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For a good time call Maniac - 65%

Abominatrix, June 13th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2007, CD, Bloodbucket Productions

Here's another blast for the past of the Toronto metal scene. Maniac were a flame that burned fairly bright for a few years. We all saw them play shows and we all had a great time, even if it was evident to some of us that some silliness was starting to creep in. When the band first formed, I think it was their intention to play fast, evil and nasty “like early Sodom or Sepultura”. Somewhere along the line, things got muddled and they lost that particular focus. I won't fault them for that, but I think when they started doing Def Leppard covers, the writing was on the wall, so to speak. Main-man Johnny Exciter left to join Skull Fist, and that was that.

This is raw and kind of sloppy thrash, with, yes, a bit of a punk approach to playing. On paper, everything here sounds like it should be pretty good, or at least up my alley. There's spirit enough and I do find some of these simplistic refrains stuck in my head after the record's over. But...

It's all a bit goofy, and insubstantial, you know? And while I've often been a loud proponent of the kind of sound where you can hear the ambience of the room the band is playing in, this sounds like it was recorded in someone's bathroom, or indeed, as the liner notes say, “some guy's loft”. You'd never guess that famed producer Terry Brown was involved in the making of this. Right away, when you hit play, you're assaulted by ear-splitting cymbals, and when the guitars come in with their thin and crappy tone, you just know this is gonna be rough. Now, some people are really going to enjoy this precisely because of the way it sounds, and tell me that it's supposed to be abrasive and have an ugly tone. I won't necessarily argue with that, but I've been around long enough and heard enough nasty sound jobs that were still completely appropriate, to know when something's gone a bit wrong, and I really think this is the case here. You can turn this up as loud as you want; it's still never really going to kick you over because it's all a think screechy mess.

The vocals sometimes don't do the band any favours. His normal approach is a hoarse shout, which works okay, but he loves doing rather random-sounding falsetto shrieks. I'm not averse, in principle, but these are all too frequent and sound both ridiculous and kind of feeble. They do somewhat ease off after the second track, “Predator”, but when they make their appearance felt as the album goes on, I usually can't help but snort with derision. I guess the enthusiasm counts for something, though.

As many bands are wont to do, Maniac have a song named for the band itself. That tune has a nice, somewhat sinister introduction with some good guitar/drum interplay, and the song turns out to be one of the “prime cuts” on the record. I also can't help but smile when I hear “Nuclear Death” and it's “gang chorus”, because this is exactly how the song went on stage back in the day, with everyone shouting “Nuclear....death! Nuclear .... death! Nuclear ... DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH!...”. Most of the songs have these simple refrains that seem tailored to the live environment, and there they did work rather well. It was easy for the crowd to pick them up, and play along.

I'm kind of a fan of Johnny's wild, devil-may-care soloing style here, but unfortunately, I don't think many of the riffs do a lot to distinguish themselves. I'm not sure he was terribly comfortable with playing at breakneck speed, because there seems to be some sloppiness obscuring the intent, which doesn't help. It sounds pretty good when they slow down for some simple, battering riff-work, but again, the reedy sound robs these parts of the power they really want. Oh, there are a few decent ones, certainly: “Nuclear Death” kind of rules, and I was always fond of “City of Madness”, even though it begins with one of those hilarious falsetto yells that reminds me of an old buddy of mine doing his worst Rob halford impression. 'Fight to the Death” is memorably silly with its schoolyard-level chant of “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” -- kind of irresistible in a puerile way, I suppose.

I realise I'm coming off here as a grumpy old codger who can't have any fun. “City of Madness” is the album's last tune, and it ends with a bunch of guys yelling in a chaotic fashion, like a “sloppy thrash guy party”. The band somehow went from being evil and menacing to being all about partying, in fact, and having a good time. I may be winding my way into my late thirties, but I still like doing these things, too, so it's not as though the band moved to an alien planet or anything. Still, the transition was disappointing to me, and there's just no way I can get round it. It's still miles better than Skull Fist, but the fact that the driving force behind Maniac dissolved the band so he could do that should tell you something. I'm not going to disrespect someone else's choices or guess at his intentions, but I'm just not certain his heart was really in this by 2007, or maybe it's mine that wasn't? I've got some good memories of good times, and a record that I'll hardly ever play, but which a good number of people seem to enjoy to this day. I just played the thing again and my girlfriend really liked it, so perhaps you, reader, should take my misgivings with a healthy grain of salt, and just try it on yourself.