Genre tags can be a real crapshoot when writing reviews. For example, simply calling a record stoner rock may do a disservice to any band who isn’t just a Kyuss or Sabbath clone. Throwing the prog label around may be an instant “no” for some readers. Subgenres like death metal and black metal have branched into so many offshoots that you wind up serving up word salads like “technical blackened melodic death metal.” That said, today in the Burnt Coffee HQ cafeteria it looks like they’re serving up a mix of blackened heavy metal, prog, doom, avant-garde, and alternative metal in the form of Drainbow’s debut album The Tower of Flints. If that doesn’t give you a clear picture of what this album sounds like, maybe that’s all the more reason to give this bad boy a spin!
Drainbow is a one-man band, the project of Austin, Texas’ Nicholas Sarcophagus. They say keep Austin weird right? Yeah, roll your eyes all you want at my tourist sloganeering, but Sarcophagus’ debut The Tower of Flints follows that ethos to a T. He is very adventurous in his songwriting, which results in an album that’s eclectic in scope.
This bold approach is best exemplified in 11-minute closer “Callypigian Hunger”. The song starts off with the darkness of Alice In Chains, then turns the death metal knob up as far as it can go, finds time to take Steve Vai on a salvia trip, and then goes insanely dark and doom-laden. The song ends with an uncanny piano passage – it’s slightly major in key, but with an unsettling dissonance underneath. While this song makes me wonder how great of a doom band Drainbow could be, it’s firm in its contradictions and oddities, and everything combined pays off well.
“Fourth Rider”, the album’s only instrumental track, serves more as a contrast than a transitional or breather track. Besides the short runtime, it’s also unique as the most stylistically consistent song on the record. This song lies solidly in the doom category, though even it is not without its experimentation. There’s a gradual build toward unity, starting with an almost freeform, sinister jam that makes way for a wicked harmonized riff with the full weight of this one-man band behind it. While this album is very guitar-focused, here we get to see the bass shine, especially in the song’s first half.
There’s also an awesome fuzz-wah bass in “Liar Of The Night Gaunt”. This song is a friendly reminder to never get comfortable because nothing is safe. There’s a ton of elements here that fans of various subgenres will love, but this kitchen sink approach to songwriting may be polarizing for some. However, if you’re into the weird and wonderful, giving a fair shot to songs like this and others on The Tower of Flints a could prove fruitful.
If The Tower of Flints is brought together by its ambition, where it falls apart is its mix. The mix leaves a lot to be desired – hindering what is otherwise a really fun and eclectic album. The two most glaring issues are the drums and the vocals. The drums just do not cut through at all, save for a few tom rolls and cymbal crashes. The lack of kick and snare drums is felt most on the blast beats of opener “Funeral For An Imaginary Rabbit”.
Like the drums, the vocals are also buried. This was an odd choice, as the vocals themselves aren’t bad. At their worst they are competent, at best they’re great, so there’s no need to try to hide the vocals. There’s also some unnecessary effects and filters applied to Mr. Sarcophagus’ singing. Not only does this further obscure the vocals, but it also thrusts them into a never-ending EQ turf war with the keyboards.
While the quirks are what make this album, there were a few I could do without. For example, I went full Hank Hill after hearing the extended laugh that dominates the first minute of opener “Funeral For An Imaginary Rabbit”. Maybe the intent here was to disorient the listener, but I just found it distracting. Also, spoken word is almost never a good idea in metal, or hell any genre really, and it’s no exception on “The Death Owl In The Tower Of Flints”. There’s a few other odd choices on this track as well, like the odd drum pattern that stumbles through the clean Opethian verses. Fortunately, there are plenty of other curiosities throughout the album that manage to work well.
So this is the real conundrum with one-man projects. Doing everything yourself can be very rewarding, and can result in a work of art that’s deeply personal. It’s also a very daunting, challenging task. The Tower of Flints shows both sides of this coin. The album is a thrill ride that shows potential to rival its avant-garde and experimental metal contemporaries, but it also trips over itself with some unfortunate mixing decisions. All this being said, it’s an intriguing debut and I’m excited to see what other unpredictable madness Drainbow has in store!
Drainbow’s debut album The Tower of Flints will be released on August 7th.
Best Tracks: Callypigian Hunger, Fourth Rider, The Inevitable Tautology Of Defeat
Weakest Tracks: The Death Owl In The Tower Of Flints
FFO: Arcturus, Avatar, all things Mike Patton
Overall Score: C