Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Showdown - Blood in the Gears (Album Review)

The Showdown - Blood in the Gears
Release date: August 24, 2010 (Solid State Records)

My biggest beef with mainstream Christian music - be it rock, pop, rap or metal - is that all too often, it just feels like a blatant cash-in attempt. Pick a flavor-of-the-day style of music that's popular with "kids these days," write some vaguely uplifting lyrics (you don't want to come off as too Christian, lest you lose that coveted crossover appeal with the heathens), and voila, the shit flies off the shelves at Christian bookstores and Wal-Marts across the country. South Park creators (and fellow CU alums) Trey Parker and Matt Stone already skewered this phenomenon better than I ever could, so I'll keep it succinct. The majority of Christian musicians just seem fake to me. It's not so much that I doubt the sincerity of their faith as much as their passion for the music they play.

Thank God, then, that none of this applies to the Showdown. On their fourth album, Blood in the Gears, the Nashville-based Christian metal band proves to be the exception to the rule, cranking out 10 metal anthems that vary wildly in style but share a common sincerity that only a true, lifelong love of heavy metal could produce.

The Showdown are clearly well versed in numerous heavy metal sub-genres, but their greatest strength might lie in the style of music that they don't play - namely the overwrought screamo/metalcore schlock served up by such Hot Topic-y Christian bands as Underoath and As I Lay Dying. Blood in the Gears sees the Showdown veer from classic thrash metal ('The Crooked Path") to songs that border on death metal ("Dogma Enthroned"), but the band seems most comfortable in the melodic groove metal niche pioneered by Pantera in the early '90s. Hell, a song like "Bring it Down," with vocalist David Bunton's Anselmo-esque growl and a breakneck pace reminiscent of "Fucking Hostile," could almost pass for an unreleased rarity from the Vulgar Display of Power sessions.

The Showdown are such kick-ass musicians that it's tempting to say that their lyrics don't even matter, but that's not entirely true. When Bunton belts out "Take me home/Southland's calling my name/Neither love nor man nor law could keep me away" on the album's Southern rock-tinged standout track, "Take Me Home," I get an almost uncontrollable urge to thrust a Bic lighter in the air without a shred of irony (and I mean a real goddamn lighter, not a cellphone, you poser).

Lyrically, the Showdown aren't trying to shove their faith down your throat; the word "God" only appears twice on the album and there's nary a "Jesus" to be found. Instead, the band takes a "soft sell" approach, focusing more on overarching themes of good vs. evil ("Man Named Hell"), greed and corruption ("The Crooked Path") and strength of convictions ("Bring it Down"). The band's lyrics might even be deemed "not Christian enough" by holier-than-thou types, but such a criticism would be irrelevant. The Showdown could be singing the praises of God, Satan, Allah or Cthulu and it wouldn't change the fact that they're fantastic musicians and gifted songwriters. Even if the Showdown don't inspire you to give your life to Christ, they almost certainly will restore your faith in heavy metal.

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