One of the things I find most curious about SUPERJOINT‘s third record, their first in over a decade, is the title itself. “The overall theme means many things, or no things, but there is an underlying message regardless about modern technology” deadpans Philip H. Anselmo and I have to say that society-wise he’s right, especially when you consider the paths that computerization, automation and AI has begun to take us down. But you could also extend Anselmo’s metaphor to the album itself too, which rather than evoking the toxic, yet groove-driven hardcore of A Lethal Dose of American Hatred or the war-hardened sludge-punk aggression of Use Once and Destroy, sets off down a new avenue to blitzkrieg us with a bewildering clash of styles, that, although no doubt extreme metal in nature, doesn’t sync together nearly as neatly as their early ‘00s classics.
No doubt a lot of the more recent shifts in sound are down to the Anselmo-ification of the rhythm section. New drummer Jose Manuel Gonzales (Warbeast) and bass-player Stephen Taylor (Wovenhand, 16 Horsepower) bring with them a stunning musical partnership that although breakneck in velocity and as tight as Steel Panther’s spandex, regularly fractures the rhythms up to the point of becoming inaccessible. Both players are also members of Anselmo-related project The Illegals, an altogether more extreme, warp-speed proposition which feels at odds with the once more Southern-fried, head-banging bile of the artists formerly known as SUPERJOINT RITUAL. Here the happy-smashing “Ruin You”, the pounding punk of “Rigging the Fight” and the Eyehategod-esque whirling dervishes of “Burning the Blanket” all blast through their 2.5 minutes with a slight sense of “so what?”
Anselmo’s vocals too are at times a talking point. Sure, the Down and ex-Pantera legend is as aggressive and intimidating in tone as ever, but there’s less clarity and true variation to his all-out throaty rasp on “Caught Up in the Gears of Application” as there once was on the likes of “Mouth for War” or “Stone the Crow”. Shouting “Shit the bed!”, “Shit comes out of it!” or “Yesterday’s fuck off, is tomorrow’s fuck you!” are hardly his finest lines, although it’s important to remember that this is 100% a hardcore record, not a sincere set of finely-crafted metal ANTHEMS.
The occasions when SUPERJOINT do cut through on Caught Up in the Gears of Application more clearly than others are when they take a step back from hammering the ears in top gear. “Sociopathic Herd Delusion” maims with the swagger of a punchy Southern sludge classic with a killer chorus, “Circling the Drain” has a Down-vibe wrapped up in an EHG layer of meaty bacon rind and “Asshole”, although with a riff so obviously indebted to Pantera’s “Walk”, does manage to harness the finesse of all five players to their full potential. But it’s closer “Receiving No Answer to the Knock”s intermingling of riff-soaked, chugging metal with a bleak lyrical hopelessness that steals away with the album’s shining moment of glory.
I sort of feel like Caught Up in the Gears of Application has a fucking awesome record lurking somewhere underneath it’s surface, but there’s too many cogs in the machine to really FEEL either the songs, Phil Anselmo’s modernity-questioning sentiments or the amp-destroying guitar duels of Kevin Bond and Jimmy Bower. The loose swing of the previous SUPERJOINT (Ritual) records is no longer intact, but is instead replaced with a permanent hardcore bombast that although genuine in terms of musicianship, never quite feels old skool or satisfying enough to truly hit home.
Last modified: 12 December 2016