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Mathematics Rewritten - 84%

HeavyMetalMeltdownReviews, August 14th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Prosthetic Records

Watchtower’s career can be summed up in basically one sentence. Quality over quantity. Since their debut album, 'Energetic Disassembly' was released in 1985, Watchtower mustered only one more full length studio album in the shape of 1989’s 'Control and Resistance' before originally calling it a day in 1990. Always on the more technical side of thrash metal, Watchtower have stuck to what they know and after signing a deal with Prosthetic Records, their latest release 'Concepts of Math: Book One' is in essence a conceptual EP on the core values of mathematics.

It’s easy to forget that 'Concepts of Math: Book One' is an EP, from 'M-Theory Overture' announcing the beginning, to the utterly fantastic 'Mathematica Calculis' closing the EP, 'Concepts of Math: Book One' has the feel of an album. 'Concepts of Math: Book One' feels more like an album due to the fact that one song hasn’t been selected for release alongside a collection of B-sides, live tracks or miscellaneous unreleased works. This is actually the only drawback to 'Concepts of Math: Book One', the EP itself is so spectacular that it leaves you severely wanting more, and it would be great if Watchtower could crack on with 'Concepts of Math: Book Two'. However, once more the sentence of quality over quantity rears its head and stands tall.

It would be regarded as an oxymoron to write an EP on the concepts of mathematics and have an entire album of simple riffs with a punk style ethic, but we all know, even from Watchtower’s minimal output, that this is not their style. 'Concepts of Math: Book One' is one of the best pieces of technical metal that you will hear this year. Once more, Doug Keyser, Rick Colaluca and Ron Jarzombek have outdone themselves with an EP that sounds brilliant, it is an utter pleasure to listen to. Even lyrically, 'Concepts of Math: Book One' grows heavily, what can be considered a little heavy going at first, especially to those who may not understand a lot of the concepts, but guaranteed, before too long, you will be singing along to BIDMAS, geometry and algebraic balance without realising.

Bear in mind that 'Concepts of Math: Book One' is certainly not the equivalent of opening up a mathematical textbook at school, unlike mathematics, which can be very dry and dull, Watchtower have made an EP that is it is hugely fun. The main issue with a lot of technical metal in this vein is that, as a genre, it can sacrifice general listening for musical integrity and because of this, it can be rather difficult to take in and to casual listeners, border on unlistenable for a long period of time. However, Watchtower sidestep this. 'Concepts of Math: Book One' is a fantastic EP and hopefully sets the stage up for a new Watchtower album or follow up EP, 'Book Two' anyone? If you buy just one EP this year, do yourself a favour and make sure that it is 'Concepts of Math: Book One'.

Jarring, Hectic Assembly of Mathematical Concepts - 95%

bayern, June 29th, 2017

While waiting for the band to release their proverbial third full-length, some algebra and geometry students already completed their university dissertations. They were painstakingly waiting for Ron Jarzombek and Co. to come up with their precious insight into the complex, labyrinthine world of our favourite mathematics, but since that never happened, they found their own solutions to their problems…

Since 2010 the band started leaking bits and pieces of precious wisdom from said opus, but as the audience had already lost their patience to follow what was going on in their camp due to a lifetime of inactivity, they found it wise to compile those bits into one volume, the one reviewed here, so they could be easier to grasp. In other words, we have five wholesome compositions assembled here, a brand new one added to the four previously released singles, a handsome package clocking on nearly half an hour.

“Joy to the world, our favourite mathematicians have come!”, I can hear a lot of you sing out there, and I can totally feel the mirth instilled in the air as Watchtower are one of the greatest metal acts to ever walk this earth… if only they could remind of themselves a bit more often; and by all means in the way displayed here. The other great piece of news is that the original line-up is here, the one from “Control & Resistance” I mean, as behind the mike we have Alan Tecchio, but not Jason Mcmaster. And the Four Horsemen of the progressive thrash Apocalypse start marching with the appropriately-titled instrumental piece “M-Theory Overture” which is way more than an overture with its hard thrashing riffs and the myriad of time and tempo changes which nicely prepare the listener for what comes next. At this stage the fans can only be delighted as the guys sound like they’ve never missed a beat from their previous exploits.

“Arguments Against Design” introduces Alan Tecchio whose vocal feats of old will be instantly remembered with the very first notes although he stays mostly within the mid-ranged scales; music-wise this is superb hectic thrash with busy jumpy riffage and great surreal lead sections. “Technology Inaction” is a marvel, fabulous complex multi-layered thrash with both more aggressive shreds and more dramatic accumulations both sides alternating in a hectic, overlapping manner. “The Size of Matter” isn’t a sloucher, either, serving a portion of stunning virtuoso leads initially, on top of the mazey rifforamas which are also interrupted by a spaced-out psychedelic interlude. “Mathematica Calculis” is the final piece of the puzzle, the one never heard before, a 10-min opus which moves more towards the more expansive progressive metal arena partly abandoning the aggressive thrashy rhythms, but is another winner on all counts with the unpredictable twists and turns some of which are quite reminiscent of the Spastic Ink. acrobatics, and the several interesting quieter passages which add more atmosphere to the proceedings.

The progressive thrash giants of America are waking up, slowly but surely; Toxik released a fantastic teaser for their long awaited “In Humanity” saga a few years back, and now Watchtower are rising with these reverential mathematical “anomalies”. Blind Illusion flopped deplorably, though, with this awful “Demon Master”, but one can’t expect such an atrocity to occur in the camp here the band having produced something not far removed from “Control & Resistance”. The great thing is that the guys gel so well as though they’ve been playing together all this time, weaving these insoluble musical puzzles with the utmost precision never losing the plot, something that’s always amazed me with them; regardless of how much complexity has been unleashed on their albums, there’s always strict underlying order that keeps the seemingly dissociated segments stitched together, into one encompassing whole. It’s very unlikely that the band would ever mess it up; they can meddle with whichever aspect of the good old Maths they choose to. I’m sure Archimedes and the other pillars of the science from the past are smiling widely from somewhere up there; who could have thought that the abstract matter they had established could be made attractive and turned to music…

ĤΨ = EΨ - 95%

Dudemanguy, October 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Prosthetic Records

Watchtower is a band I love with all my heart, and I practically worship both of their albums. It's no secret that the third album, Mathematics, has been in the works for longer than Chinese Democracy, and with one lone digital single released over half a decade ago, there didn't seem to be much hope for the project. However, the band out of nowhere released 3 new singles digitally last year, and then in about a year, they followed up with a fifth new song and released one EP, Concepts of Math: Book One. While Mathematics technically is not complete yet, some serious progress has been made and the band now has their first real, physical release in almost 20 years.

Now progressive metal, on paper, is a style I should absolutely love. Complex time signatures? Extended, more complicated song structures? Highly technical playing? Sign me up! Unfortunately for me, some certain well-known prog metal bands (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*), ended up pioneering a horribly dull style of progressive metal which is a snoozefest outside of the wank sections and most modern bands seem to be totally content with aping that. Wow, how progressive and forward thinking. Fortunately for me, Jarzombek seems to hate that shit about as much as I do and shows all of the new kids who's really the boss.

It's cliche, but Watchtower was way ahead of their time. An album like Energetic Assembly is still pretty bizarre by today's standards, but in 1985? I can only imagine how mindblowing that must have been at the time. Similarly, the follow-up effort pushed the envelope even farther with more technical and progressive elements. In fact, Control and Resistance still remains mostly unmatched and unparalleled in the world of progressive metal. There's a very, very short list of other technical/progressive thrash metal bands that I think have put out albums on par in both quality and innovation.

This EP features the all-star lineup from Control and Resistance which has Jarzombek on guitars and Tecchio on vocals. Concepts of Math, to nobody's surprise, sounds "modern" in its production, inline with some of Jarzombek's more recent outings. With the exception of The Size of Matter, most of the thrash elements are gone from this release and in its place is the technical/progressive metal style any fan of Watchtower or Jarzombek should be familiar with.

Even though these guys probably rarely get a chance to jam together, their chemistry seems virtually unchanged from the Control and Resistance days. Everyone is clearly on fire while they were recording. Colaluca's drumming is so insane that I wouldn't be surprised if he secretly grows an extra pair of arms behind the kit. Jarzombek and Keyser are perhaps the ultimate dynamic duo between guitar and bass. Both of them can seamlessly play harmonies and leads off of each other, and the interplay between the two is almost always a highlight. Tecchio opts for a lower pitch this time around (likely because of age). There's moments where he hits some respectable high notes, but he won't be breaking glass here with 80s-style wails.

One of the reasons why Watchtower is miles ahead of those horrid prog bands that think they are good for figuring out how to play syncopating chugs (*cough* Circus Maximus *cough*) is the fact that Watchtower completely eclipses those hacks both rhythmically and melodically. The intricate control of the pulse is easily one of Watchtower's strongest points, and it's not just the time signature changes either. For instance, pay close attention to how Jarzombek will phrase a solo. If you're not listening carefully enough, you might just hear a flurry of 16th notes, but very often he will subtly shift rhythms, meters, and tie notes together in a strange fashion. Riffs are almost never straightforward. The band will stop and start at odd place, insert some embellishment, or just flat out go into some mystery time signature. Additionally, there's the fucking rhythm section.

Progressive metal bands generally have good drum and bass players, but dear god Keyser and Colaluca makes them look like children. To get a feel for how goddamn ridiculous the drumming is, just pick any random part and try to air drum along with only the snare. I guarantee you'll fuck up in like 5 seconds; this stuff is just insanely unpredictable. Like the previous albums, the drum performance is mind-numbingly complex and all over the place and yet the all frills style works extremely well. Keyser is still the bass hero. Naturally, he often deviates from the rhythm and goes off into his own territory and adds his own line and flavor to the music. Unfortunately, there's not really any bass solos this time around, but his performance is still quite admirable.

Jarzombek is one of my favorite all time guitar wankers (and believe me, I listen to a lot of them). One thing that sets him apart is his completely unique and instantly recognizable style. He can be a bit dry and clinical sounding at times, but it works in the context of the music. And in spite of his tone, I actually find Watchtower quite melodic. Nearly every song here features a strong wealth of melodic ideas that are often well developed and extended for relatively long musical phrases.

Tecchio got older, so he can't shriek his head off anymore like in the 80s. But it's okay. He mostly sings in a lower, more normal voice occasionally hitting some higher notes. I suppose the lack of vocal insanity may disappoint some, but to be frank I never never put too much weight in Watchtower's vocals. The 80s style, high-pitched singing is certainly entertaining and raises a few eyebrows, but it was never a focal point for me. On the flipside, this makes Concepts of Math a lot more accessible since you don't have some dude on helium screaming at you for half the album. I suppose your mileage will vary.

As someone with a math background, I find the lyrical concepts pretty amusing. Well okay, Arguments Against Design has the old and tired "enlightened atheist" theme which recalls a certain internet meme, but the lyrics to Mathematica Calculis are goddamn hilarious. It's obviously pretty tongue and cheek, but lines like "two determined targets constitute a line" are comedy gold and conjure and image of undergrads rigorously doing graph sketching in calculus class.

If you've already collected the four digital singles, there's only one new song here for you. If you had the patience to wait, well then you're in for a real treat. Regardless of the boat you're in, everything here is written extremely well and crafted with the upmost care. There's a time signature change during the verse of Technology Inaction which I absolutely love and it gets me everyone. But really the EP's brightest moment is the nearly 10 minute behemoth, Mathematica Calculis. Some of the band's craziest tech/prog freakouts occur here. One of the best parts is when Keyser and Jarzombek trade off notes to form a melody. Hearing that melody become more complex as it develops and transitions into Jarzombek soloing is one of the many examples of the brilliant songwriting capability of the group.

If you're like me and modern prog generally makes you upset and bitter, don't fret too much because the Watchtower guys come back and blow those losers out of the water. Here's to hoping the rest of Mathematics comes out relatively soon.

Originally written for my blog.