Despite falling broadly into the category of “death-grind,” Australia’s King Parrot are one of the most strikingly original and twisted bands to emerge lately. 2012 debut Bite Your Head Off was every bit as violent and direct as the title suggests, but set itself apart via songs with actual hooks (“Shit on the liver AGAIN!”), vocalist Matthew Young’s unique squawking style, and a deranged sense of humor furthered by the visual aesthetic of their music videos – establishing them as something like the Die Antwoord of grindcore. It was a fun album that generated enough buzz to catch the attention of Candlelight Records, who re-released it in 2013 just as the band were impressing festival-goers with their wild onstage energy. The fanfare also caught the eye of Phil Anselmo, who took the band under his wing (no pun intended) by signing them to his Housecore Records label earlier this year and producing their sophomore effort, Dead Set.
Personally, while I enjoyed BYHO, it felt a tad too safe and clean for a grindcore record, even if it was only grindcore in the loosest sense. That said, it was hard not to be apprehensive about Dead Set. Rather than the cartoony violence of BYHO’s cover, Dead Set’s artwork looked more inspired by redneck horror, promo blurbs preferred the “groove/thrash” tag instead of “death-grind,” and first single “Like A Rat” was disappointingly straightforward and featured alarmingly higher-pitched vocals than the debut. I was afraid King Parrot had fallen victim to the tragedy of ‘too-much-too-soon,’ rapidly gaining fame and being thrust into a world where artistic integrity is the first thing to disintegrate.
Fortunately, I was wrong. Sure, there are some changes, but at heart, this is still the same band from the debut, back with a sound familiar enough to please old fans but fresh enough to avoid a rehash. Sure, there’s still some grindy moments – opener “Anthem of the Advanced Sinner” is probably the closest thing to BYHO, with its spitfire vocal patterns and frantic bashing riffs, while early highlight “Hell Comes Your Way” features an awesome elephantine charge amidst shrieks of the song title. But for every grindy blast, there’s a simple but neck-snappingly effective nu-thrash riff like in late-album highlights “Punisher” and “Sick in the Head;” or a hefty measured pace and death metal gutturals like in “Need No Saviour” or “Home Is Where the Gutter Is,” or heave-ho Viking rhythms like in “Tomorrow Turns to Blood.”
Just as before, drawing comparisons is tough – King Parrot are one of those “why hasn’t this been done before?” bands – a group that feels immediately accessible and familiar without sounding like anyone else. This is aided, once again, by Matthew’s vocals, manic squawking that sounds like Tony Foresta of Iron Reagan hybridized with a Muppet coming off a cocaine binge. Through screeched hooks which often incorporate the song title, Matthew clearly outshines his bandmates, which does lead me to the album’s biggest negative.
It’s odd to say this about a metal band, but one of the least interesting things about King Parrot is their riffwork. It relies a bit too heavily on repeating the same chord in sequence (“Sick in the Head,” aforementioned “Anthem”), feels a tad too pedestrian at times, and never achieves the frenzied energy of, say, Wormrot. That aside, it’s still serviceable at worst, and the only real misstep here is closer “Dead Set,” which, after a strong enough opening, repeats its closing riff for about four minutes too long. Production-wise, the brickwalling is apparent with a DR of 4, but surprisingly, Dead Set doesn’t sound particularly awful – a tad sterile, maybe, but the buzzsaw guitar tone and in-your-face mix is listenable without inducing fatigue.
Overall, King Parrot surprised me, as I’ve found myself enjoying Dead Set more and more. I’d love to see them become more instrumentally adventurous, but the variety present here – along with the vocal hooks and the sheer energy that hasn’t faltered at all – lead me to believe this is something I’ll be revisiting frequently. The cross-genre appeal and amusing music videos don’t hurt, either. As a whole, King Parrot have matured into a band completely caught up in their own style, performing and writing music in earnest and seeming to enjoy themselves just as much as their fans do. They’re a hard group to hate, and even with my initial skepticism, Dead Set proves that ten times over.