REVIEW: Twelve Foot Ninja – Vengeance

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Some people compile Spotify playlists by genre and then there are those eccentric goofs like me whose signature kink is to listen to the playlist of +15,000 songs on shuffle, with the highly probable chance of exposing their delicate ears to, say, Frank Sinatra or EARTH, WIND & FIRE right after a DIMMU BORGIR song. The same kind of people are still likely to own impressive CD or vinyl collections, organized in alphabetical order with the ORCHESTRAL MANEUVERS IN THE DARK albums neatly resting against the whole OPETH back catalog. If you felt a sting in your conscience when reading this, hear me out: there is a crazy bunch hailing from Melbourne, Australia, that has perfected such genre-juggling to an art form of stellar proportions. The band is christened TWELVE FOOT NINJA, among other highly dubious things. If the abrasive sound of the future will sound anything like this, I think humanity has not yet lost all hope. I was introduced to the band’s music circa 2012 when their debut album, “Silent Machine,” came out and it was love at first soundbite. When the sophomore studio outing, “Outlier,” was released in 2016, it felt even more like a divine confirmation that I was not alone in this indifferent universe with my genre-bending fetish. Now, this eclectic sound brigade is pushing the envelope of experimental genre fusion even further with their third studio offering “Vengeance,” which was released on October 15th, 2021, via Volkanic Records. This time around, the band’s signature bouncy djent-riffs are layered with synthwave, disco-funk nostalgia, and the odd jazz and mariachi vibes. If this isn’t enough to transport the true music lover to endocrine states of rapture, I don’t know what is.

TWELVE FOOT NINJA‘s previous two albums both had an instant killer of a video single. On the debut, it was the track, “Coming For You,” whereas the second outing boasted the track, “One Hand Killing.” The third time’s a charm, as they say. This time the instant killer is the video single, “Over and Out,” featuring Tatiana Shmayluk of JINJER. Befittingly, the vocal melody resonates with a subtle note of Slavic melancholy and the voices compliment each other rather eloquently. Of course, you kind of expect Shmayluk to start growling any moment, which (alas!) does not happen. The song is a real banger nonetheless, so you probably won’t mind too much. Throughout the band’s lengthy crusade in stretching the very definition of crossover metal, they have always had a particular knack for writing diabolically catchy songs. It does not really matter whether the song is a pumped-up metalcore riffage with a Saturday Night Fever dressing or a djenty burger with a side dish of sleazy bossanova. One way to escape the clutches of modern evil is by virtue of being an everything bagel. When you feel equally at home at a smoky jazz club and in the mosh pit of a metal event, life is all that much better and you don’t need shady stimulants to expand your consciousness (except music).

What sets the new album slightly apart from the previous two outings is that the synths are brought more dominantly to the forefront. The debut did not sport much keyboards, whereas on “Outlier,” you could encounter the odd organ stab or an inspiring keyboard solo. The new album kicks off with a twisted, offbeat riff origami that is heavily laced with synthwave elements. The passing “Strawberry Fields Forever” feeling evoked by the brief Mellotron flute break sounds particularly lovely. If the band can get away with mixing a little bit of THE BEATLES with djent and sci-fi synths, it must be doing something right.

The modern EDM vibes gear up on the title track, “Vengeance,” and the synth-poppy track, “Shock to the System,” resonates with the plastic funk of 1980s bands such as LEVEL42, maybe excluding the tango cabaret break that hits more close to home with the music of Tom Waits. Mix these flavors with the band’s angular metal riffs and you’re in for a mind-blowing sonic cocktail, “falling between the couch cushions and planetary domination,” as the band quite rightly states on their Facebook page.

As it happens, the band is currently short a bass player. The long-time bassist, Damon McKinnon, announced his departure from the group in 2019. Thus, the new album features the French bassist, Hadrien Feraud, a genuine jazz dude who has played with luminaries such as John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, and Mike Stern. The jazz assaults are served in moderation and none of the tracks take off on such a wild jazz tangent as the track “Oxygen” did on the previous outing. If you listen very carefully, you can hear quite exquisite, jazzy, and funky basslines here and there though. On occasion, the elastic synth bassline almost resonates with the genuine aura of Tom Browne‘s “Funkin’ for Jamaica.”

Last year, in order to bring joy to everyone amidst the pandemic, TWELVE FOOT NINJA published a YouTube video of their cover rendition of the 1986 HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS blockbuster hit, “Stuck With You.” It must have left a lasting impact on the band because I could swear that the track, “Gone,” on this new TWELVE FOOT NINJA selection echoes something very 1986-ish, in a somewhat Marty McFly-esque fashion. If the movie Back to the Future ever gets a remake, McFly should shred some of the monster riffs on this album instead of that iconic Eddie Van Halen impersonation in the 1985 original, while uttering the same legendary line, “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it.”

Oh, yes. We do.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Start the Fire
  2. Long Way Home
  3. Vengeance
  4. IDK
  5. Shock to the System
  6. Gone
  7. Culture War
  8. Dead End
  9. Over and Out
  10. Tangled

Lineup

Nik “Kin Etik” Barker – vocals

Steve “Stevic” MacKay – lead guitar

Shane “Russ” Russell – drums

Rohan “Ro” Hayes – rhythm guitar, backing vocals

Label

Volkanik Records

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