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The life and death of funk thrash. - 94%

hells_unicorn, July 22nd, 2020
Written based on this version: 1989, CD, Noise Records

The longstanding notion that thrash metal was ultimately a victim of its own slavishness to orthodoxy may not be a complete myth, but it is a half-truth at best when one truly digs deep into where things were going as the 80s drew to a close. Even as early as the middle of the decade there was a penchant for off-the-cuff experimentation by the likes of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and a number of crossover acts that came on board from the West Coast and New York hardcore scenes, itself a style that often lends itself to occasional genre-splicing for comedic effect. Then again, much of this veering away from the established formula was contained to a few novelty songs that would account for less than a quarter of a given EP or LP's duration. Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of this was the often overlooked debut of San Francisco-based oddball outfit Mordred, a band often credited as one of the pioneering bands in pushing the funk metal hybrid within a thrash template. But a closer examination of the contents that make up this seemingly Avant-garde affair reveals an album more firmly rooted in traditional thrash metal tendencies, albeit dressed up in an unusual costume and decked out with some quirky elements at its fringes.

While this quintet of mad thrashing party animals were toiling in the Bay Area underground since 1984, the contents that rounds out Fool's Game have a heavy New York tinge to things, resembling the more clean cut and vocals-centered character of mid-80s Anthrax and Nuclear Assault. The same basic interplay of gritty gang vocals chiming in alongside a crystal clear tenor reminiscent of Joey Belladonna in front man Scott Holderby steals most of the show, though the riff work has a pretty similar methodology to a typical Scott Ian take circa Spreading The Disease and Among The Living, with maybe a tad more of a violent character at times in a similar vein to early Death Angel. When combined with a few funky odds and ends such as the occasional record scratches and keyboard work by Aaron 'DJ Pause' Vaughn (who was a guest performer at this point but would later become the sixth permanent member of this band's classic lineup) and a goofy thrashed-up revamp of Rick James' "Super Freak", this album ends up walking a rather curious line between the serious side of thrash and the comedic one that was rising in prominence, avoiding the banality and awkwardness of Frolic Through The Park and a couple other late 80s duds in the process.

For the most part, the sonic picture painted here sticks to a conventional thrash metal methodology, scoring a number of catchy yet neck-busting bangers in the process. Upper-mid paced crushers such as "State Of Mind" and "Spellbound" prove to be just as riff happy and rock solid as any punchy thrasher out of the concurrent Zetro-era of Exodus, but with a bit more of a catchy, sing-along vibe, while the more melodic cruiser "The Artist" splits its time between a flurry of lead guitar passages and swift speedy segments and comes off about as elaborate as the more progressive variant of thrash that would come to dominate the scene in the early 90s, to the point of predicting some of what would be heard on Xentrix's For Whose Advantage. Truth be told, most of this album features some fairly impressive guitar shredding that could easily stand toe to toe with the Alex Skolnicks and Dave Spitz's of the world, while the flashy bass work of Arthur Liboon is highly prominent in the equation and comes fairly close to matching the fancy goodness that Les Claypool brought to Blind Illusion's debut album the previous year. Truth be told, apart from the "Super Freak" cover and the quirky novelty number "Every Day's A Holiday", the degree of experimentation at play here is quite minimal.

Compared to the rest of Mordred's comparatively moderate-sized body of work, this album is the one that will undoubtedly appeal to the bulk of thrash metal fans, largely because it kinda shies away from the overt goofiness and off-kilter experimentation of Faith No More. However, this is also their greatest offering in a more general sense given that the musicians involved are all highly competent and the more virtuoso-friendly style that is exhibited here allows them to shine all the more brightly. There is a balance of sorts that is achieved when introducing originality into the mix in small doses, and this album accomplishes this to the same degree of brilliance that Nuclear Assault did on Game Over. The incorporation of DJ Pause as a permanent member likely had something to do with the metal elements being toned down on subsequent releases, but much of this band's later decline can be chalked up to the concurrent trends in the music scene as a whole in the 1990s. This is about as alien to the boredom inducing drudgery of 90s groove and the garbled rot of late 90s nu-metal as one can get, and it's definitely an album that should be blaring out of the speakers of more thrashers, both old school and new wave alike.

No Country for Foolish Metal “Traitors” - 91%

bayern, May 18th, 2017

When I came across this album some time in the mid-90’s, I had no idea that Mordred were one of the pioneers on the funk metal arena, second only to Faith No More perhaps. Well, not so much on the album reviewed here which remains one of the epitomes of the Bay-Area thrash sound, a highly energetic slab of sharp cutting, semi-technical riffs played at various tempos this great musical compendium topped by some of the finest clean vocals to ever grace a thrash metal opus this side of Joey Belladonna and Eric A.K.

Cause the guys were bending it no worse than Metallica and Megadeth on this shredding debut which also comes with a crystal clear sound quality. “State of Mind” is the best possible opener with the virtuoso pyrotechnics, the urgent headbanging riffs, the great chorus, the dazzling leads, and the myriad of tempo shifts served in the second half to ensure the more progressive flair of this no-brainer. “Spectacle of Fear” is a shorter, more immediate lasher, but the guys do an admirable job again not without the help of the more prominent bass, the staple cutting rhythm-section and the more technical quirks. “Every Day’s a Holiday” is the funky surprise, the first indication that something less ordinary is going to materialize in the near future, a spastic jumper without any thrashy merits that may be considered an annoyance. “Spellbound” thrashes hard with passion the guys settling for hard-hitting mid-paced shred with a few speedier digressions, with the next in line cool sing-along chorus; and “Sever & Splice” follows the same intense model only that this is as catchy as classic thrash can possibly get, from the razor-blade rhythm-section to the emotional vocal performance, to the intricate fretwork, to another infectious chorus: it beats me why this album didn’t become the multi-million seller it richly deserved to be based on its vast appeal...

“The Artist” is another thrashterpiece with a more aggressive flair, nice bass support, dazzling melodic leads and hectic jumpy technical riffage; and “Shatter” returns to the staple intense mid-tempo approach the guys proving themselves as the undisputable masters of the chorus with another one added to the fore. Regardless of the high quality of the material witnessed so far the highlight hasn’t come yet; it’s “Reckless Abandon”, a progressive thrash roller-coaster which melodic intro soon turns to blistering thrashy skirmishes and blazing virtuoso lead sections. More eccentric surprises like “Super Freak”, for example, the cover of the Rick James hit, turned into a jarring funky thrasher, but working fine with its quasi-dance potential. “Numb” compensates for the playfulness of its predecessor with heavy rolling guitars, numerous headbanging opportunities, more dramatic build-ups and the cool closing galloping passage.

This album was a perfect fit into the Bay-Area cavalcade of the late-80’s standing proud beside the debuts of Death Angel, Forbidden, Heathen, and Vio-Lence. Amazingly, all these outfits had their own individual approach to the style differing from each other, easily recognizable, and yet sharing something in common to bind them to the place they were all coming from. Mordred and Death Angel were the bravest ones, as they went further than anyone trying to betray… sorry, diversify the good old thrash. How successful they were in this endeavour is polemical as neither managed to reach the glory that the Big Four were bathing in. Our friends here at least tried, and their sophomore was a decent laid-back thrashing entertainment firmly rooted in the old canons despite its frivolous funky nature.

Although commercial success eluded them, the guys didn’t give up, but voted to give at least one more try if nothing else, at least for the sake of all that groovy/aggro jazz. “The Next Room” was the last instalment and it did embrace the modern vogues, but in a highly emulative anti-cimactic manner. No funk, no jazz, no gimmicks of the kind except for a few isolated leaps. Consequently, their conformism never turned into profit, and the band split up. The good news is that they have reformed recently, encouraged by the resurgent classic metal scene of the new millennium, and the re-release of all their early demos from the mid-80’s in 2014 could be a sign that more potent funky thrashisms may reach the fans’ ears not far from now… or, in the better case scenario, more shredding Bay-Area thrash greatness.

Why work up a sweat? - 60%

TowardsMorthond, September 5th, 2012

Mordred was one of many bands flooding the speed metal scene near the end of the 1980s in hopes of making their mark on a style already extinguished of its greatest achievements. Like so many others, Mordred’s brand of speed metal was competently composed and executed, yet had nothing particularly interesting or inventive to communicate, resulting in music that is enjoyable essentially for its basic demonstration of the style.

This is Bay Area melodic speed metal with clear and present NWOBHM song forms, something like a diluted, streamlined Testament in its foundational approach, a very clean sound defined by melody and rhythmic momentum of well-crafted speed riffs.

Crisp, racing riffs of coherent definition move these songs in diverse, smoothly delivered phrases, with harmonized lead guitars and melodic solos supplying an ear-friendly quality of melodic awareness in simplistic arrangements.

Songs are chorus-driven in the anthemic tradition of heavy metal, occasionally making use of gang-shouts to emphasize specific aspects of a lyrical theme. Rhythm lead guitar defines motion with above-average skill, and is versatile enough in riff-shaping to make most songs reasonably satisfying as exemplifications of the style. Composition is adequate if not terribly innovative, and the band displays a firm grasp of what makes speed metal work through both design and performance, though nothing of a revolutionary or inspiring quality occurs.

For the most part, what keeps the music’s momentum moving forward and supplies its foundational strength is the established interplay of guitar rhythm and harmony, essential to the style itself and applied by Mordred with clarity and variation correspondent with a song’s defining theme.

“Can you see the substance of who you really are?
Dig deep into your psyche, do you find the scar?
Unlock subliminal secrets, touch me with your past
Then try to understand the way that you've been cast”

The album delivers what is expected of the speed metal style in a more directly melodic and traditionally formatted approach. However, songs tend to blend into each other due to the sameness of structure and similar method of development relying on a shared collection of ideas in formations that are too close to establish strong distinction of individual tracks, outside of two blatant diversions from the speed metal style.

Most of the songs move along at a mid-paced urgency, with a few displays of intensified speed to enhance a surging motion. Tempo changes are not frantic, but smooth and sharp transitions handled by safe, nondescript, precise drumming and a talented, flexible bassist.

Vocals are average at best in communicative power and tone, which carries a rather nasal quality that has the potential to grow slightly annoying. These cleanly delivered vocals are somewhat eccentric in articulation, which is not negative in itself, but the strange tone and absence of expressive variation makes for an odd leading voice in the context of this music. There is hardly a trace of emotional investment on the vocalist’s part; his performance is unvaried and passionless, unfit for the position of metal frontman, and easily the weakest part of Mordred’s sound.

As if subconsciously Mordred knew they had nothing to say with speed metal that had not already been said with more conviction and invention, and because of this understood the unlikely prospect of making their name within the style, they added two funky songs to the album in the interest of doing something funny that might raise the level of intrigue. “Everyday’s a Holiday” and the Rick James cover “Super Freak” use metal riffs alongside groovy dance rhythms, silly voices and a guest DJ on turntables, resulting in a funky, edgy sound that would eventually prove to be this album’s most discussed feature and the band’s most notable contribution: Funk metal, which would come to define the band’s sound on future releases.

These are just two songs, but they received more attention than the eight speed metal songs, which were ok but apparently not as fun or interesting as funk music. Mordred’s speed metal did nothing to develop the style in a new direction or evolve the defining elements of the genre from a fresh perspective, and by 1989 that is what was needed, as the style was breathing its last breath of relevance. Even in the traditional formula displayed here, there is nothing violent or blazing about the music that can compare with the masterworks of the genre; it is unexceptional, mild and unthreatening, completely lacking in expressive presence, and does not communicate the themes of the genre with the necessary anger and determination, and the band’s awareness of these failings is what ultimately led them away from a style they could not master to one that more properly suited their collective expressive character.

The origin of feces? Hardly... - 80%

Napero, September 4th, 2012

Mordered, along with the much worse an much better offender, Faith No More, is a member of the scarce handful of bands commonly held responsible for the very existence of alternative brands of metal, nu metal, and the abominable metalcore (just to add insult to insult... not much in the way of evidence there...). They dared to mix the sacred metal with funk, thus disgracing the holy ground with alien seed, and profaned the purest of all metal genre itself, thrash with their niggardly dosaged acts of blasphemy. And that's... that's... unforgivable, and frankly, EVIL!

On the other hand, they might have shown the withering thrash scene a new direction, they might have indeed saved the wonderful phenomenon from a premature -albeit temporary- death, and a similar diversification into a multitude of directions by other bands could have breathed new life into the lingering carcass, and maybe, just maybe, new ideas and vitalily might have rejuvenated the dying kingdom.

But no, Mordred was eventually destined to remain an oddity, a sideshow freak along the walk of metal, and despite the idea of mixing thrash with funk, one that should have appealed heavily to the more proto-hipsterish part of the thrashy audience, they just kind of got buried in the sands of time. Yes, their ideas have been recycled, or, rather, rediscovered or even reinvented, by many bands considered parts of the ambiguous "nu metal" scene, but it's not unconceivable to think that the ideas were buried for half a decade before being unearthed by others with less honorable intentions.

Fool's Game is one of the albums that was supposed to become something special. Thrash had turned five, the scene was not very willing to evolve, and death metal was looming in the horizon, all willing to take its place. There was a need for new blood, but for reasons to be later explained, Fool's Game did not manage to turn the ship enough to avoid the beach. And here, the "beach" is an analogy more accurate than you'd first believe.

Fool's Game is supposed to be a blend of thrash metal and funk in its most metallic form. And it occasionally manages to be exactly that. But the appearances of the musical chimera are too rare to have an impact. Most of the music on the album is just lame, light-weight thrash, the kind that somehow managed to take over the scene and water it down into a weak punch bowl for beach vacationers, served in a split coconut shell with fruit and a bloody stupid paper umbrella to choke on. Certain songs resemble the too-well-restrained and questionable aggression that can be found on certain Testament albums, the kind of pseudo-angry metal that essentially kept Testament itself from seriously competing with the more furious Big Four or the German brand of thrash. It might have ideas, it might have riffs, but it lacks all of the essential aggression and punishment good thrash is supposed to embody. And the songs are uneven to the point of embarrassement; a few tracks actually manage to make the funk-meets-metal sound work, a they even sound rather good. But with just two songs out of the ten on the album, the funky idea gets diluted to virtually homeopathic concentrations, and the idea gets lost in the white noise.

Sure, this had its followers. Scatterbrain was, at its best, of the same quasi-thrash brand as this, and even the Finnish scene had its unfortunate dosage of neutered thrash when Airdash turned to whatever they thought they were making on Both Ends of the Path, three years after the rather good Thank God It's Monday debut. Thrash lost its soul way before it died. And as far thrash goes, Fool's Game was essentially dead before it was born, with two funky cockroaches crawling on it and showing some token signs of life.

Thrash always had a "fun" part in it, especially the Bay Area and Nordic varieties. It's even easy to claim that only the German brand of thrash had any bands that took themselves seriously, and that such superficially serious bands as the young and vitriolic Slayer and the very early Metallica were closer to merry beer-and-moshing attitude than they'd admit in a retrospective document today. But once it turned into this kind of surf music brand that seems like a gelded and obedient shadow of its beastly past, they whole genre went for several years of relaxation on the beach for a bit of tan and a few Piña coladas. And it never regained the anger in its original form.

The essential problem with Fool's Game is that it's simply too timid and gentle as a thrash album, and way too restrained on the funk front. More of the funk, more anger, in an "Infectious Grooves Goes Speed METAL!" way would have transmogrified this into an interesting and striking piece of art. But now it's just one of the daffodils on a field with plenty of nice but harmless late-era thrash albums of the early 90s, and it sports a lamentably scarce pair of tracks with the funk that was what still keeps them in the collective post-80s memory.

There are two interesting things here, though. The first one is related to the album itself, and the lack of funk on it: at least five of the tracks were originally included on the demo tapes of the band - assuming, of course, that the Noise Demo predates the full-length album, unlike what the Metal Archives band page claims due to the lack of precise dates on the releases. And none of those were the funkier songs. That could essentially mean that the main body of the album consists of earlier songwriting, from the times before the funk found its way to the fretboard of the bass. And that would unfortunately mean that the band was perhaps signed just a bit too early for the new idea to gain enough momentum to replace the premature nice-boy-thrash works. Maybe the second album is better... but then, it must have been too late at that point, and the corpse of thrash had had two years to cool and stiffen.

Another observation might be a bit more general and perhaps only possible with the unquestionable benefit of hindsight: Faith No More was better, bolder, and definitely much more influental, both in the good and the bad. They took the process of mangling the holy cow of metal further, and ultimately largely forgot they were supposed to be a part of its weirdest pack of mutant offspring. On The Real Thing, they did what Mordred was afraid to do on Fool's Game, and went completely overboard with their own kind of genre-hopping crossover of everything. And even if the album is debatably both a good one and one of the definitely "so 80s" pieces of music history, it's both an innovative and reckless work of art AND the true origin of the feces known as "mallcore" and "alternative metal" from the point of the real metal genres. Mordred didn't go far enough to lay claim on the toilet seat shaped throne in that respect, and even on Vision three years later, they still lack the will to break free from the amenable essence of this album.

Sure, Fool's Game is an enjoyable snapshot of the late 80s, and quite a nice occasional listening experience, but Faith No More it's not - not in the good, nor in the bad.

Well, not bad! - 86%

CHRISTI_NS_ANITY8, March 5th, 2009

I heard so many things regarding this band and this album that I decided to buy it. Since I found the LP version for a decent price (I didn’t want to risk), I immediately grabbed this opportunity. I heard so many things about this band’s ability in mixing the classic thrash metal to the funk that I was very curious but also quite “scared”, or simply sceptical at the same time. We all know how far metal could go with some influences at times and this can be a truly risky business.

However, since the opener “State of Mind”, we can enjoy a pure form of the classic thrash metal the way it was done at the end of the 80s, so with a technical progression and truly crunchy riffs. The vocals are standard ones and always quite clean. The pace is quite fast and it supports lots of galloping riffs. So far it’s great. At least now I know that they can thrash in a perfect way. The following “Spectacle of Fear” can be seen as a “more of the same” track but this time the general tempo is less fast, pointing on the articulated riffage. With “Every Day’s Holiday” the very first funk influences invade the sound for the pulsing bass and the various stop and go. The riffs are always heavy but the vocals are “happier” and the choirs are not thrash.

“Spellbound” takes the thrash road again and this is better. The tempo is not that fast and the groove influences come out. They were typical for thrash during that period. The riffs are always various and catchy, without losing anything in heaviness and impact. Few fast restarts are remarkable too, so they can support the faster guitars solos. “Sever and Splice” follows the same tempo and the choirs are always well-recognizable thanks to the use of some gang vocals. We finish the side A this way and so far I can say that this band hasn’t let me down.

“The Artist” opens the side B and shows quite evident NWOBHM influences for the guitars duets before settling down on a quite massive progression with few up tempo sections to add more dynamism. Once again, the galloping riffs sections are the best here. “Shatter” features a truly dark intro with solos and an apocalyptic touch before the classic mid-paced structure comes out. It’s good to notice that, even if the structures are not completely fast, they are always able to be capturing and never dull. They have good ideas and the riffs are always inspired. “Reckless Abandon” follows again a more mid-paced progression but it manages to be always quite fluid.

With “Super Freak” we can notice the return of the funk influences with evident “You Can’t Touch This” interludes. Fortunately, it lasts just for two minutes, leaving us with “Numb” to close this album. The dark introduction is more melodic for the guitars solos but the restart is just blowing to return to very good levels of nastiness. Well, all things considered I would like to recommend this album to anyone who loves thrash metal because the funk elements can be found just in two cases and the rest can be enjoyable for the old-school fans. Well, at least I didn’t waste my money.

Swingin' Metal Thrashin' Mad! - 85%

Wacke, May 5th, 2008

Mordred are known for their special style of combinating funk rock along with heavy / thrash metal. Actually, they're probably the only band built on thrash that has used strong funk influences in their music. When "Fool's Game" arrived back in '89, headbangers probably had mixed feelings about it. It's pretty funky all the way through but, this was only the beginning you see...

The opening track "State Of Mind" is a nice litte, or actually pretty mighty thrasher with an excellent chorus. The thrash continues with "Spectacle Of Fear" and know you maybe feel safe? Don't, because "Everyday's A Holiday" is the best and first example of how heavy combinated with funk turns out in the final result. You've never heard anything like this before, that's a guarantee. "Spellbound" is a different example that shows a faster kind of thrash than the previous track and this one as well has a pretty big mouth full of funk. The Rick James cover "Super Freak" is performed with a greatness that few bands are able to do when they cover someone else and it seems like it's funky bands who's most talented in that case. Mordred has that one, Faith No More have Sabbath's "War Pigs" and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground". "Super Freak" is just as good. The remainings are great thrashers with a touch of funk here and there but they're more like average thrash. Actually, several of the tunes on here sounds very much like how Anthrax did at the time. Imagine a fusion between "State Of Euphoria" (1988) and "Persistence Of Time" (1990). This was 1989 and that's maybe why this sounds like something in between these Anthrax albums.

The cast is built on a bunch of long haired (true headbangers have long hair!) 20-25 something guys that probably has alot of experience or practicing since their childhood. They're really good at their thing and they're all just simply excellent on this album. Scott Holderby's vocals can maybe be described as a mix of Joey Belladonna and Mike Patton. He's not the best singer I've heard vocally but I like his voice and it fits the music so damn perfectly. There's also a couple of nice riffing moments on here that might interest you thrash-riff-fans. The bass and the drums are building a steady ground and they're also the funkiest instruments on this album.

So finally to my last comments on "Fool's Game"...

My final rating is 85/100. The reason is actually simple, it's not funky enough!

Mordred didn't invent funk into metal music but they sure did invent it in the thrash folder no matter how weird the combination of it sounds. Their next album "In This Life" is a one step deeper into the funk influence and that's where the REAL Mordred's taking place. This was pretty shy compared to that one which makes this more like an average thrash album with a few funk moments.

Nothing's bad with this album at all. It's still a masterpiece and even though I'm sure that it'll grow even more on me within time, they would only become better with their next groundbreaking album "In This Life".