May 9, 2009

CD Review: Flotsam & Jetsam - Drift

Flotsam & Jetsam has been largely an unknown quantity in my musical life. Cuatro was my introduction way back in 1993, now, in 2008, I have been able to sample the albums immediately before and after that landmark release (well, landmark for me). Hearing these neighboring albums has created an interesting timeline for the band and the development of their music. Listening to all three in succession quickly reveals a band in a state of flux. Now, while Drift does not fly quite as high as Cuatro, it does come fairly close.

The band got its start way back in the early 1980's, releasing their debut album, Doomsday for the Deceiver, in 1986. At the time, Jason Newsted was their bass player and primary songwriter, however, before they could release their second release, he left the band to replace the late Cliff Burton in Metallica, sealing the band's fate, they will forever be the band that Cliff's replacement came from regardless of the quality of their music. Anyway, Newsted's influence continued on 1988's No Place for Disgrace, with a few songs featuring his writing skills.

Now, I have not heard either one of those first two releases. Their third album is called When the Storm Comes Down and it sounds like a band in search of itself, with a few good cuts, but with songwriting that is all over the map and lackluster production values. Cuatro, arriving in 1992, finds the band finally comfortable in their own skin, and the music shows it. The trend of strong songwriting continues with 1995's Drift, which is easily the most mature of the albums I've heard and sounds like the logical next step following Cuatro.

Drift has a decidedly darker sound than the prior two. A little research uncovers that bass player Jason Ward had developed as the band's primary songwriter and that his brother, Jeff (drummer for Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and others), committed suicide in 1993 after murdering his girlfriend. This understandably had an effect on Jason, the result is music that has a little darkness to it. I am sorry that he had to go through something like that, but there is no denying the positives that came from Jason's work.

Drift is dark and the music is haunting. Something else that comes out in this album is the thrashiness that was a big part of their earlier career. I noticed it with Cuatro and it is even more pronounced here. There is a trend away from thrash and towards melody. There is still speed to be had, but it is hardly the thrash that brought them their initial notice. This is not a bad thing, as they seem to be at their best when melody is the primary element of the song. Also, the songwriting grew over this three album span.

When looking for the songs to focus on, it is hard to narrow it down to just a few. While none of the songs rise to the level of "Wading Through the Darkness," there is much better consistency throughout the entire album. Beginning with the strong "Me," you can tell they are driven, focused on delivering a great album.

With the success of Cuatro and the radio play for "Wading Through the Darkness," Drift should have been the album to push them closer to the top. The songs are solid, and they had that base from Cuatro, sadly though, metal was struggling at the time, grunge was popular and they just missed their shot.

Fortunately, the album is being re-released by Metal Mind Productions (along with When the Storm Comes Down and Cuatro), and these overlooked metal gems have another shot at reaching an audience. These guys really are good and the music is solid.

As an added bonus, there are a few bonus tracks included, three in total. Two of the cuts are the radio edits of "Destructive Signs" and "Smoked Out." The third bonus is a fantastic cover of the Black Sabbath classic "Fairies Wear Boots." This cover tune is an absolute gem.

Bottomline. This is a truly excellent disk. The songs get in your head and stick there for a while, allowing Flotsam & Jetsam to really get under your skin. From top to bottom, this is a solid collection of songs that went sadly overlooked by the metal community (myself included) upon its initial release. Don't make the mistake again.

Highly Recommended.


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