Andrew Bird’s 12th LP is a Listenable Piece of Folk Rock

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

Andrew Bird is an indie-rock vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from Lake Forest, Illinois. He debuted as a solo artist with 2003’s Weather Systems, after leaving the band Bowl of Fire, with whom he’d spent most of the mid to late 90’s. His early work found some following, particularly with fans of the band, but after signing with Fat Possum Records, he dropped 2007’s Armchair Apochrypha, his first solo effort to chart on the Billboard 200.  He went on top the US Folk charts twice, first with 2012’s Break It Yourself, and again with 2016’s Are You Serious. With a long career which winds through a multitude of styles, labels, and albums, Bird has become a favorite of folk-rock fans thanks to a consistent output and creative style. This week, he’s released his 12th album, ambitiously titled My Finest Work Yet.

Immediately, Bird’s experience as a songwriter is obvious in the many unique chord progressions he uses. Tracks like the opener, “Sisyphus,” and the album’s strongest cut, “Proxy War,” are fairly unpredictable and the inventive progressions allow for a few unique vocal melodies as well. It’s easily the strongest point of Bird’s songwriting on this album.

Vocally, he’s quite strong as well. On “Olympians,” he seamlessly transitions from driving, simple verses to large howling choruses, executing each with quite a bit of power and support. With “Archipelago,” on the other hand, he sells a relatively run-of-the-mill track with a dynamic mix of sweet falsettos a riveting strength. Andrew has never been renowned as a particularly remarkable vocalist, but for the majority of this albums he gives quite strong performances that elevate even the less impressive songs.

Maybe the strongest piece of this puzzle, however, is his skill as an instrumentalist. He is best known as a strong violinist, and he exhibits this many times on the record, including an excellent solo on “Don the Struggle,” which leaves me wishing each track had contained such a solo. He’s also noted, in the album’s credits, for his whistling, which is admittedly fantastic! On “Manifest,” for example, he whistles an excellent melody which adds quite a bit to the track.

On the subject of lyrics, unfortunately, My Finest Work Yet stands on shaky ground. There are wonderful moments like early cut, “Bloodless,” which draws much inspiration from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. On the other hand, there’s a handful of pretentious and overall meaningless lyrics all over the album. “Cracking Codes,” and the closer, “Bellevue Bridge Club,” are the worst offenders on this front, packed full of words which say very little.

Another complaint which has dogged this LP since the release of its first singles is just how far out on his sleeve Andrew wears his influences. “Sisyphus,” though enjoyable, could sneak perfectly into any Father John Misty album, which “Olympians,” pulls heavily from early Springsteen efforts. Additionally, “Archipelago,” and “Proxy War,” bare striking resemblance to the work of the Beatles. It isn’t so egregious as to make these tracks unlistenable, and if Andrew were a younger songwriter, I could easily forgive this, but at this stage in his career, it’s frustrating to hear such lack of originality.

The worst offense, without a doubt, is the production, which Bird did himself. Nearly every one of the 10 songs is muddy, lifeless, and flat. Additionally, he seems to have no care for the different tones needed for each track. “Bloodless,” for example, is billed as some mysterious jazz piece, but the instruments are so brightly mixed that all intrigue is gone. The album’s worst track, “Fallorun,” is a jumbled mess which is made infinitely worse by the way each instrument bleeds into one another. This record would have benefitted from a more expert touch behind the board.

Ultimately, My Finest Work Yet is certainly enjoyable. For fans of the growing folk-rock movement, this is a fine listen to hold you over until the next Father John Misty or Fleet Foxes release, but it could’ve been much more. Andrew’s songwriting and instrumental abilities set this album up with a ton of potential, but poor production, a lack of originality, and a very mixed bag of lyrics hold it back.

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

5/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Mystifier Is Back With a Brutal Fourth Album

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

Mystifier is a black/heavy metal band from Salvador, Brazil. They debuted in 1992 with Wicca was a large part of the often overlooked Brazilian metal scene. With a handful of EPs and demos, they began to find some success worldwide and released their second LP, Goetia the following year. This was followed by a large scale tour and quite a bit of critical acclaim before the group split for a long hiatus. They returned in 2008 with their career defining third album The World is So Good That Who Made It Doesn’t Live Here which kicked off yet another large tour followed by yet another long silence as they’ve only sparsely appeared since the release. Sonically, Mystifier is, in many ways, a poster child for the kind of stereotypical, satanic black metal that newer bands only see fit to elude to. Now, after more than a decade off, Mystifier finally returns with Primal Black Magic Dynasty.

One of the album’s most interesting touches are the haunting and well placed atmospheric sounds that begin a few of the tracks. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the horrifying opening to “Witching Lycanthropic Moon,” which melds a wide array of nocturnal animal noises with a gritty, growling vocal to set a listener immediately into the hellscape that Mystifier is trying to create.

Yet another strength unique to Primal Black Magic Dynasty is the very well mixed and played bass guitar. In a genre which consistently struggles with allowing the bass to cut through the fog, Mystifier makes it sound easy. There are fantastic solos on tracks like “Heart Weighing Ceremony,” and “Demolish the Towers of the Sky,” but throughout nearly every song, the bass is not only loud and clear, but active and creative, adding to the dark scenery of the project.

Those scenes are quickly ripped to shreds, however, by the gut-wrenching guitar riffs that populate the album. From the last single and highlight of the entire record, “Six Towers of Belial’s Path,” to the later cut, “Soultrap Sorcery of Vengeance,” the guitars are extremely thick and driving, owing in part to excellent performances and in part to strong production choices. Most importantly, the tone and melody isn’t lost in the growl, but instead a near perfect balance is struck.

Vocally, the leads are about as horrific as one would expect from the gothic horror on the album cover. There’s a pair of vocalists trading lines between each other, one much thinner and piercing, the other lower and cacophonous. Tracks like “Thanatopraxy,” and “Al Nakba,” stand as strong showings for the pair, and while they aren’t perfect at every turn, there’s a power and passion that comes through on each effort.

Instrumentally, though, the most technically demanding parts are left for the drumming. From the opening title track to the later and darker “Church of the Molested Children,” the drumming is lightning fast and explosive. This isn’t uncommon for music in this genre, but it’s especially noticeable on this record.

Their best quality comes when they are all working together. Namely, the dynamic shift from brutal, high speed thrashing to melodic breakdowns and back again on cuts like “Akhenaton,” is exhilarating. Mixing in elements of more traditional heavy metal allows them to create moments that even a casual hard rock fan can enjoy before diving headlong again into the crushing blasts that characterize most black and death metal.

On the other hand, I do have my complaints, which mainly fall into three categories. The first of these is the lead guitar  which almost never seems to fit as none of the solos are particularly impressive and it constantly fails to make its way to the front of the mix. The second is is the instrumental pallet which, though somewhat wide, feels almost like a gimmick outside of the core instrumentation. All of this is made infinitely worse by my third and main complaint, which is extremely poor mixing, particularly in instrumental passages as the drums never quite fit and the rhythm guitar seems to drown out all else.

All this being said, I enjoyed this LP quite a bit. It’s good to hear such an early member of the black metal movement return to the scene with a strong effort.

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

AMAZON LINK:https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Badflower’s Debut is Flawed but Exciting

OK, I’m Sick is imperfect, but a promising start for an exciting new rock band.

Badflower is an alt-rock four piece from Los Angeles, California. They signed with Hundred Handed Records in 2014 and released their debut single, “Soap,” the following year. They began touring as an opening act for The Veronicas in Europe and gained quite a buzz within the industry. This eventually lead to their being approached by Republic Records who began a complicated discussion of buying their contract out from Hundred Hands. Frustrated with this process, Badflower took to their garage to record and self-produce their debut EP, Temper. The project was extremely successful with singles charting in the top 40, larger crowds attending their shows, and a few spots in rock festivals across the country. After building an impressive following, especially in the difficult landscape of current alt-rock music, Badflower has finally released their debut LP, OK I’M SICK.

From the very start of the record, it’s clear that the instrumentation is a driving force behind Badflower’s sound. Guitarist Joey Morrow drops quite a few impressive riffs across the album from the opener, “x ANA x,” to “Die,” on the latter half of the LP, he benefits quite a bit from a thick, fuzzy effects that allows the guitar work to cut to the front of each song. On top of this, his riffs and solos are not only impressively performed, but extremely listenable and well written.

This is also true for Alex Aspiritu on bass. While much of the bass work on the album serves to add depth to the already powerful instrumental pallet, it also has a few moments in the spotlight. On by far the best cut of the record, “Heroine,” or on a track like “Wide Eyes,” the bass not only plays its own interesting melody, but when the full instrumental falls back, its often the bass guitar that carries the track. I’ve said before that the sign of a great rock band is their bass player, and Aspritu does excellent work on this album.

There’s also some great songwriting on this album. This is especially true in the melody department, as tracks like “The Jester,” and “Ghost,” feature earworm choruses without sacrificing the overall edge of the album. In a modern music landscape that isn’t exactly friendly to rock music, the ability to write a strong chorus and hook is extremely important and luckily, it’s a skill that Badflower seems to posses.

Perhaps a bit less noticeable, however, is the lyrical quality of many of these tracks. “Daddy,” for example, deals in difficult subject matter with an admirably unflinching hand, translating much of the discomfort caused by the story into relentlessly honest writing. “Girlfriend,” on the other hand, is an old school, blues cut with comical lyrics that mirror the punk energy that comes with the instrumentals.

All this being said, Okay, I’m Sick ultimately lives and dies by Josh Katz’ vocal work, which is, for the most part, excellent. There are clear influences from the likes of Gerard Way and Jack White, but he makes the sound his own with emotive delivery and a manic energy lifted straight from the pop-punk days of the early 2000’s. On a track like “Murder Games,” he’s able to stand out above a raucous band. The closer, “Cry,” on the other hand, sees Josh carrying a much longer track as one of the most dynamic and interesting elements.

The shortcomings on the record can be narrowed down to one specific area and that is production. There is a depressing multitude of songs, namely “We’re in Love,” “Promise Me,” or “24,” that are all but ruined by the mixing and production. The majority of the problem is characterized by an insistence on sanding down every hard edge across the entire album. It sucks the life out nearly every cut and robs several tracks of any energy.

Despite this, OK, I’m Sick is a largely enjoyable experience. It hits many of the best points of alt-rock and emo-rock but injects enough melody and energy to make the record accessible to fans outside the genre.

OK, I’m Sick is imperfect, but a promising start for an exciting new rock band.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2HcppUD

CLASSIX REVIEW: Extreme’s Pornograffitti

Pornograffitti is an infinitely listenable and technically marvelous album that still holds up to this day, nearly 30 years later.

Extreme is a hard rock band from Boston Massachusetts. They’re generally considered one of the later members of the 80’s hair metal movement, though the majority of their success came in the 1990’s and saw them mixing elements of alternative and grunge rock into their work.   They debuted in 1989 with a self-titled LP after signing with A&M Records. The album found some mild success in the US and was enough to justify a follow up the following year, originally titled Extreme II: Pornograffitti, but eventually shortened to simply Pornograffitti. The album’s leading singles struggled to gain traction, as did the album upon initial release, but after the band released “More Than Words,” as a single, only to have it jet to number one on the billboard charts, they took off in the mainstream. Pornograffitti went double platinum receiving near universal acclaim, and for good reason.

While the album is obviously dripping with hair metal indulgence, there’s an often understated amount of genre crossing as well. “Get the Funk Out,” features a full horn section and heavy funk and Motown influences, while “When I First Kissed You,” is a Sinatra-esque croon that, while slightly tongue in cheek, hits most of the beats of the genre. The album as a whole utilizes musical tricks like syncopation from outside the metal genre to give the songs a more danceable quality.

There’s also a fairly large instrumental pallet on this album. “Li’l Jack Horny,” brings brass instrumentation into the fold in a more subtle way than “Get the Funk Out,” by using the power to bolster the guitar on the choruses. Additionally, the acoustic guitar on the closer, “Hole Hearted,” is an excellent change of pace at the end of the fairly long runtime.

Lyrically, there’s a certain sardonic comedy in much of Extreme’s writing that is somewhat ahead of its time. “When I’m President,” for example, is darkly comical, playing the large problems faced by the world as small and easily solved issues. The plan laid out for peace in the Middle East is particularly hilarious. “Money,” on the other hand, mocks the modern materialist culture quite effectively, especially with the tooth fairy skit intro.

The bass and drums, while often ignored when discussing this record, are actually quite excellent. On some of less flashy cuts like “Suzi,” or “It,” it really becomes clear that Paul Geary and Pat Badger are giving it there all on drums and bass respectively. The drums are relatively simple but perfectly mixed and explosively played, while the bass is rattling and adds a lot by simply following the guitar riffs.

Of course, Gary Cherone’s vocal work just can’t be ignored. On each of the 13 tracks, he really lays it all out in each performance, creating an exciting experience. Not only is he able to absolutely wail on songs like the title track, where his efforts rival that of even the best long-haired, metal icons from the 80’s, but he’s extremely versatile. On a song like “More Than Words,” it’s precisely Cherone’s ability to switch gears that makes it all work.

Above all this, however, Pornograffitti is an absolute master class of electric guitar from one of the best instrumentalists who ever lived, Nuno Bettencourt. Of course there are face-melting solos on nearly every track, one of my favorites of which comes near the end on “Song for Love,” but Nuno’s true talent comes in laying of extremely complex and lightning fast riffs across every song. Tracks like the opener, “Decadence Dance,” or my personal favorite piece, “He-Man Woman Hater,” live and die by Bettencourt’s excellent ear for melody and his undeniable ability to deliver each riff with precision and excitement.

As it nears its 30th anniversary, Extreme’s sophomore effort is every bit as incredible as it was on release. It’s drenched in 80’s attitude and indulgence while simultaneously featuring some of the most proficient and creative instrumental work of the 1990’s. The release fell at an odd time for rock music, just months before the grunge movement would take shock the world and transform the rock landscape, and because of this, it is all too often forgotten. It shouldn’t be.

Pornograffitti is an infinitely listenable and technically marvelous album that still holds up to this day, nearly 30 years later.

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2EjHq16

Xiu Xiu’s Newest Release is Hellish and Fascinating

Girl with Basket of Fruit is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you can brave this hellscape of an album, the reward is well worth your time.

Xiu Xiu is an American experimental rock outfit from San Jose, California. They debuted in 2002 with Knife Play and have gone on to release 13 studio albums with rarely a year going by without a Xiu Xiu release. Few have charted, though their Record Store Day special, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks hit number nine on the US heat charts. By and large, their work has been largely underground, though they’ve built a respectable cult fan base. David Espinoza compared their sound to a mixture of Robert Smith and Trent Reznor while Pitchfork noted a “continual poetic and romantic beauty,” in their lyricism.

Sonically, Xiu Xiu is hard to place, not the least because each of their albums vary widely in style and influence. The majority of their work can largely be placed under umbrella groupings like industrial rock, noise pop, and experimental psych, each of which do describe some aspect of what’s happening on a Xiu Xiu record. Most importantly, their manic energy, massive pallet, and disregard for traditional rules of music make for an unpredictable and unique experience. Girl With Basket of Fruit is their most recent effort and it’s the darkest and most crushing to date.

From the first moments of the album, it’s pummeling and horrific soundscape becomes extremely clear. The opener and title track features abrasive loops of electronic instrumentation at a breakneck tempo while “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy” sounds like a soundtrack to a hellish rave with grating, high pitched tones setting a quick pace which melts away into bizarre breakdowns that will likely sound alien to even the most dedicated fans of experimental music.

There are clear looks to the past of experimental music with tracks like “It Comes Out as a Joke,” utilizing the kind of manic chaos that characterized the most insane works of artists like Captain Beefheart and Jim Morrison. Meanwhile, “The Wrong Thing,” is reminiscent of the haunting, experimental jazz works of David Bowie’s final releases.

On the other hand, the sound pallet of this album contains a fascinating duality between past and future. Take a song like “Ice Cream Truck,” for example, where futuristic lasers and hisses are intercut with guttural growls from unknown creatures, only to dissolve into a dancing baseline played on upright bass, the recording of which is left almost raw. “Scisssssssors,” on the other hand, mixes a rolling collection of latin-inspired drums and a few chilling screams with synth squeals and low, rumbling buzzes. This imbalance is fascinating and contributes to the overall sense of unease this album creates.

This sense is made far stronger by some of the most unnerving lyrics in recent memory. “Amargi ve Moo,” seem to be written by a man so unhinged from reality that he speaks on of horrendous ideas with a poetic beauty which permeates even his descriptions of collecting tumors and beheading saints. On the other hand, “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” recounts the true story of the appalling murder and forced abortion of a Southern black woman in the early 20th century with such unbridled honestly that I’ve genuinely never been more disturbed by a piece of writing.

As excellent as the album is, it seems to stumble just a bit at the finish line. The closer, “Normal Love,” has a lot going for it, namely intriguing vocal performances and well written lyrics, but the relatively simple chord progression and many of the more cliched vocal ad libs in the background completely kill the momentum of the record thus far. The song also lacks some of the cohesion that made earlier cuts so fantastic.

Regardless, Girl with Basket of Fruit is absolutely incredible. Every second of the project is daring and spellbinding. It reaches some of the darkest lyrical places I’ve ever heard a record go,  and it gets there with mind-boggling instrumentation and production.

Girl with Basket of Fruit is certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you can brave this hellscape of an album, the reward is well worth your time.

9/10

Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2X8UrSM

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.