Thoughts on the Return of Tool

What it will sound like is anybody’s guess, but for my money, I expect nothing less than greatness from one of my favorite bands of all time.

April 28, 2006. George W. Bush was president, the second Pirates of the Caribbean film was gearing up to hit theaters, and the Saint Louis Cardinals had just won their tenth World Series. Of course, I don’t write about any of those things, I write about music, and in the music world of 2006, Tool had just dropped their long awaited fourth studio LP, 10,000 Days.

The album was sprawling, conceptual, and one of the band’s most personal to date. In many ways, it the final step in Tool’s transition from an especially impressive member of the West Coast alt-metal scene to a fully fledged, internationally successful, prog-metal outfit. Most importantly, it put an end to a five year wait for a follow up to 2001’s Lateralus. It was a gap that frustrated fans at the time, but would soon be dwarfed in the coming years.

To date, We’re coming up on 13 years since we last heard new Tool material, and the explanations are numerous. The most common reason given is legal issues as the band has recently been involved in two major law suits, each of which they won. Additionally, each of the four members have been quite active in side projects. Regardless of the reasons, the law suits are over, the side projects are on brake, and according to Keenan’s Twitter account, we could see new Tool music as early as mid-2019. 

This, of course, brings with it many questions, two of which are quite pressing. Firstly, what can we expect to hear? Second, will we be disappointed for the first time in Tool’s long and nearly perfect run? Neither of these questions will be answered until we’re holding the physical CD’s in our hands, but we can take a stab at them now.

When it comes to expectations, there is even less to go on for this record than for your average new album. Where as most bands provide fans with a litany of sneak peaks, updates, and interviews, Tool has, predictably, not done this. Instead, they’ve released only a few images from inside the studio, one of which showed Danny Carey’s elaborate drum kit, and sporadic messages of assurance that the record is in the process of being made and will release in 2019.

So, to know what we can expect, we can only look to a few sources for hints. First and foremost, at least one track, reportedly entitled, “Descending,” has been performed at a few live events, one of which I was lucky enough to see at Rock on the Range in Ohio. The track is entirely instrumental, uses heavy delay effects, and feels like a continuation of growing emphasis on a prog style that we saw on 10,000 Days. That and its tentative title lead me to believe that this may be an opening track to the new album, which could be another longwinded outing for Tool. 

On the other hand, the setlist of the recent tours have been almost entirely populated with the band’s earliest material. This could easily be something of a thank you to longtime fans for waiting as long as they have, but it could just as easily indicate that they aim to return to the simple, heavier sound that put them on the map.

Considering the new album also leads one to wonder how much the changing landscape of rock and metal will influence the sound. The waves of nu-metal which Tool rode in on though never falling in with are long gone. In their place, bands like Code Orange and Daughters have done their part to bring back a more brash, explosive form of metal. I, for one, would love to hear an older act like Tool take a few notes from the recent work of bands like these in developing a more primal, visceral sound. More than likely, though, we will be treated to the most lengthy and conceptual entry of the band’s catalogue, which, of course, raises questions of disappointment.

Even the most avid fan can’t be blamed for wondering if it’s still there; if the Tool we know and love has survived the long hiatus and can return without obvious rust or aging. A bit of hope can be found in side projects.

Maynard James Keenan’s work on the side has been the most public by far. In the time since Tool’s last release, he’s started a new band in Puscifer and released three original LP’s under the moniker, not counting the multitude of remixes and EPs. He’s also become a massively successful wine maker in Arizona, an activity which he has long credited with keeping him grounded in his writing. Not to mention the newest A Perfect Circle album, which did quite well. All of this work, though I can’t speak to the quality of the wine, has been quite impressive in its own right. Most importantly, his vocal melodies and lyricism don’t seem to have lost a bit of quality.

The rest of the band has been quite active as well. Danny Carey has played with the jazz-fusion band Volto! for several years including a fantastic 2013 album, Incitare. His work with the group is as complex and groove heavy as its ever been and the album serves as further proof that Carey is one of the greatest drummers in rock history. Justin Chancellor worked with his own side outfit, MTVoid to create the 2013 album, Nothing’s Matter, an underground, industrial metal record that relied heavily on his excellent bass work. He’s also had a rumored collaboration with the experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips in the works since early 2018. In short, there is far less rust on the joints of Tool than casual fans may think.

As far as disappointment, that burden falls squarely on the shoulders of fans and our ability to mitigate our expectations. If you’re waiting on an Earth shattering, world changing, metal record, then you’ll absolutely find yourself disappointed. On the other hand, if you expect a great metal album from a great metal band who’s discography is essentially without a blemish, then you’ll likely get what you want in spades.

Tool is one of the most enigmatic bands in rock history and so it’s unsurprising that we’re headed into a new album after a decade and a half of silence with little to no information. While rumors swirl, including the theory that, along with this release, the entirety of Tool’s catalogue may finally be available for online streaming and sales, virtually nothing is confirmed, and it will likely stay that way until the album is here. What it will sound like is anybody’s guess, but for my money, I expect nothing less than greatness from one of my favorite bands of all time.

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XXXTENTACION Realizes Much of His Potential on Posthumous Release

In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

     XXXTENTACION needs very little introduction. He rose to some prominence as a particularly successful star of fight videos from a Florida based account but reached a massive audience with the release of of his debut single “Look At Me!” Ever the controversial figure, X nevertheless became a staple of the growing Florida rap scene, which was especially brutal subset of Soundcloud rap. After a few singles and EP’s, he released his first studio album, 17 which is often credited with starting the recent trend of albums lasting less than half an hour. His follow up, ?, was slightly longer and released with Capitol records, peaking at number one on the billboard charts. Both albums went platinum. Unfortunately, X was shot and killed in June while in Florida.

   While his previous work was nothing if not intriguing, I generally found in lacking in key areas. The heavy metal and grunge influences where glaring, and even materialized in a few heavier cuts, some of the best in his discography. In many ways, he brought experimental techniques like lo-fi production, guitar based instrumentals, and screaming, distorted vocals to the mainstream and to a youth which had never listened to artists like Death Grips, who use these elements far more effectively. With Skins, his first posthumous release, I was unsure what to expect and if I should even review the record. After listening, though, I found a mixed bag full of interesting ideas that are well worth discussing.

   The album opens with an introduction that, while a bit corny, is far more interesting than the intro on a project like 17. There’s a tinge of tongue in the cheek here, which alleviates some of the cringing that followed X’s other intros.

   After the intro, we get a few tracks back to back that are some of the best in Tentacion’s entire catalog. “Guardian Angel,” maybe my favorite track, features a twisted sample of his earlier hit, “Jocelyn Flores,” under a hard hitting verse with an excellent flow. “Train Food,” follows, telling the story of a fictional narrator’s encounter with the personification of death, an eerie topic for obvious reasons. The final monologue from the perspective of a man tied to a train track is powerful and heartfelt with a flow that radiates with influences from artists like Eminem.

   After such a great start, though, we fall back into X’s most annoying tendency, making thoughtless vibe tracks with little input aside from singing an ignorable hook. This is especially true for “woah,” which honestly sounds like a beat waiting to be rapped over. This track would’ve been far better served as an instrumental on someone else’s album, crediting X as a feature. “BAD!” Is also guilty of this, though there are some lyrics, vapid and meaningless as they may be.

   After this slump, we get another high. “STARING AT THE SKY,” though a bit overly dramatic, taps into its emo-rock inspiration in an interesting way. The explosive and distorted chorus is a nice moment, bringing his earliest work full circle and realizing its goal. The same is true for “One Minute,” which features enough of a Kanye West influence that X is more of a feature, but an excellent feature at that. Both of these tracks stand as accomplishments, the first times that he has been able to adequately accomplish his goals of incorporating metal and hard rock in a genuine and interesting way.

   The “Difference” interlude is essentially a demo that was never able to be fully realized, though it holds quite a bit of promise. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “I don’t let go,” another vibe-heavy track with minimal and ultimately meaningless rapping, this time mixed very poorly and nearly inaudible. The closer, “what are you so afraid of,” is certainly listenable, featuring a heartfelt vocal over a sweetly played guitar. It’s not my favorite sound for X, but it’s done quite a bit better than others like it.

   In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

5/10

HEAR SKINS:      https://open.spotify.com/album/1qsQOC4Jn0fnaUZLAbs4dz

Every Maynard James Keenan Album Ranked!!

This one took me quite awhile, but here it is! Every Maynard James Keenan album (post Opiate) ranked!!

12. Emotive (2004)- A Perfect Circle

     The most critically maligned effort in Maynard’s post-Tool career, and admittedly the most underwhelming, I will still be the first and loudest defender of this album. All too often, Emotive is subject to overly brutal criticism because it is viewed through the same lens as the band’s previous work. Instead, the album toes the line between full blown third release and something of a side project. I think, had this been followed quickly by a true end to the band’s trilogy with Virgin Records, much of the distaste would’ve subsided. However, Emotive is what it is, that being, by all accounts, a mixed bag.

   Maynard’s lyricism can hardly be discussed here, as the album is made up of political covers, but the song selection does provide an interesting peak into his inspirations. Track’s like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” come off admittedly awkward, but “Passive,” is one of the band’s best efforts, and incidentally the only original on the album, enlisting the help of fellow industrial rock legend, Trent Reznor in the writing process. Additionally, Maynard’s choral rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum,” is one of my favorite songs of all time. In short, while the album does land at the bottom of the list, it is by no means a bad album.

11. Money Shot (2015)Puscifer

   While this is, admittedly, the weakest of the three Puscifer LP’s, that certainly doesn’t make it unenjoyable by any means. Money Shot’s biggest sin is its inability to differentiate from the band’s previous two entries. While this is decidedly not a meaningful failure in the eyes of many fans, it does seem to run counter to Puscifers appealing quality. While Tool and APC have solidified styles, Puscifer is meant to be an outlet for Maynard to use his complete control to radically experiment with a multitude of new ideas. In this vein, I’m much quicker to forgive the outfit’s few misses on earlier projects than to excuse the safe tracklist of Money Shot.

   That being said, there’s plenty to enjoy here. “The Arsonist,” may be Puscifer’s best song, and “The Remedy,” brings back a bit of the cynicism and comedy of the band’s debut, a quality which is completely absent on the rest of this album. The instrumentation is more organic on this album, and performed quite well by all involved. All in all, Money Shot is an enjoyable effort, but Maynard seems to be in a bit of a creative rut throughout, unsurprising as this would be his 11th LP in just over 20 years. Fitting then, that this would be the last puscifer LP for awhile as MJK began to undertake the writing process of APC’s return in 2018.

10. Opiate (1992) – Tool

    There are very few bands with a stronger debut than Tool. The majority of the record is recorded live, but it still lands on this list because the tracks don’t appear anywhere else in the group’s discography. The live raw energy of a Tool show really comes through on this album as well, and it’s hard not to laugh when Maynard says “get that Bob Marley wannabe motherf***ker out of here.”

   There is plenty not to love here, on the other hand. The recordings, being live and probably cheap, lack the excellent production we would hear on later Tool releases. The tracklist itself is a bit of a weakness as well, mostly coming in around four to five minutes and missing much of the lyrical thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from MJK. The closer and title track, however, remains one of my favorite Tool songs of all time and stands as the first chapter in the very long, open dialogue between Maynard and organized Christianity. This kind of bold, angry writing from such a young band, coupled with the jarring and mildly offensive cover, set a tone for a band and an artist that would speak their minds loudly in the years to come.

9. Conditions of My Parole (2011)Puscifer

   The second Puscifer release certainly doesn’t exceed its predecessor the way Thirteenth Step did, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable entry on this list. The tone is much closer to the larger body of MJK’s work, sacrificing some of the debut’s uniqueness for a more palatable, anthemic style. It did, however, retain much of what makes Puscifer such a unique side project.

   The changes are most notable on tracks like “Tiny Monsters,” and “Green Valley,” where the industrial instrumentation and drum heavy mix is still very present, but the lyricism and, even more so the vocal melodies, are much more in line with what longtime fans have come to expect. “Telling Ghosts,” could very easily have landed on an APC album. A few of the tracks can come off as somewhat forgettable, but the bulk of Conditions of My Parole is an absolute blast.

8. “V” Is For Vagina (2007)Puscifer

   With APC on hiatus and Tool stuck in a perpetual creative vortex, Maynard found himself sat idle for this first time in many years. This seemed to last all of a few days as V Is For Vagina was released just a year after the Tool record and Puscifer was born. While the band wouldn’t receive a lot of mainstream attention until their ’09 single, “Cuntry Boner,” longtime Maynard fans were greeted in ’07 by a total 180 degree turn with surprisingly enjoyable results.

   Puscifer’s sound embraces a form of industrial rock which was only slightly present in MJK’s previous work, and combines it with the kind of sardonic humor which Maynard is known for. Tracks like “Queen B,” and “Vagina Mine” may be somewhat jarring for Tool and APC fans, but they are very well crafted and infinitely listenable pieces of industrial rock, some of the best of the era. V Is For Vagina is a must listen for any and all MJK fans, especially considering his near total creative control over the project.

7. Eat the Elephant (2018)A Perfect Circle

   Perhaps the most divisive of Maynard’s albums among fans, Eat the Elephant marked the return of A Perfect Circle to prominence after a nearly 15 year hiatus which had been filled with three MJK releases under the Puscifer moniker. As a result, this album does often seem to capture more of Puscifer’s experimental nature than APC’s anthemic tendencies. It’s one of stranger albums on this list, but it’s one that I enjoyed quite a bit.

   Tracks like “Disillusioned” and the title track featured surprisingly soft piano passages while “The Doomed,” and my personal favorite, “TalkTalk,” fall much more in the vein of APC’s arena rock style. The latter half loses quite a bit of steam, but overall, Eat the Elephant is a respectable return to form for a group which seems to have matured quite a bit during its hiatus.

6. Meir De Noms (2000)A Perfect Circle

   Following the massive success of Tool, and during a very odd time for rock music in general, A Perfect Circle was formed by MJK and Billy Howerdel and released their debut album, Meir De Noms to massive critical and commercial success. The group’s sound was much more oriented toward arena and alternative rock, as apposed to the progressive and industrial styles that filled Tool projects.

   Meir De Noms contains the band’s best and most popular song by a mile in “Judith,” but also features classics like “The Hollow,” and “3 Libras.” Throughout, Howerdel’s guitar is anthemic and Josh Freese’s drumming is explosive. Maynard’s vocals are, in many ways, given more focus here than on previous Tool projects and his lyrics take a turn for the platitudinous in the best possible way. If the album has one strike against it, it’s a general lack of cohesion and clear vision. However, Meir De Noms is an excellent debut LP and did a great job of setting APC apart from Maynard’s other projects. 

5. Undertow (1993) – Tool

   Oh, how we all miss the days of two Tool releases in back to back years! Following the breakout success of the Opiate EP, Tool followed up with their first full length project, which improved on their previous work in virtually every way. This album features classics like “Prison Sex,” and “Swamp Song,” as well as Tool’s first major hit, “Sober.”

   Undertow is also where we hear Maynard beginning to come into his own as a writer and performer. His screams are powerful and his running vocal lines are nearly ethereal. The record is far better mixed and recorded, though still not as tight as later projects, and there’s a certain air of professionalism about Undertow that begins to make Tool feel like as special a band as they are. Overall, it’s an excellent studio debut and features some of the band’s best instrumentation and MJK’s best lyrics.

4. Thirteenth Step (2003)A Perfect Circle

   The highlight of APC’s catalog, Thirteenth Step is the Terminator 2 of alt-rock albums. Everything we loved from the debut is back, but better focused and turned up to 11. The non-cohesive but impressive tracklist of the debut is replaced with a moody, melodic piece of alt/arena rock with a clear and decisive aesthetic.

   Nearly every song on this album is fantastic, but a few of my favorites include, “Blue,” “The Outsider,” and “Pet, although my personal favorite from the album has to be the orchestral reimagining of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me.” The entire album is a testament to what can be accomplished by two especially creative artists when they mesh well and benefit from excellent work ethics. Thirteenth Step was APC’s second consecutive platinum album and it left the band with hits that are still popular today, 15 years later.

3. 10,000 Days (2006) – Tool

   For many Tool fans, this is the end all be all of Tool albums. In fact, I’d even call it my personal favorite, if I wasn’t speaking critically. Released in 2006 after a five year hiatus, 10,000 Days is the most recent Tool album to date, and it is, in some ways, the completion of an arc which began with ’96’s Aenima, that being the gradually increasing psychedelic and progressive influences into the band’s alt-metal roots. This album gives itself fully over to the prog side and it is from this that both its strengths and weaknesses are born.

   There isn’t a single track that clocks in under six minutes, save the “Blame Hoffman,” interlude which is nearly four minutes of purely atmospheric build up. “Rosetta Stoned,” is nearly 11 minutes of blistering rock music with some of the best drum work of Danny Carey’s career. The highlight of not only the album, but possibly Tool’s entire catalog, is the two part epic of “Wings for Marie,” and “10,000 Days,” which chronicles the passing of Maynard’s mother, and her ascension to heaven. It’s a piece of pure art which will leave goosebumps on the arms of anyone with a pulse.  My only hangup with this album, however, comes in the long and sometimes aimless interludes. Where earlier intros like “Parabol,” felt like a lingering shot of runners on their blocks before a race, a track like “Lipan Conjuring,” seems to spin its wheels and never get anywhere. Regardless, 10,000 Days is Tool’s most personal effort, and one of my all time favorite albums.

2. Ǽnima (1996)Tool

   When it came to deciding my top two for this list, I found the decision virtually impossible, and my opinion may even change day to day, but in the end, and through no fault of its own, Aenima lands at number two. Following the breakout success of Undertow, Aenima takes Tool’s hard rock sound and adds a multitude of brand new layers.

   “46 & 2,” and “Pushit,” deal in complex issues with a kind of reverence which was somewhat new to the band at this time. On the other hand, “Stinkfist,” “H.” and “Eulogy,” touch on serious moral issues with a cynical humor that only Maynard can execute this well. Beyond that, even, tracks like “Hooker With a Penis,” and the title track feature the kind of dark humor which would be largely absent from either of Tool’s post Aenima efforts. But it’s the closer, “Third Eye,” that sets a precedent for what we could expect in the future. Clocking in over 13 minutes and making the most of a couple hilarious Bill Hicks samples, the track is a sprawling, expansive end to an incredible album. Aenima is so very close to being perfect, but for me, it’s beat out ever so slightly by our number one.

1. Lateralus (2001)Tool

   It’s virtually impossible to name the best Tool album, let alone the best album from all of MJK’s catalog, but if it must be done, I simply can’t place anything above Lateralus. I tend to view Tool’s last three albums as a trilogy, following an especially gifted alt-metal four piece as they grow to an infamous, prog-metal juggernaut, and in that sense, the fast majority of the leg-work is done by Lateralus. With a tracklist featuring much longer tracks, including “Reflection,” which clears 11 minutes, lofty concepts, and a heavy influence on math and sequences, Tool challenged themselves in nearly ever conceivable way and they succeeded.

   Tracks like “Schism,” and “Ticks and Leaches,” showcase Tool’s remarkable ability to bend time signatures and tempos, “The Grudge,” and the title track feature Adam Jones’ gritty, powerful guitar work, and “Parabol,” and “Parabola,” is one of the best two part tracks of all time, slowly developing into explosive payoffs. Throughout Maynard’s voice is dynamic, ranging from guttural screams to droning, contained melodies with equal intensity and brilliance. His melodies are every single bit as well written as any riff or beat on the project, and his lyrics are meticulous, yet thematic. All of this is tied together by the legendary David Bottrill, who’s work in the producer’s chair elevates this record to all new heights. Put simply, Lateralus is a remarkable accomplishment for one the greatest bands of all time, and the crown jewel in MJK’s legendary catalog.

Bufihimat Drops Technically Excellent If Poorly Paced Debut

I is a brutal slog of an album with plenty for extreme metal fans to appreciate if they’re willing to overlook a few weaknesses.

     Bufihimat is a tech/death metal outfit from Voronezh, Russia. They arrived on the scene in 2015 with a single, “Last Journey Through Pain,” and then fell out of the public eye once again. While the track was fairly well received, whatever momentum they gained was all but lost over the three year hiatus which followed.

   Their sound is brutal, generally falling under the umbrella of “extreme metal,” but their main style is death metal, sporting a low, guttural vocal and heavy instruments. They are also, however, incredibly talented, frequently performing extremely difficult passages at a blistering speed. With the release of their first full length LP, I (One), they’ve officially thrown they’re hat in the mix of the extreme metal world, and they’ve done so quite skillfully.

   First and foremost, the drumming on this record is lightning fast. On tracks like “Thy Flesh Consumed,” or “Last Journey Through Pain,” the blistering speed sets quite a tempo with double kicks, which is then shown to be malleable with excellent fills in nearly every open space. The drums really take front and center on this project, and thanks to talented musicianship, they make good on this status.

   The guitars are also well utilized here. Tracks like “Human Hive” or the opener, “Splited” mix the hellish brutality of the distorted rhythm guitar quite well with the almost video game-esque lead guitar licks. The lead is one of the very few less extreme portions of the mix, and it shines well over the slugging rhythm riffs.

   The vocals, while a bit lacking in variety, are still quite impressive. A track like “Qualia,” just can’t come together without a vocalist like this. His screams are thick and gravelly, yet he has the ability to hold out notes far longer than one would expect. In “Decline of the Fading Suns, he lets out long, brutal screams which are accented by hectic instrumental passages, making this the best track on the album.

   My biggest complaint with the project, however, is the lack of variety. While the closer, “He Saw Himself,” provides something of a change by incorporating an organ and well-performed guitar arpeggios, it comes on the tail end of nearly a half our of ear-piercing distortion and near constant double kicks. While I appreciate the brutality of this record, it seems they may have traded in some of the creative possibilities in an effort to create the loudest, heaviest album possible.

   Even on a track like “Digging the Hole,” which begins with a thinner, higher scream and some heavy grunge influence, we find ourselves right back to the sludging tech death that characterizes the rest of the project. This may be the first time that a runtime under 30 minutes has felt like a slog, and it’s due entirely to poor pacing and strict adherence to form.

   That being said, I did enjoy I. There are certainly shortcomings, but for a debut LP, it’s quite an accomplishment. The instrumentation is extremely technical, the production is far better than one would expect from a lesser known group, and the songwriting shows a lot of promise. It is definitely enough to land Bufihimat on my radar for future releases.

   I is a brutal slog of an album with plenty for extreme metal fans to appreciate if they’re willing to overlook a few weaknesses.

5/10

HEAR I: https://open.spotify.com/album/4QSpHxTrr6Txzhp0LFyBMS

Tenacious D Expands Their Mythos With New Album and Animated Series

Post-Apocalypto may not win over the uninitiated, but it’s certainly a welcome new chapter for fans of the greatest acoustic metal comedy duo of all time.

     The self-proclaimed greatest band in the world, Tenacious D is an acoustic, comedy metal duo from Los Angeles. The group is comprised of Kyle Gass and Jack Black, and often features guest appearances from the likes of Dave Grohl, Meatloaf, John Spiker, and a multitude of well known actors and actresses lending their star power to music videos and films.

   Tenacious D rose to prominence in the late 1990’s with a short lived, three episode series on HBO, but they became household, or more accurately, dorm room names in 2001 with the release of their self-titled debut LP. The record was a unique mix of stoner humor and absurdism tied together by the pair’s obvious love of the metal genre and production and instrumentation which was far better than it had any business being. Five years later, they released Pick of Destiny as a film and album, which bombed in the box office, but has since developed a massive cult following. In 2012, we were given Rize Of the Fenix, another large success that launched a massive world tour. Six years later, we finally have our forth installment in the Tenacious D catalog, this time in the form of a soundtrack accompaniment to a six episode animated series on YouTube in which Gass plays himself, and Black voices all other characters as well as himself. The project is equal parts absurd and fantastic, resulting in a worthwhile return for the D.

   Firstly, we’ll need to discuss this story, in all of it’s insanity, beat by beat. JB and KG, as they are called throughout the record, begin by witnessing a nuclear holocaust and meeting a two headed dog, which they name Hope. They start traveling across the country and meet a clan of cave women who sleep with them before trying to feed them to the horrifying cave monster, Crackalackadingdong. Hope kills the monster and the three escape, running into a German scientist who lets the band audition for a trip to space station full of famous musicians and beautiful women. The scientist only takes JB, who excepts his offer, but returns to Earth after a heartfelt duet with KG because he misses his bandmate.

   After Jack returns, they are attacked by the father of Crackalackadingdong, Daddy Ding Dong, but they’re saved by a Terminator-esque robot, sent from the future by JB Jr, Jack Black’s son with one of the cave women. JB Jr. instructs his father and KG to retrieve the “Orb of Gilgamesh” from the White House, which is now under the control of a tyrannical Donald Trump Jr. and guarded by large numbers of KKK and Nazi soldiers. Along with the robot, Tenacious D battle their way through the armies and teach Trump Jr. the value of diversity before taking the orb to Egypt on Air Force One to meet JB Jr. in the pyramids.

   When they arrive, they find out that JB Jr. is evil and only wanted to orb to take over the universe. He’s about to kill the D when the tribe of cave women arrive on the Crackalacka Dragon and defeat JB Jr. The album ends with a quick interlude celebrating the fact that the band just saved the world and a reprise of the original title track and opener. A fair amount of story is cut in the transition from web series to album, but the bones remain, and they’re quite well executed.

   The story is told through two means. The first of these are spoken skits, which are definitely the album’s highlight. Bits like “scientists,” and “cave women,” show of Jack Black’s voice acting quite well, sold by his willingness to give his all to virtually any joke. On the other hand, “i’ve got to go,” and “desolation,” play on the stoner dynamic which has always been a staple of the duo’s comedy.

   These are balanced by musical passages which are a bit softer than what we’ve come to expect from Tenacious D, but nonetheless, very enjoyable. Most of these tracks wear their influences on their sleeve. “MAKING LOVE” is an obvious call back to the indulgent, orchestral style of acts like Styx, while “F*CK YO-YO MA” is almost a parody of the classic, musical theatre duet. The “JB JR RAP” near the end is, perhaps, the most impressive moment in the 30-minute runtime, though not the true best song on the album, because Tenacious D shows the ability to dabble in the rap genre without coming across as dated or out of touch.

   The album isn’t perfect. Few of the songs have the sing-along or replay value of some of their early hits, and some of the skits overstay their welcome, but overall, it’s a very listenable record.

   Post-Apocalypto may not win over the uninitiated, but it’s certainly a welcome new chapter for fans of the greatest acoustic metal comedy duo of all time.

6/10

HEAR POST-APOCALYPTO: https://open.spotify.com/album/4O83oaztVuBlPDrp50Q3mh

Daughters is Back After Eight Years With the Best Metal Album of the Year

 You Won’t Get What You Want is an advanced piece of noise metal that is quite nearly perfect, and easily the best metal album of the year, if you’re up for the challenge.

     Daughters is an experimental, industrial metal act from Rhode Island. They’re well known for an absolutely hellish style, disjointed rhythms, wide array of influences, and, until recently, jarringly short tracks. Their 2003 debut LP, Canada Songs, had a runtime of just 11 minutes, with very few songs clearing a minute, which was complimented by the thrashing instrumentals of their early work. This continued on the slightly longer, Hell Songs, in 2007 which also hits hard and fast with a bit more character.

   This all changed, however, with what was meant to be their farewell project, which was self-titled and released in 2010. The record mixed elements of thrash, noise, and experimental metal with a heavy dose of post-punk to create a gothic cacophony of a farewell with a runtime that neared 30 minutes. Having bid the band farewell, their cult following was quite excited to hear news of an upcoming fourth album, and though listeners were quite surprised, they certainly weren’t let down.

   From the opening track, “City Song,” it’s very clear that we are in for something very different. The track feels like being lost in a dark ocean, with a driving bass, jarring snare-shots, and a panicked but hopeless vocal performance by Alexis Marshall. It’s sets a bleak tone, which the rest of the near 50 minute is all too happy to follow relentlessly.

   Energy is high on tracks like “The Reason They Hate Me,” or my personal favorite, “Long Road, No Turns.” Here, the drum work is explosive and the grating electronic leads make a listeners heart race. Daughters is able to use this manic noise rock to build tension in a unique way, not unlike a horror movie. It’s a style that, I would imagine, the vast majority of music listeners simply haven’t heard anywhere else.

   Tracks like “The Flammable Man,” and “The Lords Song,” call back to the earlier days of the group as the only songs to come in under three minutes. Here, we’re treated to a much heavier bleed in from the group’s more traditional punk influences along with the thrash style of released like Canada Songs. The bass guitar is especially brutal here, well mixed, and following a blistering tempo.

   On the other hand, “Satan in the Wait,” and “Ocean Song,” each top seven minutes, and make the most of every second. The former carries a horrific narrative over rhythmic drum and a howling guitar which almost mimics a siren, ending with a hellish chaos of shouting, squealing, and crashing cymbals. The latter is a true post-punk tune, telling what is essentially a horror story  over of the best instrumentals I’ve ever heard. These tracks are so fantastic and the slow burning style of Marshall’s story telling is so listenable that even longtime fans will find themselves wishing that Daughters had always been in the business of long-form, post-punk epics.

   The real shining point of the album, however, is the extremely unique instrumentation. The closer, “Guest House,” features a screeching synth that over scores the howling vocals well. “Less Sex,” is highlighted by a melodic choir part in the chorus, giving the track a distinct blues sound, and “Daughter,” opens with a gloomy piano riff which, though a bit gimmicky, is an interesting hook around which the rest of the tune is built.

   My complaints are slight, leading me to seriously contemplate my second ever perfect score, but, unfortunately, my complaints are present nonetheless. “Daughter,” is easily the weakest piece of the tracklist, held down by an odd organ section in the bridge. In addition, a few of the rhythm changes can be a bit underdeveloped, and the electric guitar, while used well for effect, could do with even a short turn in the spotlight. Aside from this, I must admit that the album lacks severely in replay value, with a tone so bleak and overbearing that, if you don’t find yourself in the mood, the project can simply come off as irritating, although, in fairness, it doesn’t seem that replay value and accessibility were ever goals held by Daughters.

   You Won’t Get What You Want is exactly the kind of album that music critics love. It tests the bounds of what music is and, in doing so, challenges even the most experienced music listener to make heads or tails of such a difficult piece of art. This album uses it’s smothering, gothic tone to tell interesting stories and create something that just doesn’t exist elsewhere in the music world, carrying all the lushness of a big budget rock album, but trading in the sweetness for horrific electronic tones and constant dissonance.

   You Won’t Get What You Want is an advanced piece of noise metal that is quite nearly perfect, and easily the best metal album of the year, if you’re up for the challenge.

9/10

HEAR YOU WON’T GET WHAT YOU WANThttps://open.spotify.com/album/7w7ZTlk8YLc0OxviTp97qA

Coheed and Cambria Drop Epic Album, Keeping the Fire Alive on Ninth Release

The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

     Coheed and Cambria is a progressive/emo rock group from Nyack, New York. They’ve been working fairly steadily since 2002, though they’ve achieved little commercial success save two gold records in 2003 and 2005. Regardless, they’ve begun to amass a substantial fanbase over the long run, many of whom are willing to follow the group down the conceptual rabbit hole that is the Coheed and Cambria discography.

   On top of the intricate, longwinded concepts that are riddled throughout their work, the band has built quite a unique sound. They blend elements of progressive and arena rock with a heavy dose of 1970’s rock influence. The guitars are screaching, the drums groove, and most importantly, Claudio Sanchez’ lead vocals and frontman presence is powerful and commanding. Today, the sound comes off as a bit indulgent, especially for listeners like myself who grew up enjoying the massive wave of loud, metal influenced, emo-rock of the mid 2000’s. Thankfully, The Unheavenly Creatures is more of the same.

   The key to this record is tightness. Coheed and Cambria move across this 70-minute runtime as one perfectly cohesive unit, swelling and falling together, in a way that’s rarely seen in rock today. Even on the less listenable tracks like “Love Protocol,” or “Old Flames,” listeners have little trouble following them because the instrumentals are so well crafted and each member plays off of each other so well.

   Tugging the band apart for a bit, Travis Stever’s guitar is the closest to a lead instrumental voice. His leads on “True Ugly,” or “All on Fire,” color the tracks well and make them some of the best cuts on the album, but his best contribution is in the rhythm department. His hooks on “The Dark Sentencer,” or “Pavilion,” for example, are thick and driving, mixing a great tone with excellent play.

   Zach Cooper and Josh Eppard helm the bass and drums respectively and their parts are hard to separate because of an interesting technique they use. Cooper’s bass is, among other things, used primarily to color the kick drums and tom grooves throughout the album. This is perhaps most apparent on a tracks like “Black Sunday,” and “Queen of the Dark,” where a prominent bass part follows the lower pitched drums, giving another layer to Eppard’s work.

   None of this, however, is as meaningful to this album as Claudio Sanchez’ vocals. He sings with an epic power but an expert touch, never overpowering a track but finding perfect ear worm hooks and blasting them to the forefront. This applies to nearly every second of the record but to name a few, the title track, “Toys,” “It Walks Among Us,” and especially “Night-Time Walkers,” benefit from this in a massive way. There is just no way around saying that Sanchez is the best part of The Unheavenly. Creatures by a mile.

   The best track on this album is so good, I thought it would deserve its own paragraph. “The Gutter,” is one of the funnest, most indulgent rock songs I’ve heard since the days of My Chemical Romance. It’s a sugar rush of power chords, grooving drums, and an undeniable performance from Claudio Sanchez. The production is excellent here as well, maybe the only time it’s really noticeable, as the the vocal harmonies are well placed in the mix and pushing the stereo image is especially rich near the end.

   My complaints with this record are far from substantial, but they are nagging. Several of the intros feature odd pianos or synth instrumentation which rarely works at all and often only serves to kill any momentum gained by the soaring moments of the previous tracks. In addition, the two worst tracks on the album, and the only ones I genuinely can’t imagine myself ever revisiting, are the opener “Prologue,” and the closer “Lucky Stars.” The former runs far too long with little to offer and is the only track to focus so heavily on the concept, a storyline which has run across nearly every release of the band’s decade and a half career, to be enjoyable for the uninitiated. The latter does feature some solid acoustic guitar work and a fun guitar solo from Stever, but it just doesn’t mesh with the overall sound of the record, and so doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to such an epic project.

   If I could choose one word to describe The Unheavenly Creatures, It would be indulgent. For fans of the epic, emo-rock of the mid 2000s, this album hits the spot in a major way. There are some issues, but those flaws, for the most part, are small and forgettable, quickly blasted from our ears by the next soaring chorus or powerful guitar riff.

   The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

8/10

HEAR THE UNHEAVENLY CREATUREShttps://open.spotify.com/album/42S0lDJT9wHKCVaMGgqKdm