Generalissimo -- LOVE WITHOUT MERCY 12" lp [Arbeit Macht Dinge]

I can't decide if Bay Area malcontents Generalissimo are a band or a propaganda machine; aside from their militaristic name, they dress as soldiers (complete with jackboots) and pose for photos in full uniform while waving patriotic flags, and their website and album visuals appear to be heavily influenced by cold-war Soviet propaganda posters. Are they America's answer to Laibach, armed with guitars instead of synths? I dunno, but I know this: they rock with military precision. This is clearly a band that believes in discipline and lots of it -- their tightly-wound songs unfurl with a complete lack of filler, which is all the more impressive when you consider that they have three guitarists in addition to the rhythm section, which could be a sonic train wreck of epic proportions if it weren't for their remarkable restraint and stellar songwriting chops. In keeping with the totalitarian presentation, they avoid individual credits on the album (and the website), which makes it difficult to single any one member out for praise -- you have no choice but to view the band as the rock version of a statist collective rather than a collection of individuals, which is kind of interesting.

The songs themselves are straight-up, black coffee rock whose roots can be traced back to both hardcore music and (to a lesser extent) riff-driven grunge / stoner bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Melvins, although they're way better than the former and nowhere near as idiosyncratic as the latter. Unlike a lot of those bands, Generalissimo are beautifully concise: the longest of the eight tracks on this album is only 3:40, and half the tracks are under three minutes. They are no strangers to bombast, though -- in addition to the singer's decidedly Wagnerian vocals, the band has a tendency to build toward controlled explosions of sound, especially on the opener "National Razor," and while their riffing leans toward the fast and frantic, their sound is never sloppy or uncontrolled. Even on the instrumental track "Billy Club," the band rocks with authority, and on "Proletkult," they not only bring the fuzz-laden noise on top of the monster riffs, but they open with riffs that gradually work their way out of sync in a distinctive way before bursting forth into full rock glory. They loosen up (well, a little) on "Silver Skin," enough to offer up some exquisitely squealy noise guitar and even get downright pretty on "Vojvoda," another instrumental, one that opens with lovely fingerpicked acoustic guitar before they bring the rock. They even turn Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" into a hard-rocking military march filled with lots of swell lead guitar. How can you possibly resist such whole-grain goodness, especially with such a well-executed presentation? As an added bonus, you can slow the album down from 45 rpm to 33 rpm and hear them magically become really catchy death metal.

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