Melbournians Elm Street return after a bit of a hiatus with second album Knock ‘Em Out… With a Metal Fist and bugger me if it doesn’t do just that…
Opening with what used to be a de riguer (for a thrash album that is) acoustic interlude, Elm Street might con you into thinking you’re in for three quarters of an hour of Bay Area goodness with this their second album; However the fact of the matter is really rather different. There are moments of old school thrash hysteria, and when he calms down from his gravel-throated rasp vocalist/guitarist Ben Batres does display a twisted croon a la Mustaine in places – but for the most part the Elms confect a beguiling mix of trad metal (in the NWoBHM sense) with power metal flourishes and the odd whiff of thrash of a more Teutonic bent thanks to Batres’ hoarsely infectious bark.
Opening track Face the Reaper in fact symbolizes that description in six squalling minutes. Guitars duel in finest Murray/Smith fashion, kick drums occasionally double up – but only when they really need to – and Batres roars his way through aggressive verses and a semi-singalong chorus in committed (as in he quite possibly ought to be) fashion. It’s exciting stuff, and while it sets the pulse racing and draws the listener in immediately, the ensuing material just fails to really fly after these auspicious beginnings.
Well, it does most of the time. The ambitious twelve minute epic Blood Diamond is pretty special, weaving it’s way in and out of several moods but always relying on some splendid lead guitar work (and I have to say the lead guitar tone throughout this album is absolutely marvellous), and the thrashy denouement of Kiss the Canvas is utterly compelling, but there are moments when the band seem content to tread water a little. The galloping riff of Will it Take a Lifetime for instance, whilst causing the head to bob up and down appreciatively, just sounds a bit ordinary in comparison to a lot of the surrounding material.
This doesn’t mean the material is bad – none of it could be dismissed thusly – and there aren’t any moments where the concentration really begins to wander, it’s just that some of the slightly more prosaic moments don’t quite stand up to repeated listens. However these moments are few, and excellent tracks like Heavy Mental and Heart Racer do confirm early suspicions that Elm Street might be quite close to being the real deal. Time will tell, of course, but this is strong stuff.