(Metal on Metal 2018)
Kill to Survive came out when I was a freshman in college. In Boston. Needless to say, Meliah Rage quickly ascended to the rank of “local heroes” in my impressionable teenage mind, alongside the likes of Wargasm and Seka (a/k/a Strip Mind). The cool thing is that for most of the last three decades, Meliah Rage have been something of a musical constant in my life, reliably putting out albums every couple of years ranging in quality from solid to great (with 2006’s The Deep and Dreamless Sleep being the only minor misstep along the way). But following the release of Warrior in 2014, things had been unsettlingly quiet in the Meliah Rage camp, and with good reason. Founding member, guitarist and songwriter Anthony Nichols sustained a severely broken wrist that jeopardized his ability ever to play guitar again. Returning vocalist Paul Souza (best known for his work on the Barely Human and Dead to the World albums) was locked in a deadly battle with depression. Things looked bleak for the future of the band.
Lo and behold, a new day dawned. Spring 2018 brought the welcome news from Meliah Rage’s label, Metal on Metal Records, that a new album was in the offing. Entitled Idol Hands (a not-so-subtle reference to the band’s personal struggles), this record is an unexpected gift for longtime fans of the band. By that, I mean it sounds like classic Meliah Rage through and through. For the uninitiated, imagine a dose of early Metallica, a dollop of Metal Church, a scoop of Flotsam and Jetsam, and a pinch of Wargasm (whose guitarist, Rich Spillberg, gets a production credit here for recording vocals and contributing some lyrics and vocal melodies), and you’ll have the basic idea. The razor-ribbon riffage of Anthony Nichols and Jim Koury – one of my favorite guitar duos of all time, akin to a classic double-play combo in baseball – is positively massive, deftly balancing crunch, speed and finesse alongside a savage guitar tone. Paul Souza, who is every bit the equal of the band’s more famous singer, Mike Munro, arguably delivers the finest vocal performance of his career on this, his fourth Meliah Rage studio album. Souza’s versatile, emotional voice only gets better with the passage of time, as he showcases a rare blend of heart-on-the-sleeve cleans and tear-your-head-off grit, all while remaining perfectly in control at all times. I swear, he’s never sounded better, more intense, or more locked-in. And the rhythm section of bassist Darren Lourie and original drummer Stuart Dowie roils and ravages underneath it all with power and might.
Now I’ve told you everything, but I’ve also told you nothing. You see, Idol Hands is a much better than average Meliah Rage album. Everything feels more inspired, revved up, from the heart, and incendiary here somehow. They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Perhaps the near-loss of the band (or in Souza’s case, much more than that) instilled in Nichols and his bandmates a new fire, an ironclad, steely-eyed dedication to putting everything they have into Idol Hands because, after all, who knows if or when you’ll get another chance. In terms of both songwriting and performances, I’d be hard-pressed to name a stronger, more consistent Meliah Rage album in eons. Idol Hands is gripping, it’s dark, it’s compelling, it’s heavy as hell, and it’s an emotional roller coaster from beginning to end. Nichols has always excelled at writing the straightforward, speedy, burner stuff like the ridiculously awesome “Idol Hands” or “Where Darkness Lies,” but this album shines brightest with the more dynamic, ebb-and-flow tracks like “Infernal Bleeding” and “Sentenced to Life,” where the crushingly heavy, the delicately melodic, and the hauntingly melancholy coexist in perfect equilibrium. The mood is completed by Souza’s raw, emotional lyrics in which he openly grapples with the depression that threatened to consume him. When he sings “Darkness seeps like an evil mist / That creeps into your brain” or “Sitting all alone inside the room / Inside your head” or “Living with a pain inside / That never goes away / Dreading every second / Every minute, every day,” it’s like reading a diary from the edge, a cry in the darkness. And it hits close to home for so many of us who suffer from (or have loved ones who suffer from) this sort of mental affliction. I applaud Souza’s strength and courage for baring his soul in this way, and I wish him all the best in exorcising those demons. They never really go away.
If this all sounds like a really dark and heavy trip, well, that’s because it is. But the darkest trips can be the most rewarding ones. And again, I can’t emphasize enough that this album captures the essence and purity of Meliah Rage’s classic sound, through and through, just with an extra jolt of inspiration and emotion to carry you through. So if Kill to Survive still has a warm place in your heart (and if it doesn’t, what the hell is the matter with you?), do yourself a favor and check out Idol Hands. It shows a band at the pinnacle of its songwriting and performance powers, on a desperate mission to rage against the dying of the light.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~