There are a few genres that tend to be whipping boys in reviewer circles, hard as we might try to weed out such partisanship. Alt-metal in particular tends to be somewhat divisive, with kvlt types eschewing it as mainstream hackery, and more refined types likewise eschewing it as lowbrow idiocy. Yet others like myself, due to the diffuse nature of the subgenre and its near-universal tendency to approach metal from outside rather than from preexisting archetypes, find it difficult to frame both aesthetically and critically; it also doesn’t help that like with its distant cousins1 nu metal and post-grunge, the quality control is often poor at best. Against this backdrop I find myself assessing questionably-named Swiss not-quite-newcomers Down to the Bunker, finally releasing debut album Misery after years of struggling with an unstable lineup and an uncertain future. They bill themselves as alt-metal with a side of hardcore, which, while possibly more metal-adjacent than metal proper, is close enough for our purposes.
Here at the Angry Metal Gristmill(icus), we always try to start with positives, but… there ain’t much of that here. Arguably the best track shouldn’t even be here; the slow, creepingly sinister “Lost In the Desert” sounds lost in the studio, more like a misplaced Rorcal track than anything else on Misery. The album’s other bright spots tend to be when the hardcore influences breach the sea of alt-metal blandness, as on the bristly, rushing “Ethics.” Much of the overall sonic palette is focused on groove (a problem for reasons I’ll get to in a moment), and while most of them are milquetoast at best, the great standout is slinky penultimate track “Machine.”
However, “Machine” is in turn thoroughly ruined by its lyrics, a batch of posturing machismo that gives Five Finger Death Punch a run for their money2. The rhythm section as a whole tends toward being as lumpy as spoiled dairy with uneven drumming unable to gel with the languid basswork, while the lead riffage (where riffs are actually in play) is insipid and uninspired barring the previously-mentioned exceptions. The melodic side of things trends into the trite as well, particularly on the bland closer “Alive,” the screamy but rail-thin “Waves,” and the extended and unnecessarily blissed out back half of opener “Mother.” The bulk of the album is mostly unmemorable and bland, offering just enough impression to remind one of the dulcet tones of Creed or third-tier Rise Against3.
Much of the problem lies, as it often does, with the production. The poor bassist is arguably worst off, as while it’s nice and prominent in the mix, a baffling decision was made to use a horribly obnoxious “twungy” tone, turning the prominence into an active hindrance. The vocalist is little better, reaching for commanding with his roaring mid-baritone, but invariably sounding more like a drunken Minotaur with a sinus infection. The guitars are better, with an appropriately buzzy tone, but are more than a bit quiet, frequently buried by the bass and vocals, as is the drumwork. Given how radio-friendly this is trying to be (and not really succeeding), the master being crushed into oblivion is hardly surprising, but it’s still a serious problem and aggravates the other production issues.
All told, Misery is nothing I can recommend to basically anyone. It’s too brusque and ugly to really fit a mainstream niche and too meat-headed for a more metal audience, while also failing basically any metric for br00tality. It might fare better with punk fans, but even there it’s a little too round-edged to my ear.