Theory of Ruin – Counter-Culture Nosebleed

Theory of Ruin
Counter-Culture Nosebleed

There’s an ironclad law in pop music that says that whenever someone finds a notable degree of success by amplifying a certain quality in their work more than previous artists, many more people will queue up to pursue that direction far past the point of negative returns. Joni Mitchell was personal, so Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, and Ani Difranco got embarrassingly confessional. Bob Dylan was political, so the MC5 featured idiotic radical ranting on Kick Out the Jams. And sometime, somewhere, someone was louder than whatever had come before, and we’ve seen an endless progression of bands trying to turn up to eleven ever since.
Into this race steps Theory of Ruin. The title of their debut album, Counter-Culture Nosebleed, seems to go a long way in describing its contents despite the mystery surrounding its literal meaning. It sounds like the product of a counter-culture, and oddly enough, images of nosebleeds do come to mind when the record is playing. With the assistance of the lyrics (comprehensible only with a written transcript), a few other images come to mind as well, such as the protagonist expressing his scorn for someone who doesn’t meet his lofty standards for honesty, authenticity, and courage. The musical backdrop for these angsty scenes is nu-metal played to the hilt with sweltering sheets of noise just around every corner. It’s nice to see that there aren’t any trendy rap-inflected touches a la Limp Bizkit and their moronic devotees, and it becomes clear early on that T. of R. is more interested in following in the footsteps of a shadowy cult group like Tool. The snaky bass hooks that enliven the verses seem taken from that playbook, and the vocals share something of a resemblance to Maynard Keenan. Never let it be said that these lads are only in it for the money – or if they are, never let it be said that they have a good feel for the marketplace.
Regardless of its role models, TOR shows some of the virtues of the best of metal, but they carry with them the downfalls that make the genre as a whole the deserved target of sizable critical scorn. In spite of a blustery front that scoffs at anything nice, metal tends to share more in common with pop than it likes to acknowledge, namely its surreptitious love for the big hook. As any astute listener knows, metal is more than just a wall of noise; if it were, anyone could play it and be successful. Its leading lights can still write great songs that just happen to be much, much louder than most. Theory of Ruin shows capable of doing this during their verses, showing off some impressive hooks that create the requisite tension. The recurring problem, however, is that instead of relieving this in some equally clever fashion, they simply blast the listener with undifferentiated noise and tuneless screaming when the inevitable choruses roll around, failing to do anything more profound with this than showcase their distortion pedals, double bass drums, and shredded larynxes. This kind of mindless grinding isn’t good for much except as the object of a teenage game of sonic one-upmanship in which participants say, “You think that’s deafening and hardcore? Well, listen to what I’ve got in my stereo!”
The great shame in all of this is that it sounds like there’s a better band lurking within the dark depths of Counter-Culture Nosebleed than the one that shows up, but a frustrating inflexibility keeps their best ideas caged in predictable songwriting. Until they’re willing to dissolve their adherence to the rules of their genre (most likely by listening more extensively to music outside of it), they’ll remain stuck as unfortunate exhibits in the case to prove metal’s artistic inferiority.