Saturday, May 4, 2013

Flotsam and Jetsam - Cuatro (1992)

Hailing from the desert state of Arizona, F&J began in 1982 as Paradox (not to be confused by the German band with the same name) with Jason Newstead as their bassist until 1986, until he left to join Metallica. They rose as part of the American Thrash Metal explosion in the late 80s/early 90s but never received quite as much notoriety as many of their counterparts. Despite this, they are still active today and have retained the same vocalist throughout.

This is their fourth album, as you may have guessed from the name. The cover seems to have been designed by a similar graphic designer to the Watchtower album, having a somewhat pixellated helicopter image beneath a bold band title and name. However, it folds out into a poster with a larger image and the band photos down the side, lyrics on the back.

The album kicks off with "Natural Enemies" - pounding rhythms, aggressive vocals, surprisingly smooth chorus. Eric A.K.'s voice is rough and raw, tending on the slightly higher side but not screechy or shrill. Just angry. Pace is rapid for the verses. Slower for the chorus. Drums pound and guitars churn with shrill confidence.

"Swatting at Flies" begins as a slower number, with darting guitar licks to open. The pace slows, chugging and churning before the vocals erupt, Lyrics filled with pent-up aggression:
"The only thing I ever made in life was a fist..."
American metal is so confrontational! The vocals have a good rhythm to them, punctuated with solid drum beats.

"The Message" is slower but heavy, ominous rifts and some intricate guitar passages.Short and to the point - "have you got the message?"

"Cradle Me Now" thrums with tension, as though it is being restrained and trying to break free. It chugs and churns and thrashs.

The pace drops another notch and we begin "Wading Through the Darkness" which is a borderline ballad. The vocals now have a twisted whine to them, although they still radiate aggression and frustration.

Chugging and churning we step into "Double Zero". Vocals are surprisngly slow and almost melodic, but still with the harsh edge and tending more towards spoken than sung. There is something quintessentially American about the lyrics (which are also about war in the Middle East, of course this was released shortly after the Gulf War):
"Home's where the guns are..."
We pick up the pace in "Never to Reveal" in which the drum pounds and the bass line chugs. Vocals are tongue-trippingly fast - which is reflected in the lyrics:
"...hope my tongue don't slip..."
"Forget About  Heaven" brings us back into the heavy rhythms; slower, aggressive. Kinda highly strung. Nice guitar solo.

We mellow out a bit for "Secret Square". Low, quite strong and rich vocals, light guitar accompaniment. Speeds up, slows down, falls into weird distortiony bits.

We race and pound into the almost-speed metal "Hypodermic Midnight Snack". Despite the not-so-pleasant theme, this is my favourite song on this album. It races through the verses, soars into the surprisingly harmonic chorus and then surges forth once more. Erratic, dramatic.

There's a bit of a glam metal vibe to "Are You Willing?", compelete with a bit of a squeal to the vocals. Otehrwise, he's tripping over his tongue again as he races through the verses.

The final track, "(Ain't Nothing Gonna) Save this World" offers nothing new to the world of music and is frankly, rather dull and uninspired thrash metal.

I've been listening through this album for the last four days. I think it's time to put it to rest and return it to the shelf.

Flotsam and Jetsam are not a bad band, they're just not very inspiring. Their music is modestly competent and well structured, as far as thrash metal goes, they're pretty good - despite their relative obscurity (and many steps down from Metallica). However, I prefer my music a little more quirky and dynamic and thus I shall rate them 5/10.

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