Parents, please let your children listen to rock ‘n’ roll so we can avoid the rise of any more bands like Early Man.
As the story goes for Matador’s freshly signed metal act, the Pentecostal families of vocalist/guitarist Mike Conte and drummer Adam Bennati sheltered the boys from rock music until, at age nineteen, their discovery of the devil’s music led to a life of debauchery and worshiping the hard-rocking gods of metal’s past. Moving from Columbus, Ohio, to New York City, the duo started performing as Early Man and unashamedly channeled the sound of Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Iron Maiden.
Nearly everything about Early Man, from the band name to the album art for its debut, Closing In, conveys a primitive aesthetic. The duo plays metal at its most basic: all thrash, little bother for innovation and the instrumental showcasing being flushed down the toilet along with dinner and a few things you don’t remember eating last night. The formula would be decent if it weren’t for acts such as Mastodon, Isis and Pelican, which show how primitive metal – speed or instrumental – can be whipped into a steaming brew that nods to its influences and, moreover, creates something of its own merit.
The biggest criticism about Early Man is how strict the band holds to its tired retro-mold. But this is only part of the problem. If Conte and Bennati could howl and churn with the power of Sabbath, who would complain? Instead, Closing In consists of amateurish approximations of the music the duo wishes it were playing. Tracks such as “Four Walls” and “Death Is the Answer,” which sputter out choice lines such as “Only suicide will set me free,” sound as if the band members have ignorantly adopted “Suicide Solution” as a personal credo. There was a time when a Dear Ozzy advice column would have shocked the bejesus out of parents across the nation, but nowadays you’ll have to think of rougher things to appall our desensitized selves.
If we start playing the blame game, Conte is obviously responsible for Early Man’s mediocrity, though Bennati’s drumming never once stands out as anything more than ordinary. Conte’s guitar riffs hold little weight and his limited vocal range consists of two modes – strained and unstrained, which is fine when we’re dealing with, say, punk rock. But this is metal, and metal fans expect an ungodly breed of bellower, someone who is not going to lazily toss darts at James Hetfield’s growl on “Evil Is” or sacrifice bone-shattering riffs for a disco bounce on “Like a Goddam Rat.” Even when Conte’s screeching does its best to summon the demons of hell, such as on “War Eagle,” his delivery feels forced.
With other poor-taste attempts at toughness (“Raped and Pillaged”) and idol emulation (“Brain Sick”) filling the record, Early Man proves it desperately needs a few more years of basement practice before unleashing its mess on the public. It’s not that we don’t want (or can’t stomach) a retro-metal revival, just not one spearheaded by two guys who play it so poorly.
Matador Records Web site