Written in collaboration with Maxime Allard
If you want to reduce Tallah to a simple sentence, it would be: the son of one of the greatest rock drummers of the last 30 years teaming up with a YouTube sensation, trying to bring back Nu Metal in 2020. But Max Portnoy isn’t riding on his father Mike’s coattails at all. He’s an amazing drummer in his own right, and Tallah’s first full length record bears practically no musical similarity to his father’s opus, apart from world class drumming.
Singer Justin Bonitz is known for a famous YouTube channel called ‘Hungry Lights‘ where he teaches people how to do growling and screaming vocals, because yes, it’s a real singing technique. His most popular video (which has a cool 9 million views) teaches 10 (!) different screaming techniques. His channel is also devoted to his solo albums and metal covers and, well, the guy can sing his ass off for sure.
On the heels of an EP and a few singles (some of those tracks are on this album), Tallah now releases their debut record ‘Matriphagy’, an ode to their favourite bands growing up. It owes a lot to Korn, Slipknot, Limb Bizkit, early Deftones, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Primus. At first spin, I was ready to dismiss it as ‘not for me’ record, so I called on my writing collaborator Max to get his opinion. And then something weird happen: I started to genuinely enjoy the record. Yeah, I’m still not much of a nu metal guy, but dammit, these guys are good. The writing is excellent, the musicians are great, and the production is really sharp. This record ticks off a lot of boxes.
The album starts with a short, chaotic, noise track that firmly sets the aesthetic of what’s to come. And then the first song kicks in, and the fun really begins! ‘No One Should Read This’ features intense, pounding drumming are intense and guitar riffs that invoke old school Korn and early Slipknot. The vocals go from deep growls to fast paced screamed rap in an instant, but the non-screamed lyrics are quite interesting too. This is not a screaming verse/clean chorus type of band though, and their songwriting definitely goes outside of that blueprint.
If you thought the band had peaked on that track, you’re quickly proven wrong with ‘Kungan’. The intro sounds very Slipknot ish, with sampling, heavy riffs and heavy, fast paced drums with a lot of double pedals. When the clean vocals come in, the band goes into a weird almost Primus vibe. The chorus is a mix of scream and clean vocals that really highlight the talent of singer Justin Bonitz. This song would have been huge in the late 90’s, early 00’s. The song ends on a Pantera vibe… but no, it’s not really the end. They’re just going into a slowed down break… that goes into another slower, heavier break! These guys aren’t afraid to push their songwriting.
‘Overconfidence’ shows an old school punk band vibe: it would have fit on the soundtracks to ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ 1 or 2. Bonitz is a monster on
this track as he goes effortlessly to so many different styles of screamed vocals. Once again, the band ends with a nice hardcore breakdown.
‘Placenta’ sounds a bit like an hyperactive Limp Bizkit and features an interesting guitar solo to remind us the record isn’t just about drums and vocals. The band then channels a bit of Primus for ‘L.E.D.’, a track that also (briefly) features nice clean vocals and cool scratching between the guitar riffs, just like old school Slipknot.
The band then switches gears for ‘The Silo’, a song that’s very different from the first half of the album. It’s a lot less chaotic, and is centered around clean vocals for the first time. It’s a nice change of pace and another proof that they’ve got a lot of songwriting chops. The song features a wicked guitar solo: clearly Derrick Schneider can shred.
‘We, the Sad’ builds up slowly to what might be the most standard track on the album. The writing doesn’t stand out as much as the songs that precede it, but it’s still a good track. The band then goes back to the Korn vibe on ‘Too Quick to Grieve’. The guitar riff after the introduction might just be the best Slipknot riff Slipknot never wrote. Justin Bonitz goes down almost to black metal growling at certain moments, and the band navigates twists and turns effortlessly.
You can’t accuse the band of sticking to a formula, and ‘Cottonmouth’ drifts to the Hardcore side of things. Super deep vocals, juxtaposed with clean vocals that are delivered as if the singer was dying. I can see this track being used live to start the pit.
‘Murder Seed’ is probably my least favourite on the record. It’s not a clunker by any mean, but by this point, we’ve heard many tracks that were much more interesting. ‘the borderline of pain’ is just an interlude that builds up to the last song ‘Red Light’. This song is a bit different. It’s slower than most, and transitions from growled vocals to clean spoken vocals to rapping and back. It’s slower, but Max Portnoy’s manic drumming brings that element of chaos that permeates the entire record. It ends with a good minute of noise and spoken words that evoke the first track and close the album in a sort of circle.
‘Matriphagy’ is a very interesting record. It’s heavy, it’s fast, it’s loud and it’s unapologetic. It’s definitely not a cure for headaches or hangovers, as it is a relentless pounding of drums, guitars and voice. Singer Justin Bonitz is amazing as he glides through so many types of metal vocals. Max Portnoy is a beast on drums and the engine that drives this locomotive. That they’re able to come up with an album so diverse and well written at such a young age is amazing; I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with down the line. This record’s diversity is at the same time a quality and a shortcoming. As impressive as the juxtaposition of styles is, it makes the album difficult to digest as you struggle to find patterns to grab on to. But it’s quite a ride, and they impress at every turn. Just put it on, turn up the volume and enjoy the relentless assault on your ears.