Lying still with broken wings
Till his eyes close to pass the night
and part the tears
He slips into a dream"
One Word Review: Singular
Once in a while, a band comes along with such a distinct vision, that one is unable to categorize it. Psychotic Waltz is one such band and their debut, with its total disregard of any commonly established audiogenic genres or rules, showcases a completely unique approach, a clear vision of emotive expression, balanced with musical integrity, and delivered with such grace, that I am unable to compare it to anything else. To put it simply: This album is a once in a lifetime achievement and Psychotic Waltz captures the essence of musical expressionism.
The music on this album was ingenious, when it was released back in 1990 and in my mind that status has not changed to the day, 25 years later. Psychotic Waltz play superior progressive metal with a rawness that is at times numbingly beautiful.
That this is a debut album mostly shows in the production department, which, while it is lacking, also gives the album its instantly recognizable sound. The raw atmosphere is all over it. After getting used to the album, I can not imagine it sounding another way.
I could write page after page about the genius, I see in Psychotic Waltz, but I'll try to be quick and precise here and spare you, what might turn into the mother of all essays.
First, I have to mention Buddy Lackey. His voice is one of a kind. He can sing incredibly soft and beautiful at one moment, and then a second later he shifts into a menacing scream of rage, all the while making it seem like the most natural transition. Most importantly, the emotion is always there, whatever he portrays. That emotion shines through in his lyrics as well, where feelings are fleshed out in fascinating poetic movements of frayed human emotion, ranging from melancholy and despair through to hope and enlightenment, all laid down with a deep passion and inviting much reflective contemplation.
An essential part of the Psychotic Waltz sound, are the two guitarists Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin. They have written almost all the music on A social grace. In many of the songs they play together in a way that is nothing short of mesmerizing. It is not easy to describe, but should be heard to be understood how extremely cool these two guitarists sound together.
The drums play a big part in holding the always changing and sometimes very complex music together. It is a huge compliment to the drummer (Norm Leggio), when I find it interesting to just sit down and focus on the drums and not feel bored. The changing rhythms and small touches in the playing are highly entertaining.
...And the devil cried starts out with a strangely creepy rhythm and soon changes into a heavy riff. Buddy Lackey's voice has a menacing feel to it here. Some of the changes in the song are extremely cool and they just keep coming, with the slow atmospheric middle section being one particular highlight. Through all the twists and turns the song takes, the overall feel is still very much in place, as all the instruments work together so well.
One of my absolute favorite songs is Another Prophet song. This song pretty much defines Psychotic Waltz. It has everything. The flow of this song is amazing, with drums and guitars working together like a dream and Buddy's atmospheric voice on top, being the icing on the cake. A fantastic song with so much atmosphere and so many ingenious touches. The drum sound is one, the way the dual guitars play together is another, Buddy Lackey's harmonies is a third, his menacing scream a fourth, the fantastic middle part yet another, and... yes, I really could go on forever... This song is a killer.
Songs like Halo of Thorns and I remember are easiest to draw forward, when I say the music is raw and beautiful at the same time. I remember is written solely by Buddy Lackey and is dedicated to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. This song is a ballad, where the acoustic guitar and the keys create a great background for the intimate vocals. Bringing out the flute in this song gives it an epic touch, and makes the emotional impact of this statement to the world, even more powerful.
Another example where the raw and the beautiful meet is in my album favorite Only in a dream. This song may seem simple at first, but it has so many layers and there is something special in here that just speaks to me.
Halo of thorns gives a glimpse of the emotional power of Buddy Lackey's voice. Starting out with a beautiful atmospheric acoustic guitar passage, Halo of Thorns is the perfect background for him to show his fantastic way of singing. The slow parts are very beautiful and the way the song develops is unexpected.
The weirdness and diversity of Psychotic Waltz really shows itself in songs like Successor, where some effects give a great vibe, In this place with its psychedelic spoken part, and the instrumental Sleeping dog. These songs have many cool moments of inspired genius, but I miss a little something to give them the same masterpiece status, as the songs I mentioned before.
I of the storm is another favorite. The many diverse parts it has, should really be discovered by listening, but a couple to linger on would be the excellent way the intro changes into the verse riff, and of course the ending. The drumming is brilliant throughout the song. To say it shortly: This is entertainment that endures.
A psychotic Waltz is yet another fantastic song. A beautiful piano part starts the song, and gives way to one of Buddy Lackey's best vocal performances on the album. He sings in a way that is very controlled and held back, before breaking out at just the right moments. This way of singing underlines the lyrics in a way that sends shivers down my spine.
A little way in, this song has one of the those devastating beautiful parts that the band would be perfecting on Into the everflow. I feel the immense power of the whole band uniting here. The lyrics about being true to yourself, are sung with the passion and perfection, they need to make an impact, and the soulful guitar playing fits in perfect. The way the piano enters the sound again at the end is a very powerful touch of genius.
The final three songs, Spiral Tower, Strange and Nothing continue developing this wonderful music and have the same high quality as the other songs. Even though they contain even more magic parts that I would like to mention, I won't go into details with them. The best thing about music like this, is discovering the magic yourself.
Overall, the music is always interesting, entertaining, melodic and never gets so complex that I feel lost or out of touch with it. New elements appear, even after countless listens and the wonder that is Psychotic Waltz almost feels too big to be described by mere words. Needless to say, I had to give it a try.
2015 marks the 25th anniversary of A Social Grace and in honor of that, I will leave you with the following words: This is music that I will never grow tired of. If you like progressive metal or just like musical challenges and have not listened to Psychotic Waltz yet, then you have a major musical discovery yet to enjoy.
Written By Steen
Online: Monday, February 23, 2015
Halo Of Thorns
Another Prophet Song
A Psychotic Waltz
Friday, March 20, 2015 - ShatteredSky
Yep, it took me several years to get a grip on this album, but it has been a trip ever since. Even if I listen to it less often than to other stuff, I would still consider it the best out there. I need to be in the right frame of mind to listen to it, as it truly does not work only as background music. Cheers
Saturday, November 21, 2015 - Scott Ritchie
Steen - I could not agree more. I purchased a copy of "A Social Grace" from a used CD store in the mid-1990s and was simply blown away. The sound is undoubtedly unique to this day. The songwriting is incredible, especially for a debut album. For me to frequently play a release that I've had for over 20 years says something.