8/4/2011 - Review by: Etiam
"Can't waste time to sing the blues," Wino belts in 'Release Me', the shimmying opener of his first official solo record. Nevertheless, over these 43 minutes he does plenty of it, albeit most times beneath layers of envelope filters, fuzzboxes, shuffling meters, and as many tempo changes as he likes. Wino tends to become the centerpiece of the groups he joins, despite his collaborative spirit, and on 'Punctuated Equilibrium', he's finally able to indulge himself to the fullest extent without stepping on anyone else's iron-toed boots. As a singer, arranger, lyricist, and most certainly as a lead player, Wino kicks out the jams across ten tracks that span sludge, rock, lighter traditional doom, a bit of psychedelia, and, naturally, plenty of blues pentatonics. He spends much of the record with his solo boost on, noodling away on his Les Paul (presumably), but it's difficult to term some of the instrumental passages as 'solo sections', since meandering, wah-soaked improvisations are often coming out of either speaker. It's obvious that Wino still has the chops to play virtually anything that comes to his fertile mind, but by 'Wild Blue Yonder', the album's six-and-a-half minute instrumental centerpiece, our ears have become a little inured to his fretboard walkabouts. A few more memorable riffs or refrains would have gone a long way.
In short, that's the fatal flaw of 'Punctuated Equilibrium', as it is on so many solo outings: patchwork building on a strong foundation. The record offers fundamentally sound structures, tight grooves, neat guitar vamps, some absorbing pedal effects, and is a fine showcase of how Wino's made the most of a limited vocal range. But its execution just isn't trim enough to punch its weight. An eerie intro and growling wah theme on 'Secret Realm Devotion' slip disjointedly into an upbeat verse and chorus centerpiece before a book-ending fadeout. 'Gods, Frauds, Neo-Cons and Demagogues' is a voiceover-fraught quasi-interlude that wastes a patient riff and drone theme that UFOmammut would have killed with. Several instrumentals (e.g. 'The Woman in the Orange Pants', 'Water Crane') could have served as palate-cleansing interludes on a stronger, more hook-driven record, but this LP is already too heavy with exposition. Lacking the mournful urgency of The Obsessed, the tortured soulfulness of Saint Vitus, and the transcendent atmosphere of The Hidden Hand, this "debut" record vacillates between the three poles without ever fully achieving any of them.
Of course, none of this will change Wino's legacy. He is truly a living legend in the metal scene--some might say a singing Tony Iommi that never left the clubs for the stadiums, although this does not do enough credit to Wino's originality and verve--with a catalogue reaching back three decades. On the upside, it is a distinct pleasure to hear Wino simply rock out, particularly with this tight and organic of a rhythm section (Jean Paul Gaster of Clutch and the late Jon Blank of Rezin). But, ultimately, the burden of expectations is simply too much for the ambivalent 'Punctuated Equilibrium', which, even at its best, is but a medley reprisal of past epochs.
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