Why is it that most nü-metal just makes me long for Lemmy Kilmeister? Is it because of all the effusive thanks to God and family that nü-metal bands give in their CD booklets? Is it that the guitarists always sound like tame jazz graduates of the Musician’s Institute? Hmmm, maybe it’s just that they’re only good when they’re dirty and/or funky.
From Zero is the stereotypical nü-metal band. Lead singer Jett combines a punk haircut and a really long goatee with all sorts of bug-eyed grimaces, so that he looks like the tatted ibex of a metal marketer’s dreams. The rest of the band are “schooled in jazz, metal, and studio work”, which means that they’re just professionals who are adopting a form, rather than committed metal hell-raisers.
While perusing the press kit, I noticed that guitarist Joe (B.O.D.) Pettinato claims Billy Joel as a major influence. And Jett is happily married with one child. Wow. Metal has come a long way—when I was a kid, metal bands wouldn’t be caught dead admiring Billy Joel. Hell, I remember debating my friends about whether it was still OK to like Iron Maiden after their guitarists admitted that Free was their favorite band! And marriage? When Hit Parader outed someone as a married family man (AC/DC’s Angus Young, for instance), we all just stopped listening. We needed role models of decadence and good musical taste, for pete’s sake!
Well, From Zero’s debut album One Nation Under is a pretty good example of how harmless and benign metal has become. Don’t let the album’s title fool you either—the (perhaps inadvertent) Funkadelic reference does not promise any funkiness within. The 11 songs are loud nü-metal with all the precise guitars, complex structures, loud slap-happy drums, and double-tracked well-sung vocals (punctuated with an occasional scream) that you’ve come to expect from the genre. On some songs, like “Jeer”, Jett indulges in what I call the “vomit effect”—emoting with what sounds like a painful dry heave. And “Jeer” is probably one of the best songs on the album as a result!
The sticker says “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content”, but I defy anyone to find anything explicit in the astonishingly vague lyrics. The first lines you hear on track one (“Smack”) are these: “Loath, I’ve been subjected to what you’ve said / You’re pissing harder than what you know is right”. The last track (“Gone”), ends with the lines “Wait for the answers in the wind / I know there’s no conclusion / I face myself the other side within”. Explicit enough for ya? I think there are a coupla cuss words in there, but parents should be more concerned that their kids are listening to tame, bland words that make Bryan Adams look like Wallace Stevens in comparison.
The band is at its best when it sounds angry (“Jeer”), or when it speeds things up a bit, (“Suffering”). In fact, “Suffering” is by far the best tune here, because its chorus is genuinely affecting, the words reflect the singer’s confusion, and the combination of anger and compassion is pretty relevant in our post-terrorist world. But the other songs—especially “Horrors”, “Gone”, and the debut single “Check Ya”—all sound irritatingly generic. They are the safest, most worry-free nü-metal tunes a parent could hope for. In general, One Nation Under would make a good soundtrack to a mall parking-lot. But then so did Queensrÿche.