The term “gamer metal” has taken a bit of a bashing from the metal community at large during its brief existence. All too easily do bands alienate potential fans by slipping in in-jokes and obscure games, thus creating a barrier between those ‘in the know’ and those less well-versed in gaming. To make matters worse, when you remove the gaming aspect, the music generally falls flat and loses what value it had. Bearing this in mind, Centiment have created quite a remarkable début in “Streets Of Rage”, where both ‘gamer’ and ‘metal’ get their due attention, and the fans that pledged in the PledgeMusic campaign have got more than their money’s worth.
First things first, how much gaming content is here? Not as much as expected, actually. On the lyrical side, there are some references, but in general they are well-written, with only one dud in ‘Bloodshot’ with the line “I like to drink, motherfucker”. Musically, the MIDI-style keyboards that encapsulated much of 80s and 90s games only rear their heads every so often, and not just as a nostalgia trip. They work to the music’s advantage, turning ‘Hollow Grams’ into a mind-bending space battle breakdown on ecstasy. The worst ‘offender’ in gaming terms is ‘Defenders Of Oasis’, named after the Sega game, but even there the glitchy melodies actually work with the metal rather than juxtapose it. And that’s not the weirdest aspect of the song or album in any case.
As if the music weren’t already enough of a careering and unpredictable beast, vocalist Dave McPherson riding it makes it even madder. Known primarily for his work in alt-grunge act InMe, his voice here is a far cry from that, bordering on lunatic. The choruses in particular are spectacular (c.f. ‘The Kraken’, ‘Victor Frankl’), but he puts on a mind-boggling performance throughout. In almost Sikth-like fashion, he switches at a moment’s notice between crazed high shrieks and his signature trembling clean vocals. Occasionally he drops into a guttural growl for added effect such as on the spectacular closer ‘Mother’s Nature’, or starts sing-rapping in the case of ‘Defenders Of Oasis’; keeping track of all the vocal styles becomes an exercise in itself. He comes close to dominating the album, but there are moments where the music shines through spectacularly.
Finally, this record is undeniably heavy. But heavy in this sense is not just a relentless stream of breakdowns, although the intro for opening track ‘S.O.S.’ provides chugging guitar work in abundance. It’s not in the off-the-wall guitar work and tight rhythm work that befits tech-metal as a genre. It’s not even in the demented vocal performance, which almost warrants its own review. It’s the chaotic maelstrom as a whole, augmented by a tightly-wound production that feels modern but not clinically so. “Streets Of Rage” starts out by being slightly oppressive and a lot to take in, but subsequent spins allow the listener to unpack what’s going on and appreciate the true genius of Centiment. Perhaps the strongest compliment to the band, at least from these quarters, is that even people who have never touched a console in their lives can still appreciate this album fully.
If the idea of a gaming session between Sikth, Strapping Young Lad and Bring Me The Horizon‘s “Sempiternal” sounds like a tantalising prospect, then Centiment deliver the goods with room to spare. Given the complexity of the music, it will be exciting to see how it translates onstage with their upcoming tour, or where the band will turn to on subsequent material. But as a stand-alone construct, “Streets Of Rage” comes with both a recommendation sticker and a warning label of its insanity. Level up, guys.