Sunday, March 27, 2022

CRASHDIET "Automaton"


(c)2022 Crusader/Golden Robot Records

  1. Automaton
  2. Together Whatever
  3. Shine On
  4. No Man's Land
  5. Darker Minds
  6. Dead Crusade
  7. Powerline (feat. Michael Starr)
  8. Resurrection of the Damned
  9. We Die Hard
  10. Shell Shock
  11. Unbroken
  12. I Can't Move On (Without You)
Gabriel Keyes--Vocals
Martin Sweet--Guitars
Peter London--Bass
Eric Young--Drums

After four years (and a pandemic), Crashdiet comes storming back to the scene with album number 6, Automaton, due to hit the streets April 29.  Retaining 3/4 of the same line-up since 2002, and now releasing album number two with Keyes on vocals, the band continues to evolve in subtle ways, which fans either love...or loathe...depending upon how they feel about growth of their musical heroes.

As they did with their previous album, Rust, Crashdiet continues to take things in a slightly heavier, slightly edgier direction than they did on the must-own classic, Rest In Sleaze, or any of the albums that followed.  This time around, I find the songwriting to be a bit stronger, the songs a bit more catchy, and the hooks a bit deeper-digging than on Rust, which admittedly was a grower of an album for me.  Heavier and punchier than the band's earlier material, and perhaps a bit less sleazy, Automaton is Crashdiet for 2022, not for 2002, and people need to understand that when heading into this album.

Now, that sounds like a warning of some sort, but it truly isn't.  I just get frustrated when bands aren't allowed to grow and fans think they want to hear the same record over and over and over.  But honestly, no one wants to hear Shout At The Devil every time Crue releases a record, do they?  Do you want to continuously hear Pyromania (or Hysteria)?  Is Master Of Puppets what you hope to hear each time Metallica drops a new album?  Then why does everyone think Crashdiet should keep trying to re-record Rest In Sleaze?  So, I guess I will backtrack a bit and say that this IS a warning of sorts, because if you want to hear Rest In Sleaze II, you will be disappointed with Automaton.

So, what will you hear on the new record.  The album kicks off with a throw away intro, "Automaton", which is basically just 39 seconds of guitars moaning and wailing with no real structure before Keyes snarls, "Alright motherf**kers", and the album officially kicks off.

"Together Whatever" screams to life with a muscular guitar riff and punchy drums as Keyes spits and sneers through the first verse into the layered vocals and gang shouted "whoa-ohs!" of the chorus.  Sweet continues to impress with his skills, both in the rhythm riffing and the big, full-scale soloing that fill this galloping rocker, and it is apparent Crashdiet is intent upon crushing the eardrums of the listener.

"Shine On" slows the tempo a bit, but ups the heft of the track, with big...BIG...drums and crunchy rhythm guitars on this angrier rocker that breaks down into a a chunky, "hey! hey! hey!" fist-pumping chant section that is absolutely awesome to hear!  Some electronics wind their way into the mix as Sweet churns through another solo, and Keyes sounds completely dominant here, really stepping into his own with the powerful delivery of the vocals here.  Excellent stuff!

"No Man's Land" continues the sonic excellence with another riffy, crunchy track that just screams 80s metal, but updates the sound a bit.  The band really seems to have focused on refining their songwriting for this record, as everything seems much tighter, and the song construction on "No Man's Land" is absolutely top-notch, with a huge chant-along chorus and plenty of room for Keyes to put his powerful range on display.  I absolutely LOVE this song, which I would probably consider to be the second best on an album that is crammed full of great material.

"Darker Minds" slows things down to a more mid-tempo but still punchy pace, and Crashdiet toys with a more modern rock sound.  Still melodic, still chock full of guitar hooks, "Darker Minds" is...well...darker, both in its performance and its style, with a melodic rock version of a breakdown leading into a shorter solo from Sweet and a sweeping vocal bridge that drives the track directly into a final couple of runs through the chorus.  

"Dead Crusade" brings things back to more familiar territory for Crashdiet fans who may be wondering where all of the sleaze went.  Its still there in places throughout the album, but as I mentioned, Crashdiet has adjusted course a bit and has slid into a more metallic groove than on earlier records.  "Dead Crusade" is definitely 80s METAL inspired, with the machine run drums and matching rhythm riffs, but Keyes vocals take on more of a sleazy sneer here than in any place on the previous handful of tracks, and Sweet's guitar solo here is CRAZY big, with all sorts of string bending swales of sound screaming to life.  I'm positive a goofy grin crossed my face when this song ended because what I have wanted to hear from someone for quite some time: melodic-yet-unmistakably METALLIC fun.  There are no pretenses here at all; this is just an updated version of an 80s metallic assault on the senses with Sweet going off in a big way, and me going straight to the repeat button several times before moving onto the next track.

I'm not really sure why Mike Starr from Steel Panther was brought in for "Powerline", as Crashdiet certainly doesn't need any bolstering, and certainly not from a joke band like Steel Panther.  Regardless, "Powerline" is yet another dominating track, albeit a bit more in the melodic vein than some of the other songs on Automaton.  Backing a bit off the pace of the more blistering material here, "Powerline" delivers a smoother, more melodic take on the Crashdiet sound, utilizing Keyes huge voice exceptionally well, especially on the chorus, where he really elevates the range.  Starr's vocal turn on verse two is actually very well done and is proof positive Steel Panther could be a really good band if they would drop the "everything is about sex" euphemisms and innuendo.  Sweet's solo here is, once again, well worth the listen, and Young's drumming is, as always, extremely tight and punchy.

"Resurrection Of The Damned" returns to the metallic attack, with machine-gun-like rhythm guitars introing the track, and punishing drums and a thick, rumbling bass combining to absolutely steamroll the listener.  Probably the sleaziest of the tracks here, "Resurrection Of The Damned" shows the band is perfectly capable of digging into their past for stylistic inspiration, while still mixing in more metallic aggression than is typical of the sleaze sub-genre.  Keyes mixes in an extra edge of angst and sneer to his vocals, upping the nasty factor on a track that has no problems bubbling to the upper tier of tracks on this record, definitely top four for me.

"We Die Hard" is nowhere near as aggressive as the title may imply, and stylistically it is really unlike anything else on the record.  Definitely more in a modern melodic rock vein than the rest of the material, it is still catchy as heck, but incorporates some techniques that really don't show up anywhere else.  An effects-enhance vocal bridge is used after the second verse.  A tempo change with some serious drum work from Young leads into the guitar solo.  Even the solo focuses more on melodic delivery than blistering speed or metallic chords.  Definitely not a skipper, but it was wise of the band to place it this late in the tracklisting so as not to disrupt the flow of the record.

"Shell Shock" maintains the mid-tempo pace of "We Die Hard", but ups the grit and aggression.  The gang-shouted "Shell Shock!" portion of the chorus is guaranteed to incite fist-thrusting and chanting in the live setting, and Keyes digging into the lower register of his vocal range really adds to the dark, angry vibe of this crunchy rocker.  Good stuff.

"Unbroken" starts off on yet another darker chord, but brightens up a bit as the guitars become a bit more melodic by the time the verse section starts.  I like Sweet's guitar tone throughout this track...on this album, really...and the man sounds like he had a lot of fun coming up with not only different solos, but also different, unique rhythm guitar sections.  "Unbroken" incorporates both a sweeping solo and some rapid finger-tapping, as well as the chug-chug-chugga-chug of his rhythm playing...and then breaks down into a quiet interlude section...before bursting to life once again.  Yep, these Crashdiet guys are actually musicians, folks, and the songwriting here is excellent throughout the album, and the various nuances of "Unbroken" are excellent examples of this growth and development.

"I Can't Move On (Without You)", as you might expect, is a softer, tender moment on an album of pretty much non-stop aggression.  Centered solely on Sweet's acoustic guitars and Keye's vocals (with some really nice backing layering) for the first two verses and chorus runs, the song kicks into full-band mode at about the 3:35 mark, really giving it that big 80's power ballad feel that dominated MTV back in the day.  Pure Zippo material here, "I Can't Move On (Without You)" is an excellent way to wrap Automaton, as the band has managed to squeeze in and showcase pretty much every style and sound you would expect from a band as deeply influenced by the 80's Strip as Crashdiet is.  The beauty of it all, of course, is that while it is respectful of the scene, Crashdiet has never been a copycat band that mimics any one particular band or style exclusively, preferring to take their influences and forge their own sound.  They continue to do that with Automaton, they just do it a bit differently than they did in the past.

Overall, I find myself enjoying this new record more and more with each spin, and it is definitely a step up from Rust, which I enjoy, but is and album that, as I mentioned above, had to grow on me a bit.  It will never replace Rest In Sleaze, but it is not intended to, and no band ever tops their classic, regardless of if it is their first record or their last.  Yes, the style has changed a bit and the sleaze is pushed to the back burner in favor of ripping metallic shredding and crunchy, hard-hitting material, but that sleazy element is still simmering and bubbles over from time to time.  All this being said, Crashdiet remains a powerful force in the melodic metal/sleaze metal world and shows no signs of slowing down, even if they have altered their path slightly.  For me, Automaton is probably the best thing the band has released since 2010's Generation Wild, although, let's face it, the band has never released a bad album.  I truly enjoy Keyes on vocals, and I love the direction the band has taken, and I really hope people give Automaton a chance because this is some seriously great music from a band that remains simpactful and fresh two decades into their career!

Rating:  Definitely crankable, turn this one up to 8.5 and headbang along!  

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