Every now and again, we need an album like this. A concise record that isn’t particularly concerned with technicality or image and instead seeks only to slake our thirst for the base impulses of metal as we know it. Anti-Mortem’s “New Southern,” the debut record from the band hailing from Oklahoma, hangs its hat on the idea that metal burns brightest in the furious furnace of the heart more than the unchained imagination of the mind.
If, in fact, the blues got their fame as an expression of emotion, then that tradition has carried forward into this new millennium, taking the metal form of upstarts like Anti-Mortem and their new record. “New Southern” is a clear recitation of those tenets, taking the form of a pure street fighter over more tactical or intricate manifestations. The music is overdriven for the sake of being overdriven, dropped into savage tuning and tied together with execution of the most boilerplate, tried-and-true chord progressions.
There’s more to this than just a plain, unadorned throwdown, however. The genius of Anti-Mortem lay in their ability to combine all those elements we’ve already discussed with the ferocity and insistence of grunge. It’s hard not to see the influence of Alice in Chains when listening to “Words of Wisdom,” a powerful march that refuses to lift its head out of the bluesy sludge.
These same principles apply equally well to all the album’s singles, though they vary in execution. For example, “Stagnant Water,” as anthemic a song as this band is capable of writing, contains something bordering on pop sensibilities, which is a sure sign that Anti-Mortem knows how to write songs, not just four minute bites of crunchy metal goodness. By contrast, the album’s lead single “100% Pure American Rage” leaves a lot of open space in between sections of savage riff, which allows access for listeners who want to head bang or sing along. Listen, we’re not talking about classical levels of versatility here, but the ability to accomplish the same end in two different fashions shows a lot of promise for a band making their debut.
There’s something to be said beyond just the execution of the music, which is how the album feels. Typically in metal, particularly in sludgy, backwoods metal, the concept of ‘feel’ is entirely overlooked or more crassly ignored, and we’ve all been guilty of it in one form or another. “New Southern” seems to have given the matter some though, however. From song to song, no matter the pace or lyrical theme (which, for the record, doesn’t have a ton of variation,) the albums central feel, that of a fun-loving but detuned romp through a boggy marsh in a bulldozer, remains carefully intact from beginning to end. It doesn’t take long to get the point of “New Southern,” but that point remains both insistent and strong.
There is the obvious matter of taste when it comes to “New Southern.” Those looking for technical mastery, melodic intricacy, polyrhythms or deeply contemplative lyrical themes will be poorly served by “New Southern.” As great a thundering anthem as “I Get Along With the Devil” is, there’s not a lot of layered metaphor in the chorus, which reads: “I get along with the devil / but I hate the motherfucker.”
That aside, there is one very small hitch in the giddy-up for Anti-Mortem, which is the matter of consistency. Namingly, there’s almost a little too much of it. For all the times when the songs transcend the baseline ideal of metal, it serves to highlight those songs that go for the same lofty goal but do not achieve. Such is the case with “Ride of Your Life” relative to the achievement of the aforementioned “Stagnant Water.”
That said, if one is looking for a rolling good time, it’s easy to recommend Anti-Mortem’s debut record “New Southern.” It’s a throwback to a bygone era, a time when metal could simply be loud to be understood. As a bonus, it even has some neat Iced-Earth-Lite cover art! This album works, and fans should be sure not to miss it.