Review Summary: Nearly flawless.
A Social Grace is Psychotic Waltz’s first and most popular album. Released independently and with hardly any promotion it predictably sank like a stone upon release, despite some very good reviews. However, it has since got a lot of underground attention and gained a lot of popularity (I’m always happy to see it rated as 12th best album of 1990 on rateyourmusic.com… an amazing achievement for such an underrated band).
Psychotic Waltz’s style is unique to say the least, and has been called ‘hippie metal’ by some fans because of the psychedelic influences that they would build on in later albums. Fates Warning
’s ‘Awaken the Guardian’ is the best comparison that could be made, but even then it is not that similar. Apart from that, there is little they can be compared with except perhaps Black Sabbath
and occasional Jethro Tull
While their later albums would be more mellow and ‘spacey’, focusing more on atmosphere, ‘A Social Grace’ has a rougher, more thrashy sound to it. Guitarists Brian McAlpin and Dan Rock managed to create some incredible riffs that while very complex and unorthodox remain catchy. While technical music is usually seen as ‘emotionless’, Psychotic Waltz combine their technical skills with amazing songwriting, creating some fantastic melodies that interweave between the metal sections. Sometimes the song will switch between a vicious riff to a stunning acoustic melody completely suddenly, but due to the strong songwriting talent of the band it never sounds at all out of place or disjointed.
This is the biggest strength of early Psychotic Waltz, the mix of amazing technicality and genuinely beautiful mellower sections. The sudden changes and intricate song structures keep the album interesting and unpredictable throughout. As well as the metal sections, there’s a great Jethro Tull-inspired ballad, ‘I Remember’, complete with an incredible flute solo, a synth-led atmospheric track, ‘Sleeping Dogs’ which shows the beginnings of the atmospheric style they would build on in later albums and even a piano on the epic ‘A Psychotic Waltz’. Acoustic guitars also often make appearances throughout the album.
The musicianship of all the members shines on this album. The guitarists are easily able to play the complex arrangements completely accurately, Norm Leggio’s drumming is equally as unpredictable as the music; he is able to cope with the constantly changing styles. Even the bass is spectacular, especially on ‘Spiral Tower’, which is based on one monstrous bass-line.
The singing could put some people off, as Buddy Lackey has a very unique, often quite high-pitched voice. However, it is one of the most impressive thing, if not the most impressive things about this album. Lackey is easily one of metal’s best vocalists, and much of his very best singing is done on this album. His singing range is absolutely incredible, switching from ghostly ethereal wails during the mellow sections to much rougher almost manic shouting in the heavier parts, and everything in between. His lyrics are also much better than those of most metal bands, and are always cryptic and surreal, fitting the music perfectly.
It’s truly tragic that Psychotic Waltz will never play together again, it’s even more tragic that WillieFisterbut has seen them live and I haven’t, but the biggest tragedy is that so many metal fans will never hear such a flawless metal album.