Review Summary: I am happiest in a world of error.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.
Look at that album cover. Sweet Jesus, what was going through those guys' heads? Despite being one of the biggest underground alt-metal bands of the era, not many have heard of Pist.on (or Piston in later releases), and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to blame it on their name and that horrendous album cover. Imagine looking through the metal shelves at the local record store, and in between Pantera and Possessed, you see this monstrosity. “Oh hey, I’m gonna spend my hard-earned allowance on the album with the doll pissing into a boy’s mouth!” said no kid ever.
This, however, was the exact response that Pist.on intended you to have. They were never supposed to be mainstream, they were always supposed to be underground. But when Atlantic Records saw their genius and picked them up, they decided to be as repulsive and shocking as possible to keep at their underground roots. And who would expect that album cover to feature some of the most heavy, dreary, and depressing metal you’ve never heard? Pist.on, formed in New York City, straddled the line between melancholy gothic doom metal and 90’s grungey alternative rock in a way that seems fresh and original. Think Type O Negative crossbred with Crowbar and then raised by Life Of Agony. Comparing this band to those bands is no coincidence, as Pist.on actually toured with all three of those bands at some point, and Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly actually played in Pist.on for some time. If you like the groovy chugs of Crowbar mixed with the haunting gothic pathos of Type O Negative, all while still sounding like it could’ve played on San Andreas’s Radio X, then Pist.on should definitely be on your radar.
The album immediately comes out swinging with “Parole”, ignoring any intro or suspense and going straight into the fully instrumented first verse. Vocalist Henry Font immediately gives off Kirk Windstein of Crowbar vibes, but those vibes almost instantly become Pete Steele the moment the chorus hits. Guitarist Burton Gans sounds as if Dimebag Darrell himself tutored him, mixing a combination of smackingly smooth arpeggio shredding with pinch harmonics and fuzzy petal driven static. “Parole” starts the record off quick and strong, but the Pist.on immediately shows off its slower, more crestfallen side with most of the album. With songs like “Turbulent”, “Grey Flaps”, “I Am No One” and “Down And Out”, the Type O Negative comparisons are undeniable; the response ranges from “that’s pretty Type O Negative-ish” to “oh wow, how did Pete Steele not sue?” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the two bands were obviously connected and were from the same scene.
The album is void of any conventionally epic tracks, and most the songs go by incredibly quick. Despite being gloomy and doomy, most of the tracks follow a fairly conventional radio-friendly structure, featuring common verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus structures many bands had at the time and especially now. That’s not to say Number One is missing any standout tracks: “Grey Flap” is deservedly the best known song from the album, thanks to its massive chorus and haunting backing vocals that steal the show. However, “Grey Flaps” is not alone when it comes to featuring massive choruses and haunting backing vocals, as nearly every song on this album has a chorus that makes you go “whoa, now that’s cool”. These are songs that may not be “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” or “Master Of Puppets”, but they’re short and they speak to the soul. Henry Font’s vocals are nostalgic in the way they mimic the ghosts of a past life, and the guitar solos accent a perfect storytelling balance between vocals and music. Despite its unpolished rawness, nearly any song on this album could’ve been chosen by dartboard to become a rock chart single, allowing Pist.on on to soar right up there with Pantera or Type O Negative.
Yet, that didn’t happen. “Grey Flap” and “Parole” saw limited radio airplay and very minor chart success, and album sales were mediocre at best. Pist.on released a second album titled “$ellout”, changing their name to Piston in the process and diluting their sound to apease a more mainstream rock friendly sound. That album was a critical and financial disaster, and the band parted ways in 2001. Maybe in an alternate timeline, Pist.on rose to the top and became a household name, but that is not this timeline. Number One is starting to develop a larger fanbase, but their fame was never important. Pist.on was made for kids like me, who sat in bed and starred up at the bedroom ceiling in a melancholy daze, trying to wash away the incidents of the day with music written for the depressed, angsty soul. For those who were lucky enough to look past that “interesting” cover, we were in for some musical therapy.