Death & Taxe$ - The Alaska 12 Expeditions

Year of Release:
Label: Self-released
Catalog Number: TPS032566
Format: CD
Total Time: 52:11:00

Death & Taxe$ got their start 14 years ago, spearheaded by bassist and vocalist Tom Shannon, though they didn't release their first album until 1996's Paradigms For A New Quarter; Theenigmathatisman followed in 2001. And in late 2002, Tom Shannon passed away, having been battling brain cancer for most of the previous year. This third release by the band includes material that guitarist and vocalist Vince Martinez and Shannon were working on before Shannon's death. Proceeds from the sale of The Alaska 12 Expedition album will go to UCLA's Jonsson's Cancer Research Center in honor of Shannon. You can find out more about this project in my interview with Martinez.

If you try to pin Death & Taxe$ down as a metal band based on "Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely," then you'd be only listening to one aspect. And even then, "Misunderstanding?" is what might be called avant-metal, as there's arty angularity to it that puts DnT closer to a true progressive rock level. And before you start wondering just what I mean by "true progressive rock," step back and don't look at the last two words of that phrase as a genre. The comparison I was going to make was a metal band influenced by King Crimson (which DnT were, though also by a host of other folks), which might be a new progressive direction in itself, except then Tool comes to mind. So it's a least a small pocket of the wider progressive music genre. Truly, as much as some (I) love the progressive rock (genre, this time) of The Flower Kings, Pallas, IQ, etc., it's not truly progressive (as a concept) as they dabble very much in the sandbox of others. But remember, I love those bands, and I'm not making digs, just observations.

I think DnT's sandbox has so much sand from so many shores, it may be more microcosm of the whole musical sphere than mere sandbox. I mean, for every comparison I make here, it is just a fragmentary point of reference, because in truth, DnT rarely sound like anyone else specficially. Their music is complex structurally, and so there's no easy way to say, this is this type of track, this is that. They aren't styles or genres, but moods, abstract paintings in colours that one can only describe by finding colours that come close, but aren't exact, and aren't even comprehensive. And to me, that is progressive, when your music is still easily classifiable as music, but doesn't fit really into a known genre, meaning one has to be invented. This does sound like a whole lot of hyberbole, I suppose? but bear with me.

"Misunderstanding?" is played both furiously and languidly, as with the liquid section that begins the second verse (and there's a lot that happens between verses). But, this leads back into some furious (as in fast, quick, not as in angry) playing. But don't think thrash - remember there's an artiness here. The bass punctuates each and every moment, matched in impact only by the drums (Dean McCall). Which isn't to say the guitars have no impact on the mix, only that these two other elements hammer each note home. Martinez's guitar playing is what gives this piece it's occasional liquid feel, and he does also play an acidic bit before the third chorus. By the way, there's an aspect of this piece that reminds me of a Kinks song, "Destroyer" (I think).

And see, there's the bluesy harmonica in the mostly instrumental "Death: Theory," a piece that includes some crying guitar leads that are quite sad and sweet. The percussion (Mark Segal and McCall) seems jazz influenced - a far cry from the bash-bash-bash rhythms of most metal bands, even progressive metal bands. Which is to say, no, you can't call them a metal band, and have it say it all. This piece is a funky jazz that falls somewhere between rock and fusion, closer to one or the other at times. Oh, and there's sax (yum) from Marc Mylar. And this track, this very eclectic track, even ventures into the psychedelic, including the spoken-word poetry of David McIntire (yes, shades Morrison and The Doors in that).

And if you categorized DnT as a mostly arty, sometimes metal band, then you'd be overlooking the mellower "Revolver," which seems more like something off a Mike and the Mechanics album, especially as guest vocalist Matt Brown sounds like Paul Carrack. It's a beautiful - and the most concrete - track that includes both string-like and piano-like keys (Brown as well), a dreamy atmosphere, and glistening guitar phrases that shimmer. Thematically it is at once dark and hopeful, and certainly something many can identify with if you've ever felt hopeless or depressed.

Then, just following that piece, there's the angular, funky, but still arty, "The Suffer Ring" that recalls at times the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There's also the distorted, fusiony metal of the Rush-tinged "It's Now Becoming Fantastic" here - just listen to the bass work of the Shannon and guest George Radai -, although the distorted vocals (Martinez, Brown) are something else again.

But, in listening to the heavy "Famous Strangeness" you will call them a metal band, one that has a bit of a Soundgarden feel to it. Yes, that means a bit of a grungy metal feel to it. But also a bit of a vocal and guitar rock feel to it with a catchy though chorus. And the death knells sounding in "Terrifying Anticipations Of The Unspeakable" are chilling, even without a "real world" context. Guitars and bass are given a warped and eerie,? chilling sound, all played at a pace just a few clicks above?a death march. It's odd and fascinating at the same time - the horror you can't turn your eyes away from? yes, the title says it all. You know something's coming, you can see, and yet you can't move. Grim, very grim, and arty, and there's some ugly beauty in its awkward darkness.

After a short spoken word piece, "Introduction S.F.T.G", the album opens with the dark and moody, and somewhat eerie, "The War Against Mental Atrophy" which is Shannon playing bass - actually it sounds like several basses layered, including Chapman Stick (which may mean Chapman only, given the range of the instrument). It's a bit haunting, but part of that comes from the thought that it represents some of Shannon's last work.

Okay, so it's gangly and weird and ugly, but it is good? Yes. Quite so. If you like music that defies easy categorization, then this album is as unavoidable as, well, death and taxes.

Introduction S.F.T.G.(0:15) / The War Against Mental Atrophy (2:38) / Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely (9:12) / Revolver (4:52) / The Suffer Ring (6:04) / Snail (0:57) / Death: Theory (8:33) / It Is Now Becoming Fantastic (5:44) / Famous Strangeness (7:06) / Terrifying Anticipations of the Unspeakable (6:13) / Let There Be Light (0:32)

Tom Shannon - 6-string fretless bass, chapman stick, inspiration
Vince Martinez - 6, 7, & 12 string guitars, vocals, bass, conductor
Dean Mccall - drums and percussion

Don Medina - drums (6, 9)
George Radai - 4 and 6 string basses (4, 7, 8)
Matt Brown - keyboards and vocals (4, 7)
Mark Segal - percussion, congas, harmonica (5, 7)
Anthony Cossa - guitar, e-bow, laser gun (7)
Marc Mylar - saxophone (7)
David McIntire - heart, mind, throat, pen & words (7, 10)
John Stack - his mighty words and voice (9)
Chris McCall - master of sticks (5)

Paradigms for a New Quarter (1996)
Theenigmathatisman (2001)
The Alaska 12 Expeditions (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 16th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1014
Language: english


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