The vaguely defined, shifting areas where metal, rap and hardcore music overlap have been navigated by an increasing number of bands, and it seems that an increase in quantity has done just what you'd expect: sent the average quality plummeting into the basement. Most new entries into the field seem content to thump their E-chords until the listener has lost all interest, the focus more on what hockey team's jersey the singer is wearing rather than the music.
Thankfully, someone has come along to breathe a fresh breath of life into this unstable genre. El Dopa's album United in States of Narcolepsy proves that metal can be fun and funky, mean and nasty, and all the while melodic.
El Dopa sound like what might result if Stone Temple Pilots put down the crack pipe and learned to write good songs. Indeed, Krishna Venkatesh is the kind of vocalist Scott Weiland could become if he'd only get over himself; his sound is rough and aggressive, but oh-so-musical, and dances confidently above the funk metal rambunctiousness his bandmates are throwing at him.
The songs are everything you could hope for: a brazen mix of crunchy, distorted guitars, loud and in-front bass, rhythms that George Clinton could appreciate, and a blessedly light-hearted tone, even on songs of a serious nature, such as "Brian Oblivion," a searing dismissal of the addiction to visual stimulation that television promotes. In fact, there are a lot of references to the killing stimulus of television, as on "Said and Done", a tune filled with samples taken from movies and TV shows (virtually all of them violent), and some biting lyrics about the numbing of the mind. ("70 channels later, you're still just as f**king dumb...shooting bags of dope without a hope of ever hitting a vein.")
Smack in the middle of all of this wonderfully heavy stuff is the brilliant tune "From Here to Reality", which starts out as a smooth, mellow R&B love tune, complete with wah-wah guitars and Barry White-on-the-prowl vocals before slamming into a massively funky 311-esque mosh. The comparison to 311 is a fair one, and a huge compliment as well, for Hexum & Co. are still the absolute masters of this genre.
The album wraps up with the brilliantly sardonic "Anti Bullshit Machine", a song that makes very clever use of the old "I Want My MTV" jingle, and the lyrics are just as pointed and forward as the title might lead you to expect. ("If they told you shit was chocolate, you'd not only eat it, you'd want more.")
For those of us who need a break from the sometimes oppressive darkness and gloominess of the modern metal scene, El Dopa are a welcome treat. While aggressive, over the top and angry as hell, United in States of Narcolepsy has a benevolence and an open-mindedness that is invigorating. And have I mentioned yet that it's funky?