Review Summary: Ugly Noise would be a lot more exciting if it didn't feel like such a huge step backwards.
I’ve been trying to figure out what my problem is with this album. It’s really good and I keep coming back to it, but something is still tempering its impact. The only answer seems to be that Ugly Noise
is a victim of bad timing due to its proximity to Flotsam’s last release, The Cold
. Without The Cold
, Ugly Noise
could be praised as a return to form and the best thing they’ve done since the early nineties, but The Cold
is already all of those things and more. Where The Cold
could be called a stylistic leap for the band, Ugly Noise
finds them right back in 1995. So, instead of enjoyment, I’m left feeling disappointed about all of the (perceived) missed potential, and a little frustrated that they’ve ditched the sound that they just barely established. The thing is, if you ignore all the extraneous issues, Ugly Noise
is really quite the solid album.
For those that have missed the interviews, Ugly Noise
is the album that could have come after Drift
. It’s the mid-paced, no-frills groove metal of Cuatro
along with the strong songwriting of Drift
with just a bit of When the Storm Comes Down
’s loose, quirky riffing style. Fans that appreciated the band beyond their first two releases would probably agree that Cuatro
are wonderful releases, and Ugly Noise
strives to hit that same level of quality but never really attains it. Nowhere will you find a gem as strong as ‘Never to Reveal’ or ‘Wading Through the Darkness’ – although it does come close a few times. The title track (Co-written by Jason Newstead, ex-Voivod) is an exercise in dark, moody metal with an excellent piano-led intro portion. Elsewhere, the catchy groove of ‘To Be Free’ stands as the album’s peak, but otherwise everything is extremely solid without standing out.
That’s not to say that the songs all blend together or lack their own unique angles, because that would be entirely untrue. The band definitely weren’t content to simply rehash a formula they haven’t used in nearly twenty years; there are plenty of modern little flourishes scattered about. There’s the pulsating synth that seeps throughout ‘Run and Hide’ and establishes its moody atmosphere. The modern slant of the dark ballad ‘Rabbits Foot’ and the off-time percussion of ‘Machine Gun’ are just a few other instances of the band stepping into new territory while retaining their 1990s foundation. Probably the most surprising addition is the Ministry
meets Flotsam and Jetsam sounds that dominate the wonderfully titled ‘Mother***ery’. The song starts with a looping beat before breaking into a cyclic riff played over a double bass-infused wall of rhythmic percussion. There even seems to be a bit of vocal effects used in parts of the song, and it all works really well.
In the end, it’s really going to come down to whether you can get past “what could have been” and focus on the actual reality of the situation. The reality is that Ugly Noise
is a solid return to Flotsam and Jetsam’s most high-profile era, mixed with a few new tricks and modern influences. Considering the band’s output over the past fifteen years, it’s also a very welcome addition to their discography. Granted, it doesn’t come close to reaching the lofty heights established by Cuatro
, it does at least come close to Drift
. The biggest issue is simply that without The Cold
casting its shadow over this album, Ugly Noise
would be generating infinitely more fan excitement due to its successful return to the band’s most popular era (not to mention the reunification of that era’s line-up), and that is still saying a lot.