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Ashes Divide: Band, or Solo Project?

April 24, 2008 Leave a comment

I have to admit, when I first heard that Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle was working on new music for a new band, I was excited. In fact, the idea is still exciting, considering the people he has working on his new album, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright by Ashes Divide. Danny Lohner, Josh Freese, Devo Keenan, Alan Moulder, Paz Lenchantin… wait. Wait, wait, wait. This is another A Perfect Circle album, right?*

Well, yes and no.

At first listen it sounds much like Howerdel’s former band. But for most of the tracks on the album, the guitars are heavily subdued, and Maynard James Keenan’s darker vocals have been replaced by Billy’s own brilliantly keening tenor. For what it’s worth, the band sounds almost as much like 30 Seconds to Mars or Abandoned Pools (another Freese studio drumming project) as it does APC. While I appreciate the amazing musicianship on the album, and the production, and, well, everything but the songwriting, it can’t hold up with his better work.

The most disappointing part of the album is the frightening similarity all the songs have to each other. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the guitars are buried in the mix. Buried. The layers of reverb, delay, synth pads, and vocal processing gets in the way of the harmonic content of the songs, especially on the first half of the record. While Billy’s pitch-perfect vocals rise above and give the songs melodic flair, the entirety of the album seems so homogeneous that it’s difficult to tell one track from another. Therefore one has to wade through the washes of atmospherics to decipher the lyrics, because they’re really the only way to tell the songs apart.

The album does have some shining moments, though. I think that “A Wish” and “Ritual” are two of the best songs that have come out of Howerdel’s brain. And there’s the lead single, “The Stone,” which is easily the most single-like song on the album, and, unfortunately, one of the two remotely heavy songs on this outing. “The Prey” is the other, and sounds almost like Prong in the intro riff and structure. The album closer, “Sword,” is a good condensation of the album.

But, sadly, the lack of real variety on the album keeps it from being a truly great release. I’m hoping that the sales for it are high enough to allow Howerdel to keep churning out releases, though, because I like the direction he’s heading in, but not necessarily the execution. So I guess that’s a plea for you to go out and get Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, if only to support a dude posing as a group so that maybe he can actually get the group together and get some outside input on his albums.

*So you don’t have to look those names up, they’re all people he’s worked with in A Perfect Circle.

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Tool’s 10,000 Days: The Proper Review

May 2, 2006 Leave a comment

The short and sweet:

A Perfect Circle + the best and worst of Tool’s 1st four albums = 10,000 Days.

Before I get to the details, I want to get one thing out of the way right now: Tool are trying their damnedest to win another “Best Pacakaging” Grammy. The lenticular case of 1996’s Aenima won them one, and I thought that Lateralus deserved one, too. But this… this is just too much. The coolness of the 3D imaging is completely overridden by the freakish ugliness of the package itself. Also, I’m lead to wonder how many people would have figured out the gimmick if it weren’t for the notes in the packaging. I did. But many more Tool fans are complete morons. (Ironic, I think.)

But anyway, on to the music.

“Vicarious” is still pretty ho-hum to me. “Jambi” is a fantastic song minus one thing: the damn TalkBox effect. I hate the TalkBox. Everything it’s used on automatically sounds like Bon Jovi. Especially when it’s pushed out front in the mix. It’s a good thing the bassline during that solo is a million times better than the guitar line. Both halves of “Wings for Marie” are very good, possibly some of the best work Tool has ever done. It’s a bit like “Parabol/a” from Lateralus, or perhaps a more thoughtful version of “Third Eye”. But it’s very good. The effects on “The Pot” are quite unusual, although the lyric is very much akin to “Hooker with a Penis”. “Rosetta Stoned” and “Right in Two” are both good ol’ Tool songs.

The thing that irritates me about this album (aside from the production, which I’ll get to) is that the motion that Tool usually has is almost nonexistant in some places. They are masters of dynamics, yet most of it seems either slow and open or tight and rockin’. The only place where they’re really at the top of their form, artistically, is “Wings”. The segue tracks, like those on Aenima, are ultimately filler. One last word on the actual tracks: “Viginti Tres” is unusual. The vocal sounds like a dream I had once. A very disturbing one. But that’s a personal aside.

Production-wise, this album sounds like A Perfect Circle made a Tool album. Where Lateralus was open and atmospheric, 10,000 Days is claustrophobic and… pristine. The mix itself sounds similar to Undertow, but with more clarity. Justin Chancellor’s bass tone is ridiculously good. The biggest thing that annoys me, overall, is the compression of the record. The dynamics are crushed too much to give them any real impact. You’re not going to get the volume swell from “Parabol/a” here, nor the crushing heaviness after the bridge of “Ticks and Leeches”.

I’ve always been a fan of Tool’s arty-er persuits, but it seems to me that they’re making Tool’s Greatest Hits now. There’s some good moments on this album–great even. But it’s so bogged down with its own pretention that it’s a little irritating. I’ve listened to it probably half a dozen (or more) times, and I will say this: it takes some getting used to. It’s not because it’s dense, a la Lateralus, or because it’s overtly emotional, like Undertow, no, there’s a quality to this album that I can’t describe, and I think it’s just because I’ve never encountered an album like this before… but I’ve heard a few that are similar.

Very similar.

Why Maynard Maybe SHOULDN’T Do Side Projects

April 16, 2006 Leave a comment

inre: New Tool single, “Vicarious”

Vedict: alright. Not the best song they’ve done, very “typical” Tool. Maynard’s lyrics are kinda trite, and the vocal style is more like A Perfect Circle than Tool. I’ve heard that they were going to bury the vocals under the instrumentation in the mix, and to a point that’s true. I think with every album, the drums get further and further out front, burying everything else. Mind you, Danny Carey kicks 110% ass, but I really wish I was getting more guitar. The whole thing seems like it’s missing that. Even the more “solo” moments seem buried under the super-out-front drums and bass.

Also, since this is the first single, I’m thinking they went with the same formula as “Schism”, because that’s what it sounds the most like. In fact, it sounds like what I would think APC would play if they wrote “Schism”.

Having said that, though, it seems that they’ve managed to combine the more “metal” moments of Undertow–and, to a lesser extent, Opiate–with the dynamic and more “crushing” sound of Lateralus. But I think everything sounds too tight, too dry. Whereas with Lateralus there was an atmosphere, a feel to the record, this just sounds like A Perfect Circle 3.0. While the there’s some neat syncopation at the end, and Adam whips out some pretty killer arpeggioes at the end, I don’t know how much I really like this song. It doesn’t have the dynamic range that I think it really should, but that may be due to internet compression. I can’t make a final judgement until the album release, but if it sounds like this, I hope the rest of the album is a hell of a lot better, because this is just average. Granted, average for Tool is amazing for most bands, but I’m just not terribly impressed.

Incidentally, that weird thing that sorta sounds like a shaker in the intro and breakdown is actually a Mandala drum pad, made by the guy at Synesthesia and developed with Danny Carey. I suggest checking out the videos of that thing in action. Technology = go.