Don't be deceived by the goofy title; the new full-length album from Italy's Destrage is armed with twisted, face-melting metal, wrapped tightly around themes of horror, violence, oppression and death. Our first proper introduction to the band came early this year in the form of the music video for “My Green Neighbour,” a kick-ass ode to the living dead dramatized by a pair of zombies competing in the 5K Warrior Dash obstacle course.
We followed up with our World Premiere of “Purania,” a creepy animated mini-epic depicting a terrifying near-future dystopia. It's finally time to check out Destrage's third studio album in its entirety, and it turns out all the positive advance buzz is well-deserved; early releases Urban Being and The King is Fat 'N' Old are impressive displays of their vast talent, but in the end they're mere appetizers for the musical feast they've brought to the table here.
Photo: Michael Gardenia Photography
Like the band itself, Are You Kidding Me nearly defies description: moments of pure musical chaos dissolve into smooth progressive soundscapes; playful lyrics turn evil without warning (then shoot you a knowing wink); ultra-technical shreddage – which in the wrong hands would come off as goofy showboating – reveals complex, intricate patterns; humor and horror battle for supremacy within the lyrics of every song; and eerie electronic elements weave smoothly into the mix, even taking complete control at unexpected moments. In fact, I'm gonna go with that word “unexpected,” because it applies to nearly every aspect of this record; Destrage harness the forces of chaos in ways that might have made notorious occultist Aleister Crowley jealous.
From the word go, the explosive opening track "Destroy Create Transform Sublimate" reveals an interlocking puzzle of multiple genres – including death, groove and symphonic metal, speedy thrash, punk, progressive rock... even a flurry of drum & bass. Frontman Paolo Colavolpe easily rides that ever-changing wave of styles, sliding so seamlessly between shrill, guttural and smoothly melodic vocals that I had to double-check my notes to confirm he's the band's sole vocalist. The band has often been compared favorably with Mike Patton's legendary avant-garde project Mr. Bungle, and I think those parallels start with Paolo's sly vocal delivery, but the overall songwriting and violent collision of genres also recalls Patton's devilish eccentricity; those similarities come across clearly in cuts like the oddly-named “ – (Obedience),” albeit mashed up with a grunge-style melodic hook.
It's followed by the double gut-punch of the album's two leading singles: the dark and eccentric anti-anthem "Purania" (which features a startling folksy break) and the hilariously frantic undead ode "My Green Neighbour," the latter being one of the album's few relatively straightforward tracks (along with the equally furious “G.O.D.”), delivered with a ballsy punk sensibility and a raunchy sense of humor that makes it one of the best zombie-themed songs ever recorded.
Memorable moments come fast and furious with the holy-shit incredible "Where the Things Have No Colour," an emotionally rich work that begins with a lush acoustic passage before transitioning into an awesome blend of prog-metal riffs and huge layers of clean vocal harmonies, adding up to a truly career-defining piece. Other high watermarks include the old-school heavy rocker “Waterpark Bachelorette," which showcases the polyrhythmic skills of drummer Federico Paulovich and sports some warm solo work from lead guitarist Matteo Di Gioia, and "Before, After and All Around" gets a huge kick up via a bizarro country breakdown. The title track closes the album on an apocalyptic note, with a superb guest turn by Guns 'N' Roses axe virtuoso Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal that blows the doors off at the two-minute mark before segueing into a wild Mariachi-style break (no, seriously!), setting up a stylish spaghetti-western coda. It's an amazing final curtain on a truly epic record.
Photo: Emanuela Giurano
Dense and twisted, totally unpredictable and delivered at whiplash-inducing tempos with a huge emotional range, Are You Kidding Me? No. is one of the best metal albums to come down the chute in 2014. Sure, the year's barely begun, but it's honestly hard to imagine too many contenders rising to the challenge just yet when it comes to original and challenging releases on the extreme fringe of the musical terrain... my favorite place to explore, of course. It's now available in North America via Metal Blade Records, so check it out pronto.