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Shaolin Death Squad - Five Deadly Venoms CD (album) cover


Shaolin Death Squad

Progressive Metal

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Marty McFly
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Ranging from acoustic to heavier part of metal, this album is pleasant addition to everyone's collection, because it cannot offend. Well, I fear that not every one of you will like this as I do, but that's part of the business. Important thing is to minimize the losses of those, who will not like it.

This is a story about Kung fu. By strange coincidence, I was training certain variant, one style called Hung Gar for years, so my relationship to everything related to this "thing" is great. Even to these cheesy 70's movies. Yes, even to these, you've heard correctly (and again yes, I use "hear" in online conversation through written words too ... which in turn takes me to point where I state that I use written as "typed" too. Whev).

Melodic to the bone, but not being full of clichés and pathetic, this music provides unique Prog Metal experience, because within length of one song, it sometimes (d)evolves to Rock realms, or even switching sides like WW2 spy when it's necessary. Mischief and Epiphany would be perfect example of this unusual behavior. And because of this "variety in style", diversity in music experience they're offering and eclectic elements on this album, I have no choice but to give this the best rating,

5(-), with minor flaws like some sounds I don't like, some metal parts are too similar, nothing big.

Report this review (#272976)
Posted Friday, March 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you're a fan of original, different-sounding Prog that incorporates a vast variety of musical styles blended together into catchy, enjoyable songs, then this album is definitely worth checking out!

I've heard people compare Shaolin Death Squad to Mr. Bungle many times; it's accurate and yet off at the same time. It's true that they sound similar to Mike Patton's song-writing style at times, but I think it's unfair to simply compare the two and leave it at that. SDS (That's quicker to type than their full name!) has truly unique music that doesn't get old after repeated listens and will give you a taste of something beyond the ordinary realm of music.

Vocals: SDS has really unique vocal melodies. The vocals at times can be rough and almost hard rock-like, but for the most part, I'd compare the vocals to something like Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), and Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree), depending on what section of a song you're listening to. There's nothing overdone or obnoxious, and while the vocals don't really take over any songs, they aren't lost, either. SDS did a great job at balancing everything so that it's not too chaotic, but still has enough going on at any given time that there are no dull sections.

Music: It's hard to accurately describe the music. Imagine that you're at a circus and you hear carnival music. Suddenly the carnival band is playing heavy metal! Wait, no, back to carnival music. What's that? A soft acoustic ballad? Nope it's heavy metal. Ahh, carnival music! etc. Basically, SDS writes amazing songs with riffs that flow seamlessly into one another, despite the fact that they're from completely different genres of music. I particularly think that SDS does a great job at building songs up dramatically, and releasing the build up in different ways. None of the songs seem like they're just there; every song is moving into a direction, and while you have no idea where it's going, you get the sense that it knows exactly where it's going.

If you're interested in listening to some of the tracks before buying, I'd recommend "Farewell", "Scorpion", and "Toad" as my personal favorite songs on the album.

Report this review (#280607)
Posted Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Another Serious Contender For Album of the Year 2010

2010 has been a year filled with surprises. Whether it is the return of a long-lost project, the release of a stunning debut, or an unexpected masterpiece, it will surely be a year to remember. Five Deadly Venoms definitely falls into the last category for me. Though I'd heard of Shaolin Death Squad before, it wasn't until this album that I would give them a proper listen. Although I sincerely regret not being a fan during their debut album's release, I am so glad I finally jumped into Shaolin Death Squad's fanbase. Five Deadly Venoms, the band's sophomore album, is one of the best releases to come out this year. Shaolin Death Squad is one of the few bands in this day and age who can take traditional progressive metal and form it into something completely new and unheard of, while still managing to wear their influences on their sleeve. It's this striking sense of originality and distinction, perfectly blended with poignant lyrics and unforgettable music, that makes Five Deadly Venoms an essential masterpiece. Although there've been a ton of great albums in 2010, I can confidently rank Five Deadly Venoms up there with the best of the best. It's rare that I hear an album this superb, so I'll do my best to express how great Five Deadly Venoms truly is. I've got a good feeling that words won't do this terrific masterpiece any justice, though.

Shaolin Death Squad's sound is awfully hard to pinpoint. Although they surely fall under the progressive metal umbrella, they are quite eclectic. The biggest influences I hear are Faith No More, Pain of Salvation, and Dream Theater, but there's also an avant-garde touch of Mr. Bungle here and there as well. One thing that's really cool about Five Deadly Venoms are the Chinese influences throughout the album. Tracks 1-6 form a conceptual suite based on the Hong Kong cult martial arts film, "Five Venoms", directed by Chang Cheh in 1978. Another interesting sidenote is that the first song, Romanza, is actually an anonymous Spanish song. The final song, Peace Be Upon You, is a traditional Jewish song as well. This just adds an even wider range of influences into Shaolin Death Squad's sound, and it works terrifically.

As I've previously mentioned, the first 6 songs (with or without the brief intro) form a conceptual suite entitled Five Deadly Venoms, and it's an absolute tour de force. Every song by itself is a masterpiece, and when you put them together you get an even bigger masterpiece. This is surely among one of the best prog suites to come out in recent times. The other songs are equally as fantastic, with Farewell being my favorite from the second half of the album. The wordless Mischief and Epiphany is a highlight as well, combining Mr. Bungle-like carnival sounds on the keyboards and more metal-oriented guitar riffing. If I were to recommend hearing just one song on Five Deadly Venoms, it would probably be Centipede, but hearing just one song off of this masterpiece is criminal. This must be enjoyed as a full album, even though every track can still confidently stand alone. My only complaint about this entire album (and it's a good complaint to have) is that the running time is just shy of 45 minutes. Although this is surely an adequate length, I would've really been in heaven if this were over an hour. I know that Shaolin Death Squad is one of the few bands who could pull off an album like this without filler.

The musicianship is incredible. Although there are no shred-fests, every musician shows their chops throughout the album. The highlight of Shaolin Death Squad for me is probably the vocals from Androo O'Hearn (The White Swan). He has an absolutely marvelous voice that can compare with the likes of Daniel Gildenlöw and Mike Patton, which is no easy feat. The vocal harmonies with the other members are also amazing. As a whole, the vocal department of this band is honestly one of the best I've ever heard. Androo also does a great job as the keyboard player for Shaolin Death Squad. The drums from Matt Thompson (Black Ninja), who's also played with King Diamond, are great as well. He seamlessly combines complexity and power with subtlety and is an absolute joy to listen to. The two guitarists, David O'Hearn (Red Dragon) and Kenny Lovern (Black Scorpion), are great, highly diverse players. On this album you can find soaring solos, metal riffing, melodic picking, and even funky playing styles. Finally, the bass playing from Gary Thorne (White Dragon) provides a great foundation for the music. He has some truly terrific basslines throughout Five Deadly Venoms.

The production is great. It's clean and polished enough to hear everything perfectly, but there's still a bit of rawness that keeps the album from sounding over-produced. This is the type of sound that's absolutely perfect for Shaolin Death Squad's music.


When I went into hearing Five Deadly Venoms, I can't say that I expected a masterpiece. But when all is said and done, it's hard for me to call this album anything other than a masterpiece. When I say that Shaolin Death Squad is a prog metal band to keep your eyes on, I really mean it. These guys are some of the most talented musicians in the scene right now, and Five Deadly Venoms is sheer proof of this. If you like Faith No More, Pain of Salvation, Mr. Bungle, and Dream Theater, this is an absolutely essential album. This is a very confident 5 stars and a job well done on the band's part. I don't give out this rating frequently, so it's clear that Shaolin Death Squad has really earned it. I've said almost 1,000 words just to make this one point - buy this album. You won't regret it.

Report this review (#329923)
Posted Monday, November 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This album took me by quite some surprise with its diversity and freshness. Don't let the "prog metal" label fool you: there is a lot more to this than metal music. Though I find myself reminded of many bands from the 70s and 80s (THIN LIZZY, UTOPIA, ADAM ANT, IRON MAIDEN, et al.), I also find myself hearing a lot of similarities to OCEANSIZE, ORPHANED LAND, KHATSATURJAN, UNITOPIA, and even MOON SAFARI ("Romanza," Let Us Welcome the Actors," and "Farewell"). I really enjoy this album--it makes me smile, I love theatric vocals, and it is full of shifts and changes--not a true hardcore metal album at all. A very solid four star production.

Favorite songs: "Snakes," "Toads," "Let us Welcome the Actors," and "Farewell."

Report this review (#339724)
Posted Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Five Deadly Venoms is my first Shaolin experience and I must say this has been a most pleasing revelation. The band operates in the Prog Metal zone but they sure make a fresh appearance there. I might add that such is not hard in a rather stale scene that has never done much for me, Psychotic Waltz excepted.

One name should dominate any review of this album: Faith No More. The obvious reasons being the brilliant Mike Patton-alike vocals and the quirky eclectic nature of their metal. The sound is somewhat different though, scarcer on the keyboards then Angel Dust for instance and without the bouncy funk/crossover influences from Epic. So what's left is definitely more metal-ish, but it's adventurous metal where anything can and does happen in the songs. Some of these non-metallic side-steps are quite prog, sometimes reminding of Gentle Giant, other diversions are the Zappa-esque RIO influences.

Despite the scary name of this band, people with grunt allergy can rest assured, there's nothing but clean vocals here. Also AOR-skeptics like myself should not be afraid, this band is a cool bunch and won't compromise their songwriting with sing-along pomp rock.

Shaolin Death Squad are wilder then Faith No More but not as insane as Mr Bungle. That makes it an excellent album for me, recommended to all metal fans in need for a fresh and credible chunk of steel that sits outside of the Extreme Metal realm.

Report this review (#355377)
Posted Friday, December 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Hybrid of the Best

Shaolin Death Squad blends together two of my favorite prog metal bands ever, Pain of Salvation and Mr. Bungle. The latter has inspired a small but significant group of imitators, some of which are brilliant, some lite versions, and some just bafflingly wierd. Unfortunately, we don't have alot of bands doing prog metal in the mold of early PoS. As a result, this album is a welcome delight for me. From Mr. Bungle, we get some zany rapid switches between genres, quirky humor, and the vocalist's obvious allusions to Mike Patton. From Pain of Salvation, we get the thicker wall of sound, more decipherable concepts, and a widened vocal approach that includes a stronger sense of melody. There are even a few allusions to my favorite prog metal artist of all, Devin Townsend.

The album opens with a subtle acoustic guitar with some ambient effects on the track "Romanza." But after this introduction, we get a steady chugging electric guitar that sounds disturbingly like pop punk. On first listen, I was worried I'd wasted my money. But the track, "Centipede" evolves with more and more interesting ideas, weaving more sounds than most entire pop albums. But it's not until "Snake" that the album really takes off. It starts with a pulsing bass figure that eventually explodes with energy. There is a particularly powerful riff at 2:00 that is just awesome. The songs is the most PoS like of the group, and from there the albums just hums for quite awhile. The remaining animal named songs are just great, each having its own little morsel of delicious music for the listener to devour.

The rest of the album is a little more uneven. "Mischief and Epiphany" maintains the energy with a ska-ish rhythm that leads into glorious riffing. "Let Us Welcome the Actors" is the kind of self-reflecting theme that nevers works for me in any artform, and the momentum starts to wane. It's is fairly reminiscent of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, another Bungle descendent. "Last Stand" begins with a groove straight off Faith No More's ANGEL DUST and then moves to a robo-voice that had poked its nose in a few times earlier. The last two tracks are strange in that they both sound like they were meant to be album closers, but the band couldn't decide which one to use. They are both good songs, but it makes the album end with a strange taste.

Overall, the middle of FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is very close to masterpiece level prog metal. In a weak year, this album is high on my best of 2010 list. But the slow start and slightly stumbling ending make the decision between four and five stars easy for me. But still this album comes highly recommended.

Report this review (#374262)
Posted Thursday, January 6, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars ------- -------------------------5/5------------------------------------- 'Five Deadly Stars' for 'Five Deadly Venom'. Innovation, creativity and execution at its cohesive best is how I will describe this one of a kind album by always amazing and unique Shaolin Death Squad. This album represents improvement and maturity in songwriting of the band from previous masterpiece 'Intelligent Designs' and the album tops 'Intelligent Designs' in quality as well. Acoustic ballad one second suddenly shifting to black metal blast beating with atmospheric background the very next is what would describe Shaolin Death Squad's music and they continue in the same vein throughout this album too. There are no other bands that sound similar or even come close to what SDS sound like. They are able to incorporate absolute polar in musical terms in their tunes and still sound like they do it effortlessly and this album is no exception. All in all I'm not over exaggerating while I say that this is one of the very best progressive metal albums ever created in its own way. All tracks in this album are awesome. The first six are influenced from the movie of same title and their contents are directly related to movie both musically and lyrically that describe different techniques and trickeries learned in Kung Fu. After the acoustic intro 'Romanza', the best song that SDS have ever performed follows in 'Centipede'. The song is both catchy and technical at the same time. Songs 'Snake', 'Scorpion', 'Lizard', and 'Toad' follows. All of the songs are really good containing signature SDS style of continuous tempo changes from acoustic slow verses to fast intense drumming to catchy choruses and really memorable licks throughout the songs. Another good thing about SDS' music is that there is never over exaggeration of any instruments. They are able to maintain a perfect balance between their guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. So even though no instrument stands off from other they form a really cohesive unit together. The only drawback I found in this album unlike 'Intelligent Designs' is that songs when listened to many times feel like almost alike in composition to what I've described above. Surprisingly an instrumental 'Mischief and Epiphany' follows which is a really cool number. The instrumental is little funky sounding in the beginning which gradually changes into that SDS innovative atmospheric level soon and the guitar parts in this are really cool especially the repetitive lick. The last three songs 'Let Us Welcome the Actors', 'Last Stand' and 'Farewell' then have really cinematic feeling about them and they too are vintage SDS songs in which the standout track is 'Farewell' which is really unique track surrounding a heavy keyboard riff throughout the song, almost ballad like. The final song 'Peace Be Upon You' is a fitting end to the album and the song contains guitar sections like you've never heard SDS play before. Whole song contains guitar shredding from beginning to the end. 'Five Deadly Venom' is a very underrated and obscured album which is highly recommended to all progressive metal fans. It is not your everyday prog metal album with 100mph guitar shredding, complex instrumentation, high pitch vocals but it is a genius and highly artistic and I only hope more and more people lay their hands on this masterful art and appreciate it. Can't wait for whatever SDS throw at us in the future!
Report this review (#979309)
Posted Sunday, June 16, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Five Deadly Venoms" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, Texas based progressive metal act Shaolin Death Squad. The album was released through Do For It Records in January 2010. It´s the successor to "Intelligent Design" from 2006 and the band members still have stage names like The White Swan, Black Ninja (who is actually King Diamond drummer Matt Thompson), and Red Dragon. As far as I can see there´s been one lineup change as bassist White Dragon has been replaced by Praying Mantis. The lyrical themes are also still about martial arts and asian myths and cystoms. It´s a pretty unique lyrical concept and band image, and off the top of my head I can only think of one other artists who has a similar lyrical approach and that´s US death metal act Dim Mak. About half of the songs on the album form a concept story inspired by the 1978 martial arts film "Five Deadly Venoms" directed by Chang Cheh.

Stylistically the material on "Five Deadly Venoms" continue the progressive metal style with alternative rock/metal leanings which was also heard on "Intelligent Design". Lead vocalist The White Swan has a voice and singing style which is similar to Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk...etc.) and it´s impossible not to mention especially Faith No More as an influence on Shaolin Death Squad. When that is said it is mostly the vocals which point in that direction. Shaolin Death Squad have a sound which is very much their own. They don´t come from the Dream Theater school of progressive metal, and it´s actually hard to pin down their influences (other than Mike Patton/Faith No More). It´s not overtly technical progressive metal with many instrumental runs. Instead it´s more focused on atmosphere, storytelling, drama, and heavy riffs and atmosphere enhancing keyboards, but most of all strong melodies. "Five Deadly Venoms" is an incredibly melodic album throughout.

The musicianship is strong on all posts, although The White Swan has a tendency to steal the show with his powerful, melodic, and passionate vocals. "Five Deadly Venoms" featutures a detailed, powerful, and well sounding production job, which suits the music perfectly, and the only issue I can find about this album is that for all the focus on melody throughout the album, it´s not always an immediately catchy or memorable release and the tracks generally take time to learn to tell apart. So there´s some work cut out for the listener. You don´t get everything served on a plate for you, but I guess that should sound intriguing to most fans of progressive metal. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

Report this review (#2917907)
Posted Monday, April 17, 2023 | Review Permalink

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