Review: Dead XIII – Catacombs

Ok, so just go buy this. Honestly, if you remember why you got into metal, just go and get yourself a copy. For those who need more reason, then The Dead XIII have released their debut album Catacombs, and it’s a corker. In a genre coined as new grave, previously known as horror punk and originally as schlock rock, we enter a world of horror themed, high energy groove metal. In this genre, this album hits the bullseye, being technically spot on, but with tongue firmly in cheek… it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Before we have the genealogy bake off, I’ll concede that this is Alice Cooper territory, tweaked by Rob Zombie, refined by the Murderdolls, and owned by Wednesday 13, but the Dead XIII have put together something overall very special, though the opening track ‘Dead XIII’ is nothing flash and is a bit of fumbling. I’m flicking through the bands press photographs and there’s the ghoulish make up that looks like they were caught in an explosion in the Avon factory.

I’m just about apologise to Wednesday 13 for even considering that there could be a young pretender to the throne, when the second track ‘Frostbite’ cuts in. It’s a three minute tussle that has the hooks, and the 1950s cheesy horror feel, and just delivers. This is a UK band that’s taking the Hollywood inspired US on at its own game, and they have got this down pat. Did I just fist pump at the bus stop? Might have, but I don’t care. This is a scream!

Onto ‘Daemons’, and we have the Hammer House opening that splits into a killer riff. It’s a stonker of a track, riff after riff, and all bundled together in the mix that is just right. I can hear the vocalist settle for the first time and the band are owning this. It’s as good as anything I’ve heard or seen, and this is a debut album by a band from Manchester! It’s the title track ‘Catacombs’ that tells you that the band have this worked out and that this is a balanced, well organised offering. That opening riff and drum work is as good as anything on ‘Women And Children Last’ and that had Jordison on it. ‘Catacombs’ is a masterpiece. It has a hard, thick sound that fades in the middle to slowly rebuild and enter another riff fest. There is an element of maturity that you just don’t expect from a debut album, and I haven’t had this much fun listening to a debut for quite some time. Not sure if I’m meant to be grinning while opening up the gates of hell, but this is a gem of an album.

Onto track 5 and ‘Be-Were’ sleazes in with a whisky-a-go-go riff. The vocals on this track are slightly different from the rest of the tracks, and I think that this is the best performance from front man Kurt Blackshard, which might be the best surname I have ever heard this year. The solo in this is blinding, and there is a maturity on this that you are lucky to see on the fifth release of some bands. I have no history on these guys, in terms of touring, but I can hear time and effort in every lick. Right, onto the next track. ‘The Greatest Mistake’ starts with the footsteps on the gravel path, the thunder and the chimes of an old clock. The rasping demon tells us that we all make mistakes, but this song bounces in with energy and it’s a multi-layered monster. It’s upbeat groove metal, driven hard, and so well done. If this is the greatest mistake then I should make more of them! Listening to this album is not one of them. There is a soaring solo in the middle of this, and it just goes together so well. This is the ‘Superbeast’ of the album.

So ‘Haunter’ is a much more straightforward affair, straight in your face, and it’s a weaker track than those we’ve just gone through, but 20 minutes ago I would have been happy with it. Now my expectations are as big as this band’s ability, and then it happens… track 8, ‘Lay Siege To Hell’. Now with that title we could just expect a lot and get nothing, but this is the stand out on this album. It’s ridiculously good, infectious, and has more hooks than a pirate convention. It took me back to a happy day watching the Murderdolls just knock it out of the showground with a band that was the best of all of their line ups. This track is as strong, and delivered with as much fire, as anything I have seen from horror punk bands, and as good as anything I have seen live from my boy Wednesday. The riff in this is just so perfect and played on the edge. It captures the whole reason that this genre endures. Debut album my arse, I haven’t heard anything of this quality as a debut for such a long time.

So we go to the penultimate track, and ‘Can’t Escape The Grave’ is an opportunity to consolidate and just take it easy. Unlikely! This would not have been out of place on ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’ and is another class act. This is groove driven metal, but delivered straight up in way less than 3 minutes. This is a great track that slides into the final track ‘Apothesis’ which is probably the simplest and slowest track on the album. Easy to dismiss, but it builds into something much bigger that hints at what is to come in the next release. With 30 seconds to go in this track I can imagine the credits rolling up the screen, held on a cliffhanger, and waiting for the next instalment.

This album reminds me why I got into metal, why I stand in the rain and carry 20 kilos of mud on my boots at festivals, why we used to do jobs we hated to get cash to splurge on the albums that spoke to us. There are a number of bands that have the ability to produce something inspirational, and then let you in on the secret that they totally believe in what they do, but you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Take it for what it is, but see the fun, the humour, the power, and the drive. This album has all of that and more.

This band can clearly play, so I have nothing else to offer Dead XIII apart from a huge thanks for doing something they enjoy and turning in this performance. I’ve done my review and you should buy this, so both of us as consumers have done our jobs. The real focus is on those who manage this band. In a shrink-wrapped society, some dismiss an offering that isn’t easy to pigeonhole and pick at a style that they don’t understand. Remember the early days of KISS when Gene Simmons had bin-bag wings and there was more cheap lycra than a keep-fit video? We let it go because it was exciting and new. So management, look after this band and let the music do the talking. Choose the gigs well, play every night and let the look develop. Done right I can see myself at some festival waiting patiently for Wednesday 13 to leave the stage so I can watch the Dead XIII.

Members: Lead Vocals – Kurt Blackshard,

Guitar/ Vocals/ Synth – Symon Strange,

Lead Guitar – Ste Mahoney,

Bass – Paul Ryan,

Drums – Spike Owen Follow The Dead XIII on Facebook

Review by Craig Grant

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