The Flotsam & Jetsam train has been rollin’ since way back in 85 and once included the mighty Jason Newsted, until Metallica poached him and made him a musical indentured servant to their inflated egos and group dysfunctions. Since then, they’ve had a lengthy career with a few successes, but they’ve also served as poster boys for the dreaded Law of Diminishing Returns. A series of listless, sub par albums alienated many of their fans and at times, their recorded output smacked of a band simply going through the motions. 2011s The Cold was surprisingly good and made me wonder if they could make a real comeback. With the release of Ugly Noise (which was self-financed by way of PledgeMusic), it seems certain there will be no return to the salad days of their Arizona thrash supremacy. When a band with a career spanning almost 30 years and 10 records under their belt has to rely on PledgeMusic, it says something quite dubious about them or the music industry as a whole, I won’t speculate which. Regardless, despite the line up from the well-regarded Cuatro opus reuniting for this one, Ugly Noise is a big leap backwards from The Cold and its loaded with bland, uninspired tunes that straddle the line between hard rock and tepid metal. Apart from a few decent tracks, this thing is a real let-down and feels directionless and empty…like so much ugly noise.
First things first, Ugly Noise does NOT see Flotzilla revisiting the days of such thrash glory as No Place for Disgrace. No, sir, this is watered down metal mixed with watered down hard rock with only a few flare ups of speed sprinkled here and there as an afterthought. The title track is kind of dark, a little bit gritty, and has mid-tempo, chugging thrash riffing fading in and out. There’s no real energy to be found though and the chorus falls totally flat, despite Eric A.K.’s best efforts to ply the listener with his still solid pipes. It’s just a total flatline of a song. “Gitty Up” increases the tempo, but it sounds like a goofy mash-up of the Dead Kennedys version of “Rawhide” and the ever shameful Flotsam cover of Elton John‘s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Other songs like “Carry On,” “Rage,” “Cross the Sky” and “I Believe” are so nondescript and bland, they could almost invent a whole new genre called Cardboard Metal.
In fairness, there are a few decent, if not exceptional cuts scattered about. “Run and Hide” incorporates electronica and muted riffing to create an effectively grim, ominous vibe as Mr. A.K. lends an extra emotional performance and manages to bring in a bit of Operation Mindcrime flavor to the proceedings (for which, I’m sure Geoff Tate will spit on him muchly). “Play Your Part” works by mining the same dark mood and A.K. stretches his vocal range a bit to good effect. “Rabbit’s Foot” is light-hearted but manages to be catchy and memorable in a quasi-country rock way. Lastly, “To Be Free” feels like a (slight) return to the days when they thought they were the next Metallica and the urgency to the riffing is refreshing, if only because its adrift in a veritable sea of dullness.
Of the performances here, A.K. fares the best. He was never one of my favorite singers, but he has an above average range and when he wants, he can still belt it out. Less remarkable is the guitar work from Edward Carlson and Michael Gilbert. Though the duo has chops and shows it here and there, much of the riffing is boring and overly simplistic, without much to hook in the listener. There are some interesting solo flourishes here and there (1:30 on “Giddy Up,” the solo and riffing in “Play Your Part”), but they can’t redeem the overall blandness of the playing.
Now, about this PledgeMusic thing. I don’t know what brought them to use this DIY/donational funding gadget largely used by unknowns, and I readily admit to being surprised a band at their level of notoriety would do so. If they did it to escape the bullshit and politics of the music industry, then bully for them! If they did it obtain more creative freedom to pursue the sound and style they wanted, I support it, despite the shitty results. If however, they did it out of desperation or real need, perhaps that should’ve been a sign their time in the sun has faded into the gloaming. I know if I was an “investor” in Ugly Noise, I would have some serious questions for the Board of Directors when the annual shareholder meeting was convened.
After getting me to entertain vague hopes of a Flots renaissance with The Cold, they’ve effectively slammed the door on the fingers of my expectations with this filler-infested dud. Looks like you can’t go home again, be it Arizona or metallic respectability, and that sad, broken down piano on the cover is far more telling than the band knows. Somewhere in the desert, Flotzilla is digging a hole.