Twelve Foot Ninja
01. Coming For You
03. Mother Sky
08. Silent Machine
10. Myth of Progress
11. Ain’t that a Bitch
In the five years that they have been together, Twelve Foot Ninja have developed a fearsome reputation as a live act, and have even been described by Misha Mansoor of Periphery fame as being one of the best live bands he has ever seen. However, making the transition from being a scintillating live band to successful recording artists is no easy task, and unfortunately, Twelve Foot Ninja’s much anticipated debut album, Silent Machine, falls somewhat short of expectations. This is in no way due to a failure of production, the band having compiled a stellar technical team, including Circles guitarist Ted Furuhashi and mastering legend Howie Weinberg, to give the album a polished veneer. Moreover, it is quite obvious that Twelve Foot Ninja are entertainers, and seemingly innovative ones at that, the album being not only packed full of eminently danceable tunes, but also accompanied by a savvy multimedia package, including 12 incredible comics drawn by UK artist Keith Draws, and to this point, two very humorous video clips.
So, considering the amazing sound and appearance of Silent Machine, why does it leave one feeling so unsatisfied?? The answer is that in focusing on their ‘package’, Twelve Foot Ninja have neglected the most important element of all – the song writing!
What becomes immediately apparent from Silent Machine is that Twelve Foot Ninja’s approach to song writing is to generally mash various styles of music together in between heavy djent-inspired grooves. For example, in the very first track, ‘Coming For You’, the band launches straight into a massive electronica laced riff before switching quickly between bossa nova verses and funky pre-choruses, and there is even a creepy section reminiscent of carnival or circus music thrown in for good measure. This blueprint is followed repeatedly over subsequent tracks, with variously styled verses, most notably Latin and Caribbean in flavour, being interlaced with grandiose choruses.
The result of this genre-bending approach is more Mr Bungle than Between the Buried and Me, a comparison that is enhanced by the obvious influence of Mike Patton on Twelve Foot Ninja vocalist Kin Etick. Another, even more startling comparison can be made to the Canadian band, Ninjaspy, who not only share a similar name with Twelve Foot Ninja, but have a penchant for mashing ska and reggae together with System of a Down styled hardcore. While not to say that Twelve Foot Ninja’s multimedia package was not an organic initiative, it should also be noted that although yet to actually be released, Ninjaspy announced in 2011 that a graphic novel would accompany their forthcoming EP, No Kata, and there is a striking resemblance between the ninja-themed promotional photographs of Ninjaspy and the similarly themed photographs of Twelve Foot Ninja.
However, whereas listeners are likely to be challenged by the music of Ninjaspy and Mr Bungle, the beauty of which might not always be immediately identifiable due to its elements of the avant-garde, Twelve Foot Ninja have clearly set out to write songs that are much more readily accessible. If from nothing else, this much is evident from the short song lengths, with no track exceeding about four and half minutes, as well as from the focus on vocal melody and pretty stock standard song structures. When it all works, as with ‘Coming For You’, ‘Mother Sky’ and the title-track, ‘Silent Machine’, the band prove themselves capable of writing songs that are not only catchy, groovy and demonstrative of their adroitness with various musical styles, but are also cohesive and thematically well-developed. Overwhelmingly, however, the songs on Silent Machine feel rushed and underdeveloped, at times even unfinished, and as if they have been composed by a band with the musical equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. A prime example of this is ‘Vanguard’, which feels more like an introduction than a complete song, ending abruptly after less than three minutes, and just when it feels as though the band is going to do more than merely scratch the surface of some very promising ideas. Similarly, in the very next song, ‘Deluge’, the band introduces a beautiful vocal harmony, backed by piano, only to ruin the mood just a few seconds later with a rhythmically mundane one note riff, rather than develop it into something more substantial and more memorable than just a fleeting moment of brilliance.
By ‘Rogue’, it seems as if the band was exhausted creatively, and from that point on Silent Machine is a nothing more than safe, eventually petering out with the less than memorable ‘Luna’. However, other than the fact that it borders on being plain boring, the concerning thing about this final third of Silent Machine is that it begs the question of whether there is any real depth to Twelve Foot Ninja’s music beyond the superficial novelty of their ability to play in a number of different musical styles. Perhaps what Twelve Foot Ninja need to realise is that genre mashing is not unique, and that when Ninjaspy do it it is merely a starting point from which they can then explore the limits of what that combination of genres has to offer, just as when Between the Buried and Me interpose different styles of music into their songs it usually serves as a relief from the density of their core themes, and that it is for these reasons that the music of both these bands is consistently more satisfying than that found on Silent Machine.
With a few very notable exceptions, Silent Machine is an exercise in style over substance, and it is a shame to think what this album could have been had the band taken the time to fertilize their ideas more fully. No doubt, Twelve Foot Ninja have talent, but in order to remain relevant and be remembered as more than just a gimmick, they will need to develop some authenticity into their music and a more genuine identity.
Twelve Foot Ninja – Silent Machine gets…