Kittie – Fire


Ah, Kittie. Do you remember them from the second wave of nu metal in the pre-September 11th days of the dot-com boom? MySpace had not even birthed modern social media, the discman was king, and teenagers wore baggy skater shorts, eyeliner, and worshipped Korn and Marilyn Manson. Rap music also had a place in this universe of teen angst. Ask Kittie – they wrote one of the most embarrassing metal songs of all time with their MTV hit, ‘Brackish’. They ought to have disappeared after 1999’s Spit debut, but they ditched Coal Chamber and embraced Slayer and Cannibal Corpse for their 2001 effort and won begrudging praise from the tastemakers of “real” metal. Gen Z’s infatuation with nu metal is as baffling as their obsession with shoegaze, but there’s no doubt that Kittie deserve to be heard by a new era. This is their first album in thirteen years and the seventh of their career, and it’s quite exciting.

Are Kittie still a nu metal band? Not many of the pre-Facebook era groups that racked up gold and platinum records would dare to write something like ‘Freak on a Leash’ or anything that sounds as disjointed as Hed(Pe) in 2024. If anything, most of them have embraced the heavier elements of thrash and metalcore and ditched the hip-hop flavourings. The same thing is evident here. Kittie’s opening title-track wastes no time recycling the clichés of the genre with a simple System of a Down pogo-thrash rhythm and the inevitable release of a half-timing groove in the intro. Here, Morgan Lander finds her momentum in the bubbling verse parts and then erupts into a raspy voice for the first tease of the pre-chorus. You can still hear the nu metal in the up-and-down dynamics and the reliance on shapeless down-tuned guitars for the heavy parts. Yet the most lampooned genre of the late 1990s also has its uses – not least the emphasis on imaginative vocal lines. This isn’t too different to Damage Plan when you take out the haunting backing harmonies.

Kittie were always at the heavier end of the spectrum, like Slipknot, but without blast beats and grindcore tangents. ‘I Still Wear This Crown’ is groove metal posturing with harsh vocals and basic chug rhythms. The riffs are second rate, but the voice arrangements save this song from mediocrity. Listen how Morgan switches between growling and melodic personalities – the contrast is memorable. The uplift in the chorus sees her stretching her contralto voice as far as it can go over a steady onslaught of Disturbed riffing. ‘Falter’ follows with no pause for breath. Is this the first riff you can celebrate with air guitar movements? Not quite – the fretwork reminds you how the musicianship levels of nu metal are its greatest flaw. They also confirm that the genre had some great ideas for the vocals, not least the emphasis on a strong hook in the chorus. The mosh pit beckons in the way the guitarists let the power chords hang over a simple 4/4 groove.

No wonder Kittie have a reputation as a strong live band – they know how to work a crowd. They won’t let you make your way to the back of the room with ‘One Foot in the Grave’ piping through the PA as if it were an open-air stadium. This track flirts with the metalcore formula and threatens to erupt into a head-banging tempo before they chug their guitars in the pre-chorus and prepare you for the tension release. There’s a lesson to be learned here for all established and aspiring mainstream metal bands – listen to Morgan Lander for tips on how to plant a chorus in the listener’s head. Observe how the band’s grunge influences shine through in ‘Wound’ with a repetition point that clenches your jaw shut and closes your heart to all outside forces. Here’s proof that you can write heavy music with anthemic vocal lines. Who cares about the predictability of the song structuring when it’s as thrilling as ‘Vultures’ (which recalls Machine Head in their post-Supercharger era of recovery)?

Like DevilDriver and Chimaira, Kittie prove that they can write proper metal songs and should not be judged by their earlier efforts. ‘Grime’ is a high tempo dirge of extreme nu metal. The harsh gutturals only enhance the adrenaline. You need your head examining if you cannot get behind the blast of crunchy riffing and raspy vocals in closing track, ‘Eyes Wide Open’. Put yourself in Morgan’s shoes and imagine that you’re the one in the James Hetfield pose with a V-shaped guitar – would you be happy with the riffing here? You ought to be – the sceptics would be all over this if Max included something like it on the next Soulfly effort.

Many of your favourite artists wrote embarrassing first albums. Kittie should not be held to account for a 1999 LP that they recorded as teenagers. Fire has a vigour to it that stops your mind wandering and pumps your veins with adrenaline. It’s not the most original affair, but it’s far more enjoyable than it should be, and it makes modern metalcore look weak and whiny by comparison.


Verdict


Release Date: 21/06/2024

Record Label: Sumerian Records

Standout tracks: Vultures, Wound, Eyes Wide Open

Suggested Further Listening: Otep – Sevas Tra (2002), Oceans of Slumber – Oceans of Slumber (2020), Infected Rain – Ecdysis (2022)