Upon hearing the initial blast of “Neon Guru,” you probably won’t glean the thematic peace-and-love vibe that actually lies at the core of The An Albatross Family Album. This will become apparent later. For An Albatross, nothing is gained without visceral struggle, thus peace must emerge from violence. In a half hour of music that only briefly lets up its exhaustive pace, the group makes you believe in the healing power of chaos.
While the album is sometimes steeped in background static, the music is far too precisely orchestrated to fall under the noise umbrella the band has sprung from. An Albatross retains the speed-lurch and guitar timbre of its grindcore roots while drawing ever closer to filling the void left by Mr. Bungle: there’s the circus ambience (complete with freakish masks, people), spastic style-mashing, Trey Spruance-esque riffage and Mike Patton-style vocal histrionics from death growl to loopy caterwaul. Fortunately for An Albatross, a) it’s all plenty original enough not to be a total ape, and b) this shit is right up my alley. One thing that really sets this apart from Bungle is lyrical purpose. Nothing smacks ironic about the whole “love beasts” new-agey passage in “The Hymns Of The Angel People,” and while it ambushes you the first time you hear it, it begins to make more sense the more you listen to it in context. The rest of the album becomes richer and more purposeful in its wake.
One thing lacking, however, is a defined sonic climate. I’m willing to accept the possibility that engineer Matt Boynton has intentionally created a lo-fi cacophony to mimic the experience of the group’s live show, which has been highly touted. But some of the best moments on the album are exemplified in “A Convivial Feast Of The Peace Beast,” when the various brass and rock instruments all come through clearly and vividly, and “Floodgates Released,” when the band just rocks out in the throes of a couple superb riffs. There are so many great ideas on this album, so well executed, that they deserve high-end studio treatment. Ultimately, though, the thrill of the music comes through loud and clear. Emphasis on LOUD.