Review Summary: The godfathers of tech metal return after 25 years of near-silence, and remind everyone why they're still on top.
In 1989, Watchtower released a landmark sophomore album, Control and Resistance
, and almost nobody noticed. Worse, most the people that did notice walked away confused; resolving to never listen to vocals that high ever again. In those days, music was still much more compartmentalized and people just didn’t know what to do with this band. Broadly speaking, the band were labeled as progressive metal, but they didn’t sound like the metal-influenced bands of the time such as Fates Warning or Queensryche, and they sounded even less like the conventional 70s prog artists. Watchtower’s songs were twitchy and prone to change direction without notice, and they featured a vocalist that pushed his range into the upper stratosphere at all times. As has happened with a lot of those 80s/90s artists that were ahead of their time, the metal-listening public eventually re-discovered Watchtower and they became somewhat of a cult classic – and like a lot of those artists, Watchtower have reformed and released a new album – well, sort of.
Technically, four of the tracks have been individually released over the last six years, but this is still the first collection of new songs since 1989 – so let’s not split hairs. Instead, let’s marvel over the opening instrumental track, ‘M Theory Overture’, which finds the band picking up right where they left off, but with a few modern twists. Despite nearly three decades of aging, the rhythm section of Doug Keyser and Rick Colaluca can still weave throughout the chaotic riffs while creating rhythms that would have Mike Portnoy and Tomas Haake simultaneously impressed and a bit confused. Meanwhile, anyone that has heard Ron Jarzombek’s work with Blotted Science (featuring Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse) knows that his playing has aged like fine wine. In fact, age has not only improved his technical prowess, but has also made him much more adept and liberal with actual riffs. The biggest change, though, comes from the vocals of Alan Tecchio. Those that are only familiar with Tecchio’s work with Watchtower might be surprised by his raspy delivery on this release. Those that have heard his work with 90s alt. metal band Non-Fiction, though, will basically know what to expect. Rather than try to push his range into the piercing scream he used on Control and Resistance
, he takes the modern gritty style used on Non-Fiction and simply bumps it up a few octaves; and it’s definitely easier on the ears.
I could discuss every song and highlight each subtle nuance, while also gushing over the not-so-subtle rhythmic chaos that makes up each track, but there’s just so much going on that a brief review wouldn’t do it justice. Over the past 25 years, Watchtower’s influence has been heard in the frantic bass-work of technical death metal bands such as Obscura, and the schizophrenic arrangements of many modern prog-influenced bands including Protest the Hero, but the band themselves have been mostly dormant. That changes with the release of Concepts of Math: Book One
; an album that picks up right where Control and Resistance
left off while integrating a few modern concessions including chunkier riffs and a more abrasive, but less high-pitched, vocal style. If you’re looking for a challenging, yet rewarding, listen, Concepts of Math: Book One
is that challenging release.