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Scratch a punk rocker and you'll find a metalhead underneath. Scratch Seattle punk superheroes Zeke and you'll get laid out cold for shredding the 15-year-old Iron Maiden shirts its members have been wearing all week. Zeke are Beavis & Butt-Head's big brothers. They sold nickel bags in your high school's parking lot, cut every class except machine shop -- yet graduated anyway. When the real world loomed, they turned off MTV and turned up the amp. Residing in Seattle at the tail end of grunge and the beginning of the pop-punk explosion, Zeke parlayed its hell-raising hardcore into instant indie-rock acclaim and a road-warrior alliance with the Supersuckers.

After spending the past five years neglected on punk behemoth Epitaph, Zeke went out for a smoke and wound up as the primary act on boutique indie Aces & Eights. The result, Death Alley, is the best hardcore record to hit the shelves since the New Bomb Turks were new. Unlike the plodding, slowed-down Slayer that passes for hardcore these days, Death Alley has the tempo of a screaming roller coaster: fast as a bat out of hell to get the heart racing but containing enough twists and loops to ensure it won't be forgotten. "Crossroads" leads a four-song, eight-minute opening barrage that leaves you gasping for air to keep up with the 190-beat-per-minute pace. Just when Zeke appears to be a one-dimensional track ace, it pops you in the face with an aural shot-put/midtempo mosh rocker called "Arkansas Man." With tribal drums, evil guitar riffs, and a Bon Scott howl, "Arkansas Man" easily wins the Heaviest Song of the Year Award. The remainder of Death Alley alternates between loud, fast onslaughts ("Shockwaves," "Mountain Man") and solo-filled, Motörhead/Priest-flavored rockers ("Road Ahead," "On the Run"). Hold your lighters high, boys and girls, and set fire to the nearest Kid Rock record. Zeke has come to claim your souls in the name of rock 'n' roll.

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Tom Bowker

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