Review Summary: Wathtower's certified cult classic status is justified with their debut album's over the top songwriting and guitar wizardry, but it's weak production values and shaky vocals may scare off newcomers. Only for the veteran metalhead.
What do you get when you cross the chemistry and prestige of prog rock legends such as Yes and King Crimson with the aggressive guitar led sound of NWOBHM visionaries such as Judas Priest and Saxon? The answer is found in Texas based technical thrash pioneers Watchtower's debut album "Energetic Disassembly".
Now, to say that this album is technical is an understatement. No, it's far beyond that. Ron Jarzombek's guitar wizardry, combined with Rick Colaluca pinpoint drumming and bassist Doug Keyser finger work can only be described as titanic. The album starts of with the "Violent Change", a suitably named violent riff rampage that does not forgive. The following song, "Asylum" is a frenetic work out that is as heavy as it could get at the time. In it's 38 minute glory, you can always appreciate the albums adrenaline fueled songwriting. It's definitely a consistent release. "Cimmerian Shadows" is a great example of their precise work out, and a personal favorite of mine. The album ends with the fan favorite "Meltdown", which itself is a re-recording of an older song, that appeared in a "Cottage Cheese from the Lips of Death - A Texas Hardcore Compilation LP", an obscure 1983 compilation album from Texas' finest. The fact that music this heavy and extreme was written almost 30 years ago is impressive. You could accuse that some of the songs were written as excuses to show off their instrumental prowess, but honestly, who cares?
An adequate description of the band's sound would be Judas Priest on steroids. In fact, vocalist Jason McMaster shrieky vocals could be described as a cross between Rob Halford's angriest delivery and 2 kilos of cocaine. Although this does indeed sound awesome, the vocals sometimes just sound too forced and overdone, and the line between hardcore and just plain goofy is blurred.
The other thing that holds the album down is the fact that it was recorded...rather cheaply. The instruments all sound dry and lifeless. Sometimes everything sounds so messy and jumbled that you can't make out what is it that they are playing. It's a damn shame to, because i'm sure that it scared off some potential fans, specially in the guitar department.
Even if you are not a fan of the style, you have to give credit where credit is due. The fact is that Watchtower where ahead of their time. At the time, while most people were still figuring out how to play Van Halen's Hot for Teacher, these guys reached a new plateu that would not have been touched until many years later. While they have remained as a relatively obscure act, Prog metal legends such as Dream Theater and Symphony X have cited Watchtower as an early influence, while technical death metal pioneers Death and Atheist have demonstrated their influence with their own music.
All in all, this is a great album, and a landmark released that changed the very way heavy metal is played. While, the shaky vocals and bad production values retain it from being an absolute classic, this is a gem that heavy metal fanatics should dig up in their never ending quest to find great bands. 4/5