By JONATHAN SMITH July 22, 2021
They continue marching to the beat of a different drum.
Popular culture has an unfortunate tendency of giving too much credit to the present when it comes to creativity, often glossing over the lesser known prime movers that set the stage for the current craze. This was arguably at its most blatant during the late 1990s when the nu-metal fad was picking up steam, with every other writer in the field of music journalism commenting on the novelty of incorporating a DJ into a hard rock or metal arrangement. More inquisitive thinkers would naturally note the influence of outfits such as Faith No More, Suicidal Tendencies and Anthrax in introducing funk, fusion and rap elements into the metal equation, though one would be hard pressed to find a mention of Bay Area thrash pioneers Mordred, a band that was at the forefront of genre-splicing at around the same time that Mr. Bungle was putting out their earliest demo material, and whom were arguably the first to ever incorporate a full time record-scratcher.
Sadly like many trailblazers of the 80s and early 90s, this fold would be plagued by a shifting lineup and a fickle market, causing them to call it quits after three full length albums and an EP that largely set the stage for what was to come towards the end of the millennium. To be fair, the band’s own experimental proclivities did result in a body of work that was difficult to nail down for the average metal head, with the 1989 debut “Fool’s Game” being the most accessible to thrash enthusiasts given its limited and tasteful employment of funk and hip hop influences relative to neck-ruining riff work. With the original lineup that participated in that seminal opus now reunited (though technically Aaron “DJ Pause” Vaughn was functioning in a guest capacity back then), it would stand to reason that their long awaited fourth full length work would tend the closest to the more metallic contours of their earliest installment, and “The Dark Parade” proves to be just that.
Indeed, this is the sort of album that exhales pure nostalgia with an obscure, innovative twist like few albums have since thrash began making its resurgence in the early 2000s. Right from the onset of the high octane riff monster of an opener “Demonic #7”, the blaring lead guitar drops some pretty loud hints of a Testament influence with some occasional nods to Grandmaster Flash, with lead vocalist Scott Holderby dancing back and forth between a quasi-rapping approach to the verse sections mixed with a bombastic choir of voices during the refrain. Thankfully this relatively short combo move of fast-paced metallic thunder and funky stylings is not alone, as the somewhat groovier yet largely Anthrax-like cruiser “Malignancy” and the blazing cooker with some almost industrial-levels of sampled interlude moments “I Am Charlie” perform an equally compelling job of meshing this outfit’s eclectic influences into a cohesive, easy to follow progression.
For the lion’s share of this album’s entirety, the template sticks pretty consistently to a 80s thrash template, differing from its 1989 point of reference only in that there is a more consistent presence of the band’s non-metal influences. Arguably the closest that this album gets to veering into the more funky and less thrashing territory of 1991’s “In This Life” is the longer and more mid-paced rocker “Dragging For Bodies”, which also sees Holderby coming the closest to sounding consistently like Mike Patton and duel shredders Danny White and James Sanguinetti opting for a slightly less agitated presentation, at least until the song’s climatic conclusion. Likewise, the carnival-like demeanor of the title song “The Dark Parade” occasionally comes off as a quirky alternative metal aside, to the point where one could almost see band dressed in similar attire to that of Swedish melodeath turned nu-metal trustees Avatar.
Despite being a bit on the quirky side, this is just the sort of well-crafted, varied mode of thrashing that many younger followers of the subgenre will want to hear, as it provides a more unique foil to the legion of Bay Area and Teutonic traditionalists that tend not to dabble in turntables or sampled voiceovers. But ultimately its core audience will remain the older guard who are no strangers to the thrash scene wandering off the stylistic reservation on a semi-regular basis. It’s the sort of album that makes the purist metal head want to shout out at the Limp Bizkit and Slipknot crowd “Hey, you hear this stuff over here? This is how it’s done!” There are no duds to be found in this concise and occasionally comical romp through the primordial days of Avant-garde metal exploits. Truth be told, this album’s lone flaw is that it’s a bit on the short side, but hopefully future efforts after the spirit of this one will make that a non-issue.
“The Dark Parade” track listing:
- Demonic #7
- I Am Charlie
- Dragging For Bodies
- The Dark Parade
- All Eyes On The Prize
- Dented Lives
- Smash Goes The Bottle