[24 April 2013]
In these dark times discerning where sincerity ends and irony begins can be tricky business when it comes to heavy metal. On the one hand, metal has always been playful and theatrical. On the other hand, metal’s detractors have consistently misunderstood and misrepresented metal’s sound and aesthetics in an attempt to make it seem ridiculous and irrelevant. But in this strange postmodern hellscape we call the 21st century, wink-wink irony and over-the-top satire has become so ubiquitous, so much a way our culture communicates with itself, it can be difficult to ascertain if a particular band is simply referencing a revered metal figure or trope, or if that band is simply making fun of some aspect of heavy metal that seems silly or uncool to the jaded, odious hipsters who are their intended audience. If Mustasch were from Brooklyn, I would strongly suspect the latter; the irony on display here is thick and tedious. But Mustasch are not from Brooklyn, they are from Gothenburg, Sweden which complicates matters; few cities on this earth have a more storied metal pedigree than good old Gothenburg. Sweden in general is one of metal’s most respected and pioneering hot spots, so I am struggling to place Mustasch is some sort of cultural context here.
But here is what is comes down to: Mustasch’s new record Sounds Like Hell… Looks like Heaven is packed with heavy-handed cliques, ridiculous hyper-macho lyrics that would make Axl Rose cringe, and production that is, as my dear mother would say, “slicker than snot on a doorknob.” What really, seriously kills this album for me, however, are the endless, headache inducing James Hetfield-isms belted out by vocalist Ralf Gyllenhammer throughout Sounds Like Hell… Looks like Heaven. And I am not talking about Master of Puppets Hetfield either here folks, we are talking Load and St. Anger type stuff. I am simply unable to get around the fact that Gyllenhammer’s over-produced vocals sound like someone making fun of Hetfield’s proctological grunting; which is to say, like Hetfield himself post- the Black Album. One almost expects the obscene, misplaced croon of Lou Reed to come stumbling into the track a la Lulu, but thankfully we are spared that particular torment.
I have little doubt that there is probably a market for this stuff; from what I can gather, Mustasch have a pretty sizable following in their home country. They have a pretty extensive back catalog too, although after repeated listening of Sounds Like Hell… Looks like Heaven I can’t quite bring myself to delve into their previous offerings to see how they compare, at least not yet. There are plenty of meaty, well-written riffs on Sounds Like Hell… Looks like Heaven, but they end up being more frustrating than satisfying within the jokey, masturbatory atmosphere of the album as a whole. If done correctly, I think there is a time and a place for hyper-realistic, self-referential, postmodern heavy metal; DragonForce’s Ultra Beatdown is an excellent example, and Andrew W.K.‘s Let’s Get Wet contains a bizarre sort of genius. But on Sounds Like Hell… Looks like Heaven Mustasch are all winking and nudging, without any real soul or emotion. Maybe if I was rip-roaring drunk at some venue in Stockholm on a Saturday night alongside a couple thousand drunken Swedes, Mustasch might seem like a good time. But from where I am sitting right now, Mustasch seems like heavy metal for people who don’t like heavy metal.