What do you get when you mix one part Mark Portnoy (drummer, The Winery Dogs & ex-Dream Theater), one part Dave Ellefson (bassist, Megadeth) and one part Alex Skolnick (guitarist, Testament)? One cracking line-up for an instrumental-only band, that’s what. But what if you decide to sprinkle in a little bit of vocalist – which one do you choose? Who says you have to pick just one?
And that’s the recipe for a dish called Metal Allegiance right there. There is another part too – Mark Menghi, whose idea it was to bring together this group of musicians to record their eponymous album, and he is an active particpant in the writing and production process for the album.
Much as I hate the term, Metal Allegiance is a metal supergroup. Over the past few years they’ve played several dates, and the list of members is much more than the main ones on this album. Hell, even on this album you have guest appearances from Andrea Kisser (Sepultura), Gary Holt (Exodus & Slayer), Rex Brown (Kill Devil Hill & ex-Down/Pantera) and Charlie Benante (Anthrax)……plus others.
Then you get the list of vocalists – Randy Blythe (Lamb of God), Troy Sanders (Mastodon), Phil Anselmo (Down & ex-Pantera), Chuck Billy (Testament), Mark Oseguada (Death Angel), Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed) and Dug Pinnick (Kings X)
It’s a metal fan’s wet dream, that’s what this is. But does the final product live up to the talent?
One thing I made sure I didn’t do before listening to this was remind myself of who sings on which song – I knew who was on it, just couldn’t remember where, and I wanted to play ‘spot the singer’ a bit.
With the opener, “Gift of Pain”, it’s not too difficult at all to spot that it’s Randy Blythe. ‘Fuck Off’ is always a cracking first lyric with which to open and after the build-up to that point (hammering riffs & drums) and a scream, I’m left thinking ‘Fucking hell’. An ideal opening song, it’s in your face from the start and doesn’t let up at all.
And it’s straight into “Let Darkness Fall”, with Portnoy’s drum intro – and there’s a chunky riff that actually sounds like it could have come from the same band as the singer Troy Sanders. I challenge you not to get goosebumps just after the 3 minute mark, as this song breaks down into it’s midway guitar solo/acoustic guitar and then builds back up – man, I could have listened to that section for a lot longer. But then that riff comes back in – fucking hell indeed.
By the time “Dying Song” arrives, with Phil Anselmo on vocals, you kind of need a rest – and you get one with the introduction to this song. I’ve always been a fan of Anselmo’s voice on the more ‘balladic’ songs in his repertoire (“Cemetery Gates” & “Hollow”, for example) so this one grabs me perfectly. But the song doesn’t just stay with that little rest period – it builds up to a beautiful guitar solo and a thundering outro, and has a great lyric ‘She needs a doctor; or an undertaker’
I’m going to add in here now that I love Alex Skolnick’s work – the man could fart in a bag and I’d buy it. When he rejoined Testament a few years back, I was over the moon. His guitar work on this album is an absolute joy. Which brings me “You can’t kill the devil”, with his bandmate Chuck Billy on pipes. If you played this song for me out of context then I’d be trying to figure out which Testament album I managed to miss it on. It’s Testament, pure and simple. But it also has Andreas Kisser and Phil Demmel (Machine Head) on there too – check out those solos!!
And at this juncture, I’m already trying to figure out what my favourite song on the album is…no need to wait for the rest, is there? Well, I’m glad I waited. Because “Scars”, with Mark Osgueda singing the verses and Christina Scabbia singing the chorus, is a beauty. And when it switches over to allow Scabbia to take the lead on the bridge, it really comes into its own. And again, the guitar solos…oh my, the guitar solos. Skolnick has just delivered the deluxe edition of that earlier fart. It’s the first song on the album that I’ve skipped back to the start to listen to again.
Things take a slight dip, for me, with “Destination: Nowhere” – nothing to do with Matt Heafy on vocals, as he delivers. There’s something I can’t put my finger on about the song, but it doesn’t quite deliver as well as the others up until now. It’s a good song, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not as good.
“Wait until tomorrow” picks things up though, with Jamey Jasta and Dug Pinnick sharing vocal duties. I love Pinnick’s voice, and it works so well with Jasta’s on here – similar to “Scars”, Pinnick takes verse and Jasta takes chorus. The melancholic feel of the verse, into the anger of the chorus, is a match made in heaven. Cap doffed, lads.
Remember I mentioned that this lot would make a great instrumental band? Guess what – they do. The penultimate track, “Triangulum”, is comprised of three parts – Creation, Evolution & Destruction – and is a tour de force. It’s got loads of people involved….aswell as the main 3 members, you have the following all on guitar duties at some point: Misha Mansoor (Periphery), Ben Weinman (Dilinger Escape Plan), Charlie Benante (Anthrax…not drumming, playing guitar), Phil Demmel, Matt Heafy & Ron Bumblefoot Thal (ex-Guns n Roses)
Play spot the guitarist with that song – I couldn’t, so if you know who is where and how then please let me know.
So, how do you close an album like this? With the full-on Metal anthem “Pledge of Allegiance”, that’s how. It’s raise your fists and yell time, with Mark Osgueda back on vocal duties, and it will have you head-banging along.
So there you have it – the finished dish that is Metal Allegiance. It looks great on the menu, and it delivers. Now, what’s for pudding?