Album Review: Ambassador Gun, When In Hell

[from MadeLoud, October 2, 2009]

It’s often mocked as one big game of Dungeons & Dragons, but in reality metal is more a game of simple one-upmanship: play heavier, play faster, write better hooks and hit your listeners harder than anyone that came before you. Most bands settle for two of those four and do pretty well for themselves, but Minneapolis-based grindcore trio Ambassador Gun clearly intend to go all the way in every possible way.

Combining raw punk rage with expertly-executed moves from the time-honored thrash playbook, When In Hell finds the group building near-hooks from the smoldering rubble left in the wake of Tim Seiler and Luke Olsen’s dual-vox, dual-axe air strike setting fire to the endless supply of blast beats and tremor-inducing double bass of drummer Patrick (no last name given—or needed). The disc emerges as a kind of half-hour audio seizure, its 16 songs seemingly over before they even start, as though Ambassador Gun were racing against time itself.

For the most part, the trio’s penchant for brevity is why the disc as a whole works. The relentless snare and vague threats of opener “Killed Hooker’s Money” are heavy enough to cause physical pain, but the track’s 80-second length keeps it interesting rather than annoying; “Taylor Reign,” the most (and, arguably, only) logically structured song on the disc, employs some fine stuttered riffing over an almost jazz-informed ride cymbal before descending into total chaos halfway into the track. Most perversely, “Death Nail” goes straight for the jugular in its Slayer-on-coke riffing, octopus drumming and mantra of “It’s good to see your blood spill.” Ambassador Gun are many things, but subtle is not one of them.

But as with most grindcore albums—or any metal album, for that matter—the strengths quickly become the weaknesses as well. Psychotic riffing and blood-soaked lyrics have proven time and time again to be simple ways to command attention, but it takes a truly great band to really use those to hold that attention; by the time they get to the superb closing sludge metal of “Delorean,” most listeners will swear they’ve heard this before—and they’d be right, although they’d also be thinking of “Steady Diet,” which had passed through their ears a mere ten minutes prior.

When In Hell paints a terrifying picture in its scant 28 minutes, one not of demons and devils but of punches to the face and a certain unattainable inner peace. Or, as the nominal chorus of “So Pristine” asks more simply: what the fuck?