It has been half a decade since Outlier, a superb display of experimental genre fusion with a djenty alt-metal foundation portrayed through envelope-pushing bangers like "One Hand Killing" and "Invincible." In 2016, I lent much praise to the LP, yet over the years I've yearned for more material with large expectations. Twelve Foot Ninja is the type of band that deserves to mature gracefully with each release, so I've had high hopes that their overindulgence in the Mr. Bungle / Faith No More influence would be plucked out like baby teeth and replaced with a more unique, modern set of chompers.
Vengeance is commendable for many reasons, but perhaps most notable is how well they tackled my aforementioned concern. The overt Mike Patton worship on display in the past is now relegated to mere moments in songs as these Aussie metallers unveil more of their blossoming and shiny identity. Granted, "IDK" and "Gone" milk the Patton vocal impression and Faith No More bouncy riffs too long, but as a whole, this album reveals more purposeful down-the-rabbit-hole zaniness. Each track holds weight with topical lyricism, significant hooks, avant-garde twists, and tasteful innovation.
For shits and giggles, let's explore all the subgenres that are successfully injected into Vengeance. Extreme heaviness in the form of thrash-core is served with a side of mariachi brass for "Culture War." Alternatively, the band time travels to 2077 with cyberpunk industrial synths blaring out in the title track with a seductive trip hop build-up. Twelve Foot Ninja's knack for electronic programming is glowing in many other tracks including the spaceships boops in "Start the Fire" or the brooding synthesizer lines in "Dead End." You won't want to miss the symphonic bossa nova concoction in "Long Way Home," disco funk nostalgia during "Gone," or the jaw-dropping Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired operetta within "Shock to the System."
Luckily, this album is more than just a showcase of peculiar musical style variety. While the compositions are impressively decorated with bizarre genre fusion, the songs are more-so propelled through the power of masterful songwriting and proggy hard rock energy. Opening track "Start the Fire" is undeniably infectious and dynamic. The following adventurous piece "Long Way Home" and speaker-shaker "Vengeance" always draw me back to this album with their three-hit combo allure. Admittedly, "Culture War" initially felt overly heavy, but is now climbing the ranks as my potential favorite song on here. Although the six other tracks in this album have merit, these select four are the quintessential stand-outs.
With all these compliments, some constructive criticism is also well-deserved. While the genre juggling is the most spot-on and smoothly done in their catalog, I wonder if the band could've pushed above and beyond with even more left field musical styles crammed in, especially considering the bar for such a talent has been set high by the likes of Mr. Bungle, Between the Buried and Me, or Igorrr. Additionally, I'll agree that the choice to collaborate with Jinjer vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk was brilliant, yet I was hoping for her signature growl to cleans vocal contrast interplaying with Kin Etik's range of deliveries. Lastly, the album closer "Tangled" left an anti-climactic sensation. Ballads for a metal band can be very hit-or-miss, so I respect the risk. However, I'm convinced the background orchestral flourishes should've been larger and more forward in the mix for the sake of emotional immersion.
Although I don't believe Twelve Foot Ninja have reached their full potential, they are damn close to perfection on Vengeance. The balance between immaculate genre fusion and an accessible headbanging aesthetic is untouchable. With room to expand a bit more in the future, Twelve Foot Ninja is nearing the status of an underrated legacy act. If you desire the weird side of metal, Vengeance is a must-listen album this year.