Monday 11 March 2019

Alcotopia - It Hits the Spot (2019)

Country: Lithuania
Style: Heavy/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2019
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In digging deep into the rock/metal world of 2019, I'm already starting to see a number of trends. Genres aren't the be all end all definitions that they used to be, because bands are merging them every which way. Groups who split up in the eighties are coming back and recording new material. And it doesn't seem like anything is unfashionable enough to avoid any more.

I've been digging all these trends and the latter has led me to search for styles that seemed to have died a death as unfashionable long ago. Case in point: speed metal, that faster evolution of NWOBHM led by clean vocals and blistering guitarwork. Thrash adopted it and evolved it further, but I was a fan of early eighties speed metal and I'd love to hear new equivalents to Razor and Exciter and Agent Steel that benefit from modern production.

Alcotopia looked promising, especially given that Armageddon kicks off with suitably tasty vicious guitars, but they're not entirely what I'm looking for. They are up tempo throughout and they leap into high speed at points, such as in Faceless Man and F.Y.E.S., as well as late in Mountain King and early in Alcotopia, but they never stay there. When they do, I felt it like I used to thirty years back, but those moments were far too fleeting for my tastes.

While they're fast at points, the majority of It Hits the Spot is spent at the mid-speed level, so it's more heavy metal with a periodic fondness for speed. Asylum of the Damned is a fantastic example of this; It plays rather like the intro to a speed metal song, after the speed has been promised but hasn't yet arrived, or like the inevitable bridge, when they slow things down temporarily to give us a breather.

All that said, I can only judge this on its own merits, not what I might be looking for in it. It's not a bad album, with the band tight enough to make this work. Laurynas Karka delivers clean vocals with a slight rasp, akin in many ways to Eugene Hütz of Gogol Bordello. The accent's very similar, if a little less overt, and they have similar tastes in lyrics, as the band name and album title suggest. The title track is a spiritual successor to Gogol Bordello's Alcohol.

Yes, it's often as juvenile as it might seem. It's foul mouthed for no good reason other than to be foul mouthed, as if the band think that will render them cool to a particular audience. The final track, More Beer, could have been recorded by Tankard or Wehrmacht back in the eighties. But hey, as they point out in the title track, maybe that hits the spot. It surprises me but shrug.

There's an odd moment of higher culture late in the album, because the song called Mountain King features music from Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King, a very recognisable classical piece. I'm used to Accept doing that but Alcotopia sound more like Testament on this song with lyrics akin to Manowar and that makes it a little odder.

It's very welcome, of course, but it's out of place with the, shall we say, less intellectual material? Holy crap, that sounded classist, but it does feel a little strange to see a Lithuanian band who have built an image on the concept that 'drunken reprobate' should be a life goal suddenly launch into Norwegian classical music.

This is mostly fun and it's done capably with clear musical flair. My neck got a little bit of a workout and the album never bored me, even when I was rolling my eyes. But it's not the workout I was hoping for.

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