Friday, January 13, 2017

Album Review: Superjoint - 'Caught Up In The Gears Of Application'

Superjoint Ritual has returned after a 13 year hiatus, minus two original members, the second half of their moniker, and an all consuming drug and alcohol addiction. The Superjoint discography prior to this latest effort has always been for me - a person who has passionately followed all of Anselmo's many projects since my nosedive into Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power circa 1992 - a snapshot of his rock bottom. Unfortunately, at the same time that was one of my favorite eras of his career - starting with 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill - there was a caustic looseness to his vocals, often times slipping into indecipherable - there was also a darkness in both his delivery as well as his lyrics, dwelling on addiction, and all of the vile side effects and trauma to the psyche that go along with it. He was a fucking mess, on stage, on record, and in interviews. I'm sorry to say it, but those demons only added to everything the music was trying to be. The tension in Pantera due to all the aforementioned during this time is well documented; It was still three against one, but Superjoint Ritual was (per guitarist/bandmate/longtime best friend Jimmy Bower) pretty much all Anselmo - as he wrote "70 - 80%" of the songs.

Much has changed in the 13 years between this album and the last however. Veins are clean, consciences are clear, and the physical prowess all the more elder. As kind of goes the same for me, and possibly a large majority of the original SJR fanbase.  2002's Use Once And Destroy was catchy as fuck, eeeeeasily digestible in it's straightforward d-beat to breakdown riffage and damn near groovy at parts to boot. The band was conceived as far back as 1994 so the record had some decent time to marinate in the creative nit-picking of any long conceptualized idea - that's not to say that it's their best.  2003's A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred was sonically, lyrically, and thematically a darker record. It got a tad more grimy than it's predecessor and a lot more experimental - almost at times felt occultish. An overall reflection no doubt of the personal struggles a few of the members were having with addiction, and perhaps it's straightforwardness a reflection of the short amount of time between albums.

Caught Up In The Gears of Application feels almost mechanical in it's final output, I don't mean that it's being phoned in, rather that the guitars tend to lock in with the beating quite often here more than on previous efforts, and at that the riffs come at you almost angularly, with jagged and unexpected changes in rhythm. When you think something is going to repeat an octave lower, it stays the same - when you think something is going to break down it completely changes itself into another riff, when you think the band is going to come at you with something so killer in a synchronicity that would be reflective of their 2002 effort they get more technical than anything you could have expected. If it weren't for the crust-like surges that fuse these almost Hardcore-progressive jump-starts, or the sparce, very subtle twinge of southern metal founded thinly throughout the songs this sounds like it could be another Phil Anselmo & The Illegals record - but duh, it's in the amalgam of those qualities that Superjoint basks in it's identity. This sounds like the next logical Superjoint Ritual album, instead of taking the left hand path and getting darker, grainier, and blacker (as in black metal-er), they've taken it up a notch - a little better production, a little bit more technical, and a tad cleaner - more sobering if you will - all of which works to the group's benefit. Absolute bottom line, if you dig the old shit, you're most definitely going to dig the new shit.

Personally, I don't visit this band very often any longer - in fact; except for the entire Down catalogue, The Great Southern Trendkill, and Far Beyond Driven, I don't find myself having any kind of urge with regularity to indulge in Anselmo's projects. And so, Caught Up In The Gears Of Application never sunk it's teeth in, and I've given it a number of chances, as I did with the Phil Anselmo and the Illegals album Walk Through Exits Only with the same result. He's right at that fuckin' cusp, and it's driving me nuts. Not heavy enough to make me want to jam screwdrivers in my eyes, and nowhere near chill enough or interesting enough to make me want to listen in other aspects of my day to day living. Both Trendkill and FBD will always hold a special place in my heart, for their efforts as a mainstream band tapping into underground energy and pushing the spotlighted envelope, testing mass appeal metal audiences instead of just giving them what they want. And Down is it's own animal completely. I appreciate Phil's absolute love of extremity in music, and I don't just mean in terms of sonic weight and speed, but bat-shit experimentation and noise - I just wish he'd make the jump, and do something insanely heavy, insanely fast - taxing on all of the senses. For me, he's always come up short there. And if it's never going to happen (and let's face it, Scour was the best chance of that)  I'd rather he focus only on Down all of the time. But that's not fair and not logical, and my tastes in heavier music are more intense than most.

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