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ASKA

ASKA
Avenger
(EMA Records)

If this record came bearing the name Dooms U.K., odds are this paper would give it the familiar ol' humjob, something along the lines of: "The Dooms rescue prog-rock from the history books and the dung heaps, proving unflinching ambition tempered with sincere passion results in music that lasts beyond any nostalgic smile they might elicit when they render Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' into a ska tune or bury the title track from Grease beneath so much inspired distortion and avant-skronk" (excerpted from Dallas Observer, September 10, 1998). Then, we tend to prefer our prog-art-metal-etc. filtered through a knowing smirk and served up with a steaming dollop of henh-henh irony; perhaps it makes it simpler to justify the hour it takes to listen to a hair-metal record masquerading as homage dolled up like parody. We've become so infatuated with music made between quotation marks that we sometimes tend to hear the ironic parenthesis instead of the noise being made between them -- and so John Freeman and his merry gang of Denton proggers are hailed in these pages (often, every other week), while the likes of ASKA are reviled for making the exact same brand of noise.

And it bears noting that Freeman is indeed something of an ASKA fan, an admirer of their look (grown men forever flinging their Cher hair over muscle Ts and leather jackets), their sound (a hodgepodge of Kix, Autograph, T.N.T., and Accept), and, perhaps most of all, their refusal to accept the long-ago death of concept metal. I will never forget the night the Dooms opened for ASKA at The Rock in April 1998: Freeman, standing in the small crowd, vibrated like a tuning fork with each synchronized guitar solo, each obscure European-metal cover, each reference to a genre of music so pilloried, the audience has now been reduced to the cult. It made us non-believers feel a bit small: We giggled, all the while insisting we weren't having a very good time. Shame on us.

I would not presume to insist ASKA's fourth disc, Avenger, is something I have much interest in or tolerance for; still, it amuses the shit out of me, which counts for a lot. Fact is, nothing beats a metal record with a plot by a band so stuck in 1982 (OK -- Arlington, like there's a difference), it's still trying to figure out how to top Saxon's Denim & Leather. Ostensibly, Avenger's a sci-fi tale about a savior sent to free earth from the "Outworld oppressors" who have enslaved the human race. Uh-hunh -- and Paradise Theater was about something too. Better to dig it for the twin-guitar riffs and epic sludge of "Imperial Rome" ("The glory of Rome / Ancestral home of those who put Christ in his place"), the piano ballad called "Prelude to Darkness," the way George Call sings like he's got half a ball, and the bang-a-gong closer "Warriors Return." It's all about context, brother, and the straight face only makes it that much funnier. Seriously brilliant, dude. image

Robert Wilonsky

 
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