EP Review: Axe Crazy – ‘Angry Machines’

I will admit that Axe Crazy’s debut EP was a surprise for me when it arrived in the mailbox, as I didn’t think Poland had a particularly big metal scene. To be fair, most Polish metal tends to lean more towards the extreme metal variety, which isn’t what I usually listen to, so I do have a reason for being somewhat ignorant of Polish metal, but I feel like I’ve been unfairly dismissive of a scene that, while not making a huge impact on the world stage (aside from maybe Behemoth and Riverside), is still a fairly decent size overall (at the very least, Metal-Archives has 1,371 active Polish metal bands on it, and they have restrictions on what subgenres of metal aren’t allowed on the site, so it’s likely a larger number than that!).

So this is a good opportunity to make amends!

Anyway, Axe Crazy formed in 2010 in Lędziny (which, according to Google Maps, is a town which is very close to the borders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia and is about an hour’s drive away from Warsaw: further details that I’ve found about the place are that it’s been around since 1160 and it has a population of around 16,000 people. If you’re interested in WWII history, you might have heard of the town because a sub-camp of Auschwitz was located in it, although I can’t give any real details on that part and I don’t even know if the remains of the sub-camp are still standing in the town or not), taking their name from the second single released by the band Jaguar (a NWOBHM band that released two records in the 80s before disbanding in 1985 and have released three records since their reunion in 1998, the most recent being 2014’s Metal X). Angry Machines was their debut EP, which was originally released independently in April 2014, but is now being given a limited re-release (200 copies) on vinyl by Pure Underground Records.

Considering my last two reviews have been somewhat negative, you might expect me to be about to turn around and go “Unfortunately, I don’t like this EP”. You would be wrong: I actually really like this EP and am eager to see where the band goes from here! I don’t think it is flawless by any measure, but the worst I can say about the record is that I feel some things could have been better, but these things are still perfectly functional the way they are.

Cover AXE CRAZY_Angry Machines

Let’s get the negatives out of the way now, since it’ll not take long to do that: I think vocalist Michael Skotnicki could do with improving his diction a bit, as I found that he could be a bit difficult to understand at points. Now, I’ll be fair and remind everyone that he’s not singing in his native language, so you could put it down to him having to sing in a language that even native speakers can struggle with, but it is still a flaw which could prove problematic for the band in the future, so I feel I should point it out. I also feel that the band sometimes suffer from being a bit TOO focused on sounding old school, as they don’t sound especially original overall (certainly, an easy comparison can be drawn between them and Germany’s Alpha Tiger, not helped by Michael Skotnicki’s vocals sounding more than a bit like those of their ex-vocalist Stephan “Heiko” Dietrich). However, I can’t say this works against them too much overall: it’s a flaw, certainly, but I’ll take an amazing work that’s not particularly original over a highly original work that’s boring any day of the week!

…Yep, that’s seriously the extent of the negatives to me!

The songwriting on this EP is really good! While I do think that ‘Hungry for Life’ can be a bit repetitive (with the opening riff in particular get used a bit too much due to it also being used for the chorus and the outro), the rest of the songwriting is solid heavy metal that tips its hat towards NWOBHM and early US power metal (and, arguably, Keeper of the Seven Keys-era Helloween) in a way that shows clear love for them all, but never sounding too much like any one band in particular. While the band doesn’t really do much to establish their own identity underneath all of that, it’s very early in their career and I’d rather get something which is backed by strong writing than trying to be original without the songwriting in place first, so I’m personally more than happy to give them a free pass on that for now! I also feel that I should point out that the songs are also pretty catchy as well, showing that the band can definitely write strong hooks for their songs (I particularly like the chorus to ‘Running Out of Time’, although it does suffer from the earlier mentioned issue of Skotnicki’s diction being in need of a bit of work because I’m not entirely sure what the second line is!).

The performances on the record are also very good. While they might not seem that impressive if you’re used to more progressive music, it would be fair to say that nobody does a job that I’d say was less than what I’d expected from a musician in their subgenre of music. The drums are confidently played, with a decent variety to them (including a somewhat speedy showing in ‘Sabretooth Tiger’ that nicely shows the power metal influence on Axe Crazy’s sound) that shows that Abdrzej Heczko definitely knows how to use his kit properly and can play to a level that is more than just creating a beat for everything else to follow. Kamil Piesciuk mostly tends to follow the guitars in the band’s music and is very quietly mixed in the EP, but he has a few moments if you listen carefully which show that he is capable of more than you might expect. He isn’t exactly Steve DiGiorgio, but I think the guy is capable of more than you hear on here. The guitars are also somewhat varied, with a decent range of ideas that show that the band’s guitarists aren’t one trick ponies by any measure and with a decent amount of technical skill that, while not entering progressive territory by any measure, is still respectable.

Finally, we come to the vocals. I have a suspicion that Michael Skotnicki is very familiar with the Michael Kiske-era of Helloween, as his vocals sound somewhat similar to what Kiske did back then, although his vocal tone is more akin to that of the earlier mentioned Stephan Dietrich in that his voice lacks the faux operatic touches Kiske did and he doesn’t tend to hold notes for very long. Obviously, if you’re not a fan of power metal vocals, Skotnicki’s going to be a problem for you, but, as a power metal fan (and an unashamed fan of Michael Kiske’s vocals), I’m not complaining!

The production of the EP is very quietly mastered (which is probably because this is the mix on the vinyl, although I wasn’t told this in the promo, so I might be very wrong here!), which I actually like a lot because it also allows the record to have some proper dynamic range and doesn’t potentially result in ear fatigue over long listening periods. The mixing is a bit flawed in that the bass is pushed VERY low in the mix, but most vinyl players will be able to adjust this to the listener’s preference, so I can’t complain too much about this, if I’m being reasonable. The overall sound quality on the record, despite the VERY old school approach (the EP feels like it could have come right out of the 80s, no doubt about it!), is still very clear, which is a pretty impressive achievement. Seriously, props to everyone involved in the production of this EP, you did an amazing job!

I’m also going to take a brief second to add that I REALLY like the artwork for this EP, done by artist Jerzy Kurczak! I just really like the style of it, as it reminds me a lot of the early hand drawn artwork of the 80s and earlier. I know, it’s very much a deliberate move, but I can’t deny that it works well! Heck, if I was capable of drawing anything without it looking like a bad attempt at imitating Picasso, I’d be drawing that in my free time without any complaints!

Ultimately…do you really need a summing up of Angry Machines? It’s a very school sounding traditional heavy metal EP which pulls off the old school feel perfectly and, while having a few flaws, is overall a great listen! If you like old school traditional heavy metal or early power metal, then this is not going to disappoint in the slightest! If Axe Crazy can maintain this level of quality in the future, then I see a truly brilliant career ahead for them, and that’s not something I say lightly!

Angry Machines will be released on vinyl on the 26th of February by Pure Underground Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.