If there's ever a band that defines the idea of "eccentric metal," then Razor Wire Shrine is that group. It's hard to exactly categorize the music on their newest release The Power of Negative Thinking, but threads of progressive metal, hard rock, and jazz fusion are all at the core, intertwining with one another to create a semi-unified stylistic sound that exists somewhere between technically brilliant, yet melodically harsh. This band is an acquired taste, and that's not to speak of them negatively. It simply lends credence to the idea that they push the boundaries of "acceptable listening" with pieces of music that shift in tone and style so frequently that trying to detail their music in words seems frivolous. There's a certain sense of hyperness to the material presented on this album, a manic display of technical prowess that sounds as equally stunning as it does obtuse. The Power of Negative Thinking forgoes melodic hooks and conventional song structures in favor of pushing the proverbial envelope to its maximum. This sort of approach can have polarizing effects because even though progressive rock by nature blurs the distinction of the popular verse-chorus-bridge song structure by inserting extended musical interludes and exaggerated dynamics, the hooks are still present. If you take away any and all melodic consistency, then all you're left with is the technical noodling, and that seems to be Razor Wire Shrine's forte. They're more art-house rock than progressive rock.
So here's what you need to know… the drumming is at many times in an odd feel and polyrhythmic, meaning two or more independent rhythms are simultaneously sounding together. Drummer Brett Rodler aims to be inventive and stand out from his peers, oftentimes playing against the main rhythm of the song, so good luck tapping your foot! And, as Razor Wire Shrine's drumming breaks the conformity of standard rock n' roll in a rhythmic sense, the melodic instruments are not content to go by the book either. Many of Mike Ohm's guitar lines sound atonal in nature, with flurries of chromatic notes working independently of one another. In popular music, most melodic phrases exist within a hierarchy of notes, all revolving around a central tonality. However, Ohm's guitar playing is much like a car speeding out of control. The crash is inevitable; you just don't know what direction you're going to go along the way. Bassist (and rhythm guitarist), Chris Rodler, is never content to play simple lines and remain in the background droning on one or two bass notes. He becomes just as active as Ohm for a majority of this album, creating unique and off-color harmonies that are, for lack of a better word, eclectic sounding. If you're yearning to hear the pleasant sounds of third and sixth intervals, look elsewhere. Many of the harmonies created imply dissonance and lead to unresolved cadences. These sorts of musical dalliances have gotten Brett and Chris Rodler labeled "the insane brothers," a fitting moniker that seems a more twisted version of the "power duo."
To relate this music to a more prominent progressive rock outfit, Razor Wire Shrine's new album is essentially one big elaborate blow-up of the instrumental solo sections of "The Dark Eternal Night" and "Beyond This Life" by Dream Theater; aggressive, instrumental music that is equal parts Planet X and Frank Zappa, with the raw aggressiveness of Voivod and Slayer thrown in for good measure. This band described their early sound as "Rush-on-steroids," but they feel they've moved on to something more complex and mature compared to their first record. The Power of Negative Thinking is indeed one big experimentation, but the band widens its genre-melding ability to include more prominent funk, jazz, and country two-step. None of these tracks are what you'd deem "accessible" overall, but within each track there are accessible bits and pieces to chew on. An album like this is for "hard core ears" because it's complicated prog-rock music that exists between the realms of misunderstood and impenetrable. It takes patience and repeated listens to find the nuances and accessibility in this album, and in the end that's either a rewarding or frustrating experience.
1. Maniac Freak Machine
2. (Crushed by) The Jaws Of Progress
3. The Power Of Negative Thinking
5. South Of Heavy
6. Skull Shatter Stomp