originally written by Jim Brandon
Even though I find southern-tinged metal and hard rock to be only marginally appealing for being a niche style, most of it drives me up the wall. All that thump-n’-twang drawling is something usually reserved for uneventful Saturday nights with too much whiskey to drink, too much smoke to smoke, and absolutely nothing else on the immediate agenda that requires intelligent thought. Hell, the only reason I took the damn trip to MetalHaven to pick up this bad puppy was because former Exhorder/Floodgate vocalist Kyle Thomas makes his Alabama Thunderpussy debut on Open Fire, which is exactly what the band does through these eleven ballistic tunes, and they sure aren’t firing blanks or missing targets. For the first time, it was an Alabama Thunderpussy purchase that I haven’t become quickly disinterested in after a few weeks of regular playing time, which was a nice change of pace.
While being known for having a punk edge to their records, the majority of this album consists of straight ahead, hook-driven, no bullshit metal tunes. A little bit of raging Motorhead (“A Dreamer‘s Fortune”), hints of classy Slough Feg guitar harmonizing (“Valor”), and surprisingly enough, bare shades of Mastodon girth (“Open Fire”) seep through the cracks in the iron hide of this undeniably heavy disc. The sheer weight of the formidable grooves on “Brave The Rain”, and thundering opener “The Cleansing” really test the strength of your speakers when played loudly, making an arguable statement that ATP are very much a metal band, rather than Molly Hatchet-styled hard rock with beefy guitars. Through it all, and most importantly, all of the material found on this effort sounds ‘now’ without kowtowing to trends. It’s entirely fleshed-out, current, and devoid of cheddar, gouda, or any other cheese.
Since Exhorder never really flicked my switches either, buying this was more a case of morbid curiosity than blind faith, and it turns out that Thomas’ balls-out delivery meshes perfectly with ATP’s swaggering brand of southern hospitality. It takes a special kind of vocalist to give an established band a creative boost when it comes to songwriting, and Kyle’s virtually limitless talents have allowed his bandmates to compose some truly excellent music, and in doing so they also shine on their own as well, most notably in the case of Ryan Lake’s superb leads, and Mike Bryant‘s nimble rhythms on bass guitar. However, Thomas steals the show, his voice reeking of sour mash soul and blue-collar pride, going from smooth melody to scratchy falsetto caterwauling (“Words Of The Dying Man”) with total control, and self-confidence. He’s got the kind of versatile singing voice other men would love to be able to pull off and can’t, and the kind of tone women want to hear while engaging in barely consensual sex. Hey, some ladies don’t like being called “ma’am”, after all.
The Ian Whalen production job is very tight, has just enough polish to be able to pick out individual sounds without being too clear, and doesn’t castrate the ripping guitar tones either. This definitely sounds like a studio album and lacks the grit of live recordings which, sometimes, is vital to the overall feel of the disc. In a way, there are times when Open Fire sounds almost too calculated, and part of me wishes they’d loosened up and gotten a little sloppy. Perhaps upping the ‘metal’ quotient and being so direct had a part in it, but I’m not really complaining since the songwriting fucking delivers when it is all said and done.
In these days when Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirts and confederate flag belt buckles have given way to Affliction clothing, septum piercing, and black nail polish among followers, and with bands like Brand New Sin and Maylene & The Sons Of Disaster receiving either indifference or disdain among purists/elitists, Alabama Thunderpussy has managed to climb onto a nice, high spot on the ladder of quality with Open Fire. I don’t think they could have done it better, honestly. I imagine fans of the band already own this album, or are planning to, but for those who are passably interested, this may very well be the only Alabama Thunderpussy CD you’ll ever own. This album is an exercise in pure badassery, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up on my year-end best list. Much better than I expected.