Friday, January 25, 2019

Flotsam & Jetsam - The End of Chaos (2019)

It is truly euphoric when a band you so idolized as a youth seems to have come back swinging in full. Flotsam & Jetsam recorded two seminal teen thrash albums for me, but then as early as their third full-length seemed to proceed into a slump that would last several decades. A handful of catchy tunes stood out here or there, but not anything with the attitude and catchiness of their 1988 pinnacle No Place for Disgrace, or even their debut Doomsday for the Deceiver, which was never a favorite, but far better than what they would be phoning in throughout the 90s and 00s. When 2016's eponymous 12th studio album came along, and we were back to good songs again, I was ecstatic...and here I am, even more so, since The End of Chaos is the best material the Phoenix mainstays have produced in over 30 years...

The production on this album is a marvel, crystal clear but perfectly potent for each of the players, which is important on an effort in which every minute detail is formidable. I mean, with the possible exception of some plebeian, ambiguous 'resistance' style lyrics and cheesy cover art, there is nothing at all cringeworthy across the 50 minutes of this disc. Michael Spencer's bass lines are throbbing, interesting and take on a life of their own at nearly every point on the album. Ex-Fifth Angel basher Ken Mary, in  his debut with the band, delivers an excellent set of beats, grooves and fills which are often fun enough that I could listen to them independent of the other instruments. The riff-set is nothing out of the ordinary for Flotsam & Jetsam, you've been hearing sprinkles of this bright, engaging power/thrash style for much of their career, but here they take familiar frames and sequences and then pair them up with nuanced melodies and genuine passion which engages in the intros, the verses, the choruses, and below the competent leads. I especially like it when they get a few layers of picking going, the album gains a lot of depth and is sure to thrill fans of either of the constituent sub-genres which feed this material. Accessible and straight to the face, but also intricate and detailed.

Most importantly, Erik A. K. is once again on point here, sounding even more youthful perhaps than he did on their 80s albums. Granted, he doesn't really go for a lot of higher shrieks, but he gets so much personality out of that manic, shaky mid-to-high range he excels in, and bullrushes into each chorus part with gusto. There are times when he's singing along over a particularly melodic, more trad/power metal element in the guitars where The End of Chaos almost feels like a high intensity 'thrash' answer to Iron Maiden...not the first time I've felt that way, but really polished off here because the tunes deliver. I'm not lying to say when I say that I cranked this sucker and just found myself repeatedly focusing in on each little's not something I often do when so many albums go more for the sum than the parts, but this one just had me at attention for every single measure, churning out a pure neck-frenzy moment after moment, and never predictable to the point that I could guess what exactly would happen next.

It's a little hard to choose favorites, but some of the cuts on the first half, like "Control", "Recover" and "Slowly Insane" really kicked ass. But even the bonus tunes work, and they mess around with the songwriting dynamics enough that it never grows remotely dull. If you've been avoiding the band since the Cuatros, Drifts and My Gods let you down, then it's probably safe to get back on the wagon now; or if you're a fan for power/thrash ala Artillery and Heathen, and somehow missed out, this could very well be your thing. This is one of those albums that had me smiling from beginning to end, after having only scant expectations for it. These guys are in their 50s now...when I'm in my 50s, I'll be lucky if I've got the strength of limb left to drag my fluid bags around whatever hospice my wife and kids toss me into, trying to sneak a pudding cup after Bingo. So to hear The End of Chaos is nothing short of inspiring. It's got to be that dry, desert air or something.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

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