Metal Allegiance: United in Spirit, Unexciting in Flesh
Welp, if it wasn’t official before, it must be by now: supergroups are all the rage these days. The questionably-monikered Metal Allegiance, though, is a bit different, as it was initially conceived by Mark Menghi (who?) and grew from a series of cover gigs into a recording project rather than the other way around. The project is also unique for its rotating roster; each track on the group’s debut self-titled record features a different set of guests (Randy Blythe! Phil Anselmo! Ben Weinman! Eighteen other people!) alongside a core lineup of Alex Skolnick, Mike Portnoy and David Ellefson. Wowzers, that’s a great lineup, right? Unfortunately, the potential is never realized; though Metal Allegiance may feature one hell of a group of talented people, it’s one that seems to have little aspiration to expand its or anyone else’s horizons.
This isn’t the first time a bunch of well-pedigreed metal vets teamed up to collaborate on what is essentially a full-length’s worth of singles. I thought Roadrunner United was actually kinda cool – sure, the 80-minute runtime was almost as unappealing as the nu-metal tracks, but “The Enemy” is still a face-ripper, and that album pushed a number of musicians into previously uncharted territories. But Metal Allegiance shares just as many problems with that record, if not more. The scope of the collaborations is compressed into a “one-size-fits-all” record, but this album is marketed to an average that’s just as awkward as those hats and t-shirts that never really fit properly. Metal Allegiance might celebrate the group’s collective talent, but it never recognizes its individual members’ abilities; you rarely get to hear any one guest shine. The instrumental “Triangulum” and deluxe-version-only cover of “We Rock” are truly fantastic tracks, yet they also feature eight of the most interesting musicians, and each barely gets any time. It even feels like Ellefson, Portnoy, and Skolnick aren’t allowed enough space to demonstrate their prowess.
The same thing I said about Battlecross’s recent full-length could apply to Metal Allegiance: the album is a fairly accurate cross-section of American heavy metal, just one that’s ten years behind, more like Pantera and Lamb of God than it is The Black Dahlia Murder (see the main theme to “Let Darkness Fall” – are you guys sure this is original material?). The album is filled with vaguely Southern NWOAHM grooves; uptempo pit riffs; tasty pentatonic leads; ballads; clean/classical guitar passages; chuggy power-chord riffs. Yet somehow, Metal Allegiance constantly feels like it lacks both cohesion and variety. Despite the varied cast of characters, their cumulative talent doesn’t add up; instead, Metal Allegiance sounds like the lowest common denominator of all the music these people could possibly have produced together.
At the end of the day, Metal Allegiance is an irritating album. It’s irritating that the themes are so stale. It’s irritating that nearly every song is drawn out two minutes beyond its appropriate runtime. It’s irritating that the worst songs on the album are worse than the best songs are good (I didn’t think I had unrealistic expectations for Matt Heafy, but “Destination Nowhere” legitimately wants to make me drink bleach). But all the musicians quoted did say they had a lot of fun. I’ll probably get accused of being a joyless elitist for my complaints, and that’s as valid an accusation here as it was for my last few reviews. There is little that’s inherently offensive on this album, a sort-of-varied release packed with skilled musicians. And you, as well as loads of other people, could definitely have as much fun here as the musicians claim to have had. But personally, I didn’t have much of any.