Brutal, loud, and insanely intense, the Minneapolis-based American Head Charge is so extremely over the top that at first the listener might not notice that the band is also one of the most intelligent, interesting, and compelling metal bands to surface. Singer Martin Cock is just one of the reasons why their major-label debut, THE WAR OF ART, is a brilliant album. He screams, wails, whispers, and shouts his way through the songs in an incredibly intense manner, and he actually portrays an amazing range of different styles, from the ever-present powerful roar to drugged-out chanting and strong, melodic singing. Cock is easily one of the best voices in heavy music. Further credit has to be given to the writing unit of Cock and bassist Chad Hanks, who met in a rehab center (where they began to collaborate and, essentially, started the band). The songs are furious and emotional, incorporating tempo changes, unusual structures, grinding passages contrasting lightning-fast parts, surprising shifts in dynamics, and more. The lyrics employ a great number of interesting metaphors ("Go paint the windows in front of my face/When you know damn well there's no one behind them") and match the insanity of the music ("A violent reaction/Struggling only to keep myself alive"). Together with Cock's passionate delivery, the songs make for some cathartic listening (his exhausting, repetitive shouting of, "I don't like you at all!" on "Fall" is one of the record's many highlights). With strong assistance by the razor sharp production courtesy of Rick Rubin, the band itself manages to create a multi-layered sonic tapestry. The chainsaw-like guitars and the precise rhythms are surrounded by all kinds of keyboard sounds, samples, noises, and effects. A melancholy piano line can be heard on "Song for the Suspect" (which is then turned into an epic melody when the guitars join in); there are radio static sounds, manipulated tape recordings, Buddhist chants, and zombie movie keyboards giving each track a unique character. Of course, to a new listener it feels that all the details of the record get lost in the sonic onslaught -- only repeated listenings will reveal its actual depth. At 67 minutes, the CD can be overly exhausting at first, but even then most listeners will feel compelled to listen to certain songs over and over again. In any case, American Head Charge is essential listening to any fan of heavy music.
This review was written for the All-Music Guide on September 30, 2002.
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