The New Classics

What’s this column about?

There’s really only two reasons to start a band: making music and getting famous.

The fame part, well, some bands handle that differently than others. Some band members eventually let it go to their heads (see the long-awaited Guns N’ Roses album); some achieve the fame and ultimately shun it (see Pearl Jam, mid-career); some can’t handle the fame at all and self-destructive.

Sadly, American Head Charge falls into that last category.

The band’s “The War of Art” was an explosive debut. Housed on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, home to metal masters Slayer, it seemed an instant hit. The band scored a handful of high-profile tours (including a stint on Ozzfest and Slipknot’s Pledge of Allegiance tour). Then … nothing.

Four years later the band showed up on a different label with a lackluster follow-up. The hiatus was blamed on drug and alcohol problems, along with inner-band turmoil and issues between the band, its label and producer Rubin. What was once one of the more promising bands of the new millennium was reduced to just another band trying to catch on with the masses … and on the subsequent national tour in support of “The Feeding,” a founding member would be found dead on the tour bus.

While the future of American Head Charge is very much up in the air, “The War of Art” stands tall as a new classic.

A New Classic

American Head Charge
The War of Art
American Recordings

“I think we probably put a little more thought into arrangements and I think we put a lot of thought into sonics, layering, melody, counter-melody, tempo changes and mood changes. You know you put on a record and the first song sounds like the second and the fourth sounds like the seventh song. Why even make a record? Why don’t you just make a single? I’d like to believe our record kinda does this (gestures a peak and valleys motion). We got different moods and textures.”

— American Head Charge bassist Chad Hanks

Give seven guys some guitars, amps and drums, throw in some samples and a heavy dose of metal and industrial noise, and you’re left with American Head Charge.

The group’s debut album, “The War of Art,” was quite literally a wall of sound.

From the opening, foreboding samples on “A Violent Reaction,” you can tell you’re in for a gritty, down and dirty ride filled with metal mayhem. Martin Cock is a sort of twisted master of ceremonies, growling through track after track with abandon. Each track bleeds into one another, barely giving the listener time to come up for air.

“Pushing the Envelope,” with its machine-gun stutter-stop chorus, is one of the most abrasive tracks released in the past decade. Even when the band lets up for a moment (like the keyboard opening of “Song for the Suspect”) the relief is short lived. Every track seethes with an abundance of emotion (check out the “Never get caught…” vocal bridge on the song of the same title).

In short, American Head Charge put together a turgid blend of unflinching metal and industrial haze. And with 16 tracks, the band hardly gave up an inch or cut things too short … this is a full (read: long) album of material that fails to find a niche or ever get boring.

The Test of Time

“The War of Art” really was one of my favorite albums of 2001. From the moment I saw the band take the stage (and the subsequent insane live act), I knew this was a band to behold. The album blew me away, and the other two concerts I caught from the seven-piece were just as impressive. No one was more surprised that the group all but disappeared as me.

Four years later and I couldn’t be happier that the group had finally returned. But it just wasn’t the same. The songs were shorter, far less abrasive and the album totally unfocused. “The Feeding” was a solid outing, but nothing like the promise “The War of Art” held. Maybe it was the new lineup, the new home, the new producer. It seemed the band was holding back and now, with yet another lineup change following the death of guitarist Brian Ottoson, who knows what the future holds and what the band will be able to come up with down the road.

Of course, as usual, there is always the “War of Art” to look back on and spark “what might have been” conversations.

Until Next Time

American Head Charge gave listeners the best of both worlds. At the time, with Ministry no longer a heavyweight in the metal/industrial circles (and Rammstein a more acquired taste), the band filled a void on the U.S. metal scene. The band was more gritty than Slipknot (a band they were getting comparisons from at the time given each group’s expansive ranks) and offered up a monster-sized helping of heavy metal. I saw big things in American Head Charge’s future. Sadly, they never seemed to come to pass. Any fan of the aforementioned bands would be glad to have this new classic in their collection. Maybe a little too long for some, it remains one of my favorite metal releases of the new millennium.

And that’s that. Until next time, take it easy. Stay tuned and enjoy the ride …

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