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While Flotsam and Jetsam's relationship with Elektra Records was rather short-lived, they were fortunate enough to sign over to an imprint of comparable magnitude in MCA for its followup to No Place for Disgrace. I can remember this as being one of those 'make or break it' moments for a thrash band in the later 80s. They had the momentum, they had the musicians, and they were coming off a fan favorite debut and an even mightier sophomore, so When the Storm Comes Down was essentially projected to become the band's Master of Puppets, a goal that was sadly not met at all. This was met with a lukewarm at best reaction, and I'd say that, despite the band's continued slot on the rosters of decent labels, this was more or less the beginning of their sink back into obscurity...
Not that the music here sucks by any means, but there are certain faults in the production that do the rather adventurous writing little justice, and a few stupid songs that mar the remainder. I wasn't the hugest fan of the mix on the previous album (my favorite), and things seemed to only grow worse here, though arguably it falters in different ways. Erik A.K.'s stringy, melodic vocals feel too pinched and tinny in the mix, an unwelcome contrast against the meatier production of the rhythm guitars which were akin to ...And Justice for All or Persistence of Time. A lot of the curious little spikes of melody as in the verses to "6, Six, VI" just felt as if they were lingering far too much in the background, behind even A.K. in potency, and the funkiness of Troy Gregory's bass lines on this album, which show no lack of fluency and creativity, still came off rather flat. Not to mention that there was one song here, "No More Fun" which was a little too 'funky' for its own good, like Infectious Grooves or something and adjoined with goofy guitars and weird druggy lyrics alongside the bouncy pace. The drums are also just 'meh' in the mix.
On the other hand, there was no shortage here of decent and effective riffs that constructed themselves into some mildly memorable songs. Again, while I don't like the blaring funkiness of the bass tone in "The Master Sleeps", it's pretty well structured with those dense thrashing rhythm guitars and melodies that would thrill fans of mid to late 80s Metallica, Testament and so forth. "Suffer the Masses", while not a favorite, is definitely a well written mid paced head banger in which Knutson belted out stronger melodies, even if the backing vocals in the chorus were lackluster when leveraged against the soaring guitar lines. "Burned Device" is also a pretty solid performance from Eric over the glinted acoustics of the intro, and at 6 and a half minutes it has a lot going for it, while pieces like "October Thorns" and "E.M.T.E.K." are also effectively incendiary and show some thought in their own architecture.
However, even these are not quite good enough to scale to the summit of excellent achieved with "No Place for Disgrace", "Hammerhead", or the rebellious "Hard On You", and unlike the second album, I found that one shed a bit of its resonance with subsequent listens. Not to mention that "No More Fun" is a hands down dumb idea, and the closer "K.A.B.", one of those dorky acronym tunes from the 80s which is like 28 seconds of repeating the same vocal line 'Kill all bastards' is neither interesting or particularly humorous. It should be an unwritten law that you can not feature two acronym songs on your album! But beyond that, When the Storm Comes Down is too clean, and too polished in general, and the nasal vocals and imbalance of muscular thrash riffs and melodies really threw me off and continues to do so over 20 years later. Fans of the more progressive West Coast speed/thrash records like Heathen's sophomore Victims of Deception or Mordred's first two efforts Fool's Game and In This Life might want to check this out for its comparable creativity and tone, but for myself this was the opening chapter in a long stretch of mediocrity from a band I had very high hopes for.
Ohw, how this album was bashed back in the day. Not always entirely justified I should add. There were really some good songs to be found here. But I can imagine when being used to ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Disgrace’ this album didn’t live up to expectations.
‘The Master Sleeps’ and ‘Suffer The Masses’ are excellent songs. Not always as fast as their old material, but still strong compositions and two of the best songs on the album. The best song however is ‘E.M.T.E.K.’ which is a power ballad in the vein of ‘Escape From Within’ (the ‘Fade To Black’ / ‘Welcome Home’ type of Metallica songwriting).
The real trouble starts with the production. I do not know what exactly happened but the album sounds like shit. There is absolutely no cohesion between the instruments. The guitar sound is simply awful and the drums are really flat with an annoying reverb. This lack of good sound becomes most obvious on the up tempo parts of the album. A song like ‘Deviation’ in essence is a good groovy thrasher but is ruined by the horrible production.
Also because of this sound (drums and guitars don’t match) the voice of Erik falls out of place and at times he also sounds uncovinced. Which is quite a shame since he normally fits in so nicely in their music. But here, it all fails. The addition of some groovy parts and weird effects also damages the over all continuity and intensity of the album, leaving us with a very inconsistent album that has a few highlights making it still worth to own. (but I still hope the band would one day re-record or re-produce the whole damn album!!)
One thing needs to be made clear about this album when justifying the pointage, so here goes.
The song "Suffer the Masses" absolutely totally fucking rules in every way imaginable. I have never and would never give an album I am aware of a perfect score, but gimme an album with ten songs that somewhat resemble this song and a few others like, say "Revolution Calling", "Aces High" "Blackened", "Painkiller" and "Kill on Command" (better stop there), and I may very well consider it. No, there can never be such a thing as a "perfect" album - but the stuff that "Suffer the Masses" is made of for ten songs straight would probably be well enough to deserve the SCORE 100% anyway. Man, I'm such a critic.
Ok, so the newscast thingy in the beginning is a bit cheesy; the production is kinda off, with the guitars being over-distorted enough to make Will Rahmer proud; the vocals badly lack any sort of balls or attitude - meaning, that this isn't exactly material for a supposedly "perfect" album by definition - but thanks to that one total destroyer of a main riff, the song is made an instant classic, no matter its shortcomings. The groove riff to end all groove riffs. That is all there is to it. Yes, the chorus is really fucking cool too and the way the awesome melodic verse alternates with the monstrous main riff is also to be commended, and more...but that's beside the point.
And as you may have guessed, that is by far the best song on here. That's the most frustrating aspect of this band right there, on every album I've heard from them. For every album I've heard by them, they seem to have this certain quantity of killer songwriting and either inject it all into ONE song that is made legendary, or spread it all out more evenly across the whole album. Unfortunately, it's never enough good material to form an ENTIRE solid album, and this time around, they resort to throwing in heaps and heaps of uninspired, awkward, disjointed bullshit for the sake of sounding "experimental", or just because they've run out of good ideas, or something. Yes, the rest of the album...actually, this very album is a bit in-between the two "options", because a few other songs on here hint at genius too, occasionally.
What we have here is mostly some sort of thrash/power/groove mix that, when at its most heavy and straightforward, reminds me a bit of Overkill or Anthrax' trademark 'Among'-like mosh sections, while the more melodic and almost power metal parts, occasionally, bring Metal Church to mind. However, this isn't a "traditional" thrash album in any sense, complete with the "usual" stuff like gang vocals, thrash breaks, choppy technical riffage, and cannot really be compared to the 80's power/speed metal sound of, for example the epic Fates Warning, or the fist-swaying, "rocking" aggression of Running Wild, or the happy-fun bouncy vibe of Helloween...well, maybe the "robotic noise" middle section of "Future World". It's just that incredibly disjointed at times. Really, most of this album cannot be compared to anything else out there...and that's mostly where this album fails, sorry to say.
Honestly, other bands probably just weren't stupid enough to write shit like the entirely meaningless verse of "6, Six, VI" that is completely devoid of direction or focus, or the Simon & Garfunkel-like harmonized chorus of "Burned Device". This whole song goes through a lot of silly ideas and drags on for over six minutes...but some really schweet ideas are buried somewhere in there too, like the catchy thrash-groove main riff that is total Overkill worship, and some vocal lines that are just plain fun. "When the wolves start gathering 'round my...door!" There are LOTS of great vocal lines everywhere on this album, but as I said, the vocalist still leaves a fuckload to be desired...he would oh-so improve on the follow-up. The second best on here is "October Thorns", and quite a highlight it is...yet another groove-thrasher, except this one sticks with solid riffage in a straightforward fashion without resorting to random stupidity, yet sounding very original at it. A fucking amazing solo in this one...yes, the lead work on the whole album is well above average and yet another highlight...but again, the songwriting does quite frankly really blow at times.
Oddly enough, the WORST part of this album is when it speeds up - it does not work at all then. Especially not with this production; it is completely horrible, because the guitars are just far too fucking downtuned and quite often over-distorted, making it sound like a parody of a typical untalented garage thrash/crossover band trying to play as fast as possible more than anything else. Damn, come to think of crossover, the fast parts do actually sound like D.R.I.'s 'Thrash Zone' gone wrong, and the riffage turned weak. I think this production was attained with the album's straightforward, "steady-pace" parts in mind, to make them sound heavier or something...but as I said earlier, even The Highlight Song sounds pretty much ridiculous with it. I can't believe this is the same Alex Perialas behind the amazing-sounding 'Oppressing the Masses', released the same year.
Otherwise, it's all about the groove, all of the time. Not Machine Head, but inevitably boring after a while. Sacred Reich. A handful sections are really fucking great, a goddamn heapload is just stupid and disjointed. Bland. Uninspired. Again; boring. Well, as almost every song has a certain little share of genius, it would feel wrong not to point out a few more highlights..."E.M.T.E.K." has a pretty interesting idea going in alternating with the oddly timed acoustic verse and the somewhat catchy and upbeat groove riff...then "Greed" features yet another excellent vocal line in "I'm young, smart, smooth talkin', no one can-ah bullshit me!". Overall, however, both songs lack identity and true memorability, not much unlike the rest of the album.
Still arguably worth it for The Highlight Song alone...but take that one away from the album and I could very well go as far as detracting nearly half the pointage. Most of the time there is at least enough decent "fun" going on to prevent me from *entirely* losing my attention, and also having such an original and extremely distinct sound (not production) such as this is always to be commended - but an ineffective, disjointed mess it is anyway, and probably *because* of that, actually. MEDIOCRE.
Thrash metal has never been the most forgiving genre when it comes to experimentation, and as an experiment, 'When The Storm Comes Down' is somewhat inconclusive. There are successes ("The Master Sleeps", "Suffer The Masses", "E.M.T.E.K"), failures ("Deviation", "No More Fun", "Scars") and the inconclusive (the rest of the album).
Let's start with the positive. Flotsam And Jetsam had a reputation of delivering clever, thoughtful thrash, with the odd trip into the land of mozzarella and Parmesan. Opener "The Master Sleeps" delivers everything a fan could have hoped for. While it is instantly apparent producer Alex Perialas totally fucked up the guitar sound, the main riffs to the song are such that it does not detract from the fun. The drums are high in the mix, especially the snare. Perhaps best of all, Eric AK has toned down his shrieked vocals. The lyrics are ambiguous, ready for the listener's own interpretation.
"E.M.T.E.K" is a little tune straight out of the Twilight Zone. What is the government up to when they test medicines on citizens, and why is my skin turning green? There is excellent use of loud/soft dynamics, to emphasise the important parts of the song. Acoustic to electric and back again, this particular experiment about experiments is highly effective.
For those who are too young to remember, or weren't paying attention at the time, 1989 was a particularly turbulent year. The Berlin Wall fell, Communist regimes all over Europe were overthrown, the USSR split, and the Tianimen Square massacre occurred in China. Flotsam and Jetsam were definitely paying attention. The introduction to "Suffer The Masses" is a cut up of news clips and sound bites from that memorable year. It starts the mind racing before the music begins. Rather than a full on thrasher like "The Master Sleeps", this song rumbles along, heavier because it's slower. Thematically, the lyrics explore freedom and the lack of it in thought and action under an oppressive government, and has a chorus to die for.
Here endeth the good bits. The rest of the album is uneven and unsteady. The band seemed determined not to just turn out "No Place For Disgrace Part II", and avoided playing the Thrash they did so well. At the time of recording, the beginnings of the mercifully short–lived funk metal scene were starting to emerge, so slapped bass and thin staccato guitars feature on a number of tracks. It becomes particularly annoying on "No More Fun" because it is so badly done. The songs also seem to touch base on just about every late 80s Thrash cliché around. The left wing sociological opinions on "Burned Device", "Deviation", "October Thorns" and "Greed" become tiresome. The anti–Evangelist rant of "6, Six, VI" (hmm… wonder if Slipknot are Flotsam and Jetsam fans?) and the environmental rave of "Scars" are cheesy fillers. It is all topped off with the fun but silly full–on Thrash out of "K.A.B.".
The awful production accentuates the negative on this album, which is a shame. There are still a lot of excellent riffs to be found, and Troy Gregory proved once and for all he was a more than worthy replacement for that other bloke, whoever he may have been, as a bass player and song writer. Some of the material has not aged well, but this is a document of a band trying something different within the confines of a restrictive genre, and failing heroically.
Whoo. When my friend first popped this album in since she had just bought it as a blind purchase from a bargain bin, I had no idea what to expect. Most likely boring paint by numbers thrash. But instantly it hit me, this was thrash, and maybe average to most, but the riffs were just knocking my socks off the entire time. I enjoyed every song, and just when I thought it couldn't get better, it did. This is mostly due to:
THE RIFFS. Holy hell they are catchy, same kind of style a band like Pro-Pain would use for an instant hook. Only difference is a riff is never played too long as song will always keep you interested in what's next or if the kick ass riff you just heard will come back around. Just like any good thrasher.
THE BASS. Yes. They really nailed it here with superb production and a thick bass tone that is right with every mammoth riff. Excellently played and the album uses this to maximum potential.
The only negative of the album would be Eric A.K.'s fucked up voice. At first I thought I'd have to deal with an Agent Steel/Helstar kind of wailer, after hearing the big entrance scream in The Master Sleeps (i think that's track 1) but eventually he calmed down into a better than average thrash vocalist. Granted he would get MUCH better on the next album, but here he is tolerable thanks to the excellent music. If you dig F&J, GET THIS.