Tennessee's take-no-prisoners heavy metal outfit The Showdown starts their new album "Blood in the Gears" with a vengeance. The album begins with "Man Named Hell," a punishing and unrelenting southern metal excursion through a wonderful twist of riff-rocking and virile guitars. It is from there that the rest of the experience is set to launch.
The Showdown isn't quite like the Texas Hippie Coalition, about whom I was so recently speaking. Rather than make a skeleton out of double kick drums and a swaggering outlaw's confidence, The Showdown is more a take-no-prisoners full throttle southern metal experience. The band, despite their extremely vague Christian music overtones, exists at the sonic crossroads between Pantera and Five Finger Death Punch. The former's love of violence and vengeance, and the latter's dedication to speed and winding guitar culminates in a stew of deep-fried metal goodness.
Going backward for just a moment, I'm not quite sure where the "Christian" label fits into the band's idiom. I was going through press releases at the same time I was listening to the album, and if the releases hadn't mentioned it, I never would have applied the label to The Showdown. So take that with a giant box of salt. In the meantime, what the band has presented to the listener is an album full of songs about kicking ass.
While “Blood in the Gears” can tend to run together in spots, there are small pieces that give it a certain characteristic appeal. The intro to “Man Named Hell” features a simulacrum of a motorcycle engine that ends up as the main drum beat while the guitar builds. It’s almost “Hot for Teacher”-esque, but with more grit and less kitsch. The song is essentially the album’s proverbial point guard, showcasing the band’s stylistic versatility (or what passes for it,) and setting up everything that happens after.
“Heavy Lies the Crown” and “Bring it Down” strip down the comparatively soft parts of “Man Named Hell,” and serve to showcase the band’s pure visceral spirit. Both are old-school thrash throw-downs, but unique in their own way.
Following that, “Take Me Home,” is a nice piece that builds on The Showdown’s softer side, and finishes with a rollicking two-beat section that would be great headbanging fodder. If it weren’t for that final section, the song would probably be filler, but it makes the track worthwhile.
The biggest fault of “Blood in the Gears” might be that while the songs are grinding and the guitars are crunchy and the drums are jackhammering, the songwriting itself never quite feels inspired. Not to say that I expected complex intellectual rumination, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes the songs thematically different.
The end result is good album that is stuffed with catchy, well constructed metal, but runs out of tricks. I really enjoyed the blistering pace of “The Crooked Path,” and the old-school guitar homage of “No Escape,” but I’m not sure that they’re completely different from “Man Named Hell” or “Heavy Lies the Crown.” They just feel more like slightly better or lesser versions of the album’s other good songs. The hidden bonus here is that if you like one, you’ll be set for the entire album.
Don’t let me dissuade you from giving “Blood in the Gears” a shot. It is truly a very solid, memorable and listenable album from a talented band with a great ear for writing hook-heavy gallop riffs. There are many admirable parts of the album, and The Showdown is to be recognized for their effort. If you’re a fan of Pantera, Five Finger Death Punch, or even classic thrash of old, you’ll find something to like here, I promise you that. Just don’t expect to completely replace those bands in your playlist.