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Devastating. Few other words could fully capture the intensity and impact of the third Made Out of Babies album, The Ruiner. Here, the quartet hits harder than ever, but also with a stupefying creative subtlety and decisive finality.

Those who'd seen and/or heard Made Out of Babies over the course of the past four years and two albums, Trophy (2005) and Coward (2006) would certainly attest to the band's longstanding intimidating grunt and snarl. But, The Ruiner is incontrovertibly MOoB's most inspired and complex album to date. While it retains the group's trademark ferocious hybrid of PJ Harvey, Jesus Lizard, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Big Black, there's a pronounced emphasis on melody herein, providing much wider range for the vocal acrobatics of Julie Christmas -- who Decibel Magazine called "metal's most riveting frontwoman" and Revolver Magazine featured prominently in a piece on women singers in metal. Guitarist Brendan Tobin layers crafty melodies and soaring effects into his leaden six-string strata, as bassist Cooper reveals an immense melodic depth to his lunging attack and drummer Matthew Egan maintains his relentlessly driving lean-in-to-the-beat blood-splattering rhythms, but also sounds more focused, deliberate and intense than ever before. The sum total transforms into something immensely powerful that will endure for ages beyond them.

Album opener "Cooker" begins suitably deranged, with a strange vocoder/harmonizer effect that sounds like Julie yelping from within a meat locker and a guitar arpeggio riff that suddenly erupts into a menacing, pulsating 6/8 rhythm. Throughout, the tension continues to build, until the vocals become a psychotic impulse, screaming, "run, run for your life/ run for the beating, the heart, the feeding, the taking." The collective urgency is palpable. "Invisible Ink" is one of Made Out of Babies' most accessible songs to date, with an irresistible, soaring melody that shares the same tortured nursery rhyme catchiness and deliberate obfuscation as Kurt Cobain's finest work. Stop 'n' go churning rhythms and slowly plucked chords build up to the perfectly lilting chorus as Julie laments, "all signs... of those... who left." Like scant few great artists, Julie Christmas can truly sing and scream at the same time. Elsewhere, Brendan steers plaintive acoustic guitars headlong into thunderous riffs ("Buffalo") and Middle Eastern tinged lines that turn to churning rock ("Bunny Boots") There's a wealth of musical exploration here, but fittingly filtered through the NYC cut-to-the-chase attitude that ensures not a note is wasted on self-indulgence.

There's no rock machismo in the sounds of Made Out of Babies, which just might be what makes it so unsettling and unique. There is a glamor and distinction to its cathartic caterwaul. Its beauty will certainly be in the eye of the beholder, but meanwhile its ugliness is sneaking up from behind...

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