It’s funny how bands try to embellish their true nature through genre tags sometimes. Metalcore often tries to lay claim to melodic death metal, probably because it causes less out-of-hand rejection. Progressive metal promos are a minefield of djent bands, which can be progressive but are often anything but. Another one to be wary of is groove metal. Groove metal doesn’t have a great reputation in and of itself, and it’s bound to degrade further with the amount of nu-metal bands co-opting the term. Blacklist-9 (written randomly with or without hyphen even on the band’s own sources) ostensibly play groove metal. Wanna guess where I’m going with this paragraph?
Lord Steel demands we dig deep for something positive to say on even the worst albums. One curious thing bands from the groove- nu- metal and -core corner of the market have in common is that they often have excellent bass, and this is no exception. It’s got a delightful fat thrum, though the guitar often overshadows it in the mix, and focussing on it can relieve some of the pain the rest of the music brings.
Because the rest of the album is a parade of the worst things groove and nu-metal have to offer, and brother, that is pretty fucking awful. The songwriting is so neanderthalian I can feel my forehead bulge as the album progresses. The riffs are lowest denominator chug-fests, devoid of personality, but that’s just standard suck. One of the things that make me just about spray vomit from my ears is the insane amount of guitar squeals employed through the entire album, like trying to make music by scraping a fucking chalkboard. I could write an essay on the ways “Madness” is among the most grating songs I have ever laid ears on, but actually constructing riffs out of these godawful squeals is high on the list. These things are a staple of the genre, and they can be effective in very small doses. But when all you have is a hammer, please brain me with it before I have to hear how unbelievably overused they are on Mentally Ill again.
But the vocals absolutely deserve their own paragraph, because if the guitar squeals are grating, these are like being dragged through gravel ear-first by a fucking train. Imagine Gilbert Gottfried being unironically aggressive and you’re not far off. Every time he holds a note for more than a half-second I get actual violent muscle spasms in sheer horror. This album doubles as a torture method and a workout. His growl is actually not bad and brings a brief respite, but before you get comfortable, there comes “Madness” again, where he brings out his Rage Against the Machine angry rapper persona. Occasionally he uses clean vocals too. They’re not an improvement, with his nasal timbre and difficulty holding key. Top this dumpster fire with a fecal glaze of tough guy lyrics, and you have the most tongue-chewingly irritating vocal performance of the year, maybe the decade.
Groove metal can be a lot of fun, just look at Pantera and the better half of Machine Head’s discography. Blacklist-9 ignore that, take the worst parts of the genre (like the other half of Machine Head’s discography) and supplement worse riffs, guitar squealing that could kill a rhino, and the most teeth-shatteringly irritating vocals since Shakira. Apparently the band started off as a father-son bonding project. I would suggest going to the shooting range instead, or fishing or something. Anything that isn’t Blacklist-9, because listening to Mentally Ill I get the feeling I now know what it’s like to go into anaphylactic shock. I need two epi-pens to jam into my ears. What an absolutely horrible experience listening to this album is.