Opiate for the Masses would like you to believe they’re a forward-thinking rock band, combining programmed electronics with the hard-hitting punch of heavy guitars. In fact, they’re a throwback to the ‘90s, using tired, chunky riffs with half-hearted electronic effects and trying to sell themselves as industrial music. Not to mention that at times they seem to be ripping off specific hard-rock hits of that decade.
Take the opening track, “21st Century Time Bomb”. With its disco hi-hat and vocals that go from whisper-speak in the verses to full-on shout-singing in the chorus, it immediately recalls Powerman 5000’s “When Worlds Collide”. Then there’s “The Habit”. It’s a slower-paced song that has vocalist Ron Underwood using an actual singing voice, and it’s not bad. Until I realized that the pulsing programmed synths in the background and the melody were reminding me of Stabbing Westward’s “What do I Have to Do?” Sure, the Opiate for the Masses song has a decent guitar solo from Jim Kaufman and doesn’t go for the big rocking finish, but the resemblance is still there. Following right after, rocker “Hold On” bites the bassline from the bridge of Helmet’s “Unsung” and combines it with a shouted chorus straight out of the Linkin Park playbook.
The spacey, depressing lyrics of Portishead’s “Wandering Star” and that band’s penchant for pulsing electronic beats may have made it seem like a good choice for Opiate for the Masses to cover. It’s certainly a ballsy idea, however misguided it may seem. Ron Underwood is a decent singer, using several different styles fairly successfully throughout the album. But holding himself up in direct comparison to Beth Gibbons is pure folly. And adding crunchy guitars to the main groove eliminates the feeling of space that the original had. On the other hand, there is now empirical proof for something that would seem self-evident: hard-rock bands shouldn’t cover Portishead.
As uninspired as it feels, Manifesto isn’t quite a total loss. “Black Book” is a decent track that recalls Rob Zombie in both lyrics and singing style, but at least it doesn’t echo any specific song. “Naked” resembles late-period Faith No More, albeit with a more standard hard-rock style. Album-closer “Manifesto” is at least catchy, even though the actual manifesto being discussed is clichéd drivel. “Lie” has a kick to it and doesn’t have to resort to Underwood shouting his way through the chorus to do it.
Actually, those shouted choruses may be the disc’s biggest annoyance while simultaneously being its biggest commercial asset. When Underwood cranks up his voice to full-on shout, he sounds almost exactly like Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington. It’s probably no coincidence that first single “Burn You Down” is the song on the album that sounds the closest to that mega-successful band. So if you’re looking for an album that reminds you alternately of medium-sized hard-rock hits of the ‘90s and Linkin Park, Manifesto may be the album for you. If you’re looking for something that rocks but is also creative, well-written, and interesting, you should probably give this one a miss.
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