Review Summary: Stone and Echo is a startlingly good way to experience what made A Perfect Circle such an intriguing specimen in metal.
Maynard James Keenan is a real workaholic. Behind the clamoring by fans for any sort of concrete update on the next Tool
album, he’s acted in films, written for newspapers, brewed his signature wines, but most prominently, has pioneered two huge musical side projects. Puscifer
was his focus for a while, but A Perfect Circle
is the group that usually stands the tallest (even if it’s still in the shadow of Tool). Keenan’s creative partnership with Nine Inch Nails
guitar tech Billy Howerdel was a way for both musicians to clean their slates and tread new ground for themselves. What appeared was something very different from their past projects, with a discography that sounded new, but not uncomfortably so. The new live album Stone and Echo
documents the band’s 2011 performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater on Colorado. Stone and Echo
isn’t just a live album for the fans; it’s also one of the best ways to experience A Perfect Circle’s distinctive sonic elegance.
The original songs on Stone and Echo
feature the band’s most memorable singles like “Weak and Powerless” and “The Outsider” from The Thirteenth Step
and “3 Libras” from Mer de Noms
(though the rendition is actually the All Main Courses Mix from the remix album aMOTION
). However, the Mer de Noms
single “Judith” is noticeably absent from the setlist, which is a big disappointment (though considering the rather personal subject matter relating to Keenan’s now-deceased mother might’ve driven its omission). There is also a clear lack of non-single material from the first two A Perfect Circle albums. Aside from a scarce few like fan favorite “The Hollow”, the simmering “Orestes” and the simply fantastic “The Noose,” much of the non-cover material is straight from the rock charts. That’s not necessarily bad, but diving deeper into the band’s catalog could’ve offered some nice surprises.
The surprises that do appear (for better or for worse) mostly come from the bevvy of songs from their covers album eMOTIVe
. Nearly half of the songs on Stone and Echo
are covers from eMOTIVe
, which is sure to disappoint anyone who found the band’s unorthodox approach to covers too much of a departure from the original recordings. Some fare well, like the band’s rendition of Led Zeppelin
’s “When the Levee Breaks” (a slow, smooth and melodic example of Keenan’s crooning vocals), while others like their cover of Black Flag
’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” don’t do much to pay tribute to the original, nor do they really hit the ear right. Fortunately, the original tracks from eMOTIVe
like “Passive” and the blistering distortion of “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” fare much better, demonstrating a steady evolution from the rougher, more barebones hard rock tones of the band’s earlier albums. It’s a progression to the band’s masterful peak of ambient metal that’s just as calm and collected as it is heavy.
The lone non-album track “By and Down” just recently got a studio recording on the band’s greatest hits compilation Three Sixty
, but its origins as a live track date back as far as 2011. It remains a stripped-down track not unlike The Thirteenth Step
’s “Gravity” or Mer de Noms
’ “Orestes.” While the studio recording is a better and more refined example of its ambient appeal, hearing the “original” version is still a treat and is a great way for the band to quietly fade off stage and close out the show.
Remarkably, the sound quality is very strong, especially for a live album. Keenan’s voice in the A Perfect Circle discography tones down the gruffer yells heard in his prominent project Tool, allowing him to croon and wave alongside Billy Howerdel’s toned guitars. The harmonies from Keenan and Howerdel are all the more noticeable, sounding cleaner and more natural than ever (the performance of “Blue” is a big highlight of the duo’s vocal synergy). The group doesn’t divert from their atmospheric and ambient template for performing; Keenan makes a few brief calls to the audience, but the entire disc is fascinatingly bathed in an otherworldly sonic fog. That subdued presence has always been the band’s most iconic feature, one that calmly juxtaposes itself with the heavier prog metal of Keenan’s Tool.
The texture that A Perfect Circle demonstrate in Stone and Echo
is something shocking for a live album. While it’s not necessarily better than the band’s original studio albums, Stone and Echo
captures the signature tone and solitude the band has grown since its inception in the late 90’s in a refined and intelligent way. They’ve continuously distanced themselves from the heavier nature of Tool and moved toward a much calmer aesthetic. The storm has become quiet since Mer de Noms
, but Stone and Echo
’s best feature is its demonstration of the band’s epitomization of their ephemeral nature. The twenty tracks on Stone and Echo
offer enough diversity from their studio counterparts to be interesting, while still being perfectly in tune with what A Perfect Circle has achieved in their short activity. If you’ve kept paces with A Perfect Circle for a long time, Stone and Echo
is well worth including in your collection and if you’re new to Keenan and Howerdel’s brainchild, it’s a good way to understand what set them apart from their past projects. It’s startling how well Stone and Echo
can stand on its own as a great recording and it’s easily a highlight in the band’s brief, but impressive discography.