Originally written by Ian Chainey
Gregory Lahm’s growl sounds about right.
It’s a rich rumble, like a pick-up driven over gravel or a boiler kicked on by the cold. It’s a vocal fold violator, the epicenter for larynx-eviscerating reverberations, tearing loose chunks of phlegm and jettisoning a mist of spit across a back-lit still concert pic. The timbre is Lahm’s alone, instantly recognizable, housing glorious imperfections of personality gleaming like veins of gold in a hardened rock of hoarse hardcore howling. It’s the kind of bark you silently mimic in the car, face scrunched, not wishing to blaspheme the master. It’s pure anger focused into an every-man avatar, a vicariously shouted fuck you to the daily hurdles.
It sounds about right. Deep in your gut, it feels about right.
Recast from his previous role as the match dropped in the oil swirling in Mouth of the Architect‘s water, Lahm sounds freer, his caustic cries now untempered by turns into the plinking, meditative mundane. Post-metal’s over-labored imitation of insomnia didn’t fit the ex-Rune tunesmith; the style retained the suffocating atmosphere and the delirium of his sorely missed outfit’s landmark, but never replaced the far more vital aggressive drive. Maybe as a reaction, then, Struck By Lightning swings his discography’s pendulum back towards bile, fusing a crusty body to a modern metal chassis. It’s an avalanche of core elements du jour: primal, thumping toms and snapping snares, a bass tone torn from a seismologist’s wet dream, and klaxon guitar leads matched by the whoosh of a turbine built by Sunlight Studios. And, perhaps to better drive home its unrelenting purpose, all of it is delivered in two speeds, a trot and a trudge, both crushing like a vise grip turned by a man with big goddamn hands. “Stalk and Prey” bounds out of the gate, chasing the rabbit with finger-bloodying tremolos and flying fills, while “Extinction Event” provides the slow-mo replay, contentedly treading sludgy waves, amused by the wake created by its freshly fulfilled prayer for decimation. It’s a heck of a racket, made even more powerful by a professional production courtesy of Chris Common. It’s big. It’s loud. It rocks.
So, it sounds about right. It feels about right. It is about right.
But, it’s not. It’s not right. Nearly, certainly. True Predation fills up the checklist with a lot of graphite and does everything a fan of the sound could request, yet it doesn’t quite click, the zipper slider never aligns the teeth, and figuring out why causes a whale of an uncomfortable internal debate to breach. If one’s brain is a little too busy, a skin-deep bruising turns into an examination of how we personally perceive authenticity and how detrimental it is when measuring something that should stand solely on its more classically-considered aesthetic merits. This is how the argument cleaves:
Point: Right around anti-climatic closer “Harbingers”, the M3 tanks deflate, giving way not to a bloodthirsty, heavily armored company, but a few artists plying their trade of temporary reality in The Ghost Army. Picked apart, True Predation tends to ring false, as if the unruly offspring of Wolverine Blues and Jane Doe was hammered into shape by finishing school; the fiery heart of its parents still beats, yet any hint of danger has been smoothed out and made more presentable. Where discord should rule, Struck By Lightning plays up a controlled attack. There’s something to be said for consistently hitting one’s marks, but the band could do with ditching the comb and embracing the unkempt unpredictability inherently tied to the true punk spirit.
And, counterpoint: The “true” punk spirit is a load of ever-evolving, never-consistent crap, an Eurasia and Eastasia for Oceanian pensioner punks to rage against. Granted, it’s hard not to lean on Loftus-ian memories when encountering the aftershock of the artists of one’s youth. For late-twenty-somethings who watched His Hero is Gone in a dank basement, or followed Tragedy around on a few tour stops, or giggled during a R.A.M.B.O. show while getting punched by a cardboard robot, or blushed when explaining to a coworker their current crush was The Sucking of the Missile Cock, it must have been less than promising when popular hardcore started suffixing “n’ roll” and punk producers prodded the hive and engineered every guitar tone with an angry bee buzz. Somewhere between finding out a lease was a nice way of saying they were stuck with assholes for a year and enduring hangovers without the Brita filter of a fresh liver, those ripened adults blinked and the scene gave them the boot, freeing itself to begin evolving into weekends spent with Kurt Ballou, albums streamed on NPR, and Instagram pics snapped of shitty tour vans blowing gaskets en route to opening shows sponsored by car companies. And, the predictable reaction from the replaced was, It’s not right. It doesn’t feel right. Measured against thoroughly scrubbed recollections, the spit-shined relics of what-it-meant-back-then, they saw the new shift as a bit shit. But, by training their lens only on the old, rule-breaking vices, they missed the just-out-of-the-shrinkwrap virtues; they were deaf to the great, new things because it just wasn’t the right thing. Unfortunately, such is the cycle and it will forever repeat. Rest assured, fathers using old Final Conflict and Nausea shirts as mung rags, wiping the crusty eyes of their recently hatched brood, surely thought a Severed Head of State flier was a bunch of crass bullshit. Those with the diploma rarely get, or care, what the lower grades are getting into until it’s passed them by and it has more to do with the fallibility of memory than believing one is a good taste oracle, foreseeing and regurgitating objective tune truths.
What we’re getting at is “authenticity” is a hard sell in a critical review, because it injects unique, person-shaping landmarks into something deserving to be better balanced. An authentic musical experience occurs in the past, is continually audited in the present, and longed for in the future. And, lord, does it ever change depending on where one is observing it, like an event horizon pulling apart one’s hipness before being banished into the black hole of middle age. As an example, for a few of us, Struck By Lightning suffers by releasing a record right around when recognized stalwarts Wolfbrigade reached a renaissance. The difference is in the delivery: If Damned is a duct-taped envelop filled with anthrax, True Predation is a bubble-wrapped butter knife. But, that opinion fails because one is judging the latter by ears calibrated for the former. Of course it’s going to sound different, Struck by Lightning is a band of its own time, for its own audience, making it unfair to force the edicts of myopic elders upon it. But, that won’t stop two sides who are both right from thinking the other is wrong, basing the belief on something as ephemeral and malleable as reconstructed grey-matter recordings of prior existence.
We’re left with this, then: Cleansed of the smoke from the snuffed-out fire of antique wants and desires, Struck By Lightning has released a ripping little full-length. Viewpoints diverging from that singularity may only be separated by the years between broken condoms than anything actually coming out of the speakers. No matter which side of the pews you’re seated on, though, it’s still a litmus test worth taking. And, let’s be honest, it’s ridiculous to over-think this thing, because, hell, Gregory Lahm’s bleat sounds about right and that should be enough. Sure, when the kids of the now grow old enough to grouse about the good ol’ days, we’ll know if it truly was. Until then, turn it up and see what happens.