Attempting to discuss a Nails album is akin to trying to discuss what bullets are made of as they’re being fired at you. The genre specification mill has been churning out titles for this band. Death Metal, Noisecore, and my personal favorite, Hardcore Metallurgists. The need to pigeonholed Nails goes on. If a gun was pointed to my skull and either my genre idea or my brains would be on the table, I’d go with grindcore. Regardless, Nails are exactly like their name. Short, tough, pointed and will rip through your flesh if need be. The new album is titled Abandon All Life and it is going to shatter you.
Ten songs in seventeen minutes.
I will repeat that: Ten songs in seventeen minutes and one of those songs is five minutes long.
You get the idea. Nails don’t want to dazzle you with their intricate song structures or impress you with their ripping solos. They want to bash your skull in with an audio ballpeen hammer. Imagine Nails as Leatherface, their music that damn hammer, and you, the innocent teenager who wandered into the wrong fucking house. Abandon All Life pulverizes your skull and then hangs you on a meat hook until the last note.
There is not much to say as far as Nails songs go. Short, spectacularly violent bursts of guitars, drums, bass and noise. Traditional songs give way to walls of sound and screams that rattle through your bones. “In Exodus” opens Abandon All Life with a low-end heavy riff that seems to indicate a slower, more deliberate Nails. Nope, twenty seconds in and the band raises sail on the sea of high-speed.
Standing like a twisted figurehead on this ship is vocalist/guitarist Todd Jones. The make or break of a band like this is their scream. If the guy can’t wail outside the standard format, the band sinks like a stone. Jones doesn’t have to worry about that. His scream could curdle milk or melt steel. If North Korea does fire nukes at us, I’ll just put Jones at ground zero with a microphone and a speaker. One scream and those pussy nukes are dust.
As insane and rapid fire as all this is, Nails manage to slide some unexpected treats into Abandon All Life. The nod to Napalm Death towards the end of “Absolute Control”, the undercurrent of old school hardcore in “God’s Cold Hands”, I even dig the last breath of life sound that comes right before the slow grind of “Wide Open Wound. “Suum Cuique” is a five-minute slow crawl instrumental that ends the record. Newish territory for Nails, but they rise to the occasion.
Nails also have something intangible. Something you can’t buy or learn. As abstract as it all seems, as filled with chaotic noise as Abandon All Life is, there are songs here. You can’t just have chaos; you need a point, a direction and Nails stands head and shoulders above most of their peers when it comes to writing layered and interesting things in a short time and buried beneath waves of destruction.
The second part of their intangible quality is the magic of returning producer Kurt Ballou. I don’t know how the Dr. Dre of extreme music does it, but he manages to get great clarity out of all that noise. When you can really hear the instruments, this kind of music comes to life. Ballou not only gets clarity, he allows for maximum heaviness without muddying up the sound. Taking what Nails does and allowing a master like Ballou to tweak it is how you go from an average metal record to something more unique.
Plenty out there would argue that uniqueness is undeserved because Nails’ music is so simple. Simple that is, until they try it themselves and find how hard it is not to become just another noisy face in the crowd. Nails stand up and stand out. Abandon All Life is a completely visceral experience. It’s all emotion and heart here; everything is forced out like a dying breath. Purity of rage, clarity of sound and commitment to devastation all intertwine to produce a seventeen-minute bastard of unpleasantness, and there is a definite joy to that.