There is no word scarier to most metal fans than 'pop'. The thought of pop music seeping in and destroying the heavy beauty of metal is one of the things that unites the majority of the metal universe, and it's one of the reasons metal has remained in the underground. Metal is not at all about embracing any of the themes or sounds that are popular, which means that when a band dares to do so, they are almost branded heretics by the faithful. Heavy guitars aren't supposed to be able to meld with synthesizers and drum loops, not without recalling the brutal horror of industrial slaughter. But every so often, a band will come along and challenge that conventional wisdom. Whether or not they succeed is a very different story.
Kontrust is one of those bands that dares to play metal-pop. Their brand is not of the variety we are more familiar with, the kind with metallic backdrops and bubbly melodies. Kontrust takes things in the other direction, with a full embrace of the synthetic, repetitive nature of modern pop music, just with heavy guitars thrown into the mix. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting turn of events.
“Dance” leads off the album, and makes a mission statement with the lyric, “you have to dance”. The song has pounding drum grooves and slashing heavy guitars, but throws enough electronic elements in that it wouldn't sound out of place on the charts. “Why” is even more in the pop mold, with a repetitive vocal that is as reminiscent of a nursery rhyme as it is a song. This is exactly the kind of song that reminds me why I listen to so little modern pop music, and a few guitar overdubs can't change that.
“Just Propaganda” is a far better track, because it evokes a different feeling. The riff that opens the song is pure metal, and the whole package gives off a vibe that isn't unlike KMFDM, who are one of the few bands to ever successfully meld metal and electronica.
As I mentioned at the start, there are two ways that metal and pop can come together. I find that one of them is far more successful than the other, and Kontrust started out with the misfortune of being on the wrong side of the ledger. After listening to “Explositive”, I can't say that they have done anything to change my mind. The album is pure modern pop, but with heavy guitar thrown into the mix. The metal elements don't feel organically woven into the sound, but feel like an adornment thrown on to appeal to a different audience. Aside from “Just Propaganda”, there is precious little here that would appeal to anyone who is a metal fan, because the guitars aren't used in a way that metal fans would be familiar with.
With that aside out of the way, my verdict on “Explositive” comes on two fronts. As a record that has any sort of appeal to metal fans, I don't think it manages to make any inroads. I don't see metal fans embracing this style, no matter how heavy the guitars can be. But from the perspective of pop music, there's a lot more to embrace. Kontrust may not deal in the most sophisticated variety of pop music, but there is an element to the repetition and simplicity that makes a song like “Shut Up” stick in your mind more than you want to. In that sense, the album succeeds.
Ultimately, “Explositive” is an album for pop fans who want to move into heavier water, not for metal fans who want to move into the ocean of pop. Kontrust is straddling a difficult line, and I'm not sure if it's wide enough to balance on. Something tells me the attempt to appeal to both sides is only going to make it harder for the band's music to appeal to anyone.