Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Portrait of Chaos

Job for a Cowboy
Metal Blade

Jason warned me. Jason Beck, of the mighty Deadthyme program on KPFT, told me, “Dude, a lot of people aren’t into this record. It’s okay for mall metal but watch out.”

I heeded his warning. Jason knows what he’s talking about. Plus, the evidence was on his side. Metalheads with a clue were seriously disappointed with No Time to Bleed by Suicide Silence. Smart metalheads knew to avoid that travesty altogether.

I’m happy to report that, with Ruination, Job for a Cowboy has left the increasingly tedious deathcore pack in the dust. Wave goodbye flat-brimmed hat, plug-sporting d-bags. Job for a Cowboy won’t be returning.

Ruination is an achievement for several reasons. With this record, Job for a Cowboy avoided the dreaded sophomore slump (Doom doesn’t count; more on this later). Musically, the band has achieved its goal of moving into the realm of technical death metal. Socially, Ruination should make their younger, trendier fans pause and reflect.

A few years back, I had some acquaintances in San Antonio who were heavily into the fashioncore scene. In the time I knew them, they bounced from Coal Chamber/Slipknot-style nu-metal to the Eighteen Visions thing to this new stuff coming out of the Western U.S. These guys were obsessed with As Blood Runs Black (remember them?). They latched on to the formulaic song structures and cheap gimmicks such as pig-vocals. Of course, these dudes spent hundreds of dollars a month at the hair salon and spent all of their free time smoking weed and playing video games, so superficiality and visual stimulation were all they asked of the music to which they listened.

These guys introduced me to Job for a Cowboy. These guys were obsessed with Doom. These were the early JFaC fans.

Job for a Cowboy didn’t impress me until the Genesis LP. That record is head-and-shoulders better than the cheap thrills offered on Doom. That was the record where Job for a Cowboy started to demand more of themselves – to grow as musicians, to expand the sound of the band. Maybe they saw the limited future of being a scene band but I chalk the maturity displayed between Genesis and Doom up as the same maturity spawned by getting older and smarter. If this were a marketing move, why keep a sound this intense? Why not go the Burn Halo route?

No, Job for a Cowboy is the real deal. In interviews posted all over the internet, the band’s members have no answer for why Genesis succeeded so well. They don’t know why Dave Mustaine chose them for the Gigantour. They don’t know why hundreds and sometimes thousands of people keep turning up at their shows. This is a measure of humility and candor rarely seen in the Age of Me. It’s as if, deep down, Job for a Cowboy knows that Doom was scenester garbage. They made an honest record and the response was nothing short of breath-taking. This is why Doom doesn’t count as their “first” record.

Yes, it was first but Genesis is the first Job for a Cowboy album that anyone does or should care about. Of course, there will be too-cool-for-school metal folks for whom Job for a Cowboy can do no right but the open-minded will see this band as a unit achieving greatness in front of our collective eyes. Ruination provides the scene kids with a chance to see if they’re maturing at the same rate as one of their favorite bands. It also provides an opportunity for the jaded old fucks to see if they’re as good at evaluating new bands as they think they are. Good bands come out of every trend.

Which brings us to Ruination, a record that avoids the sophomore slump by being a true metal record. What do I mean by true? It’s true in that it avoids the cheap deathcore trappings. There are no breakdowns on the album; not in the modern sense of the term. Yes, there are moshtastic riffs all over Ruination, but nothing that Suffocation, Immolation, or Dying Fetus didn’t do first. It’s a true metal album in that it’s heavier than Oprah, it has a driving rhythm section propelling the songs forward (though drummer Jon “Charn” Rice overplays at points), it has adventurous guitar work, and the vocals are worked into the songs rhythmically and harmonically.

Speaking of vocals, Jonny Davy must have graduated from the Ben Falgoust Vocal University. Much like the legendary Soilent Green/Goatwhore frontman, Davy varies his delivery from near-black metal screeches to low death-grunts and everything in between while artfully arraigning his vocals alongside the mind-blowing guitar work of Bobby Thompson and Al Glassman. It’s not all blinding speed. Thompson and Glassman sneak quite a bit of sludgy, Morbid Angel moments into the album.

As mentioned earlier, Rice over-does it as points with jamming super-technical drum fills in between blastbeats instead of just rocking a solid rhythm. Fortunately, he’s reigned in by the purposeful bass playing of Brent Riggs. What purpose? To keep these songs flowing and keep his fellow musicians on mission. Riggs is the musical glue that holds Job for a Cowboy together. Without him, this album could easily have turned into a riff salad. With him, art and skill marry to make Ruination a powerful record.

In the supplemental materials of the Slacker Criterion Collection DVD, which I encourage all of you to buy or shoplift, Ron Rosenbaum of the New York Observer calls Slacker a portrait of chaos. The same can be said of Ruination. The record is not chaos. It is a skillfully and artfully created portrait of chaos. It’s an album that in the sum of its parts creates something new. It’s an album of ultra-fast, hyper-technical death metal that stands alongside anything past or present. Job for a Cowboy strikes again.

Job for a Cowboy - Ruination


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