‘American Made’ is the most fun your ears could possibly have this year
Supergroups are a tough call. More often than not, the line-up is off-the-charts, the direction couldn’t possibly fail, and everyone goes mental at the prospect of certain popular musicians getting together and making tunes together. The sad reality, unfortunately, is that these events rarely live up to the hype, either due to the interaction between the players or (more often than not) music that just doesn’t cut it. When it works, it works beautifully, and when it doesn’t, the albums get panned heavily by fans and critics alike and the stock of the people involved tends to drop with the audience.
When Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth (Overkill), Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Sons Of Apollo), Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance), and Phil Demmel (ex-Machine Head, Vio-Lence) announced that they planned to do something together last year, fans were dubious, especially when word got out that it was to be a covers record. For once, however, a supergroup triumphs and hopefully a new band worth its salt and reputation are here to continue.
For ‘American Made’, each member got to choose two rock songs that influenced them and they then chose two more as a group to give us 10 classic, hard rockin’ American songs from the 1970s that could be an exceptional ‘best of the 70s’ compilation in its own right. That said, most folks would’ve heard lacklustre cover versions of each of these in their respective musical travels, so BPMD (the band name taken from the initials of the member’s names) had to give each one everything they had and more to have them stand out. And man, did they ever.
Opening with Ted Nugent’s Wang Dang Sweet Poontang after a manic accapella intro from Ellsworth, they just dive straight in with abandon, the band tight as a funeral drum and rocking out as if their lives depended on it. As with every track, they’ve put a metal spin on it (you’ve seen the line-up, right?) with adrenaline and much badassery, so not only do you get that sweet 70s swagger and groove, but something to bang your head to and kick some dust up in the pit. Aerosmith’s uber-classic Toys In The Attic comes in like a ravenous shark smelling blood, and the fast pace really works with Demmel’s fluid guitar and Portnoy’s furious percussion. It’s almost a far cry from the original, but it flows so smoothly.
Evil, originally by the lesser-known Cactus, relies on the deep groove, Ellsworth’s rough vocal delivery, and luminous guitar-work, and should get fans searching out more material from the band. ZZ Top’s Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers keeps the warmth and boozy vibe from the original with added grit and grime, but the following song, Saturday Night Special from Lynyrd Skynyrd, is one of the highlights of the record. This is BPMD’s own unique interpretation of the original, which removes all the Southern mysticism and puts the foot firmly on the pedal, the band roaring as if this was their very own composition (which is the mark of a well-done cover in the first place, after all).
The latter half of the album doesn’t let up for a second, the guys laying into Tattoo Vampire (Blue Öyster Cult), D.O.A. by Van Halen (where Menghi shines on the bass), The James Gang’s epic Walk Away, a ballsy, bluesy version of Mountain’s Never In My Life, and caps it all off an anthemic, apt, and fists-to-the-sky take on We’re An American Band by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s a sweaty, captivating 38 minutes of heavy metal by the way of classic hard rock that will leave you breathless and seriously wanting more.
Every single member brings their A-game and will drop the jaws of even die-hard fans that thought they’d heard it all. Ellsworth has such a great thrash vocal in Overkill that it’s really inspiring to hear him push the limits on what else he can do, which apparently is a whole bunch. His gritty, hoarse vocal is like Brian Johnson if AC/DC were metal to the max, and he throws everything and then some into the pot. Portnoy, as his fans will tell you, dominates every band he plays in and album that he appears on, and this is no different. He hasn’t sounded this inspired or free to explore since 90s-era Dream Theater – his work on the drums just explosive and spellbinding.
Menghi has put his mark on Metal Allegiance, but here he gets to play outside his box, and his bass fills are elastic, heavy, and funky AF. And then a word on Mr. Demmel and his guitar – he’s shown what he can do time and again in both of his other bands, but good lord, he kicks out the jams over these 10 songs. The crunch of his distortion is on-point, his tone is relentless, his solos fly like Randy Rhoads on steroids, and he nails every groove and riff as if he wrote the damn things. Guitar fans will NOT be disappointed. To put a lid on it all, the production is just, well, perfect. It’s everything it should be and you can hear a pin drop in and amongst the wall of sound, with a very earthy atmosphere that puts the listener right in the studio with the band. It’s bloody immaculate.
Forgive the gushing, but ‘American Made’ is honestly the most fun your ears could possibly have in 2020 (or any year, really). The song choices are stellar, the band chemistry seethes with every beat, the production is HUGE, and it plays like the best party record you’ve never heard before. In lesser hands, it could have come off as boring, overworked dad rock, but not here, and not by a long shot. If BPMD don’t continue playing together it will be an absolute crime, because these cats work so well together and they definitely have the chops to keep this going for years to come. Whether it’s covers or original music, as long as they keep the momentum, BPMD is THE band to watch.
FFO: 70s hard rock, 80s heavy metal, all the bands that BPMD have played with before, and all the bands covered here
American Made is out now via Napalm Records