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Band collaborations are usually a pretty sketchy idea. After all, the creative process is a fragile thing, and similarly bitchin’ record collections seldom equal compatible working methods. In the post-punk era, everyone from Black Flag and the Minutemen to Tortoise and the Ex have teamed up to produce uncharacteristically lackluster results. So things didn’t bode well for TransChamps’ Double Exposure, the new collab between D.C.’s Trans Am and San Francisco’s the Fucking Champs. Yet despite the weight of history, the TransChamps concept works, mostly because the two bands’ music-making approaches dovetail so seamlesslyeven if the group really should’ve been called “Fucking Am.”
Aside from a mutual fascination with heavy metalTransChamps’ one-sheet name-checks both power-metallurgists Iron Maiden and mathematic deities Meshuggahironic detachment is the common denominator here. Both the synth-happy Trans Am and the axe-crazed Fucking Champs have filled their full-lengths with complex and often genius prog-rocky instrumentals that are then assigned hey-I-was-really-only-kidding titles such as “American Kooter” and “What’s a Little Reign?” And when both bands deem fit to add some vocals to the mix, their intentionally jokey lyrics simply serve to distance them even further from earnestness.
The 17-minute Double Exposure kicks off with “Give It to You,” which finds the Fucking Champs’ Josh Smith and Tim Green cranking out scorching Wagner-on-guitar harmonies while Trans Am’s Natron and Phil Manley belt out some sub-MC5 lyrics: “Devolution on the streets/Revolution in the sheets/You’ve got it all/Going for you/Let’s set it up/And see what we can do/Give it to you/Give it to you.”
“First Comes Sunday Morning”which would make a prime, faux-pensive album centerpiece for either bandsimilarly manages to be both majestic and ridiculous. The lite-rock instrumental’s layers of acoustic guitar, piano, flute, and tambourine evoke a halfway-serious, halfway-smartass conflation of Led Zeppelin III’s rural ballads and some yet-to-be-filmed “A very special episode of…” TV theme, with piles of saccharine, sun-peaking-over-the-Appalachians melodies. But the track’s carefully manufactured sentimentality veers close to success despite itself: “First” would be almost moving if it weren’t so obviously dripping with irony.
In another calculated mismatch, the disc-closing “Somebody Like You” contrasts imposing cybergrind with goofball lyrics cribbed from Bryan Adams: “Never thought that I’d need somebody/Somebody like you.” Yet here TransChamps’ highbrow/lowbrow juxtaposition isn’t nearly as buzz-killing: The brief vocals fade away while shimmering guitars pour over a synth bass line and what sounds like another one of Trans Am drummer Sebastian Thomson’s chunky-but-funky midtempo beats. It’s an all-too-short maneuver, calculated to summon the ghost of overproduced ’80s synth pop, that makes for good listening despite the wiseacre intent.
These guys are clearly too busy cracking each other up to take this rock ‘n’ roll business all that seriously. Yet most bands would kill small children for the hammered-metal funk of “The Big Machine” or the ascending sheets-o’-guitar bridge on “Give It to You”or even, for that matter, the convincingly blue-collar shitkicker vibe of “Then Comes Saturday Night.” Though Double Exposure isn’t likely to replace your favorite stuff by Trans Am or the Fucking Champs on the turntable, it does make a hell of a lot of sense. And every once in a while, it makes for some pretty excellent noise, too.
What should be evident from the somber title of Soilent Green’s third full-length, A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down, is that these guys aren’t clowning around at all. Like TransChamps, the New Orleans quintet draws instrumental inspiration from a wide swath of metal subgenres. However, of the two bands, Soilent Green is the one liable to get mistaken for Carcass. And whereas TransChamps jokingly play off rock’s worst lyrical clichés, Soilent Greenpegged by Rolling Stone as one of the 10 best metal bands in circulationpens lines such as “Eyes opening to a smooth trail of blood on the floor/Leading to the trash can next to the door.”
Taking cues from ADD-stricken grindcore pioneers Napalm Death and Naked City, Soilent Green builds its songs on singer Louis Benjamin Falgoust II’s gruff, acrobatic delivery, guitarists Ben Stout (who has since left the band) and Brian Patton’s labyrinthine riffs, bassist Scott Williams’ so-low-you-can’t-even-hear-it rumble, and drummer Tommy Buckley’s stop-on-a-dime blast beats. However, unlike most of its speedfreak peers, Soilent Green consistently breaks up the high-velocity instrumentation with sludgy, Melvinsesque sections and dual-guitar blues riffs that would make Jimmy Page break into a cold sweat. Add to that some smeary, tremolo-picked black-metal runs and this thing plays like a survey of modern heaviness.
There are plenty of bands capable of handling agile time-signature changes and evil meat-hook riffs, though, so what really separates Soilent Green from the extreme-metal pack is its nonknuckleheaded subject matter. These dudes aren’t anybody’s Amebix or Rage Against the friggin’ Machine; their politics are of the personal variety. Sure, the band’s songs are full of standard-issue vitriol, but with its labelmates making slasher-titled records such as Chainsaw Dismemberment, Human Waste, and Gore Metal, Soilent Green appears almost arty by comparison.
Though much of metal lyricism can be described as ham-fisted and cartoonish, there’s nothing insultingly obvious about Falgoust’s verbiage. When the singer rasps, “Pass on this forgotten/Tradition in morals” (“Hand Me Downs”) or grunts, “Don’t be what others think or want” (“A Grown Man”), he’s light-years from metal’s pseudo-sinister status quo. And against “Last One in the Noose”‘s backdrop of seriously slow downtuned stomp, Falgoust might as well be ruminating on his genre’s shallow orthodoxy: “Mouth full of words, nothing to say/Not a fucking thing.”
If Soilent Green eschews grisly imagery, it certainly doesn’t skimp on sonic violence. Like the quintet’s excellent second full-length, Sewn Mouth Secrets, A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down is an unrelenting parade of quick-change riffs. The one respite from the riff density comes halfway through, with the pensive, almost Fugazilike intro to “Later Days.” But the clean and melodic chords last a mere 20 seconds before the band drops into another chicken-fried blues groove and stays absurdly overdriven for the remainder of the proceedings.
The last track, “She Cheated on You Twice,” is a righteous example of these Big Easy boys’ adrenaline cocktails. In the time it would take most bands to turn on their amps, Soilent Green alternates through several rounds of meat-and-potatoes chug metal and blurry free-form grind, with Falgoust switching back and forth between Cookie Monster-style gurgling and higher-pitched choking-cat sounds. But that’s just the start: After a dizzying barrage of double-kick drumming, the song continues shifting between lurching lunkhead shred and machine-gun speed metal. It’s an absolute blast that, at 3:43, is over before you know what’s hit you.
Clearly, this ain’t no jag-off false metal: Soilent Green performs more heavy lifting than Lou Ferrigno. But the band is about more than just muscle, smartly taking everything fast and delirious about the slightly stagnant grindcore genre and adding something distinctly Southern. Though A Deleted Symphony for the Beaten Down probably won’t cross over to your average Rolling Stone reader any time soon, it’s certainly one of the most unusual slabs of extreme music to hit this year. CP