Friday, 7 August 2009

Tomahawk - s/t (2001)

As I have been stuck on taut, hot n' heavy post-hardcore and so-called 'alternative' metal of the experimental variety, I intend to celebrate this in the next few posts. The supergroup Tomahawk starts this little thread with their self-titled debut album. The following posts will be the defining albums of the various members' careers, something like a jigsaw puzzle of excellence, but first you're getting a bird's eye view of the overall picture.

This 'supergroup' of mavericks who originally came to fame in the late 80's is:
Mike Patton on vox, synths and devices: ex-Faith No More/Mr. Bungle and one-man sonic army in his own right, this is his baby and was released on his Ipecac Recordings label;
Duane Denison, groundbreaking guitarist from the Jesus Lizard, creates a musical backing of tension/release, weird spaces and time signatures that I've never heard matched;
John Stanier: ex-Helmet, unorthodox and jaw-dropping drummer for one of the most influential bands of the 90's;
and finally bassist Kevin Rutmanis of devastating sludge metal pioneers the Melvins. Sludge metal is the down-tuned dirge of doom metal combined with hardcore punk, incidentally. =)

Combined, it's quite a tour-de-force. Like all of the members' former projects, this music is not just about simply making a racket, but breaking new ground in an area of music that has a history of pushing the boundaries - this is something that perhaps needs to be explained to those uninducted into the wonderful world of metal.

Mike Patton is widely respected and renowned for a prolific output and his seemingly endless stream of collaborations, but what will really astound the first-time listener is his vocal diversity. 'The man of a thousand voices', he utilises a good few hundred of them on this album, from guttural death metal grunts and eerie falsetto to inhaled shrieks and banshee howls... And that's just the parts he sings. There's also the numerous overdubbed noises, treated vocal nuances and chants that are so standard for a Patton record you forget just how unusual they actually are... In short Patton sets the standard for Tomahawk, their sound is incredibly eclectic and unique, displaying many a non-metal influence, and showing a disregard for conformity that is all part 'n' parcel of the true experimental/'alternative metal' tag.
Just compare it to the popular Billboard 100 'nu-metal' of the time, which was essentially a castrated and codified regime of hip-hop-over-metal... How did those guys look at themselves in the mirror every morning knowing there were albums like this out there?

^ Auteur in the theatre of noise

The 'metal' tag is perhaps misleading, as Tomahawk really straddles the divide between metal subgenres and alternative rock. There are no quiet/loud dynamic clichés but it's certainly all over the place, and is definitely the most well-rounded and memorable of the three excellent Tomahawk albums to date. While the album is more focused that the progressive genreric fruit-machine of Patton's first band Mr. Bungle, it's still impossible to pigeonhole from song to song, and that's one of it's great pleasures. For me, as a big fan of Denison's style of guitar playing, this album is a wet dream, coming off sounding a bit like one of the classic Jesus Lizard albums being properly duffed-over by one of my fave vocalists and given 'the Patton treatment'.

There is a common thread, apart from the reliable ability of the band members to confound and surprise, in that Tomahawk is a loose concept album about a serial killer. The only songs that explicitly state this though are the first two tracks: 'Flashback' concerns the protagonist undergoing memory retrieval and '101 North' is about a highway abduction. The other tracks seem to be mostly related to traumatic, regressed memories of the killer's past and his acts of murder. I'll leave it up to you to work out!

It's at variable bitrate and sounds just hunky-dory:
They made you wear a dress did they?

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