Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tomahawk - Oddfellows

Ipecac Recordings

When Tomahawk first announced their formation way back in 2000, there’s was a huge amount of excitement surrounding the band. And rightfully so too, as the group’s line-up comprised of ex-Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantômas vocalist/keyboardist/sampler Mike Patton, ex-The Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, Melvins/Cows bassist Kevin Rutmanis and ex-Helmet/The Mark Of Cain/Battles drummer John Stainer. To put it in simpler terms, Tomahawk was virtually a supergroup.
When the band released their self-titled debut in 2001, it was unanimously hailed as everything everyone expected of the group, and then some. The band’s follow-up release ‘Mit Gas’ from 2003 was every bit as critically acclaimed as their debut, and proved that the band weren’t afraid to push their sound and experiment beyond their comfort zone.
But by 2007, things had changed within Tomahawk. Rutmanis parted ways with the group prior to recording sessions for their third album ‘Anonymous’, and coupled with the Native American direction of the material (Which was primarily devised by Denison), the album was met with mixed reactions, with some claiming the album was far too removed from that heard on their first two releases.
Given the various members’ busy schedules, and the vacated bassist role within their line-up, there was always going to be a long wait for a new Tomahawk album. But in early 2012, the band announced that Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle/Fantômas/John Zorn/Secret Chiefs 3) has been recruited into the fold, and that an album was in the works. It wasn’t long before anticipation was once again building for a new Tomahawk album.
This leads us to the present, and the release of ‘Oddfellows’ - the fourth full-length album from Tomahawk, and the first new music to emerge from the band after a lengthy six years away.
And what a return it is!
It becomes immediately clear from the moment the band get things underway with the title track ‘Oddfellows’ that the avant-garde experimentation of ‘Anonymous’ has been cast aside, and a return to the experimental/alternative rock sound found on their first couple of releases is their guiding song writing template. ‘Oddfellows’ boasts a slow paced riff from Denison, which is a perfect foil for Patton’s haunting vocals. When Denison’s riffing does uncoil, the rhythm section keeps everything tight and tense, which exudes a sinister atmosphere within the song that easily rivals some of the band’s best work from ‘Mit Gas’.
The follow-up track ‘Stone Letter’ (Which is the first single lifted from the album) is a surprisingly catchy hard rock song that reminds me of Faith No More, albeit played in Tomahawk’s quirky and offbeat manner, while on ‘I.O.U.’, the band adopt a minimalistic and eerie soundscape that is as haunting as it is epic and melodic.
From here, the diversity of sounds and direction continues on throughout the course of the album, with ‘White Hats/Black Hats’, the relentless hammer/aggressive ‘The Quiet Few’, ‘South Paw’ and the percussive driven ‘Waratorium’ the obvious stand outs with their straight forward hard rock/metal sound, while tracks such as ‘A Thousand Eyes’, ‘"I Can Almost See Them"’, the electrified southern blues swagger of ‘Choke Neck’ and the creepy ‘Baby Let’s Play ____’ flirt around with the kind of sounds that rely heavily on Patton’s half spoken/heavily breathed vocals and instrumentation that closely resembles the sinister/creepy toned soundtrack themes Fantômas have well and truly mastered in the past.
But not unlike Tomahawk releases of days gone by, ‘Oddfellows’ does have a couple of songs that fall short of the mark. Despite some cool jazz influences, ‘Rise Up Dirty Waters’ sounds like an unfinished piece of work (So much so that the song sounds one long extended interlude with vocals), while the psychobilly tinged closer ‘Typhoon’ has a fairly unremarkable chorus, which inevitably lets the whole song down.
Despite a couple of unremarkable numbers, ‘Oddfellows’ is odd, experimental, catchy, seductive, alienating and rocking. Essentially it’s everything you expect from a band like Tomahawk, who not only survived a critical member reshuffle, but returned with a new album that clearly showcases a return to form.

For more information on Tomahawk, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

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