(Seattle-based NCS contributor Gonzo brings us this review of the the fifth studio album by U.S. progressive metal pioneers Psychotic Waltz, and their first music in 23 years, released on February 14th by InsideOutMusic.)
Maybe it’s just me, but I love it when a criminally underrated band emerges from the ether after years of radio silence and releases some of their best work. Since that seems to be the trend lately for metal bands, reformed prog metal gurus Psychotic Waltz have decided to follow suit, surprising the world with the release of their newest album, The God-Shaped Void.
Die-hard prog metal fans might be familiar with Psychotic Waltz’s earlier output, which never really got the attention it deserved. Their early ‘90s albums A Social Grace and Into the Everflow were gems of the genre, in this writer’s humble opinion. For the uninitiated, think of all of Fates Warning’s greatest moments and crank up the heaviness by a notch similar to their prog brethren Control Denied and Spiral Architect.
But for a band that hasn’t even taken a whiff at recording any new music since 1996’s Bleeding, Psychotic Waltz sound like they never left. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say The God-Shaped Void is the most accomplished, polished work in their catalog. Thick, groovy riffs preside over slow, deliberate tempos throughout most of the songs here. Everything sounds very intentional on this record, the band taking their time to explore each verse without meandering too far away from their strengths.
Take album opener “Devils & Angels” for a very solid indicator of what you’re about to hear – vocalist Devon Graves and lead guitarist Brian McAlpin combine their talents to unveil one of the many memorable choruses found throughout the record. Lackey in particular has old-school pipes akin to the range of metal royalty such as Geoff Tate or Ray Alder, while McAlpin channels Brian DeGarmo on several occasions. It’s enough to make you wonder how Queensrÿche would’ve sounded if they hadn’t devolve into a flaming dumpster fire after Promised Land.
As great a track as “Devils & Angels” is, The God-Shaped Void somehow gets better with each song from there. “Back to Black” sounds like an homage to the band’s earlier work, with heavy grooves and ridiculously crisp production. You’ll probably find yourself humming the chorus to “All the Bad Men” at least a few times after hearing it. “The Fallen” languishes a bit, but the album deals two absolute doozies after that in “While the Spiders Spin” and best overall track “Demystified” just after. “Spiders” by itself is heavy, orchestral, brooding, and everything I love about metal, while “Demystified” adds a new layer of complexity with a flute and an intro that expertly takes a page from Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark.”
If there’s one complaint to be made about Void, it’s that most of the songs are played at what seems like the exact same mid-paced tempo throughout. This isn’t the brand of breakneck-speed prog that seems to be prevalent in the metal lexicon these days, but then again, that’s not Psychotic Waltz’s identity. They stick to their craft, and they stick to it very well. The years have been kind to them in terms of developing their sound, and the result has paid dividends with The God-Shaped Void.