It’s been nearly a year since former As I Lay Dying and Wovenwar guitarist Phil Sgrosso teamed up with buddies Andy Kutka and Kyle Rosa to create Poison Headache, a side project the trio has been playing around with since high school. And with the polished production, the years of experience, and the resources of Metal Blade Records, the album’s raw personality still shines, the trio locked in as would be expected from a group that’s been playing together for over 15 years.
With influences like Converge, Motörhead, and Entombed, the music moves with the intensity and aggression of an unhinged predator at the helm of a runaway semi-truck. “Sin Eater” opens the album like an overclocked diesel engine, the extreme pace priming the listener for the ride in store. “Pity the Backseat” serves as a warning for those unable to keep up or unconcerned over the band’s tenet of self-control. By the third song, “Rot With Me,” any cracks steaming from the musical chassis threaten to burn some listeners.
The musical connection between the trio is undeniable, but, by the fourth track “Conspirator,” a pattern of rigid composition starts to dominate much of the album. To be fair, perhaps experimental complexity isn’t what the trio strives to do. Their usual structure, while simple, can charm in its unapologetic brutality. Rosa drives the band’s runaway pace, and Kutka’s guitar licks whip otherwise tedious songs into shape with tasteful execution. “Death’s Design” reverts back to diesel chug and gang vocals — a consistent songwriting theme here that causes the overall album to suffer — but the final third of the song breaks the monotony of those patterns. It actually ends up defining the main problem with the album: The sections that shine through do so because they break up the others that feel unvaried.
The band does a good job of rectifying that problem to finish strong. The final three songs on the album are the best. “Hail Colossus” takes the monotonous symptoms of the other parts of the album but treats them with discernment. “Never. Again” displays the true capabilities of Rosa’s talent. “Disclosure” is without a doubt the best song and the most ambitious in regards to composition. It’s a final breath of fresh air in an album bogged down by its stubborn adherence to an adopted convention.
Self-sacrifice, retribution, and spiritual cleansing are common messages that bludgeon any unsympathetic ear with a violent, uncompromising presentation. Other acts like Underoath, August Burns Red, and The Chariot have all struggled with similar criticism in regards to infusing religion into their music. Accessibility and faith often come in conflict in any endeavor, but, in the case of Poison Headache, I hunger for more abstraction from the words. Heavy metal can be poetry. The irony of having something heavy to say and using a medium the mainstream already doesn’t want to understand is the allure of the genre.
The band certainly has a future if they want it. Sgrosso continues to leave the ashes of As I Lay Dying behind him and will hopefully contort himself lyrically in future releases. With his recent departure from Wovenwar and the fact that Kutka and Rosa remain unaffiliated with any other band could mean a lot of time to work together. The trio recently played Suicide Silence’s album release party late February, but have not listed a tour or any further shows. With their first anniversary as a band coming up this May, the world lies in wait for the next musical beast the band will release.