FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 72: Psychotic Waltz – A Social Grace
Hello, and welcome to my Blog. Why is it called KingcrimsonBlog, the official Blog of Kingcrimsonprog
?. Good question; It is called that
, because I
am called Kingcrimsonprog (or Gentlegiantprog). Well, I’m not
. I’m called Jimmy. But, I’m called either Kingcrimsonprog or Gentlegiantprog on most websites and forums. (You know, in the way you have to choose a name or “net-handle” when you register?).
Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.
I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of James Bond or Vintage Clothing, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated historian and their knowledge of French Military Tactics. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or French Military Tactics. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
This entry will focus on A Social Grace; the 1990 debut album by the Californian Prog Metal band Psychotic Waltz. When I first started as a contributor to the website Metal Music Archives about two years ago, all the guys who ran the site constantly recommended the band, and anyone who has even the slightest interest in bands like Dream Theater or Fates Warning or Queensryche would get told to try them out.
I was thinking back the other day to how they had recommended Queensryche and how successfully that worked out for me, and that reminded me of hearing about this band.
I’ve also recently been doing some reading about them and found out that they have flutes and are influenced a lot by Jethro Tull. Well, you’ve got to know by now that I absolutely love Jethro Tull and Queensryche if you read this site regularly, and recently I’ve been getting into Dream Theater, so when I saw this album last week, I decided to make a purchase.
All this Dream Theater (and Protest The Hero) listening has gotten me heavily back into Riverside too, as well as Savatage. If my phone is on shuffle, chances are I’ll hear Riverside, Queensryche and Savatage all in one journey. My Prog Metal receptors are particularly hungry these days (I’ve been back on the Opeth again, and constantly low-level listening to Coheed & Cambria, Anathema and Porcupine Tree) so I’m hoping that Psychotic Waltz might be a real right album at the right time sort of affair. Let’s find out:
“…And The Devil Cried” opens the album out with some bendy riffs, before kicking into some crunchy, mid-tempo Annihilator-reminiscent Technical Thrash, then the vocals come in, which seem hugely reminiscent of Geoff Tate. It also reminds me a bit of Iced Earth’s Matt Barlow.
The production job is a bit lower quality than Dream Theater or Queensryche albums from the same era, but not massively. It kind of reminds me of Beneath The Remains in terms of production.
Some of the leads remind me of the infamous Cannibal Corpse Ghost Riff and of Exhorder’s lead style. After about three and a half-minutes the song settles into a slow groove that sounds slightly seasick. It reminds me a little bit of Voivod, in that all the notes sound off. Like there might be some intentional dissonance.
Its impressive on a technical level, but for a first listen, it doesn’t really wow me on a gut level. I can hear Protest The Hero and Annihilator style rapid-fire switching between tempos and ideas but there isn’t a noticeable larger-than-life bit to hang your hat on.
To be fair, I felt the same way about Dream Theater’s “Pull Me Under” until the third time I heard the “…Watch the spell falling” vocal line. Maybe repeat listens will make this fun as well as just impressive.
“Halo Of Thorns” comes next. It opens with slow creepy clean guitars not unlike Lamb Of God’s “Vigil” or Testament’s “The Legacy” with some operatic vocals, that sound Italian to me for some reason. It sounds like this song is going to be a ballad. It really reminds me of the ballads on Iced Earth’s Something Wicked album.
Then the distorted guitars kick in. It’s in another sludgy, seas-sick time sig. The notes seem just that little bit off, in a Dimension Hatross sort of a way. When the clean part comes back it reminds me ever so slightly of King Crimson’s “Circus” (there’s just the faintest whiff of it).
It progresses into some slow, groove Metal riffs that remind me of Mate Feed Kill Repeat in a vague way, then it kicks into a better part than reminds me of that Death album I discussed earlier , with a nice but very brief Thrash bit in between it starting and coming back. There’s a dark, noisy guitar solo too. Then some staccato distorted riff-kickdrum synch ups that remind me of Fear Factory and Pissing Razors.
“Another Prophet Song” follows with more Geoff Tate vocals, and some additional percussion in the background, over quite a Testament/Queensryche mixture series of parts. Its like a very, very slow version of “Walk In The Shadows” mixed with “Raging Waters.”
Eventually it all slows down into a shimmering, dreamy part, with some nice subtle bass and strings-sounding keys. This bit reminds me much more of Dream Theater than anything else so far, but their atmospheric side as opposed to their technical side. There’s a guitar part that comes in that is really reminiscent of 70s Rush, before the part morphs into something darker, its got that clean-yet-dark tone of Opeth. Then it speeds up, the guitar solos come in, they throw out a lot of different parts. That Walk In The Waters bit, with the additional percussion comes back and then they end the song afterwards.
“Successor” comes in, with a Prog Metal/Thrash stop-start intro (which two out of the last three songs did as well). Then it settles into a bit of a slow menacing groove that would sound quite like Iron Maiden’s more epic side if not for the phazer guitars. Then it goes through a very Voivod stop-start bridge. The vocals are pretty Tate-esque. There are even more allusions to Voivod as the song goes on. At the half-way part, it picks up a bit of interest when it goes into a dramatic, vocal emphasizing section, then they start sounding like an infected space station. The song really reminds me of the first Dead Space on your first play through when everything is still tense and horrific. The only problem once again is that nothing really rocks. Its impressive but it is absolutely no fun.
“In This Place” opens with a nice drum fill that suggests that its going to be like Sepultura’s “Territory” but then changes its mind and goes through about nine two-second long permutations before the song decides what the main verse will be. Its actually quite a good one. As are the bridges that it cuts to. This is one of the better songs so far, because it sounds like it has a sense of purpose.
The vocals are more treated in effects and lower in the mix, they feel sort of distant. Then some samples come in talking about what a Psychotic Waltz might be as some really odd guitar comes in. There are more parts that remind me of Voivod, the way he hits the china cymbal also reminds me of me when I was 15. Not that I could explain that to you accurately. There’s some really great drumming in this song’s ending.
So far, all these songs have had superb musicianship but slightly boring songwriting. There aren’t really any big hooks. Nothing that you would feel excited to mimic if you heard it live.
“I Remember” opens with nice clean guitars that actually remind me more of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot ballads than anything else, then a flute comes in and changes it to a more Genesis style. Then something very odd happens. Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, in 1977-1978, comes in and sings exactly like he does on the Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses albums. Not really its actually Singer (and guitarist, keyboardist and flautist) Devon Graves, but he really does do a ridiculously good impersonation. Like Todd La Torre does with Geoff Tate. He captures the little things that you would think are too unique to capture. What’s interesting is that the song is also quite good. It’s the best one so far, but not just because I like Jethro Tull…honest. The song is more powerful and well-written and less dissonant and awkward and has more of a sense of direction and purpose. Oh hey, some properly Tull-esque flute too. You know, when I read that there’d be flute and heard Ian Anderson comparisons I thought it would be knee-jerk comments that were ill-informed. Nope. This is EXACTLY sound-alike. To the point where its 100% out of place with the previous material on the album. Its like a completely different band. I hope there’s more songs like this.
It actually seems rather brave for a Metal band to so faithfully sound like Jethro Tull back in 1990, just after that whole Metallica-Grammy thing.
“Sleeping Dogs” comes in next. Its not a full song, but more of a sort of intro or interlude (like Pink Floyd’s “On The Run” is), showing off different effects and synth sounds. It sounds like the first song on an album . I wonder if it started the other side of the vinyl back in the day? (Hey, it does look to be exactly half-way through the album)
Some energy and Metal power returns with “I Of The Storm” which also has something of a Testament tinge to it in the beginning. Its got more bite to it than anything on side 1 (or what I’ve decided might be side 1). The guitars when chugging have an almost Far Beyond Driven stomp to them. The drums are played with a much more savage intensity, and he just feels like he’s hitting harder. If I was to speculate, I’d imagine this one was written more recently than some of the others. There’s definitely some Groove Metal in there. They throw in Proggy bridges and a noisy technical solo with too much effects, but the core of the song has balls. You know what I was saying about like, needing something to hang your hat on rather than just technicality? This song has it. Plus there’s some really fun doublekick patterns.
“A Psychotic Waltz” opens with more of that creepy clean guitar. It reminds me of Megadeth’s “The Conjuring” and Queensryche’s “Roads To Madness” a little bit, but most of all its really quite similar to Sacred Reich’s “Who’s To Blame.” It’s a bit slow and groovy (or is that waltzy), but still interesting. There’s a neat bit with extra melodic vocals at around the three-minute-mark which is quite a highlight. Once that part comes in, everything starts to have a bit more of that energy that the Tull-esque song did. The solo is one of the best on the album so far, possibly because its not so Voivoddy. Towards the end when the piano comes in it gets really good. The vocals here are extra Barlow-sounding. It ends with a nice fade out of parts that’s a bit like Mushroomhead might do, mechanically if not sonically.
“Only In A Dream” also starts off clean and arpeggiatted. There’s some pleasant keys and some additional percussion. It kind of reminds me of weirdly of King Crimson’s “Eyes Wide Open” and Black Label Society’s “House Of Doom” ever, ever, ever so slightly. Perhaps this is going to be one of those songs, like, not a ballad per se, but a fast happy stripped down song.
Then the riff kicks in. Nope. It’s a Metal song. Oh hey, nice galloping double kicks. Its got a bit of speed and energy to it. Now this is a good track! I’m really getting into this. This has the magic that the first few didn’t. The weird guitar-soloy choruses with the sunken vocals are a bit odd, but everything else is solid gold. I’m loving the pinch harmonics and the double kicks. The main verses actually kind of remind me of Toddryche’s album. Overall; Its short, focused and one of the best songs on the record so far.
“Spiral Tower” opens up with a lot of guitar noise and heads into a slow, evil sounding rumble. It reminds me of the bits on a Thrash album before everything cuts to silence and the first really kick-ass speedy chugging riff kicks in. That doesn’t happen here though. Vocals come in and that rumble sort of morphs mildly into the main verse. Its got a bit of bite and balls to it though. Again, this one sounds newer than some of the others. In parts it reminds me of Forbidden’s second and third album. It doesn’t remind me much of Queencryche, Savatage or Dream Theater. As a song, its more interesting than it is good. Its not boring exactly, but the problem is that its about two minutes longer than it feels like it should be.
“Strange” once again opens with the clean parts. Will this one be a ballad or throw out another surprise heavy bit? Heavy Bit! Its got the same sort of thing going on as the chorus to the previous song. Then luckily, a nice Thrash riff comes in and makes it a bit more energetic and interesting. This one is a bit similar to the first song in the record, in that it has parts that channel Annihilator at times, has Tate-tinges to the vocals and has a lot of parts in awkward time-sigs. It has a very nice guitar solo but the song sounds a bit sparse underneath it. The song sort of loose my patience a little bit though, its hard to keep paying attention to it. Its being interesting in a very uninteresting way. Its being unique in a very standard way. Its just… not all that good. I think that’s my opinion on most of the music on here so far. Its almost very good due to the skill involved, but its just a bit boring on a human level.
The album closes with “Nothing.” It sounds very promising with its big intro. Its certainly louder. It seems like its actually mastered louder. At least its keeping my attention. There’s even a bit of speed and excitement in the middle. Then it just gets a bit boring until about 4.20 when a really good part kicks in. You know what this is like? Its like Eddie Izzard when he looses his thread. He can tell very funny jokes but sometimes he’s unfocussed and you just sort of think why don’t I go listen to somebody telling one-liners instead? – Maybe I’ll go listen to Hatebreed next.
So. That was the album. Hmmm. It reminds me of how I felt about Dimension Hatross the first time. Its interesting, I’m glad I’ve heard it, I understand why it was recommended to me… but for the most part it bored me.
There are definitely people out there who are head over heels in love with this album, and fair play to them, but nope… this one’s not for me.
(I would however, gladly take a whole album of just the Tull stuff)