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What really constitutes a 100% album? Obviously no album is truly perfect, perfect is a vague concept based entirely on opinion and preference. There’s no way for me to say this album is perfect. And it’s clearly not. The production isn’t so great, Marc Biedermann is a pretty poor vocalist, and there are certainly flaws.
But I feel the need to issue this my first 100% based solely on the concept that this is one of few albums that, not only I can listen to repeatedly and never get tired of, but also based on the fact that there isn’t a thing I would change about this album, which is a pretty rare thing for me to say. I can look through my album collection right now and probably give you a handful of things I would change about any given album, even ones I love. Even ones I listen to significantly more than this. Whether there’s a song that’s too long, one riff I don’t like, a song that I’d delete, whether I’d change the production quality, change the volume of one of an instrument. And of course there’s always the case where I’d change the album by setting it on fire so that it can never again harm my ears with its awful. Bottom line: there’s usually at least one thing I can say I don’t like about an album.
There is nothing I can say I don’t like about The Sane Asylum. From the strange jazzy opening seconds of the intro track, before the guitar picks up its distortion and shreds into the beauty as Biedermann welcomes you to the Sane Asylum, until the final moments, as I’m not sure, but I almost think he ends the album by yelling… “BITCH!” (For the love of god, does anyone know what the last wordo n the album is, I hear “bitch.”)
As some background, I feel it’s only right to inform you that I am, in fact, a Primus fan, and I did, in fact, find this album through looking Les Claypool’s discography. However, I wouldn’t call myself a Les Claypool fanboy, as I really am only a big fan of the first handful of Primus albums. I’m lost a little by the Brown Album (although there is some good stuff after, I’m not big on any full albums), and I like songs he did in other projects, but not really any full albums. So, while I think maybe it’s unfair to not let it be known that I am a fan of Claypool/LaLonde, but I also don’t want anyone to think this is being blindly praised because they’re on it.
It can be said that this is a progressive thrash album. The thrash is definitely very prominent, and is probably the biggest influence, and the progressive label comes partially from the many outside influences. I’ve already mentioned the jazzy moment in the opening track, and considering bassist Les Claypool is now very well known for his work in Primus, the funk factor in has bass playing should be expected, and it certainly is present, especially at some moments on Smash the Crystal. Still, there are many clearly progressive moments on the album. Many tracks have sound effects somewhat buried in the mix, there’s a children’s choir and synthesizer on Metamorphosis of a Monster, and Death Noise. Just Death Noise. Kamakazi also features some wonderful melodic parts, and although this isn’t exactly new in thrash, as this was post-Master of Puppets at least, which features some of the most useless melodic pieces in thrash, but this executes them perfectly. The melodic sections never compromise the dark atmosphere of the album, and they never feel forced, and most importantly, they sound great. The whole album works very well, and unlike on some progressive albums, where a prt sounds awkward or out of place, this whole album just flows.
Now, there’s some argument that this album’s shortcomings hold it back, such as the production, how low some of these interesting little additions are in the mix, and Marc Biedermann’s vocals. But I’ve always felt that the production was perfect for this release. It keeps it dark and gritty, just as I’d want an album with songs like Blood Shower and Death Noise to sound. And the sound quality certainly isn’t bad. Just somewhat gritty. The little ‘extras’ being low in the mix keeps the focus where it should be: on the metal. This isn’t a progressive album that loses focus on the music because it’s too ambitious with its progressiveness. This is a thrash metal album full of the musical equivalent of Easter eggs for the frequent listener. I’ve already said that marc isn’t a good vocalist; however, he’s a vocalist that fits the sound. Tom Araya and Dave Mustaine are both bad vocalists, but could you ever imagine someone else singing for Slayer or Megadeth? And just as no one wants to hear Bruce Dickinson singing Raining Blood, I can’t imagine who would take over for Biedermann. I love David Godfrey, both in Heathen, and on the Blind Illusion demos, but I don’t know if he’d fit a song like Blood Shower.
Another possible shortcoming on the album might be the lyrics. I know some people really care about deep or powerful lyrics of some kind, and there’s not a whole lot of that. In fact, some of the lyrics are rather goofy, although still strangely topical. For example “The middle east will ride the beast /They're preparing now, for the feast /We watch them as we sleep /Their menu is prepared, it's you they want to eat /The main course/For their holy war.” And the way the album ends: One day the whales will walk the earth /The hunter will become the hunted /Mammoth will unearth itself from the tomb of hibernation /He will sprout wings and fly / Man will be consumed by fire then condemned to the sea/ Burning eternally with salty water in the lung / Reborn, Reformed/The humble will adorn a new way / Without treachery or scorn.”
Clearly the band has something to day, but the execution is goofy and strange. I don’t see this is a negative point though. I see it as silly and campy, in an intentional way. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the band sat around for hours fine tuning the lyrics. I think they found a silly way to get a point across. No, it’s not silly in the same way Anthrax writing about Judge Dredd is, but it’s also not taking its message as seriously as …And Justice For All. Even if I am wrong, than at the very least it’s a case of ‘so bad its good,’ much like the movies of old where you can see the zipper on the monster or the strings on the spaceships. It’s silly and awkward and still entertaining and good in its own silly way. And I wouldn’t change a line on it.
So, a little about the actual performances: All of the band members play solidly, and there’s really nothing as far as the main band hiding in the mix. Biedermann has a voice that’s sometimes reminiscent of Dave Mustaine, or so I feel, he usually sings with a growl or with a strained sounding yell, although sometimes in softer spots, such as the previously mentioned Kamikazi, he sings clean. Again, it isn’t great, but he works with what he has. He also, along with LaLonde, handles guitar duties. Biedermann handles most of the soloing duties, but both prove to be very competent, as Larry is given about four or five. As should be expected, the bass has a funk edge to it, but still fits right in with the style of thrash this band is doing. Mike Miner rounds out the group as a great drummer, and the whole band shows they have some pretty damn good technical capabilities.
In short, this is 40 minutes of imperfect perfection. There isn’t a damn thing that I would change about this album. It’s a little short, but I can’t even say I wish it was longer, because who knows if they would have added filler, of which it wound up with none. In the end, this only leaves you wanting more, which is usually a positive remark, except that Blind Illusion left us wanting more for 22 years. And once we got it, we collectively asked if we could give it back. But this is a beautiful thrash album, with silly, yet topical lyrics, truly inspired by insanity, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I can only hope and pray to the Gods of metal that Biedermann gets off this hippie rock shit long enough to, at the very least, get that final version of The Medicine Show he was talking about a few years back, and maybe remaster/rerecord some of those sick demos he had. I’d love to hear quality version of Banshee. Either way, we still always have the Sane Asylum. And I’m willing to be committed here for a long, long time.