Death & Taxes - "The Alaska 12 Expeditions"
(self-released 2004, TPS032566)
From Aural Innovations #29 (October 2004)
The third Death & Taxes album since 1996 pays tribute to bassist/Stick player Tom Shannon, who passed away in late 2002 from cancer. The Alaska 12 Expeditions is made up of songs written with the D&T trio of Vince Martinez (guitars/bass/vocals), Dean McCall (drums) and Tom while he was struggling with cancer, and then recorded after his death with the help of fellow Los Angeles based musicians, including members of Bag:Theory, Ritual, Cinema Show and Numira.
The album opens with a melodic solo bass piece called "The War Against Mental Atrophy", before launching into the 9 minute jazz-metal-prog "Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely". Notice I didn't use the term "prog-metal". I hate that term because it makes me think of Dream Theater and stuff like that. Death & Taxes definitely play metal. But also integral to their sound are jazz and ambient influences, all done within a blazing progressive rock context. These guys are at their best when cranking out the seriously rockin' shit... with mind boggling musicianship and arrangements. Death & Taxes transition in an instant from lightning runs to calmly intense segues that together create a blazing metallic, but on the flipside equally melodic progressive rock suite. Other highlights include "The Suffer Ring", a metallic progressive rocker with more of a rock in roll groove, but also with the various ambient bits that keep D&T's compositions so captivating. I love the shred guitar bits that serve as key parts of the whole, rather than just overwhelming the music with flashy chops. "It Is Now Becoming Fantastic" is similar, but with a killer prog-jazz vibe. And "Famous Strangeness" kicks ass, being a full frontal heavy ripping rock assault. Monstrous!! As all the members of Bag:Theory contribute to the track "Death:Theory", I'll make assumptions about the song title. Wailing Bluesy and highly passionate harmonica takes the lead, backed by soulful and cool grooving jams, but also plenty of thematic transitions and fantastic playing from all. Dig that sax and organ... and the bassist ain't no slouch either. Finally, "Terrifying Anticipations Of The Unspeakable" closes the set on an eerily avant-garde note.
I've not heard the earlier D&T albums, but if The Alaska 12 Expeditions is any indication then these guys were really on to something with their varied style that crosses over between metallic progressive rock and lighter melodic, but still challenging songs.
For more information you can visit the Death & Taxes web site at: http://www.dntmusic.com.
Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact via snail mail c/o Death & Taxes; PO Box 7334; Torrence, CA 90504.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz