Everything you need to know about Puyallup metal outfit Massacre at the Opera’s debut EP Mental Decay can be summed up with the band’s “Sounds Like” section on their ReverbNation page, wherein after the band drops the names of a handful of recognisable metal bands, the band just randomly throws “Death to Justin Bieber” on the end out of nowhere. Out of curiosity, I punched that into Google just to make sure that wasn’t the name of some full-of-themselves bog standard bar-metal act I’d missed from 2009, when Justin Bieber hate was still relevant. But no, Massacre at the Opera seems to be attempting to bill their music as the anti-Justin Bieber; something they perceive to be the opposite of him in terms of musical quality and ambition. I don’t agree with the notion that Massacre at the Opera is the antithesis to Justin Bieber, though, because last time I checked, Justin Bieber’s music isn’t fucking incredible, bursting with passion and creative musical ideas from every which way.
Mental Decay is a six-song EP that was released in November of last year under Mental Itch Music Group, a predominantly rock-oriented record label whose artist pool contains other such luminaries as Amadon, Lady Justice and Klover Jane. Based on that rap sheet, you’d expect Massacre at the Opera to viciously rip-off the stylings of post-grunge, but you’d be wrong. No, the band instead takes it upon themselves to savagely rip-off groove metal, while performing it in the most lowest-common denominator way as to appeal to every type of person that goes to their local all-ages rock and metal bar every weekend. Imagine Pantera and Hatebreed as retold by one of your local paint-by-numbers bar-metal bands that play for the same crowd of people every Saturday night in the hopes of maybe one day getting to open for an equally uninteresting one-hit wonder alternative metal band people stopped caring about around the dawning of the fucking Bush administration.
And it’s sad, because I think the EP has a pretty solid opening 30 seconds or so. As Mental Decay unfolds with “Divine Right”, we get this thick, distorted guitar that sounds like it came straight out of an Iowa-era Slipknot track. From there, the song quickly escalates into a very driving metal passage with a blasting drum section and a great sense of groove to it. While it’s ostensibly simple and straightforward, it still rocks a groove so infectious that it’s impossible for me not to move my body to it. However, this track is four-and-a-half minutes long, and it delivers maybe one minute of ideas throughout. The track doesn’t progress from the explosion of its intro so much as it just sort of wallows, and given the relatively unchanging playing of the instrumentation, it makes the track difficult to stay invested in for its entire duration. There is a guitar solo towards the back-end of the song, but it feels like it placed there more out of obligation than out of a desire to vary the track. This lack of a will to progress tracks is highlighted even further on “Curb Stomp”, which surpasses five-and-a-half minutes, and is so repetitive and one-dimensional that sitting through it feels like being on a Möbius strip of uninteresting blast beats.
However, this is the basis for a much larger gripe I have with Mental Decay, and that’s its complete inability to move on from the one idea and formula it lays out on the opening track. Start the track with only one instrument playing, then have all instruments come in, then bring the vocals on, then just jam on your one weak, uninspired idea, throw a guitar solo in before it closes, done. Maybe this is only something you notice when you have impossibly-high standards, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a 29-minute release to offer up some sort of variety throughout. It certainly isn’t just because of the sound that Massacre at the Opera gyps, because the two artists that they bite the hardest, Pantera and Lamb of God, have songs that sound very distinct from one another, and are way more memorable than anything you’ll get from Mental Decay. It could be because those bands have much stronger chops as musicians, or because their songs generally have more explosive choruses, or because they’re much more diverse songwriters, or perhaps all three.
But now it’s time to get into the worst aspect of this EP, the one that I do think makes this group stand out from other generic bar-metal bands, and not in a good way: the vocals. The lead vocals on this EP are obviously going for the gruff death-shout vocal delivery of guys like Terry Glaze and Robb Flynn, but are performed so badly and so amateurishly that they almost come off like a parody of the style. Whenever I listen to the vocal performances on this EP, in my head, I picture someone listening to a few Lamb of God songs, saying, “Hey, I can do this too!” and then hitting the record button without any prior vocal training or practise at all. At best, the vocals fit the mood of the music, but at worst, the vocals on this EP are plain annoying, and only serve to make an already tedious listen all the more daunting.
At the end of the day, Mental Decay is decidedly okay. Even the parts of this release that get me to nod my head aren’t anything special, and there isn’t anything here that’ll make you want to come back to it or will stick with you after its 29 minutes are up. It is music that’s best listened to live in a small bar whilst piss-drunk and sweating all over everyone around you, but I don’t believe that should excuse its complete mediocrity, because the same could be said about Millionaires. Maybe if you’re looking for some shallow, dime-a-dozen, high-energy metal to stave off thoughts of shooting up your workplace for another half-hour, you’ll get more mileage out of this EP than I did, but I’d personally be content with never listening to it again. Ultimately, though, Mental Decay isn’t a release worth getting actively mad at, because Massacre at the Opera clearly doesn’t give a shit, so why should you?