There is some question about whether there’s any point in my reviewing this as so consistent are the fans of Jamey Jasta, the monster-mouth-piece behind Hatebreed, Kingdom of soorow and Icepick, that anything I have to say will be instantly lost amidst the stampede of eager feet as fans head off to the nearest mosh-pit. Yet this is more than just another metal album and much more than just a side-project of the perennially busy musician. Rather this offers a chance for Jamey to flex his musical muscles in ways that fans had not previously imagined he might whilst also collaborating with some of metal’s most revered names in what transpires to be a heavy, consistently enthralling record that does well to rise above the names involved and stand on its own as a mighty slab of unrelenting heavy metal.
Opening with the profanity strewn ‘walk that path alone’ it’s clear from the off that Jamey is not intent on taking prisoners. At a svelte 2.16, it’s a short, sharp shock that literally abuses the breath out of you as Jamey rants and screams with a rage that is all the more terrifying for its hostile intensity. ‘Mourn the illusion’ does little to let up but where it really arouses interest is when Jamey opens his mouth and actually sings. As fans of Hatebreed will testify this is nothing short of momentous but it becomes rapidly apparent that Jamey has an excellent voice and the trick is never over-used, with the track recalling the melodic might of early Soilwork. It’s a brutal, neck-snapping workout and thanks to the blistering production job, one that could just as easily fill metal-club-floors as it could the moshpit. ‘Screams from the sanctuary’ opens with a slow-burning riff and Jamey’s trademark roar before developing into a mid-tempo chug in the vein of Calafornian death-metal monsters Kataklysm before stepping off, once more, into melodic territory, albeit with enough violent groove present to level a city.
That violent groove is perhaps the defining feature of this album – a persistent low-end brutality that infects your brain and demands your allegiance. There are glorious breakdowns where the guitars swing like blood-caked baseball bats, stampeding riffs that slay all in their path (‘nothing they say’) and the percussion (courtesy of Nick Bellmore) is pitched just right between an explosion and an earthquake. It’s mind-meltingly heavy and yet contains a melodic sensibility that Jamey’s only ever hinted at before and his voice contains so much grit that the tunes are imbued with a huge, natural gravity that never seems forced or unwelcome. As Jamey intones “we are the thing they say we are” it has the feel of authenticity and the natural sense of poetry for it to become a clarion call to arms for fans of Jasta everywhere and if audiences aren’t chanting this form the mosh-pit on Jasta’s live outings then I may be forced to ingest a head covering or two. Next up is ‘Anthem of the freedom fighter’, a slow, doomy trawl through Kingdom of sorrow’s traditional pastures via massed vocals and a guitar riff that drips malevolence. It’s easily a highlight of the album and it simply oozes menace.
The second half of this fine record is dominated by guest appearances, but while such a cast list may incite fears of a Soulfly style love-in, the guests are all respectful of the source material and Jamey can more than hold his own against any brave enough to enter the studio with him. Thus ‘something you should know’ (with Phil Labonte) is a brief snatch of melodic metal piercing the darkness of the previous track, while ‘set you adrift’ (the only track on this half of the album to be guest-free) flattens the competition with a vicious riff and soaring chorus. A certain Randy Blythe makes his presence felt on the feedback-strewn ‘enslaved, dead or depraved’, another stand-out track on the record, with a guttural piece of vocal-chord abuse on the chorus and Tim Lambesis appears on the sinister ‘with a resounding voice’ – a primal scream of rage destined to enrage neighbours all over the world upon the album’s day of release.
Continuing like a who’s who of extreme metal, ‘the fearless must endure’ rolls out Zakk Wylde who turns in an unexpectedly gritty performance before Mike Vallely rips ‘heart of a warrior’ a new one with the sort of deranged, intense performance that used to see people incarcerated in asylums for life. Final track, ‘death bestowed’ which features Mark Morton closes things nicely with one last crushing array of brutal guitar-led fury before the whole thing evaporates leaving you to wonder if you’ve just been hit over the head with a loaded bat.
Given the high profile of the artists involved, the high quality of Jamey Jasta’s body of work-to-date and the expectation that surrounds any such project, it is no mean feat that Jasta easily surpasses the expectations heaped upon it, stamping down gleefully with a hobnailed boot. Furiously heavy, varied in style and possessed of the self-confidence we’ve come to expect from Jamey, this is a brutal, exctigin adrenalin blast from the opening strains to the last dying scream. Heavy stuff indeed, but with a melodic bent that will entrance fans of Jamey’s previous work and possibly even introduce him to a wider audience still. Well worth exploring.