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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.