New Jersey based outfit Chmcl Str8jckt are a group that draw their inspiration from the past. At a time where genres such as synthwave are taking over, drawing parallels to 80’s retro tunes of old, this band have taken a different path. Instead, they look to the age of ‘Wax Trax’ music, their sound blending metal with industrial, reminiscent of the late 80’s/early 90’s.
It’s one of the three pillars that define Chmcl Str8jckt’s style, the other two being the twisted nature of the music, and the myriad of bizarre sources of inspiration for the songs themselves. These are all played to their strengths on the band’s sophomore album, Wrtchd Thngs (they sure hate their vowels, don’t they?)
Laced within its shadowy tones lies a satirical stance, and this is mainly down to the lyrical content itself.
There’s something of a dark nature for the duration of the record that’s hard to shake off. It’s raw, gritty production values adding an impact to the more visceral elements. Yet it doesn’t get extremely heavy in terms of sound, depending on creating a mood, rather than the volume of it’s sonic elements, to pack a punch. By the way this is reading so far, you’d think that the album is all doom and gloom, but that’s pretty far off the mark.
Laced within its shadowy tones lies a satirical stance, and this is mainly down to the lyrical content itself. Frontman Kevin Snell, not being one to focus on conveying emotions, has turned to a variety of alternatives here, with… interesting results. Songs about the struggles of life or the heartbreak of loss have been traded in for tracks about Western film director Sam Peckinpah, ‘badass’ psycho-sexuals, another explores the thoughts of a mental patient in an asylum dreaming of reuniting with his circular saw… the list of oddities goes on. It’s dark humour at its finest!
Title track, “Wrtchd Thngs” serves as more of an intro to the proceedings. There’s a menacing primal chant, which comes across like a messed up nursery rhyme The old-school feel instantly hits the second “Ode To Peckinpah (Bloody Sam)” begins. There’s slick percussion that’s prominent for the duration of the track, and the overall feel it creates is like Skinny Puppy on steroids. This is especially evident in Snell’s vocal performance, which carries this style throughout the record. Despite the gloomy riffs, the track maintains a catchy momentum with a flurry of electronic layers that come in from all angles. “The Only Thing That’s Real” is triggered by a thick bassline, as feedback driven guitar blares. It’s of rebellious nature, veering towards a punk style. This seamlessly transitions to synth hooks, as both mould together in seamless fashion, creating a chaotic mood. It manages to capture a heavy style, whilst feeling groovy in the same measure. Foreboding ambience, and creepy effects align for “Cut Deep”. When the electronic noises and melodies kick in, they come across so strong that it can be almost overwhelming. It’s like a descent into madness. This is contextualised by stylish riffs, giving the listener a vague respite. As if the track couldn’t become any more twisted, there’s even screaming effects added for good measure.
The opening sounds like it could be being played back from a demonically possessed music box [“Black Vulture”]
Sombre piano begins in “Baphomet”, with an eerie backing atmosphere, which smoothly progresses into a retro style synth melody. Needless to say, this doesn’t go where you’d initially expect it to, as chugging riffs are moulded directly into this sound. It infuses the track with an unexpected pace and is extremely catchy. In a strange twist, there’s a cover of Aldo Nova’s “Fantasy” up next. Naturally, Chmcl Str8jckt have put their own spin on it, transforming it into a dark rock number. The way in which it’s been portrayed here is much harder, and there are moments that make it sound like the intro to a sci-fi cop thriller show. Meanwhile, “Cactus” is a flurry of chugging synths, heavy riffs, and has an ominous feeling to it’s tone. It’s not an extremely heavy track, but the atmosphere this generates makes it hit a lot harder than it initially lets on. Sadly, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but is still decent as a segue between songs. “Love” is the closest thing this album has to anything resembling a ballad. The use if acoustic guitar helps with this, but reverberating chunky bass and hypnotic melodies keep the industrial aesthetic alive. It mainly depends on ambience to drive things forward, and is a really interesting, experimental tune. “Bomb Cyclone”, on the other hand, is the complete opposite in terms of atmosphere. An adrenaline pumping, catchy electronic backing is extremely prominent, as smooth riffs and some sleek bass sneak back in. It becomes yet another great rock themed track, it’s sleazy undertones giving it a strong edge. “Black Vulture” is creepy and haunting in it’s ambience. The opening sounds like it could be being played back from a demonically possessed music box. This gives way to pounding drums and more riffage. Naturally, the song continues the dark, sinister nature that is prominent on the rest of the record. At times, it sounds like a twisted take on a Tim Burton soundtrack. In the latter half it speeds off into overdrive, seemingly out of nowhere, into a chorus of metal. Grim piano melodies return in time for the end, as if it were a funeral gathering. The frenetic pace of “Meat Hook” is instant, giving no time to pause for thought. The insanity well and truly takes it’s hold here. If System of a Down ever attempted a more industrial style, this is probably what it would sound like. The energy is extremely visceral, and I can see this going down a storm in a live setting. It certainly ends the album on a high note.
If I could describe Wrtchd Thngs in a word, it would be refreshing. Whilst the style is nothing original, it’s great to see a group of musicians tackle a niche genre and succeed so well. Granted, there are one or two moments that drag, but the vast majority of it is enough to keep things enticing. The real defining factor here is how clearly tongue in cheek it all is. The stories that the tracks convey may be lost on some, and without packing any real emotional messages, it could end up not resonating so effectively, but it’s nice to have something different. It’s, dare I say, kind of fun. Once grasping what the music is about, it becomes easy to paint vivid pictures of these gloriously grotesque scenarios within the mind.
So rather than jumping on the bandwagon straight into the past (which so many acts have done), Chmcl Str8jckt have taken the Wax Trax style and made it feel fresh. It feels like a revival of an old-school genre, not only reminding us of the alternative scene’s roots, but also proving that it still very much has its place in the modern era.
Final Verdict: Wrtchd Thngs is not only a glorious homage to the era of Wax Trax music, it feels like a revival. Laden with catchy dark tunes, and laced with satirical themes, it makes for one hell of a fun ride.