If one expects Meshuggah-like ferocity to roar out of these tracks then disappointment is guaranteed. This album is weighted in song-craft, top of the charts calculation, scientifically perfect production values, exquisite musical performance and just enough toughness in most of the breakdowns to qualify as a post-metal alternative hard rock colossus.
A majority of metal bands would amputate a limb, attach a pirate flag to it and wave it around in hopes of making an album of this quality. The rest would pour molten wax in their ears in order to never hear it again. Few metalheads in their Acid Witch gear will admit liking Love and Death, but most will secretly listen the hell out of it on their favorite MP3 implement.
"The Abandoning" leaves no doubt that this isn't a one-man band. Dan Johnson and M. Valentine on drums and bass along with J.R. Bareis on second guitar help Welch with his lead guitar and vocals. "The Abandoning" yanks in the listener with its "Wake up sleepy head…' invitation before pulling the ripcord on the big guitar blast riff that leads into a whispery verse and then into a chorus that corkscrews itself into the brain with two words, 'Master, Master'. It’s a possible allusion to Welch's conversion to Christianity.
The startling second track is as an unlikely cover. With Love and Death's amazing treatment of the song, making it their own, sculpting anxious sadness out of the song's fundamental notes, Devo's "Whip It" never sounded so profound. "Whip It" is a 1980s cynical novelty song that Mark Mothersbaugh used as a poisonous comment about a society he saw as primitive as a masturbating primate. Love and Death sucks out the venom and replaces it with emotional shades dark and forceful.
"Watching the Bottom Fall," "By the Way" and especially "Meltdown" are incredibly strong songs that explore actual topics beyond the usual heavy metal self-determined self-destruction. Deep soul-sapping pain, love lost and the confusion over one's own sanity may come across as a weakling's blather to the face-paint and growler crew, but the undeniable quality of each song and its Team Welch execution is as meaningful and edgy as the mass-market allows.
"I W8 4 U" speaks millennial text-ese and readily fits into the hard and heavy world that any image-conscious metalhead can experience without embarrassment. "Fading Away" is a phenomenal achievement of loud dynamics and soft breakdowns, as well as filtered vocals and a chorus that will crack the hardest of noggins. "Paralyzed" through to the ending "Bruises" is how a world-class contingent of talent and pop-intelligence brings a very good album to a very good close.
Korn sold a kajillion albums with Brian "Head" Welch on guitar. Love and Death will sell out the internet if the band gets heard and the 'this ain't metal' prejudice shuts up and listens.
(released January 22, 2013 on Tooth and Nail Records)