by Prog Nick
Having broken up in 1997, respected California Prog-metal outfit Psychotic Waltz were, to all intents and purposes, defunct. Despite this apparent death-knell, life was breathed back into the band in 2011 when the original line-up (who had not played together since 1995) decided to reform for some successful live shows. Soon after, in 2012, the decision was made to record a new album and now, some eight years later, that album is about to be released. Entitled ‘The God-Shaped Void’, the album will unavoidably be the arbiter as to whether Psychotic Waltz have succeeded in completing their Lazarus-like resurrection.
Comprising Dan Rock (guitars/keyboards), Brian McAlpin (guitars/keyboards), Ward Evans (bass), Norm Leggio (drums) and Devon Graves (vocals/flute/keyboard), Psychotic Waltz were, at their peak, regarded as one of the most highly influential bands in the Prog-metal world and, perhaps, to some, even as important as the overlords themselves, Fates Warning. Those are some lofty standards to re-attain; therefore this 2020 album is an important release for the band. Has re-incarnation been achieved?
Let us start by stating the obvious: styles, technology and recording techniques have changed dramatically in the 24 years since the band’s last album, ‘Bleeding’. Comparisons to previous albums would therefore be pointless. More relevant would be to determine whether the band’s new efforts will appeal to a contemporary audience.
Opening with ‘Devils and Angels’, the album certainly provides an early indication that this band never completely flat-lined. A cosmic intro featuring Braves in his role as flautist, leads into some impressive metallic pounding with suitably somber vocals. It is not hugely innovative, being straight power-metal with a strong hook, but the listener can immediately hear that this band has not lost its relevance. Imagine Tool meeting Dio in a dark alley, 2020-style, with the Grim Reaper in attendance.
Second song ‘Stranded’ shows that the band have no intention of abandoning their Prog-metal legacy, kicking in with a twin-guitar harmony riff that will have you twisting in the wind. Graves’ aggressive vocals dominate, and the song builds into an anguished but complex slow metal groove. The song is one of many that feature twin harmony lead guitar/keyboard work of the highest order.
In ‘Back To Black’ the band show their admiration for Fates Warning with some of the most immense power-riffing you will ever hear. Foreboding lyrics, leading to the convulsing hook ‘Back to Black You’ll Fade Away,’ make a powerful statement. This one will be a winner at live shows.
‘All The Bad Men’ is a lyrically strong commentary on the bellicose state of the world. While the bad men are busy bringing pain upon the world, Psychotic Waltz are taking care of the auditory needs of the Prog-metal community. And I mean that to include today’s younger Prog-metal fans. Excruciatingly heavy, Leggio’s powerful drum patterns combine with Graves’ snarling vocals to create a platform around which Rock, McAlpin and Evans create an entrancing instrumental swirl of mad gravity.
Starting as a gentle ballad, ‘The Fallen’ gives the band the space and air to build one of the highlight slow tracks of the album. Do not be fooled by the intro – if a little repetitive, this song turns into an ominous, prowling metal extravaganza as good as any. Think zombies on musical steroids.
Also deceiving with a gentle Baroque intro, ‘While the Spiders Spin’ is a stark and scathing exploration into Psychotic Waltz’s moribund, deeply unsettling fantasy world. Again the precision of the twin guitar and keyboard work is highly impressive and the song melds classic sounds with contemporary Prog-metal. This is a frightening but engaging arachnophobic netherworld.
‘Pull The String’ is as close as the album gets to a filler track, but following song ‘Demystified’ more than makes up for it with its other-worldly melody, prowling power and the best lyrics on the album. ‘Better we just save ourselves’ snarls Graves cynically. One might think that the presence of flute in music as heavy as this would sound incongruous, but it does not. It is precisely because the flute provides such a stark contrast to the power guitars, that it works. Showing great variation and building immense tension before its gentle end, this is a very satisfying composition indeed.
‘Sisters of the Dawn’ features another howling harmony twin-guitar performance writhing around an array of sinister, searing vocals. The production of this song, especially the guitar solos, is particularly impressive. Simply immense, this is the song that should be playlisted as a sampler for the album.
But it does not end there. Closing track ‘In the Silence’, the most melodic and explorative moment on the album, is a masterful exposition of this band’s proclivity for variation. From angelic vocal melodies to moribund anguish and crushing metal bombast, back to a gentle acoustic fade, this song has it all. Any leading Prog-metal band would have been proud to produce ‘In the Silence’ – perhaps my favorite moment on the album.
‘The God Shaped Void’ is a massive endeavor, in every sense of the word, and it is understandable that it took years to produce. It is detailed, masterful and powerful. It will attack your senses and pluck at your emotions like a raven at a carcass. While doom, death and destruction are its main themes, it regularly surprises with gentle melodic interventions that interrupt its heaviness in the most pleasing way. While not always un-derivative, the album is certainly innovative enough. It undoubtedly has all the howling guitars, heavy riffing, aggressive vocals, somber lyrics and variation in complexity, necessary to ensure that the world’s burgeoning Prog-metal community will come alive, sit up and take note of Psychotic Waltz’s return to form. This band was highly respected for a reason, and that reason is still to be heard. Call off the last rites.
It may have taken eight years, but ‘God Shaped Void’ shows that Psychotic Waltz are far from done. If the heart of doom-laden Prog-metal is still beating, this could well be its pulse.
Released on Feb 14th, 2020 on InsideOutMusic
Key Tracks: Devil’s and Angels, Sisters of the Dawn, All The Bad Men
PSYCHOTIC WALTZ – “The God-Shaped Void”
1. Devils And Angels (06:29)
2. Stranded (04:49)
3. Back To Black (03:52)
4. All The Bad Men (03:59)
5. The Fallen (05:49)
6. While The Spiders Spin (05:49)
7. Pull The String (04:54)
8. Demystified (05:12)
9. Season Of The Swarm (05:57) *** Bonus Track
10. Sisters Of The Dawn (06:41)
11. In The Silence (05:16)
– Devon Graves / Vocals
– Brian McAlpin / Guitar
– Dan Rock / Guitar & Keyboards
– Ward Evans / Bass
– Norman Leggio / Drums
Order here: https://psychoticwaltz.lnk.to/TheGodShapedVoid