Psychotic Waltz - The God-Shaped Hole
InsideOut Music
Progressive Metal
11 songs (58:47)
Release year: 2020
Homepage, InsideOut Music
Reviewed by Goat

Originally named Aslan after the Christ-like lion-god at the heart of CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, Psychotic Waltz changed their name to avoid confusion with a Christian prog group of the same name. A friend having described their subsequently increasingly complex sound as 'some kind of psychotic waltz', the band liked the phrase so much that they named their band and first demo after it, and soon found attention from European fans of more out-there eighties metal. Psychotic Waltz had their most success in Europe, mainly remaining underground in their native USA, and never were the luckiest of groups, from guitarist Dan Rock nearly dying in a rappelling accident to being sued by a music video actress. The latter was the final straw, the band splintering in 1997 and forming individual projects, the most well-known being vocalist Buddy Lackey's Deadsoul Tribe (under his new name of Devon Graves). Reforming in 2010, Psychotic Waltz took a long decade to release The God-Shaped Void, their long-awaited fifth full-length and first new material in 24 years.

And of course, as you'd expect after such a lengthy incubation period the resulting album is terrific, if destined to disappoint fans of the band's breakout material, which had more of a technical thrash/speed metal touch. Psychotic Waltz would introduce everything from grunge and funk to classic rock influences as they went on, staying unique and ensuring quality levels would remain high, and it's no surprise that The God-Shaped Void accordingly has a well-blended mix of styles pretty much following on from where they left off. The first thing you hear on the album is ambience and flute on opener Devils and Angels, the latter courtesy of Graves (much influenced by Ian Anderson in the prog frontmen fashion) and as the track develops into a grandiose album introduction it's interesting to note traces of pastoral prog rock, modern metal grooviness, grunge, psychedelia, and classic 70s rock (is that particular riff under the anthemic chorus a tribute to David Bowie?) in the playing, Graves' soaring voice tying it all together well, as he does across the album.

Although the sheer uniqueness and individuality of earlier Psychotic Waltz albums may be lacking, the results are still a more than solid exploration of progressive metal. Age has slowed the band down a little as they hit their 50s but the performances are still tight and powerful, particularly from guitarists Brian McAlpine and Dan Rock who are excellent players as Stranded alone shows, moving from Tool-y rhythmic riffing to flamboyant Iron Maiden-esque leads. There's plenty of alt-rock 90s influences sticking their heads in on the likes of Back to Black and particularly the Alice in Chains-y All the Bad Men, which opens in a depressed grungy style before upping the tempo and widdly-factor and making especially good use of vocal harmonisation, strong throughout the album. And that leads seamlessly into The Fallen, opening like a sombre nineties Metallica ballad and developing in a more Ayreon-esque fashion (Graves appearing on 2004's The Human Equation) as the vocals take the lead.

Under it all bassist Ward Evans and drummer Norm Leggio provide a solid backing, the latter never less than skilful and especially worth paying attention to. At certain moments you could accuse the band of sticking a little too closely to a post-Queensrÿche / Fates Warning sort of sound, such as on Pull the String which mainly stands out thanks to the flute solo and late-track launch into Sabbathy stomp. Overall the album is probably a little on the long side, and although some of the latter cuts can feel a little filler-y initially, as an album this flows smoothly and even hypnotically and is downright hard to actually stop listening to. Even examining tracks individually makes them hard to criticise, such as Demystified which opens like an early King Crimson ballad and has plenty of flute and an acoustic outro working to keep it fresh. Elsewhere, Season of the Swarm is more guitar-focused and Sisters of the Dawn relatively aggressive (and, rarely for this album, akin to modern Dream Theater), but each track has at its own vocal hook that makes it fun, and the instrumentation usually manages to at least be interesting enough to keep your attention beyond that. Closer In the Silence especially is memorable with one of the catchiest choruses and a folky bit of acoustic guitar to provide colour and an outro for the album overall. Perhaps not the most exciting and out-there release that Psychotic Waltz are capable of, but it's good to hear them back with a release that is so solid, and one that is more than equal to modern prog offerings. Those new to the Waltz have much to catch up on!

Killing Songs :
Devils and Angels, Stranded, All the Bad Men, In the Silence
Goat quoted 85 / 100
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