Made Out of Babies - The Ruiner Review

After years of endless nu-metal bands and wholly disposable sound-alike jokes that completely ignore the force of true face-melting riffs and buried, intricate melodies, when a band comes along that effectively discovers the right way to do the hard rock/metal thing, it’s not only a pleasant surprise but also a primal exciter. The once always-reliable Tool flirted with mediocrity on 10,000 Days (hopefully they’ll recover). System of a Down’s once electrifying rhythm shifts have grown a bit stale of late. Underoath ain’t too shabby, but it’s too tough to get past the whole Christian Metal joke. Mastodon shows a lot of promise but can’t deliver an album without at least a couple of true groaners. And after Oceanic, Isis’ next two LPs can be viewed as nothing short of disappointments. Where else can we turn?

Brooklyn has the answer with Made Out of Babies, a group that’s been around for a few years but have never released anything as cohesive, accomplished or tooth-rattling as The Ruiner. Not only are they heavy and forceful, but they’re also inherently tuneful and unpredictable. And on Ruiner they merge all of their strengths into a completely focused four-part attack. The rhythm section knows how to bury their support when noisy guitars are in charge (the almost-industrial sonic wall on “Cooker” is front-loaded) and come to the front when the beat demands a proper stomp to the throat (Matthew Egan’s martinet pounding punches up “Bunny Boots”). Brendan Tobin’s guitar attack can segue effortlessly from something intricate and melodious to a full force titanic pummeling. And the vocals, in something of a willful resistance to the sonic barrage, go against the musical instincts to simply wail shrilly and instead goes from whisper and growl to locked, full-on scream—riveting stuff.

Pretty much any metal group can be loud and heavy, but shredding throats, tuneless and blood-stained guitars, and entirely obscured (and useless) bass lines are as dull and annoying as anything that comes from metal enemies such as, say, Mariah Carey or Michael Bolton. Made Out of Babies never falls into the rut of been-there, done-that repetition. They have no quiet songs in their catalog, but they know that neverending noise is monotonous. The muscle of heavy riffs doesn’t come solely from the volume, attitude and precision—it also requires the competition of comparison. The epic “Stranger” works almost solely because the song’s bridge lets the fat-backed groove rise to the surface and then builds subtly in force before exploding at the song’s climax. Without the relative quiet, the seven-minute track would have dragged mightily before the end. Natural musical instincts like that make The Ruiner effortlessly stirring.

Opener, “Cooker,” begins with a ravenous but fluid noise pattern circulating on magnetic guitars while wiry, mad hatter vocals twist around it before unleashing the thunder. “Grimace” continues from there to rattle the senses with a non-stop assault that switches from rumbling noise rock to a driving, chunky riff  where the vocals are issued solely as another instrument; Cooper’s bassline is especially strong and authoritative here. “Invisible Ink” flirts with a hazy, psychedelic bottom layer as the cannons reduce the rising friction to dust. Expansive and ambitious, “The Major” builds steadily to its forceful chorus and “Buffalo” begins with a gentle strum and a sweet melody (I think it’s a warped little love song of sorts, but I could be way off) before hitting a towering riff and eventually finishing in the second half with a provocatively menacing guitar-driven battering as brazenly confrontational as anything that preceded it. These two songs are critical to the album’s success—by utilizing quieter passages (without making them a musical crutch), they effectively dispel any sense of monotony. Following that up with album highlight “Bunny Boots” only seals the deal.

Of the lot, the only song that doesn’t demand multiple listens is “Peew,” which is consciously hostile with its tuned-down guitars, muddy production and indiscernible vocals. At a mere two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a brief scorcher, but a rather ineffectual one, relying more on a post-hardcore slaughter than the more developed nuance of the rest of the album’s semi-hesitant tonal shifts. They can turn four-minute rockers into mini-epics, the way System of a Down could compose a whole album worth of signature changes in the same amount of time on the best cuts of Toxicity. Even at that, “Peew” can still rank as a modest success; it’s a nice break between the longer marathons of “Stranger” and stunning closer, “How to Get Bigger.”

It’s pretty much impossible to discuss Made Out of Babies without mentioning (or even centering on) vocalist Julie Christmas. Not only is it rare to find a feminine force in metal, but it’s even rarer to find one with the power she can summon through melodic ferocity. Her ability to jump straight from an almost seductive throaty whisper to a feral howl makes for several potent moments. She’s been called something of an art-metal Bjork, and it’s an apt comparison, but she also has more than a hint of Corin Tucker, Kat Bjelland and PJ Harvey, particularly in the latter’s ability to make each coo alluring and each scream severe. Despite the occasionally unfortunate tendency for her voice to be mixed at the same level as the thunderous guitars (making it difficult to understand some of the words even on a third and fourth listen), her voice has a shattering power that rivals any piercing roar the instruments can summon. The only possible fault here is that she’s not as playful as some of the others could be; perhaps it’s the fault of the sometimes-too-serious (and seriously enigmatic) lyrics, but to be truly twisted, a sense of humor is needed. Who’d have thought an outfit called Made Out of Babies would be so solemn? Tool, a clear inspiration for Ruiner, knew that a little dark humor can go a long way in deflating the potential Spinal Tap-esque monstrosity of the genre.

The Ruiner is a statement album, one that brings the band together as a concise unit, despite the fact that it was created while the band members worked as a fractured whole (then again, one of the great musical masterpieces of all time, The Beatles (White Album), was crafted this way along with countless other great LPs). The band’s earlier records were sometimes spectacular, but too uneven both in quality and overall sound. But this one solidifies all early potential and delivers a focused and brazen punch to the gut. Those who find the genre mostly uninspired and shapeless these days (myself included) may realize that when it’s done right, its power is downright unearthly. The Ruiner is one of the best albums I’ve yet heard this year; there might be hope for arty metal after all.

"The Ruiner" is on sale June 24, 2008 from The End.

Sep
11
2008
Matt Medlock

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