Mike Patton’s visceral supergroup is back with a vengeance.
In absurd times, it’s always helpful to look to Mike Patton for insight. The profoundly prolific frontman can be consistently counted on to provide biting social commentary and daft comedic buffoonery, often melding the two together into one lethal dose of satire. To our good fortune, Patton always has something on the go. From the crossover thrash of Dead Cross, to the 60s Italian pop of Mondo Cane, to his seminal work with Faith No More which evolved from its bouncy funk-metal beginnings to a ferocious force of alternative metal; Patton is never gone long from the scene.
Everyone will have their own favorite Mike Patton pet project but arguably his most powerful outside of Faith No More is the tribally tympanic Tomahawk. This supergroup aligns Patton with some monsters of the scene which was forged out of the 90s sound that FNM fostered. In Tomahawk, Patton teams up with guitar beast Duane Denison of The Jesus Lizard, bassist Trevor Dunn from yet another Patton project Mr. Bungle, and the freight train John Stainer whose drums have propelled the driving alternative metal of Helmet and the batty techno-stomp of Battles. Together, the group approaches songwriting with a cinematic vision yet always has their groove-metal chops in their back pocket to drive the point home like a jackhammer. On albums like Anonymous (2007), the group fully inhabited the Native American spirit to conjure the themes and melodics of the album giving it a singular flavour. Tonic Immobility is a more straightforward modern rock record. With the isolation, displacement, and death surrounding the last year under COVID, Tomahawk delivers a searing send-up of these demented times.
Tonic Immobility is a lean, mean 39 minutes which churns out 12 tracks of pumping riffs occasionally breaking from the grind to provide some textural thousand-yard stares, reprieves of contemplative beauty. Mischievously clinking guitars introduce the opener ‘SHHH!’ like a pizzicato string section. Patton enters with his panther-like growl, teasing a secret with the low gravelly whisper that has become one of his many vocal signatures. Like a dam breaking, the band comes in overflowing with a pent-up furor. Patton plays both the pryer and the private persona in an oft used schizophrenic mode. During ‘Predators and Scavengers’, Denison puts on a clinic on tightly-played quirky guitar. Machine gun palm-muted grooves spliced with manically chromatic runs. Stainer channels his Helmet days riding a speeding runaway beat with Dunn locking in for perfectly placed accents. This is the sign of a premier alternative metal supergroup. Not wanking guitar solos and self-indulgent drum breaks but a well-oiled machine ripping a killer groove.
‘Doomsday Fatigue’ breaks from the riffage onslaught to give us a slithering, slinky peek at the underbelly. Patton uses this creeping slow-burn to scrutinize our descent into news-driven masochism. The daily doomscroll which has become a perverse source of satisfaction where good and evil bleed into one and the only source of pleasure becomes the exaltation of the newest outrage. A snappy rimshot and twangy guitar score this look into the heart of our current madness. A genius track that proves why Mike Patton has grown to be one of the most important commentators on the zeitgeist that we have seen in this generation.
“Got a birthing coach with a COVID smile
We labour alone today
What’s reachin’ out to you, mama
A closed fist or an open hand?
Unhappy hour time
Sometimes the truth don’t rhyme
An audience of one
Go and look yourself
In the eye
And hope that you don’t blink
The album’s lead single ‘Business Casual’ bites with a rabid vigour. The ringleader hits hatcheted rhymes in threes and fours. His spite for the casual condescension class paired with his rapid-fire delivery will draw comparisons to Tool’s Maynard Keenan in his most ferocious heyday. A snaking bassline and shotgun snare beat punch home the verse’s unadulterated sarcasm from Patton. The teeth grit to the grinding guitar changes that Denison churns out over the tension-filled choruses. A sludgy doom intercuts with a devilishly sick prog riff on ‘Tattoo Zero’ one of Denison’s finest moments on the record.
The late album thinker ‘Sidewinder’ slows it down to a sidewalk shuffle. Patton exasperatedly declares “I consume everything the world shoves in my face/I drink, I eat, I live it/And it is not my choice, nor my cracking voice/Yeah” over pensive piano and a languishing beat. The softness quickly erupts into bitterness with Mike Patton reveling in juxtaposition much like his former cohorts The Dillinger Escape Plan did on tracks like ‘Widower’ and ‘One of Us is the Killer’. Not to end on a vulnerable note, the band concludes with the nihilistically straight-forward ‘Dog Eat Dog’. Fully ratcheting from the war hammer chugging of a band in absolute lockstep. Patton drives home his point that all is fair in love and war and these days we are always at war.
The return of Tomahawk is most welcome. The band is royalty of the Ipecac Records-modelled sound. Snarling, raucous, and tight as hell. Patton’s voice is sorely needed in times like these, particularly when he’s at his most pointed and vitriolic. Tonic Immobility shows a renewed vigor for the project, casting aside metaphor and the overly ornate and going straight for the jugular.