Fun. It’s a topic of many an internal debate within the Heavy Blog staff groups. What’s the role of having fun in metal? On one hand, the genre seems to want to distance itself as much as possible from the idea of being fun, preferring a very austere and melancholic exterior. On the other, some of its most famous musicians, and oftentimes the most dour, are known for their sense of humor and irreverence (Nergal from Behemoth is a good example as is Opeth‘s Mikael Akerfeldt). So, where does fun fit into the bill? How does one incorporate elements of poppier, more upbeat music into metal’s mix and perhaps even its external themes like album art, lyrics and delivery?
While many bands have taken a pass at this question, none of have solved it quite as well as Ninjaspy. In 2013, the Canadian band released their short (and excellent) debut EP, coupling it with a home-brewed, Ninja themed comics that elaborated on and worked together with the album (NOTE: we’ll not be referencing the obvious similarities between Ninjaspy and a certain Australian band who shan’t be named. A simple look at a timeline will give you all the facts you need). Their music incorporated elements of reggae and surf right into heavier influences from hardcore and modern metal, featuring technical passages alongside fan-pleasing, headboppers. The result drew comparisons to System of a Down, SikTh Limp Bizkit and others.
Sounds weird? It was and it was also a lot of fun. Spüken, their upcoming full length release, draws on much of the elements from their previous works and matches them with a more modern and fully fleshed out sound. “Shuriken Dance”, the second track on the album, is a great example of what you can expect. From the break around the one minute and twenty-five seconds mark, channeling pop punk and surf into one hip gyrating mix, to the heavy breakdown near the end of the track, “Shuriken Dance” is all groove and aggression bundled into one. Along the album, the different types of track will elaborate on different parts of this formula, weaving in and out of the different influences.
However, this doesn’t mean that Spüken is a one trick pony. While that certain irreverent feel is maintained throughout the work, it’s accomplished in many disparate ways. Check out “What!!”, which channels party metal giants Skindred with its thick vocals and “call/reply” structure on the chorus. The harsher vocals take it a bit farther than Skindred ever did though and create a powerful energy on the track, a pent up aggression that reminds us more of the aforementioned System of a Down. The following track builds on that momentum with blastbeat backed guitars and large bass intermingling with horns, an almost Latina beat and an overall “jumpiness” that echoes its name. This momentum explodes on the last track, “Slave Vehemence”, one of the most technical and heavy tracks the band have released to date. The blistering leads blend perfectly with the heavier riffs and the extremely amusing break down around the one minute and a half mark.
The one blemish on the album’s strengths comes from context. No Kata, the band’s debut release, was something fresh and incredibly new. Something about the delivery had an earnestness and eagerness that Spüken almost captures. It’s not that the band don’t have heart; much of the album is very convincing and effective. But somewhere, perhaps in the increased track length or in the years between releases, some unspeakable quality was not quite lost but at the very least eroded. The music has been, if not contained, then placed on a track, given more shape, form and cohesion as an album. While these are not necessarily bad things, the result is a professional album that knows what it’s about but seems, somehow, to take less risks than its predecessor. The result is perhaps something of the expected and the natural rather than the surprising and the challenging.
Spüken is still a good release and will reward listeners with plenty a headbanging moment but might, ultimately, lack some of the replay-ability and distinction of the band’s history. By making things tighter the band have also made them less adventurous. Those in search of well-executed and groovy metal need look no further but those who wish more experimentation thrown into the mix might not get exactly what they’ve paid for. But hey, that maybe overrated when an album automatically induces chair-dancing, right?
Ninjaspy’s Spüken will see release on April 14th. Head on to the band’s website to pre-order it.