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A Shark, not a Shart - 79%

DawnoftheShred, May 15th, 2013

After one passable rerun of a debut album in USA for MOD and the shark-jumping, kindergarten shenanigans of Surfin’ MOD, an album so ludicrously retarded that I can’t bring myself to write a review for fear of having to suffer through it once again, the future of Billy Milano’s number two project really was turning to shit. As if on cue, a striking about face in attitude and direction ripples through the M.O.D. lineup and manifests itself in Gross Misconduct, a bold return to decency and probably the best album ol’ Billy boy has ever been featured on, if you’re willing to admit that the legendary Speak English or Die was a mite bit weighted with filler.

The key distinction between this album and other Milano byproducts is a sudden social conscience in the lyrical outbursts. Though there’s still some ‘immature’ tales, such as the Batman-inspired “Dark Night” and “Godzula,” there’s now a load of grandstanding on contemporary concerns. Hearing the same guy who penned “Speak English or Die” and “Fuck the Middle East” sing about brotherhood and unity on “True Colors” and “Come As You Are” and the same guy who told folks to “Kill Yourself” warn them against the dangers of drunk driving (a third-wave thrash favorite) in “Accident Scene,” why, it’s just so delightfully absurd. Anti-devilry in “Satan’s Cronies,” safe sex in “No Glove, No Love,” and just in case you can’t figure it out through his sarcastic-sounding shout-singing, he makes a point to write a little summary of each theme in the lyric sheet. Why Billy, this is a side of you we’ve never seen before. Dare I say you’ve grown up? Nah, but I’ll take the clichés of poli-psy thrash over M.O.D.’s usual whoopee cushion comedy hour any day.

Musically, Gross Misconduct displays the same heightened level of maturity. Sophistication? I won’t go that far, but it’s hardly a stretch to say that this album is written a hell of a lot more thoughtfully than the last two. The spazzy crossover feel is still there to some extent (there’s the punk cover “In the City,” and more than a handful of speedy bass breaks), but in general this feels more like a legitimate byproduct of the New York thrash machine, see early Anthrax/Prong. The Milano/Mallare/Svitek/Monte lineup is considerably tighter than the pre-Surfin’ lineup and knows how to string riffs together to make some catchy, coherent thrash. They stay in the conventional verse/chorus range of things, but for MOD, it’s a welcome change of pace from the unorganized slur of riffs that characterized the debut. Man, is there some bang-age to be found throughout this one. Most of the songs vary the guitar attack quite dramatically amongst themselves as well as internally, with mid-paced mosh fodder in “Gross Misconduct” after some creepy buildup, not to mention the opening set of “No Hope” and “The Ride”, some big chunky chugathons in the NYHC inspired “True Colors,” and the gnarly groove of “Godzula” (how’s that for a brutal fugging verse? Blue Oyster Cult would be envious I think), and some no-nonsense thrash assaults in “Satan’s Cronies” and “Accident Scene.” Only two of the fourteen (fifteen?) tracks are the old, annoying throwaway jokes, and only the rather Anthrax-esque, sing-songy M.O.D. “Theme” leans more towards comedy than riffage. Louie Svitek even plays some cool solos when the mood suits him.

It’s also worth noting that the production on this album is pretty solid. It’s that streamlined Alex Perialas sound from the late 80’s you also hear on Testament and Anthrax albums from that period. Not as raw and ripping as his earlier sound jobs, but the even, bass-heavy production complements this album well. The evenness is important too: nothing overpowers anything else, Milano’s lead vocals blending with the instruments, the guitars and extra-thick bass melding properly…hell even the gang shouts sound pretty good on here, very Anthrax-like. I personally think the drum sound is pretty solid too. Sure, it’s like a shiny plastic spork compared to the rusty saber that was Speak English or Die, but for those who (like me) don’t mind the “polished” thrash sound that was common at the turn of the decade, this sound is right up your alley.

The lyrical themes and musical direction here are the first hints of where Milano would ultimately take his little ‘solo’ project, but there’s basically no hardcore tainting this one at all. There’s still some goofiness to be had, such as the loungeroom breakdown in “Accident Scene” and Billy’s general vocal delivery, but otherwise it’s a pretty damn decent thrash album. And from M.O.D. no less. Best hear this one for yourself.

Highlights: “Godzula,” “Satan’s Cronies,” “E Factor”

P.S. “Dark Night” isn’t on my cassette, Billy. Now you’re on my list.