Flotsam and Jetsam – Self-Titled
Label: AFM Records
Release Date: May 20, 2016
In 1986, Phoenix-based thrash horde, Flotsam and Jetsam dropped Doomsday for the Deceiver, which stands as one of the genres’ defining albums. Now 30 years later, the band returns with it twelfth studio effort, a new line-up, and a renewed sense of purpose. The new self-titled record features vocalist Eric A.K. Knutson and guitarist Michael Gilbert who remain from the band’s seminal debut. It also marks the debut of guitarist Steve Conley and drummer Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall). Bassist Michael Spencer who was with the band briefly in the late 80s returned to the fold as well, bringing with him some song ideas he originally had for the band’s 1988 record, No Place for Disgrace.
The eponymous record features a dozen tracks that tap into the band’s early style but still have a modern feel and momentum. Chris Collier (Prong, KXM, Lita Ford) did an amazing job mixing the record, making every instrument balanced within a given track: Nothing is buried and no performance overwhelms another. This may arguably be Flotsam and Jetsam’s most impressive record to date.
“Seventh Seal” kicks the affair off with guitars that rail with a Middle Eastern tint. The song chugs along propelled by Spencer’s walloping bass line. Eric A.K.’s voice is as commanding as ever. It is immediately clear how much Bittner’s thundering drum work adds to the depth of the music. The dueling guitar leads blend perfectly into the dramatic feel of the track.
Next up is the blistering onslaught of “Life’s a Mess”, a song that reminds us that no matter how fucked up our lives are, we can still enjoy the night because our lives will still be jacked up when morning comes. “Time to Go” fits the same sonic mold late near the album’s later half.
The album’s first single is the instantly addictive “Iron Maiden” which pays homage to one of Flotsam’s collective influences. Musically it fits right into anything Maiden might have recorded, with dual guitar harmonies, galloping bass lines, and propulsive drumming. A.K. then took the concept of the actual iron maiden torture device as lyrical inspiration to create a masterpiece track. He even gets into that classic Dickinson vocal groove.
“Verge of Tragedy” opens like a plodding beast before that Middle Eastern vibe returns. Have a mentioned yet how exciting it is to hear a metal album where the bass is not buried in the mix? Spencer’s work here is dynamic and Collier’s mix brings it right to the surface. Lyrically the song tackles the issue of anxiety, but musically it’s simply a hell raiser of a track. Some of the album’s finest fret work plays out here.
Crisp riffs drive the crushing aggression of “Creeper”, while “L.O.T.D.” (Legions of the Damned) unleashes a retro thrash fury. The latter is one of two tracks built off the foundation of Spencer’s late 80s song ideas for Flotsam’s second album.
“The Incantation” is a brief instrumental interlude with an ominous array of floating guitar work that paves the way for the racing aggression of “Monkey Wrench”. Bittner unleashes an arsenal and hard-hitting stick work to backstop the triturating fury of “Smoking Gun”. Spencer’s bass bounces like a live wire, and A.K.’s gritty vocal attack grabs you by the throat.
The album closes out with the epic (yes, I used the word) monolith, “Forbidden Territories”; another track which has its roots in those vintage song ideas Spencer had been sitting on for three decades. The song is another of those chug and gallop affairs that also has that almost Arabian sense to it. It is a near seven-minute monster to end the record.
With its self-titled 35th anniversary album, Flotsam and Jetsam is a band rejuvenated and reborn. There is not a weak track on the record, and the vast majority of the songs beg for repeated listens. The guys sound as aggressive and imposing as they did on their first two records. This is one of 2016’s must own metal albums.