(Our Rearview Mirror series, which used to be an NCS fixture on Sundays, has been eclipsed by black metal, but has been temporarily revived today as a vehicle for this retrospective by TheMadIsraeli.)
This is one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ve never heard anything like it, not before it and not after it. Nu metal was a weird, kooky-ass genre but it produced some gems, and this is one of them. For me personally, this is probably the best record ever made during nu metal’s reign. The passion and the weird inter-sectional nature of the elements involved made this album, for me, basically perfect.
American Head Charge themselves are a weird band, releasing a 1999 debut (an underground, very rare release that mostly had songs from this album with much worse production and less fleshed-out sounds), this album where they hit an unreal stride, followed by a detour into just… kind of plain nu metal. I’m not sure why they didn’t continue what they did on this album; it’s a mystery that bugs me to this day, but I genuinely do believe that The War Of Art is one of the best albums made in metal’s history, in addition to being the best of its entire sub-genre. Yeah, I said it.
So, while this album was classified as nu metal back in the day, and I accept the classification, the sound of The War Of Art is more like a sort of industrial hardcore album. It’s kind of like if Hatebreed and Nine Inch Nails and Crowbar-styled drag intersected with nu metal’s sense of catchy dark melodic song-writing, explosive song finishes, and unabashed experimentation. That industrial element isn’t just personified in the use of literal machine sounds and other asides; the guitars also have a very digitized, piston-pounding nature, the drums sound like an EDM party occurring in a junk yard, and rhythmically the band really thrived on a sort of staggered rigidity that itself personified a machine-like DNA. Combine all that with the part-soulful, clean swagger and part blood-curdling screams of vocalist Cameron Heacock (I’ve never heard anyone who sounds like this guy), and the results are just impossible not to become immersed in.
Like, the opener “A Violent Reaction” is pretty great, establishing the band’s most base elements in a powerful groove, with good vocal hooks and a solid main riff that keeps you sucked in, but the insanity starts immediately afterward. “Pushing The Envelope” begins in the vein of it’s predecessor, but then the verse kicks in and I couldn’t even tell you what the fuck is going on beyond the double-bass and drums. The particular sound combination creates a consistent tick-tocking, like a clock feeling oppressive to the bone.
“Song For The Suspect” starts out with a melancholy jazz piano melody before it kicks into what I can only describe as an industrial sort of swing. “Never Get Caught” is one of the most industrial songs, until it totally breaks ranks with an explosive finale that invokes that Crowbar sort of drag I mentioned earlier, while feeling like you’re listening to a nuke going off in slow motion.
The thing is, for all its simplicity, the simple but effective riffing with the melodies laid on top via other instrumentation or Heacock’s vocals results in music that IS complex, just compositionally instead of technically. The effect this produces when the band dig into something for climax reasons by stripping the sound down to its bare essentials makes the heaviness of those moments pretty overpowering.
The War Of Art is a big-ass album, 16 tracks in total, but it goes by so fast and it leaves you wanting more when it’s done. I still love it to this very fucking day. It’s too bad the band never kept up this consistency or even this sound, but I genuinely think every metalhead out there should listen to it. It’s a masterpiece.