Steve Albini once said something to the effect that all project bands suck except for the Joe Perry Project. I don’t know if he’d change his mind after hearing Probot, but as for as project bands go, it’s not too bad. Probot is Dave Grohl’s attempt to pay tribute to the heavy bands he loved in his youth. He wrote an album’s worth of heavy metal songs and shipped them off to various singers to contribute lyrics and vocals.
The album has been in the works for several years, and the small independent label Southern Lord Records is now releasing it. Due to the nature of the album, the best way to discuss it is to talk about each track individually. Here’s what’s on the album:
Centuries of Sin (featuring Cronos of Venom) – During their heyday, Venom was sometimes called “the worst band in the world”. The band didn’t try to deny it too much. A blurb on the back of on of their albums read “Home taping isn’t killing music … Venom is.” Still, despite their limited musical ability, Venom is one of the most influential and important metal bands of all time. “Centuries of Sin” doesn’t sound much like classic Venom, but Cronos is in fine form, and this song is probably the best one on the album.
Red War (featuring Max Cavalera of Soulfly/Sepultura) – Although there were many fine metal bands in Brazil in the 80s, Sepultura were one of the best as well as the most popular. However, Max Cavalera split from his bandmates after the Roots album and formed Soulfly. This was a good thing, as Soulfly is a really boring nu-metal band and Sepultura is just plain bad these days. Many people would love to see Max back in the band and to have them go back to playing thrash metal, but until then we have this track, which sounds an awful lot like something from their Chaos A.D. album. I would have preferred it if sounded like something from Schizophrenia, but it’ll do. It’s certainly the best thing Max Cavalera has done since he closed the book on his side-band Nailbomb (another exception to the Steve Albini rule).
Shake Your Blood (featuring Lemmy of Motorhead) – The music sounds very Motorhead-y and Lemmy sounds like he always does. It’s a decent song, but nothing mind-blowing. I can’t complain about the inclusion of Lemmy on the album, though.
Access Babylon (featuring Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity) – Although Corrosion of Conformity pretty much sounds like Lynrd Skynrd on their most recent works, it wasn’t always so. Back in the 80s, they were a hardcore band, and this song harkens back to those days. The song itself isn’t bad, but I think that Dean really isn’t that well suited to singing hardcore anymore. This probably wasn’t the right track for him.
Silent Spring (featuring Kurt Brecht of D.R.I.) – D.R.I. were one of the best crossover bands of the 80s, although in recent years, they haven’t been all that prolific. Kurt Brecht’s vocals are still top notch though, and he sounds great on this song.. The only problem I have with the track is that it doesn’t really sound much like D.R.I. at all; it sounds more like Black Sabbath. It just sounds weird to me to have Brecht singing over music that’s this slow. I think he and Mike Dean should have switched songs, and the results would have been much better.
Ice Cold Man (featuring Lee Dorrian of Cathedral) – Lee Dorian was the vocalist on the seminal Napalm Death albums Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration, but he hasn’t been involved in grindcore for quite some time. These days, he sings for the British doom metal band Cathedral. The music on this track sounds an awful lot like Cathedral; if I didn’t know better, I would have said this is an actual Cathedral song. This is probably my second favorite song on the album.
The Emerald Law (featuring Wino of The Obsessed/Saint Vitus) – Although Wino was never in a punk band, his doom metal band The Obsessed was much beloved by hardcore fans in Washington, D.C., and he later fronted St. Vitus, the only metal band on SST Records. In recent years he has played with Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand, and is considered one of the most important figures in American doom metal. This sounds pretty much like any of Wino’s bands, although I think Wino is better at writing this type of music than Dave Grohl is. A sort of average track, but Wino’s vocals are as great as ever.
Big Sky (featuring Tom Warrior of Celtic Frost) – Celtic Frost’s early work was a big influence on black metal bands, and their album Into the Pandemonium is one of the most innovative metal albums of the 80s. Then the band made the unfortunate decision to record a glam metal album entitled Cold Lake, which did an enormous amount of damage to the band’s career.
This is probably the weakest track on the album, as Tom Warrior’s vocals sound incredibly rusty, and the song itself isn’t that great. It doesn’t even sound much like a Celtic Frost song. I hope Warrior gets his act together, as I would hate for the impending Celtic Frost reunion to be a disappointment. Check out the Celtic Frost albums Morbid Tales or To Mega Therion to hear how great Warrior can be when he’s really trying.
Dictatorsaurus (featuring Snake from Voivod) – Voivod used to be known as “the thinking man’s thrash metal band”, although it seems a lot of people these days think they’re a Jason Newstead side-project. The band always seemed destined for bigger things (on their Angel Rat tour, Faith No More and Soundgarden opened for them), but they never really achieved mainstream success. Nevertheless, they’re soldering on with a small but very devoted fanbase and a great deal of respect from critics and fellow musicians. Grohl is a huge Voivod fan, and “Dictatorsaurus” sounds a lot like one of the tracks from Dimension Hatross or Nothingface. It sounds pretty cool, but obviously it’s not as great as an actual Voivod song.
My Tortured Soul (featuring Eric Wagner of Trouble) – Trouble was one of the most unfashionable metal bands of the 80s. They played slow, Black Sabbath influenced-metal at a time when thrash metal was everywhere, and they used a lot of religious symbolism. Although I don’t think they were ever truly a “Christian metal band”, they were close enough for government work. The band later dropped the Jesus talk and released some of the best work of their career on Rick Rubin’s Def American label. Alas, they didn’t take off and the band faded away. They’re back together now and working on new material, so maybe they’ll have better luck this time around. Anyway, the song is pretty reminiscent of Trouble’s glory days, and Wagner can still belt out a tune, so I was pretty happy with it.
Sweet Dreams (faturing King Diamond) – King Diamond’s falsetto voice is the textbook definition of acquired taste. However, once you get used to it, you can appreciate the many fine albums he’s been involved with. His band Mercyful Fate was one of the best bands of the early 80s, and solo albums like Abigail and Them are true metal classics. “Sweet Dreams” is reminiscent of King Diamond’s solo work, and his voice sounds as good as ever. It’s a nice way to end the album. I believe there’s a limited edition of the album with a secret bonus song with Jack Black doing the vocals, but I haven’t heard it.
So is the album worth buying? Dave Grohl can certainly write a few decent heavy metal tunes, but with the gimmick of the different vocalists on each track, I don’t think the album would have attracted anywhere near the amount of attention it already has. The music just isn’t good enough to get really excited about. I’ say fans of the vocalists involved will want to get this, but probably won’ hold much appeal for everyone else. Grohl’s otives for releasing this are commendable, but like almost every project band in existence, the finished project isn’ quite as amazing as everyone hoped it would be.