Sound — 8
It's nice when a 'supergroup' (eugh!) make enough of a name for themselves that they can escape that awful tag and build a career of their own. It's also nice when the label of 'alternative metal' is stuck to a band that's actually got some tunes, so on both counts we should feel lucky to have Tomahawk about. Fronted by professional schizophrenic Mike Patton and backed by an ensemble of luminaries from some of the best prog rock bands of the 90s, their record speaks for itself but their music speaks louder. They're one of Patton's less eccentric outfits, but their 2007 outing "Anonymous" was an album of supreme weirdness and new effort "Oddfellows", while a little lighter on the Native American chanting, does have its quirks. The album is split almost song-by-song between chunky rock and slow-burn jazz musings, refreshingly well-structured in both instances. First single "Stone Letters" bravely risks both verse and chorus in traditional fashion, while the grungey "Waratorium" boasts just one riff but moves with equal purpose. A few years ago the understated, unassuming "Rise Up Dirty Waters" would have drifted into endless channels of meandering but here it's wrapped up in a tight three minutes, and largely thanks to new bass player Trevor Dunn. An extremely accomplished player (and peer of inimitable avant-garde composer John Zorn), Dunn holds the band together wonderfully well, guiding them through piano and forte, consonance and dissonance to some of the best moments since their 2001 debut on "Baby Let's Play ____" and "White Hats/Black Hats". Listen out for him.
Lyrics — 8
Of the 1,800 known vocal styles committed to tape by Mike Patton, only a small handful are trotted out here. The tireless bellows of the title track will be familiar to fans of Faith No More, while the mutters and whispers of "A Thousand Eyes" tease melody but offer far more in the way of atmosphere. At 45, we're looking at a man who may be starting to lose a little of his versatility to wear and tear, but his dedication to breaking new ground and doing so in the interest of the music stands up to scrutiny time and time again. That said, "Oddfellows" may not be his most memorable venture from a vocal perspective.
Overall Impression — 8
The delicate balance between stimulation and accessibility here is struck with regularity, maintaining a broad alternative rock appeal but hitting all the right buttons for nerdy musicians who may be listening. These songs repay further listening as time goes on, and the variety of sounds on offer mean that even if, say, the metally riffing turns you off at first, there'll be plenty else to keep you coming back until that sinks in too. Something which takes such investment to yield its full reward may not set the world alight but the arrival of Dunn on bass in particular has made a difference to Tomahawk; this might well be their best album since the eponymous debut all those years ago.