The biggest perk of reviewing music is fairly obvious; one gets to hear all kinds of cool new material. The downside, sadly, is that one can grow rather jaded. Been there, done that. Heard it all before. On more cynical days, “new” acts and albums can just feel like reshuffling of the old into a mildly new package. Old pills don’t become new pills because our owners wrap them up cleverly in a bit of lunch meat. There’s a good boy!
When we received a care package from Australian fusionista metalheads Twelve Foot Ninja, we gave the parcel a suspicious sniff. Not lunch meat. Upon cautiously peeling back the butcher paper, we discovered a fresh assortment of ingredients thoughtfully prepared into a new culinary genre we’ve not experienced before.
October 2021 brings us the third album by Twelve Foot Ninja, entitled “Vengeance.” While not exactly a unique album title, the contents most certainly are. Actually, before we dissect the music, there’s something else unique we must impart. No strangers to prog-rock or art rock, we have seen a concept album or two. However, Twelve Foot Ninja may have the distinction of being the first artist to release a concept album with a matching graphic novel, high fantasy novel, and video game. Since this magazine is not Literary Perspectives, we’ll allow our colleagues in book review to assess the other works, but definitely check out the band’s literal multi-media at their website .
As we have already hinted, “Vengeance,” is not exactly your old man’s Oldsmobile. There are genres and styles being forge-welded into previously unknown new alloys, and subsequently beaten upon the anvil into strange and frightening new shapes. It is important to bear this in mind, as the first minute of the album may have you thinking it’s just another Five Finger Death Punch show. However, the first track, “Start the Fire,” quickly takes a detour from drop-tuned nu-metal blitz into what feels more like the industrial electronica of early Nine-Inch Nails. By the time the chorus takes shape, a certain melodic hookiness emerges. Two-thirds into the song, everything gets very mellow, like an even more acid-infused “Strawberry Fields”, before slamming us right back into the original heaviness all over again.
Things get stranger with the second track, the single entitled “Long Way Home.” The odd noodling at the beginning may be a bit Mr Bungle, and the jarring strangeness continues a moment later when the song gets heavy, but in a jarring time-signature joined by string orchestra sounds. The heaviness takes some breaks so it can be a Post-modern jukebox with a Latin kick, before the heavy comes back just to slap us senseless with some more time changes and unusual string orchestra applications. The track does make good showing of the versatility of front-man Nik “Kin Etik” Barker, who confidently delivers everything from metal screams to the crooning of the 40s.
We really were not ready for the title track. “Vengeance” descends upon us like the evil “NOMACS” machines from Dream Theater’s “The Astonishing” which try their very best to strain 15” speakers to the max. The track slams into the speakers with some sonically-maximized (and a hair short of clipping the mix) electronica tones before reverting into some more NIN-esque drum machine bits. It is hard not to hear a healthy helping of Mike Patton mid-90s Faith No More in the delivery, but that’s certainly fine. More of that, please.
Equally unusual is the subsequent track, “IDK.” The track’s name is appropriate, as we don’t exactly know either. The track starts with funny little 8-bit sound effect music bits that are a little too reminiscent of delivering newspapers via NES console, before the track gets blisteringly heavy for all of 10 seconds before going into a groovy little funk scat that could probably only be compared to Peter Gabriel’s Jerry Springer lampoon called “The Barry Williams Show.” There are too many disco-funk-pop-death-metal elements colliding to count in this track, but it must be said that if you can open your mind and broaden your horizons, this track is a fun time.
“Shock to the System” starts out as 80s synthwave robo-funk before shifting into fairly standard nu-metal stylings, but sorry. If you think that’s all there is to it, you are corrected firmly two minutes in when the song has an unusual little spoken word postmodern jukebox scat session with some lo-fi piano, latin percussion, fiddle and an accordion. So there. But don’t worry, it’s right back to chugga-chugging nu metal before things are said and done.
The next song, “Gone,” bears more than a little resemblance to mid-90s Faith No More, perhaps something like “Evidence” from the “King for a Day” album. Again, this is not critical, if anything, we love the vibes. This is just to give you, the reader, something for your imagination. However, the clean, funky, and well-mixed modern production makes this one an extra-special treat.
At this point, we’re almost expecting curve-balls to come over the plate, and “Culture War” is certainly that. The presentation is pretty much thrash-metal, but with a catchy chorus. Oh, and did we mention a flamenco Mexican brass section in the break. Don’t worry, it’s fun. You’ll feel like you’re right there at “Día de los Muertos,” at least for 20 whole seconds before we get back to thrash metal. Speaking of metal, the subsequent track “Dead End” may actually be the only track on the album where “what you see is what you get.” It’s just a solid metal track with larynx-abusing vocals. In a certain sense, it’s a good palate cleanser for the album’s strong ending.
The penultimate track, “Over and Out,” features the incorporation of vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk from metal-core act Jinjer, and as one might expect, she brings an inimitable flavor. While the song does not pull any of the cute trickery we see elsewhere on the album, the several creative inter-playing layers of vocals create a lush and memorable soundscape. Where “Over and Out” was fairly straightforward Euro metal in most ways, the album’s finale “Tangled” keeps things a bit more unplugged and introspective. The clean steel string acoustic guitars are enchanting, especially with the tasteful string orchestra swells at the right places. Where most of the prior album feels a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is a certain unexpectedly bittersweet quality to being “Tangled in the Twilight, waiting for it all to end.” We were not expecting to be left starting at the quiet studio monitors after the album ended, but it really had that effect.
Twelve Foot Ninja’s “Vengeance” may be the most musically adventurous thing we’ve experienced since Jolly’s “Audio Guide to Happiness.” If you pick this one up, we do suggest a few listens to really absorb all the nuances. The album manages to fuse a number of normally-incompatible elements together, without having a disjointed Frankensteinian effect. Of course, this can cut both ways. On the one hand, the open-minded listener may find little treats and Easter Eggs for their ears all throughout this album. Those of a more purist persuasion may find their metal thrashing interrupted by a Spaghetti Western and feel a little violated. This is what makes the arts, well, art.
As a whole, we enjoy this album. Vengeance in real life is seldom as enjoyable as “Vengeance” of the Twelve Foot Ninja variety, which actually leaves us feeling pretty darned satisfied. Guitarist-writer Stevic MacKay has put together a body of work which is anything but “same old, same old.” The instrumentation is tight, the production is far better than average, and the vocals are refreshingly listenable, covering a variety of styles quite capably. Be sure to look for this one on October 15.
Released By: Volkanik Music
Release Date: October 15th, 2021
Genre: Avant-Garde Metal
- Nik “Kin Etik” Barker / Lead vocals
- Steve “Stevic” MacKay / Lead guitar
- Shane “Russ” Russell / Drums
- Rohan “Ro” Hayes / Rhythm guitar, backing vocals
- Start The Fire
- Long Way Home
- Shock to the System
- Culture War
- Dead End
- Over and Out
Many groups claim to bend and merge genres. With their release of “Vengeance,” Twelve Foot Ninja have actually done it, and in style. If you can imagine your crushing drop-tuned metal infiltrated by Faith No More, NIN, great vocals, disco-funk elements and a number of other surprises, well, you have quite the imagination. Because we would not have thought it possible until hearing Twelve Foot Ninja