Friday, October 09, 2009

The Last Temptation of Popeye

After listening to Schaffer the Darklord's third full-length, Manslaughterer, I have come to regard his recording career as running oddly parallel to geek horror classic the Evil Dead trilogy. Seriously.

Stay with me here, people.

Meet My Maker, his debut LP, is much like Raimi's original film. It's a fun, violent and ultimately uneven ride that succeeds by precariously alternating moments of outright camp and extravagant shock value. The follow-up, Mark of the Beast, retreads a bit of the original, just like Evil Dead II, but, much like the film, properly finds its artistic center; it strikes an inspired balance between music and comedy that lends itself much more to be appreciated as a cohesive whole.

This, of course, means that Manslaughterer is Army of Darkness, the truly illogical conclusion that reminds you that, just like Sam Raimi, Mark Schaffer is a man who is not only a genuinely talented artist, but also the type of cat who refuses to take himself (or his success) too seriously.
And suffice it to say that, as unpopular a position as this may be, AOD is my personal favorite.

Manslaughterer, likewise, hits a lot of high points for me as a listener and longtime fan. It kicks off with "Opening from the Black Box," an appropriately creepy intro that, despite some leveling problems, leads expertly into "Arrival of the Fittest." "Arrival" boasts some amazing rock guitar work – a component that powers both this track and the bulk of the album – resonant background vocals that add a great deal of additional depth and exactly the kind of smarmy, rapid-fire references to classic triumphant protagonists you'd expect from STD.

From there, Manslaughterer segues into "Club Destroyer (feat. Removal)," a literal club banger with great vocal energy framed against a frantic musical backdrop. It's a proper theme song for any band who's had to deal with shitty venues, as well as the fans who suffered through it with them. In fact, it's very metal, but somehow sounds to me like a counter-intuitive cross between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Dead Boys. (Neither of which, in case you don't know, are particularly metal.)

"Psyched" is classic Schaffer, with fast and snotty delivery, but it's more electronic-based than the tracks leading up to it. Still, it features more great use of female backing vocals and trails expertly into "The Bender," a track leaked some time ago as part of STD's vidcast. It's another anthem of overindulgence – a topic Mark has covered a lot recently – that delivers with a fantastic chorus and a great wind-down.

"H-Mail (feat. Coolzey & Lisa2Eyes)" comes across like STD's unique send-up of "Stan," only with less Dido and more venom. It's a great answer to artistic criticism, which, while certainly not a rarity in nerdcore, is a fine use of Schaffer's comedic snark. Truth be told, I don't wanna like the chorus on this one, but I do. Coolzey's verse breaks the track up nicely and adds a new flavor, and the ending jab – "P.S. you're gay!" – is firmly brilliant.

"Monsters of Rock (feat. MC Lars)" is an ideal Halloween track that's lyrically sound and well-paced but suffers from an unbalanced chorus and some odd use of panning and vocal effects, though it earns bonus points for a gory tour through rock 'n' roll history and especially for shouting out the late, great Dave Blood. The follow-up "Goddamnit," however, stands out as one of Scaff's all-time greats. The string-heavy backing and expert use of both vocal doubling and wah guitar combine with the over-the-top lyrics to make it one of those joints that's impossible not to sing along with. It also includes a sharp deconstruction of that spell-shit-out-in-the-chorus thing that pop artists are once again abusing. In summation: it's amazingly dynamic from top to bottom.

"Pixelated Vixen" fares significantly worse. Despite the great Donkey Kong intro and brilliant beat, it's a little flat compared to some of the other offerings. The use of auto-tune is novel, as is the double-time delivery toward the end, but it fails to rock my world on par with the bulk of Manslaughterer thus far.

From there we're treated to the "Message from a Former Employer" interlude that exists purely to lead us to "A Very Bad Man," another perfect joint with a memorable beat and a hilarious narrative as STD explains his uniquely dark nature. I love the variation on a theme – unlike Run DMC, Scaff is bad meaning bad, not bad meaning good – and, like some of his earlier work ("The Rappist"), it's another great take on the traditional hip-hop pastiche.

On the other side of the coin, "Buckets of Blood (feat. KABUTO THE PYTHON)" is an unbelievably enjoyable track that manages to stick much closer to hip-hop-proper, at least in composition. Okay, so maybe it's a borderline horrorcore jam, but it somehow manages to stay funny and light, and KABUTO again proves himself the ultimate guest star. Oh, and pay close attention to the scratching in the outtro. Fucking divine!

The album maintains this musical inertia with "The Other Devil," which, despite some more odd vocal effects, is truly the high water mark of Manslaughterer. Hilarious, frantic, breathless and… relentlessly panning, it adds in a thudding bassline and some more razor-sharp background vox to achieve utter perfection. It's the kind of structurally impeccable offering that I have no idea how STD plans to pull off live, but I can't wait to hear him try! Oh, and did I mention it's about Popeye?!

"The Invisible Man (feat. Shael Riley)" sounds almost dirge-like after "The Other Devil." It's a cool and creepy narrative to which Shael adds an expertly pained chorus, but the mix never quite seems right. "Scorpio" is similarly messy, with a crunchy, bleepy backing that makes it stand out. Still, while not skippable, it is a little weak.

Though my hatred of skits has already been well recorded, I'll give "Visit with MC Frontalot" a nod, as it's fairly entertaining, but it's also too long. Of course, the jab at Front re: "Tongue-Clucking Grammarian" is sort of worth the wait. From there, "Thunder Thief (feat. Jane Silence)" somehow manages to push the background vocals to the forefront, and has an overall enchanting feel. Maybe it's a little lazy at times, but it brings in a great new texture in the album's waning moments, and should serve as fair warning to Schaff's potential opening acts.

The much talked-about "Battlefont" winds down Manslaughterer with a wonderful concept and an equally top-shelf delivery in the style of a twisted limerick. It's an ideal way to to close things out, with strong drums and a power metal chorus that reminds you of the album's more organic leanings. Then "Goodbye, Cool World" stands firm as a final thank/fuck you from our humble host. Full of piss, vinegar and (hollow) threats of retirement, it’s all about that sinister fall-apart ending.

All in all, Manslaughterer is a perfectly pleasing ride. STD manages to walk a fine line with regard to the outlandishness we've come to expect from his work, while still offering surprises a-plenty. Lyrically, its damn-near impeccable, and both the album and the individual songs themselves are rock solid, structurally-speaking. In fact, the only thing really holding the work back is a series of seemingly odd production decisions that I can't help but assume are by design.

Why would Schaffer make an album with ultra-compressed vocals and constant panning? I have no idea. Of course, I don't know why he'd drop a record where the background vocals are almost as much a part of the songs' core aural palette as the raps themselves, but it fucking works.

As does, it should be noted, Manslaughterer's rock slant, which is clearly linked to Schaffer's recently unveiled live setup as backed by The Darklords. It's the kind of change that many would be afraid to make, as messing with the recipe is often a fool's gamble. But Mark does it, and he does it well.

He does it with a nod to the kind of nontraditional rap that is his calling card, as well as his sacrosanct heavy metal roots. Likewise, he does it in spite of the knowledge that his unique (and often sacrilegious) blend of herbs and spices isn't for everyone, but he does it none the less. With conviction. With heart. With balls.

And that's enough to make a believer out of me.

All hail the Manslaughterer!

"I'm the other devil on your other shoulder."


Jimi said...

I'll certainly be checking it out.

By the way the link at the end sends me to some broken paypal page?

J.Goodwin said...

I'm frightened by the prospect of Schaffer reaching the point in his career that parallels Raimi's "Spider-man" phase.

I'm intrigued by the thought of his "Darkman" phase though.

Z. said...

Thanks, Jimi. Link updated!

And it isn't a full parallel, J. At least, I hope not. :)

DV said...

Hoping it is in today's mail.

So excited I might eat my own kidney. Been waiting for this since Nerdapalooza!

Z. said...

You will not be disappointed, DV! :)

DV said...

You speak the truth.

It's on album repeat. Until further notice. Fucking. Amazing.

Anonymous said...


killsaly said...

I bought mine on itunes. It wasnt "available" to look at in the US store, but still let me purchase and download it.

Z. said...

I am quite the soothsayer, DV. ;)

Thanks, anonymous!

And good to know it's available on iTunes already, ks.