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12.02.19 25 Pikes Worth Your Time 09.15.18 I Did a Music
11.03.17 50 Great Widely Understood Death Metal 11.08.11 Off To Utrecht
01.01.11 1993 Death Metal Supreme

25 Pikes Worth Your Time

Buckethead's my all-time favourite artist, but I enjoyed little of his post-2006 material and fell out of sync with his frantic releases 25 Pikes in. Recently I realised 2019 is the first year without a Bucket album since 2000, and revisited his back catalog. Much to my surprise, I found his 2007-2010 records enjoyable this time around. Was it time for an unprejudiced dive into the Pike backlog, fittingly doing a retrospective for something that defined this decade for Bucket as 2020 sits weeks away? However, 276 albums is quite a lot of albums, especially when they're renowned for being patchy. I collated my prior knowledge with multiple opinions from throughout the internet to narrow it down to 100, which then got thinned down to the chronological list below. That's less than 10% of all the Pikes released! This was quite the expedition. While going, some things became apparent: - You can usually tell this stuff is rapid-fire manufactured and released. Often shallow arrangements with little attention to detail, some visibly underbaked material. This is particularly evident in the 2015 batch of albums, very little of which made it to the list. - When doing conventional rock/melodic material, Bucket's musical vocabulary is ultimately quite limited. A lot of retreading of the same progressions and solo ideas, requiring particularly inspired moments to avoid the feeling of a rehash. - The more experimental material where he'd try new stuff or go for weird harmony tends to hold up better on the whole. While the early experimental Pikes are weak, he figured out how to make them work pretty quickly. The list is overrepresented with these. - Not even the experimental material is fully safe from the dreaded mid-tempo rut. Bucket would track stuff to a metronome and then canned drums of varying degrees of laziness would get added. Pikes like 88 have interesting experimental ideas that get bogged down in prolonged, super stale rhythm patterns that never go anywhere.
March of the Slunks

Pike 9

The six Pikes from 7 to 12 are all pretty decent, and feel like continuations of the stylistic realms Bucket settled into for his final pre-Pike albums. Of these, March of the Slunks has the best overall quality level, with particularly biting riffs and more focused jams (oscillating around sad funk). That said, each of the other Pikes in this run have standout tracks, often as the openers, and are probably worth your while if you enjoy Bucket's conventional rock/metal albums. These are about as good as this sort of stuff gets within the Pikes.
View Master

Pike 15

A sketchbook of inspired mellow songlets, ranging from saccharine to brooding. One could argue that some feel a bit underdeveloped, but they're still a lot more interesting in this form than they would be as infinite autopilot solo vamp fodder. Some engaging lead playing on here as well, particularly during the fun trade-off at the end of classic metal misfit "Ran" and the moody closer.
The Boiling Pond

Pike 16

One word - riffs. However, the riffs are stupidly catchy, and greatly appeal to my down-tuned chug loving lizard brain. Don't fret, there's more to this one than just power chords, but the most memorable moments are the incredibly simplistic things like the blatantly two-note closer. Feels like finally scratching away a persistent itch. Far from fancy, but ridiculously great at what it does.
Teeter Slaughter

Pike 19

A pivotal moment in the Pike series, as Buckethead figures out how to successfully construct experimental evolving "riff salads", setting up the stage for the most consistently performing Pike subtype thereafter. The stuff on here may not be quite as out there as some of the following forays, but offers a good blend of crushing detuned riffage, abstract tap figures, funk slap, electronic textures and crisp nylon string interjections. Probably the best of the riff salads.
Spiral Trackway

Pike 21

Take similar constituents to Teeter Slaughter, add in roaring dubstep pads and stupidly catchy electronic drum loops. Place a more deliberate focus on structure and staying power, reshape into individual songs rather than a single stream of consciousness thing. Many lead guitar moments are hidden a bit in the mix to serve textural roles. If this is up your street, Pike 22 does similar stuff but is a bit inferior.
Slug Cartilage

Pike 24

The main attraction here is insane, mind-numbing dissonance that might transcend the diatonic system. Pepper in some extreme stop/start dynamics alternating between heavy riffs and murky cleans and you've got yourself an album. Fun fact - 2013 me was so oversaturated and jaded that he chose to write a scathing review of this record and hopped off the wagon, having followed along to this point. True, some of the riffs are quite tired and the editing is a bit dodgy, but overall this is more interesting than not.
You Can't Triple Stamp A Double Stamp

Pike 44

A blistering high-speed workout that takes no prisoners. This seems to have grown from the same thrash roots most up-tempo Bucket metal can be traced back to, but slams the pedal down and drags double bass drums along for extra ferocity. This is seldom catchy by any sensible measure, but the note choices are quite interesting (some juicy dadaist chord shapes) and occasionally things get unexpectedly tranquil when a church organ comes over for tea.

Pike 52

This is a bit of a weird one to categorise. Part demented riff salad, part surprisingly normal acoustic/funk material. The structuring is a bit less spastic and the general vibe is a lot more laid back than what riff salads tend to do, but everything is far too dissonant and unpredictable for a conventional record. I still haven't fully grokked this duality, and enjoy this a bit less than some of the other riff salads. Still a solid listen though.

Pike 59

Easily the most hyperactive riff salad released, Ydrapoej juggles little musical shards every few seconds. Tones and instrumentation, musical direction, tempos, everything does hairpin turns with frightening regularity. Bucket figured out how to pull these off convincingly with Teeter Slaughter, this is him turning the intensity dial to 13. Also, does that bit at the start sound vaguely familiar? Now read the title backwards.
Abandoned Slaughterhouse

Pike 67

This thing feels like a fever dream - the uncouthly dissonant riffs are on the more brutal and speedy side, the transitions are a bit shy of riff salad tier but are quite illogical, machine-like noises come and go as they please, and everything is clouded in reverb. Most reverb production job Pikes are not better for it, but in this particular case it really adds to the discomfort. Not for the faint of heart, this one.
Infinity Hill

Pike 74

One of the more traditional albums on the list, Infinity Hill feels like Bucket's loose take on 70s progressive rock. The unexpected star of the show is the meaty workman bass, anchoring everything together and even getting to carry the closer by itself. Some of the dirty clean moments have a bit of a Robert Quine vibe to them. There's nothing else quite like this Pike, a lovely little gem completely out of the blue.
Geppetos Trunk

Pike 79

Take some satisfying Boiling Pond-style drop tuned riffage as a starting point and mold it into a more complex entity. Somehow this album gives off the vibe of a perpetual interlude from a more adventurous, yet still song-based band, if that even makes sense. The songs ebb and weave in a contemplative, mid-paced manner, keeping the listener on edge and trying to guess what's around the corner. There are some great guitar tones on this one too, from a ripping modulated fuzz to some... chicken clucks?
Cutout Animatronic

Pike 80

Grooves! Probably the highest concentration of earworms in Pike land, the opener is a straight banger that got stuck in my head immediately. The proceedings are carried by a very sapient bass performance that leans into slap and envelope filters, with the guitar largely relegated to a support role of low-register ripping fuzz power chords. One of the strict highlights of the series, the mix of ridiculous hooks with the dark atmosphere is irresistible.
The Splatterhorn

Pike 92

Long time no riff salad. This particular one specialises in more sinister, down-tempo material with some fidgetiness inserted by a choppy, killswitch'y delivery of the fuzzy riffs and skronky textural highs hiding in the mix. There's enough stuff to keep this one unique, like a delicate jazz interlude or a bit of broken robot static serving as the backdrop for an aborted children's show theme before being wrangled into a weirdo groove. The dissonance also feels a bit different on this one, perhaps due to the large role of jangly clean nonsense. I like this one quite a bit, it makes me happy.

Pike 97

The infinite solo Pikes are some of the most redundant, with fickle whims of inspiration separating the memorable ones from the chaff. Passageways gets it right. A particularly spirited evolving workout with thought out phrasing, recurring melodies to give the thing a sense of cohesion and purpose. The intensity is also gently rattled up throughout the duration, moving from pure delicate mellow to full-on rock at the end.

Pike 98

Another riff salad with a unique identity. This one's all about active bass involvement, be it via Cutout Animatronic-style slap/filter or interesting tap experiments, and near-omnipresent electronics extending to the drum programming. The guitar is used texturally, often bringing more weird noises to the party. The end result is weird, jumpy, alien-sounding pseudo-funk. That's not a bad outcome, mind you.
Rotten Candy Cane

Pike 124

Rotten Candy Cane is the most eclectic of the riff salads. The defining features are heavy shred and unusual orchestration (minor seconds vibraphone, demented circus organ, ghostly piano banging, arcade noises) stitched together into zany grooves backed by catchy drum beats. The repetitive scale runs are a bit of a nuisance when placed at the front of the mix, but the killswitch whammy workouts work surprisingly well. The aforementioned grooviness gives this a weird sense of direction, and helped this be the first riff salad I liked.
Giant Claw

Pike 138

The foundation is built on various flavours of metal, prominently featuring upper mid tempo thrash riffs right at the point where you can still clearly make out individual notes when the tremolo kicks in. The stuff is catchy as hell though, in no small part thanks to some on point rhythm patterns, and retains freshness by interjecting an oddball warbling higher register guitar or dipping the riffs in some whole-tone dissonance. The closing mellower song delivers a contemplative coda solo and keeps the distortion on for internal cohesion.
Orange Tree

Pike 165

Some of the infinite solo Pikes abandon the safe waters of trite chord progressions and try to do something different. Most often their intentions are noble, but the execution ends up mundane (57, 69). Orange Tree the track is a surprisingly organic jazz-tinged workout with the rhythm section responses making this feel like an actual jam session, while the follow-up is a series of angular shards dropped over new age'y pads. It's nice to hear Bucket successfully going off in a more free-form fashion.
29 Days Til Halloween: Blurmwood

Pike 178

The Halloween series is mostly ambient, but there are a few actual structured albums in there. Blurmwood makes for a nice departure, with a fittingly haunting vibe and occasional vaguely Arabic note patterns sprucing up the metallic core. The Pike also serves as a cautionary tale of the mid-tempo rut, with prolonged stretches of little rhythmic variation, particularly apparent during the shred moments. At least there's some rumbling bass coating, some Pikes just leave those bare.
Pike Doors

Pike 217

The sound of stars aligning. Bucket takes the same exact mellow/rock backing track templates he's jammed over countless times before and somehow delivers a set of inspired solos over the top that rank among his career highlights. Passionate and energetic with a sense of urgency, the phrasing and articulation are spot on. There are still residual bits of magic on Pike 218, but this one's the real deal.
Santa's Toy Workshop

Pike 243

Somebody was having fun in the studio! A stock Bucket album, a bit on the metallic side, decides to mess around with some livelier drums and oddball samples of creaks and voices. The riffs feed off the resulting energy and a good, playful time is had. Nothing groundbreaking on display here, maybe apart from the one song that decides to go surf, but a well executed example of various styles in the man's repertoire.
Out Orbit

Pike 244

The opener for this is one of the best songs in the Pike series, taking cues from the crazy tempo juggling of riff salads and planting it on more conventional Bucket soil along with some jagged tritone riffs. The rest of the Pike follows a similar sort of chilled/freakish dichotomy, juggling styles, sweating the small stuff and sprinkling in plenty of arrangement detail. The increased level of care manages to prevent the 15-minute mid-album experimental workout from turning into a mid-tempo rut.
Ferry to the Island of Lost Minds

Pike 260

The IoLM connotation in the title is unfortunate, as this Pike gets nowhere near that in terms of the dissonance on display. What we end up getting is a solid, through-composed metal journey with a haunted house vibe. There's obvious effort and care put into the thing, the transitions make sense and there are plenty of tempo/intensity shifts to keep matters engaging.
Ride Operator Q Bozo

Pike 265

Last and certainly not least, this thing. A similar sort of voyage that gets everything absolutely right, from the integrated use of shred and mind-boggling dissonance (only some moments on Slug Cartilage give this a run for its money) to the somewhat expected tame closer. Among the very best entries in the series.
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