Sometimes, rarely, there is value in a stupid band name, the kind of band name that causes one to double-take, think “surely not,” and pry open the battered, stained crate in the promo bin, if only for more information. So it is with Pounder, side project of Exhumed and Gruesome‘s Matt Harvey, Carcass newcomer Tom Draper, and Nausea’s Alejandro Corredor. Despite the death metal pedigrees of the musicians, that dreadful name telegraphs everything you need to know about what to expect: brainless, cheesy, and oh so 80s. Synthesizing a NWoBHM core with splashes of hair metal and softer AOR for flavor, Pounder assembled in 2016, cut a quick EP , and are finally stepping up to the plate proper with a debut record in the Year of our Jørn 2019. Does Uncivilized live up to the glorious stupidity/brilliance of the band name, or do we have a big platter of wasted opportunity?
Surprisingly for what by all appearances is an excuse to just fuck around in the studio, Harvey and company bring their seasoned instrumental chops to bear in full force, offering engaging riffs, licks, and solos aplenty. Draper in particular is a wizard on the fretboard, with his lead work showcasing the craft and melodic sensibilities that must have prompted Carcass to snatch him up last year. Particular standouts go to the title track, “We Want the Night,” and weighty, introspective ballad “Answer the Call.” Corredor and Harvey are not to be ignored either, of course; the former’s bass especially forms a solid rhythmic bass for Draper to branch out from, and “Night” features a particularly good bass solo. The musicianship is tight, the record is well paced and a decent length at 42 minutes, all should be well with the world, right?
Ah, but two significant problems rear their heads. The first lies with the songwriting. Bluntly, a style like this, in the modern era, requires striking the right balance of sincerity and ironic detachment to really nail, and these guys miss the mark. Every track is smeared with far too thick a layer of ironic self-congratulation; by far the hardest hit is “Long Time No Love,” a the-one-that-got-away ballad that manages to be mesmerizingly awful, which pulls off the hat trick of being obnoxiously smarmy, brainlessly horndog, and sappy in the way only a hair ballad can be. Further, closing track “The Evil One” squanders the chance to close out a tight 37-minute joint with the triumphant “Answer the Call,” instead screwing around with cutesy hurr-durr Satanism for over five minutes. I’m also not in love with the tendency to fall back on power chords rather than riffs for the chorus, but that’s a much lesser complaint.
The second major problem is Harvey. Even as a non-fan of Gruesome,1 Harvey’s growls are rather solid, and a major component of what makes their brand of OSDM work, but he is not a singer. Unlike other bad singers I’ve covered in the past, however, this problem is not really surmountable: for a man with a decently forceful growl, his singing voice is weak and paper-thin. He constantly sounds painfully strained, to the point that even the quieter backing parts from the other two are obviously meatier. Thankfully, as mentioned, the instrumental work is solid across the board, both from the core band and from session drummer Gus Rios. The production, courtesy of Corredor, is more or less fine with the mix more than adequate for a basic heavy metal sound like this, though there are times where the rhythm guitar gets lost in the shuffle. The master, per usual, is a bit squashed, but it’s not too bad here.
All told, Uncivilized is a basic heavy metal record, albeit heavier on the cheese than expected. It’s decent to crack open a cold one to, but fails to offer much in the way of staying power or substance in the end.