As the musical doors of 2004 creep open, Dave Grohl’s four-year pet project Probot brings eleven metal vocal welders together in a unique statement: twenty-plus years have passed since metal met hardcore, and with Probot, the calendar is moving back nineteen of them for some recognition.
Peel back the eighties and you’ll see more rock genres than any other decade. Musically, it was if the atom was split. The aftermath is still a clusterfuck, as Grohl knows. He’s been hitting the “on the edge/over the edge” side since he was at least 14.
At 16 in 1986, Grohl started playing drums for the Minor Threat-influenced Scream. Scream’s label? Dischord. In Probot’s liner notes he writes, “By 1982, I was a full-on, red-blooded hardcore kid … .” Leaving the East Coast Scream for the West Coast Nirvana put Grohl in the center of the mainstream explosion in ’91. While Kurt Cobain wasn’t a “metal/thrash freak,” his drummer most definitely was.
Looking for influences on In Utero‘s “Scentless Apprentice”? See Venom (bassist/lead singer Conrad “Cronos” Lant guests on Probot‘s opener “Centuries of Sin”). Or “Tourette’s”? See Sepultura (Max Cavalera owns Probot‘s second track, “Red War”). How about Nevermind‘s “On a Plain”? See Motorhead (Lemmy Kilminster steals Probot on the third track, “Shake Your Blood”). Grohl is a punkhardcoremetal drummer and Nirvana’s music was all the better for it.
Sometime around the end of the century, Grohl, in the midst of a frontman role in the pop-friendly Foo Fighters, must have realized most of the commercial shit he was surrounded by sucked. Probot took shape as he praised Queens of the Stone Age, which was bred out of gearstonerwhateverthefuck rockers Kyuss. Kyuss’ sound incorporated Corrosion of Conformity (Mike Dean’s Probot appearance brings back ’83), Soundgarden (Kim Thayil lays solos on Probot‘s “Sweet Dreams”), the Melvins, the Screaming Trees, Monster Magnet, Saint Vitus (Scott “Wino” Weinrich brings the almighty doom to Probot), Obsessed (see Saint Vitus), and Fu Manchu a la Nebula.
Q.O.T.S.A.’s sound drifted away from the stoner element and begin gearing toward Motorhead, mixing in Celtic Frost (Tom Warrior’s Probot contri is well hung), Cathedral (Lee Dorrian’s track is nostalgically creepy) Big Black, and later-era Dinosaur Jr. It shouldn’t come as any surprise when Grohl grabbed the sticks, sat his skinny ass back down, and laid out drum tracks for what would be Q.O.T.S.A.’s best selling album, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf.
Probot will undoubtedly be Grohl’s worst selling album since 1988. But it’s the best album he appears on since 1993’s In Utero; he returns to his roots and pays homage to the creators of metals’ many avenues of explosions. And it almost works.
After reaching the album’s end, I could only wonder why Dave Grohl played almost every instrument. Because he can, sure. But the guitar doesn’t stand up to the vocals, which Grohl constructed the songs around.
But maybe that’s the point. Let them speak for themselves in a new environment (Foo Fighter cheerleaders, Nirvana is the source breeders) without scaring them off. If that’s the case, these harder-edged Foo Fighter songs will appeal to the many fans he’s attracted over the past decade. Maybe they’ll do some research and realize the dudes featured on Probot haven’t left the underground pretty much since they started, with the exception of Lemmy and Speultura’s Cavalera.
Whatever the case, Grohl says with he can die a “happy man” with Probot completed. What music-loving human wouldn’t want to write and record eleven songs for and with their idols? And Probot is fun to listen to. It doesn’t sound like a headbanger’s novelty; it’s more aligned with what is going on in the under-swells of rock these days: hardcore growing within under-the-table rock using heavy techniques to blend forms outside typical “indie” college rock. Hella, the Fuckin Champs, the Dames, Gluecifer, Abdullah, Electric Wizard and Hellacopters all have tones in the metal-sludge-doom-garage-thrash that Probot’s vocalists have inspired. Not to mention, with Grohl’s arrival on sounds as they swell and peak, this may be the album that trains fresh ears for the six hundred and sixty sixth coming of the devil himself.