Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Walk Against The Wind

Tomahawk – Anonymous

I'm a big fan of most of Mike Patton's projects but Tomahawk stands above the rest for their incredible evocation of mood and inventive compositions. Their first album is comfortably one of my favourites of all time. The followup, Mit Gas, was a slight disappointment although it did contain three or four tracks of truly superb quality. I've waited patiently many years for a third album, as it developed slowly in the background while the band members attended to more pressing commitments. Patton's first priority is currently Peeping Tom, drummer John Stanier has found modest success with his other band Battles (more on them from me in the not too distant future), bassist Kevin Rutmanis was kicked out of the band at the same time as he was booted from The Melvins (rumour has it because of drug abuse; at least it wasn't to go and play for Coheed and Cambria) and guitarist/songwriter Duane Denison has other projects on the go as well.

Anonymous was composed by the band members by mail, without any of them actually meeting face to face and it shows, as the performances lack cohesion and polish (doing things this way is not always a bad thing mind you, c.f. Lateralus). It feels as if the band members (especially Denison) all did their best but were let down by a lack of time and energy to devote to this project while they were all so occupied with others. It's a pity because the composition and the concept are genuinely inspired. All the tracks on this album are arrangements (by Denison) of obscure traditional Native American songs. It's a great idea and it's a pity the band wasn't able to deliver it as effectively as they could.

The lack of attention shows in the album art too. Anonymous comes in a nice package with some decent art, but it's nowhere near as impressive as the mysterious, chilling depictions that decorate the debut or Mit Gas, which is as beautiful an artefact as I've ever seen a CD case fashioned into.

Despite these complaints this is still a very good album. It opens with a pentet of great tracks. 'War Song' opens the album with my favourite prelude gimmick, a deep, deep bass drone, complimented by Patton's ominous chanting. 'Mescal Rite I' and 'Red Fox' are typical tracks for the album, showing off the ingenuity of Denison's ability to take traditional music and, without altering the melodies, turn it into an alt metal song. 'Cradle Song' would appear from the title and Patton's lyrics to be a lullaby, although what baby would sleep to a song this dark and creepy I can't imagine. Nevertheless it is a wonderfully atmospheric piece, as is 'Ghost Song', which showcases Stanier's drumming, revealing his excellent sense of mood that is never shown in his manic performances for Battles.

The album hits a bit of a low point with the subsequent tracks 'Antelope Ceremony' and 'Song of Victory', which don't find any interesting way to interpret their source material and the lifelessness that sometimes afflicts what should be a truly great album is prevalent here.

Fortunately they are succeeded by the beautiful 'Omaha Dance', a soaring, upbeat epic, and 'Sun Dance', which is the highlight of the album even just for the moment when the band drops from an eerie, subdued, wordless verse into full funk metal mode with Mike Patton gibbering an ecstatic, joyous tribute to dancing in the sun. If the whole album were this good it could blow even their past discography out of the water.

The rest of the album is perfectly satisfying, although nothing stands out againstthe great songs that precede, but they serve to offer further opportunities to marvel at the ingenuity of Denison's arrangements, which retain the authentic feel of their source material while fully integrating them into a rock context.

I hope this band still has a future and that on the next album they are able to lavish it with the attention it deserves, because they really are one of the best bands active today. Here's hoping that they get together once more and tour for this album too, because (a) they are the best live band I've ever seen and (b) it would be great to hear these songs performed with the energy they lack on the album.

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