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Watchtower - Energetic Disassembly CD (album) cover

ENERGETIC DISASSEMBLY

Watchtower

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.01 | 66 ratings

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4 stars Energetic Re-Assembly

Maybe I shouldn't review on first listen... this is the first time I've listened to Energetic Disassembly - and, while I didn't find it easy going, I certainly felt no need to stop the album or skip bits out of boredom. There's a lot to try and absorb in here, and my interest was maintained from the moment it started.

While some bits seem to be there for the sake of it, there are more bits that are there in order to realise a very twisted metal musical imagination, and once you've got the flow of where the ideas are coming from and going to, there's a lot of cohesion to it all.

That said, the beginning strikes you as sloppy, and the vocals are like a monotonous version of Rob Halford, with underpants full of fire ants, the production is naff, the bass farty, and everyone except the guitarist is out of time and struggling to keep up.

This is not uncommon in the more extreme metal acts of the time, as this new genre was subject to even more prejudice than the older form (which is saying something), production engineers generally had yet to get to grips with the music, and bands often hurried to get their ideas down, because studio time was expensive.

But what Billy White does with the guitar here is quite astonishing, as are many of the compositional ideas contained in this album, which, as other reviews state, is where the full ideal of Progressive Metal in it's most Out There and technical sense began. This is not an album for fans of catchy tunes, tinkly keyboards or other such pleasantries.

This is an album almost without precedent - one can detect the strong influence of Steve Vai in White's playing, and the complex compositions vaguely suggest Frank Zappa, while the overall style fits the Heavy Metal canon, particularly the early-mid 1980s explosion of thrash metal. Bands like this were not common. Bands attempting something like this were...

The third track, Tyrants in Distress suffers quite a lot from the technicality for it's own sake thing, and is the first low point on the album in terms of overall quality. The dive-bombing, harmonic flurrying and angular anti-scale shredding is an all-too-scarce treat in this song.

Trouble is, once you've noticed this for it's own sake and soloist-led tendency, you start hearing it everywhere.

You see, the bass tends to follow the root, despite odd solo moments and some nice fills, the drums tend towards the boom-pish - and the standard Iron Maiden and Diamond Head beats - but do have longer moments of doing some very interesting stuff - the title track is a good example of where drum and (brief) bass interest may be found.

Without doubt, Billy White is the star here, but the overall sound that the band make is something almost entirely new. This is the technical approach taken by many to the still growing Thrash Metal genre (ne 1982), but at the highest level for the time - and a pretty high standard it remains.

There's a preponderance of standard song structures here, and many repetitive riffs - but there are so many riffs, and they undergo such savage development treatment, that, as a benchmark of Progressive Metal, you could choose a worse one - although you could also choose a much better produced one too.

The riffs aggressively turn themselves inside out and upside down, do unexpected things, fly off on the occasional tangent and ride the edge of being completely unhinged - yet at the same time, maintain the scary cohesion of a kind of carefully controlled insanity. Sometimes, they drop into something approaching the mundane - but it's like the weather in Scotland: If you don't like what's currently going on, hang on in there, and something more acceptable will be along shortly.

As an insight into the ideals that are expressed (when you read definitions of the genre that often seem preposterous), this stands out across the decades as an intensely shining beacon of potential.

At it's essence, this is a heavy metal album - but one that I cannot find an equal of from 1986. To properly compete with the giants of Prog, I'd like to hear more ensemble work, rather than a featured soloist, clearly responsible for most of the composition - but you can hear that this concept was not unknown to Watchtower the band, (except McMaster, who makes no attempts to be a vocalist, rather, he simply sings the songs).

Given that it's the bands' debut, and a long way from what anyone else was doing at the time, I have no hesitation in recommending this as a good addition to any prog music collection - but mainly from the point of view of it's historic importance. The Wow factor soon fades, as this is an album of potential more than realisation.

Four stars, because, despite a rather shabby veneer, three stars isn't quite enough - I'd say it's not really essential to most Prog fans, although in many ways, it ought to be. What's underneath the exterior more than makes up for it.

Dream Who? :oP

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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