Band: Booze Control
Album: The Lizard Rider (2016)
Genre: traditional heavy metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp
A brown-haired woman in a skintight black jumpsuit, black boots, her lower face covered by a blood-red scarf, fires some sort of machine gun at axe-wielding undead hordes, from atop her mount: a scaly lizard about the size of two good horses. The lizard rider gallops through an apocalyptic wasteland, knocking over barrels of radioactive waste, as poisonous clouds of fallout obscure the distant stars. Sometimes you review a band based solely on the strength of their name, album title, and cover art, and if Booze Control’s The Lizard Rider doesn’t qualify, nothing can.
One of my favorite things about metal is its earnest literalism. A lot of metal, particularly heavy, power, and speed metal, is very comfortable writing songs that aren’t about anything other than the most superficial reading of the lyrics. But here’s the important part: lots of these lyrics are 100% earnest, and not really meant to be understood at any ironic distance whatsoever. A song about a wizard trapped in a crystal who drinks cyanide for strength is not intended to be an elegant metaphor for the anti-Popeye inside us all that drives us to self-destruction while we concurrently fight the straightjacket of social norms. And that’s okay, because “The Last Baron” by Mastodon is a great song irrespective of any deeper meaning behing the frankly absurd lyrics. You could certainly read the song that way, but you’d be meeting it much more than halfway and doing all the heavy analytical lifting in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s a definite joy in eschewing attempts at profundity and relishing the earnestness of facile lyrics. We can learn a thing or two about this from Booze Control.
The Lizard Rider features an eclectic cast of characters. There is a wizard, whose wise rule will bring the kingdom to renewed prosperity, a vile temptress, with whom the singer is infatuated, a spirit of undead vengeance called the Gravelord, a living totem of survival named Vera, and a mystical king of the night called the Exciter. The titles of these songs are, of course, “The Wizard,” “Vile Temptress,” “Gravelord,” “Vera,” and “Exciter.” Their tracks chronicle their abilities, their struggles, their purposes with unvarnished accuracy. Figural speech has no place here. Perhaps, given the subject matter, anything else would be a gauche overreach.
Booze Control accomplishes all this under direct inspiration from classic heavy metal. The dual, harmonized guitars and singer David Kuri’s nasal wail are distinctly reminiscent of Iron Maiden and the Bruce Dickinson years. Structurally, the songs are very straightforward, an appropriate mirror of the lyrics. There are no complicated time signatures or unusual meters or challenging verse-chorus pairings across the album’s forty-one minutes. But the riffs are catchy, the drums always supportive, the bass appropriate – in my mind’s eye, I can see the band members playing diligently, heads down. The music is not at all bad, and each member performs, if not virtuosically, then aptly. Clearly, Booze Control could produce more challenging music, but that’s not their purpose on The Lizard Rider. Instead, this album’s door to appreciation requires a listener to commit to their weird, almost nightmarish, apocalyptic visions. The lyrics take us to the waste lands, to the underworld, to melees of the living and the dead, commanding us to survive in spite of the horrors. The album is an adventure, and I would almost say a silly one, were it not that “silly” does the album an injustice. Irony is tiring even more quickly than bad songwriting, but fortunately, Booze Control gives us sincerity. You must face The Lizard Rider on her own earnest terms.