After a seemingly endless heyday, rap-rock eventually became one of the most reviled musical artifacts of the end of the last millennium. But it's been more than a decade since then. Fred Durst has disappeared from everywhere except Twitter, and critical darlings such as Cage are starting to rhyme over guitars again. So the timing of Miami band Alukard's debut full-length, One Shot, seems fortuitous. To lump it in with the crappy nu-metal-with-scratching of two decades ago, though, would be seriously wrong.
First, there is no DJ in Alukard, and the group's style is more diverse than one might initially expect. The band members have dubbed it "305 rock," and it's a punk- and hardcore-fueled brew that still occasionally dabbles in ska, acoustic balladry, and even a touch of New Wave. Over all of this, a twin attack of MCs seems to barely control and egg on a joyous chaos.
One Shot is clearly the product of much labor and love. Released on the band's own imprint, Labeless Records, it's clearly conceived as a total package, an anomaly in today's download-by-track music landscape. The disc weighs in at a for-these-times hefty 15 tracks, complete with an intro and an outro with a hidden track. The best ones are the most balls-out. Songs such as "44 Kaliber Love Letter," "Molotov Cocktease," and "The 5th" hinge on furious blasts of guitar stops and starts that crescendo into epic choruses and breakdowns; it's the kind of thing you would want to listen to before an MMA bout.
The real stars here, though, are MCs Level and E. Grizzly, who have something Durst and company never had: quality rapping and flow. Level, a Brooklyn native who also plays rhythm guitar for the group, is particularly skilled, able to switch among Zack de la Rocha-style incantations, a soaring melodic croon, and a half-grizzled bark. (With that last voice, he would do well as a hardcore frontman.) Grizzly, meanwhile, hails from Philly and boasts a serious Northeastern flavor, floating in and out of the mix to keep the energy level maxed out. The band, too, is surprisingly tight; lead guitarist Stuntman Steve especially shreds, with a few searing, thrash-worthy solos.
Things occasionally slow down on One Shot, with a pseudo-love song in "On Our Way" and a strummy flight of stardom fantasy in "Just Maybe." These are perfectly adequate but unnecessary: Alukard is best with its levels at 11. Hipster music this ain't, but the band's audible passion and dedication to its hometown might win you over in spite of yourself.