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Ugly Noise

Self-released (2012)
Rating: 9/10

After a decade of existing as an afterthought to metal fans, Phoenix, Arizona’s Flotsam And Jetsam go for broke on Ugly Noise. Featuring the return of original members Michael Gilbert (guitars) and Kelly David Smith (drums), this is the first Flotsam And Jetsam record they have appeared on since 1997’s High.

Initially, the band jammed with their former colleague Jason Newsted (ex-Metallica, Voivod and Echobrain, and currently of Newsted – in case you haven’t been paying attention for the last 30 years) as well, but he ultimately decided not to reunite with the band. Newsted is listed as a co-writer for some of the album’s material however.

Everything on Ugly Noise is a little off-kilter, heavy (although not always fast), groove-oriented, and intense. In that sense it reminds me a good deal of the Drift album (1995). Kicking off with the piano-laden title track, a haunting tone is immediately set. The band tear it up in epic proportions declaring “ugly noise and beautiful lives”, a seemingly intimate idea that should strike a chord with well-adjusted heavy metal fans worldwide.

‘Run And Hide’ is another mid-tempo, bluesy-in-spots, gem that hits you just right, while the vocally adventurous (at least for a Flotsam And Jetsam record) ‘Cross The Sky’ serves as a firm reminder that the boys still have plenty to experiment with. Overall, the song is an affair that doesn’t manage to take off in my opinion, but I love hearing something new from such a classic band.

‘Motherfuckery’ moves along at a fast clip and reminds me of a cross between the angrier moments on The Cold (2010) and Drift, while managing a much tighter and crunchier sound than the material on those albums. It’s a little more pissed off than some of the other tracks. While I’m excited to not hear that sound from start to finish, ‘Motherfuckery’, the slightly more anthemic ‘I Believe’, and ‘Machine Gun’ give fans plenty of reason to raise their fist during the second half of the album. Eric “A.K.” Knutson’s vocals are perfect throughout this album, but these three songs prove his balls are just as big as they were in their heyday. He’s a lot more well-rounded in 2012 (yelling, singing, grunting a bit here and there), keeping him ranked among my very favourite metal vocalists.

While it’s tempting to see this as an immediate return to form, it’s certainly been a process as many of the better elements of The Cold and Dreams Of Death (2005) are present here. The fact is that Flotsam And Jetsam have settled gracefully into the next era of their evolution. Still heavy, still thoughtful, still angry… just not all the time. While I’ve enjoyed all of the band’s albums, Ugly Noise is a career-defining record.

Mark Fisher

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