Twelve Foot Ninja – ‘Vengeance’

By Fiachra Johnston

Nobody said keeping a low profile as an abnormally large assassin would be easy, but for Melbourne rockers and multimedia artists Twelve Foot Ninja, their newest record is hard to ignore. ‘Vengeance’ sees the group pull out some of the most unique styles and sounds in their repertoire to produce their most ambitious entry yet. The word “cohesive” often gets thrown around when talking music, and while TFN’s third album, with the myriad of references, tributes, and experiments it brings to the table, does not scream cohesive at first glance, digging deeper shows it does give the air of being an incredibly confident and collected record.

Going through the album, it’s clear the mad scientists in TFN have been let loose, starting with the djent-heavy ‘Start The Fire’, accompanied by tinges of Toxic Avenger with its synthwave style electronic drums. ‘Long Way Home’ provides the first “Wait… what?” moment of the album, combining latin strings and a ska beat that only begins to scratch the surface as it dives into the suitably 8-bit chiptune opening of ‘IDK’. The track moves rather swiftly into… 80’s funk rhythm? before opening into a flurry of screams by Vocalist Nik Barker (AKA “Kin Etik”). Honestly, this track might be too much too quickly, as it goes right into the deep end of TFN’s pool of unique rhythms and quite early into the record. But then again, after this, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into with the record.

It’s not just the strange fusions of instrumentation that add unorthodox layers to ‘Vengeance’: its electronic additions also make for some diverse tracks. The titular ‘Vengeance’ delivers some grunge industrial ambiance a la Nine Inch nails, while ‘Shock To The System’ mixes its metal with some TWRP party-electronica and vocal modifications, alongside an almost Moulin Rouge-style villain monologue. Indie synths and bass tease around a rocking chorus in ‘Gone’, a completely different sound to most anything TFN have produced in the past. True to the ’80s arcade theme of the album, this is an electric experiment of grand proportions, and TFN seem to take great delight in firing all types of lighting through this Frankenstein creation, with overall positive results. 

Barker goes all out on ‘Culture War’, which sees the album turn to hard as steel thrash metal (that breakdown will hit you like a cinder block to the groin) with a suitably powerful metalcore chorus and a… mariachi band trumpet solo in the bridge? It’s not entirely clear how that one fits into by far the heaviest track on the record, so at the risk of falling down the rabbit hole thinking of what classic metal tracks would be improved by the addition of a man playing the vihuela, we shall simply say that it very much does.

The heaviness continues with ‘Dead End’, its breakneck runaway pace interspersed with Blade Runner-evoking electronic samples, while Jinjer frontwoman Tatiana Shmayluk joins the band for a suitably haunting melodic (and rather straightforward in comparison to the rest of the album) duet in ‘Over and Out’. It would have been nice to see some more unclean vocals from Shmayluk, as they would have fit perfectly on the record, but her presence plays off of Mr. Etik’s performance nicely here. The album, fit for one last shocker, ends on TFN’s first ever ballad, ‘Tangled’, consisting of chunky bass lines paired with acoustic guitars and a rather sweeping orchestral symphony.

As in previous outings, it’s worth  nothing that TFN have extra material to support their release, including a comic, Vengeance, written by guitarist Stevic Mackay, a novel, The Wyvern and The Wolf, written by previous collaborator Nicholas Snelling, as well as a 2D platformer, Uncle Brusnik’s Long Way Home, also developed by Mackay. These don’t particularly affect the album from a listener’s perspective, but it’s always worth giving these a look, as TFN’s multimedia elements are a pretty rad way of displaying how invested they are in the story of each album cycle.

As for the record itself, Twelve Foot Ninja have concocted a suitably weird and wonderful new entry into their discography. Honestly, it’s not really anyone’s place to determine whether you find a latin-ska-mariachi-funk-thrash-djent fusion record to be your scene, but ‘Vengeance’, in spite of all that is good and holy, presents some killer metal anthems and a surprising lyrical depth and sincerity that proves the Australian troupe are not a book to judge by their cover alone. 

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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