Sound — 8
From stellar albums put out by Deftones, Obscura, Revocation and more, to the anticipation of new albums from Metallica, Opeth, and The Dillinger Escape Plan in the next couple of months, 2016 has been an unequivocally incredible year for metal. Whatever supernatural energy that may be responsible for that, it's that same energy that has got to be the same reason for how a supergroup as stacked as Giraffe Tongue Orchestra formed in the first place. Reading the list of members sounds nothing short of a metalhead's fantasy lineup - Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Brent Hinds of Mastodon, William DuVall of Alice In Chains, Thomas Pridgen of The Mars Volta, and Pete Griffin of the live Dethklok band. But though this collective oozes with talent, the question that goes for any supergroup is if a good chemistry can be found among everyone, or if it's just a bunch of heads colliding into each other.
On their debut album, "Broken Lines," GTO mainly capitalize upon that very convergence of eclectic paths each member comes from. Weinman's TDEP-style dynamic songwriting can be found in "Fragments & Ashes" and the eponymous song, Hinds' more traditional guitar soloing takes the spotlight in "Adapt or Die" and the oddly-measured "Crucifixion," and though the rhythm section doesn't quite emulate their respective bands other than being exceptionally skilled, the wonky, noodling guitar riffs in "Thieves and Whores" certainly comes off as a nod to Pridgen's time with The Mars Volta. And with DuVall's vocals on top of it all, GTO's general sound also has a classic rock/metal feel to it, spanning from a thrash-inspired singing in "Adapt or Die" and "No-One Is Innocent" to his more trademark soulful hard rock voice in "Back to the Light" and "Blood Moon."
Even with this fusion of metal/progressive rock/hard rock being enough of an interesting mix, GTO still throw in a couple curveballs in "Broken Lines." The token power ballad "All We Have Is Now," driven by DuVall's heavily-reverbed vocals, feels more of a drag than a refreshing break from the streak of impressive instrumental acrobatics, but though the dance rock cut of "Everyone Gets Everything They Really Want" also seems to deviate too much from the album's primary strengths (save for Griffin's killer basslines), GTO foreshadows one of its lead riffs in the end of "Back to the Light," proving it to be more connected to the album than it first lets on.
Lyrics — 8
Aiming his sights on the crumbling foundation of society, DuVall's lyrics in "Broken Lines" focus on the faults of humanity and those who exploit it. While his sardonic commentary about the fate of humanity being doomed from the start in "Adapt or Die" ("Our own is God forsaken / So we kill what we need") and "No-One Is Innocent" ("You call it a tragedy / When it's merely destiny"), DuVall still rages against those in power who've set up a system that keeps the masses tied down, heard in "Blood Moon" ("Hard luck and bad money / We dine where the sun can't shine") and "Broken Lines" ("I hold until my hands are numb / They make you fight for every crumb / It's like a tragic comedy / Frozen from my humanity").
However, despite the numerous examples of grim reality he points to, DuVall uses it to strengthen his resolve rather than to be buried by it. From the battleground symbolism of "Fragments & Ashes" ("I've gotten used to the shrapnel flying / While mastering the art of war") to the choice of complacency or resistance in "Back to the Light" ("Now you have a choice / To suck up what they give you / Or you can spread your wings across the gaping void"), DuVall sees fighting against the powers that bring him down a necessity, and with the promises of turning the tables of wrongful persecution in "Crucifixion" ("I swear by the light you try to snuff out in my soul / That I will one day see you hanging by the cross you built for me") and "Broken Lines" ("You're running out of rope to hang us"), he sees an unwavering sense of determination to stand and resist being the key to outlasting whatever dark times and evildoers one may face.
Overall Impression — 9
For a supergroup made of high-profile members whose commitment to their primary bands will likely prevent them from reconvening in the future, a debut album is more about capturing lightning in a bottle and thoroughly impressing the listener in one fell swoop, rather than having leeway for improvements in future albums like a debut album from a new band. For GTO, "Broken Lines" indeed succeeds at that, and from capturing the collaborative capabilities that this collective of reputable musicians have with each other, to displaying every member's exceptional instrumental finesse, "Broken Lines" satisfies on about every level.