I grew up with a guitar player brother. His earliest inclinations toward the instrument were fed largely by Eddie Van Halen’s bluesy shred-fests and the sometimes full-on weird experimental works put forth by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Cassette tape and CD alike died to feed one kid’s ravenous addiction. Other artists of that ilk inevitably followed—Eric Johnson, Allan Holdsworth, Paul Gilbert, Michael Hedges, Shawn Lane, and Guthrie Govan among them—as the obsession deepened in him and the Music Monkey mounted his back and took firm hold.
As a drummer, I understood only vaguely the technical approaches employed by this rotating cast of guitar-twangers, being more concerned with how to get the least buzz out of my snare drum and with breaking down Stewart Copeland’s hi-hat ostinatos. Still, as a listening bystander to my brother’s exploration of guitar-driven and instrumental music, I was drawn to how these players seemed to take the instrument to new territory while infusing more than a modicum of soul. Scattered among the notes and key changes of these competent and coherent compositions, indelible marks in the material that personally did more for me than tonal color and technical wizardry to expose and express the thoughts and feelings these guys intended. To be short, I felt the uniqueness of the music. I felt the soul and self of it.
After listening to “Manipulation Under Anesthesia”, the latest effort (released 6/25/13) from Bay Area trio Abnormal Thought Patterns, I yearn still for that connection, for that unmistakable resonation of personality seeping through the pores of what I might hear…because I didn’t find it in the span of this disc’s forty-odd minutes.
Guitarist Jasun Tipton seems immersed up to his eyes in technique throughout, cramming enough pick sweeping and arpeggios into each measure to make the few soulful moments that I heard feel disingenuous, false. This might merely be bludgeoning over-decoration of ear candy on solid song forms except that, aside from the impressive doubling lines and few solo runs of brother/bassist Troy Tipton and steady-as-she-goes time keeping of drummer Mike Guy, this effort seems to lack form, favoring instead a bloated showcase for Dream Theater-esque emulation that tries too hard to beg the question, “Look at my guitar chops: Aren’t I good?”
Arguably the most interesting and original bits were “Calculating Patterns”, a piano-driven, samba-inspired tune that might—with all its clean jazz chords and free-form drum riffing—be more at home on an Al DiMeola record; “Autumn”, a half-time ballad in the vein of the aforementioned Vai full of computer-mimicking accompaniment; and “4-String Lullaby”, a sexy little bass-only track which, at just under a minute, ended regrettably too soon.
More of this sort of playful stylistic variation would’ve been welcomed. These tracks, to me, were where the band seemed most natural, most inventive, and offered some real breathing room to all the surrounding shredding-for-shredding’s sake. Instead, these gems were relegated to a spot somewhere near the back burner. “Patterns”, for example, appears to get quieter and quieter as the song progresses. Likely just a trick of the ear or a questionable mix, but it feels as if the listener is only being reminded that the heavy stuff is coming again. Somebody cue the Ghost of George Carlin:
“Wait. Perhaps this isn’t actual material from the band but rather the Muzak-styled intermission music synched to play while they towel off, tune up, and maybe get a Gatorade to replace those lost-but-crucial electrolytes before stage-jumping back into the fray with amps hot and strings blazing. Goody.”
Despite my dramatics here (Thanks, George), I genuinely tried to like Abnormal Thought Patterns. Guy and the Brothers Tipton are good, and it shows. “Manipulation Under Anesthesia” is an energetic collection chock-full of requisite “guitar-fanboy-needs-a-clean-pair-of-shorts” moments. The apparent trouble is that in the realm of progressive metal, especially of the instrumental variety, there are a lot of technically adept outfits out there that don’t need to SPEAK SO LOUDLY ALL THE TIME TO MAKE THEMSELVES HEARD. This band seems short on soul, at least if the far-overburdened songwriting style as it stands continues as such. Or, they may just be short a vocalist. I could be wrong….