Review Summary: A forgotten gem that ranks among Metal Church's debut and Possessed's Seven Churches as underground thrash classics.
Describing or reviewing an album like Blind Illusion’s The Sane Asylum
is almost useless. Whether or not you disregard it for a thrash-prog experiment gone wrong or just the album that featured the two guys from Primus (Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde) before forming that band, it won’t really matter. Blind Illusion, and their only release, 1988’s The Sane Asylum
, has become an underground favorite in the truest sense of the word: their small but rabid fanbase praises this album as the best metal album ever--not since Black Sabbath’s debut or Metallica’s Master of Puppets or whatever, but as the best ***ing metal album EVER. Of course, if you break it down, it’s not. What it is, though, is an unfortunately forgotten work of technical thrash metal that isn’t afraid to delve into prog, psychedelic, or funk territories whenever it feels like it.
Instrumentally, The Sane Asylum
is top-notch. To be quite honest, The Sane Asylum
may be the best instrumental showcase for a band since Rush’s noodle-y 2112
. Longtime band member and songwriter Marc Biedermann and soon-to-be Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde repeatedly delve into classic guitar duels, the best of which is found on the progressive “Death Noise”. The song begins heavily enough, with crunchy and speedy riffs before spontaneously adding random blast beats and high-pitched soloing. Bassist Les Claypool adds a funky touch underneath all the heaviness of the solos, and his complicated rhythms are as technical as the soloing guitarists. After the intense sugar rush of solos and basslines, the song disintegrates into almost un-listenable noise and feedback, before the noise and feedback starts to gather itself into a rhythm, and then the guitars start taking shape again. Finally, the drums kick in, the riffs formulate, and the vocals start.
The vocals are definitely the drawback of The Sane Asylum
. Biedermann also is the vocalist on top of being the lead guitarist, and it’s almost immediately apparent that Biedermann spends more time honing his guitar talent than he does honing his singing. His vocals are rasp and usually spit out in a quick and uncompromising fashion, but instead of having the menace and evilness of contemporaries Conrad Lant or Tom Araya. It doesn’t even measure up to James Hetfield. Biedermann has almost no range whatsoever, and his growls are repulsive and weak. They might even be unbearable if it wasn’t for the production, or lack thereof. The Sane Asylum
is horribly produced, and has a hollow, echoing sound; almost like it was recorded in a sewer. The guitar sound is cheap and minimal, the drums lack all sounds associated with thrash and aggression and whatever’s associated with them, and the bass is really only audible when Claypool lays down a solo or a complicated rhythm. However, the production begins to seem almost natural, and helps toward the minimalist and technical sound, resulting in a tasty oxymoron.
Oxymorons. This album almost revels in them, and constantly throws two different sounds and goals into a stove and lets them boil and meld together. The guitars are technically perfect, but sound as thin as what you would find on a Linkin Park album. The drums are never the main focus of The Sane Asylum
, and wander aimlessly under all the guitars and basslines. But drummer Mike Miner adds superb fills and rolls in places you would never expect them to be, like in “Kamakazi”, where Miner solos spontaneously and progressively under pianos and guitars. Yes, The Sane Asylum
is progressive, as most clearly shown again in “Kamakazi”, which transitions from a solemn “November Rain” intro into pure speed/thrash bliss, and, halfway into the song, guitars turn acoustic and Claypool solos beautifully underneath. But almost every song progresses in this way, and after a while, the typical song structures become the opposite of progressive and forward-thinking and instead become typical and rudimentary. Hell, there’s even effects and other instruments used to add some experimentation and flair to The Sane Asylum
, such as the organ in the purely heavy “Metamorphosis of a Monster” or the click-click feedback of “Vengeance is Mine”. The problem is that the production is so bare-bones that you can barely even make out these effects underneath the sludge of guitars and bass.
So far, it seems like I’m completely bashing a near-cult classic, doesn’t it? I’ve bitched about the dreadful vocals and the production ruining some effects that may have really made the album. But The Sane Asylum
isn’t a bad album. In fact, it’s an excellent one. Why? Easy: it’s just so damn fun. The overabundance of solos and the tongue-in-cheek lyrics show that The Sane Asylum
isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. When Biedermann barks in “Blood Shower”, “YOU. ME. KILL.”, it almost immediately brings up a laugh. Maybe Biedermann’s actually serious in his faux-nihilism and hilariously cheesy violent imagery. But I didn’t interpret it that way, and for that reason, I really enjoyed The Sane Asylum
. You need to have an open mind if you want to approach this flawed work of art.
Why do you need to have an open mind? Because The Sane Asylum
isn’t for everybody. It’s isn’t like a Deicide or Cannibal Corpse album, which aren’t for everyone because of their uncompromising heaviness. This isn’t for everyone because some people want more refined and more pleasant vocals; some people want a deeper, more textured guitar sound; some people don’t want an album that basically defines oxymoron, from its sound to its title. But if you can see through the sludge and the grime, you’ll find an excellent, if very underproduced, album. And those of us that can enjoy this album? Bitch, you know we be rockin’ this all night.
+Fun to listen to
+Better than Primus
-A desired taste