posted on 1/2012 By:
Half-a-decade after the release of their debut album, Gretzky, Electro Quarterstaff continues to ply its style of technically thrilling and confidently performed instrumental thrash. Unfortunately, this Canadian quintet also continues to produce a style of music that -- due to a lack of compositional savvy -- doesn't seem to translate well on record.
There's a debate I've kicked around inside my brain re: where metal is supposed to matter most -- on stage or in the studio. For me, the recorded document is the thing because, when it comes to heavy metal, I value compositions a good deal more than performances. Songs are where emotions are conveyed, ideas are forwarded etc. Performance, while important, is where the artist convinces you that those emotions are real, ideas true.
Electro Quarterstaff's performers are top-shelf. From start to finish, Aykroyd sounds live and loose. The band plays on the edge, with pinch harmonics bleating, drums splashing and the new (on this album) bass plunking and rumbling. However, despite the players' ability to perform their shit, I'd be lying if I said I heard a convincing performance on Aykroyd. That's because, for all their ability, I don't think Electro Quarterstaff has much to say as a band.
From the martial gait of "The Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon" to the recursive thrashing of "Japanese Upside Down Cake," most of Aykroyd's songs sound like they were composed for the sole purpose of Electro Quarterstaff proving they have the chops to play them. This isn't to say that Electro Quarterstaff doesn't know how to write good riffs or even coherent transitions to link one riff to another. Instead, the band's problem is that they're ether not sure or not interested in stacking up their parts in a way that guides the listener through the listening experience. Songs like "McNutty" and "Descent By Annihilation Operator" lack any sort of compositional arc, which makes it almost impossible for the listener to follow the tracks without getting unmoored. Unpack and rearrange the riff-sets in these songs and the listener would be still be experiencing six to seven minutes of skronky thrash. It's not that Aykroyd is too weird or complex to be enjoyed, it's that it's myriad weird complexities often feel indistinct from each other due to the lack of care Electro Quarterstaff employs in the songwriting process.
It's not faint praise to point out just how gifted Electro Quarterstaff's players are. Nor is it out of the range of possibility that these songs contain sonic throughlines that I've failed to pick up on. To these ears, though, this remains a frustrating listen. Though impressive on first spin, EQ's performative talents are mostly neutralized by the exhausting effort required to sift through their tech-thrash marathons. This is an album recommended only to those who so value performance that it allows them to overlook glaring composition deficits.
Recommended Tracks: "March of the Swedish Meatballs"
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