A year or so ago, maybe two, I was sitting around the office working diligently at appearing to work diligently when my buddy Erik comes in and says, “This looks like something you’d like,” and he hands me a copy of Zero Down’s Good Times At The Gates Of Hell. There were songs with titles like “Loud, Proud And Evil,” “Fistful Of Dynamite,” and “Die Wasted”; there was Ed Repka cover art seemingly inspired by The Wild Bunch. And there was metal, glorious metal.
Erik knows me pretty well.
First off, this Zero Down is not the early Aughties skate punk trio. This Zero Down hails from Seattle, and though they have a marked punk influence, they operate in the realm of traditional metal. No Limit To The Evil is their fourth record since their 2005 debut, and like those before it, it’s a gleeful and goofy mash-up of Accept, Saxon, and early thrash.
As you’d expect given the influences, most of Zero Down’s musical firepower comes from the guitar tandem of Lenny Burnett and Matt Fox. The pair shreds through chunky riffs and ripping solos with ease, and when combined with the rhythm section of drummer Chris Gohde and bassist Ronnie Banner, the whole is a spirited romp through straight-up metal, decidedly retro without sounding dated or contrived.
Also, as you’d expect given pretty much any band, especially a traditional metal one, vocalist Mark Hawkinson is the make-or-break factor. He’s the point of contention in the negative reviews I’ve read of Zero Down’s past work, and I can understand that and yet not agree with it at all. He uses an array of voices, from a blustery bellowing baritone to a screeching ragged falsetto – at times, he’s eerily reminiscent of Mark Tornillo (TT Quick, now of Accept), at times of Blitz Ellsworth (Overkill), and at times even somewhat of the vanished Oderus Urungus of Gwar. That falsetto can be a bit awkward at times, true, and it’s the weakest point of the whole equation, but the roughness of it adds to the charm, the gravelly tones often keeping it far edgier than anything operatic.
So the pieces are all in place, and from there, of course, it comes down to the songs. And, while No Limit To The Evil doesn’t displace Good Times as Zero Down’s best, it’s not far behind it. Opener “Return Of The Godz” justifies its gratuitously silly spelling simply through sheer rock power, its refrain of apocalyptic imagery instantly memorable (admittedly largely for the couplet: “world wars, dead whores”). The song “Two Ton Hammer” is reprised from the first album, Old Time Revival, but it’s one of the best the band has ever penned, so that’s acceptable. (No Limit’s cover art also harks back to Revival, the same snake-handler in each.) After the first two songs, No Limit hits a short lull, but its back half redeems the (only slightly) lesser “Devils Thorn” and “Cold Winter Night.” From “Phantom Host” onward, No Limit closes out in style, with “Two Ton Hammer” and “Black Rhino” both hitting… well, heavy.
All of Zero Down’s work is decidedly tongue-in-cheek – this is a band whose first album’s first song was titled “In The Name Of Satan We Rock,” after all. Given their propensity for taking the piss out of metal’s too-often-too-serious persona, it’s easy to look at No Limit To The Evil as a joke, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. It’s silly, intentionally so when many of its influences weren’t always, and like the best silliness, it’s reverential even as it’s irreverent. Most of all, more than anything, it’s fun as hell, and that’s what really matters.