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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.