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Ah, Flotsam and Jetsam. A band with so many ups and downs, you’ll never know what’s gonna come next. Only one thing is certain – get it in your heads – there will never be a true stylistic successor to No Place for Disgrace.
Many others have already accurately described the situation of thrash metal bands venturing into the shaky 90s, so I will not elaborate on these matters any further. We all know what happened to many classic bands and their (mostly) gruesome adventures into other musical territories. While that change killed off plenty of genre heroes, Flotsam & Jetsam did fare a lot better with their new inception. At least, on their second try.
Their preceding record When the Storm Comes Down was a confused mess. With their rather feeble cocktail of thrash metal concepts, a ruinous tin can production and the then-fresh groove metal element, it wasn’t exactly a how-to-survive-the-climate-change effort - I’m still struggling with my memories there, as the applied formula didn’t exactly stick with me and apart from the standout track Suffer the Masses there was nothing truly worthwhile that I could actually hold onto – and even in commercial environments, it was received rather poorly.
So two years later, the boys returned with a much more coherent effort called Cuatro. The stylistic change here is bigger than ever before, as we see the band steering way deeper into the limbo and enemy-of-all-that-is-true genre known as grunge. The production is cleaner, the guitars have a thick 90s tone but lack the grit of earlier records, Eric's vocals sit comfortably on top of the mix and the tempo is locked into mid-paced mode more firmly. Sounds like the recipe for typical 90s shit, doesn't it?
Flotsam & Jetsam did not sacrifice their identity completely though, since there is still a fine guitar riff construction beneath the new coating. It is absolutely undeniable that they were trying to reach a wider audience, but they did so with determination and focus. This is no half-assed effort, I'd actually compare it to Metallica's infamous self-titled – in terms of sellout approach – as the recognition value is still there, it's just that the intensity and the rough edges have been flattened to be more fitting for MTV and radio airplay. Yes, that is - and forever will be - a bad thing, but Cuatro is still encouraging enough.
Highlights on this one are definitely the heavy groove swagger of a song that is Swatting at Flies. This one could very well be their very own Enter Sandman in terms of groove and catchiness. The Message infuses Alice In Chains-like bass lines with colorful groove (not again!) drumming and a rather menacing atmosphere. Eric's vocals are towering above the urgent chorus, as he's soaring through it with conviction and skill. If I were old enough to have heard their first two records on their initial release, I'd never have expected this man to have such a controlled, highly melodic and versatile voice. Wading Through the Darkness amplifies the strong emphasis on grunge, but does so with great expertise. These songs don't forget where they stem from, so the Heavy Metal ingredient is still audible, that's why they remain entertaining enough (which can't be said about other tracks on here, but more on that soon). Again, it reminds me of Alice in Chains and I'm rather sure that the Flotsams took notes when Facelift was released back in 1990.
Though, when the balance shifts towards the more mainstream rock aspects of their music, the fog lifts and the record's weaknesses become more apparent; Cradle Me Now tries to mix a brooding and unwelcoming atmosphere in the verses with a sugary, cotton-candy-filled chorus. No matter what Mr. A.K. did before or after this record, I've never heard such a boyband-ish and plain unmanly tone out of him. The little momentum built before this part becomes insta-raped by the worst chorus in Flotsam & Jetsam's career. I'm afraid the lyrics Cradle me now, teach me how.. do nothing but intensify this awkward feeling. No sir, I don't want to pick up that bar of soap for you, no thanks.
Repetition is another facet of this mainstream cuddling and it is not done well. Iterating the track title or chorus ad nauseam (especially when it's just not well written) like in Forget About Heaven or Are You Willing just won't cut it. And that's all you'll remember of these tracks, since the rest of their running times is clearly built to appear as a landslide to shoot those dumb lines straight in your face.
Also, if you're still looking for thrash elements here, it's time to give in. There are a few speedier songs/sections on here, but they all belong to the weaker half of the record. It's like they had already forgotten how to write good material like that by 1992. Natural Enemies only shines on the chorus, which effectively kills the thrashier pace it had before (and it's also a rather cumbersome and quite misleading choice for an opener, as well as the template for the very similar construction of the other fast tracks). Its stylistically close relatives will already be flushed out of your memory before you actually reach the end of the album.
Even though there's quite some frustration and dismissal in my review, Cuatro is not a bad album if you approach it with caution and a suitable mindset. If you don't avoid grunge like the plague, don't hate post-1988-Metallica with a passion and at least somewhat enjoy what bands like Alice in Chains, Death Angel and Anthrax did around the same time, you will have fun with this. Just don't expect to hear something even remotely close to this band's 80s output. It's no surprise that inconsistency and confusing stylistic meanderings would be reliable companions of this band until the present day.
Highlights: Swatting Like Flies, The Message, Wading Through the Darkness, Double Zero
I never became an avid fan of the post-thrashy vogues inaugurated by The Black Album and “Cowboys from Hell”. And I have always preferred the heavier, more atmospheric approach of the former to the noisier, agro-groovy exploits of the latter. The thing is that not many acts chose Metallica’s new model since the angry groovisms of Pantera, Machine Head and the likes seemed an easier path to follow, and arguably the more popular one…
The Flotsams were actually the first US band from the 80’s cohorts to attempt a more experimental approach towards the good old thrash on “When the Storm Comes Down”, and consequently ended up with the first flop on American ground which sole excuse is that at least it didn’t terminate their career the way “Cold Lake” did away with Celtic Frost on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s a worldwide secret now (sloppy production, noisy hollow-sounding drums, thin vocals, etc.) what prevented this effort from shooting the band into the stratosphere, not to mention the swiftly changing tastes at the time, but kudos should be paid to the guys for not giving up and preparing another opus some two years later.
By 1992 the new set of laws to rule the metal scene was already spread around, and even in Tahiti and the Easter islands the fans knew that “Walk” and “Rise” would be the new hymns to replace “Battery” and “Angel of Death”, their stomping urgency better suited to the tendencies towards a more simplified, more irascible sound. Temerity was the only stance an old-timer should have taken during those troublesome times, but few were the brave to stand their ground; the old “wolves” had to adapt to the new environment if they didn’t want to perish without a trace.
“Cuatro” remains, after all these years, The Black Album’s most faithful follower; it’s almost as good, if not even better, and has managed to preserve some of the less bridled energy of the band’s earlier releases by speed/thrashing with passion on occasion. As a matter of fact, it starts as though the guys had risen to the challenge to produce “No Place for Disgrace 2”, with “Natural Enemies”, an uproarious headbanger which beats every track on the preceding effort (excluding “Suffer the Masses”, of course!). On the other hand, this is a most misleading beginning since the opener is hardly the model to be followed here; the latter is established by “Swatting at Flies”, a heavy hypnotic mid-pacer which could pass for doom, power metal, and post-thrash at the same time. So this is going to be it: stomping, pounding riffs “flirting” with the balladic/semi-balladic at every opportunity… I clearly see how many fans had turned their players off after “Cradle Me Now” (three in a row is just too much to handle), and had refused to give this album a second chance, not in this, not in any other life...
The truth is that each composition here is very carefully crafted, a standalone track which has it all: melody, heavy guitars, a memorable chorus, etc. What one needs to do is cast aside his/her hopes that “No Place for Disgrace” or “Master of Puppets” would occur again, and embrace a new style with all its nuances and shades which, to tell the naked truth, were not that far removed from the ones used a few years back. Alas, not many were the more patient ones who stayed with the album until the next speedster, the brilliant “Never to Reveal”, one of the band’s best songs, splitting the album into two, giving the 2nd half a boost later reflected in the closing trio of impetuous headbangers, this handsome package sounding like a leftover from “Doomsday for the Deceiver”. A package which The Black Album refused to offer, intentionally or not.
24 years later the album still sounds relevant, and not only because post-thrash became a legitimate “player” on the music scene very soon after. It’s a perfectly composed metal album which aptly avoided all the defects the preceding one had in abundance. Eric A.K. has put tight reins on his vocals which was the perfect solution to the new, less energetic delivery, and although to these ears his early high-strung antics have always been a delight to listen to, this newly acquired singing style even further consolidated his status as one of the finest performers to ever stand behind the mike in metal. The guitar duels are expectedly subdued and less expressive, but one can easily learn to tolerate them, especially with the speedy escapades “roaming” around. And, of course, the drums; two years ago Kelly Smith sounded as though he used his grandmother’s kitchen pots to beat on as an additional experimental touch to the already outlandish musical scenery; it’s great news that he decided to bring them back to where they rightfully belonged (the kitchen, that is), and pull himself together for another standout performance on a real drum kit. Everything seemed perfectly in place to make the Flotsams one of the stars of the 90’s show with their knack to keep both the nostalgic fans and the new post-thrashy audience happy…
So what went wrong then? Was Eric A.K. tempted by the prospectives of replacing Rob Halford in Judas Priest, or Michael Kiske in Helloween, and left his comrades? No, no, neither of those scenarios ever evolved so the band’s lineup remained pretty much intact throughout the 90’s; which makes the mystery even deeper as to why these same musicians “embarked” on producing a string of mediocre, unimpressive efforts that marred their career almost beyond any chances of repair. Whatever was labelled as “thrash” on “Cuatro” was irrevocably gone on “Drift” which these ears could only tolerate for the first two cuts (let’s see who’s impatient now…). Sparkles of the previous intensity on the next three opuses only made the situation sadder. Then appeared “Dreams of Death”, an unexpected return to form seeing the guys capturing some of the dark, heavy magic of the “Cuatro” spiced with a sharper, more sterile riffage ala Nevermore.
The album-title didn’t promise any bright future releases, and indeed, the band took the longest break in their career which was put an end with “The Cold”, another diverse offering straying from their thrashy roots once again, a tendency which was continued on “Ugly Noise” two years later; the latter is hardly what the title suggests, but is nothing to talk about; really. The re-release of “No Place for Disgrace” in 2014 is hopefully a sign that the guys are preparing for a new strike in the shadow of the good old thrash; and also a reminder that Flotsam & Jetsam were once major contenders to join the Big Four as the Fifth Ace.
So the 90s managed to smack Flotsam and Jetsam across the face just like any other thrashing 80s hopeful. Slight changes in style were to be expected, and Cuatro, their second album for MCA put them in collaboration with Neil Kernon, a pretty big time producer and studio engineer who had worked with huge names like Judas Priest and Dokken. To their credit, they didn't morph quite as much as other acts from their niche, and Cuatro is more or less a more progressive extension of When the Storm Comes Down, if not in complexity than in dynamic range. But this album really starts to sag after a pair of passable opening tracks, and despite the fact that they were 'growing' as artists and experimenting with more rock-like structures, it just about severed all interest I had in the band's future...
I feel like Flotsam and Jetsam couldn't quite shake the specter of Metallica which hung over them even here, because there are a lot of simpler songs involving leaden grooves like the openers "Natural Enemies" and "Swatting at Flies" that kept making me think of "Sad But True" or "Enter Sandman" from The Black Album. Granted, Eric A.K.'s vocals are vastly different than James Hetfield's, but it's this 'dumbing down' sensation, this mainstreaming of the band's base thrash/power/speed sound into something contemporary, heavily overdubbed and generally safe for radio play with its anti-drug, anti-gang, we're all the same victims inside, good will to all men schtick that thrash bands were sort of forced into to cope with the ever-liberalized world of the 'open minded' that the 90s helped catalyze. A rage against nothing. There are thrash riffs here or there, peppered about the bulk of Cuatro, but so many of its constituent tracks are far too moody and rock-inflected that they feel like they're fighting at the straightjacket to escape the asylum of their past. Why? I've no idea.
Granted, Cuatro is far better produced than its predecessor. They got that right, at least. The guitars are still thick and effective but the heavier chords, chugging and melodic leads that glaze most of the facts are in close balance with the cleaner guitar sequences. Troy Gregory had left to join Prong, but the Arizonans did well in bringing on Jason Ward, a skilled, busy player with a deep tone who keeps the listener engaged with the thrumming of "Forget About Heaven" and several other cuts. More importantly, Eric A.K. himself sounds loads better than When the Storm Comes Down, richer and fuller in the mix, but this comes at the expense of some of his aggression. He's very soulful throughout this track list, and implements soothing harmonies that once in a while remind me of Layne Stayley of Alice in Chains. It's a decent fit for all these grooving songs spliced with melodies, and in particular he really blows up during "Secret Square" when he shifts from the low, deep range to screaming.
Alas, the album just fails to register beyond a handful of tolerable tracks like the pumping, uppity Anthrax-like momentum that opens "Natural Enemies" or the mild, mid-tempo groove of "Swatting at Flies", and there are some like "Wading Through the Darkness" and "Double Zero" that were admittedly pretty terrible. Who the hell were they writing this for? The alternative Doc Martin crowd was not going to like it, the loyal 80s thrashers weren't going to like it, the grunge guys weren't going to bite from this metallic-tinted apple. Was there a hidden scene for pseudo-funk rock-progressive-groove-post-thrashers I was blissfully unaware of? If so, then I'd imagine they might consider Cuatro a masterwork of expression, but for myself it was a prime example of how experimentation and enrichment can occasionally backfire and sully everything you've worked for. Flotsam and Jetsam's fourth outing isn't completely terrible, and there are moments where a catchy melody or impressive array of musicianship save it from the slag pit, but it was unfortunately a product of its time that simply doesn't belong in any other.
Just like pretty much every other thrash band that achieved any sort of success, Flotsam and Jetsam changed their sound fairly drastically for 1992's "Cuatro." Gone are the extended thrash epics and fast riffing from earlier releases. Thankfully, also gone is the shitty production of their earlier albums; Neil Kernon does a good job of capturing the band's sound and updating it to pretty accurately match the sound that was popular at the time. Vocalist Eric A.K. has traded in his yelping for a more mature vocal style which is not only better but is much more suited for the music that the band was creating at that point.
The idea of a straightforward Flots album was definitely appealing to me; I wanted to hear the band create something that was heavy, yet rocked at the same time, kind of like Anthrax's "The Sound of White Noise." Sadly, despite some promising clean intros, the songs really fail to deliver once that they get going. As a whole the riffs are generally forgettable and do nothing to anchor the song. They add some heaviness and that's about it.
It would take a strong performance from Eric A.K. to save the album, and he really drops the ball here. Sometimes it sounds like he's singing to an entirely different song, and unlike John Arch, this does not work at all. As a whole his vocals really lack the hooks necessary to carry the songs and take them to the next level.
Guitar solos are largely absent, which is very disappointing because Gilbert and Carlson are fine guitarists and they really could have given these songs some much needed life. The solos that do appear are more spacey and atmospheric and instead of adding to the song, they just merely extent its length.
If one were to go down a list of things that one would think would be necessary for a former thrash band to make a good post-Black Album release (if one would enjoy those sort of releases like I do), this album would seem like a success. The riffs are still pretty heavy, there's good production, the vocalist is very talented at using a rock-style of singing, the only thing really missing are the great guitar solos that these bands (Anthrax, Metallica, Testament, Exodus just to name a few) were including in their new style of songwriting. However, none of those aspects that are mentioned above, except the production, are any good. There isn't a single song on here that is an overall success, in fact there isn't a single song that I would ever want to listen to again. Granted, not all of the songs are bad, most are decent enough and none are offensive to my ears, but there's just nothing that would make me want to come back to this album after it is over.
I hate giving this album such a low rating because it really isn't a terrible album, but it's completely ineffective. As mentioned earlier, there isn't a single song that is noteworthy and there's nothing at all that I can think of to really justify the purchase of this album. Maybe if one is found in a bargain bin (where I found my copy for next to nothing), it might be worth the risk. However, I would advise avoiding this release and perhaps seeking "Drift" or "My God" if you want to hear a good post-80's Flotsam and Jetsam album.
For starters, this album is not revered as a brain pounding thrash classic like their first two albums were, that being said though, this is still a pretty decent thrash staple, which I think most certainly deserves just a little bit of respect.
Here's why! Take a leap back through time and take a look at the thrash metal community as it lay broken and battered at the hands of the music industry executives. bands such as Metallica and Megadeth had made safer sounding albums in both the Black Album as well as Countdown, which brought them both huge success both financially as well as commercially. Flotsam, being on a major label were pretty much forced to deliver the same sort of effort that was compiled by the aformentioned two. I firmly believe that at a time when grunge rock was the flavor of the week, the record industries wanted their minor leaguers such as Flotsam to sink or swim in terms of their album sales.
The band in my opinion was forced to somewhat compromise their style to some degree, yet I don't completely think that this album was a total failure. If anything, I'd have to go out on a limb here and say that production wise, this album totally destroys both the Black albuml, as well as Countdown. but hey, that's just my opinion. On another note, had Bill Metroyer been responsible for this albums's production, then I believe that the digits for my review could easily be reversed. In other words, the production on this album is absolutely stellar. Near perfect production all around with an equally great mix. Some of the novice listeners, who don't look beyond more than the mere music itself may overlook this part of the package, but you have to agree that if the music is not properly produced, then the album will suffer and the overall effect of the tracks will never be properly achived.
Song wise, this album is rather varied in its tempo's as well as its structures. Songs like Natural Enemies, Swatting At Flies, Are You Willing and Never To Reveal are straight forward thrash metal anthems that will appear to all the Flot's fans who worshipped the first tow albums. And on the the other hand, songs like Hypodermic Midnight Snack and Double Zero will show a somewhat more progressive approcah from the band, and in my humble opinion it works rather well. Lastly tracks such as Wading Through The Darkness I think are exceptionally well done, and Erik AK is most definately at the top of his game in the vocal department. Overall the music on this album is pretty competent in the sense that it is rather infectious in the riff department, and the bottom end of the bass and drums is absolutely stunning. Once again thanks to a proper mixing job by Neil Kernon.
In my opinion, this album is in Flotsam's top three greatest albums, the other two being Drift, and High. I say fuck the naysayers, and accept this album for what it is, and considering what was considered to be decent during this era, these guys certainly did not compromise beyond the realm of soul selling, I say Flot's Till Death!
The last remains of thrash metal had vanished. Whereas ‘When The Storm Comes Down’ did still have some thrashing and raging moments, Flotsam and Jetsam had now finally left that style behind. Soundwise (production) ‘Quatro’ was a huge improvement compared to its predecessor and also Erik AK sang a lot better this time. But neither of these elements were enough to save this album.
There are but a few moments the tempo increases on ‘Quatro’. But Flotsam and Jetsam started to suffer from the ‘Independent’ disease (Sacred Reich). Namely writing a tiny amount of up tempo material that is based more upon hardcore punk crossover than old school thrash and filling the rest of the album with rhythmical modern groove metal (Sepultura did the same on Chaos AD). Of course there is nothing wrong with that style, but it always made someone frown when a former thrash band did that. They all started sounding so incredibly desperate! The times were changing however and thrash metal was losing popularity.
Alright, the 4 good songs I’m talking about are these: ‘Natural Enemies’. The only song on which the tempo and riffs at times refer to thrash metal. With the exception of the rather dull chorus this is quite an enjoyable song. ‘Hypodermic Midnight Snack’ is a very dynamic and slightly funny tune (Annihilators Kraf Dinner pops too mind without the thrash)
‘Never to Reveal’ and ‘Are You Willing’ are the best examples of the new up tempo crossover approach. These songs are actually very good, catchy and have great up tempo moments. Guitar wise these songs are true crossover with some old school chuggah chuggah moments.
All the other songs have never convinced me. I’m not saying these compositions only suck because they’re not up tempo but Flotsam & Jetsam didn’t really master this new style of songwriting and songs sounded contrived, uninspired and at times even desperate in the same way all the slower songs on Sacred Reichs ‘Independent’ did. Check out the horrible cheesy chorus of ‘Cradle Me Now’ for instance and you’ll know what I mean.
Therefore: get your hands on ‘Natural Enemies’, ‘Never To Reveal’, ‘Hypodermic Midnight Snack’, and ‘Are You Willing’ if you want some energetic crossover metal. If you want some thrash, check out their first two albums. And if you want some quality nineties mid tempo metal, check out the Anthrax album ‘Sound Of white Noise’
Verdict: 4 good songs out of 12: 33 points. Extra credit for the sound and vocal performance by Eric. Total score 40 points
This could've been such an amazing, way improved follow-up to the inconsistent and unfocused 'When the Storm Comes Down'. Fixing several of the previous album's shortcomings, one could think that it should make for the album that fulfilled the enormous potential that album had.
First off, the biggest, and most surprising improvement on here must be the vocals; Eric Knutson just sounds fucking amazing here. Gone is his rather weak, yelping delivery, because on this album he's grown a couple of fucking BALLS, singing with a hundred times more power, aggression and conviction than ever before, and this without sacrificing a tiniest bit of melody and/or range. As he is using a much lower voice this time around, it's a bit hard to believe it's the same guy at times...though a lot of those catchy, somewhat insane vocal lines that redeemed a few songs on 'Storm' still abound. One of the most impressive vocal performances I've ever heard on an album, and it's hard to really compare him to anyone else - well, if I'm to strain myself, Hetfield circa 1986 comes to mind in general aggression, and his natural voice is a little that of Russ Anderson's, but even that is definitely a stretch (as well as an unfair comparison, Russ just sucks in my book).
The next thing is the production - again, this sounds like what 'Storm' was MEANT to sound, as it's of a similar style (especially the over-the-top heaviness of the guitars), except everything is so much more well-balanced. Cleaner, and in a good way. Finally, and perhaps best of all: they've found consistency! More specifically, gone are those "experimental" moments (i.e. "out of place", "disjointed", "quirky") that were all over the place two years ago. This time, the approach is much more straightforward, and as a result, the songs are generally far more coherent and well-written, almost never resorting to utter stupidity. So far, so good - this album seems to have everything going for it in becoming a masterpiece...
However, also sort of absent appear those earth-shattering flashes of brilliance. That's the problem we have here. Sure, on the previous album most of them occurred during the song "Suffer the Masses", making it the highlight by far with it's ungodly groove-thrashy main riff, alternating with the well-placed catchy melodic lead work and stand-out, almost Geoff Tate-like emotional vocal lines, plus MORE - but I think that one song probably has more value than every song on here combined. Something's just missing here. It's somewhat "toned down" in comparison; everything from the occasional slow atmospheric meanderings, to the more frequent average and not-so-well distinguished riffs that kinda come and go, without anyone taking particular notice. Curse of the Arizona heat, perhaps?
Also: thrash, this is hardly. Even the previous album was a bit questionable in that area, and on here the "groove" moments seem to have taken over even more - while that IS what works best for Flotsam, at least in this stage of their career, it doesn't get you very far if you don't pull it off with enough interesting riffs, aggression and most of all, CATCHINESS (E! Limination!). I think "October Thorns", the only other 'Storm' song I could safely call a winner, may be the song they're trying to reproduce on about half of the album, and while the result isn't exactly a bunch of *indistinguishable* songs, it just turns out a bit bland. Not horribly boring, at least if you give it a chance and sniff out some of it's quite memorable melodic parts, but certainly nowhere near levels of greatness. That unique Flotsam sound that is entirely their own is there, and worthy of praise - but again, if the inspiration isn't there...
That said, having spent a little more time than usual with it, I've come to the conclusion that this is one of those "growers", that take a few spins before they stick. Not that it has or ever will grow into something truly great for my part, but maybe there's more wrong with me than there is with the album itself. Pretty much every song on here is a decent listen, some with a slightly progressive twist, and they're all distinguishable from each other. I could do a song-by-song review, but I won't bore you. Ok, there's ONE stand-out among the others, worthy of pointing out - that is "Swatting at Flies", which appears to be cut from the same cloth as "Suffer" and is a very, very effective heavy chugga-chugga groove-thrasher, with EXCELLENT vocals to boot. THAT is what I feel this album could've been more like, but in refocusing and getting their act together, they apparently went a little soft on us, and even lost a few of the ideas that upheld the heavily flawed 'Storm' as a fairly respectable heavy metal release in the process.
Oh well. A little disappointing, but not really bad.