Watchtower (US) - (2015) Concepts of Math: Book One - 9.5/10

Artist: Watchtower
Release: Concepts of Math: Book One
Rating: 9.5/10


Watchtower is a band I love with all my heart, and I practically worship both of their albums. It's no secret that the third album, Mathematics, has been in the works for longer than Chinese Democracy, and with one lone digital single released over half a decade ago, there didn't seem to be much hope for the project. However, the band out of nowhere released 3 new singles digitally last year, and then in about a year, they followed up with a fifth new song and released one EP, Concepts of Math: Book One. While Mathematics technically is not complete yet, some serious progress has been made and the band now has their first real, physical release in almost 20 years.

Now progressive metal, on paper, is a style I should absolutely love. Complex time signatures? Extended, more complicated song structures? Highly technical playing? Sign me up! Unfortunately for me, some certain well-known prog metal bands (*cough* Dream Theater *cough*), ended up pioneering a horribly dull style of progressive metal which is a snoozefest outside of the wank sections and most modern bands seem to be totally content with aping that. Wow, how progressive and forward thinking. Fortunately for me, Jarzombek seems to hate that shit about as much as I do and shows all of the new kids who's really the boss.

It's cliche, but Watchtower was way ahead of their time. An album like Energetic Assembly is still pretty bizarre by today's standards, but in 1985? I can only imagine how mindblowing that must have been at the time. Similarly, the follow-up effort pushed the envelope even farther with more technical and progressive elements. In fact, Control and Resistance still remains mostly unmatched and unparalleled in the world of progressive metal. There's a very, very short list of other technical/progressive thrash metal bands that I think have put out albums on par in both quality and innovation.

This EP features the all-star lineup from Control and Resistance which has Jarzombek on guitars and Tecchio on vocals. Concepts of Math, to nobody's surprise, sounds "modern" in its production, inline with some of Jarzombek's more recent outings. With the exception of The Size of Matter, most of the thrash elements are gone from this release and in its place is the technical/progressive metal style any fan of Watchtower or Jarzombek should be familiar with.

Even though these guys probably rarely get a chance to jam together, their chemistry seems virtually unchanged from the Control and Resistance days. Everyone is clearly on fire while they were recording. Colaluca's drumming is so insane that I wouldn't be surprised if he secretly grows an extra pair of arms behind the kit. Jarzombek and Keyser are perhaps the ultimate dynamic duo between guitar and bass. Both of them can seamlessly play harmonies and leads off of each other, and the interplay between the two is almost always a highlight. Tecchio opts for a lower pitch this time around (likely because of age). There's moments where he hits some respectable high notes, but he won't be breaking glass here with 80s-style wails.

One of the reasons why Watchtower is miles ahead of those horrid prog bands that think they are good for figuring out how to play syncopating chugs (*cough* Circus Maximus *cough*) is the fact that Watchtower completely eclipses those hacks both rhythmically and melodically. The intricate control of the pulse is easily one of Watchtower's strongest points, and it's not just the time signature changes either. For instance, pay close attention to how Jarzombek will phrase a solo. If you're not listening carefully enough, you might just hear a flurry of 16th notes, but very often he will subtly shift rhythms, meters, and tie notes together in a strange fashion. Riffs are almost never straightforward. The band will stop and start at odd place, insert some embellishment, or just flat out go into some mystery time signature. Additionally, there's the fucking rhythm section.

Progressive metal bands generally have good drum and bass players, but dear god Keyser and Colaluca makes them look like children. To get a feel for how goddamn ridiculous the drumming is, just pick any random part and try to air drum along with only the snare. I guarantee you'll fuck up in like 5 seconds; this stuff is just insanely unpredictable. Like the previous albums, the drum performance is mind-numbingly complex and all over the place and yet the all frills style works extremely well. Keyser is still the bass hero. Naturally, he often deviates from the rhythm and goes off into his own territory and adds his own line and flavor to the music. Unfortunately, there's not really any bass solos this time around, but his performance is still quite admirable.

Jarzombek is one of my favorite all time guitar wankers (and believe me, I listen to a lot of them). One thing that sets him apart is his completely unique and instantly recognizable style. He can be a bit dry and clinical sounding at times, but it works in the context of the music. And in spite of his tone, I actually find Watchtower quite melodic. Nearly every song here features a strong wealth of melodic ideas that are often well developed and extended for relatively long musical phrases.

Tecchio got older, so he can't shriek his head off anymore like in the 80s. But it's okay. He mostly sings in a lower, more normal voice occasionally hitting some higher notes. I suppose the lack of vocal insanity may disappoint some, but to be frank I never never put too much weight in Watchtower's vocals. The 80s style, high-pitched singing is certainly entertaining and raises a few eyebrows, but it was never a focal point for me. On the flipside, this makes Concepts of Math a lot more accessible since you don't have some dude on helium screaming at you for half the album. I suppose your mileage will vary.

As someone with a math background, I find the lyrical concepts pretty amusing. Well okay, Arguments Against Design has the old and tired "enlightened atheist" theme which recalls a certain internet meme, but the lyrics to Mathematica Calculis are goddamn hilarious. It's obviously pretty tongue and cheek, but lines like "two determined targets constitute a line" are comedy gold and conjure and image of undergrads rigorously doing graph sketching in calculus class.

If you've already collected the four digital singles, there's only one new song here for you. If you had the patience to wait, well then you're in for a real treat. Regardless of the boat you're in, everything here is written extremely well and crafted with the upmost care. There's a time signature change during the verse of Technology Inaction which I absolutely love and it gets me everyone. But really the EP's brightest moment is the nearly 10 minute behemoth, Mathematica Calculis. Some of the band's craziest tech/prog freakouts occur here. One of the best parts is when Keyser and Jarzombek trade off notes to form a melody. Hearing that melody become more complex as it develops and transitions into Jarzombek soloing is one of the many examples of the brilliant songwriting capability of the group.

If you're like me and modern prog generally makes you upset and bitter, don't fret too much because the Watchtower guys come back and blow those losers out of the water. Here's to hoping the rest of Mathematics comes out relatively soon.
Occasionally, I write Western and Japanese music reviews.
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Good review. It's no wonder Watchtower means that much to you. They stuck out of the typical mold of thrash metal then-newcomers by injecting more technicality and progression than the norm. In fact, most thrash metal is too regressive, including even Metallica's so-called "thinking man" songs.
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Thanks! This is actually an old MA review that I did a bit of minor editing and reposted here and on my personal page. I plan to totally rewrite a couple of other old reviews from scratch as well. But nevertheless, yes Jarzombeck is god. And Billy White was pretty cool too. Tongue
Occasionally, I write Western and Japanese music reviews.
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