Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP
Now that the nü-metal revival is in full swing and the future is actually looking worse than many sci-fi movies suggested, it’s hard to think of a more a propos record to blast than The 16 Deaths of My Master. Especially right now—a terrifying moment in time where we all seem to be watching the world burn, literally and figuratively. In a lot of ways, the latest Thief LP from Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Dylan Neal harkens back to the heavy period in the late ‘90s where rising stars like KoЯn, Limp Bizkit, and Fear Factory were throwing their wiggity-wack weight behind slightly more underground bands like Spineshank, Cold, and Orgy. Many of which had their moment in the mainstream, but were a little too weird for your average Family Values fan. (That’d be the bill KoЯn curated as a rap-metal reaction to Ozzfest, a place where suburbanites could see Mobb Deep and Staind.)
While Thief’s bleak lyrics are cast from the same pitch-black mold as Cold—a band that honed in on the inherent ugliness of humanity when its contemporaries were more concerned with keeping it rollin’, rollin’—its sample- and-synth-heavy sound has more in common with the caustic textures of Youth Code and HEALTH. Not to mention the Nietzsche-schooled nihilism of Nine Inch Nails and the riff-centric rhythms of (hear me out) Spawn: The Album, a cash grab compilation from the ‘electronica’ era that presented such unforeseen pairings as Filter and The Crystal Method; Henry Rollins and Goldie; and Metallica and DJ Spooky. (Take that, Judgement Night.)
Thief succeeds where Spawn failed by featuring vibrant and vivid production values—loops that leap from your speakers and crawl like the skin of the doomed characters Neal depicts as clearly as a horror auteur. At least I hope they’re characters. Otherwise, it’s hard not to worry about what Botanist’s former dulcimer player is working through. After all, The 16 Deaths of My Master opens with a Vicodin addict pleading for another pill and tacks on subsequent allusions to drunk driving, “orgasms in my confession booth,” and enough morbid fantasies to fill an entire troubling diary.
Meanwhile, engineer John Greenham dials in every last detail as beautifully as he did on Billie Eilish’s Grammy-winning album WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? His final master is both playful and disturbing, as much a contradiction as Neal himself. Apparently, he now “lives at a Zen Buddhist temple along with Thief live bassist, Chris Hackman, where [they] both participate in residential training.” Which kind of makes this sacred and profane LP the industrial-pop equivalent of Insane Clown Posse writing Christian rap all these years. Very “demons, how do they work?”