You know when you have those moments in life where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am a grown man – like, with a full-time job and kids and stuff – and I just bought an album from a band called Twelve Foot Ninja”?
Just me, then?
OK. So, I just did that. I can’t take full blame, though. A good friend (and fellow music-enthusiast) sent me an e-mail with the subject “Three Words for you.” Those three words were “Twelve Foot Ninja,” followed by a link to an article that contained a further link to a music video for the video for the track “Mother Sky.” I dare you to watch that and not want to hear more from this band. The video has everything!
Dancing hotties in Dia de los Muertos makeup? Check.
Rocking song? Check.
Faux-foreign-film comedic interrupt? Check.
Dancing hotties in Dia de los Muertos makeup? Yessir.
What was I to do? Honestly? How can I resist something that fires on all cylinders like that?
Furthermore, I have a real soft spot for bands that wear their influences on their collective sleeve, especially if those influences include anything that musical mastermind Mike Patton has anything to do with. Twelve Foot Ninja (TFN) hit that sweet spot in a very “Six Degrees of Mike Patton Influence” sort of way. Follow along, if you will, as we trace this back:
- Back in the late ‘80s, Mike Patton was involved in a band called Mr. Bungle (RIP), a short-attention-span theater of macabre, nightmare circus metal.
- Some guys from the Maryland/D.C. area put together a band called Dog Fashion Disco (also RIP), that picked up the torch from (read: were heavily influenced by) the defunct Mr. Bungle, but skewing (if possible) darker.
- Some of the guys from DFD (and from Mushroomhead, and from the show Jackass) formed a band called The Alter Boys (possibly RIP), carrying on that tradition, but adding in some heavy doses of camp along the way.
- Twelve Foot Ninja is heavily influenced by all of the above, but landing on the music spectrum closest to The Alter Boys.
Boom! Got it in four!
For those of you who have never heard of any of those bands, Twelve Foot Ninja plays an interesting brand of heavy rock, interspersed liberally with other disparate styles like jazz and reggae, often within the same song. In contrast to the previously mentioned bands, however, TFN strips out all of the macabre imagery, favoring instead a more light-hearted approach. Choruses soar, and true aggression is used very, very sparingly, if at all. Silent Machine is a much more approachable album than anything in the catalog of their influencing outfits.
The musicianship here is quite good. Bands that play this sort of genre-defying music have to be incredibly tight. I respect that. From a couple of listens, I’m not necessarily hearing anything that I haven’t heard before, but everything here – from the machine-gun riffing to the sultry jazz – is played competently and with a sense of fun. There’s a bit of flash here and there, and that’s really all that’s required. The songs don’t require blistering guitar solos and frenetic, extended drumming. I applaud TFN for showing some restraint in what could rapidly devolve into overblown showing-off.
I will take a moment to draw attention to one particular element that stands out to me. The vocals on this album are outstanding. Kin, the vocalist, has a full, strong voice that calls to mind some of the best vocalists from the funk-metal heyday of the ‘90s. He sounds great in smooth singing and has a fantastic full-throated bellow. So many bands these days have either high tenors or screamers as vocalists. It’s refreshing to hear a male singer that actually sounds like a man. He also displays fair range, as might be expected from a band that touches on so many styles.
Aside from the Saturday-morning-cartoon sounding name, Twelve Foot Ninja play an energetic mix of styles, crafting an entertaining heavy-rock album in Silent Machine. For the uninitiated, the genre-jumping may take some getting used to, although not nearly as much as some of their influences. For an old Mr. Bungle fan like me, these guys are right in my wheelhouse – immediately comfortable and familiar. If you enjoy some energetic music, played by guys who are clearly enjoying what they’re doing, this is definitely worth checking out.