Dirty Shirt describe themselves as “Balkan melting-pot indus youpla metal” which might explain why pinning down these intelligent and imaginative Romanians is so difficult on ‘freak show’, the band’s third studio release. Heavy and yet possessed of the same ethnic invention as System of a down or Dog fashion disco, Dirty Shirt clearly have no intention of simply aping the sound of successful international bands, preferring instead to carve their own unique niche utilising a bizarre but strangely agreeable mix of world music, folk, metal, electronica and even funk over the course of the album’s eleven tracks. Believe us when we say you’ve never heard anything quite like this before.
Perhaps the best way to describe Dirty Shirt is to take Mike Patton’s imagination, Chrome Hoof’s eclecticism, System of a down’s incisive heaviness and Romanian folk music and blend the whole damn lot together in a ramshackle tavern redolent with the yeasty scent of spilled beer and stale cigarette smoke. Opening with the tribal sway of ‘Ride’, the band wrong-foot the listener with a brief acoustic intro that suggests a folk trip of a mystical nature before kicking into a taut, syncopated trip that sounds like SOAD covering the Levellers. Between the razor sharp guitars, the complex percussion and the wild harmonies, it’s immediately apparent that Dirty Shirt sound like no one but themselves and their sound is both innovative and invigorating. ‘Bad apples’ unleashes a huge, metallic tsunami and then juxtaposes deathly roars and traditional folk melodies in what sounds like a clash between the Romanian Eurovision song contest entrant and Slayer. One song that may be familiar to listeners is the album’s title track which appeared on RockStar Rising, whilst the band are also scheduled to appear on RockBand3, suggesting that international acclaim may be around the corner if listeners can get their heads around the band’s genre-bending approach. The title track itself is an elastic burst of funk energy and grinding riffs with an ethnic twist, a sort of Soulfly-meets-MSI-meets-RHCP via Alice in chains (no seriously) and while you may not be able to pin it down, you’ll sure as hell be able to dance to it. indeed, the key to the huge entertainment factor of the album is that no matter how complex the actual music on offer may be, no matter how insanely the band mess with genre perceptions, they always hang their tracks from hooks so huge they’ll be lodged in your brain for months – a not insignificant feat. ‘Trust me’ sounds like the best Limp Bizkit song never written played by the Beastie Boys and remixed by the Prodigy. Heavy, funky and utterly irresistible, this is what should be in the charts if people actually cared about real music rather than pre-packaged nonsense. It rocks like a beast and carries a vital sense of independence from anything you’re likely to hear on a major label – reason enough to give it a listen.
The first song that slows the pace and digs into more serious pastures is ‘away’, a song that pulses with energy and emotion. It is also the most conventional song here, although it nust be borne in mind that everything is relative and conventional for Dirty Shirt is still damned weird for anybody else, something the band seek to remind you on the vital groove of ‘the business of life’ with its thunderous guitars and utterly unhinged vocals recalling Suger Ray being molested by Sevendust and Korn. ‘Never say never’, in contrast, is a breezy number that sits between Dreadzone and Fantomas, the riffs appearing to roll over the chorus like Panzers on the advance before dissipating once more as the song heads off into jazz fusion territory. ‘This is the day’ is the sound of a bad tab of ecstasy in a club: all sampled police sirens, disco thump and gruelling riffs, whilst ‘saraca inima me’ is the sound of the band, naked and unaffected, and it is all the better for striking such a firm contrast to the mental mash ups taking place elsewhere on the record. ‘Extreme funky disco’ does exactly what it says on the tin, the band indulging in a work out that sounds like Faith No More being slowly humped to death in Sepultura’s basement and then, without warning, you’re up against final track ‘rocks off’, a traditional Romanian folk song delivered with straight-faced panache, as if you’ve inadvertently strayed from the metal club in which you’ve been carousing with friends into the middle of a wedding complete with vodka-soaked chants and vigorous dancing. Seriously, there is no one, anywhere, who has the courage or the skill to pull of an album quite like this.
There have been comparatively few bands who have had the bravery and skill to integrate so much of their country’s own musical heritage into an album that scrambles from pillar to post, seemingly as the musicians’ fancy takes them. What makes this album work, however, is that no matter whether indulging in frantic thrash or salacious funk, the band never forget the importance of a grand melody with which to sucker the listener in. Most importantly, ‘Freak show’ is a whole lot of fun despite the fact that underneath all the comic bluster there is very obviously an incredibly talented band, with the result that you’ll play ‘Freak show’ to your mates as an album that they simply have to hear. Overall, ‘freak show’ is one of those rare albums that dares to be different and yet which does so in a way that only the most po-faced of individuals could fail to enjoy. Give Dirty Shirt a shot, if nothing else they’re guaranteed to sound absolutely nothing like any other album you own; ‘Freak show’ thus comes highly recommended.
Don’t miss out – listen here.