Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Deliverance - Camelot in Smithereens (1995)

There's a song written & recorded in 1964 called "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood".  This song is most widely known due to the version that The Animals recorded in 1965.  There's a lyric in the song so well-delivered that goes, "But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good.  Oh Lord!  Please don't let me be misunderstood."  This song, lyrically, is about a somewhat rocky love relationship where the man is laying his faults on the table and pleading with his love to understand that he's not perfect and that he is trying to do the best he can.  While contextually, this back story may not fit what I'm about to segue into, this lyric, in particular, so perfectly describes what Deliverance front-man & visionary Jimmy P. Brown II has gone through over the years.

Without going into a complete history of the band, the short version is that Deliverance started as a thrash metal band (an excellent one, at that), and morphed over the course of about 10 years from that original stylistic approach into something quite different, taking on a much more groove-oriented approach that become more progressive and intricate as more albums were recorded.  This shift away from thrash metal was disdained by a large contingent of the band's fan base, and prior to the original dissolution of Deliverance in the mid-90's, the die-hard fans who wanted the band to return to their thrash roots became ever more disenfranchised with their sound.  To avoid stepping in a veritable tar pit of hyperbole, let's just say that the Deliverance fan community was fairly split by the end of the band's initial run in terms of the quality and validity of the later releases.

So what camp do I belong to?  I'm of the artist mentality, whereby I don't make art to please other people, but to edify myself & please my own artistic exploration, as well as to please my Creator.  As such, I don't pay much attention to what people might want when I create art.  If I am happy with the finished product and I feel that it sufficiently glorifies my God, I don't concern myself with what other people are going to say, and how they are going to judge me.  If they dig it as well, that's icing on the cake.  I suspect the artist in JPB2 feels this way, but sometimes the musician & businessman in him goes the other direction, fretting over what his fans are going to do or how they will react to his latest output.  I think this force pulling him in both directions simultaneously is part of what makes his art so vital, which is why I hope he never completely loses that quality.

Musically, this album is both a tour-de-force, as well as a quite studied affair.  The guitar crunches with authority, but has a melodic quality to it that really helps the album to be more listenable & memorable than some of the band's earlier "groove" oriented works.  Solo work is well done here, but not overdone - it's flashy & tasteful at the same time, which is a nice balance.  There's some cool echo effects on some of the clean guitar portions, like in "Anymore", adding to the atmosphere of the song.  The album's centerpiece (ironically titled "Books Ends") combines highly melodic soloing, crunchy riffing, interesting structure, and a varied approach that works well.  I like how the album shifts between up-tempo numbers with a lot of guitar muscle to more laid back numbers that utilize other textures to great effect.
Vocally, Jimmy has never sounded better, and I mean that literally.  As a vocalist, he was always strong, but the early thrash works lacked a melodic approach that didn't show his true talent as a vocalist.  Here, however, he's in full singer mode, pulling off interesting melodies, some slightly disharmonic bits here & there that work well, and far more range & emotion than he had previously displayed on an album.  Jimmy doesn't have the level of aggression in the material here than he did before, but this material doesn't really need that - instead, his somewhat Bowie-esque approach is right on for the music.

Bass work isn't overly audible, but Manny Morales (when you can hear him) does things competently and helps move things along.  Drum work by former Betrayal skins-man Jeff Mason is excellent, with loads of rolls & interesting things going on.  Jeff has quite the sense of dynamics, which wasn't apparent in his previous position, being that full-on thrash generally requires you to practically annihilate the drum heads during each song.  Rather, Jeff's work here goes from "pounding the skins" to tasteful cymbal and drum work, with dynamics that keep up with the songs and make the perfect accent to the mood being created by the music.  The other thing that some may find interesting, and others will find annoying is the little "segue" bits at the end of some tracks.  These are semi-industrial bits with ambient noise, "found sounds" and so forth that work well when you're totally immersed in listening to this album, but when you're jamming it in the car or at the office, they just interrupt the flow.  I get why they did this, and it foreshadows the more industrial feel of the "reformation" album "Assimilation". 

Lyrically, this is a bit of a challenging album.  I think Jimmy may have been going for a psuedo-concept album approach, not unlike Queensryche's "Operation: Mindcrime" release.  It's been said over the years that Jimmy was quite the Queensryche fan, and while he doesn't reach those heights (very few bands can boast that!) with this release, he does a sufficient job of tackling some difficult subject matter, like depression, sexual misconduct, questioning of one's faith, and seeking God.  The songs sort of have an emotional ebb & flow that begins with posing the question of "Where are you?" to God, followed by a recounting of some negative things going on in the protagonist's life, followed by a series of songs talking about the daily struggle between purity & sin, and wrapping up with a hopeful ending that takes the approach that no matter what comes in life, we are to look to God for hope, answers, and ultimately salvation.  It may take a few read-throughs to fully grasp the whole story, because it's written from a much more base-level emotionally, so it doesn't flow like a traditional story-based concept album would.  However, I think this quality is what gives the album more emotional weight than it would have if it was simply recounting a tale & having a "moral of the story" attached at the end.  It feels more like you're listening to the song from the perspective of the person(s) involved, which makes it hit home more.

Does this album have any flaws then?  Yes, a couple.  The quasi-industrial transitions aren't always very clean, and until you either get used to them or ignore them, they can be somewhat obtrusive.  If I come back to this album after having not listened to it for a while, and forget that they are in the mix, I sometimes get a little annoyed at their presence.  I realize it's part of the art as a whole, but I don't particularly feel they were as well thought-out as they could or should have been.  Jimmy's industrial experiments were much more completely fulfilled in the next album, "Assimilation".  Also, I think there are a couple spots where the lyrics are a touch clumsy.  It's not a major complaint, but with someone of Jimmy's capability I feel as though had just a bit more time been taken to hammer out the lyrics, those 2 or 3 bits may have come out stronger.  On the flipside, most people I know who enjoy this album don't care for (or vehemently dislike) the David Bowie cover, "Beauty and the Beast".  I'm not sure what everyone's hang-up with this song is, I think it's great!  Of course, I'm guessing most of these folks are the ones who disliked the song "Map" from the previous album as well, since it's enough of a departure from the rest of the material that they may not feel it gels with the rest of the album.  I say nay; the song does what it intends to during the course of the album, from a lyrical, musical, and emotional perspective.  All the naysayers need to listen again with fresh ears, because it's perfectly placed in the track list.

Overall, this is a high quality release that ultimately has been shunned unfairly by the metal community and Deliverance fan-base over the years.  To those who own the album & haven't spun it lately, I'd suggest they give it another chance.  To those who aren't into the earlier thrash metal releases and may be interested in something more progressive, I'd say definitely give this a whirl.  It's a deep, expansive album that reveals itself in layers, with subtlety enough to not lay all the cards on the table upon first listen.  I myself loved it the first time I played it, but grew to love it even more upon repeated listens, and over the years it has become an "old friend" of sorts, giving me listening pleasure here & there when I need something a bit more cerebral in my metal.  Highly recommended.


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