Shit Liver's long awaited self-titled debut album! Recorded independently in Sault Ste. Marie in mid-late 2012 and later mixed by Destroilet's John Conway, this album finally saw it's digital release on April 20th through their Bandcamp page, albeit after the band's fall 2013 move to St. Catharine's. Featuring their current lineup (singer/guitarist Josh Penno, bassist/singer Mike Kyle, and drummer & backing vocalist Matt Baic), "Shit Liver" is available to purchase on BandCamp on a "name your price" model, so you can get it free if you choose, but please consider supporting Shit Liver's work! Physical copies are anticipated as well, and though release details are not out yet, CDs will come with a poster and song lyrics, and will likely be available on Sunday when they open for Fuck The Facts at The Oddfellows Hall. Streaming copies of each song can also be heard at their YouTube channel, and each song name below is linked to it's copy there.
Featuring 15 songs clocking in at around 31 minutes in length (though only 2 songs exceed 2:31), let's begin this review with a look at the first song, "You're Scared"! Kicking off with the sound of an opening beer can, the song immediately gets to a fast start mixing melodic guitar work and pounding bass, with Josh's low growls and Mike's higher pitched screams alternating to good effect! Though somewhat hard to decipher given the vocal style, the song's seemingly a call-out of someone for being scared of everything despite not being able to admit it, and the guys get that message across in this 70 second blitz!
The band's own self-titled song "Shit Liver" is next, which is basically their mission statement about who they are, and it keeps up the same musical essence with trade-off vocals and chaotic instrumentation that melds death metal & punk. Fittingly, it's the first song on the album with extensive vocal contributions from all 3 members, with Matt's growling almost sounding like a blend of his bandmates' in tone! Effective and brutal, but aside from the added vocals, the song shares a lot of similarities with "You're Scared". Third is the 64 second "Sooer Livin'", a song whose minimal lyrics talk of apathetic feelings of living in this city, though if you're offended by the thought, it's hard to pick out the lyrics when listening. Matt's drumming is given a solid showcase here early, and the music keeps with the vibe of earlier tracks, but has more of a relentless nature that has some melodic flourishes late. Solid track, if short, but it shakes things up enough to help it stand out!
Fourth is "Hellen Kellers", which is actually a song attacking religious conformity and trying to suppress rational thinking, presumably using Helen Keller as a metaphor. Somewhat long for a Shit Liver original, it opens with a slower and darker intro with audio samples relating to the song's themes, before delving into Shit Liver's usual crust punk sounds for the last minute & a half. Mike provides primary vocals here, and gives a unique spin to the proceedings, while Josh's guitar solo late is a welcome addition, though why the fake song ending before it? For me, this is an early highlight, especially for the variance and added instrumental showcases from the guys! Next is "Shift Liver", which is about the apathy and hatred of going to work, and it lives up to it's preceding songs with it's moshable brutality, and though it has obvious similarities, Josh's guitar riffing is particularly tight, and his and Mike's trade-off vocals are particularly effective! Fans will definitely enjoy "Shift Liver", but it doesn't deviate too much from the norm.
Sixth is the intentionally misspelled "Pennotration" (with Josh Penno fittingly on lead vocals), with the song talking of the human desire and need to reproduce. I like the slower building intro here, and Josh's guitar work is really solid again, with him using much of it's later half for some solo melodic action! He puts this song over the top, making it one of the best sub-2 minute tracks on the album, while Mike & Matt put their 2 cents in as well, so it's worth checking out for sure! That's followed by "(Friendly Old) Uncle Joe", which has some of the darkest & most detailed lyrics yet on this album, concerning the title character committing sexual abuse, and then getting his comeuppance. More than any track yet, this song is really built around Josh's verses, and is definitely more to the point and deliberate than other songs, perhaps reflecting the lyrical content. It's still heavy and brutal, and while it's not overly close to the shorter tracks, it also lacks the freewheeling chaos on them. I wonder how it'd sound as a slowed down doom metal song?
Eighth on "Shit Liver" is the 79 second "Fabricated Nonsense", which is about the lies that are told presumably by a world leader to get richer at the expense of everyone else. After a friend of the band screams "All I know is it's good!", the song gets right to business with a brutal and relentless attack with awesome drumming and skilled bass, and the guys definitely are at their heavy best here! There's some solid guitar solo action in the second half as well, and they don't let up at all for the duration, so this is absolutely one of their best shorter tracks on this disc!
That's followed by "It's Not My Problem", which runs over 4 and a half minutes, so how does it fare? Lyrically, it's about not taking responsibility for what humans do for the environment, as regardless of what good work one person does, it won't matter. Starting with a bass heavy intro, the song soon delves into Shit Liver's usual wheelhouse, though like on "(Friendly Old) Uncle Joe", there's a deliberate pace on the verses, and an added clarity to Josh's vocals. Halfway through, the song moves from faster death metal to a doom or sludge metal style with minimal singing of the title, before picking up late with another solo. It's an effective song with lots of brutality, and I like the change in style, but fans of their reckless shorter material might not take to this one the same. "Survival of the Shittest" is next, a 91 second song about how natural selection has been negated by the weak growing smarter and industrializing so they can survive. Very vocal centric, the instrumental aspect suffers as a result of having to flow with the lyrics, so aside from the guitar solo, there isn't much of a fun spirit or heavy edge to it.
Song #11 is "Hateroleum", which is seemingly Shit Liver's response to haters of the band and how their hatred is a fuel that keeps them going. This 64 second song returns to their more familiar reckless insanity, with trade-off death vocals, relentless drumming, and a familiar punk edge, so while there's not much new to add, it does contain their classic brutal sound! If anything, the late guitar solo seemed to end before it really began, but "Hateroleum" will please ardent fans for sure! Twelfth is "Or What?", Shit Liver's indictment and call-out of emo, scene, and hardcore bands, which starts with a 25 second audio sample from the horror movie The Driller Killer. The music slowly enters driven by Mike's low bass work before getting to usual business with brutal growling and a solid chemistry, including a parody breakdown mid-way through to emphasize the lyrical point. Very strong song that gets it's message across, and Josh's vocals and guitar are on point, as are Matt's drumming, so if you aren't offended by the insults to hardcore bands, you should take to this song well!
"Contribute or Perish" is next, which is written from the point of view of an evil boss ordering their employees to work or else, without any compassion or regard for their well being or opinion. Like some earlier songs with more serious lyrics, this song is more straight-forward and deliberately paced, though it has more of a fast intensity around the choruses, particularly thanks to Mike's backing vocals. It's very heavy and well composed, but again, it lacks the fun insanity of many of their shorter songs, like the next one "Drowning In Shit", which is an album low 60 seconds in length. Quite literally about the title, this is another entertainingly speedy original with solid guitar work, fast and rhythmic drumming, and the requisite intensity, but the vocals almost seemed to be packed in too much, and it did seem to end a little suddenly. Brutal work though, and they got their point across in minimal time!
The last song on this album is "Shit Will Prevail", which clocks in at a record length of 5:39! Referencing other originals in it's message of how the title "shit" will take over and consume everything, it's a fitting closer to the album even based on it's content, but how's the actual song? Unlike earlier Shit Liver tracks that were longer than normal, this one isn't as bogged down by a serious deliberate structure, benefiting from a looser feel, the freedom to be aggressive while showing their song-writing talent, with Matt & Mike getting nice solo sections to showcase their talents mid-way through, and Josh and Mike's vocals fit the material! My main complaint is this song isn't as melodic as it could be, and the guitar solo is a bit sloppy compared to earlier examples, but as a pure instrumental showcase, this works well, and it's a nice way to round out their debut!
So what are my final thoughts on Shit Liver's first album? I'll say that it's an effective and brutal way to compile their original material, and their brutal crust & grind sounds have never sounded clearer thanks to the solid production and mixing! As has always been the case with Shit Liver, their sound and vocals can be polarizing, but here you get more of a taste of their individual talents and chemistry, with Josh Penno's vocals and guitar work driving them nicely throughout all 15 tracks, while Mike Kyle & Matt Baic contributed well on backing vocals, and both are more than up to par on bass and drums! I find that Shit Liver sound the best on shorter and more chaotic songs like "Fabricated Nonsense" & "Drowning In Shit", but at the same time, their sound on them often blurs together and the similarities become more obvious when you hear them in close proximity. When Shit Liver try longer songs, they often delve into a more serious and deliberate style without the same spirit, and I think they need to find a better balance for the longer songs, or go full doom metal with them.