“The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” (2007) by Norway’s Audiopain is a pretty unusual metal release. I first reviewed it for Maelstrom some years back, and even to this day the power trio’s consistently peculiar riffing style intrigues me. Guitarist Sverre Dæhli adds wild trills and chromatic variations to main songlines as a sort of default (try to imagine what might have happened if Steve Vai had joined Motörhead). This approach gives off a math-rock feel, while retaining the sneering defiance of punk. The heavily distorted bass playing of Plenum (formerly of Ved Buens Ende) and steadily frenetic drumming by Christian Holm never let you forget you’re listening to a metal band, granted one that allows itself to sound heavy and slightly cartoonish at the same time.
“Hellbound” starts off the release with rapid-fire picking and a definitive atonality along with a staccato assault technique classic NWOBHM speed. However, the more traditionally-minded metal dietician may feel challenged by the Nintendo riffing and gravelly vocals. “Hellbound” also features the only guitar solo of the album, in which Dæhli offers up tasteful nods to Kirk Hammett (Metallica, Exodus) with pan-fretboard sweeps and repetition of certain phrases.
“The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” is an even faster track which, being more wordy, elaborates upon the band’s atheist and anti-dogmatic ideologies:
Mankind on its knees before a power too strong
Helplessly accepting their god proven wrong …
Hope crushed on display, screams breed like flies
You envy the dying in the mirror, where I bring peace …
Sweden’s superb black metal practitioners Craft employ similarly anti-human/pro-apocalypse lyrical themes, but Audiopain pull it off with a Saturday-detention-teenage glee that makes the switching-off of mankind seem more like an enjoyable spring cleaning than a catastrophe. The song also switches gears to a slow, Voivod-hypnotic dirge a little more than halfway through that draws you into a more relaxed, if not contemplative state of mind, and then reverts back to a fresh assault that culminates with a sudden ending.
“Holy Toxic” is pretty mischievous. Once you think you’ve got a handle on what the band is doing they jump over to some other divergent gameplay. For some reason, I hear a lot of early Iron Maiden seasonings in this weirdo.
I originally stated that the primary math-blues riff of “Termination Fields” was the slam-dunk of that entire year . It’s oddly-timed and yet greasy. The live version, filmed in Greece, is the video at the head of this post. The slower, steady pace and prog-hiccups make this track seem all the more heavy. Best case scenario = the crazed heavy at about the 0:30 mark. It’s basic, but confident.
“Alliance” is much more straightforward, if a bit restrained by comparison. Its main thrust is about paranoia vs. awareness, that hidden enemy forces may secretly be working amongst your seeming allies, preparing an ambush.
“Cobra Dance” is the final insult, also the longest and most interesting. Audiopain seem to intend this the track as a stylistic reiteration of its predecessors: the “Ace of Spades” rates of acceleration, the addicted gear-shifting, the “fuck religion” screeds, the progression from speed into slower and grinding heaviness. Audiopain adopt their style from many obvious sources, but they made this particular hybrid release on their own, and well-enough to maintain my interest even if I’m not in such a “metal mood” at a given moment.
Norway still carries a somewhat antiquated popular image of being an exclusively black metal enclave. Indeed, it has historically been the source of some legendary bands (Kampfar may still be my favorite export), but other projects such as Aura Noir have also made their mark in prog thrash, especially as a live unit. Audiopain have been around since the late 1990s, but “The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” is the most recent and economic introduction to their sound–not only is it unrelenting (a nod to the similarly brief “Reign in Blood” perhaps?), but it is entertaining as shit for anyone who grew up in the old 1980s thrash metal tradition of Anthrax and Sadus. Hell, even Fenriz of Darkthrone gave his stamp of approval, and we know his affinity for the old school.
FULL DISCLOSURE: “New England Noise” is my youtube channel I had created to upload old digitized video footage of various noise bands I played with and filmed during the 1990s. Each track is linked above, because I couldn’t find associated Audiopain videos with acceptable sound quality. If anyone from the band or label finds the credits lacking, please contact me and I fix.