Recently I’ve developed a newfound appreciation for thrash metal. I never used to dig it, but somewhere in the last few years, something must have clicked. However, the sub-genre of crossover thrash was still foggy to me, which made me hesitant to review it. But the combo of the ridiculously cool name Siberian Meat Grinder and title Metal Bear Stomp were too much to resist. Topping that with an equally ridiculous album cover, with a 60 foot bear dressed in bullet chains and a cape stomping his soldier boots into a panicking mob, I felt it was my sworn duty to brush up on my crossover and expose the masses to the Russian quintet. Now if only the music follows suit…
The defining characteristic of SMG is the vocals. About half of them consist of Agnostic Front gang vocals, the catchy choruses in particular. They invite shouting and stomping along, which should make it a particularly popular feature in concerts. Whipping the crowd further into a frenzy is the masked Vladimir the Grand Tormentor (possibly a stage name.) His acidic rapid-fire lyrics are spat with a clear hip-hop influence, following in Biohazard’s footprints. As such, it’s fairer to judge him on terms of rap than singing, and his flow is excellent, striking a perfect parallel to the pace of the percussion while keeping a raspy, biting and suitably aggressive tone. The two styles work best when they combine and exchange rapidly, as demonstrated by “No Way Back,” where the gang vocals punctuate Vladimir’s spit-flecked tirade.
In terms of instrumentation and songwriting, Bear Stomp keeps up with (my brief study of) the genre overall: loud and fast, but with little complexity to speak of. The tracks are structurally simple, verses and choruses with a bridge or solo inbetween. The guitars consist of high-speed chugging, basic thrash riffs, and brief but blistering solos that are shred with perfect control. The drums hit hard and fast, and the pace rarely drops below scorching. This does cause problems for the variety, and indeed, most of the tracks sound more or less the same. Mid-paced interlude “Enter Bearface” and the unexpected power metal influences in “Eternal Crusade” attempt to remedy this, but only partially succeed. The choruses are actually fairly catchy, and these create more variety than the tracks mentioned above, being the most distinctive features. The title track is a good example; although the chorus isn’t quite up to snuff on the grit and stomp, the gang choir vocal lines have a good hook that make it recognizable.
The production holds few surprises. Vocals take the front of the stage, and the bass would benefit from a little more oomph, but overall the mix is solid and well-considered. The drums are heavy on the snares, which accentuates the frenzied pace, but leaves the bottom-end a little dry when coupled with the undersold bass. The fairly loud master is similarly expected, but it suits the adrenaline-pumping ride. If anything, the sound could have used more grit: the guitar tone is smoother than the raspy raps of Vladimir or the rambunctious hooligan choir seem to evoke. These aren’t major complaints, but it’s little touches like these that could have elevated a good album to a better one.
Siberian Meat Grinder have their eyes set on one goal: bashing the listener into a bloody pulp with baseball bats straight to the ears. Minor flaws take away a blow or two, but in the flurry they don’t get a chance to really drag the album down. Metal Bear Stomp has a bad attitude and no time for prisoners. If all Russians are this angry, I don’t think I’d be quick to walk the streets there, but I have no problem blasting their hip-hop infused crossover to get a sample of the potential brain damage. This genre newbie certainly could have had a worse entree.