Thursday 2 November 2023

Merlin - Grind House (Album Review)

Release Date: November 03rd 2023. Record Label: Self Released. Formats: DD.

Grind House - Tracklisting

1. Feature Presentation 

2. The Revenger 

3. Master Thief '77

4. Let's Go To The Lobby!

5. Endless Calamity 

6. Blood Money

7. Grindhouse 


Carter Lewis: Guitar, Synth, Organ, Orchestra Arrangements, Vocals

Caleb Wyels: Drums, Additional Percussion, Vocals

Joey Hamm: Bass Guitar

Jordan Knorr: Lead Vocals

Additional Cast:

Elizabeth Wyels: Vocals on Master Thief '77


Doom/Stoner Metallers Merlin return with their sixth album Grind House and as the title suggests this is a love letter to the 70's/80's Doom Metal Scene and most importantly Cinema with the main focus being the seedy underbelly of Classic B Movies and Grindhouse. This is nothing new in the world of Heavy Rock or Cinema in general and I applaud Merlin for tackling quite a bold subject as Grind House ultimately covers. Merlin have used every creative trick they've learnt, played and perfected over their last five albums for a pure unadulterated seedy vision which has echoes of Jazz, Stoner Rock, Doom Metal, Psych Rock and Hard Rock with familiar sounding Cinematic Tropes and Beats throughout this album.

The album is structured as a multiple journey through different films being played at a nefarious Grindhouse cinema or even a drive-in cinema. Take the opening song Feature Presentation that splices the classic Feature Presentation intro music with Merlin's trademark Jazz/Psychedelic Stoner Rock sounds that airs on the side of outlandish Jazz sounds and Orchestral instrumental themes. With myself coming from the UK, the famous parts of the track comes from the USA Feature Presentation card that was shown before each cinematic showing but I first noticed this with various films by Quentin Tarantino films and other cult oddities. This shows you the whole creative journey that Merlin is aiming for.

Second track The Revenger is more of an Electronic Driven/Post-Doom track inspired by the music of Goblin, John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream based soundtracks. Merlin remind me of playing an alternative score for the classic Michael Mann film THIEF. Yeah, I know that's from 1981 but it has a similar score with the haunting Psychedelic synths and subtle Electronic vibes which soon descend into Miami Vice cinematic scores. However, the whole journey remains quintessentially 1970's Revenge/Exploitation cinematic surroundings. With a focus on 8-Bit Computer Entertainment slowly creeping in, Merlin deliver a superbly interesting track that is more Post-Doom than Electronic based Post-Rock. The vocals are heavily digitised and made me think WTF is going on with it's BAUHAUS inspired style. Yeah, Merlin are definitely doing their own thing with this track.

Third track Master Thief '77 continues the Electronica based journey of The Revenger with a more tribal Jazzy attitude which is quite mellow at the start and with a more experimental attitude. Part Afro-Beats and Middle Eastern vibes that's inspired mostly by Issac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield soundtracks such as SHAFT and SUPER FLY. The vocals are most definitely 1970's inspired especially with guest vocalists Elizabeth Wyels laying down the cool lyrics the whole story. Merlin suddenly change into a more Funk/Jazz/Psych style score with the album taking on a different persona yet again and we're not even halfway through yet. Can I hear traces of Post-Punk and Gothic Rock starting to make themselves know. Maybe. Ask anything goes with this album. Musically speaking of course.

Fourth song Let's Go To The Lobby is a cover of the classic track that North American folks will easily remember and I'm sure folks around the globe will recognise as well. It doesn't stray from the original and it's a nice touch from Merlin.

Fifth song Endless Calamity opts for a more Horror aesthetic with films such as The Exorcist, Suspiria, Dawn Of The Dead, Halloween and even some classic Wes Craven films for the main inspiration for this track. The instrumental work is sparse and full of subtle melodic changes with a fantastic CLOCKWORK sound being used for the main delivery of the track. Merlin switched into different styles of Cinematic or Soundtrack haunting DOOM scores with frantic intense guitars working superbly well with the OTT and theatrical style of Electronic sounds. 

The final two songs Blood Money and Grindhouse offer the most crazed and highly inventive music with its cold deft outlook contained within both tracks. This is where Merlin offers the listener glimpses of their past musical glories with familiar sounding grooves though the band do succeed in throwing multiple curve balls to throw listeners out of their comfort zone. Blood Money even contains Spaghetti Western musical passages which allows the album to become more of a standard excursion into Doom/Stoner Rock.

Grindhouse is the standout track on the album with Merlin playing a track that lasts nearly thirteen minutes with a sinister Cyberpunk or Terminator inspired theme becoming the most violent and interesting track on the album. Heavily digitised moments and spliced musical sounds you've heard throughout the album for a track that's just a shorter bastardised version of the whole album but still wholly original and inspiring within its own right. 

Grind House is an album that's wholly original with a true demented PUNK ROCK spirit that allows Merlin to deliver their most outlandish and fucked up release to date. This is a type of album that could easily divide their fan-base but one that also allows the band to gain a whole new CULT following within the Doom/Stoner Rock scene.

Merlin have never released the same album twice but even this one is totally unexpected and brilliantly different to what they've released previously. If you want an album that has the BALLS to be different and still offer a surreal CELLULOID journey through the power of music then Grind House ultimately delivers on that score. 

Words by Steve Howe

Thanks to Merlin for the promo.

Grind House will be available to buy on Digital Download from all good stockists from November 02nd 2023.


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