Tomahawk – Tonic Immobility Review

Supergroups have always stuck me as a weird concept in metal, and a dated one in rock. That sort of fits Tomahawk, the famous(ish) oddball alt-metal/heavy rock outfit founded by Mike Patton (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More) and Duane Denison (The Jesus Lizard). Over the last 20 years, the gritty quartet haven’t aged a day, forever rocking like it’s 1998 and they just walked out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the tenth time. The project’s seen its fair share of eclectic and electric over the years, and with Tonic Immobility, Tomahawk‘s first record in eight years, the band does way more of the former than latter.

Any act sharing nuts and bolts with Faith No More and Mr. Bungle will be showing their age nowadays, and indeed, it’s hard to listen to Tonic Immobility and not be instantly transported back to the late 90s and early 00s. Openers “SHHH!” and “Valentine Shine” sound ripped right off the soundtrack of The Shield or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Denison’s versatile riffs hold up Patton’s straight-from-the-underpass vocals, shepherding tales of the modern underbelly of society. After establishing an early aggro vibe on its first few tracks, Tonic Immobility flips the script. While those big, mean rock elements hang around the back of the bar, “Doomsday Fatigue” and “Business Casual” slink around the scene, signaling a permanent break from your regularly scheduled fist-pumping. The prowling riffs and plunking bass clear out a wide berth for Patton’s lurching vox, bouncing between whispered sing-song tones, sneering shouts, and hard rock rap. From this point on, love it or hate it, this is the Mike Patton show.

Patton is often uninhibited. Songs live and die—mostly die—by his performance. His stalwart pseudo-rapped delivery and grating, truly fucking grating rhymes drag down songs on the regular. At any given moment, the lines play like a 90s alt-metal version of “My name’s Mike Patton and I’m here to say/society’s fucked up in a major way.” Patton’s not the world’s greatest lyricist on a good day, and his lines here are often brutal enough to roll your eyes out of your head and down a garbage disposal.1234 In other spots, Patton simply overwhelms everyone around him. His slam poetry delivery and eponymous screeches on “Howlie” or the spoken word of “Sidewinder” would be right for their songs if he could just back off 11 for two minutes. It’s a frustrating experience because when Tomahawk finally find the center lane, like the midsections of “Tattoo Zero” and “Recoil,” it works. Then they spiral into some unholy cross between Sublime and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even though you kind of dig it, you’re left wondering what the hell you’re listening to yet a-fucking-gain. “Predators and Scavengers” might be the best song on the album by default; it’s the only one with a semblance of harmony.

Denison is never one to shy a bit away from the strange with his axe work, and Tonic Immobility is no different. There isn’t a song on here without a touch of instrumental inspiration from Denison and bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle). It’s a pity that most of this worldbuilding, bolstered by a strong production, gives way to holding patterns for Patton to Kool-Aid Man through. There’s the foundation for much more, as evidenced by some of Tomahawk‘s prior work. That the central concepts of the record are often a bit weird isn’t at issue; it’s how much these ideas seem to subsume the rest of the record. Tonic Immobility not only swirls down a whirlpool of ill-advised concepts, it swims headfirst for the bottom, giddily tickled by its own weirdness.

I can respect the creativity and guts required to make these concepts flesh; at times, They Might Be Giants‘ kaleidoscopic insanity was my closest touchstone. Yet even at its peak-of-Everest best, this platter barely rises above mediocre, and it’s a shame. This willingness to touch the strange and this commitment to the vision should result in something better. Still, given that a. there’s no accounting for taste, and b. no one besides me has any, I suspect some folks will still gobble this up in the midst of a Stockholm Syndrome-induced fever dream. For the rest of the us though, there’s better weird out there.5

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Ipecac Recordings
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 26th, 2021

Show 5 footnotes

  1. “Watching them honeys twerk/While all the hobos jerk.” – Mike Patton, 2021
  2. “Stand in line like cows/I repeat, stand in line like cows/And snort like fuckin sows.” – Mike Patton, 2021
  3. “Unhappy our time/Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme.” – Mike Patton, 2021
  4. “Bad cho-lesterol/Busi-ness casu-” you know what, I could do the entire album like this, forget it.
  5. This review brought to you by Old Nick Gang.
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