Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Fantomas, up until now, were the only three Mike Patton projects I had ever made time for. I have a soft spot for the first and the compositional qualities of the third are very intriguing. Now, with the return of Faith No More and Coachella season surrounding this time of the year, I felt that it was time to finally sit down and choose another Patton project to indulge in. I had heard many great things about Tomahawk, specifically Mit Gas, so I decided to take it for a few test drives. I now want to buy the car… in cash.
One thing that became apparent very quickly is that most of Duane Denison’s guitar work doesn’t follow a chordal structure but instead croons, drones and screeches through bitter, heavy punk rock. This all helps to create a brooding, multi-layered atmosphere that is fantastically unique.
Denison is Jesus Lizard’s ex-guitar player, which explains quite a lot about the unbelievable work here. Mike Patton’s vocals and screams fit the very individualistic wanderings almost to a tee. The only bands that can compare to the same atmospheric tones are Tool and Led Zeppelin, specifically Jimmy Page’s darker endeavors.
The album opens to feedback and chirps of birds in the background. A slide guitar kicks in and beloved Pink Floyd songs “Mother” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” come to mind. “Birdsong” fully opens up at about a minute in with a strong constant drum beat and a groovy bass line. Once the heavily distorted guitar falls into place, the true reason for the atmospheric ideas is found. Denison’s guitar parts are structurally important in supporting Patton’s constantly changing, schizophrenic vocals… and the guitar’s psychotic for a reason. The lead singer is completely out of his mind here, but in the best way possible.
The band’s unique atmosphere becomes fully realized once Patton’s keyboards kick in. Songs such as “Harelip”, “Harlem Clowns”, and “Aktion 13F14” feature some of the creepiest and loneliest sound samples to come out of the Patton camp, sound samples that would only be found in the darkest regions of the imagination. Frankly, this album sounds like dark, kinky sex that ends with reverberating guitar notes and strange Patton hums.
“Desastre Natural” is the only song that seems to stand out like a sore thumb. The whole albums flows quite well until it hits this road block. The music is a bit more accessible and Patton sings in Spanish… I know, it’s weird, but maybe that’s what the group was going for. I mean, it is called “Desastre Natural,” so maybe they were looking for a natural disaster, one that complimented the album in a strange way. Whatever the case, I think Tomahawk achieved what they set out to accomplish.
Mit Gas is a true auditory oddity. Mike Patton brought together the best players in the metal and punk worlds to create a true home for his visionary vocals. While Faith No More will always be his real playground, Tomahawk is an amazing project that deserves more of his attention. I don’t know why I never took the time to listen to it before. Oh, but thank god I did.