Review

Review

Polkadot Cadaver: 'Last Call in Jonestown' – CD Review

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Featuring two members of notorious alt-metal unit Dog Fashion Disco (frontman Todd Smith and guitarist Jasan Stepp), Maryland-based “psychedelic metal” band Polkadot Cadaver essentially carries on the former group's bizarre and experimental aesthetic, with the same emphasis on macabre themes. They've toured with FEARnet faves like Wednesday 13, Wayne Static, and William Control, and this week they made “The Devil's Dozen” on Sirius XM's station Liquid Metal. I'm kind of surprised they haven't broken bigger among horror, metal and dark rock fans, but I'm gonna do my best to improve that situation here. 
 
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Their third album, which goes by the magnificently tasteless handle Last Call in Jonestown (following the equally warped but not nearly as heavy 2011 release Sex Offender), is a prime example of their dark, aggressive and slightly schizo sound. The band dubs this project “heavy as Zeus's balls,” and I think that's as good a summation of their sound as I can think of; they crash avant-garde, progressive, thrash, groove and industrial metal genres together in a bloody pile-up that sounds much more cohesive than you might imagine, with a sardonic delivery reminiscent of the many projects of Mike Patton (Fantomas and Mr. Bungle in particular).
 
The title track establishes this all-bets-are-off attitude by laying down the album's heaviest, most merciless riffage right out of the gate. As implied, the lyrics are based on the infamous Jonestown cult massacre of 1978 (complete with the requisite Jim Jones soundbite), and Smith is no stranger to true crime and mass-murder themes, so the subject matter comes as no surprise... but the song still packs a shock, thanks to a brutal delivery, an expansive mix and some creepy atmospheric sequences. Here's the video: it's technically safe for work, but probably not for the easily offended...
 
 
Despite the morbid overture, a more playful horror-rock vibe dominates about half of this record... best heard in "Phantasmagoria," with its string samples and dark carnival touches; the thick chugs and atonal chords of "Sheer Madness," aided by manic, mischievous vocals (Smith's falsetto, like Mike Patton's, is often used for darkly comic effect); and the blood-curdling "Impure Thoughts," featuring some of the band's best production... plus there's a theremin-like touch at the midpoint that's pure horror gold. My fave from this bunch is the creepy "Touch You Like Caligula,” a mainly bass-driven piece with multi-tracked vocal chants, alternating time signatures and appropriately demented lyrics. Spin it here:
 
 
Another key element to this record is an unpredictable pattern of stylistic change-ups – like the schizo track "Painkiller," alternating light piano patterns with avant-garde guitar riffs while Smith's vocals ping-pong between a jazzy croon and a rough-edged, passionate tenor; "Animal Kingdom" is even more divided, alternating between bright and perky verses (with muted trumpet), blistering hard rock and crunchy groove metal. Tight instrumentation and chaotic production collide in "All the King’s Men," which sports some of the album's harshest vocals, but also one of their rare upbeat choruses, so prepare to be slapped around by this one too. Cuts like "Rats and Black Widows" and "Lunatic" blend dirty hard rock riffs with Goblin-like synth patterns; the latter doubles down on pop and electro rhythms, creating an urgent, danceable energy that'll make you sweat. Neil Fallon of cult metal icons Clutch lends his manic but soulful vocals to "Transistors of Mercy," a cyber-metal beast with some of the album's best hooks (and decidedly Clutch-like lyrics). The album closes on the groovy “Epilogue,” with a surprisingly romantic tone conjured by light percussion, smooth guitar/synth washes and pristine vocal harmonies.
 
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I won't lie – this album will slap you around like a cat toy for most of its runtime. But you know what? It's worth it. A musical dynamic that alternately shocks and soothes is hard to pull off without creating serious ear and brain fatigue, but this band's musicianship helps balance the scales, and their sense of mischief and macabre humor seals the deal for me. Find out for yourself when Last Call in Jonestown drops next Tuesday via Polkadot's own label, Razor to Wrist Records. If you dig it, the band is getting ready to kick off a US headline tour, with support from One Eyed Doll and Exotic Animal Petting Zoo. You can viddy the list of dates and venues at their official Facebook page.
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