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A mystifying maze of modern mastery - 89%

Jophelerx, October 13th, 2021

Psychotic Waltz have always been known to march (or, rather, waltz) to the beat of their own (psychotic) drum, and not only that, but to a different drum with each album - the only two albums they've done that sound remotely close to each other, to my ears, are Mosquito and Bleeding, and even then it's only that both opted to include some groove/funk elements - they're still fairly distinct from one another, and only similar in the context of their other albums all being so totally single-minded. Still, the core progressive elements have been retained across the band's three-plus-decade career now spanning five albums, this being their first in over twenty years. A modern production and some modern elements have been included, but it's still Psychotic Waltz in all the right ways. In fact, I would argue that The God-Shaped Void is their best album since 1992's Into the Everflow, only very narrowly being beaten out by that album, though I would say that Into the Everflow, Bleeding, and The God-Shaped Void are all pretty similar in quality, with A Social Grace far above and Mosquito a bit below.

The context of their greater discography aside, what does this offering bring to the table? It retains the more accessible aspects of the band's later two '90s albums, yet as always brings a level of deep maturity to the table, and eschews any groove elements for what I would say seems most influenced by progressive rock and modern progressive metal, the latter of which is somewhat ironic given that Psychotic Waltz themselves predate the style, but of course they pull from a myriad of influences, and never sound derivative or even really strongly resemble any other band or bands, with the exception of the last track, "In the Silence," which sounds like something of an homage to Blue Oyster Cult, though it's highly possible I'm overplaying the similarities there. In fact, I'd say it draws the least from a single genre of any Psychotic Waltz album, as the first had a large helping of thrash, the second psychedelic rock, and the third and fourth groove/funk.

Frontman and vocalist Buddy Lackey, AKA Devon Graves, is in top form here, though he doesn't go as over-the-top as he did in the first two albums, which wouldn't really fit with the somewhat detached, mechanical feel through much of the album. Though I think calling it "restrained" would be an overstatement, the album is certainly more interested in being reflective and ethereal than aggressive or energetic. It relies on simple yet powerful riffs and, for the most part, fairly stripped-down songwriting to really let the atmospheres and ideas shine through, which works almost surprisingly well, a technique few bands pull off well and one that really requires an unusual level of songwriting mastery to succeed at.

Lyrically, the album mostly consists of (very intelligently posed) philosophical and societal commentary, something the band isn't a stranger to, and while the stream-of-consciousness introspection present throughout most of their discography returns here as well, the former is present here more than in previous albums. This is fine as Graves is a master lyricist and I'd probably love him writing about just about anything (though as mentioned elsewhere, "Spanish castle cream" from Mosquito was a bit naff) , though I probably do prefer the self-reflective/introspective stuff personally.

Overall, I really can't say there are any standout tracks, which is testament to the album's consistency, though some are slightly better than others and there are certainly passages within songs that I find especially sublime (the acoustic outro to "Devils and Angels" comes to mind). The only real complaint I have is that there is a clear lack of ambition compared to something like A Social Grace, the band never straying too far from the formula and it's as close as the band have come to putting out a "safe" record, though it's certainly far from that outside the context of the band. There's a bit of a lack of variance stylistically as well, with a lot of midpaced rockers, but ultimately it rarely feels repetitive and these are pretty minor quips. For fans of Psychotic Waltz, progressive metal, or anyone curious about anything I've described here, this is really quite a strong offering and a refreshing comeback I hope is followed up on sometime in the not-too-distant future. Psychotic Waltz remains one of the best bands progressive metal has to offer, and have truly proved that they're capable of doing no wrong.