REVIEW: FLOTSAM AND JETSAM – “Blood In The Water”
Flotsam and jetsam the marine debris is defined as “useless or discarded objects.” Plagued by a series of bad breaks including label problems and dubious production choices, Flotsam and Jetsam the band have fought hard to break the chain and elude their namesake’s definition. Their new record ‘Blood in the Water’ is the third in a late-career resurgence that began with 2016’s self-titled record.
When Flotsam and Jetsam’s acclaimed first LP ‘Doomsday for the Deceiver’ arrived on the scene in 1986 alongside a long list of “thrash-terpieces” including such genre cornerstones as ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Reign in Blood,’ the band’s place in thrash metal’s bright future was all but secured. The follow-up record ‘No Place for Disgrace’ upped the ante despite its production flaws and capped off the 80s on a high point. The band continued to put out quality records in the early 90s, incorporating slower and more progressive tendencies into their sound before losing the plot with 1995’s appropriately titled ‘Drift’. With each successive post-80s record the band’s star burned a little dimmer, and they were left in the dust in terms of wide-scale popularity by many of their peers.
Fast forward to the present, and ‘Blood in the Water’ out 6/4/2021 worldwide, successfully builds upon and ultimately surpasses its 2 predecessors.
The only flotsam and jetsam to be found in the water on the toothy title track are the body parts of the hapless victims torn asunder by the tune’s unhinged aggression. At this point in their career, the band can perfectly balance their “thrashy” and melodic tendencies in service of the song and a unified sound. Much like their compatriots in Kreator, they have incorporated a kind of melodic “power-metal-esque” bombast into their sound to great success.
Singer and founding member Eric “AK” Knutson is in fine form throughout time adding a husky maturity to his voice without sacrificing the high notes. Look no further than the expressive pseudo balladry of “Cry for the Dead” or the soaring delivery on ragers like “Grey Dragon” for evidence. The former, a lament on lost loved ones and an album standout, swaps Knutson’s reverent tenor on the downbeat verses with his piercing wail on a catchy chorus accentuated by textured synths and a memorable minor-key guitar lick. The latter tune, which features gritty vocals over the speed metal rhythms of relative newcomers, drummer Ken K. Mary and bassist Bill Bodily, is all fire and brimstone. As with all the tunes in the set, thunderous intensity tampers with melodic sensibilities—In this case, the shout-along “whoa-ohs” of the pre-chorus and the tuneful lament of the moody chorus.
The neoclassical scales and speedy riffing of dusky closer “Seven Seconds ‘Till The End Of The World,” is a masterwork in bludgeoning efficiency. Subtle synths/strings punctuate Knutson’s urgent vocals over the relentless double kick-driven rhythms as the band veers towards a bridge that is all groove and ripping solos. A tip of the hat to guitarist Michael Gilbert, who played on the band’s early classics and returned to the fold in 2011 after a 14-year absence, and 8-year veteran Steve Conley. Together they turn in a solid, energetic performance that leaves room for experimentation without ever losing sight of the song.
The crisp modern production is a far cry from the band’s early releases. By-the-numbers modern production in the hands of lesser bands can add a generic quality to the music, but Flotsam and Jetsam make good use of the crystal clarity and really shine through.
From the authoritative thrash of “A Place to Die” and “Bracing for the Impact” to the steady melodic stomp of “The Walls”, the rest of the record is filled out with consistently compelling tunes.
The Flotsam and Jetsam of 2021 have a fire in their belly and an axe to grind. Balancing rekindled aggression with time-honed authority and melodicism, they have turned in a razor-sharp effort designed to butcher everything in its path. Blood in the water indeed!