What makes concept records ‘successful’? The expectations attached to them are never merely about the music alone. Much like musicals and operas, they transcend the genres they’re based on and approach the programmatic. But is it the originality and immersiveness of the concept, the quality of the accompanying music, or an intermedial dimension and interaction between the two that defines them the most? While this is an interesting discussion better suited for a different place and time, it is rendered completely moot in the context of Legend of the Seagullmen, the eponymous début by the “supergroup” lead by film director Jimmy Hayward and featuring Mastodon’s Brent Hinds and Tool’s Danny Carey. Because whichever of the album’s elements or combination of elements one chooses to evaluate, the verdict is clear: this is a shipwreck.
Yet the start of this “nautical spaghetti Western” is promising. Evocative sounds like the bellowing chimes of church bells, the creaks of a ship’s deck boards, the whooshes and whispers of sea and wind make for a remarkably cinematic opening. It sets the stage for what could have been an exciting, waggish yet serious rock opera about mystical oceanic creatures—seagull men, Godzilla-sized deep-sea divers, and troubled orcas—and their outrageous adventures. The introductory “We Are the Seagullmen,” which will turn out be one of the highlights, barely fits this description. The tune leads with eery electric organ lines, a solid guitar riff, and Carey’s controlled but engaging drumming. The song is in general competent and catchy, despite or thanks to its simplified, on-the-nose chorus. But this dream of a captivating concept backed by enjoyable music is soon dispelled by a series of loosely connected vignettes which fail to balance the whimsical with the macabre and which are accompanied by a ho-hum mixture of alternative, hard, and prog rock. The formula is ever so simple and from song to song the band entertains short, undercooked ideas that are often anchored by one or two dull riffs, a worn out hook, or big but not good choruses.
From “The Fogger” and “Shipswreck” onwards the album becomes an ordeal, culminating in the tedious ballad “Curse of the Ride Tide.” The concept itself, as mentioned, is encouraging if not truly original—the ocean has always been a source of inspiration, fear, and mystery—but thinly spread through the 38 minutes and detached from the music. Given how short the songs and album as a whole are, the absurdist, semi-comedic semi-serious sketches don’t have the time to develop nor make us care about their protagonists, and instead proliferate a sort of fragmented, disjointed feel. Especially disappointing is the title song “Legend of the Seagullmen” that tries to be a straightforward rocker and falls flat on its face. Ironically, it’s one of the rare stand out songs, albeit in a negative fashion, of the tail end of the record that tends to twiddle aimlessly until sizzling out without providing any climax or proper epilogue.
Throughout, the listener cannot but feel detached from the overpolished story that’s being told; an upscaled, IMAXed version of ruthlessly mediocre material. David “Dr Dreyer” Dreyer’s vocals are slurred and muffled in an attempt to achieve a dramatic effect and authenticity, one would guess, but are instead submerged into their bland surroundings. The rest of the musical soundscape surfaces in the shape of a formless background, as if listening to a karaoke track. While some traces of Mastodon’s more quizzical attempts like “Curl of the Burl” can be discerned on the record, Hinds and Carey’s contributions to the record are as unimportant as their colleagues’. They’re just along for the ride.
Legend of the Seagullmen is a stupendously empty record. If you just have to listen to something nautically themed, Giant Squid and their heirs Squalus or The Tiger Lillies’ take on Rime of the Ancient Mariner are significantly better options that manage to truly capture the atmosphere, danger, debauchery, and other connotations of life at sea.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Dine Alone Records
Websites: legendoftheseagullmen.bandcamp.com | theseagullmen.com | facebook.com/theseagullmen
Releases Worldwide: February 9th, 2018