Okay, so, this piece needs some backstory. You see, it was originally going to be about Tarja‘s In the Raw, because that album is legitimately very good, with sharp hooks and mature songwriting. However, it didn’t make my list proper. But this monstrosity did. The most ridiculous, stupid-fun, bouncy metal album I heard this year. Russia’s Tardigrade Inferno released their debut Mastermind back in January, but I didn’t catch it until February. It hasn’t left my rotation since, and I love it just as much now as I did then. Hence, a Thing You Definitely Missed.
Mastermind is one odd duck. Put one way, this album is literally my personality written into a metal record. Put another way, it’s a circus-tent nightmare from clown hell, and Frontierer happened to play there once and left their chunky guitar tone there by accident. What sets Tardigrade Inferno apart from the only other act on the planet that I know of who sounds remotely like these Ruskies—Stolen Babies1—is that their concoction of dark cabaret and metal is more straightforward and therefore way more fun. Cheesy? Hell-fucking-yeah. Yet, every microsecond of Mastermind claws deeper and deeper into my brain with every single riff or chorus or synth lead, of which there are multitudes.
Take the opening track, “All Tardigrades Go to Hell,” as the template for the album as a whole. Darya Pavlovich hosts The Greatest Show Under a Microscope with her sometimes sneering, sometimes quasi-operatic ringmastery. Maxim Belekhov and Alexander Pavlovich follow right behind with an elephantine riff that will stomp your skull flat. Keyboardist Viktor Posokhin further ensnares my imagination with eerie calliopes and buzzing synths, and drummer Andrew “Drew” [LAST NAME REDACTED] provides a dynamic, albeit not at all technical, rhythmic backbone to support this colorful cannon of confetti and carnage.
Things get silly very quickly after that. “Hypnosis,” “Dreadful Song,” and “Alabama Song” maximize on Witchyworld-ready whimsy, but once again the riffs use the upbeat instrumentation as leverage to smash your face in with a Fist-in-a-Box. Instrumental “Precourse” comes next, smartly bisecting Tardigrade Inferno‘s debut into two segments. In this second half, songs like “Church Asylum,” “All Pigs are the Same,” and Song o’ the Year Finalist “Mastermind” feel more story-driven and tinged with villainy, but in a playful way. Plus, you get not one but two fantastic covers: System of a Down‘s “Marmalade” and “We Are Number One” from Lazy Town. Both of them are as faithful as they are absolutely ridonkulous.
Mastermind is certainly not perfect. As consistently insane as it is, it’s definitely also an acquired taste for many. At the same time, Tardigrade Inferno offer something truly rarefied in my world. I normally hate cabaret music, with very few exceptions (almost all of them found in videogames). And yet, here I am, spewing nonsense about a cabaret metal album that everyone else here will probably hate, but which I love with the burning passion of a million firecrackers. What a time to be alive!
Tracks to Check Out: “All Tardigrades Go to Hell,” “Dreadful Song,” “Clown Therapy,” “Mastermind,” “We Are Number One”