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In the 1980's, thrash was a-boomin'. As a style that already values technicality as one of its central tenants, it can be expected that the progressive variant of this would be something to behold. 1989 in particular was an incredible year for thrash metal, with two of my favourite albums of that style being released. The greater of the two was Voivod's 'Nothingface', an inventive beast of a record that felt miles ahead of most everything else coming out at that time. In fact, one of the only other albums in metal that year that hoped to compete was my second pick, Watchtower's seminal release 'Control & Resistance.' After a major critical success with their debut 'Energetic Disassembly', this colossal Texas outfit struck harder than ever with their sophomore. 'Control & Resistance' picks up what Rush started, and sets it on fire, screaming. This is without a doubt, an album that still does not receive the wide attention and love it deserves.
Watchtower guitarist Ron Jarzombek is the key here, the man through whom I discovered this album. Described as the 'father of technical metal', that label certainly is not far off, if it isn't already spot on. Although thrash is generally fast and technical as it is, there is a much greater sense of tightness and calibration to Jarzombek's shredding and riff work, then say- a band like Slayer. The music is certainly thrash, but there is much more nuance to the performance than the genre is generally used to. In particular, the vocals of Alan Techhio (a fitting name, eh?) hit most every other vocalist in thrash out of the ballpark; his vocals attack the same falsetto range as Geddy Lee, with the precision and scope of an acrobat.
The drums and bass here are marvelous, with the band as a whole constantly changing up their act and tone of the music. Although there is a fairly stable sound set that 'Control & Resistance' abides by- that being speedy thrash- there are so many nooks that Watchtower exploit along the course. The songwriting is explosive and fierce, and the lyrics take the same thinking man's approach as the music. Topics revolve around society and war, and the relationship these two concepts have with each other. Although Techhio's vocals are sure to pierce one's ears at the surface level, the intelligence invested in the lyrics improves subsequent listens.
I did not expect any of Ron Jarzombek's earlier work to be any pushover, but I was blown away by Watchtower and this album in particular. Although the diversity is lacking and over- the-top shriek of Alan Techhio is at times jarring, I cannot help but love and revere the music here; an album that sounds as fresh now as it did back then.
It's difficult to put to words the effect of an album that is so inflential and important to its genre. It's especially hard to do when the release you're dealing with is Watchtower's "Control and Resistance". Like an unsolved riddle that's still yet to be decoded after decades of close investigation, Watchtower's sophomore outing has been mystifying and enthralling constantly since it was unveiled over twenty years ago. What makes this thing so irresistable yet puzzling all at once? That's a question not answered easily, which is fitting, because Control and Resistance is an album not easily listened to. It's a record that's so technical and inaccessable that musicians still haven't caught up in the present day. I've grown up with the thing, so I'm no longer really phased by its uninviting, caustic aura, the one element that may detract for some. I say, bring it on!
This seriously sounds like a band formed in an asylum and crafted the project of four truly twisted minds; you've got schizophrenic rhythms and riffs, ridiculously on-the-nose, cynical lyrics, and then they're all spouted by the head maniac himself, Alan Tecchio, sounding like the tortured screams of a burning man. The only factor inconsistent with this fully credible theory is the undeniable professionalism with which it is all put together. Sure, any of those factors individually might make for a neat gimmick on another thrash album, but on Control and Resistance, it's all blended together in a near perfect blur of futuristic technical mastery. There isn't a note I'd change today. Really, how could you change art? That's what this is, a piece of elegant art metal.
To think, I haven't even covered any songs yet. This thing kicks off with probably its craziest song, the almost scary Instruments of Random Murder. With no repeating sections and a violent lead riff, this track sets the stage for the entire album, and that stage is one fraught with anarchy and emotional insecurity. Still, the apocalypse rumbles on, and next we have the uncharacteristically short The Eldritch. This song features a creepy atmosphere one can't but like. Mayday In Kiev begins with a bass line that screams Rush worship, and Doug Keyser is fully up to the task. This has got to be one of the few technical albums where even the bass is precisely mesmerizing in its insane complexity. Coupled with Jarzombek's jazzy, supernatural leads, this has to be the most technical album ever.
The strange coincidence within that statement is that Control and Resistance is really not even that fast. Take for example the next two songs on the album, long epics The Fall of Reason and the over the top title track. They build upon slow structures that only eventually burst, yet you never doubt their advanced, difficult cohesion. In fact, I'd argue that the slow, moody moments are the highlights of the disc, showing off the band's artistic patience. Never do they seem even slightly urged to bust into a fast, stupid "thrash for the sake of thrash" riff. Everything is carefully composed and painstakingly played. Although I don't like any of the last three tracks as much as the first five, they're certainly no slouches either. Life Cycles is especially notable for its almost balladic chorus.
Watchtower's crude, raw debut Energetic Disassembly may have laid down the technical thrash foundation, but Control and Resistance walks all over it. With a greater attention to detail and focus in crafting memorable songs, Control and Resistance is a pretty much flawless example of the genre. Although I've grown to prefer the more accessable (and wonderful) Think This, also released in 1989 (by Toxik), this album's legacy has not diminished to this day. Thankfully, it isn't one of those albums that has grown dated, and it is still totally capable of living up to the reputation given to it by Watchtower's fans. Though it seems more and more like we're never going to get the supposed third release, at least we can spend time spinning this to remind ourselves why we want it so bad in the first place. Pure chaos.
Control and Resistance is not only one of the very best progressive thrash metal albums ever created, but it's yet another example of how Noise Records had almost cornered the market on all things metal of quality in the late 80s. This album exceeds Energetic Disassembly on all fronts, both for its better use of dynamics and insane level of immersion which can actually transport the listener into the various scenarios it presents through the lyrics and music of each track. This was by no means an album I could digest all at once; it must have taken me a dozen listens before all of its intricacies converged upon me like a lattice of pulsing, electronic information.
Judging from the vastly superior songwriting, it's clear some changes have been made in the years since the debut. Alan Tecchio has taken on the vocal duties here, and while he does not distance himself greatly from the style of McMaster, he is simply better at managing the task at hand. He can shriek like a harpy with the best of them, yet he restrains himself so he never becomes some awkward component of the instrumentation. But an even more profound improvement has been made in the guitar department, where Ron Jarzombek has taken over the position of Billy White. Jarzombek is sheer insanity on this release, a monster of ideas and quality riffing that had guitar maniacs' heads spinning when the album dropped. A wealth of leads and speed picked thrash rhythms conjoin to create an atmosphere through the notation alone. The rhythm section of Keyser and Colaluca remain, and both have also tightened their performances; to stunning results. Keyser has crafted himself one of most technically satisfying applications of the bass guitar in the history of metal music, not only complementing Jarzombek's witticisms but becoming an equal. Colaluca has perfected his mix of jamming fusion and electronic fills into something one rarely heard outside of the stricter, progressive rock/fusion circles.
But, musicianship aside, even if we were to assume aliens landed on our planet for a few weeks to record this album, each with dual concentric brains and six limbs, it is the music itself which launches Control and Resistance into the stratosphere. There are so many individual riffs on this album that I must have spent hours stopping and rewinding my original cassette version to try and comprehend what was going on. And yet, the riffs are never so indulgent that they strand the thematic nature of each track outside of its performance. "Instruments of Random Murder" arrives in a wash of adventurous guitars, plopping bass and shuffling drum work that at once immerses the listener while warning him/her (oh who am I kidding, how many girls listened to this record?) that THE GAME IS AFOOT. As it begins to thrash out of control, like the section at 1:15, you can actually feel the hysteria and panic of a murder, an autopsy, and a brain being wracked to find the answers. "The Eldritch" is fast and dangerous, with more intense thrashing that threatens to explode out of the seams. The little tapping lead is beautiful, and Tecchio's vocals fit like an escaped madman over the amazing flow of the verse...and yet it's the speed rhythm at 1:10 that ensures you will NEVER forget it. "Mayday in Kiev" has some of the best bass playing I've yet heard on any progressive metal composition, and this is one of those tunes that truly sucks you into the post-nuclear disaster landscape, a smorgasboard of excellent riffing.
'Severe political fallout - toxic exchange of words
Soviet obscurantism under verbal attack
Abroad, outraged countries appeal for information
Met with grudging riposte, hesitant placation
At home, TASS reports no danger - nothing to fear
As deadly elemental isotopes spew into the biosphere'
That happened! And now, YOU CAN BE THERE. The opening salvo of "The Fall of Reason" has a lot of bite as it proceeds into a scintillating sequence of clinical, punctual melodic thrashing sequences. Eight minutes in length without even the remotest trace of boredom. "Control and Resistance" is another jarring composition with fantastic bass and intense spurts of mechanical thrashwork, Tecchio reaching desperate heights as his throat glares through the madness of social ineptitude and mass conformity. "Hidden Cycles" thinks outside the box functional, terminal rhythms and percussion that make Fates Warning and Dream Theater of the period seem childish by comparison. "Life Cycles" has some interesting, clean tones that evoke a psychedelic mystique (modern Cynic reminds me of this song), but the bass storms and the track soon evolves into another thrashterpiece. "Dangerous Toy" may be some offhand reference to previous vocalist Jason McMaster's new gig with the lame hard rock band, or perhaps it was penned by McMaster himself, yet it's another strong Watchtower tune here with some circular, bouncing rhythms and entropic bass-guitar interplay.
Control and Resistance is incredible...a work of brilliance which far exceeds many similar attempts in the decades since. Bands like Psychotic Waltz or Spiral Architect have tried, but only scratched the surface of what Watchtower had already accomplished two decades ago. Atheist and Cynic haven't even come close. 1989 was a banner year for technical metal (Deathrow's Deception Ignored and Coroner's No More Color are two other examples that I enjoyed even more than this, if you can believe it), and yet this sophomore effort remains fairly timeless, despite its often dated production. And this is perhaps the only minor complaint I hold for Control and Resistance. The guitar tones are often a little thin for my tastes. When they are sharing space with the transcendental lead work, I can give it a pass, but just an inkling more power would have processed perfection. But, really, if you think this is going to be a distraction, you think wrong...because this album is a monument of possibilities, regardless.
Lowlights: You and I will never be this good. Ever.
After Jason McMaster’s departure, Watchtower recorded what would be their second & last (for now) album Control & Resistance.
Now this album, like their last is mixed well, but with some issues & interesting quirks here and there. Both mainly being on the percussion. As for how it’s played this album is good, with the exception of Instruments of Random Murder which I find rather dull. The guitar work isn’t fast like your everyday thrash but it keeps an energetic touch that I like. Also unlike your everyday thrash the riffs have less of a chugging sound. The solos are pretty damn good I must add from The Eldricth’s fast & relentless solo to Life Cycles’ slowed down and technical solo, it’s all good. As for the rhythm section it’s bad ass as well. The bass is very strong on this album, it serves more of a rhythm guitar than a bass in my opinion. But as I previously stated there’s some issues with the percussion, it’s kind of drowned out by the guitar & bass. But in the parts where it’s audible it’s excellent, mostly on the cymbals, and what I mean is they have this tight tone that if you didn’t know that it was the drums you’d swear the cd was skipping, which I laughed about on my first listen through. But the vocals are outstanding. Alan Tecchio, formerly of Hades, is quite the wailer on this record. His banshee-esc screams fit in with the music fairly well I must say. The lyrics are damn good as well, speaking of humans slowly loosing their intelligence, & nuclear warfare.
To rap this up Control & Resistance is quite the enjoyable experience and a marvel of technicality with some errors that are easy to overlook-95%.
Technical thrash madness! You'll get strangled listening to this album. No room for breathing between these completely mad time-signatures. Watchtower really know how to play their intruments indeed. I was browsing through the site and found this great band, then got this album. Man, I did not regret. The complex and thrashy songs really grabbed me and I fell in love with it at once. Alan Teccio's vocals may be an acquired taste, but he does a very good job on the album nevertheless, following the riffs very well too. Ron Jarzombek, who formed Spastic Ink after the Watchtower split, really shows what he's good for, backed up with Dough Keyser's complex bass playing. Rick Colauta's drumming is excelent, though a bit sloppy sometimes, but his switching between electronic and acoustic drums is really cool to listen too.
This album isn't very original, but it's a important and influencial point in the Progressive Metal genre. This album is incredible progressive and never really boring, and the hyperactive songs are all great. Especially "The Fall of Reason", which features a beautiful and relaxing, yet complex middle section, and the title cut with it's very memorable main riff. Complex, tricky, progressive and influencial. That's how I would describe this one. It's not perfect, but it's not very far from it either.
Ah yes... Technical thrash at its best. This is the among the best technical thrash out there. a step up from the first album. the drums are still crazy. the bass seems pushed more to the front this time around. the vocals are still high pitched, but go well with the music. the music isnt as fast, so to speak, but it's probably more technical and progressive than the first album. The guitars are very treble based. The bass doodle's a lot.
Instruments of Random Murder has a nice groove and the main riff kicks in with a quick high note click. the song is full of energy, and the solo section is very cool with the bass doodling behind.
The Eldritch is a bit dark but very cool. the bass doodles more, which is a trademark.
Mayday In Kiev is one of the best tracks here. The chorus is chanting, even if it does sounds a tad off key. Once again solo time is made 10 times better with the bass playing those dark sounding doodles.
The Fall Of Reason is the essential progressive metal song. The intro becomes absolutly insane around 0:50. The bass is so fucking insane it makes any bass player bow down. The chorus is "melodic" if you want to call it that, because of the crazy time changes. The mid-section is like the mid-section in Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with the bass having its own part, but much more insane and doodly. The guitars play such technical solos, and all with great precision. The bridge is very fast and really makes you head bang, if you can head to the weird time changes that is.
The title track is probably the best track here. It opens with the clean guitars on some weird reverb. It moves into a kind of pointless riff. Then the main riff kicks in, and absolutly blows you away. This whole song is pretty fast paced. The chorus is dark and grooves along. The pace quickens even more. Alhough in this section I would have made it a bit longer cause it kicks me in the ass so much. And now the piece de' resistance`. The all-time amazing solo section. Oh my god. It's quiet in the beginning and gets louder. It's absolutly menacing! The WAY off key soloing in the middle just moves you're head back. It doesn't even sound like guitars. If you had this on you stereo or computer, but wasnt really paying attention, that part will MAKE you pay attention.
Hidden Instincts has more bass doodling. It's still very fast and technical, but doenst do much else.
Life Cycles has a dark, clean guitar part in the intro that makes me think of late 80's for some reason. This is probably the darkest song on the album. Very nice drums on this song.
Dangerous Toy is the closing track and leaves a lasting impression and has probably the fastest material. Along with that are quick pauses where the guitar has some cool sounding licks. Once again the bass doodles and doodles. But the bass REALLY goes insane and makes the average bassist just drop his own bass in awe. The guitars have some of that off key nonsense from the title track. When all is done, you rub your ears to make sure there's nothing wrong with them.
This is not something for the average listener of metal or even music in general. This album took me a couple of listens to even UNDERSTAND what i was listening to. I would highly recommend it though to any fan of thrash or Progressive metal.
This album is ALMOST as quality as the first one... it's a bit more out there, compared to the first, but manages to rock just as hard. It's not quite as thrashy, but the riff onslaught is there just as much, and the idea of having the guitar and the bass do different things is really quite well-done here too. Also, there are so many cool solos to be found here... great work by Ron Jarzombek on guitars (replacing Billy White).
If you wanna hear it, go to the official website - this one is just can't-miss work, with songs like "The Eldrich" (nice fucking soloing!!!), "Instruments of Random Murder", and even "Dangerous Toy" (nothing to do with Jason McMaster's band!). Lots of great fast speed-thrash moments are punctuated with some insane full-stops and bass breaks (this actually WORKS - not the shitty "groove" of Pantera's "Walk" or other crap - just a momentary pause that keeps the timing of the song going perfectly well), and then some more midpaced moments as counterpoint, all topped by Alan Tecchio's shrieking vocals.
This one is just about as good as the first one - the two are very compatible, if you liked one you will like the other. They are well worth finding... highlight of this one, well maybe Instruments of Random Murder with that nice midpaced break, or perhaps Mayday in Kiev - oh man, it's all amazingly good! It is insanely complex, so if you listen to it many times, you hear new stuff all the time - meanwhile it's catchy as fuck, so you will bangeth thine head!