(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recording review - 45 Grave, Pick Your Poison (2012)

Resurrected death rockers get an eclectic reincarnation

Classic deathrockers 45 Grave are back, disinterred by original member Dinah Cancer. Actually, she reformed the band in 2004, after a long hiatus. Cancer resurrected 45 Grave to "keep the spirit of 45 Grave alive, introduce its magic to new fans." The current lineup, including the legendary Frank Agnew (The Adolescents), has finally recorded the band's first new album in decades. While Pick Your Poison features some of the Gothic flavor of their original work, the songs are an eclectic mix of styles. It's a fun album, with some interesting twists and turns, but it's hard to recognize this project as a logical progression from their earlier sound.

Pick Your Poison has chameleon vibe, bouncing from classic hard rock to funk metal, with a side trip to retro psychedelia. 45 Grave surfs through these changes with strong musical chops and solid production. The one constant from the band's roots, Cancer brings plenty of personality and attitude to the songs. The band makes their evolution clear from the beginning on the title track. Pick Your Poison starts with a steady high hat and bass intro that sets up a post punk groove. There's a taste of funk on the bass line, but Cancer's vocal injects some attitude into the backbone. Her voice is a little rough with a wicked sneer creeping in.
You are like a toxin in me
Pick your poison today
You are like a venom in me
Name your poison
The dark themed lyrics feel familiar, but the polished arrangement and subtle turnaround bridge are new masks for 45 Grave.

The next song is back in the band's classic sound. The original Night of the Demons was the title track for a 2009 horror movie remake. This rerecording is slightly slower, but the sinuous bass and guitar riffs are wicked as ever. The doom-filled verses crunch like classic AC-DC. Cancer rasps and screams her way through the tune, emulating John Lydon's swooping vocal delivery.

The high energy peak is Akira. This reworking of Akira Raideen (Only The Good Die Young) distills the song down to tightly focused funk. Skipping the slow intro, Brandden Blackwell's bass sets a heavy groove and Agnew's guitar jams off the signature riff. Cancer adjusts her vocal to match the new feel. Her voice is still expressive, but it's less over the top. Where the original deconstructed into a wild experimental flail, the new version kicks into short breakdown before a metallic solo jam. Blackwell shifts into a looser melodic style while Agnew shreds. This kind of focus and attention to detail is indicative of 45 Grave's new sound.

Even in the grab bag of musical genres represented on Pick Your Poison, a couple of tracks stand out as complete outliers. Desert Dream is a moody, piano-driven psychedelic instrumental. The slide guitar and pensive moments suggest a lot of time unwinding to Pink Floyd in the headphones. It's a solid piece of music, with a carefully developed beauty, but is it 45 Grave? In stark contrast, Johnny offers another extreme. It's a cowpunk foot stomper. It's a little easier to see the through line from the band's normal haunts, but it will still leave listeners scratching their heads.

This lineup of 45 Grave has good chemistry. It's certainly worthy of Cancer's efforts. Toss out the farthest outlying extremes and Pick Your Poison holds together fairly well. All the same, if they want to continue this eclectic direction, it might be time for a name change...even if the band continues to perform the old back catalog.

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