Before we begin, let’s take a moment and admire the cover art to your left, shall we? Here we have Steel Druhm and a fellow soldier buddy, waging intergalactic war against alien things while the logo for Cleveland’s Contra may or may not cause Konami’s lawyers to give them a phone call quicker than one can shout, “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start.” If you were a child of the 80s who grew up parked in front of a TV and an NES (i.e., me), your heart must be aflutter with memories of controllers thrown, high-fives slapped, and an endless night or two with a best bud. So when I grabbed Contra‘s debut, Deny Everything, I was chomping at the bit to relive memories of my childhood while experiencing some good ol’ American stoner metal.

And musically, that’s what you’re gonna get! Chris Chiera must have graduated from the Clutch Institute of Thick Riffs and Smooth Grooves, as between him and bassist Adam Horwatt, there’s no shortage of hooks and grooves on display. Opener “Human Buzzsaw” is littered with great riffs and tasteful solos, and you can’t help but bob your head along. Elsewhere, instrumentals “Altered Beast” (WIZE FWOM YO GWAAAAVE!!!) and “One Hundred Hand Slap” both groove along with some of the meanest swagger, with the latter calling upon the spirits of the late Kyuss. When the band locks into a groove, it would take something colossal to knock that train off the tracks.

But sadly, there are three major things that do just that to Deny Everything. For starters, when the band slows to a crawl, such as on the six-minute slog “Humanoid Therapy” and almost-eight-minute closer “Shrimp Cocktail,” the good mojo turns into a repetitious drag. Also, once you hit the halfway point with “Son of Beast,” a strong sense of deja vu rears its ugly head. The second major sticking point lies in the production. The guitars are thick and chewy, but the bass feels muffled and buried. Worst of all, Aaron Brittain’s drums sound awful, especially in the cymbals and an almost non-existent bass drum.


The third and biggest problem, however, lies in the vocals of Larry Brent. There isn’t a polite way to say this, but his voice sounds like a cross between Kirk Windstein (Crowbar) and my late chainsmoking grandfather hacking up a lung while reading along to a lyric sheet. While it does have its charms when it’s effective (such as on “Human Buzzsaw”), it starts grating almost immediately, as there’s no variety or clever cadence. In fact, during “Son of Beast,” it almost sounds like his chorus is him going (and this is a guess, as I have no lyric sheet and the mix is horrible) “IN! DUH! NEE! SHA!!!” over and over again. You can have all the swagger in the world, but if the vocals pull you out of the groove, it’s difficult to get sucked back in.

And it’s a shame too, because I’m all for game-inspired stoner rock. Instrumentally, Contra showcase that they can groove with the big guns with aplomb. But the songwriting needs more tightening, a better studio needs to be booked, and someone should give Brent a heavy-duty expectorant on the next go-round. There’s potential, but it’s severely hampered here.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Labels: Robustfellow Records | Shifty Records
Websites: contracleveland.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ContraCle
Releases Worldwide: June 30th, 2017

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  • Why won’t someone think of the X-E-V-I-O-U-S??

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I just look at that logo and all I could say was “FUCK YEAH!” with all the excitement of a 12-year old boy!

  • I’ve always wanted to start a cover band where we’d play the various themes from all the Contra games. Name? Contraband.

    • Aguy

      Cliff Colon did an album of jazz covers of the Contra soundtrack called “ContraBand” – and it’s really good.

  • welyyt

    Steely D should be featured on more album covers.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Definitely. I just hope that isn’t from one of his court scenes.

      • [not a Dr]

        I do hope that this is from one of his court scenes. Or, at the very least, from the jury selection process.

      • Nukenado

        Those damn demonic juries. Hate ’em.

    • Drew Music

      The best album covers (and this thing) are clad in Steel.

    • Grymm

      Remember when Brutal Truth and Steel Druhm hung out after a gig back in the 90s? Pepperidge Farms remembers… http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5465c6c4b677c0eed38488d30e4a22f5b3aea962b77dc563577d4a742da6e8db.jpg

      • That was a weird night.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        That might work on a business card, like one designed by Saul Goodman.

  • Brent Johnson

    Steel Druhm is swole.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The bar where the band photo was taken seems far more interesting than the album. A Pabst guitar! I’ll have a pint of the Country Stinky Hippie Pale ale, please.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    What the world really needs is a Golvellius themed doom metal band.
    That game had a wickedly creepy soundtrack.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      Nobody else had a Sega Genesis? !

      • Genesis was my 3rd system. I had classic Atari and the Atari 400 before that.

        • HeavyMetalHamster

          I had the Atari too.
          But Golvellius on Sega was my obsession. …..and Altered Beast.

        • GardensTale

          Goddamn you’re old.

          • In a time of chimpanzees I was a gorilla.

          • Matt slatz

            Beck?

  • Drew Music

    Maiming two beloved elements of entertainment and personal development in one go like this should count as a war crime. If a band ever ruins River City Ransom for me I’m going to kill everything.

    • Grymm

      The only thing worse would be to have an indie/screamo/jazz project and call it Golgo-13.

      • Drew Music

        I’m picturing something to the effect of Deathcab and Silverstein’s baby doing its best Kenny G, now I don’t think I’ll be eating for a while.

    • drug_genosh

      pretty sure theres a ska/pop punk band by that name….

      • Drew Music

        I intentionally didn’t look it up, you’re breaking my tiny blackened heart.

        • drug_genosh

          But not intentionally!

  • Mollusc

    Whenever I tell people that as a kid I had a Sega Master System they look at me a bit like I’ve noticeably touched cloth. So yeah NES, woo.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      For me it was Intellivison. I wish I still had the console.

      • Mollusc

        Woah I’d never heard of that! Just looked it up. A mate of mine had an Atari 2600. I’m sure veneer finish will come back in fashion on consoles soon.

      • Grymm

        I had a Colecovision, aka The Most Fragile Home Console on Earth.©

        Also: Atari 2600, Sega Master System, NES, Sega Genesis, SNES, PS, PS2, Xbox, N64, GameCube, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii.

        Now, I have just a PS3 and PS4.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          It’s been a while, but I think we had the Atari 400 in addition to Intellivision. I do remember the games were on cassette tapes. You would type something, and then wait five minutes for something to happen in the game. It was weird, and infuriating.

          The console wars was an interesting time. I see there’s even a book on it.

          • Matt slatz

            How about the short lived Atari 7800…. To this day my favorite system was the Sega nomad….playing Genesis titles on the go was world changing for me….my production at work has never recovered

    • Grymm

      Fantasy Zone, Golden Axe Warrior, and Phantasy Star FTW!

      • Mollusc

        Cool. Totally didn’t play Sonic and Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion on mine.

  • The review is spot on. The moment the vocals kicked in I cringed.

    Is “Son of Beast” a reference to the roller coaster? I think it must be and if it is that’s fantastic but I can’t be sure because I can’t understand a damn word that the guy is saying.

    • Grymm

      Most of the album is good-to-great musically. Those vocals pull it all down hard, though.

  • Alpha

    Is this band called Probotector in Europe?

    • Grymm

      I had to look that up. Holy Obscure Gaming Reference, Batman!

  • Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B,A, Select, Start.

    • Grymm

      On some of them, the Selectbutton was added. I think in one of them, if you added the Select button near the end, you died/blew up.

      • ImageOfChaos

        Select moved you from 1 player to 2 player and gave 30 lives to both players.

  • The Unicorn

    Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Select Start.
    007-373-5963
    Ape Escape! YES!!!

  • Nick Wallis

    much agreed….Very reminicent of golden era Clutch…. But the vocals are pretty flat.

  • RuySan

    While I was (and still am) an Amiga fanboy, I have a special place in my heart for Contra and Castlevania, but that cover isn’t worthy of that logo. Give me either some nice pixel art or the beauty of classic konami box art.

    This looks like early 00’s internet pre rendered stock images.

    And I’ll listen to the music some other time.