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Murder Van - Crooked Smiles

Murder Van
Crooked Smiles
by Mike Peacock at 14 March 2022, 11:41 AM

I’d tell you to buckle up, but there are no safety features on this high-intensity joyride through hell. So you can hold on for your lives and pray to whatever higher (or lower) power you subscribe to, but it will

not save you from the crushing onslaught of death/thrash insanity provided by the aptly named MURDER VAN and their latest EP, “Crooked Smiles”. So shut up and accept your fate.

Released on December 17, 2021, via Wormholedeath Records, this murderous 4 song abomination continues the band’ dedication to providing raw, unabashed, stripped-down, in your face, violent and aggressive metal that is simultaneously shoved down your throat and crammed up your ass for a brutal DP of metal savagery. Picking up right where they left off with their self-titled 2019 debut, the Atlanta trio once again prove that you don’t need high levels of technicality or showmanship to make a recognizable contribution to the now saturated metal market.

At its core, MURDER VAN clearly has roots in classic-era speed and thrash metal, which is the era that I lost my soul to. Having never heard this band before (I know, what rock have I been under?), I expected more of a campy/cheesy garage style album but was pleasantly surprised the second I heard the opening to “Clawing the Casket”.  With its “Swallowed in Black” inspired opening riff, I eagerly listened as the song progressed through several changes, all with a high level of intensity even when it slows down to a chunky staccato break.

The title track “Crooked Smiles” brought me back to Seasons-era SLAYER, and there is a very distinct “Dead Skin Mask” feel to this song, at least the opening. Proving that the band can manage to make slower passages equally intense and heavy, this song moves from slow to fast and includes some awesome pinch harmonics (a guilty pleasure of mine) as well as a nice subtly sweeping wah effect before launching back into a riff fest of thrashiness that is both slightly melodic and crushing.
The family friendly track “Hatchet Wound” is a high-speed death race that has a “Show No Mercy” meets “Endless Pain” feel to it, at least musically, with a melodic scale and riff progression that is a brilliant counterpoint to the murderous content of the lyrics. In fact, parts of this song remind me of RIGOR MORTIS’S brilliant “Bodily Dismemberment” as well as “Multiple Stab Wounds” from speed demons MALEVOLENT CREATION.

Closing out the EP is “Factor X,” with a surprising acoustic guitar and distorted bass intro that dissolves into a killer piece of thrashy death and progressive death that at times has the feel of DEATH’S “Lack of Comprehension,” but only a touch before it moves onto old-school SEPULTURA territory, only to close it out with the smallest hint of that oh-so-pretty acoustic guitar.

MURDER VAN are clearly deliberate in their style of delivery, shunning the usual power chords, choruses, and flashy solos for high-speed riffs and licks punctuated by a varied (but always brutal) vocal delivery. My only gripe about this album is (surprise) the production. I know, I know, I need to get over that as it is a constant thorn in my side on many of the albums I review. However, in this case I truly feel it hurts the overall product, especially with the drums. The kick drums are almost inaudible, and with the amazing speed riffing it would be so much more impactful with some powerful double bass and cool cymbal work that actually stands out and is not buried in the riffs. The skill and technique are there, unfortunately it is not celebrated. There is a somewhat “live” feel to this recording that gives it more of a “demo” sound, and considering the criticisms were the same on their first album it really makes me think this is an intentional element of their raw sound. The guitars have a certain ‘buzziness” that has to be intentional, because why else you would not address that in the mix? Again, I clearly have a hang-up on production quality that most people probably don’t care about. In fact, it is often a quality that many purists actually look for.

Make no mistake: MURDER VAN is here to run you down and drag you to your death. Fans of classic SLAYER, early KREATOR and SADUS, old SEPULTURA, and DEATH should definitely check this out!

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 9
Production: 7

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Clawing the Casket
2. Crooked Smile
3. Hatchet Wound
4. Factor X
Lineup:
Skraw Tharp – Guitars/Vocals
Drew Verstraete – Drums
Deth Ray – Bass
Record Label: Wormholedeath Records
     


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