"Their Rock Is Not Our Rock"
Liquor and Poker
These days, heavy metal is not all head-banging, power-chording and devil worshiping. Like most contemporary pop-music subgenres, metal has significantly diversified, yielding lineups as disparate as the one this week at the 9:30 club. The headlining HIM is a Finnish quintet that dwells in the mists but has a surprisingly airy sound. Fireball Ministry plays straightforward Southern-fried rock. Skindred is South Wales's leading -- okay, only -- reggae-metal-punk combo.
"Love me like you loved the sun," implores HIM frontman Ville Valo on "Dark Light's" opening track, but he's no beach boy. As its title reveals, "Vampire Heart" is an ode to a victim from her predatory seducer. Yet the sweeping tune is closer to U2 than to Iron Maiden, and its buoyancy is characteristic of this album (the band's sixth but its U.S. debut). HIM's lyrics are derived from horror movies, as are some of its spooky intros and asides, and standard metal rhythms and riffs underpin and embellish the music. Such elements are countered, however, by pealing guitars, rippling pianos and vocal melodies that soar and swoon. When Valo declares his, uh, undying love on such songs as "The Face of God," it sounds as if HIM is more interested in hearts than in vampires.
Aside from the fact that the band features a female lead guitarist, Emily J. Burton, there's nothing unusual about Fireball Ministry. In an age of hyper-trendy, hyphenated rock styles, that's sort of refreshing. But it's also a bit boring. The title of the L.A. quartet's new album boasts that "Their Rock Is Not Our Rock," yet these songs don't contain any moves that "they" haven't executed before. If the thudding "Hellspeak" qualifies the Ministry for Ozzfest, the band clearly hasn't sold its entire repertoire to the dark one. Indeed, such gruffly tuneful rockers as "It Flies Again" establish a stylistic lineage with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The Clash was a combative lot, but a rewrite of the band's "London Calling" (redubbed "The Fear") is the most easygoing track on Skindred's debut, "Babylon." The quartet's music ranges from dub to screamo, dancehall to hardcore, and a hidden track discloses a covert taste for funk.
Most songs shift between reggae and metal, with the latter's aggression setting the tone. On such rockers as "Bruises" and "Nobody" (as in "nobody gets out alive"), vocalist Benji Webbe performs a duet with himself, lilting from one side of his mouth and shrieking from the other. Skindred shows a welcome (if intermittent) aptitude for melody on "Set It Off" and "Pressure," proving it can make an impact that doesn't leave a bruise.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club with Finch.