As a dumb 16 year-old I turned away from bands when the glass-shattering high notes that were a trademark of many vocalists went the way of the dinosaur, either by design or age inducing the testicles to drop. As a dumb 35 year-old, Alan Tecchio raved to me about Flotsam and Jetsam‘s then new album, 2010’s The Cold. As one of my favorite metal vocalists (Hades, Non-Fiction, Watchtower, Silent Assassins), Alan’s word was bond, James Bond, so I picked it up. At first listen it made me turn my Fruit of the Looms into a fudge factory. I loved the album so much, I helped crowdfund the followup, 2012’s Ugly Noise. It arrived. I put on a Depends and hit play. Unfortunately (fortunate for the wife since she does the laundry) my bowels didn’t vacate. The crap was coming out of the speakers instead of my sphincter. It took several desperate listens to find something to love. Despite some cool moments, overall the songwriting was repetitive to the point that a three minute song like “Gitty Up” played like the Manowar‘s 28-minute “Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy” without all the ridiculous majesty.
Stench of disappointment still fresh, I signed on to review their new self-titled album with a heart half full of hope. I am happily embarrassed to report that opener “Seventh Seal” gave me a turtle head. Menacing and melodic, carved from the metal subconscious by new guitarist Steve Conley, the intro and verse spoke to all old school in me in a modern metal voice. Then the chorus hit and that head retracted right back into its shell. While AK sounds good as ever, the repetition smacks of a lack of inspiration or, worse, downright laziness. I was worried for what the rest of the album would hold.
Straightforward grooving thrasher “Life is a Mess” follows and is a big step in the right direction, but it’s on “Taser” that they really touch on majesty with a great choral part reminiscent of “Run and Hide,” one of Ugly Noise‘s few redeeming sections. Between that and the chorus of “Creeper,” alone, AK makes up for any shortcomings and perhaps Limp Bizkit‘s entire discography. “Iron Maiden,” stands out not only because of good marketing sense, but for taking Maiden-ish harmonies and jacking them up like Lemmy on his beloved meth. The chorus of “Monkey Wrench,” on the other hand almost rivals “Gitty Up.” Repetition is a songwriting technique, but it’s easy to go to Rhymer and come up with a second line that isn’t essentially a repeat of the first, especially for a man clearly capable of doing so. If I want an annoying ear worm I’ll listen to Anvil is Anvil again.
“Verge Of Tragedy” and “L.O.T.D.” are two displays of what is spectacular herein. The former a dense, multilayered beast that stands aside “Take” as one of their most gutwrenching songs and the latter a prime example of straightforward thrash. In the passage that follows bass and drums grind fiercely underneath a simple, aching guitar melody before tearing back into the groove, then stopping on the edge of a dime. Returning bassist Michael Spencer unleashes a insanely frenetic yet grooving riff but plays it for less than 30 seconds. As a bassist myself, and a fan, I kind of want to punch him in the mouth for having that kind of writing restraint, but it has the impact of an F5 tornado tearing through a trailer park. The man is a major rager on the four string motherfucker with a bass sound so good somebody oughta put it on a plate and sop it up with a biscuit. Poached from the reunited and infuckingcredible Toxik, Jason Bittner may be best known for his work with Shadows Fall, but as a full timer in F&J he establishes himself by playing in service of the song and not to showcase.
Flotsam‘s 12th full-length is a fine representation of their career. While there may be a few missteps the journey is still very much worth taking with plenty of old school metal that never sounds old. With new Anthrax and Megadeth albums that don’t suck, a new Death Angel that couldn’t possibly suck, threats of a new Metallica album that will surely suck, and now this solid platter, 2016 is going to be a banner fucking year of thrash at the old Bender household. Hey, smoke up, Johnny!