It is a little-known fact that Canadians are patriotic. Most people think we just apologize a lot (I’m sorry, but it’s true), but just because most of our flags are pinned up in basement windows where we’ve run out of aluminum foil doesn’t mean we don’t love our country. So, when I get promos that might be interesting, often the fact that a band hails from my home country will be enough to tip the scales and get them into my speakers. Thus is the case for Vancouver’s Ninjaspy, which I pronounced “nin-JAH-spee” until I realized no, it’s “ninja-spy.” Nobody said Canadians (or at least yours truly) are smart. Anyhow, this trio of brothers has been working hard on their fusion-metal release, and dammit I’m going to take a chance and spin Spüken.
Ninjaspy have been around for more than a decade, and Spüken is the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign that allowed the boys to take their ten best songs from the decade and record them with producer Garth Richardson (Red Hot Chili Peppers and others). This is a good thing and a bad thing, as we’ll get into. As to the style, fusion-metal is what I mentioned above, meaning the band blends a ton of styles and genres together, from reggae to ska to jazz to prog metal, to overall craziness in the vein of System of a Down and Dillinger Escape Plan. Listen, when a band lists Meshuggah and Steely Dan as influences, you know it’s going to be a bit chaotic. At times this is a catchy, mesmerizing formula, and at other times it’s too scattershot to truly succeed.
Take the opening track, “Speak.” It opens with a groovy ska-tinged clean verse before exploding into the chorus. Harsh vocals in the chorus, clean vocals in the verses, and an overall smart arrangement make this a standout song and a great start to Spüken — the Parent boys (Joel, Tim, Adam) definitely have the chops to execute this style. “Shuriken Dance” (the song that clued me into the correct pronunciation of the band’s name) betrays the band’s System of a Down influence, with harsher vocals but the same jarring yet tight arrangement that SoaD was famous for. The ska feel rears its head again throughout “Brother Man,” with super-catchy verses and hardcore choruses combined with a great little keyboard-accented riff. Three songs in and I’m hooked, to be honest. Even “Dead Duck Dock,” with its jazzy lounge band opening, holds my attention.
Unfortunately, the brothers can’t maintain the momentum created by the first four songs for an entire album. I’m assuming that the middle trio of songs “Become Nothing,” “What!!,” and “Jump Ya Bones” are amongst their oldest, because they’re definitely weak spots on Spüken. The first is chaotic hardcore that just doesn’t hold up, the second has the worst chorus of the year (“Undecided people say what, whatwhatwhatwhat”), and the latter is uninspiring reggae-infused metal. Revamping those songs — or writing new ones — would have been wise. Luckily Ninjaspy redeem themselves with a couple of strong closers — “Azaria” is similar to opener “Speak” and “Slave Vehemence” ends the album on a strong hardcore note.
Co-conspirators Richardson and Ben Kaplan have produced a great-sounding album, with plenty of oomph and power throughout. Mastering is loud but not annoying, making Spüken an easy album to crank up. Ninjaspy show a lot of promise on Spüken, but by drawing on songs written over a ten year span, they ultimately undo themselves, giving us a handful of sharply executed songs that will see rotation in my playlists, but a handful of duds that keep me from enjoying the entire record. I’m looking forward to their next effort: hopefully the trio continues to evolve in the right direction.