MorgueMart – Skeleton of the American Dream (Deadslab Records, 25 November 2011)
At a time when the world of heavy music is bemoaning so many of its heroes falling from grace, whether that means abandoning any remaining metal characteristics in favor of a hard rock sound (sometimes not even all that hard, either!), watering everything down with shitty electro-industrial garbage, or trying to spice things up by adding the semi-coherent ramblings of an aging beat-poet, it can sometimes be a refreshing change of pace to see some consistency.
Skeleton of the American Dream, the latest release from Charleroi (PA, USA) grind/crust/punk band MorgueMart, literally picks up where its predecessor, 2008’s Ten Cent Cadavers, left off. That is, as the last track from Cadavers (“Consumption Zombies”) faded away, the last word in the song (“consume”) was repeating on a continuous loop, and this is still echoing as the first song on Skeleton (“13 Gallons of Blood”) opens.
Immediately, we are greeted by furious grinding guitars, drums and bass, each plowing through the rhythms at top speeds and taking turns inserting occasional flourishes and fills, and soon joined by pissed-off shouted unison vocals. The overall vibe here is what you might get if Cryptic Slaughter had unanimously agreed on a specific tempo (and the whole band had practiced the songs at that tempo) prior to hitting the studio. In fact, one of the most striking features of this disc is the incredible precision and tightness the band members display, while at the same time there is no sacrifice in the raw energy and spontaneity of the music. Along the same lines, there is a remarkable clarity of sound here, where each drum hit or bass note stands out, yet the overall tone is very ragged. In other words, everything sounds filthy and grimy, but nothing is in any way muddy or murky. Whether this deserves a tip of the hat to the recording technique, the mixing, the mastering, or a combination of these, I couldn’t say for sure.
Thematically, at first glance (and listen) it may appear that we are dealing with standard goregrind/horror-punk fare here, between the band name and some song titles, as well as the ubiquitous images of zombies and dead or decaying bodies. But delving just a bit deeper into this 13-song, 28-minute opus reveals some thinly-veiled, but nonetheless poignant, social commentary. The artwork, in addition to the central image of a hooded skeleton and the blood splattered all over, incorporates a combination of tools and arcane symbols; the message conveyed here (or at least the impression that was left on this reviewer) is a representation of a bloody struggle between the working classes and the exclusive, greedy upper echelons of society. Another subtle statement is made on the back cover, where, in place of the typical notice “all rights reserved,” this CD case states, “all rights restricted.” (By the way, the image above was taken with the camera on my phone, which is why the quality is pretty lousy. The actual album cover looks much cooler.)
Lyrically, too, we are given a juxtaposition of these disparate ideas. Looking beyond some of the more obvious examples (such as “Class War” and “Stench of Greed”), even tracks that ostensibly seem like they would be about murder (or something similarly fiendish or ghoulish) turn out to have hidden meanings on closer examination. For example, “Killing the Living” decries the injustices of the corporatization of America, where big business is systematically squashing individuals’ rights; “13 Gallons of Blood” uses blood as a metaphor for gasoline and oil, as well as a literal reference to the actual bloodshed caused by decades of fighting over precious resources.
Also worth noting, “Stockholm Syndrome” (which seems to be a comparison between the psychological condition in which hostages begin to identify with their captors and the concept of brainwashing via mass media and propaganda) features a guest lyricist and vocalist in the form of Pittsburgh punk legend Dave Trenga (Behind Enemy Lines, ex Aus-Rotten).
Anyway, Skeleton of the American Dream was officially released on Black Friday night (25 November) at the CD release party. Incredibly, the band informs me that their future plans mostly consist of taking some time to work on writing some more, although they have one show scheduled (21 March 2012, at the Altar Bar in Pittsburgh). For more information on the band and its activities, check out any of the following links. There are also some songs you can hear/download, although unfortunately there is nothing currently available from the new CD (one track appears on both Facebook and ReverbNation; that one plus a few more songs are available on MySpace, but all of these are from earlier releases). If you look hard enough, you should be able to find some contact information where you can maybe learn how to get your hands on a CD or some MorgueMart merch…