Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Juggernaught - Bring The Meat Back - Great Guitar Rock Well Worth The Effort

Juggernaught seems to be slipping by the ears of a lot of reviewers - mind you, they do themselves no favor with their song titles and irreverent stance. They throw their reviewers right off the trail. Between the bawdiness, and their over the top political incorrectness lies one of the most sophisticated two guitar musical machines to come down my path in a while. Checking out various reviews and articles on the 'net and once again I'm appalled at how little musical knowledge resides in the brains of most of these 400 word review writers. It's almost as if they spent more time looking at the album's cover, or listening to the band's last album, than listening to what was going on here.

The two phrases I kept seeing were South African Metal, and Southern Rock. They seem to have long left behind the detuned metal of their debut record, Act Of The Goat. I don't really hear any heavy metal here, and really I don't hear much Southern Rock, either - what I do hear is some of the slickest guitar arrangements and rhythm play that more suggests the early Boston rock of Aerosmith, and the sophistry of Alice Cooper's original band before Coop sent them packing. This is very much thinking man's rock - drummer Oneyedogman is a master of the push and pull, and the tunes are never simplistic. They almost seem to revel in pulling the wool - the guitar team of Herman and Jovan keep me coming back again and again with their intelligent tag team attack - Herman's leads reveal a guitar hero in waiting, and this stuff reminds me more of the days of early '70s adventuristic guitar rock than anything.

I absolutely love that these guys are playing pretty clean - there's not a lot of grinding distortion, and the guitar tones are killer. Time has been taken to make this sound right. Complex chord voicings and tight harmonies are tossed about with ease, and you can hear the hundreds of gigs under their belts. This is a band that's gigged a bit, of this there's no question.

The swagger factor is high and there seems to always be more going on than meets the eye. The whip crack rhythms and the way the guitars intertwine are a wonderful thing - and it's all clearly defined in the first minute of the first song. The guitars work out a hypnotic yo-yo of a riff with just enough variation in tones to make it work before busting into a brief snip of Lizzy-esque harmony that leads back to a unison workout which announces the verse, which is delivered with complex chord clusters, and near jazzy voicings. Bad Idea is a righteous entry into a very strange trip - one listen to the solo section, and you'll get the picture.

Photo by Abel Scholz
Train brings more of a rock and roll onslaught, but there's still too much swagger and swing to approach anything metallic. This is actually one hell of a good piece of hard rock songcraft - when the chorus arrives, the tune climbs into a nice gradually escalating chord pattern that becomes a huge hook. Fans of Billion Dollar Babies era Alice Cooper should absolutely adore this. I can't say that I understand the band's sense of humor, but they bring the rock brilliantly.

Theatrical rock seems to have all but disappeared from the musical landscape, but a song like The Storm suggests it hasn't completely gone completely wanting. So seldom do I hear a band actually matching their lyrics with their music, but Juggernaught do it right here, in a way that does harken back to a more intelligent era of rock. This is some highly effective rock - shame it's lost on most who have written on the record.

Beef or Chicken suggests that Juggernaught might be the last of the real Zappas. I've read not a word about social commentary, but these fellows may have landed on their grotesque visuals in answer to the world they live in. Money won't buy salvation, and you don't get the message if you don't listen.

Southern Rock? Back Door Woman is closer to Little Feat than the American south, and let's remember that Lowell George was born in Hollywood - the guitars here are straight out of the early '70s, but they suggest Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, and hard rock than they do the Allman Brothers. The sophistication can't even hide behind the lyric - these guys are all about playing, and they do a bunch here. The solo section is a trippy take that slinks and slides through a wicked bit of funk by the rhythm section. I'm not sure what these guys have been listening to, but it almost seems like they have become a very different band in the time since their last release, 2009's Act of the Goat.

Rhythm guitarist Jovan seems to have that off-kilter style thing with which so many southpaws are blessed - his playing seems devoid of the routine, there's very little bar chord thumping. It dawns on me that perhaps lefties from Hendrix to Eric Gale not only play differently, but perhaps they also hear things from a slightly differently as well. They seem more intwined with the musicality, and less engaged with the commonalities. Whatever it is, both Jovan and Herman's playing is superb, and worthy of much greater attention. Here's hoping that Juggernaught gets to see the world.

Bootycall continues the irreverent bent that dominates the album lyrically. I guess it's just a matter of laying it out honestly - musically this is another killer cut with guitars and rhythm section dancing around one another with deft precision. I'm clearly of another generation, and in spite of my admitted difficulty with the word play, the music is too damned compelling to keep me away - I'll gladly admit that it's me who's out of time here.

The seventies sonic assault continues most pleasantly with Bring Back The Meat. This is almost like mountain men do the Chili Peppers - though I will say that there's never been quite this much cool guitar work on a RHCP album. Herman and Jovan seem to have an endless supply of super cool riffs, fills, and interludes in their arsenal. I haven't mentioned bassist Angilo, but he's a great player - he almost fits the terrain so well that it goes unnoticed, but again and again he tosses in a killer run, or fill that brings a grin.

I can't say that I miss the more metal side of Juggernaught - I'm listening back to some tracks off the first album and while I can hear the promise of their talent, but the modern detuned riffage always leaves me a bit cold - again, I admit to being older and more interested in subtleties than brute force. Mind you, Herman's vocals are never delivered with less, but when you listen closely you can hear the passion in the poetry. My attitude may even clash with that of the band, but again, I can only speak from my own vantage point.

I've heard some comparisons to seventies boogie band Ram Jam, who incidentally, weren't a Southern Rock band - they were built from remnants of sixties flower power poppers The Lemon Pipers, who hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio. Juggernaught definitely gets close with the tight harmony riffs of Wors, and Follow the Scent of the Musky Brisket, but I still don't see much here that I would really consider Southern - perhaps a nod to Gibbons and company here and there, but mostly I'm hearing reflections of Page and Beck more than the Allmans. At any rate, Wors is one of the best extended guitar workouts I've heard in ages - brilliant.

One of Them Days sees Herman showing yet more flash, piss and vinegar yet as a soloist - the song could almost be an old Bad Company track, but with a very different vocal approach, but when Herman kicks into the solo it's off to the races, but the race course has some wonderfully bizarre twists.

Juggernaught wrap it up with full tilt boogie rocker Paint It Brown, and the slick bit of rhythm displacement again avoids anything leaden - the guitars are clean, tight, and taut, the rubber band rhythm section plays - play, in the true sense of the word, this ain't working, these boys are having fun playing. Herman shouts out his philosophy lesson, and again the guitars are majestic and magnificent.

Everything I saw when this record landed in my lap seems to have been a cover for what was really going on - Juggernaught seems comedic if you only look - if you listen, you'll see that they are serious as anything, and that they are a masterfully musical bunch who have much more to offer than carnivorous sexual humor - dig deep, it's worth the work.


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Tony Conley said...
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