The sophomore record from Russia’s Pokerface is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover (or assuming) for a number of reason. First, female-fronted thrash or death bands have often been lacking in the talent department. I sincerely think that perception is starting to go away with the dearth of skilled groups coming out lately, but the hair-trigger sentiment is there. Second, the mediocre artwork featuring a a tied-up naked lady does not inspire confidence of quality therein. Plus, aside from the complex narrative morality of the Soviet spies in The Americans, it’s hard to root for Russians as a ‘Murican. Lastly, the band’s name, Pokerface, conjures up images of Lady Gaga, and, hey, Gaga’s pretty great as far as pop stars go, but it all adds up to a bunch of potential negatives before I even press play.
Thank whatever deity you believe in because all those dumb assumptions were premature. Pokerface’s sophomore record is great and much more fun than my low expectations led me to believe. The band plays a classic thrash style with a decided melodeath bend: think Kreator meets Arch Enemy, with some Sepultura and Slayer thrown in. The riffs and leads are stellar throughout, and the occasional solo shows up to steal the show from time to time. Pokerface are surprisingly heavy throughout, but these Russians understand the importance of melody. “Creepy Guests” highlight the excellent balance the band have mastered. The power metal-inflected vocals are a nice touch on that song.
I think that’s important to note: Alexandra Orlova has a real command behind the mic, as her range and power are a real asset to the band, not just an excuse to have a woman in the band. She is clearly game throughout Game On. In fact, that’s a good way to summarize what makes Pokerface so endearing and likable, in spite of the fact that you’ve probably heard a lot of this death-tinged thrash before. The band are clearly game to have a damn blast throughout this impressive sophomore record, making for a release that’s more fun than fresh. Yet, that fun is so infectious that you really don’t care to mine the details.