Like any sub-genre, funk metal had its bad and its good. No, seriously! Despite the fact that most folks who were originally around during its first (and hopefully last) wave will forever poke fun at the era’s musical and sartorial decisions, there was some awesome stuff that emerged from that unlikely combination. No, seriously!
There was also a shit-ton of garbage, and sometimes all you had to do was flip the LP or wait for one song to end and another to start to experience one or the other. But that’s the nature of experimentation and what happens when metal thrashing mad dudes who thought throwing in a little chocka-wocka guitar through a wah pedal was the key to stardom. Some succeeded, many more failed. Think of it this way: the guy who invented The Flaming Dr. Pepper probably wasted untold bottles of valuable hooch and created a vat full of swill in the process before figuring out the unlikely winning combination.
Barring their mostly flaccid third album, The Next Room, Mordred was one of the scant few to take the forbidden ingredients of thrash metal and funk and construct a pair of superior albums. 1989’s Fool’s Game was a melodic, quirky and virtuosic thrash album with a couple of funky numbers (one of which was a cover of "Super Freak"), whereas its 1991 follow-up In This Life was a darker musical rollercoaster ride that had thrash metal and Thin Lizzy worship soaked in off-kilter funky grooves and an avant-garde undercurrent. It was where Aaron “DJ Pause” Vaughn (keyboards/turntables/samples) asserted himself as a vital puzzle piece of the band’s sound, bringing in the sights and sounds of industrialization and urbanism and putting it on equal footing with classic rock, skittish skiffle, creepy post-punk and fusion-y thrash influences and guitar solo heroism.
The Dark Parade is the result of that initial free-form expansion of metal coupled with 20+ years of musical growth and experiences. These days, the Bay Area sextet’s classic lineup remains almost entirely intact, with drummer Jeff Gomes (ex-M.I.R.V., one of weirdest bands to ever marry heavy and funky sounds) being the latest addition to the delivery of a varied musical experience rooted in thrash metal but still employing enough outsider-art to have gatekeepers disowning the band quicker than Former President Orange ShitStain forgets the names of his indicted former business partners.
The album is a front-loaded beast that barrels out of the gate with a variety of takes on, and additions to, thrash and metal. “Demonic #7” gallops in like it’s 1988 with Vaughn further demonstrating his importance to the band beyond the hype-man/cheerleader status of most DJs in a rock band setting. Yes, he adds scratching, which may be anathema to metal, but there are also all manner of foley-esque samples, sounds and noises layered in the background adding texture and depth to the track which itself could have been drawn from In The Life outtakes.
“Malignancy” is a fully-formed, multi-directional sound surge that makes seamless use of a chorus borrowed from a hepped up Thin Lizzy, vocalist Scott Holderby sounding both like a young buck and mature crooner version of himself, thrash from the band’s heyday and includes what amounts to a turntable solo. “I Am Charlie” twists a Mustaine-in-his-prime skank riff around a barrage of samples and scratching with prominent bass chords opening the gates for a spooky, descending chorus that’d be at home in the annals of American speed metal. Leading into and out of the solo sections are more old-school thrashing with a modern vocal blurting and layers of disconcerting guitars.
The title track is another seamless mix of genres: off-beat calliope heaviness, snake charmer melodies, Bay Area luminosity with Holderby’s vocal phrasing smoothly tying everything together, especially during the more mismatched middle eights. And of course, Danny White and Jim Sanguinetti continue to shine as unheralded six stringers with awesome leads piled atop awesome leads.
The album's back end falters, however. “All Eyes on the Prize” is milquetoast with a chorus that sounds far too much like Stuck Mojo for any sane person’s liking. “Dented Lives” is thin and paltry filler and “Dragging for Bodies” works to various degrees on the coruscating side of the medium-heat burn, but the oft-clumsy vocal line moans and struggles to place lyrics. But hey, all is redeemed by the very Lizzy-ish “Smash Goes the Bottle,” which I had to look up to make sure wasn’t a cover. I mean, it still could be, but either way it’s a ripper.
In addition to all of the above, it should be noted that while Mordred’s fourth full-length may not be a stone-cold classic, it is a grower. The different segments, phases and musical outpost utilization doesn’t make categorization and pigeon-holing the record easy, but it’s an album listeners will discover something new and exciting with each listen, at the very least. Seriously.