Thus far in the supergroup’s experimental life, Adrenaline Mob has been a frustrating example of the total being mysteriously less than the sum of its parts. Upon hearing their first record “Omerta,” the idea of prog luminaries Russell Allen and Mike Portnoy being able to make downbeat, two-step rock and roll seemed plausible, but incomplete. Logic dictated that the musicians in question must have the know-how to produce this music, so the up-and-down effort had to be a product of not having enough time to gel, or simply not feeling out the songwriting process.
The damning word ‘lazy’ started to get thrown around. It didn’t seem possible that such accomplished musicians could flop so badly on a concept that hundreds of thousands of garage bands can at least passably execute. Hope dimmed marginally under the arch of a raised eyebrow, and the community moved on. So, too, did Mike Portnoy, citing other obligations (notably Transatlantic, which we of this site have so recently lauded,) and so suddenly the Adrenaline Mob picture was far more muddied.
Yet here we stand in 2014 with the band’s second record “Men of Honor” dropping to the public, new drummer A.J. Pero famously of Twisted Sister, in tow. With appropriate trepidation, I dove in. I needed to see if this project, founded with so much potential and expectation, could produce something of caliber.
The idea of “Men of Honor” may not be a departure from the previous Adrenaline Mob experiences, but the execution is more stylized, better polished and better realized than we’ve seen on any Adrenaline Mob material to date.
What strikes first, last and most often on this album is that now, everyone gets a chance to shine. There are wild, scale-filled and high octane guitar solos threaded through the soul of the entire record. Axeman Mike Orlando cuts loose every time he’s given even an inch, finding a way to cram six measures into two at every turn. I’m normally not on board with repeated chances to hear an artist’s musical wankery, as it starts to sound like an extended tech demonstration, but it works here within the context of accenting some basic rock and metal. After all, we’ve all listened to Dragonforce records for pretty much the same reason. So I’m cutting Adrenaline Mob a lot of slack here, because they maintain a sense of fun that supersedes the usual arrogance of guitar virtuosos.
When you hear that first blistering ride in “Come On, Get Up” it’s so blazing that it feels gloriously, conspicuously out of place. Then you hear another one in “Dearly Departed” and then again in “Let it Go” and so on and so forth. You don’t think it’s possible initially, but you start to come to expect these grand soliloquys the longer the album winds on.
All of these six-string gymnastics are laid down over a bed of fundamentally sound, really loud blues metal. In truth, it’s this foundation, heavily upgraded and more impressive since the debut effort, which sets the pace for all of “Men of Honor.” The bass thrums along with power and virility, pairing with the percussion to weave together a framework that’s easy to listen to but simultaneously doesn’t distract from the theatrics overhead. And hell, even bass player John Moyer (Union Underground shout-out!) gets in on the act, crushing out a low-end, Matt-Freeman-of-Rancid interlude during “Feel the Adrenaline”.
Like all two-beat rock records, “Men of Honor” suffers some setbacks. There are three ill-fitting and fairly reprehensible ballads where Allen stretches his vocal prowess, but nothing else good happens. Why do bands do this? What is the compulsion? I just don’t get it. It also bears mentioning that the lyrics and themes range from juvenile to mundane, with the bare sexual impositions of “House of Lies” being particularly cringe-worthy. These might sound like small things, but they run the course of the record and serve as reminder enough that Allen is capable of much better than that.
Fans of Allen’s other prominent projects still won’t be thrilled by Adrenaline Mob’s straight ahead attitude toward composition, but dammit, that’s not the point. “Men of Honor” is a conceptually hollow but fun and energetic romp that both capitalizes on the band’s potential and grasps the real value of dirty rock and roll. While the album doesn’t change the world and will sound similar to contemporary products in a lot of ways, no longer can Adrenaline Mob be easily dismissed with the epitaph “poor man’s Black Label Society.” There’s good music here, and people willing to give the Mob a second chance might well be rewarded.