Ben Kuzay – In the Halls of the Punisher

15/08/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Ben Kuzay
Title: In the Halls of the Punisher
Label: Evil Ink Records
Genre: Progressive Metal

01 Sonic Aristocracy
02 In The Halls Of The Punisher
03 The Royal Palace Pt. 1: The Reading Room
04 The Royal Palace Pt. 2: The Crown
05 March To The Guillotine
06 Metropolis
07 Passage Through A Strange Place
08 The Road To Union
09 Defending The Fortress
10 The Suffering At Hope’s End
11 The Little Toy Train
12 Retribution

Ever heard of a band called Nightqueen? I thought not, but somewhere in the cruel maelstrom of time the worlds of this unknown Belgian Gothic metal group and an instrumental bassist from Wisconsin have collided. Nightqueen are one of the most delayed, reformed and malformed bands in the underground metal scene. They’ve been together since 2005, and in that time you can count on one hand the amount of live performances they’ve done – and on several hands the amount of line-up changes they’ve been through. For years I regularly visited their amateurish website and was amazed by their paucity of output, their laughably pantomime-esque stage wear and their banal and atrocious lyrics page – lyrics for songs which may as well have not existed since there were no samples. Their ‘news’ section featured gems like:

“10/12/2005 – a new band member has arrived. Da-Namite has just joined the band for the 2nd lead guitar. So Nightqueen is finally complete and will go on stage soon.”

“20/12/2005 – the band said goodbye to rhythm guitar player Da-Namite.”

Of course you can’t see where this is going. Ben Kuzay can if he’s reading this review, and he’s probably feeling quite uneasy because of it. The thing is, Ben has had a lot of experience in the music industry, being a session musician. But he’s also had a lot of experience of being in different bands: bands which he doesn’t seem to spend an awful lot of time in. For instance, Ben’s first band, Lacerte, lasted less than a year. And his second one, Second Impression [geddit?], lasted six months. You may think that’s normal when musicians are starting out – but wait – there’s a pattern here. Ben joined Wykked Wytch in August 2001 only to leave four months later. He joined A Tortured Soul in November 2007 only to leave three months later. I’d love to know the reasons for such impressively short track records, and things like this from his biography are even more intriguing: “Apr.-Sep. 2001 – Ben Kuzay joins forces with Duane Timlin (Divine Empire, Judas Iscariot), and in a band, the name of which will not be disclosed, Ben and Duane play many shows throughout the Milwaukee and Green Bay areas.” What was that again – ‘the name of which will not be disclosed’. Why ever not, was it a secret project? It couldn’t have been because of all those shows in Milwaukee and the Green Bay areas [wherever those might be]. However much doubt there might be surrounding this small cereal of events, one thing’s for certain – Mr Kuzay seems better off on his own.

So what happened after all this? Ben decided that the world didn’t understand and he should form his own project, so In The Halls of the Punisher was his first contribution to the starved and pining Milwaukee metal scene. This album is a couple of years old now, and has since been superseded by the as-yet unreviewed [by HH at least] Perpetual Desire. In The Halls of the Punisher features plain but striking dark artwork and a couple of pictures of its creator looking uncomfortable in front of a camera. In the linear notes is the message, “each song on this album is the sonic emanation of an emotion, or idea, or an experience I have had at some in my life”. I’m sure every other musician out there feels exactly the same, apart from maybe the Melvins when they were putting out Colossus of Destiny.

Ben can certainly play the bass well, and that’s what’s supposed to be concentrated on here after all. The whole album is his own work including keys, electric guitar and the songwriting. The drum programming was a joint effort between Joel Wanasek and you know who, the music straddling a line between progressive and neoclassical metal. Each song is bass-heavy but not with regard to slow, lumbering, doomish basslines, rolling grooves or even catchy riffs – a lot of it seems to be to do with just how fast the bass can be played. And yes, Ben can play it very fast, impressively fast, but after several tracks of hearing another arpeggio at 160bpm the interest factor starts to decline.

In The Halls of the Punisher is not terribly atmospheric even though it does have its moments: March To The Guillotine has an ingenious closing section and Metropolis has its own inimitable dusky urban charm. Unfortunately, lot of the other numbers descend into the same fast spidery riffing and though it’s clear that Ben can certainly play his instrument well, there’s a difference between fast fretwork and building structured, deep songs concentrating around basslines. In spite of each track here holding pertinent meaning to its creator, to the objective listener it comes across as little more than a mish-mash or musical speed trials, interspersed with only occasional moments of mood just for variety. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from Mr Kuzay in the future. There’s a Gothic band in Belgium that’ll undoubtedly need a new bassist soon.

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