One of my favorite bands is Tool, and for the love of all that’s good and pure put an album out already, boys! Okay, we know it isn’t happening soon, so we must clutch and grab at every band that shows up flying the Tool flag. Last year Source surprised us with a great record, loved by our own Zephyrus. Vangough strides forth this month with similar aspirations. Warpaint is the trio’s fourth studio album, and third overall to feature a rabbit on the cover. I mention that only because rabbit covers are weird. I mean, what normal band uses rabbits? But I digress. Let’s get to it, and see what these rabbit-lovers can pull out of their hats.
“Morphine” starts Warpaint off in a rather odd fashion, with a meandering, discordant intro leading into a fuzz-drenched, lurching riff. Is this prog metal or sludgy doom? Two minutes into the track it grinds to a halt, replaced with airy vocals and wispy guitars. Vocalist/guitarist Clay Withrow seems to be heavily influenced by Maynard James Keenan and Daniel Gildenlow, with the timbre and tone of the former and the emotion of the latter soaking into his delivery. He’s got a compelling style, which makes the odd intro even less relevant –after a dozen listens, I’m convinced “Morphine” would be a stronger song without the intro. But another odd aspect of the song is the death growls at the six-minute mark. They appear nowhere else on the album, and aren’t worth writing home about. The good thing about them is they lead into a pure Tool riff that closes out the song. All told, a puzzling, uneven, yet enticing start.
Thankfully, most other songs on this seven-song, 52-minute outing aren’t as confused about themselves. “Dust” is a moody cross (as most of Warpaint is) between Pain of Salvation and Tool. The arrangement, courtesy of Withrow and bassist Jeren Martin, keeps us engaged throughout as the vocals and music gradually intensify over Kyle Haws’ rhythmic tom rolls. Much like “Morphine,” the song ends with a jagged Tool riff with great guitar tone. “The Suffering” charges out with pummeling double-bass and a galloping riff which morphs into true heavy prog via an odd time signature before dropping into an acoustic verses, and then back to the gallop. “Knell” is a foreboding number that builds throughout its six minutes without following conventional song structure. Plenty of dynamics reside within all these cuts.
The most visible misstep on Warpaint is “Till Nothing’s Left,” which comes across as heartland rock and is so far off base compared to the rest of the album that, were it not for the overall sound, I would have sworn this was another band playing. Aside from the excellent guitar solo that closes out the song, including it was a huge mistake, and is an example for other bands not to follow: don’t include filler, even if you’re short on songs. Luckily that’s as bad as it gets: the production is thick and full of substance. Vocals are well produced and sit in the mix right where they should be. Individual instruments all have excellent sound as well, and the three musicians’ chops hold up under scrutiny. Really, Vangough have put together a great sounding record.
Vangough are definitely onto something here, and it seems a bit strange to me that they don’t have label backing yet, four albums in. Think a grittier Pain of Salvation, or earthier Tool, with songwriting just a step behind those bands, and you’ve got an idea of what they’re all about. The missteps aren’t completely awful on Warpaint, but with only seven songs they can prove costly. I can’t locate info on who produced this, but with a firmer guiding hand helping the band out with song choice and editing, I have a feeling they could produce a real gem.