Editorials

A Review of Austrian Death Machine’s Triple Brutalby a Conflicted Fan Who Helped Crowdfund It Before Tim Lambesis Was Arrested For Hiring Someone to Murder His Wife

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Austrian Death Machine - No Longer Funny

Austrian Death Machine, “I’ll Be Back” Official Lyric Video

Short Version:

Triple Brutal is the new album by Tim Lambesis’ Arnold Schwarzenegger-themed metal band Austrian Death machine. It’s a lot like the remake of Total Recall: Stripped of all levity, it’s darker and — true to its claim — more brutal. And a lot less fun.

Long Version:

I love Austrian Death Machine. I’m not saying they’re a great band. It’s a one-joke novelty project. But, for my money, over three albums and two EPs, a handful of standout tracks have justified its existence.

When I say “for my money,” I mean it literally. As a metal writer, I received a free copy of 2009’s Double Brutal. I liked it so much, I bought a copy of the CD. It’s important to support projects if you want the creators to make more. And I wanted more ADM.

To give you an idea where I’m coming from, I’m a member of Generation X — that’s a media term for the demographic that, for our purposes, translates to “old enough to have experienced ’80s metal firsthand, and, hence, enjoyed classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movies when the future governor of California was a tentpole in Hollywood’s worldwide box office draw.”

The Governator hasn’t made a must-see movie for decades now, but you need to realize that the man was once a reliable cultural brand who was synonymous with kick-ass action. Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator movies — both of them (I refuse to recognize T3 or T4) — are the rarest kind of art. Like Scorsese gangster flicks or Francis Ford Coppola’s 1970s output, they represent an endlessly examinable mythos. Arnold movies serve as their own distinct frame of reference for all things cultural, from cinema to metaphysics.

Schwarzenegger is a classic flawed role model, but it’s easy to understand why Lambesis and so many others have formed a cult around the guy: he’s a compelling figure. A self-made man with humble beginnings who willed his way to the US, became independently wealthy before he grew into a movie star, married American royalty, and wound up the chief politician of the country’s most high-profile state. Badass. Smart. Far beyond driven. So long as Arnold isn’t impregnating your maid, he’s a funny guy, too.

Novelty band or no, Austrian Death Machine is a solid premise. Based on Ahnuld flicks, the band trots out song plots from a self-contained mythology — much like the Misfits do with B-movies,  or Mortician with horror flicks, or Christian metal bands with the whole Jesus thing. Between songs, singer-guitarist Tim Lambesis and his friends perform skits, voicing Schwarzenegger impressions of varying quality. Unlike most rap interludes, they usually had a point. Sometimes they goofed on the music. Sometimes they introduced the tunes. And sometimes they made fun of the band, mocking Lambesis as a “girly man” with “colorful tattoos.” All in all, it worked.

Real talk: There’s no shame in writing songs about somebody else’s art. Especially movies. In a long, slow, and uninterrupted decline, James Hetfield’s lyrics have been steadily sliding downhill since he stopped writing songs about movies. What would you rather see Hetfield write about? His love of cars or The Ten Commandments? More bands ought to write songs about movies. Or books. Or anything besides the lame bullshit echoing between their ears.

To me, Austrian Death Machine was sure as hell a preferable alternative to the subject matter that used to be prevalent in As I Lay Dying, the (possibly) formerly Christian metal band once led by Lambesis, a metal figure whose fall is legend.

Lambesis, by all accounts, was a bright guy and a good guy. He studied philosophy and had a college degree in Religious Studies. He had a sense of humor. He was a man of conviction. Lambesis and his wife adopted kids from Ethiopia. He wasn’t just talking the talk.

Then, well, you know what happened. Admiring Arnold, Lambesis began hitting the gym extra hard. He discovered steroids. His disposition took a turn for the worse. Lambesis quit Christianity (and there’s nothing wrong with that). His home life fell apart. His wife filed for divorce. Outside his immediate circles, though, few knew.

Metal Blade Records backed the second ADM album, but Lambesis funded the third full LP independently. For the new Triple Brutal, a successful crowd funding campaign ran from February 2013 through April 19, 2013, raising $78,120. Exactly $20 of that came from me. I didn’t want my initials tattooed on Lambesis’ butt (price tag: $5,000), but I — and 155 others — didn’t mind pre-ordering a copy of the digipack.

Three weeks later, in May 2013, Lambesis was arrested for attempting to hire a hitman to kill his estranged wife (luckily for everyone but Lambesis, the hitman turned out to be an undercover cop). Now the man behind the skits didn’t seem so funny.

So I was conflicted: Is it OK to enjoy the audio hijinks of colorfully tattooed jokester who eventually pleaded guilty to a felony count of solicitation of murder? Fortunately, after a full year of apprehension, Triple Brutal let me off the hook. I didn’t have to worry about laughing at a convicted felon’s comedic album, because it’s not funny. Or awesome.

Tarnished reputation not withstanding, Double Brutal holds up. It has one kick-ass original song, a couple decent skits, and a few good cover tunes, including a hellaciously nice version of composer Brad Fidel’s Terminator 2 theme.

From Triple Brutal, I didn’t expect The Satanist or Leviathan. I like metal, I like novelty songs. So my expectations — nay, wishes — for Triple Brutal were modest. Two good songs would justify my investment and assuage my guilty conscience. Give me one good original, one decent cover, and I’da been happy. If Lambesis & the boys came close to “I Need Your Clothes, Your Boots, and Your Motorcycle” and their cover of Agnostic Front’s “Gotta Go,” that’s probably all I needed to tide me over until Lambesis is back on the streets. Aw well.

ADM, official video for “I Need Your Clothes, Your Boots, and Your Motorcycle”

Triple Brutal is a better metal album than it is a novelty album. And it’s a good metal album, but not a great one.

All in all, the disc is speedy modern metal, full of precision mechanical percussion and melodic death-style vocals. The songs have an undeniable energy, though it isn’t quite enough to offset a consistent lack of hooks.

This time around, Lambesis’ legion of Ahnuld impersonators have tweaked the impression. Performed by a few of his pals, the over-the-top Austrian accents have been perfectly serviceable if not perfect. This time around, the Ah-nuld voice, both deeper, more nasal, and less energetic. And it’s always less funny. The skits are just filler between songs, and they contribute less than the interstitials from a junior-varsity Wu-Tang album. According to reports, Lambesis’ head was in a dark place around the time the album was written and performed. You have to wonder whether the disc was really finished when he went away.

Without the scandal, Triple Brutal might have been a real event. All the ADM albums have featured some high-profile pals, but this one’s a real parade of talent, with cameos by DevilDriver’s John Becklin, Johnny Plague from Winds of Plague, Doc Coyle (ex-God Forbid), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed), Jason Suecof (Crotchduster), Carnifex’s Scott Lewis, and others. Death by Stereo’s JP Gericke turns in the bulk of bass and rhythm tracks, with Heaven Shall Burn touring drummer Christian Bass handling most of the quintuple-brutal percussion.

The songs are weaker, but the guys jam like it’s cardio day, and Lambesis and crew overall crank their musicianship up two notches. From songwriting to performances, the album is a real team effort. Lambesis shreds, wails, and turns in a particularly epic solo in “Prepare to Be Conquered.” Guitar solos by Death By Stereo’s Dan Palmer and Chris Story (ex-All Shall Perish) nail equally impressive spotlight axework in, respectively, “Prepare to be Conquered” and “I Hope That You Leave Enough Room For My Fist.”

But the songs? That many talented guys should have been able to come up with a couple more keepers. By this point, the best Ahnold quotes and movies are picked over, leaving us with the inevitable return to the forgettable Sinbad vehicle Jingle All the Way. None of the tunes is great, but few are awful.

With a good riff buried in the mix, “Crom” is ADM’s most fruitful visit to Conan yet.  The serviceable singalong “Chill Out Dickwad” incorporates the classic Terminator theme into an actual metal song. The relentless “One More Rep” is a straight-up ripper that, true to its stated purpose, would make a great soundtrack for a power-hour meltdown. At the album’s end, the straight-up thrasher “It’s Turbo Time” slams the door shut with a sick solo by Mercury Switch’s Mark McDonald. This guy needs to work more.

Over-the-top violence was an integral part of golden-age Schwarzenegger, and it does cast a shadow over the album. For apparently obvious reasons, the previously announced track “Consider Dat a Divorce” has been dropped from the record. But in “I Lied,” the Commando-quote lyrics “Remember when I promised to kill you last? / I lied” just exist in a certain context that’s hard to ignore.

Unlike its predecessors, Triple Brutal does not sound like a funny guy and his jovial friends enjoying themselves. Compared to Double Brutal, B3 is grittier, but in a way that seems at odds with the band’s core concept. Regardless of your position on Lambesis, Triple Brutal isn’t going to make you laugh. And if an album full of Schwarzenegger impressions and skits isn’t fun, what’s the point?

Score card:

Decent songs: 3
Awesome songs: 0
Quotable skits: 0
Rad Instrumentals That Your Non-Metal Friends Might Dig: 0

D.X. Ferris is the author of both 33 1/3: Reign in Blood and Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography, which are now both available in physical editions, e-book editions, and audiobook editions here. You can follow him via Facebook and/or Twitter: @dxferris and @SlayerBook.

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