REVIEW: PSYCHOTIC WALTZ – “The God-Shaped Void”
Psychotic Waltz are back! After almost 25 years, the legendary band Psychotic Waltz are back! Not sure who they are? That’s okay. Psychotic Waltz is a band from San Diego, California and is a veteran in the progressive metal scene. They were one of the best progressive metal bands back in the day and became a cult classic in the underground scene. The band released 4 albums in the 1990s that were very well received including ‘A Social Grace’, easily one of the best progressive metal albums of all time. In 2020, a brand new decade, Psychotic Waltz unleashes its 5th album, ‘The God-Shaped Void’ which took almost a decade to write, record, and produce. Additionally, the band reformed with the original line up from the first three albums. You can safely say I was beyond hyped for this album when I found out about it late last year. Now, how does it compare to their past work?
‘The God-Shaped Void’ is an excellent sounding album. The production is clean and crisp without sounding synthetic and plastic. The drums are steady and are the backbone for the music. In the song “The Fallen”, Norman Leggio gives a steady, nuanced, and dynamic performance on the kit as he complements this intricate ballad that develops and grows into an emotional climax reminiscent of Arch/Mattheos. The bass brings some additional structural integrity and some weight in the low end. Ward Evans does a fine job when the bass comes through like moments in “While the Spiders Spin”, and “Demystified”. Dan Rock’s keyboard performance is dynamic as he plays a critical role in providing the album’s atmosphere. From the majestic to the psychedelic, and to the cosmic, this album has a consistent sound that takes you to various destinations as you embark on this listening journey.
The guitars sound great when they are at the center of the stage, especially during the solos. “In the Silence” and “While the Spiders Spin” features some great guitar work from both Brian McAlpin and Dan Rock. In addition to electric guitars, Brian McAlpin once again provides some lovely acoustic guitars. “While the Spiders Spin”, “Demystified”, “In The Silence” all showcase his skill with the acoustic as they all benefit the songs. Out of all the performances, it is Devon Graves who steals the show with his voice. His vocals are clear and his tone is well-rounded. Devon Graves shows a good amount of range and tonal variety to reflect the different emotions of the songs. He can be aggressive and energetic and he can be smooth and gentle. During some moments, he reminded me of Simen Hestnæs (ICS Vortex, of Borknagar) and Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot). Songs like “Angels and Demons” and “The Fallen” shows some of his darker or more intimate sides. ‘The God-Shaped Void’ may very well be the best vocal performance in his career. Finally, he delivers some great flute performances that make the songs better when featured.
Unfortunately, ‘The God-Shaped Void’ has flaws. The mixing is a little unbalanced in some areas, primarily around the rhythm guitars for being too loud and the synths too quiet. The keyboards need to be heard more are they are integral to the atmosphere. Next, there needs to be more bass and flute. The bass could definitely be more amped up and have a greater role in the songs. They’re too subtle, more so than I would have liked and expected. This applies to the flute as well. The flute was one of the defining characteristics of Psychotic Waltz and on ‘The God-Shaped Void’, they play a lesser role than I would have liked and expected.
Both the lack of bass and flute presence points to the album’s most glaring flaw, the inconsistent songwriting. Compared to the previous albums, ‘The God-Shaped Void simply falls short in songwriting, to a disappointing degree. The long-form songwriting, the complex counterpoint, the twisted melodies in the guitars, the progressive and all-so-present groovy basslines, and the intricate guitar and flute passages are completely or almost completely gone. The guitars, especially the rhythm guitars, are the main culprits. The rhythm section is largely uninteresting and way too repetitive at times. Some of the songs rely on them for their intro (“Pull the String”) and some to move the song along (“Back to Black”, the worst song of the album) but both end up with me scratching my head wondering where things had gone. All that is left is an album that’s by an old band playing catch up with the times without remembering what truly made them great in the first place. As a result, the band created a situation similar to when the band Dark Millennium, another underground cult classic progressive band, returned after almost 25 years with the album “Midnight in the Void”. Was I disappointed by this album? Yes. Were my expectations too high? Possibly. Did I still enjoy this album? Overall, yes. “While the Spiders Spin”, “Demystified”, The Fallen”, and “In The Silence” are good and quite enjoyable songs.
After 25 years, Psychotic Waltz returns with ‘The God-Shaped Void’, a bottom-heavy album that has good things to offer and can be enjoyed by fans. However, it could very well be an album that would polarize and divide the fans. ‘The God-Shaped Void’ may be an inconsistent album and their weakest album but no means a bad album as there is enough on here that fans would find some enjoyment. If you are a fan of the band, I would still recommend checking it out just because it is their new album. If you never heard of them and like what you hear, I highly recommend checking out their previous albums, especially “A Social Grace”.