This is it, folks. Light off the nukes, open the floodgates, start a fucking wildfire for all I care. After years of experimentation and combining disparate musical influences with reckless abandon, the error of our ways has finally manifested itself in terrifying form. To paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, we were so preoccupied with whether or not we could, we never stopped to think if we should. Yet here it is: a Nashville quartet who bill themselves as a fusion of country and metal, complete with twangy guitars, honkytonk fiddle, rudimentary attempts at extreme metal, and shit-kicking rhythms pulled straight from the Bumfuck County square dance. I’d like to think this could have worked in more skilled hands, but in its current form, Soundtrack to the Second Civil War is the best argument I’ve seen for how we have finally exhausted all facets of human creativity.
Formed in 2015 by guitarist/vocalist Ryan Clackner and fiddler/vocalist Lucy Cochran, Stump Tail Dolly is a combination of country and metal in the same way a week-old Big Mac is a combination of “well-aged cheese” and “expertly cultured meat.” While technically correct, it offers little hint at how bad the reality actually is. Forget Downy Southern metal – picture instead a combination of mathcore, bluegrass, and the most generic black metal imaginable. If The Ongoing Concept attempted to rewrite Saloon and make it the worst album they possibly could, it would probably sound something like Stump Tail Dolly.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with War, but the biggest flaw is also the most obvious: this music is just plain bad. Right from the start of opener “Atlantis,” Dolly grate the ears with a set of wonky notes that bang out a clumsy melody, and things get no better with the introduction of Ms Cochran’s ill-fitting wails and Clackner’s toothless rasps. After an extended instrumental jam that’s about as exciting as a Lifetime original movie, follow-up “Nashville Girl” attempts to re-invigorate things by breaking in with banjo-y electric guitars that recall a far shittier Mastodon. Unfortunately, the quick licks clash with Cochran’s ubiquitous fiddle and end up working about as well as a one-armed man in an archery contest.
This largely remains the story for the rest of War’s 45 minutes. Between forgettable instrumental interludes like “Cumberland Gap” and complete musical abominations like “Amerika,” things veer between irritating and dull but never settle anywhere close to “good.” Perhaps the worst example are the screams of “Let’s get famous on Youtube/Facebook/Twitter!” in “For Real For Real,” which almost makes me want to petition my Congressman to have music programs cut from schools. The production also offers no positives, with a wildly varying DR that blandly presents the music without fostering any sense of atmosphere or excitement.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about War, however, is revealed right there in its title. Just like a real civil war, this album feels at odds with itself. While the country and metal elements are actually combined pretty well musically, there is no attempt for a smooth emotional transition between the two, resulting in jarring mood shifts that get swept beneath the rug under the guise of “we’re just rocking out and having fun, man.” If this album were a person, it would be the jock who shows up to a country concert wearing fresh boots and a cowboy hat, gets too drunk on PBR, and ends up ruining the show for everyone by shouting like an idiot and throwing empty beer cans in the air the entire time.
I wanted to say that War is the Sharknado of metal albums, but that’s not fair to Sharknado. If you want a better combination of country and metal, listen to Behemoth while Toby Keith blares in the background. Make no mistake: Soundtrack to the Second Civil War is not just a bad album, it is an utter failure, a debut which I pray receives no follow-up, an atrocity which insults both of its core genres. I refuse to even call this music – this is noise executed with as much finesse as Andre the Giant performing open heart surgery with a shovel. If ever there was a second Civil War, the only thing worse would be if this album was actually its soundtrack.