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Made Out Of Babies - The Ruiner

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Artist: Made Out Of Babies

Album: The Ruiner

Label: The End

Review date: Jul. 23, 2008

Take away the vocals, and Made Out of Babies would be easy to pin down. The crawling guitar and epic crescendos are metal, the kind of unhyphenated metal that comes out of Relapse Records. Even when time signatures get irregular or the landscape suddenly turns quiet, the purpose always remains a hard pounding.

So what's is it with the vocals that make The Ruiner less easy to peg? In a name, Julie Christmas.

The sparse history of female singers in front of metal bands tend towards the ghostly. Christmas's voice buzzes too much to ever sound ethereal, but that's not what sends this sideways. It's the unpredictability she brings to the mic. In so much metal, the vocals are the stable part, a guide through the inferno. Whether the second guitarist throws in a rudimentary growl or the dedicated frontman occasionally gets in touch with his inner falsetto, the delivery usually stays consistent. Christmas tailors a persona to each track here, from chunks-of-lung outbursts to little girl sighs.

Metal singers also give off a sense of camaraderie. The topic might be purifying corpses, but there's still an understanding with the listener that "we're both outsiders here." Christmas comes at the songs with more of a No Wave perspective, working against the listener's complacency, as if they're the squares. While a lot of metal singers want to spook you, Christmas sounds like she’s genuinely trying to alienate, like Lydia Lunch or Jim Thirlwell. When she vents, she's not concerned with anyone else's catharsis. She's oblique, as if no one can share in what she's witnessed. There's no attempt to be one of the boys - and that would hold true even if she were.

The Ruiner itself is a rugged set of songs. Christmas, guitarist Bunny, bassist Cooper and drummer Matthew Egan carve out a space for each other, and when three of the four are in lockstep, the other makes sure to screw it up, add a little discord. But Christmas is an even bigger presence, and she pushes Made Out of Babies towards “love 'em or hate 'em” territory.

As good as this Brooklyn band is at stitching together the loud and the odd, The Ruiner succeeds or fails depending on how credible you find Christmas' various costumes. I'm divided. I can't buy "The Major" with its whispering séance voices, all too like Marilyn Manson. When she pushes her warble and tries to soar, she sometimes looses sight of basic ugliness that grounds this music. It doesn't add up to anything pretty. But I can't dismiss all of the tracks, especially "Bunny Boots." The title hints at the ridiculousness these tunes need, lest the agony come off like moping.

By Ben Donnelly

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