Mark Deutrom’s new project is a bizarre mix of chilled-out psychedelic jazz and experimental metal, a combination which so often threatens to bore outright, to reduce metalheads to frustrated tears and disgust, or confuse beret-wearing jazz fanatics.
But here it works; it’s carried off with a certain moxie, but also manages to be tasteful and non-invasive. This is an album which bridges a gap between the two disciplines, challenging listeners of both yet remaining accessible.
This album comes at a time when jazz and metal seem weirdly friendly. As metal develops its technical chops ever further, it has become synonymous with ‘strict discipline’, allowing bands such a Brain Drill to flourish. In addition to the rise of djent’s focus on harmony as well as experimentation, a few of the more core jazz records no longer seem out-of-place among a metalhead’s collection. Arguably, they never did to the open-minded listener, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich being staples in the collection of any self-respecting drummer and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew featuring in the annals of many a collection. But with Tosin Abasi forming T.R.A.M. as an aside to the madly technical Animals As Leaders, the bridge between the two has never seemed shorter.
Admittedly, I am far more qualified to analyse metal influences than I am jazz. This seems, to my ears, to have a huge melting-pot of jazz reference points; the intertwining world percussion and trumpets of A Shaky Rabbit have an upbeat energy, whilst the atonal metal, or disturbing jazz, of 20-minute opus and opener Dick Cheney has a free-jazz feel. The chilled-if-creepy mellow guitar and keyboard textures of Winter Haystacks at Twilight feels Radiohead-y, washed-out cymbals rooting it in jazz and providing a foil to the jarring, challenging tracks. The obvious comparison is to similar Melvins side-project Fantomas (also featuring ex-Melvins Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn, who are now involved in Tomahawk), though this is lacking the manic energy and the unpredictability that Patton’s legendary frontman status brings. This is more architectural, less raw and more worked-out. This is a Fantomas album smoking a pipe and cringing at its old Bebo profile.
It’s more than a jazz album or a ‘greatest hits’ of jazz with a metal aesthetic. It’s as much for jazz fans looking to expand their tastes into metal as it is the reverse. It’s an interesting balance between the two, and whilst it may never satisfy people seeking bizarre grindcore and free jazz fusions (John Zorn’s Painkiller is a must if Sensuality left you cold) it’ll provide interesting listening for the discerning jazz fan.
To summarise, albums like this depend on the listener’s attention span; this is a worthy album for anyone looking to expand their tastes. It’s not too artsy – I was fearing an hour of discordant noise, a vanity project for a musician who had eschewed melody for lofty pretentiousness.
Instead the listener is rewarded for their diligence with beautiful textures, haunting melodies and carefully constructed passages. A mature and respectable effort.