I've been following the career of notorious Phoenix, AZ horror-rock trio Calabrese since the earliest days of FEARNET, beginning with their awesome second album The Traveling Vampire Show. In a music genre spawned by the likes of the Misfits and the Damned and filled with countless imitators, the team of Bobby, Davey and Jimmy Calabrese have not only risen up from the underground to distinguish themselves from the pack, but they've managed to carve out a sweet bit of hellbilly turf to to call their very own, and populated it with colorful and spooky characters from horror movies, shows, books, comics and the like. But while their macabre but romantic themes and playful horror image have served them very well all these years, the time comes for any dedicated artist to grow and evolve... and with their fifth full-length album Born With a Scorpion's Touch, the brothers Calabrese have taken that evolutionary step with exceptional smoothness.
While all the vintage horror-punk & psychobilly elements are still recognizable and delivered with the same vampiric romanticism, Scorpion's Touch taps into an even more vintage groove, drawing on elements of classic rock and metal and toning down some (but not all) of the punk aggression in favor of a pervasive darkness. While this more somber feel might not go down so well with some fans hungry for fist-pumping anthems, to me this feels like a natural step forward for a band with no worries about tarnishing their horror-punk cred. The title track (also the first single) perfectly captures the transition between the playful monster romps of the past and the new record's more bittersweet tone, with more subdued harmonies and darker chord progressions – as you can hear in this excellent clip, which kicks off with a loving nod to horror's VHS era.
I particularly enjoyed the subtle creep of the down-tempo tune "I Wanna Be a Vigilante" and the smooth, Elvis-like vocals of "There is an Evil Inside," but there's still plenty of wild energy to be found in cuts like "At Night I am the Warmest," which takes a cue from vintage Ramones and Social Distortion, and "Loner at Heart" infuses that same sound with thick, expansive metal-style guitar multi-tracking. The riffs are consistently powerful and ultra-dark, particularly on tracks like “Mindwarp,” and the ominous, reverb-soaked chords and rattling beats of "Danger" showcase their gothic side. They find another perfect balance between gloom and fury on the fantastic “I Ride Alone” – which for me ranks among the darkest and most memorable songs the band's ever written.
While there's less midnight-movie playfulness at the heart of Scorpion's Touch, it's still pure Calabrese through and through; it proves that the band can find an emotional resonance within the genre without sacrificing the menace and sense of doom that they've always managed to capture with ease. It's definitely a more refined record, but no less powerful, and ventures to a more intimate place to dig up its tales of horror, sadness and doom.