Out Of Order’ this album has a single style and message and sounds really convincing. However we are missing out on speed and aggression here and it would be too easy to think all of that only came from Lilker and Bramante on previous albums. I’ve read drummer Glen Evans was responsible for earlier thrashers like ‘Emergency’ and ‘Search & Seizure’, so what’s his excuse here?
Had this been a ‘new’ band or solo project from a Nuclear Assault member, I would have liked it more. As I said earlier too many Nuclear Assault characteristics were missing here (hell, even the logo had vanished). The album had some mighty strong (mid paced) riffs here and especially John Connelly shows off his ability to write and sing catchy (melodic) vocal lines. Yes, I like this a lot more than earlier projects such as Glenn Evans’ C.I.A.
In 1993 this album didn’t fall out off tune too much. It was heavy, slow or mid paced and had a high amount of melody. But fortunately it didn’t groove, did not suffer from ‘Panterisms’. It was a whole lot more solid and thrashier than what Testament, Exodus, Overkill, Metallica, Sacred Reich and Megadeth were up to. ‘Something Wicked’ is an album I still like to put on every few years when I’m in the mood for some pounding thrashy riffs and rhythms but keeping a slow heartbeat.
This is their much-maligned final (?) album, though it's really not as bad as people imagine. It's just that, with precisely one exception, the violently awesome thrash breaks that the band is known for are just about gone.
That one exception... Poetic Justice. The lyrics are complete crap, but then around 1.35 (after the "bunghead motherfucker, I know you and your family, cocksucker" part) there's a fucking nice riff that pretty much is what we've come to expect from Nuclear Assault. Fuck yeah. A-banging we will go!! Come on, you asshole!!!
The rest... the opening track is pretty cool - kinda midpaced but a steady headbanging number. Then, Another Violent End has some cool riffs as well, and also some insane shredding soloing in the middle. It's at "Behind Glass Walls" where things fall apart a bit - there are just a bit too many acoustic passages in here and the song is kinda slow and goes through the motions far too much for its own good.
Chaos, also known as Don't Blame Me, is also pretty damn good, even though the chorus is just a bit forced with the yelling part... (Sign! In! Blood! anyone?) some good solid riffs to be found here in the verses and the middle section. The Forge and No Time... sort of the ballad section, and they aren't horrible but just not really brilliant. Hanging in the Balance, this is not.
To Serve Man is fast as fuck, and a bit tighter than their previous fast stuff (see the stuff on the second half of Handle with Care for instance) and there's a great speed metal break after the main solo. Nice fucking song. Madness Descends is another slower song... it's not as bad as the awful Wired from a few albums back, but it's not really great either. It rides one solid riff into the ground.
Oh and the last two songs... I don't even care. "It's art, man." I REALISE that you're trying to make a point here, but it's still completely wasting my fucking time. And The Other End is just a silly acoustic outro.
Overall - this isn't a bad album by any means, it's just not a great one. Sometimes the songwriting falls quite flat. It's probably worth getting, but don't expect another Game Over!!