Tuesday, January 9, 2018

album review: 'all posers must die' by sex master

I feel like I should be giving you all some context for this review - and while there's a part of me that wants to just say 'context is for posers' and move on, I at least have to take you back to last Saturday night, January 6, 2018. It's late, it's absolutely freezing outside, but after a long afternoon and editing, I decide to head out to one of my favourite metal bars, where lo and behold there's a tape release party for the newest project from the local duo Sex Master, released by Craniophagus Parasiticus Records.

Now a few disclaimers here: I know both Matt Black and Struan Robertson, the latter who you might recognize as the drummer from Canadian metal group AMMO - they're cool guys, and while I'd say we're more acquaintances than friends, I see them on a regular basis. I'm also acutely aware that Sex Master is a bit of a tough group to categorize: local cult metal icons and definitely talented enough to earn the acclaim they've received, but for those outside of that cult I can see some finding this a tad ridiculous, or perhaps their appeal best understood in a live setting - fitting because this new project was recorded live. And while both statements are probably true, I also need to stress that I'm still bringing my critical due diligence to bear here - after all, I wouldn't want to disparage the awesome might Sex Master by going easy on them or something. So, with all of that established, what did we get on All Posers Must Die?

I'm of a few minds on a record like this: on the one hand, I can see the average mainstream pop fan or even metal head being skeptical of a project like this, because it's clearly targeting the local, homegrown metal crowd that still chooses to release projects on tape over CD. And to folks who don't know that scene or don't have any familiarity with a more DIY punk aesthetic, you'd probably turn up your nose to a project like this if you hadn't already, probably not aware that most punk and underground metal acts started in this vein - and I get the lack of knowledge, projects like this rarely ever get coverage, let alone a formal review like this. And when you factor in that this is primarily a live recording, the cards are stacked even higher against it - and yet I can't deny I enjoyed this a fair bit. It definitely has its flaws, but if we're giving a pass to so many lo-fi Soundcloud hip-hop releases in the mainstream right now, I don't see why Sex Master doesn't deserve a seat at the table.

Granted, the biggest obstacle many will face with a tape like this is the sound quality and mixing, because this was a project recorded live in a dank, underground metal bar and you can definitely tell. You can hear the shouts and whoops of the crowd, the cymbals can sound alternately muddy or a tad too tinny, and all the tones have a grimy, hollow, lo-fi sound that doesn't dampen the guitars or kickdrums, but it doesn't exactly sharpen them either. They're lucky that the metal bar in question has as great acoustics as it does that lets the feedback resonate but not echo, or let the low-end have as much texture as it does without sounding blown out, and even then you can tell that whoever was recording was doing so from a specific position with respect to the guitar or drums, because the distinct placement of those sounds within the mix will definitely come through, which for some listeners will sound amateurish or distracting. But in a sense I can appreciate that: it thoroughly captures the placement and atmosphere that Sex Master cultivates live, the seething roar of Matt Black's guitarwork and growling on one side bouncing against Struan Robertson's frankly insane drumming on the other, with you trapped in the middle. And when this record nails the placement of the recording it can make for an immersive experience - the haunting echo of the howls on 'Cellar Door' against the more progressive drumline and tremolo riffs, or the filthy, charging riffs in 'Posers To The Back' with the demented switchup midway through, or the curdled yet propulsive groove that fits the most developed song 'We Died For Rock (So Rock Could Live)'.

And that's important to note: the eight tracks are playing to a very loose, jam-band structure, with Robertson's dense blastbeat drumming providing foundation for Black's melodic riffs to build speed or intensity of their own - if we get vocals they're often blunt and guttural, but they really don't need much more to cultivate the cacophonous vibe. And that's one of two hidden keys to why this Sex Master tape works at all: both Black and Robertson are pretty damn solid behind their respective instruments, careening across genres of metal and even punk with 'Nazi Black Metal Fuck Off' with the skill and shredding to compensate for pretty minimalist structures - hell, you almost don't realize there isn't a bassline because the percussion grooves uncannily balance the spiky guitar work, even if on songs like the opener 'Intro/Masters Of Sex' it takes a bit for the two to properly get in sync. It nails these fragments of raw emotion so effectively you almost don't notice the second element and one that's always key to good live records: the background. I've already mentioned how damn good the acoustics are for capturing the right vibe, but I like how Sex Master keeps in the whoops and chants and especially on the outro 'All Posers Must Die Pt.3' the half-heard conversations of 'hey, that was pretty decent' or 'yeah, I liked it'. It's almost inconsequential, but it feeds into the Sex Master experience - a duo who nobody really expects to take all that seriously but who bring so much raw talent to the table that it's almost a communal experience to absorb the show. It's one reason I don't actually mind the rough-edged recording much at all, in the same way I don't mind crackles of feedback or a more lo-fi pickup: it's texture, and outside of actually being there, it's a pretty immersive way to appreciate the Sex Master experience.

So as a whole... look, even for most metalheads this is a tough sell: it's guttural, there's complexity in the arrangement but not too much - it's borderline punk at points - and the recording quality definitely shows the budget. But if you can clue in to the DIY underground tone, raw talent and a remarkably immersive recording all the same leads to an experience that will stick with you more than you might think, music that doesn't exactly adhere to a genre within extreme metal, but has some charm to it all the same. For me, it's a light 7/10 and a recommendation - an acquired taste for sure, but if a project like this doesn't draw you towards Sex Master, I'm not sure what will.

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