The dog days of summer are upon us. The glory of finding albums that are monthly contenders for our highest accolades seems but a distant memory. Instead, we find ourselves scouring the pits of promo hell in desperate searches for something, anything, with redeeming qualities. So I find myself saddled (by my own choice) with Lust and War, the debut album from Toronto’s Aphrodite. This DIY speed metal band is a collaboration of a number of individuals, all of whom have been in other bands I’ve never heard of: Jo Steel wrote and played everything except the lead breaks, which go to either Yan or Jan Turbo, depending which paragraph of the promo sheet one reads.1 Heidi Stockdale wrote all the lyrics, and Tanza Speed sang them all. I’m all for digging into an 80s speed metal album, but I don’t have my hopes up too high, lest they be dashed.
Despite that, dashed they are. Kudos to Jo Steel for playing all the instruments and not being a one-man atmospheric black metal project, but his work does not shine here. His best moments merely elicit a thankful shrug of “oh, that was a bit better” from these olde shoulders. For the most part, the songwriting, arrangements, and riffs are pedestrian; more like a music class project than anything truly accomplished. Exceptions are brief, but they do exist. “Gorgon Medusa,” “Theseus and the Minotaur,” and “Orpheus Charms the Gods of Death”2 tear off the starting line with jagged riffs reminiscent of Anthrax’s Fistful of Metal. And the guitar solos, performed throughout by Mr. Turbo, are the musical high points of every song.
As meh as the music is, Steel and Turbo do manage to put on a sharper display of talent than singer Tanza Speed. According to the promo sheet, Speed has a trademark voice. She either left it at home, or her trademark is half-heartedly mumbling her way through each song with a paltry amount of skill, and with less enthusiasm for the lyrics than I have to keep listening. Her voice might be better suited to some sort of stoner punk outfit, but singing about gladiators and gods requires a bit of passion. A singer who could really belt it out would have been perfect for songs with titles like “Lightning Crashed” and “Gladiators (Gladiators).” Yeah, that last one is a real song title here.
Aphrodite go for that old-school speed metal sound on Lust and War. Think of the old Exciter albums that were butchered in the control room by Carl Canedy3. Here the sound isn’t quite as brutal. The band was clearly going for an “off the floor” aesthetic (even though that was physically impossible, with one guy playing everything), and to that extent they succeed. Speed’s poor vocals are high in the mix, which doesn’t help, but Turbo’s guitar solos sound sharp, and all of Steel’s work sort of blends into itself, with the exception of the handful of riffs I’ve already mentioned. If anyone longs for the early days of generic speed metal bands, Aphrodite will scratch that itch.
To their credit, Aphrodite knew what they wanted to accomplish here on Lust and War, and in a wafer-thin manner they did. The album sounds like any of the rash of speed metal bands that were rushed into production back in the early-to-mid 80s. And just like 35 years ago, when many of those efforts fell flat,4 Aphrodite have failed to engage us. A paucity of sharp songwriting and a lackadaisical vocal performance add up to the least engaging record I’ve heard this year. Back to the drawing board.