Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor
Reviewed by Jeff Teets
It’s important for me to preface this review by saying that Russell Allen is my favorite vocalist of all time, and I don’t say that lightly or half-heartedly. The love affair started many years ago with Symphony X, but I have adored his contributions to the Allen/Lande albums, Star One, Avantasia, and loads of other projects and individual songs. Having Russell appear on a track is a sure-fire way to get me to pay attention to it. Seeing him own some Trans-Siberian Orchestra material in front of over 15,000 people last November was a real treat, and I really am in awe of the man’s natural vocal talents and simply mesmerizing voice and power. I never tire of hearing him sing and seeing him perform.
Naturally, back in 2011 when I first caught wind of a new project called Adrenaline Mob, I was excited to hear Russell sing on more material. I actually became more excited when I saw that it was being plugged as more of a rock-oriented project rather than a metal one. I really love some tracks on Russell’s solo album Atomic Soul from 2005, and the thought of him kicking out some Bad Company or Foreigner-styled tunes set in a modern light really had me pumped. Some friends and I even drove into New York City to see Adrenaline Mob’s first-ever show at the Hiro Ballroom. I’ll ruminate on my thoughts as to why in a little bit here, but I was incredibly disappointed by what I heard that night, and I continue to be disappointed three years later as I spin Adrenaline Mob’s sophomore album.
I can’t help but feel that Men of Honor feels rushed in every sense. The mix is really sketchy in places, mainly lacking any form of dynamics whatsoever. Mike Orlando’s lead guitar tracks really scream on top of the mix rather than finding a comfortable place in the middle of it. This problem wouldn’t be so major if most of the solos weren’t masturbatory and lifeless. I tend to really like albums that have a snappy, modern-sounding production, but this is just a bit too much, and fatigues my ears after a couple of songs.
The rushed vibe continues with the songs, which, in addition to stylistic issues I’ll address in a minute, mostly seem half-assed. The lyrics are as dumb as they come in most places (“that’s the way I roll”, “stop crying like a bitch and grow some balls”, “give me four shots and give me four beers”, etc…), and the riffs simply seem recycled. “Feel The Adrenaline” has a main riff that is lifted almost note-for-note from the Metallica song “Fuel” – probably unintentionally, but it’s still rather obviously similar. There are certainly other examples to be found, but this one has struck me as the most egregious on every listen, the vibe is just too similar.
However, what offended me most about Adrenaline Mob from the get-go continues unfettered on its sophomore effort. The style of this music can only best be described as “Bro-Metal” – music for guys who get piss-drunk at every show, want to fight everyone who disagrees with them, wear Tap Out / Ed Hardy / Affliction t-shirts, and spend most of their time listening to modern rock radio, rocking out to the likes of Five Finger Death Punch or Pantera’s “Walk” for the millionth time. When Disturbed bassist Jon Moyer joined the group’s ranks about 6 months in, it really seemed like the perfect addition considering the musical vibe of the project. The songs are about all of the most generic topics: Cars, fighting, alcohol, and women – balanced out with the token couple of introspectively reflective ballads. The aforementioned “Bro-Metal” vibe can be heard best on “Mob is Back”, “House of Lies”, and the truly atrocious “Come On Get Up”. The only real reprieves from this painful assault come in the form of the expectedly solid ballads: the somewhat pedestrian but enjoyable “Behind These Eyes” and the legitimately enjoyable “Crystal Clear”, which has a nice acoustically-drive vibe. “Dearly Departed” stands as the album’s sole example of solid, melodic, catchy hard rock that’s fit to be a decent single, representing the only side of American radio rock that I can listen to.
What sticks in my craw most about Adrenaline Mob isn’t the music the band makes. I don’t go picking fights with Five Finger Death Punch fans because they usually don’t come picking fights with people who really love traditional, progressive, and power metal. We exist in different worlds, and that’s that. However, because of original drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) and Russell Allen (Symphony X) being involved in this project from day one, there has been a tension between these two worlds that usually results in the same pathetic argument going around time and time again. The fact is, there are people in this world who will like whatever they are told to, based on who appears on it – and there are also people in this world who just can’t grasp that sometimes people hate something you like, and they don’t just do so because they “don’t understand it”. Over and over again I hear both fellow fans of Symphony X and would-be fans of radio rock tell me I need to “just chill out and enjoy” Adrenaline Mob, that if I “stopped being such a prog snob” I might enjoy it. Insert tired old stereotypes about how, because I happen to love progressive music, I don’t “understand” music that “just wants to rock”. Russell Allen’s first solo album was strictly a rock record – and I loved it. In fact, the genre of AOR/Melodic Rock is one of my favorites, period. I love concise, catchy songwriting filled with hooks and void of wankery – it all has its own place in my life. If Adrenaline Mob were simply a rock band, I would like them – but they’re not.
I’m sure the war will continue to wage on between the people that love and hate Adrenaline Mob, as Men of Honor treads perhaps even further into these American rock radio stereotypes than the debut album did. This album and project in general continue to stand to me as one of the most egregious examples of otherwise decent (or great) musicians chasing the mainstream with obvious smacks of desperation. It speaks volumes to me about how finding the mainstream in America inevitably means sacrificing integrity and creative talent in favor of a gimmick or an easily labeled and digested sound and image. That being said, I feel Adrenaline Mob will likely stall on its way to bigger success in this country because it shot itself in the foot right out of the gate by labeling the project as “featuring members of Symphony X and Dream Theater”. Mainstream American radio is simply never going to give much attention to “that” band. Sure, they’ve done some tours with the bigger acts of the mainstream rock genre as support, but I feel that that’s all they’re really going to achieve. They’re still failing to play to larger audiences (as a headliner) in most markets than Russell does with Symphony X, so perhaps those like me can cling to a hope that the spark of this project will die in time, rather than engulf Symphony X along with Russell’s talent and integrity.
1.25 // 5