Review Summary: A maelstrom of jagged edges but a soft centre.
Supergroups are definitely a controversial topic in today's contemporary music world, as some prove to be a disaster before they even start, falling prey to a lack of chemistry or a lack of good songwriting, or both. However, some groups seem to defy these constraints and live up to their lofty expectations and then some. Some groups, such as A Perfect Circle
, prove to give the term supergroup a purpose, with their mostly flawless debut album, Mer de Noms
. Shortly after Maynard James Keenan's hiatus with Tool
, good friend and guitar technician Billy Howerdel played some of his demos to the Tool
frontman, who was eventually recruited as the group's official singer, before recruiting other members for the band. With Howerdel at the helm of things, and with his past experience working with names such as Nine Inch Nails
, Guns n' Roses
and David Bowie
, it was clear that this band was no knockoff of Tool
, but a beast of its own.
Mer de Noms
wastes no time in asserting its excellence with The Hollow
, a short but sweet introduction which sets the tone for the rest of the album, as well as an early highlight. Lead guitarist and producer Billy Howerdel's work is nothing short of excellent as he proves to be the backbone of the band, delivering exceptional riffs and solos throughout the duration of the record, while also utilizing different effects and pedals to help the music stay fresh and timeless. Fellow guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen and Paz Lenchintin on bass provide excellent rhythm sections to propel the songs while Josh Freese does a similarly astounding job on drums, namely on Rose
and Thinking of You
, melding different time signatures, tempos and fills that attest his exceptional skill.
The album has its fair share of great ballads, namely 3 Libras
, of which 3 Libras
is the most well-known, and with good reason too as it is easily the album's most beautiful yet austere piece. Strings accompany acoustic guitars alongside Maynard's angelic croons, yet the song still employs the hard rock flavours the band is famous for in a cathartic ending. Similarly, Orestes
is mellow yet pensive throughout its duration, guided by Maynard's soft and soulful singing. As the album's longest and most progressive track, it's another achingly beautiful and evocative song, like Breña
, that doesn't forsake the razor-toothed hardness that embodies each track.
On the other side of the spectrum, the album features some immensely dark and powerful hard rock numbers, most notably the standouts Magdalena
, the former being an abstract hymn to what seems to be a stripper, while the latter is a more spiritual tale which is perhaps the greatest track on the album as it embodies everything that makes the record so great; a perfect blend of blistering heaviness and pensive relent. Elsewhere, Judith
, the song which pushed the band to stardom, is another highlight, in which the inherent qualities of Tool
can be easily spotted; lyrics that defy the theology of religion coupled with pounding riffs executed with razor-sharp precision. The band also meddles with flavours of space-rock, notably in the excellent deep cut Sleeping Beauty
, and textures of ambience are also found in the eerie litany Rënholder
and the gorgeously simple closer, Over
These numerous elements testify that Mer de Noms
is no substandard rock album, but one that harkens to the glorious days of rock n roll, without sounding hackneyed or rehashed but timeless and thoroughly engrossing. Though it seems to loom in the shadow of its successor, Thirteenth Step
, Mer de Noms
is a fearsome beast of its own, and in my opinion, is the band's tour de force. Funny how one of the best rock albums of the 2000's was released in its very first year. A must buy for any fan of rock, no, any fan of good music.