Any connoisseur of fine metal music will jump at the opportunity to list off the bands that got them into the genre. Some will cite Death and Metallica, while others might cry Europe without shame. For me, one of those bands was most definitely Tool. Now, I was but a wee metal tyke when I first listened to Tool – 10,000 Days was fresh off the press and after being introduced to it for the first time, I quickly caught up with their discography and then eagerly began the wait for the next release.
Yep. It’s been about 3,800 days since Tool pressed any fresh material, so I’m guessing we’re almost halfway to something new? Well, a trio of go-getter fans from Colorado up and said “fuck that” taking matters into their own hands. They formed a band called Source, wrote a bunch of Tool-y material and now they’re set to make their debut with Return to Nothing.
As Return to Nothing begins to spin, Source’s inspirations become obvious almost immediately. Tool dominates, and opening track “Forgiveness” has everything you might expect, from the heady philosophical themes to the syncopated, tribal drumming. Singer/guitarist Ben Gleason even sounds like Maynard and his fret-work emulates that of Adam Jones’ at more than a few points over the course of the record. Now, writing Source off as a simple rip-off band would be quite a mistake indeed, because Return to Nothing is actually a decent album. The band has the playing chops and the creativity to do more than just emulate, and their song writing skills are quickly made apparent as they weave back and forth between styles. Opethian death metal sections are common. Trippy experimental guitar solos and crisp jazzy, interludes invoke Leprous and Intronaut. In fact, the whole album plays out like a platter of Tool served with a side of Opeth, smothered in extra progressive sauce. Yum.
Source does a good job of mixing their influences and keeping things fresh, but Return to Nothing doesn’t know when to stop. Boasting 70 minutes of music, it would seem the band is really striving to make good on that lack of new Tool material (and that’s excluding the eight minute bonus track). While most of it is enjoyable, the record simply cannot command such a run time. Giving my full attention to the album from beginning to end was nigh impossible. Lengthy instrumental sections and choruses repeated one time too many mean quite a few of the tracks could have been cut down by a minute or two and the experience would have been made better. While you could spin the front and back halves in separate listening sessions and enjoy both, there’s once again something to be said for self-editing.
Thankfully, other complaints are sparse. The whole band does an excellent job with their respective roles, which is made even more noticeable by the record’s mixing job. Georges Octobous is deft on the kit and his tribal drumming is made prominent by a nice boost to the low end. This also helps bring Dan Crisafulli’s mastery of the bass guitar to front stage, a wise decision considering his playing is responsible for some of the most enjoyable moments on the record, with “The Essence” and “The Serpent” both shining because of him. One detail that should be discussed is Ben’s vocals. While his cleans fit the music well, they lack emotion and his harsh vocals are much too soft and timid to capture the Akerfeldt-style death metal growls he’s going for.
Overall, Return to Nothing is a promising debut from a band that knows what they like and aren’t afraid to borrow from the best. Source has a bright future in the progressive metal scene, and if Ben can grow into his vocals and the band can keep their writing concise they could very well knock it out of the park with the next one. Just pray we don’t have to wait a full decade to find out.