Psychotic Waltz - A Social Grace
Rising Sun
Progressive Metal
10 songs (51:01)
Release year: 1990
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

You can point to several reasons for San Diegans Psychotic Waltz not making it quite as big as cousins Dream Theater; not the least their downright unfriendly name, a change from Aslan that was supposedly simultaneously an improvement and a way to describe their music! Yet aside from odder European tastes embracing the band's weirdnesses at the time, they were hardly on the highway to success and after a series of misfortunes including a guitarist's near fatal fall and an actress taking legal action against the band for a music video accident, they split. What might have been is a valid query, not least after hearing their excellent comeback album in 2020, The God-Shaped Void, yet their older albums are all worthy of ears and re-examination, and it's to their debut that we turn our attention now.

In their youth the band were undoubtedly unique, somewhere between the progressive expansiveness of a Queensrÿche or Fates Warning with touches of Jethro Tull to create something quite other than the existing acts of the time. It resulted in a real prog mix, with broad strokes of technical thrash and even the avant-garde, particularly when taking the vocals of Buddy Lackey into account. He's not as deranged as one might expect from the band name but is rarely content to stick to the instrumentation, preferring to voyage beyond with a very theatrical performance that dances atop the riffage entertainingly, especially on opener ...And the Devil Cried, one of the heavier pieces with technical gallops aplenty. Quite often you could describe his singing as beautiful, not the least on the various lighter sections here such as the folksy ballad-esque opening to Halo of Thorns or when he duets with himself on Another Prophet Song, and he even attempts harsher vocals at rare points, aiding a little in the psychotic aspects!

And the instrumental contributions he makes, including acoustic guitar and piano but most notably flute, help the band to stand out, giving them that Jethro Tull-revering edge (ballad I Remember could be a cover song, so close does it worship at that altar) and enhancing the other musicians without overwhelming them. Head of those must be guitarists Brian McAlpin and the superbly-named Dan Rock who provide plenty of killer riffage throughout and ensure that the band are on the heavier side. From melodic meandering to crunchy thrashing, the two can do it all, and the variety on show even on at this early stage impresses. Bassist Ward Evans and drummer Norm Leggio more than hold their end up, the latter especially with diverse percussion. Yet the band work together well and have sharp enough songwriting skills already to make this an interesting album, throwing twists and turns in such as electronic interlude Sleeping Dogs which makes the following I of the Storm seem even more muscular, vocal and riff-driven prog metal of the finest kind.

Psychotic Waltz are, unsurprisingly, at their best when most 'prog', the atmospheric opening to A Psychotic Waltz here soon opening into an epic Metallica-esque groove and coming over as a prog metal answer to One in terms of structure at least, with added piano to up the drama. Late-tracklisting epics Strange and Nothing are highlights too, the former something like Mercyful Fate gone prog/thrash initially with a turn for intense guitar-driven technicality in the second half. The latter, meanwhile, is a little more Slayer-esque and darkly dramatic; both are worth the price of admission alone; a superb ending to a superb album!

Since release the band have added demo-era tracks to the original listing, lengthening it a little and expanding on the tracklisting in a dangerous way. But fortunately the results overall are excellent, particularly Successor which sounds like Bruce Dickinson fronting an avant-garde thrash band! The others are great too; Only in a Dream takes a more overtly pastoral prog tone initially before kicking into uptempo Queensrÿche-esque melodic metal, while Spiral Tower has a mid-paced intensity to its technical groove, ending up specially grandiose.

Even without these bonuses some would dub this album a downright classic and it's easy to see why, even if overall it seems to lack the cultural impact or popularity that a true metal milestone would have. Regardless, it's undoubtedly a fantastic album in its own right, and when taken with the bonus tracks a great package overall. A must-have for fans of progressive metal's earlier days, as well as a wonderful introduction to a wonderful band, that hopefully will have some news of studio activity soon... hint, hint!

Killing Songs :
All, especially ...And the Devil Cried, Successor, I of the Storm, A Psychotic Waltz, Strange
Goat quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Psychotic Waltz that we have reviewed:
Psychotic Waltz - The God-Shaped Hole reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
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