Review Summary: A breath of fresh air for new listeners, but for long-time fans, a good case for the band being a shell of their former selves.
Five long years after 2012’s Pandora’s Pinata
, we finally have Diablo Swing Orchestra’s fourth full length. It’s taken its sweet time to release due to a lineup change and album mixing problems, so we’ve had plenty of time to build expectations. For the most part, Pacifisticuffs
falls just short of those. However, it’s still a good album in its own right, and the band’s penchant for writing catchy experimental pieces remains intact.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: This album definitely contains the least amount of metal of their entire catalogue. Serving as the antithesis of the dark and brooding debut The Butcher’s Ballroom
is laced with pop melodies and up tempo sing-alongs. That’s not an inherently bad thing – especially since one of the band’s strong suits is writing accessible numbers – but it will disappoint a large chunk of the fan base. Those holding out hope that early single “Jigsaw Hustle” is an anomaly not indicative of the album as a whole are going to place this record firmly at the bottom of their personal DSO album rankings. With the exception of the ending of “Superhero Jagganath” and most of “Karma Bonfire”, these Swedes have placed the focus on metal firmly in the rear-view mirror.
That being said, most DSO fans aren’t exactly close minded. This band utilizes a Mr. Bungle – sized repertoire of genres, and that much has not changed. They’ve even taken cues from new influences. “Superhero Jagganath” has a distinct Muse vibe, in both its over the top dramatics and new vocalist Kristin Evegard’s delivery. “Karma Bonfire”, on the other hand, is a throwback to the band’s previous work; it’s the only track to feature Daniel Hakansson on lead vocals, like much of Pandora’s Pinata
did, and its swing-heavy groove really treads familiar territory for the band.
Noticeably absent on Pacifisticuffs
is a longer closing track, something the band have done for every album previously. This decision falls in line with the overall poppy and extra accessible direction of the record. There are also four interlude tracks, bringing the total “real” song count down to just nine. This causes one to wonder what exactly the band was doing with that five year gap, though ensuring a new vocalist and new drummer properly gelling with the rest of the unit can take some time.
The biggest offender of the record is that these songs – for the most part – simply don’t have the impact the older ones did. Diablo Swing Orchestra have written some insane and memorable numbers that really don’t sound like anything else out there, and to not have that same attribute for this album is definitely a let down. These songs are good, too. But that’s not the issue; they’re good, but not really unique like we’re used to with this band. Having said that, there are still some really great moments here. “The Age of Vulture Culture” is one of their strongest showcases ever for their brass section, while “Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker” features a vocal melody that won’t leave your head for awhile. And finally, “Karma Bonfire” is DSO firing on all cylinders. I mentioned earlier that it’s a throwback to their old stuff; it’s a song where the band are simply operating firmly within their comfort zone, and as a result feels the most natural of the entire record.
is worth a listen, especially for newcomers to the band. For those fortunate enough to not have the backlog to compare it to, it’s a breath of fresh air. For long time fans, however, it’s a good case for the band being a shell of their former selves. The new vocalist also does away with the operatic delivery the band is known for in favor of a more straightforward, radio-friendly performance. It works well for the new direction, and this album IS good on its own merits, but it’s not the same. They say change is a good thing, and while the fresh coat of paint this record offers agrees with that sentiment, not everyone listening will.