To me one of the most exciting developments in the last few years has been the proliferation of highly adventurous musicians adding metal elements to all manner of jazz and fusion. Back in the 70’s when jazz musicians added rock instrumentation and beats in lieu of the standard acoustic instruments and swing beats, the jazz critics looked aghast at the supposed commercialization of their beloved art form and the rock critics mostly didn’t have a clue what was going on. Never mind that some of the most creative musicians on the planet just decided that they needed to explore a different sound base and still produced some incredibly creative music while still often creating some great straight-ahead jazz. Okay that’s an old story but I’m thankful that, while the critics have safely assumed that fusion (and anything remotely “progressive”) is long dead and buried, we’ve got a whole bunch of bands now adding metal to the mix and now there’s a pretty burgeoning scene of totally off-the-hook bands producing some of the coolest and wildest music we’ve got going. Great bands like the U.S.’ Planet X and Canvas Solaris, Germany’s Counter-World Experience and the jazz insanity of Panzerballet, the jazz meets black metal of Norway’s Shining and France’s wacky Morgbl. Now into the mix we’ve got Finland’s Liquorworks who are even less well-known than these bands and, from what I can hear on their just released third album, Muscle Explosion, are at least as good as the best of what’s going on in this style of instrumental metal. Comprised of the duo of guitarist Kosti Aho and keyboardist Panu-Pekka Rauhala, these guys are totally whacked out (just the name of the band should tell you that) and seriously talented. They both have chops to spare and pull out some of the most demanding technical shit I’ve heard in years but it’s often done with a wry sense of humor rather than about being overtly showy. Aho is all about crunch, fluidity and grooves while Rauhala adds a ton of old school fusion keys to the mix which fits perfectly into the sound.
The music on Muscle Explosion is just all over the place, from the speed metal meets fusion of the opening cut Catch69, the dramatically powerful Annoying Man and the high-energy Decease From Above with its (rather humorous) use of screaming vocals and great guitar solos. The good thing is that, while these guys are having a lot of fun you can tell how serious they are about the music when they throw in the overtly jazz parts on songs like Nunc est bibendum. How do you even come close to describing a song like Unnecessary Death which begins as tech metal insanity over a pounding bass drum and some off-the-wall death metal screaming and ends as space-age electronics over a guy whispering that he’s “gonna kill ya”? Does it totally work? Not sure. Is it a kick-ass wild beat of a song – hell yeah! I was getting a bit tired of the metal bludgeoning and thought I was in for more of the same but damn if Braincell-Worker didn’t turn into a totally infectious funky fusion number about half-way through. Same with Strap Games – also a great fusion workout with some self-deprecating humorous bits at the end. After the surprisingly subtle, melancholy classical style piece Pedon Unet (all with keys and some really beautiful piano and strings) the album closes with the Zappa-esque insanity of Robotektor. This is not for everyone – even a lot of symphonic metal fans might not be into something as wild as this, but I really dig this style and hope that we get even more bands giving it a go.
This is music that is obviously done for the love of it and has pretty much zero chance of anything remotely close to commercial acceptance but it’s just so good and exciting that I’ve gotta believe that there are enough adventurous listeners out there to keep these guys going for a long time to come. You can check out Muscle Explosion via the Spotify playlist below and also pick up a copy via the Amazon.com link, also below.
Review by Jeff Stevens
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