All-star mash up albums are great when they work – for example Roadrunner United or Dave Grohl’s Probot project. But they are terribly underwhelming when they don’t – for example this year’s Teenage Time Killer or any number of fast-buck tribute albums.
Metal Allegiance (released via Nuclear Blast), a project centred around Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson, Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick and former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, features a revolving cast of singers, and definitely counts as an all-star mashup. Each track features a different singer and focuses on a different style of metal. Despite the cheesy name, the self-titled debut manages to avoid being a hockey tribute and instead is a perfectly satisfying, if safe, tribute to the genre.
The 10 tracks on offer cover pretty much all areas of mainstream metal of the last decade or so. Opener ‘Gift of Pain’ (featuring Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe) is a solid mid-paced chugger, featuring the kind of groove you’d expect on a Lamb of God album track. ‘Dying Song’ sees Phil Anslemo do his best Layne Staley impression over a Black Label Society-eque southern rocker. ‘Can’t Kill The Devil’ (featuring Testament’s Chuck Billy) is a classic slice of American thrash. All the way through, the quality of the music can’t be faulted.
Troy Sander’s spot on ‘Let Darkness Fall’ gives a glimpse of how Mastodon could have sounded if they were more of a thrash outfit but retained their experimental edge, while King’s X singer dUg Pinnick and Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta come together perfectly for what is probably the album’s highlight in ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’; Pinnick’s haunting baritone juxtaposes Jasta’s aggression in what is one of the few surprises on the record. Matt Heafy’s bland appearance on the dull ‘Destination Nowhere’ is the only real stinker (how far he and Trivium have fallen since he guested on 2005’s Roadrunner United album).
But throughout Metal Allegiance, it’s Skolnick that shines brightest. His blistering solos are scattered throughout the record and add some urgency and life to each track. The scorching guitar work on ‘Gift of Pain’, the Spanish interlude of ‘Let Darkness Fall’ or the grungy groove of ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’ all make them a more enjoyable listen. It’s only the self-indulgent masturbation of seven-minute instrumental ‘Triangulum’ gets old pretty quickly, even if it does feature half a dozen guitarists.
Metal Allegiance is good fun, but it’s not particularly adventurous; there’s no surprise or controversial inclusions, no one from the extreme edge of metal. Every musician involved can boast a lengthy and successful career and a few spots on the Billboard 100. It is, however, an enjoyable listen and would make a great showcase introduction to the genre for someone who hadn’t heard any metal before, and offers fans a chance to hear some of their favourite singers in a slightly new setting. And that’s no bad thing.