America grades on a curve, making sure the highs and lows are discarded as anomalous, while everything in the middle is cuddled together like a huge undifferentiated tub of tapioca for everyone to enjoy. This is fine for most, but it’s tough on artists who have not achieved a sufficient concentration of mediocrity. I have often heard these unfortunates, who in another culture would be described as “the best,” wonder aloud, “What’s the matter with me? Here I thought I was pushing the edges of human capacity, and everyone’s ignoring me. AM I INSANE?”
Guitarist Ron Jarzombek (Watchtower, Spastic Ink) is one such artist, and he deftly addresses his two-decade experience of the situation with his new project, Blotted Science. He can’t help but shred: This is about the most extreme, powerful, heavy explosion of power-trio frustration you can imagine. But he adds an extra dimension through the liner notes of Derek Vizzi and Steve Connelly, who set up the music as a track-by-track investigation of brain pathology, from synaptic malfunction to sleep disorder to amnesia. “Some may call our subjects ‘abominations’ or ‘aberrations,’” the album manifesto observes. “But our duty here does not lie in judging our patients.”
No, that’s the duty of critics, many of whom view fusion prodigies as freaks of nature. In the course of writing an article this year, I myself was trying to get some musicians’ heads under a hospital electroencephalogram, just to see what was different about them. Of course, I like to think that my experiment was motivated by admiration rather than Frankensteinian self-apotheosis.
“The Machinations of Dementia” is pretty damn scientific. Jarzombek’s idea was to hybridize his own fusionistics with the comparable technical chops of modern metalheads. Alex Webster of death-metal forefathers Cannibal Corpse was the bass choice; on drums Lamb of God's Chris Adler was first enlisted, then Hate Eternal's Derek Roddy, who both dropped out, fortuitously followed by Charlie Zeleny from the amazing metal progsters Behold . . . the Arctopus. Jarzombek assembled basic tracks and drum programs, sent out his product, and the three settled down separately in Texas, New York and Florida to work things out. And what a machine they invented.
Blotted Science ride their needles all the way to the limit, bearing down with titanic muscle while avoiding burnout of the listener’s eardrums. Serious rhythm music that’s always in motion and rarely improvised, the record slides easily from groove to ritard to slow huff and back; sometimes, as on “Night Terror,” it even synthesizes three distinct rhythms at once. The guitar riffs, often harmonized or doubled on keyboard or bass, are real skin-pricklers. And the album (mastered for wholistic bigness by Danish knobsman Jacob Hansen) paces its mostly short 16 tracks like a marathoner, letting the air out after the initial assault with one big exhalation to conclude “Activation Synthesis Theory” and throwing in a gorgeous 1:28 mini-symphony (“Vegetation”) and an elvish pas de deux (“Narcolepsy”) before closing in for the merciless kill at the end. Every track fascinates in its own peculiar way.
The effect is physical -- invigorating, not exhausting. You will grimace, grit your teeth, oscillate your cranium. You may want to pump some iron. And you could end up with a new definition of what’s crazy.