Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blind Illusion - Demon Master (2010)

Let's be blunt: if you've been around thrash metal, or underground metal in general, you hear the words Blind Illusion and instantly think of Les Claypool and Larry Lalonde, two former members of this band that went on to Primus, a bigger and better (to some) thing. It's just the way we're all wired, but it doesn't take away the fact that Blind Illusion was (and to an extent, still is) host to another major talent, singer/guitarist Marc Biedermann, the core of the group that has held the idea together since the late 70s. Yeah, this band has been around for over 30 years by this point, with dozens of members passing through the ranks, including many cross-pollinated from other California thrash acts.

The music itself had already gone through a myriad of changes, but the peak of the sound was of course the 1988 debut album The Sane Asylum on Combat Records, which was a worthy slice of progressive thrash that sounded little like anything else in its day. Not only for the obvious presence of its Possessed and Primus luminaries, but for the subtle note selections and the quirky delivery which was uncommon among the Bay Area bands exploding in the 80s. There could really be no question that any further Blind Illusion output would be a change in style, as it seemed that the axis about which the idea spun was one of an open, adventurous mind. Alas, the band's sophomore The Medicine Show never came to full fruition, and the project was shelved for a decades before Biedermann had the itch to kick it up again a few years back. In 2010, a new album, Demon Master, has finally come to be.

Each and every fan of The Sane Asylum probably suffered no delusions that Marc Biedermann was going to put out the same album as he had in the 80s. However, what manifests through Demon Master is such a long shot that I was stunned when finally hearing it. Gone is the metal in general, gone are the aggressive vocals and guitars, and gone are the hopes of the unswerving fan base. This is not really Blind Illusion as we knew them, and as many have no doubt already stated, a name change might have been the proper course when the style has shifted to such a degree. Demon Master is essentially a stoner, psychedelic rock jam record with loosely structured writing, a new rhythm section, and a wide range of influences that include funk, blues, country, and progressive rock from the 70s.

Indeed, this is a strange turn of events, but all that we can do is judge Demon Master for what it is, an oddity that is unfortunately lacking in direction for the 43 minutes it weaves through its wailing, emotional vocal outbursts, brimming bass work, organic, jamming drums and hapless funky undertones. One need only listen to "Cajun Fang" and the spaced out, minimalism of "Storm Cloud" to feel out the polar identity crisis of the album: the former a bristling funk rock jam, the latter something more subdued and psychedelic going beyond 9 minutes. Then you've got the slow, burning dirt rock blues of "Merger" which works up a few Sabbath styled heavier riffs before its funky onslaught at 1:30 (the track reminds me of what might happen if Monster Magnet were doing an improv jam and recording it). "Midnight China" and "Gargantuan" both explore the jamming even further, the latter recalling a little Hendrix or Cream. At nearly 10 minutes, "Precurser/Demon Master" is probably the album's most dense, intense piece, morphing through creepy stoner rock passages ala late Sleep with a little psychotropic chugging to herald the final, burning lead.

Demon Master is presented very much in the buff, more like a live studio improv than a bigger budget album, and this actually does not do a disservice to the material as far as creating an atmosphere. I'm not sure the band would ever desire to play these songs the same way twice, but if so, they'll sound nearly identical in a live setting. Biedermann is a bluesy beast on the guitar still to this day, and his rhythm section is tight enough to match him, so there's no dearth of talent in the rank. The material is schizoid, jamming and often frenetic, but never really goes that far that it becomes inaccessible.

The real issues with this album are that 1) most fans are simply not going to accept this direction; and 2) regardless of the distinct difference in style, the music is nothing more than a passing fancy of free form ideas, never really seeding themselves in your brain before moving along to the next gallant notion. If I was tripping my scrotum off at a Burning Man festival evening revelry, after having my brain scarred by the rays of an unforgiving desert sun, this could make a passable soundtrack to the ensuing dementia. But only as a background buzz. There is simply nothing that interesting to return for. It goes nowhere, especially not into the memory banks, with the possible exception of several moments in the title track. As for the first point above, this is Marc Biedermann's baby and he can do whatever the hell he wants with it. If Blind Illusion is to be a stoner funk band today, a dub step band tomorrow, and a gospel band next Friday, that is his to determine. This time, though, the reward did not outweigh the risk. In fact, the risk rolled the reward up like a ball of tinfoil and deposited in the nearest empty oil drum fire.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]


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