Are the youth of America really as angry, as disaffected, as downcast as the hordes of nu-metal spewing conformists would have us believe? Los Angeles’s Static-X would indeed posit just that: “I see your bleeding dark side / I feel your angry heart / Reveals forbidden places / More monster yet alive,” rumbles the beginning of “Machine”, the title track of their new thrash-fest. Parents may cringe, but adolescence does come with its own special set of demons. A shame, then, that Static-X and its downcast group of peers—Cold, Disturbed, Staind, et al—can find time to reflect only the most gloomy aspects of those tumultuous, heady years.
Machine opens with “Bien Venidos”, 20 seconds of mariachi music that account for the only upbeat moments of the album. A crushing wall of sound follows, as “Get to the Gone” employs the vaunted industrial “jackhammer” effect of pounding beats, thunderingly metallic power chords, and guttural vocals guaranteed to make even the listener feel the need for a throat lozenge. The impressionistic lyrics touch on most of the nu-metal genre’s tropes: alienation, death, anger, disturbance. “Permanence” continues along the same path, with more prominent loops and the same choppy guitar; “Cold and curdled are my insides,” screams hirsute frontman Wayne Static, and while his conviction is impressive, there’s something ultimately hollow about the existential crises detailed here. The painful self-hate that permeates songs like “. . . In a Bag” (“Tie me up / I’m losing I’m drowning / Tie me down / In my shit”), despite Art’s vaunted cathartic properties, should be debilitating, but through sheer repetition has come to seem slightly disingenuous. In a morbid sense—the only sense possible—the exploration of inner darkness in the music of Nirvana or Joy Division gains a ghastly undercurrent of power from the suicides of respective singers and lyricists Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis. Albums like Machine pander to the basest of human emotions without a touch of the mordant wit that either of those greater bands used to temper their struggles; a harder heart might ask Mr. Static to either get over it or get out.
“This Is Not” may be the album’s quintessential track, and in fact the epitome of nu-metal angst in general. “This is not my life / This is not my home/This is not me/I hate this,” runs the song’s stirring chorus, but it’s hard to know the lyric’s intent. Undoubtedly the troubled landscape of post-millennial America contains many who will relate to the harsh insistence of the words, but the lack of any positive moments or search for solutions (leave home, dude) quickly becomes wearying. Although they probably don’t want it anyway, constant whining doesn’t exactly evoke a sympathetic response.
Static-X’s biggest problem isn’t actually theoretical but strictly musical, a fault most notable in “Black and White”‘s repeated chant of “Burning inside”. The ground covered on Machine has already been mapped by Al Jourgensen’s Ministry, a band that named a thundering industrial-metal track “Burning Inside” way back in 1989; the group’s trio of late ‘80s/early ‘90s albums (The Land of Rape and Honey, The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, and Psalm 69) so effectively charted the terrain for Static-X that Machine tracks like “Otsego Undead” sound not only familiar but downright derivative. That Jourgensen and company, in bands like Pig Face and Revolting Cocks, began making industrial dance music—influenced as much by thudding techno and punk aggression as heavy metal bombast—well over a decade ago doesn’t mean that Static-X shouldn’t be allowed to absorb their influence. But in the lack of anything new to add, the current band’s musical failings overshadow their angry insistence on their personal shortcomings.