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Play Dead
July 2001
Released: 2000, Independent
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos

Play Dead is a very odd-sounding band to me. The word that comes to mind, assuming it is a word at all, is “cartoony.” That’s not necessarily a pejorative term. An example of a similarly “cartoony” band I like is the inimitable Haunted Garage, whose 1991 magnum opus POSSESSION PARK is still a masterpiece of metal from the philosophy that somehow automatically evokes the KRAK! POW! WHAMMO! school of auditory comic books. Again perhaps this is an unfair judgment when leveled against this intriguing and talented band; but from the first second I put in Play Dead, I had the audio equivalent of Batman comics going through my head.

In a way I suppose that’s a compliment, because there’s not a whole lot of bands that can turn on images in your head almost immediately. Play Dead offer a fairly straightforward style of metal that seems to borrow equally from the thrash and death genres. Rhythm lines gallop, guitars churn only occasionally, and a fair amount of consideration has been given to keeping up a reasonably steady, frenetic, punishing pace. However, the production of this album puts everything in a mega-amplified, larger-than-life kind of setting. The vocals of Ryan Lundgren add to the comic book feeling. Mr. Lundgren’s range is impressive, but his vox have a consistently hysterical and almost sarcastic quality. Perhaps that’s what reminds me of Haunted Garage, and in all fairness I should say Play Dead are not a joke band and don’t seem to be interested in obvious poke-fun tactics – it’s a pretty fair, steady amount of seriousness from the first track to the last. So why “cartoony?” And is that necessarily bad? In order – I don’t know, and certainly not. In fact, Mr. Lundgren’s vocals grew on me after a while, and I enjoyed Play Dead much more on the second listen than the first.

This isn’t RUST IN PEACE, however. Some songs offer some excellent moments, and some tracks – the third, “Leave Me Alone,” for instance – are excellent. Others, such as “Pieces of You” and “Wake Up!”, fail to get the blood moving at all. I can’t say the guitars on this album are exactly moving. The riffs are businesslike and formidable, but they’re neither innovative nor passionate. Drums too are reasonably standard. Still, Play Dead flirts with some strong ability as a band, and you can’t discount either their sincerity or their technical talent as musicians.

In all, this is a mixed bag. I could see a metal listener going either way on PLAY DEAD, and opinions of others may range the gambit from enthusiastic endorsements to vicious denunciations. It’s really hard to tell. For that reason Play Dead may be something of a metallic Rorschach test. I suppose it’s a cop-out to say it sounds like a blotch of ink to me? *ducks*

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