Just before Halloween, we tipped you off to a new "Mixtape from Hell" from hooded horror/sci-fi rockers Ghoul, and at the end of that piece we promised you'd be hearing more about these cats when their new album Transmission Zero descends to Earth. That day has come, brothers and sisters, and your humble reviewer has bravely put himself in the path of their brutal onslaught of thrash metal, surf-rock and half-a-dozen other genres, in order to prepare you for the imminent Ghoul invasion. So slip on your "Voorhees of Crystal Lake" designer burlap sack & coveralls ensemble (as in Friday the 13th Part 2, for those two or three of you who didn't catch that) and get yourselves ready for some of the wildest, weirdest horror metal this side of Creepsylvania...
These masked madmen from Oakland, CA, who go by the names Digestor (guitar & vocals), Dissector (guitar), Cremator (bass & vocals), Fermentor (drums & vocals) and Mr. Fang ("Coffins and Curios"), have developed a cult following for blending rock styles that, in theory, seem to clash like the ingredients of Shaggy & Scooby's late-night sandwich. But in practice, the band crashes those elements together with such manic energy that the whole thing achieves a kind of nuclear fusion that threatens to blow the doors off any room they play... or short-circuit your earbuds until your skull implodes.
It's no wonder they've been invited to tour with the likes of GWAR, who take their own patented shock-rock to insane extremes. Ghoul keep things a bit simpler onstage – not necessarily because of budget limitations, but more likely by choice; without tons of elaborate props, puppets and pyro, the band creates the feeling that a family of actual backwoods psychos have taken over the stage, and you'd better not cross them unless you want to get gutted, skinned and turned into furniture.
Creepy synth sounds reminiscent of an '80s slasher soundtrack open the album in "The Lunatic Hour," a beefy instrumental stew of thrash, speed and hardcore interspersed with dark and ominous power chords and no-nonsense lead guitar. The first lyrical cut "Off With Their Heads" turns up the heat with a blend of black metal and death metal verses and hardcore choruses, setting up the band's horror mythos with hilariously gore-drenched lyrics ("Viciously hacking with jagged-edged blades/Dissector laughed as they bled/Cremator burnt off their lips and their ears/Fermentor was heard to have said/Off with their heads!"). "Destructor" announces his (its?) arrival with savage cyborg roars, leading to a dark and dirty assault of death riffage and guttural vocals.
But don't get too comfortable with the old-school death/thrash vibe, because that all gets thrown to the wolves with the arrival of "Death in the Swamp," a surf punk mini-anthem that lifts its main riff straight from Iggy Pop's title theme for Repo Man. Being a huge fan of that film, I was able to roll with this cut very nicely, especially with the fat, raunchy drop-tuning and deadly accurate lead guitar harmonies. "The Mark of Voodoo" brings just a touch of those punk elements over, but mostly toes the line of '80s thrash for its tale of ancient zombie rites... a theme that continues in "Brain Jerk," with a punchy pit-beating number reminiscent of early GWAR, featuring surreal, exotic drug-themed lyrics ("Crystalline thought-waves, luminous gloom/Organic magma, edible doom") and a nice round-robin of solos to close it out, making it one of the most memorable tracks on the record. "Blood Feast" opens with horror sound effects before getting down and dirty for a fist-raising horror metal anthem – complete with a list of ingredients like "The haunch of a child/Cooked to perfection, spicy or mild" and "A sputum soup/Presented cold, a nasally goop." For sheer outrageousness alone, this one's another keeper.
Electronic atmospheres and doomy chords herald the eight-minute dirge "Morning of the Mezmetron," which picks up to a double-time tempo for a haunting, rumbling climax. The title track follows, bringing back some of the surf punk elements to tell a tale of diabolical mind control as the terrifying Mezmetron begins to send out its signal. It's a cool sampling of Ghoul's crazy-quilt of influences, and represents the album well. "Tooth and Claw" rips along at a maniacal pace, with a variety of vocal styles, representing different monstrous characters, carried along on a crusty wave of technical death metal. The record closes with the thundering, raunchy anthem "Metallicus Ex Mortis," which musically demonstrates the effect of the band's evil sonic transmissions on a hapless nerd.
When the worlds of thrash, punk, surf, death and hardcore collide with such insane force, there's a risk that the resulting explosion will be too much to handle... but not so for Ghoul, whose knack for pitch-black humor, clever lyrical storytelling (this is a concept album, after all) and solid hooks succeeds in stitching the scattered material together into a hulking altered beast... I'm not sure exactly what kind of creature we're dealing with here, but to borrow from John Carpenter's The Thing, it's weird and pissed-off.
Still not convinced? Well then, just park yourself in the comfy chair (no matter what – or who – it's made of) and listen to a few Transmission Zero tracks below!