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Dreams of Death, Flotsam and Jetsam's 9th album, seems to be yet another attempt by the band to reassure their fans of their metallic creed, and while it's more successful than the album that preceeded it, it still feels underwhelming a tiny bit even in light of even the pedestrian Cuatro or Drift. More ambitious than High, like a slightly more metallic Drift or Cuatro, more focused than the disappointing My God, this is perhaps the point where Flotsam and Jetsam finally admitted that being an actual metal band worth their salt was something worth pursuing. Of course, it would take the next album or few for Flotsam to fully realize the potential in the sound they hint at here, and hints of My God and High are scattered here and there. Of course, Knutsen's lyrics range from amusing to inane, but his delivery is still strong enough to make them at the worst irrelevant and at the best good co-pilots of the melody along with the leads which are pleasantly abundant on this album.
Dreams of Death is a short album, but in the same breath I say that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'd rather a band release a short album of decent quality than a long album of intermittent quality. Dreams of Death has one good quality in that every song has at least something to like about it, and many have good riffs and good ideas. However, this still has the feeling of unfulfilled potential. The production, for one, is a hair worse than When the Storm Comes Down. On that album, it was forgivable because they were still relatively new in their career, but they had made 8 albums before this that sounded better. It's quiet and muffled sounding, and the rhythm guitar has no guts, nor does the bass. Truly a sin, because I'm sure this album would have shined with a more pristine production ala Drift or Cuatro, as it seems to be a darker and more metallic Drift, but with the same cleaner passages. I don't know who got the final say, or if they were on a deadline, because the production here is pretty lacking, especially after the albums that preceded it, High even included.
The rushed feeling applies to the songwriting, as well. There's a frustration I feel on the part of the band to come up with a convincing set of songs to put on an album and in their set. Don't expect thrashing the likes of even When the Storm Comes Down, let alone No Place For Disgrace. That era is long gone for Flotsam and Jetsam. However, they can turn out a decent thrasher if they tried, but too often they get mucked down in groove territory that saps all the energy out of their music. What makes Dreams of Death more enjoyable than its two immediate predecessors is that when it gets mired down in groove territory it still manages to carve out some atmosphere for it. No instrument is truly impressive yet the vibe they generate is enough to power a good powerchug of a six pack of drinkers choice and a salud of the horns every so often and a good feel as the sun sets down and the alcohol sets in. I wouldn't go see them do something like this live though, for what it's worth.
While I admire Flotsam and Jetsam their longevity amidst the constant turning of the wheel that is metal music, I can't say that I've been excited for or looking towards anything they've put out since When the Storm Comes Down, which in itself was a disappointing followup to the band's magnum opus No Place for Disgrace. Dreams of Death is just another case of the band falling short of its untapped potential, and it's not the phoenix we all hoped would rise from these undying ashes, but hell if it doesn't at least start out with a bang, and it proceeds to outclass My God in just about every department other than its production quality.
The Travis Smith cover art is admittedly trendy, but along with the simplified font of the band's moniker, it lends the album a mature character that had been absent for a great many years. Hell, with the exception of the similarly dressed 2010 effort The Cold (also by Smith), it's the best cover in their whole canon, No Place... included. But what's more, there was a simultaneous sense that Flotsam and Jetsam had fully returned to the hybrid power/thrash which spawned them, and executed a fluid grace in the first few songs here that were easily better than anything the band had put out in 17 years prior. Unfortunately, like the album before it, Dreams of Death treats us with the better material up front, and then sort of fades off into the backdrop with the ensuing songwriting. But this time, at least the first few tracks have a semblance of enduring quality to them.
"Straight to Hell" is one such piece, opening with a straight surge of energy that includes some clinical tremolo riffing that one would never really expect from the Arizonans, and then a lush dual melody sequence flowing alongside the verse. The tune seamlessly shifts between eloquence and power, and while it wasn't perfect thanks to the pretty mundane mid-paced palm muted guitars used to transition the better bits. "Parasychic, Paranoid" is likewise strong, a brief and controlled burst of surgical thrash that seems like a tag-team between late 80s Flotsam and Denmark's Artillery from the same period. Love the little melodies, once again woven through the verse, though they are almost done a disservice by the low volume. Again, they belt out this tremolo riff akin to old school thrash/death metal that takes one by surprise as it lurches into the playful leads, and by this point I had every hope that Dreams of Death was really the album I had been waiting for...
Well, it doesn't really hold up, as much as the band tries. Later thrashers like "Childhood Hero" are rooted in banal, mediocre mosh riffing, and there are far too many slow spots on the album like "Bathing in Red" or "Bleed" that continue that wannabe progressive nature of the previous album. Also, the bloated closer "Out of Mind" is an unfortunate contrast of bland thrash guitars and more inspired spikes of melody that in no way fills out its 12 minute bulk with anything hinging on the level of attention holding required for such a feat. I also didn't care for the piece "Nascentes Morimar", an instrumental with generally clean guitars that seems like something Joe Satriani would have included with Flying in a Blue Dream...sans the catchy leads.
Eric A.K. sounds decent, but this is not one of his more memorable performances as most of the vocal lines are entirely throwaway. I also felt that the mix was a bit dry, lacking the depth of its predecessor and perhaps that went a long way to subduing some of the heavier riffs. So, really, Dreams of Death plays out like a massive swan dive, opening with some attitude, charisma and well purposed riffing and then quickly plummeting into more of the same mediocrity they had been releasing for years. The lyrics were still mediocre, though not so sorry as a few of the albums before it, and the riffing quality just not prevalent. Again, we're not talking an awful record by any means, but a sinking ship. A shame, really, but not the first or last for this band.
In brevity, I love this album and recommend it to thrash, heavy and speed metal fans worldwide. It is full of awesome riffs, interesting stories/lyrics, and all out good metal.
For those of you who remain uninspired, however, I will continue this in more detail.
Dreams of Death is embarrassingly my first engagement with Flotsam and Jetsam, a band who tenure in at over 20 years. I picked it up from a closing music store and was pleasantly surprised with my find.
The music from this CD reminds me of old school innovative sound. It has everything a metalhead can ask for. There's technicality, melody and creativity in both the instruments and vocals. The music isn’t anything revolutionary in terms of ‘new’, but the content is written in an original style. It’s almost like the elite of 80’s heavy and thrash combined. Occasional tempo changes breach the speakers mid-song and are even more common from song to song sparking interest. Powerful melodies bounce around inside bystander’s heads, and the cadence of choruses, bridges and solos is far from disappointing.
F&J do not bore lyrically either, but I think they are not for the faint. Illustrations of schizophrenic attacks and out of body experiences captivate the listener in each song. Delivery of diction is clear, but not overly clean a la Rhapsody inspired style. A degree of rasp is present in the vocals, but the distortion is healthy and does not detract from audibility.
I cannot speak for the old school F&J fan, but for the rest of the thrash and 80’s lovers, this album evokes dreams of the good ole’ days.
I think it's a bit unfair that such an interesting band goes unnoticed after their first two albums which are absolute classics. Flotsam and Jetsam has shown many faces during all those years throughout 9 albums and on this little comeback album (as far as I remember, they split up for a while between "My God" and "Dreams Of Death") there is, let's say, some facelift done. They have never invented anything what hadn't been played before, but evertime I take their CDs I'm glad it's something new. This time is no different.
To be honest I expected something more in the venue of My God, nevertheless they didn't leave me dissappointed with this album. It's still some kind of original heavy metal (I can't think of any truly similar band) with recognizable voice of Eric A.K.. I always thought that he's the distinguishing mark of F&J, so it's good he returned and did some good job behind the mic. Anyway, it's hard for me to describe the music on this release because they have never played like that. I mean don't expect a milestone music or glam rock. This is Flotsam And Jetsam, so you will of course hear some good thrashing riffs (Straight To Hell or Parasychic, Paranoid) and great solo work of Ed Carlson. But there is also a lot of some dark, anxious vibe here, which fills the whole album. First it starts with schizophrenic intro and turns into two "paranoid" thrashy songs. Then it becomes more calmer... maybe "calmer" is wrong epithet, because the whole atmposhere is rather not peaceful. More like fearful and kind of paranoid. It makes the last track "Out of Mind" fit perfectly in the tune of album.
I'm not much into heavy metal, but as they were once great thrashing machine I started to appreciate more their 90s work. Maybe that's why I find this as a great peace of music. Highly recommended for those who are bored with current heavy metal. I hope it wasn't their last word.