Going into this, let’s all just appreciate that yours truly is a country music critic, which means I am uniquely unqualified to share opinions on rock or heavy metal music with any sort of authority, and am dramatically unversed on the nomenclature or current trends of the rock music industry at large. Growing up, when I wanted to reach for something heavy, it was either punk music or Johnny Paycheck. Sure, I had a couple of Metallica records, but in the metal world, that’s like your mom buying you an Executioner skateboard at Target and calling yourself a thrasher.
At this point, premier independent country artists releasing rock records feels almost like a rite of passage. Hank Williams III was one of the original artists to help open up lanes for country artists beyond mainstream radio, and spurn a migration of punk and metal fans into traditional country by dabbling in both disciplines at the same time. Then Sturgill Simpson came along with Sound & Fury, which felt like a bit more of a polarizing journey, but one many of his fans were willing to follow him on. At this point perhaps we should expect the next record from Tyler Childers to be death metal.
But we’re all music fans first, right? Then our allegiances split down genre lines. And since the early days of independent and underground country—from Mike Ness, to Bloodshot Records, to Hank3—revivalist traditional country and heavy rock music have enjoyed a close kinship in not just lyrical content, but in the DIY approach to the music overall, and the way it’s supported through grassroots networks as opposed to more conventional and mainstream music portals.
Cody Jinks dabbling in metal music can’t come as a surprise to anyone. He started his musical career off as the lead singer and guitarist in a band called Unchecked Aggression. It was active between 1998 and 2003, and was heavily influenced by Pantera and Metallica, releasing an album in 2002 called The Massacre Begins.
Unchecked Aggression went out to Los Angeles to try and make it, but ultimately broke up. Jinks took a year off from music afterwards before starting his career in country in 2005, wanting to return to the roots of the music he grew up with. Cody regularly wears metal T-shirts on stage, and at his personally-curated festival in Fort Worth in 2018, he booked two metal bands in The Sword and Corrosion of Conformity.
So Cody Jinks knows his way around metal music, and he proves that with None The Wiser. This isn’t some lark, though he’s also not launching the Caned By Nod project as replacement for country, or trying to pass it off as country as some pop and rock acts do. It’s a passion project. And to this set of ears that’s admittedly uncalibrated to this kind of music, I have to say I like it for what it is.
There’s been some debate on whether None The Wiser really is a metal album. The opening song and early single “Middle Finger” does sound more like an aggressive form of grunge-era rock. Think Soundgarden on steroids. The song “Covet” that comes in the center of this record is more an ambient version of hard rock than metal as well. But when you hear the attack and aggressiveness of “Seeing Ghosts,” “Led Astray” and later “Broken Wings,” these songs definitely migrate into metal territory. It just might not be as heavy as many of the devotees of that discipline are used to in an era where everything metal seems to be pushed more towards the “death” side of the spectrum.
Cody Jinks isn’t growling or screaming out these songs. That’s what got Shelton Hank Williams in trouble. He ragged his voice out to where he struggled to sing country, or metal. Cody Jinks knows what he is—a 40-year-old very successful country artist who’s never going to upset the hierarchy in the metal world, so he’s doing metal music on his terms. That’s not to say Caned By Nod is pacified or something. But it is smart, and structured in a way that Cody is not asking too much of himself, or of his country audience to listen with an open mind and find favor with it.
After listening to three chords and the truth for so long, the compositional prowess and instrumental dexterity it takes to perform music like this really is quite marveling. Metal musicians are the CrossFit athletes of music, pushing themselves right up to the point of failure. And guitarist Jake Lentner that Cody Jinks brought in to help legitimize Caned By Nod makes this album much more than rednecks wanting to rock. Lentner’s got the metal toolkit with all the tones and techniques to actualize Cody’s vision.
Looking at the activity on None The Wiser, these songs are getting about one spin for every eight of Cody’s new country material. So anyone worried Cody will jump ship for metal superstardom probably need not fret. This was music that was inside Cody Jinks, and needed to come out. He’s earned that latitude, and our trust, and released a quality metal side project here that will hopefully attract even more people to the virtues of the traditional style country Cody’s more famous for, while proving Cody’s musical virtuosity with more than one genre of music.
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1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
(from a country critic)