I remain an ardent supporter of physical media. I don’t feel like I really own an album unless I can hold it in my hands, and though I don’t always go in for every special edition (I couldn’t care less about colored vinyl, for example), I believe there’s still something very important about the artwork, the liners, the overall package. So it pleases me greatly when a band goes above and beyond to make that package into something distinctive.
And when it comes to distinctive packaging, Los Angeles-based grindcore outfit Graf Orlock goes above and beyond the above and beyond.
Most awesomely, their 2009 EP Destination Time Tomorrow was wrapped in an Alien facehugger, and the gatefold opened to reveal a pop-up chest-burster. 2011’s Doombox EP comes in a foldout cardboard 80s-style boombox. This new one, Crime Traveler, comes in a newspaper – a custom job, of course, written and designed by the band, and not just a copy of the Bloom Picayune that they picked up outside the Circle K. Now I have to admit that I don’t actually have this newspaper – I just got the digital promo through the interwebs. (Ironic, considering that the same internet is killing print newspapers.) Still, the point remains: Graf Orlock’s packaging is more creative and intricate than that of any other band, almost to the point of absurdity.
And Orlock’s conceptualism doesn’t end there. They’ve coined the term “cinemagrind” for the racket they make. Film samples abound, one introducing literally every song and sometimes others scattered within them. Whereas previous Orlock assaults have relied upon Hollywood’s products, particularly classic action films, Crime Traveler is apparently based upon an original work, the story of a Canadian time-traveling assassin who goes back into the past to “rewrite history in Canada’s favor.” (So now everybody’s gotta like hockey, I guess.)
With all of the ancillary ideas surrounding Crime Traveler, it’s easy to forget that there’s an actual album of actual grindcore involved. And it’s a pretty good record, but not the band’s best. (I’d give that prize to Destination Time Tomorrow, but I’m a sucker for a xenomorph.) Ultimately, even more than the rest of Orlock’s catalog, Crime Traveler is overshadowed by its own shtick.
Which comes down to this: Everything that really makes Graf Orlock stand out is outside of their music. Inside it, they’re a competent band plying a noisy, metallic-hardcore-indebted grinding that, while certainly visceral and energetic, hasn’t traditionally been all that distinctive outside of the cinematic angle. Though the best of them rip when they rip, their albums tend to stall themselves by nature of their structure. Like most grinders, Orlock’s modus operandi is rage in two-minute-ish bursts, but their momentum is interrupted at every turn by dialogue. Unlike on the earlier efforts, for Crime Traveler, it feels even more off-putting because you don’t even get to feel in on the action. This dialogue is all original, not the musings of Private Hudson or Martin Riggs, so there’s nothing immediately connecting you to the plot or characters. (One of which, based on the accent and lines, is apparently Andrew Dice Clay…)
Still, Crime Traveler may not be the best grind that either 2016 or Graf Orlock has to offer, but it does have its moments. Like the best action films, those moments are both violent and fun. If you’re looking for crushing, you can find it in the chug of “600,000 Tons Of Explosive Ordnance,” or the blistering “Difficult Decisions In The Yutani Mess Hall,” both of which are among Traveler’s best and heaviest moments. But the rest of Crime Traveler doesn’t quite coalesce, or maybe it does and it’s just a matter of not having seen the movie to know what it’s coalescing into.
You gotta admire the band’s dedication to their concept, and if you’re a collector, then absolutely no one does album packaging better. (This split with Greyskull came in a backpack!) But the concept doesn’t make the record any more cohesive, unfortunately, and musically, Crime Traveler falls a bit flatter than I’d hoped…
Maybe more xenomorphs next time? Just a thought…