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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.