Death Before Musick

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Newsflash: Casey Chaos is still pissed off. Four years after the promising, yet largely ignored We Have Come for Your Parents, Amen returns with Chaos, its only veteran participant. As the story goes, the mates opted out when Virgin decided Amen didn't have a prayer, leaving Chaos to soldier on with the American equalizer of credit as his only benefactor. That pile of band and label baggage certainly weighed on the famously angry singer. But damn it if the political climate of the early 21st century didn't want to cooperate with Chaos' fragile psyche, either. It caused him grief from D.C. and W. to Sac-Town and Arnold. Jeez, can't an iconoclast catch a break anymore? As it turns out, yes. Amen is revitalized with Death Before Musick, which appears through System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian's eatURmusic vanity imprint. It features a batch of songs performed nearly exclusively by Chaos himself, since the rest of the dudes in Amen jumped ship. It could also be some of the firebrand's best work, unrolling anger and rousing melody over roiling templates of 1977 punk anthemics, post-punk dissolution, and industrial metal sludge. Cuts like "California Bleeding" and "Oblivion Stereo" emphasize the Johnny Rotten qualities of Chaos' voice over raucously ringing guitars, while the awesomely named "We Got the Bait" and "Neutron Liars" are mid-album lightning rods of nihilist consciousness-raising. With their crashing, explosive guitars and acerbic mindset, the latter tracks suggest what Fugazi might sound like if they were to trade activism and idealism for selfish nihilism. "Sorry, Not Sorry" seems to define this stance, comparing and contrasting the benefits of complacency versus defiance. It's not like Chaos ever had his hands on his head. But his finger's now firmly on the trigger of his gun. In Death Before Musick's other moments, everything from Killing Joke, early Ministry, and the riff to Black Sabbath's "Supernaut" all rear back their snapping jaws to take a piece of your calf meat. "F*** in LA" isn't about the good times; it's another opportunity for Chaos' Golden State havoc-reeking (see also the industrial hammering of "Westwood Fallout"). That vicious, unabated anger keeps Death Before Musick startling and visceral, but it's also hard to take after a while. "Infiltrate the masses!" "Summer of Guns"! "Now is the time!" "Death to rock scum!" -- these are the incendiary rallying verses to Amen's prayer. And yet they're also typical, and debatable considering eatURmusic's home under the umbrella of Sony/Columbia. Still, at least Chaos' ideas are in the public forum, which in itself almost didn't happen. Death Before Musick validates his drive to keep Amen afloat, in spite of adversity. Oh, and it rocks like mad, too.

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