|Musical Style: Speed Metal/Thrash||Produced By: George Ochoa|
|Record Label: Intense Millennium||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1991/2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 17||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 47:57|
What A Joke represents a transitional period in the history of Deliverance. The group, having recently released two of the more groundbreaking albums to come out of the early Christian metal scene in the melodic speed metal and thrash of its self-titled debut (1989) and sophomore effort Weapons Of Our Warfare (1990), was at a crossroads musically. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Brown had been performing speed metal and thrash since the mid-eighties and needed a change of pace. Lead guitarist George Ochoa, on the other hand, was just getting his feet wet as far as either style was concerned and wished to continue in the same heading. It led to the two butting heads and ultimately going their separate ways but not before recording Deliverance’s third full length album from 1991, What A Joke.
In addition to clashes over musical direction there were other distractions at hand, particularly the groups demanding tour schedule in support of Weapons Of Our Warfare. The fact is Deliverance had been performing so many dates in recent months it lacked the time it needed for writing. So when getting ready to record What A Joke the group did not have any material ready. Brown sums things up best, “I threw together all those riffs in a matter of weeks and we rehashed a bunch of old songs because we just did not have anything”. He further adds: “We went into record What A Joke and inevitably it was. I hate bagging (on it) but it wasn’t a very good record”.
At this point the following question begs answer: How well has What A Joke held up under the test of time? While I would hesitate to rank it a classic alongside Deliverance and Weapons Of Our Warfare in terms of historical impact and overall artistic statement, it is not the sloppy and haphazard effort the artist makes it out to be either. My overall feeling is that it falls somewhere in between. Hence, the final score of 75%.
Musically, What A Joke stays mostly true to the first two Deliverance albums but starts to find the group expanding upon its sound somewhat. Thrash fans will delight in “Prophet Of Idiocy” and “Pseudo Intellectual”, two hard hitting tracks about as subtle as a punch in the jaw, in addition to “What A Joke” and “A Product Of Society” with their equal emphasis on heaviness and catchy hooks. The Christmas metal piece “Silent Night” and Black Sabbath cover “After Forever”, on the other hand, find the band shifting gears and hearing in the more melodic direction. You will also find revamped versions of past Deliverance classics such as “Attack” (from the California Metal compilation) and J.I.G. (off the Greetings Of Death demo).
In between we have several what I like to refer to as “joke” songs which find Deliverance not taking themselves too seriously- and in no way is that a bad thing! You have a couple based around food themes (“Chipped Beef” and “Purgatory Sandwich With Mustard”) along with a handful of throwaways that come in at under a minute: “Introduction” (:17), “Cheeseburger Maker Du” (:07), “Happy Star” (:04), “J.P.D.” (:17) and “Pray” (:39).
When factoring in the positives and negatives, What A Joke adds up to a good but not quite great Deliverance album. The better material here is vastly underrated, but you also get the feeling the band was not putting its entire heart into the project. Still, if “Pseudo Intellectual” and “What A Joke” are any indication of Deliverance’s capabilities at the time, I would love to hear what the group could have come up with if given a couple more months preparation and backed it with the needed focus. In other words, for What A Joke to be mentioned in the same sentence as Deliverance and Weapons Of Our Warfare it needs to be rounded out with two to three more upper tier quality songs.
Brown presents with some changes in terms of his vocal performance, singing in a lower register in comparison to the bands previous efforts with a delivery on the coarser and rawer side of things. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I miss how in the past he would often cut loose and exhibit the full range to his voice, such as on “Blood Of The Covenant” (self-titled debut) and “Solitude” (Weapons Of Our Warfare).
Brown and Ochoa continue to form a dominant guitar team; any momentum from Weapons Of Our Warfare is carried over here. Brown, in particular, puts on a clinic in terms of intense as all get out riffs and harmonies. The guy literally wrote the book on tight sounding rhythm guitar playing- done thrash/speed metal style! Ochoa might not be the best shredder in Deliverance history, that title belongs to Mike Phillips, but would be certain to give anyone a run for their money on their best day.
Originally an Intense Records release and long out of print and hard to find, What A Joke was re-mastered and re-issued in the spring of 2011 on Intense Millennium Records. New album artwork was included along with a bonus track.
It must be noted the fantastic re-mastering. Not that the original sounded bad, but the Intense Millennium version presents with significant upgrades sonically in showcasing the all around fuller sound. Both drums and guitars receive noticeable improvements in the process. A purchase of the re-issue comes strongly recommended as a result.
The new artwork has been reviled by Deliverance fans and the Christian metal community alike. Personally, I do not see what all the fuss is about. Perhaps I am the one in a million minority, but I kind of like the new artwork. It is eye catching and colorful while staying true to the albums theme with songs such as “Cheeseburger Maker Du” and “Chipped Beef”. And besides, those who are still up in arms will find the original on the flip side of the insert.
Track By Track
Three minutes of unremitting speed metal, “Prophet Of Idiocy” is a short but concise heavy hitter that reminds me somewhat of “This Present Darkness” (off Weapons Of Our Warfare). Brown sings at his rawest and raspiest while Ochoa destroys on lead guitar.
“Pseudo Intellectual” touches upon a progressive thrash based sound not unlike “Flesh And Blood” (again, Weapons Of Our Warfare). The song opens its first minute to a quietly played guitar but hits like a ton of bricks the rest of the way, establishing a tempestuous setting with its assaulting guitar riffs and maelstrom of a rhythm section. Interesting, “Pseudo Intellectual” takes a more melodic tone for its instrumental moments. Lyric snippet:
Blind leading the blind
Professors in our universities
Saying the Bible doesn't compare
To scientific proof
I got news for you
The Bible is historic literature
Has survived the scrutiny
Of the likes of you
You walk in utter darkness
Professing to be wise,
You've become a fool
The albums title track ranks with the groups finest. Nothing less than a classic, “What A Joke” brings a great catchy chorus - reinforced by harshly done backing vocals - and matches it with tasteful double kick drum action and the full on intensity Deliverance is best known. Coriolis and Faseultified both did standout versions of “What A Joke” on the Deliverance tribute album Temporary Insanity…
“Chipped Beef” isn’t really a song but rather a recipe set to metal music- and quite the funny one at that! No, this one might not always make my regular Deliverance play list but can still be fun to listen to on occasion.
The Black Sabbath cover “After Forever” was done just right. And by that I mean Deliverance adds its own unique thrash based stamp to the piece while staying true to the original in terms of its catchy guitar riff and melodic sensibilities. The bass line stands out full and punchy while one cannot help but question the true “inspiration” behind the lyrics:
Could it be you're afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believed in God above?
They should realize before they criticize that Jesus is the only way to love
Perhaps you'll think before you say that
God is dead and gone
Open your eyes just realize that He is the One
The only One who can save you now from all this sin and hate
Or will you still jeer at all you hear?
Yes I think it's too late
“It’s The Beat” brings two minutes of “apologetic” metal. This is best found in the lyrical direction serving to defend Christian metal in the face of its critics: It's the beat
They say is Satanic, ha ha ha
It's the beat
That causes the flesh to give in
It's the beat
You ignorant fool,
Study the first eight chapters of Romans
It's the beat
Don't give me your opinion,
Show me a chapter a verse
Old bar song's now made to hymns,
You classify as blessed by God
But several hundred years ago,
You called them evil, but who was wrong
Otherwise, what we have is a trademark Deliverance “face melter” with aggressive vocals and even more aggressive speed metal based milieu.
The no-nonsense “A Product Of Society” hints at “Weapons Of Our Warfare” but with some elements of “Awake” (from the self-titled debut) thrown in. Heavy duty shouted backing vocals and a gripping chorus might put things over the top but the focused as it gets guitar playing - running the gamut from speed metal to near doom-ish riffs - is the songs main highlight.
“Silent Night” is as fine a Christmas metal piece as this reviewer has heard. The song opens calmly to an acoustic guitar but kicks in after a minute to a storm of metal guitar riffs, taking a more melodic heading (at least in comparison to much of the albums material!) while giving Brown the opportunity to exhibit the full range to his voice.
“J.I.G.” is a straight up speed metal assault but with lyrics on the worshipful side of things:
King of Kings, Lord of Lords,
Emmanuel God is with us
First and Last, He erases past,
He's Lord and King
High Priest touched with feelings
of our infirmities
Advocate, One with God, the True and
Only Son of God
Jesus is God
Jesus is God
Jesus is God
A near relentless tempo can be found along with lead guitar work played at blinding speed. Strap yourself in and hold on for dear life!
“Purgatory Sandwich With Mustard” is mostly instrumental, moving its three minutes to some driving guitar riffs and occasional outbursts of double bass. At this point it must be mentioned the relentless work of Kevin Lee behind the drum kit (my all time favorite Deliverance timekeeper).
“Attack” fits right in on What A Joke. The remake cuts like a knife with its sledgehammer-like impetus and heavy duty backing vocals covering its hulking chorus. The main difference this time is that Brown sings in a slightly lower register. Mosh it up baby! Lyric snippet:
Put on the whole armor of God
That you might stand the evil, that's to come
Soon will you grow weary of the fight
Trust God, hold to His hand tight
Be ready for attack
The bonus track “Strings Of Sorrow” brings a dark acoustic based sound that hints at the direction Deliverance would take on future projects Stay Of Execution and River Disturbance. A bit short at 1:42 but not bad.
What A Joke ends up a couple songs short of being a great album. It is too bad the band was facing so many distractions at the time because the albums better material hints at another classic. Irregardless, I am glad Intense Millennium has made What A Joke available again after being out of print for literally years. Get this as a result of the improvements from the re-mastering.
Track Listing: “Introduction” (:17), “Prophet Of Idiocy” (3:26), “Pseudo Intellectual” (7:15), “Cheeseburger Maker Du” (:07), “What A Joke” (6:19), “Chipped Beef” (2:02), “After Forever” (5:25), “It’s The Beat” (1:58), “A Production Of Society” (4:42), “Happy Star” (:04), “J.P.D.” (:17), “Pray” (:39), “Silent Night” (4:59), “J.I.G.” (2:57), “Purgatory Sandwich With Mustard” (2:58), “Attack” (3:38), “Strings Of Sorrow” (1:42)
Jimmy P. Brown II – Vocals, Guitars & Talk Box
George Ochoa – Guitars
Mike Grato – Bass
Kevin Lee - Drums