The band Johnny B. Morbid have to be the perfect example of how appearances can be deceptive — at first glance they may be mistaken for a straight up psychobilly/horror-punk ensemble, going by looks alone. Yet, while they have definite roots in this area, the musical output on this latest release shows that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Welcome to Die, their much anticipated sixth studio release presents such a myriad of influences that it transcends most genre definitions, adding metalcore, punk rock, black metal, and good old rock and roll into the melting pot to produce an eclectic mix of sounds.
For those not familiar with this New Jersey based four piece, the band is listed currently as Johnny B. Morbid on lead vocals, Count Vlad Cadmus on lead guitar, Archie Panic on Drums, and Danny Doomsday on Bass. Welcome to Die represents a clear progression into moving into their own sound. Earlier releases, such as the debut 2005 album How to Wake the Dead, showed a strong affiliation with horror punk kings The Misfits, and consequent albums begin to move further and further away from this. The influence is still there however, just not as in your face as previously as Morbid open up their sound to introduce all manner of rock, punk and even pop influences. This is a band maturing, moving, and progressing, and for a sixth album there is some serious energy here which demonstrates they clearly have no plans in slowly down.
It is not surprising Johnny B. Morbid are on such a high however, when you take into consideration that this album was funded by fans on a highly successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded well in excess of its initial goal achieving double its start out figure.
At first glance, this amalgamation of sounds can be overwhelming. The first track, (which incidentally takes its name from the album title,) opens up with a crushing metal riff before casually swaying into full on punk rock — NOFX/Bad Religion style. It meanders between both styles toward its pounding climax, all the while ripping the infectious “Welcome to Die” chorus right into your brain. It does not stop there, because we are straight into “Population: 0”, and you are wading through a metalcore affair with an equally infectious main hook.
This pretty much sets up what is to follow, travelling off here, there, and everywhere. The album does at times lack a certain cohesion, there is one thing that each track has in common, they are equally catchy as hell. This is the overarching theme of the album and it makes for an interesting and unpredictable listen. There are many styles and influences to be found here and the band seem happy to wear them on their sleeve producing somewhat of a celebration piece which defies the limits of genre labeling.
Whether it be the reflective “Forever”, which has definite leaning toward Green Day, the bizarrely placed “Erebus”, which kicks in with a black metal blast-beat, or the acoustic flow of “Last Day Alive”, one thing is for sure: you will be left humming some of these songs for days to come.
Amongst the album’s catchiness is a blatant technical excellence when it comes to musicianship. Front man Johnny is a bassist and backing vocalist for former Misfits Michale Graves solo act, as well as performing drum Tech duties for Marky Ramone, so I think it would be fair to say this guy does have a fair bit of experience. This is also mirrored by the rest of the band, most prominently in some of the wailing guitar solos, which occasionally pump out (one of them even reaching epic power metal proportions), or the way in which twisting and turning change of tempo and pace during some of the songs is handled as if it is effortless.
So much is the dizzy mix of styles on this album, it would be easy to get lost in the melee, however as well as anthem based chorus lines, thankfully there are a couple of other elements which manage to keep things together. While the majority of the songs take the form of radio friendly good-time guitar-driven punk-rock sing-alongs, the lyrics in contrast inhabit a much darker tone than is first apparent. For example, the line “Do you want to die alone, or do you want to die by my side? / Would you rather take control and make it double suicide?” belies the upbeat toe tapping melody on “Forever”. Equally “Your dreams are dead, get that into your head,” bellows out over the top of the cheery sounding tune of “Delusions”. Then again, it must be expected for an album called “Welcome to Die” with most tracks centering on the subject of mortality in some way or another. The other defining factor which makes this album Johnny B Morbid’s alone is Johnny’s individual and unique vocal style which belongs to none of the genre influences the band carry, and is his and his alone.
So there you have it, not quite one thing or the other, Welcome to Die carries a spectacular number of influences in its brisk running time, and sort of sits in a musical no man’s land when it comes to attributing it to a specific genre. This may not appeal to die hard genre fans of punk or metal, but provides enough variety, energy, and infectiousness for those who like something that defies the boundaries of labeling, or want something a bit eclectic in their listening. It’s guaranteed to have you singing along in no time with its catchy, albeit macabre, anthem based tunes.