Tag Archives: Daniel Anderson

Ordinary Man Marks A Victorious Return

By Daniel Anderson

By all accounts, it is a miracle that he has gotten this far.

From his days as a scraggly youth in Birmingham, England to his firing from the band that finally gave him success and prosperity, there have been countless times where people thought his career to have hit a dead end, like many who inhabited the sunless, industrial city from which he came. But such was not the case for the Prince of Darkness.

If someone were to ask who defines metal music, the name Ozzy Osbourne will inevitably be among the first to be mentioned. Whether it be with his synonymous band of origin, Black Sabbath, his illustrious solo career or even any of the various ventures in popular media over the years, the extent of Ozzy’s influence seemingly knows no bounds.

Of course, as is with many who spend time in the limelight, there has been no shortage of hardships, what with notorious substance abuse and legal scrapes being a constant association. In recent times, especially last year, things have unfortunately not fared well either.

In late 2018, several tour dates ended up postponed due to a hospitalizing staph infection accidentally contracted from a fan, but this was merely the beginning of his troubles. Early the following year he wound up in a brief skirmish against pneumonia, and while recovering he suffered a fall which resulted in nerve damage, thus requiring neck surgery (and the postponing of all 2019 tour dates, which all have since been canceled). And to top it all off, in February that same year he revealed that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Ozzy called 2019 “…the worst, most painful, miserable year of my life.” Considering the countless mishaps throughout his previous decades in existence, it was quite the statement for fans and the public to process.

At this point in his life, there is very little that he has left to prove to the entertainment world. With all the record sales, awards, and accolades he has accumulated along with his shortcomings, Ozzy seems to have realized that time may be closing in for him, however fast or mid-paced it may seem. It is only logical that, if such is the case, then going out with a whimper would be least apropos.

With two teaser tracks released in the latter half of the year, it was soon revealed that the decade-long gap between studio albums would at last be closed in late February with his twelfth full-length project: Ordinary Man.

Even on a cursory glance, this record is an absolute blockbuster. All throughout the tracklist, there are guest musicians and features galore. Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine) and Slash (of Guns N’ Roses) on guitars, Chad Smith (of Red Hot Chili Peppers) on drums, plus features from Post Malone and even the Rocketman himself, Elton John, the personnel list is beyond stacked.

Yet still, I went into this album with a fair amount of reservation, as I find that the majority of Ozzy’s works past his 1991 release No More Tears to range from average to lackluster. With so much hardship endured and with such an all-star ensemble to back him, I wanted to see if the ends truly justified the means. Thankfully, this was the case for the most part.

Opening with one of the teaser tracks from last year, the anti-drug rager “Straight to Hell” the bar for what is to come is already set at a decent height. Following a short, angelic choir intro (which is quite a fitting tone-setter considering how long the absence was), a blazing riff enters and the record takes off. While the drum fills and bass certainly do justice, I particularly admire the guitar tone here. The heavily distorted and fuzzy effects added make it nearly akin to the numerous stoner and doom metal acts that follow in Black Sabbath’s footsteps, like Sleep or Windhand.

Despite restraints in his age and conditions, Ozzy’s delivery is surprisingly solid on this track as he devilishly spews lyrics of crippling addiction: “I’ll make you lie, I’ll make you steal and kill / I’ll make you crawl until your final thrill / Enjoy the ride, I’ll plant my bitter seed / You’ll kill yourself and I will watch you bleed.”

Highlights do not end with the intro, as there are other tracks and moments worth listening to. “Under the Graveyard” (another teaser track), is a throwback to 80s arena rock, with its thunderous presentation in its chorus and blazing guitar solo near the tail-end.

 Track 6, “Eat Me” has a reverb-drenched harmonica intro that harkens back to the Black Sabbath classic “The Wizard” before a savory bassline lets loose. Plus, the chorus melody ranks among one of the catchiest in the tracklist. 

The lyrics revolve around campy, macabre perspective of something, or someone being eaten. The true intentions for this are unknown, but in a Reddit AMA Ozzy made a cheeky remark claiming that it is about a golf match.

Then there is the title track, in which Elton John makes his feature appearance. An old-school, lighter-worthy ballad, this song is where both men, especially Ozzy, truly take time for introspection, as they reflect back on their past decisions, triumphs and tragedies, stating that the lives they have lived warrant a legacy that they can be satisfied with, “Yes, I’ve been a bad guy / Been higher than the blue sky / And the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man / I’ve made momma cry / Don’t know why I’m still alive / Yes, the truth is I don’t wanna die an ordinary man.” Considering all the troubles Ozzy has endured in the past year make the sour melodies and guitar lines particularly gut-wrenching.

Unfortunately, aside from specific moments of decency, I did not think that much of the album could climb over the peaks which these songs did. I find that there is not much separating tracks like “All My Life” and “Today is the End,” as the record seems to be defined by the slow or mid-paced ballads thrown about. “Holy For Tonight,” while good in execution, is not far removed from what the title track sets to achieve; it is practically a second attempt.

Curiously, I find that many of this album’s pros and cons parallel with those of Kirk Windstein’s solo album Dream In Motion from last month. Both celebrate and lament the past and present lives of their leads, but sadly suffer from pacing issues in their tracklist. Much like with the closer on Kirk’s record, the decision to make the smash hit Post Malone and Travis Scott collaboration “Take What You Want” the curtain call for this album is quite disappointing, considering the same song closed out Post Malone’s album Hollywood’s Bleeding last year. By no means is it a bad song, it just feels like it was placed in here to pad out the runtime.

The same can be said with the preceding track “It’s a Raid” (also featuring Post). Again, it is not terrible at all, but if “Take What You Want” was left as a bonus track, then it would still amount to a rather anticlimactic finish, despite the ferocious performances it has.

Also, once more like Dream In Motion, the production was quite underwhelming most of the time. The best tracks on the album seem to be the least applied to this (especially the opener), as the guitars and drums are compressed beyond belief in nearly every song. And of course, as I expected it would be, Ozzy’s vocals seem to hinge on the effects used for enhancement, which can make them feel robotic.

Still, I did not let this record’s shortcomings impede that which I enjoyed, which was thankfully present in several moments throughout. If anything, I, like many others, am just grateful that he was even able to get this album finished and released. With all that has happened to him recently, it is nothing short of a gift, a miracle.

If Ordinary Man ends up being the swansong for the Prince of Darkness, then this is a fine note to end on. Cheers to you, Ozzy, I too hope that they serve tea in heaven.

Standout Tracks: “Straight to Hell,” “Under the Graveyard,” “Eat Me,” “Ordinary Man”

Verdict: 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Straight to Hell
  2. All My Life
  3. Goodbye
  4. Ordinary Man (feat. Elton John)
  5. Under the Graveyard
  6. Eat Me
  7. Today Is the End
  8. Scary Little Green Men
  9. Holy for Tonight
  10. It’s a Raid (feat. Post Malone)
  11. Take What You Want (feat. Post Malone and Travis Scott)

Link to album: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_n3lOLF85jSMEMjDLqYAoiISkQCiv23H1w

 

Dream in Motion Further Solidifies Underground Admiration

By Daniel Anderson

Carving out a niche is one thing for an artist, but being described as quintessential to the formation of a movement is a far rarer title.

 If one were to ask anyone involved in a music scene who are what was the foundation for a certain style, genre, or movement, the answers may be varied, but still might revolve around some commonality, sometimes around certain people. For instance, if one were to ask who the face of post-punk is, band names like Joy Division, Television and Wire will inevitably emerge, but names and faces such as Ian Curtis remain correspondent.

As for a more gruff example, ask who is the face of sludge metal, and bands will be thrown about, but if there is one universal constant in the genre, it is Kirk Windstein.

Emerging from the aftermath of the unfortunate suicide of guitarist Mike Hatch, Kirk and his synonymous band Crowbar (formerly known as Shell Shock, Wrequiem and The Slugs) began fusing their previous style of pulverizing hardcore punk and crossover thrash with the glacial, ominous tempo of doom metal to pioneer what is now known as sludge metal.

From about 1991 onwards, Crowbar made a name for themselves in the underground with their newfound, punishing mixture. At that point, the band had already received stylistic company from fellow Louisiana-based groups like Acid Bath and Eyehategod, as well as from farther distances with bands like the Melvins, Neurosis and Corrosion of Conformity. Thus was formed, the foundation of sludge.

Seemingly always a figurehead of the genre, Windstein has spent the past 30 years under consistent admiration from underground metal audiences. Be it with Crowbar or any other of his projects, like the sludge supergroup Down (which includes Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, whom Windstein was a childhood friend of).

Having said all that, there is very little that Windstein needs to prove to the world of metal. And it would seem that he recognizes this on his debut solo effort.

Of course, this record is not without the mainstays in Windstein’s repertoire: the monolithic song tempos and blazing guitar distortion are both still present as per usual. However, these essential elements cannot keep a listener enticed for too long, despite what many bands in the genre unfortunately seem to believe.

Sheer ferocity is not the centerpiece of this record, rather, it is secondary, even dialed back to let the more melodic elements shine through. The riffs and various guitar lines are as savory and infectious as ever (at times they even sound like they were pulled from the Trouble playbook). And though Windstein still utilizes his usual, raspy approach to vocals, this time around the grittiness is kept at a bare minimum to make way for his more intimate side.

This makes perfect sense, as this set of tracks is definitely more emotionally intimate than the standard Down or Crowbar record (which is saying something, since nearly every project he’s been involved with has been emotionally driven).

Lyrically and conceptually, there also seems to be a bit of a divide between Windstein’s other endeavors, as unlike many of his past works, the emotions on display are not a complete, blunt-force serving of “Existence is Punishment.” Rather, this record is a dual display of Windstein’s positive and negative psyche, with the former being seemingly favored most of the time.

Such is the case for the opening title track, a sentimental piece revolving around his journey throughout his music career, looking back at his faults and carrying forward, “A song of hope / A burning mind /Unleashing strength / From deep inside / The will to fight / To carry on / Within my heart / It’s never ever gone.”

Of course that is not to say that his pessimistic side does not show itself, as tracks such as “Hollow Dying Man” and “The Ugly Truth” go to show.

While I do appreciate Kirk’s themes of perseverance and contrasting doubt, some the tracks unfortunately feel a bit one-dimensional as a result. The variations between riffs and composition do not feel very apparent, almost as if they are merely window dressing. I could arrange them tracks on this record in a myriad of ways and the flow would still remain similar.

Speaking of which, the closing track, a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung,” while a decent cut on its own (even adding to the themes of resolve through desperation), does not function well as a conclusion to the record. Had it been left as a bonus track or something of the sort, then perhaps the album’s pace would have more room to breathe.

Not to mention, the production left a little to be desired for me. Again, I do admire the way the heaviness is left more to the side to let the emotional qualities in the tracks through, but there could have been at least another slight amount of grit added; perhaps some of the moodier tracks could do with some more distortion.

Nevertheless, I found this solo endeavor to be quite endearing. I imagine Windstein did not set out to make this record the next Odd Fellows Rest, nor did it have to be.

Dream in Motion is most clearly meant to be a love letter to his fans and supporters; those who have given him the strength to get past his demons. To sludge fans from the Pelican State and beyond: this one is for you.

Standout Tracks: “Dream in Motion,” “The World You Know,” “Necropolis”

Verdict: 7/10

Tracklist:

  1. Dream in Motion
  2. Hollow Dying Man
  3. Once Again
  4. Enemy in Disguise
  5. The World You Know
  6. Toxic
  7. The Healing
  8. Necropolis
  9. The Ugly Truth
  10.  Aqualung

Link to album: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mnLDpx9LlmPTmHRDwgbpyGS5VmE-z7pcg 

A Return to the Crimson King’s Court

By Daniel Anderson

It was supposed to be a day of remembrance, of mourning. I suppose it is true what they say: with death comes new life.

On July 5, 1969, more than 500,000 attendees gathered at London’s Hyde Park to see The Rolling Stones play live after a two-year concert hiatus, and only two days after guitarist Brian Jones had fallen. What preceded their act, however, was something that almost no one had anticipated.

Opening for them was a band that the majority of the audience had never heard of up until that point; they had not even released a single record. As they viscerally and furiously play on, there is applause for sure, yet most attendees had no idea of what to make of them.

And to think, just months earlier, that same band had merely been playing for local pubs.

All of it started with just three young men: Micheal and Peter Giles and Robert Fripp, the latter of which was the brains of the operation. Together, these three brought together a myriad of musical influences ranging from blues, contemporary pop and jazz.

This incarnation was short-lived as Peter soon bailed, leaving Michael and Fripp with guitar and drumsticks in hand, but no direction to take.

That is, until they were lent a few hands from lyricist Peter Sinfield, vocalist and bassist Greg Lake, and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald.

On January 13 1969, the group held their first rehearsal, and thus was born King Crimson.

The band’s name, coined by Sinfield, was not thought of as an allusion to Beezelbub or any demonic figure for that matter, but rather as a term used to describe tyrannical rulers or monarchs. As he jokingly put it, “Anything was better than Giles, Giles, and Fripp. King Crimson had arrogance to it.”

Regardless of however you interpret it, the name matches the sound of the band down to a tee. Simply put, nothing else sounded quite like them.

Now, that is not to say there weren’t other artists who played and in a similar vein. Contemporaries such as Yes, Soft Machine and Jethro Tull had all previously began indulging in fusion and experimentation of psychedelic rock, blues, jazz and classical elements and theory to form what we now know as progressive rock.

But there was an essence that made King Crimson truly emerge from the rest of the pack. One key element lies in the angst of their music. The band had a tendency to play far more aggressively and unpredictably in comparison to their peers.

This was especially the case for their live performances, as Fripp and company could go from deafeningly loud and abrasive in one minute, to subdued and atmospheric in another. Polarized, often quiet audiences were commonplace throughout the first few months of their careers— until that fateful day in Hyde Park.

With a sudden twist of fate, King Crimson almost immediately became hot property. Soon enough, they were signed to both Island and Atlantic, two of the biggest labels in the entire music industry, for U.K and American distribution respectively.

And with their new deal, King Crimson were primed and ready to release what they already had concocted earlier that year. On October 10th, 1969, the band’s full-length debut was unveiled: In the Court of the Crimson King.

Stiff is not enough of a word to describe the competition that this album faced, as it was a time directly in between the releases of both the Beatles’ and Led Zeppelin’s seminal records Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin II. Despite being at the crossroads of music history, the album sold quite well for a debut, charting at No. 5 on the U.K. Albums Chart and No. 28 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

It should be worth noting that it was met with mixed critical reception upon release. Looking back, I guess that would be a somewhat fitting entrance for King Crimson. When compared to most records popular at that time, In the Court of the Crimson King sticks out like a sore thumb, both in sound and attitude. 

That immediately becomes apparent with the iconic opening track “21st Century Schizoid Man” (which, to me, still remains one of the coolest song titles ever). After an eerie, wind-swept intro, the listener is met with a torrent of pummeling, distorted guitars, drums and ascending saxophone leads. Around the two-minute mark, the instrumental switches to a fast-paced section of sporadic guitar solos and manic drum fills before it eventually returns to the previous section.

Meanwhile, Lake viciously belts out lyrics of a mad, dystopian world, “Blood rack, barbed wire / Politician’s funeral pyre / Innocents raped with napalm fire / Twenty-first century schizoid man.”

The pessimistic nature of both the lyrics and instrumentals are quite a blatant contrast to anything “peace-and-love” related in psychedelic music at the time. So much so that this track is often referred to as an early example metal music (mind you, artists like Black Sabbath and Budgie had not yet burst onto the scene at that time).

However, the album’s nature soon performs a 180° spin with the following track, “I Talk to the Wind.” As previously stated, the band knew how to transition sonically from one area to another, and this track exemplifies that flawlessly. Immediately following the mayhem of the track prior, we are then thrust into a serene environment with McDonald serenading listeners with his masterful flute skills.

Instead of a menacing snarl glazed with distorted post-effects, Lake greets our ears with a soft-spoken and far more melodic voice as the lush instrumentals compliment him in the mix.

It should be worth noting that, despite how many pretty bells and whistles that are presented (such as McDonald’s astounding flute solos), Sinfield’s lyricism still convey the essence of a fearful world. Here, they seem to portray a man who is questioning his faith in the world around him, “I’m on the outside, looking inside / What do I see? / Much confusion, disillusion / All around me.”

With this in mind, an elephant in the room remains: the reason for such lyrical and sonic pessimism. Thankfully, considering the time in which this record was released, context becomes easy to piece together. The year 1969 was in the midst of a tumultuous era for global affairs— most notably the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam Campaign.

It would only make sense for a group such as King Crimson to reflect the ever-present darkness in the world around them. And that darkness is unfurled in all its glory with the third track “Epitaph.”

Following a brief drumroll emerging from the fade of the previous track, “Epitaph” emerges with an awe-inspiring soundscape of grandiose, apical proportions. All throughout, there are acoustic guitars (both gently picked and monstrously strummed), varying drum fills and woodwinds accompany Lake’s desperate vocals and Sinfield’s apocalyptic lyrics. Each of these elements are as doom-laden as the other, “When every man is torn apart / With nightmares and with dreams / Will no one lay the laurel wreath / When silence drowns the screams?”

But most important of all, this track heavily implements use of a mellotron: a device which would come to define not only this band, but most of the prog rock genre in general.

Oftentimes cited as a precursor to the modern synthesizer, this key instrument, when played, will give off sounds akin to orchestral samples. This would allow songs with its inclusion to have an almost symphonic appearance.

During production of this album, McDonald spent much of his time overdubbing layers upon layers of mellotron recordings, so its presence would always be unmistakable. His efforts become front-and-center on “Epitaph” as the mellotron swallows the mix and elevates the track to cataclysmic levels, especially during the crescendo towards the last minute-and-a-half. 

Many have tried to emulate the feeling of the end of days that this track presents, some have even come remarkably close (namely artists like Sunn O))) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor). Still, I find that, for lack of a better description, the bleak and paranoid atmosphere achieved in this song has yet to be replicated.

But alas, we then recede once more to a softer place with the proceeding track “Moonchild.” Easily the quietest, most reserved song in the tracklist, Giles’ percussion (mostly cymbals) takes up most of the space in the mix as McDonald’s woodwinds and mellotron eerily linger in the background. Meanwhile, Lake gently sings the most abstract lyrics on the album; they wonderfully compliment the track’s tone of isolation “Sailing on the wind in a milk-white gown / Dropping circle stones on a sundial / Playing hide-and-seek with the ghosts of dawn / Waiting for a smile from a sun child.”

This goes on for about two minutes before the song transitions into a bizarre, 10-minute free improv session. The band members seemingly take turns, either one after the other or occasionally contrasting, playing whatever instrument they have in hand without any specific time signature or meter. Perhaps it is filler, but that is something I can easily overlook, as this band was known for doing these sorts of things— both in-studio and in live settings.

Once the track abruptly ends, we at last arrive at the iconic closer: the title track. King Crimson truly pulls out all the stops here, combining just about every element that made all the previous tracks so memorable. You name it, this song has it: unbelievable drum fills from Giles, McDonald’s majestic flute soloing and overpowering mellotron, Fripp’s acoustic guitar appearing gargantuan in the mix, and of course, Lake’s imposing vocals and bass work.

The lyrics, while surreal once more, point in a far more sinister direction, reminiscent of the dystopian themes inspired by the backdrop of Vietnam, “The yellow jester does not play, but gently pulls the strings / And smiles as the puppets dance in the court of the crimson king.”

Once the track seemingly ends around the seven-minute mark, McDonald mysteriously and subtly starts playing his flute and mellotron once more. All of the sudden, the drums come back and we are met with a grand instrumental reprise of the chorus melody. The mellotron here is just as powerful as it was on “Epitaph” as each member gives it their all, especially Giles as he mercilessly pounds the drum heads to a pulp. I could not ask for a better curtaincall if I tried.

Thus concludes an undisputed musical epic, all within a timespan under 50 minutes.

What a shame that these men did not follow through with any projects together. After disputes revolving around the band’s creative direction, the members of King Crimson split up. Ever since then, this band has gone through a plethora of lineup changes; Fripp has remained the only constant member.

On the other hand, the legacy left behind by this group is practically immortal by now. Several of its members go on to have successful careers (most notably Greg Lake taking part in fellow seminal prog rock act Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Ian McDonald in Foreigner) but the amount of influence that this record alone holds on future acts is absolutely staggering.

King Crimson have gone on to inspire artists in a vast array of genres. From later prog acts like Rush, Tool and Porcupine Tree, to modern psychedelia like The Flaming Lips, punk groups like Bad Religion (the band’s own record label, Epitaph, is named after the song of the same title), to metal, as previously mentioned (especially bands like Mastodon, Voivod, Yob, Opeth, Neurosis, etc.), and even genres as far reaching as noise (namely Merzbow).

Not only that, but this band and record have somehow managed to find ways of staying relevant outside the music realm. Several memes have been and are still being made across the internet in light of King Crimson. Perhaps the most popular of all is a niche trend called “getting Fripp’d” where Youtube users upload videos containing audio clips and samples from King Crimson’s discography (especially from In the Court of the Crimson King), only for others to comment on how long it takes before Fripp’s label takes the video down.

Considering how poignant the rigorous and colorful compositions and lyrical themes of a fearful world still remain, I suppose all of this should not be very surprising. But once I look back and compare this album to whatever else was hip at the time, I can’t help but sit back and smile at how long it has stayed fresh.  

The fact that an album now over half a century old can still be embraced by far younger generations should serve as a testament to the longevity of this band and album. Not even fine wine ages that well.

Here’s to another 50 years of sonic magnificence, and counting.

Link to Album: https://open.spotify.com/album/5wec5BciMpDMzlEFpYeHse?si=KWbFGSaISCO1FofZjV1ZVA

Link to Hyde Park Concert:

https://youtu.be/MM_G0IRLEx4

Tracklist

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man
  2. I Talk to the Wind
  3. Epitaph
  4. Moonchild
  5. The Court of the Crimson King

Fear Inoculum Makes the Pieces Fit Again

By Daniel Anderson

For so long, it seemed like a distant dream. Yet, here we are.

Right from the start, the L.A-based band Tool stood as a complete anomaly. In a time where nearly every metal act being spun about on MTV was fusing the genre with an alternative radio-rock sound or even, heaven forbid, hip-hop elements, Tool practically tossed conformity out of the window.

Throughout the mid 90s to the 2000s, they gained notoriety for releasing songs with ambitious, complex structures, ever-shifting time signatures and numerous instrumental switch-ups and passages—all while still having a knack for keeping it all relatively accessible.

Combine that with their abstract and hypnotizing artwork and animated music videos (courtesy of guitarist Adam Jones and artist Alex Grey), and you have the most unlikely combination for success. Though brief in number, Tool’s practically untainted discography has been celebrated to a point that most bands, let alone progressive and alternative metal bands, can only dream of.

With millions of albums sold and accolades from MTV Music Video Awards and Grammy nods galore, it seemed as if time would forever be on this band’s side. Or so we all thought.

After the release of their last studio album, 10,000 Days, in 2006, Tool fell completely silent on new releases from then onward. Even despite the band remaining contractually together, they remained quiet on new material. As the years went by, a new album from them became something of a musical equivalent to a Half-Life sequel: something that would never happen.

That is, until recently.

Earlier this year, it was announced across all social media platforms that the silence would come to an end; their new album was in the works. The months after became a Tool frenzy. Further developments built up even more hype.

Streaming finally became available and album art and the release of the lead single followed suit. Soon enough the time had come—the silence was no more. Tool’s fifth studio effort, Fear Inoculum, had arrived.

With such immense shoes to fill, I had doubts that this group could truly live up to my expectations. To be perfectly honest, this is Tool’s least impressive album thus far. But given their usual standards, I would be remiss if I did not say that there are some fantastic things about it.

For starters, the most blatant elephant in the room is the tracklist: numerically, it is the shortest in their career, yet most of the tracks either border or surpass the ten minute mark. See, Tool are no strangers to long-winded songs, but they are usually reserved for pivotal spots in their tracklists (Third Eye and Wings for Marie being great past examples). With that in mind, it is easy to make the assumption that this was done so to make the album a grand statement.

Upon further inspection, however, this is not so much the case. The opening title track brings just about everything I expected out of a Tool record. From the soft-spoken intro with bongo drums, to the well-balanced production between every member’s instrumental work, to frontman Maynard James Keenan’s blissful yet firm vocals, nothing is out of place here. Best of all, the qualities of this track are blended together in such a way that it makes for a consistently engaging listen. It is a ten minute track that feels nearly half its length.

But in another breath, I do find it somewhat disappointing that Tool doesn’t go too far out of their comfort zone. Slightly worse than that is how the relatively safe songwriting comes at the cost of this track’s memorability, which is something that Tool is normally excellent at incorporating into their progressive metal forte.

Despite these hindrances, I suppose they do not drag down this record’s overall quality that much. In retrospect, two of their most celebrated works Lateralus and the aforementioned 10,000 Days do share a considerable amount of similarity in production and group dynamic, but both still maintain enough nuance to keep themselves unique—such as Lateralus’ tracklist structure being based on the Fibonacci Sequence.

Looking at their progression through that lens, I can tolerate the seemingly meat-and-potatoes approach that this album takes in comparison to its predecessors. Having said all that, I curiously find that nearly every pro and con that I observed on the opener applies to the majority of the tracklist.

Tracks like “Pneuma,” and “Invincible,” despite being decent and enjoyable tracks on their own, do not really lend themselves all that well to inclusion on the album. Even with their compositional difference, they are grounds that this band has tread several times over.

Also, it does not help that the brief, albeit over-abundant interludes on the digital version of this record waste potential room for more decency. Even when there are somewhat memorable moments occasionally (such as Danny Carey’s slick drum soloing on the absurdly-titled “Chocolate Chip Trip), I cannot help but feel that these interludes tainted so much of my enjoyment of the rest of what is offered.

Least of all, without these filler tracks, the album still runs at about 80 minutes in length; they make the experience even more bloated than it already is.

Still, even with the shortcomings, this is not to say that there is nothing of substance here—most of it is practically the opposite. The seventh track “Culling Voices,” serves as one of the more subdued and meditative moments on the album and still manages to stay interesting for its length. The fourth track “Descending,” despite seeming like another standard track, brings about some of Maynards best vocal performances on the record.

Then there is the final track (not including the interludes), “7empest.” This track is essentially the kind which everyone familiar with previous material wants to hear. It is the longest at fifteen minutes, and not a second is wasted. You name it: infectious riffs, Carrey’s fiery drumming, aggressive vocals, compositional finesse—this track has it all.

To sum up, Fear Inoculum manages to keep the discography of Tool nearly uncontested by their contemporaries. For the amount of flaws it has, that is not to speak of the tremendous qualities it has. Sure, gone are the days of more iconic tracks like “Forty Six & 2” and “Schism”, but at the very least, I can be grateful that it is still a solid release.

This record plays like a love-letter, and fans such as I are certainly receiving it as one.

 

Anchored in Quality

Art by Sam Haney

Story By Daniel Anderson

As stated in the previously published review, progressive metal has been taking over independent labels recently due to the intricate and pristinely-made sound that bands of the genre typically produce. Bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery set a bar for the genre, known as djent, that many bands have since tried to copycat.

But as is for many genres, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Take Baroness for instance.

While still labeled as a progressive metal and rock act, this Savannah, Georgia based band has taken an opposite approach to the genre than most current prog acts. Instead of attempting to make their sound as clean and precise as possible, Baroness (as well as other contemporaries like Mastodon and Torche) combine the genres of sludge metal, alternative rock, and heavy psych into their sound.

It would seem that they have reaped the benefits from this. Since 2007, every new Baroness release (all color-coded, by the way) has been celebrated by the hard rock and metal communities. Their first two outings, The Red Album and Blue Record, were highly praised for their combination of heavy and compressed production of sludge with the technicality and finesse of prog rock.

In 2012, their double-album Yellow and Green, saw the band going in a more accessible direction. Despite still being well-received, these two remain a bit divisive among fans for going on that route. One could release the single “Take My Bones Away” in the mid-to-late 90s and it would be seen as another Foo Fighters-esque radio rock tune.

With their next release in late 2015, Purple, Baroness almost had a return to form. It served as a middle ground between their first two hard-hitting releases and the accessibility of Yellow and Green. The album was a tremendous success for the band, earning great sales, the adoration of fans and critics, and even a Grammy nod for the lead single, “Shock Me.” 

Because of this, it was no surprise that many, such as myself, were anticipating their newest release, Gold and Grey. And, unfortunately, opinions on the results have been split once again.

Like with Purple, it would seem Baroness is once again attempting to meld heaviness and accessibility. However, the accessibility has been slightly turned up a notch, perhaps not to the same level as Yellow and Green, but it is still a bit noticeable.

Should their approach be slightly tweaked, tracks such as “I’m Already Gone” and “I’d Do Anything” could probably released as pop rock ballads in the early 2000’s. 

Not to mention, there is also the tenth track, “Emmett – Radiating Light,” which comes across a Baroness’ attempt at an acoustic singer-songwriter track (like the poor man’s Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens). Yet the boring, deadpan vocals, and its inconsistency compared to the rest of the tracklist could make the listener question as to why the band would include this in the album at all. 

Speaking of which, one of the most irritating detractors of this record are the absurd amount of short, mostly-instrumental interludes it contains. Not only do most of them sound lazily composed, but they contribute nothing to this record in terms of pacing. If anything, these tracks all but kill the flow of the album.

Be not mistaken, this record may be laced with flaws in its tracklist, but that does not mean that Baroness went into this project without bringing some quality to the table.

Tracks such as “Tourniquet” and “Borderlines” demonstrate the fantastic songwriting, soaring vocals and tight instrumental composition that most people associate with this band. The thirteenth track, “Broken Halo,” which is a typical song by Baroness standards, is executed well enough to where it could be placed on the tracklist of Purple.

The eleventh track, “Cold-Blooded Angels,” particularly stands out among the other tracks by showcasing the band at their most dynamic. The track goes through numerous passages and transitions while still keeping up a top-notch vocal performance from frontman John Baizley.

Despite this, the most major misstep on this record prevented me from enjoying this album any further: the production.

For most, if not the complete duration, this album is absolutely plagued with a jarring amount of technical flaws. On the opening track, “Front Toward Enemy,” the guitars and the bass are mixed together in such a way that they sound as if they are falling over one another. Also, the drums get so lost in the mix that the cymbals are really the only parts that are noticeable.

Even worse, the vast majority of these tracks suffer from the same or similar issues in production. Perhaps the worst case of these drums comes about with the final track, “Pale Sun.” Not only is it unfulfilling for an album closer, but the cymbals near the end of the track border on being white noise.

On some tracks, the opposite issue is also present. With the third track, “Seasons,” the drums finally become noticable, but that comes at the cost of the guitars and bass, which are consequently buried beneath them. The latter is also drowned out significantly on “Borderlines.”

Issues with this album’s production could potentially continue for another few paragraphs, but underlying all of this is the most frustrating aspect to me: 

Baroness has never been known for being the best-produced band out there. The difference here is that the muddy and compressed mixing of previous efforts was a part of their charm. Purple, for instance, has a level of production that is almost as messy as what can be heard on Gold and Grey. But unlike this new release, Purple at least had a slightly gruffer approach in overall composition, so the mix compliments the album well enough.

Sadly, this is not the case for Gold and Grey. To have decidedly grimy production is one thing, but to dial it to a higher degree for a selection of songs that simply do not fit well with it is completely unnecessary.

This album could have been good, maybe even great when accounting for its highlights. What a shame that its greatest fault is something that could have been so easily prevented.

Standout Tracks:Tourniquet,” “Cold-Blooded Angels,” “Borderlines”

Score: 6/10   

Tracklist:

  1. Front Toward Enemy
  2. I’m Already Gone
  3. Seasons
  4. Sevens
  5. Tourniquet
  6. Anchor’s Lament
  7. Throw Me an Anchor
  8. I’d Do Anything
  9. Blankets of Ash
  10.  Emmet – Radiating Light
  11.  Cold-Blooded Angels
  12.  Crooked Mile
  13.  Broken Halo
  14.  Can Oscura
  15.  Borderlines
  16.  Assault on East Falls
  17.  Pale Sun

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kqi3ECPn2xHvZh4_pKWD-DxvdQAKcT3QQ