[4 April 2011]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Though they have not an original bone in their bodies, Deadlock started off showing enough potential to perhaps eventually set themselves apart from the rest of the glut of mid-2000s metalcore bands. Their second and third albums, 2005’s Earth.Revolt and 2007’s Wolves, though plagued by some dreadful production, proved to be some innocuously pleasant melodic death metal, thanks partially to a couple of guitarists who did a decent job of mimicking the 1990s output of In Flames, but mostly because of a diminutive female co-lead singer with a dulcet voice that could stop you dead in your tracks. Even with her vocals buried in a mix that was totally unflattering, young Sabine Weniger came up with enough melodic moments on both records to make listeners realize that if these brutal Bavarians applied themselves, they just might come up with something halfway great.
All that promise came to a screeching halt, though, with 2009’s calamitous Manifesto. The sextet threw everything they could into the record, but in all the wrong ways: their idea of a pro-vegan, PETA-pandering concept album was unbearably heavy-handed, experiments like incorporating trance music, rap, and saxophone fell with an awkward thud, and worst of all, the songwriting was hackneyed. Sure, you can employ the tried and true gimmick of “good cop/bad cop” combination of screaming and singing, but you still have to learn how to properly transition between the two. So clumsily conceived did Manifesto sound that it had Weniger and mushmouthed screamer Johannes Prem sounding like they were singing on two different records at the same time.
A year and a half later, Deadlock is back with another attempt at getting all the pieces to fall into place at the same time. Just like Manifesto, Bizarro World is a concept album, involving a comic book storyline about a parallel earth called “Hrtae” (get it?), but whether you care about the supposed storyline or not, the fact that the lyrics don’t resort to the juvenile browbeating of the last album is a huge relief. Better yet, though, the band has harnessed all their crazy ambitions and put out a much more focused effort here. The electronic flourishes still pop up from time to time, but they accentuate rather than overwhelm, while the vocal chemistry between Johannes and Sabine (now with the surname Scherer) is much, much improved.
Just as with practically every Deadlock song ever written, “Virus Jones” is nothing but a rehash of music we’ve heard countless times before, this time a groovy riff blatantly lifted from Lamb of God and Black Label Society, complete with obnoxious pinch squeals. However, the riff by Sebastien Reichl and Gert Rymen is a catchy one, which segues smoothly into a terrific chorus by Scherer. Finally, Scherer has the right combination of production quality, songwriting, and hook, and she knocks it out of the park. Other tracks work in predictably similar fashion, namely “Falling Skywards”, “Brutal Romance”, and “Htrae”, while “You Left Me Dead” is a splendid little ballad for Scherer. Yet, nothing on the album compares to the gorgeous, shamelessly pop-oriented “State of Decay”, a song that not only rivals the melodramatic beauty of Paramore at their best, but has Scherer delivering a vocal performance so beguiling she actually comes close to equaling the grace of the great Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen. Longtime Deadlock fans might not like this track as much, but this is a potential active rock hit in the making.
Not surprisingly, there are a few missteps where the songwriting reverts to the clunkiness of past work, namely “Earthlings” and “Renegade”, but while far from perfect, Bizarro World is a massive, massive improvement over Manifesto. When a band compels a writer to give their record a scathing zero out of ten, as yours truly did in another magazine 18 months ago, to follow that up with a solid six-outta-tenner is an admirable achievement. Keep heading in this direction, kids.