Formed in 1981, Flotsam and Jetsam have had a varied career and have had the somewhat ignominious fate of being remembered as the band from which Jason Newsted departed to join Metallica. Yet, Flotsam and Jetsam deserve far more recognition. Whilst the band seemed to lose their way over the twelve albums that make up their back catalogue, both ‘Doomsday for the deceiver’ and ‘no place for disgrace’ remain classics, and there is no question that this self-titled effort is the most vital and invigorated release the band have put their name to. Indeed, from the moment that the first track, ‘seventh seal’, explodes into life, there’s a feeling that the band have assessed their career and decided to set everything right with one, full-tilt album that takes the listener right back to the days of ‘no place…’ with its ferocious thrash riffs and corrosive vocals. Make no mistake, this is Flotsam and Jetsam as they should always have sounded and it is monumental.
‘Seventh seal’ is a masterstroke. The sort of galloping beast that all metal albums should open with, it has the riffs, the power and the atmosphere to really lodge itself in the brain and Eric ‘AK’ Knutson sings his balls off. It’s as if Metallica and Iron Maiden fused into one almighty entity and, as AK sings of lightening, so you can feel the sparks flying. What an opening track! The only worry is that Flotsam and Jetsam cannot maintain the momentum, and yet they do, upping the ante, even, with the coruscating ‘life is a mess’. A stop-start riff that recalls the heyday of Megadeth, this is full-blooded thrash at its very best and Chris Collier’s crisp, clear production renders the music with incredible potency. Throwing multiple riffs into the cauldron, Flotsam and Jetsam seem to be fired by a level of inspiration that is more commonly associated with bands just starting out on their career, and if the adrenalin isn’t flowing as yet another finger-blazing solo hurtles past, then you’re surely listening to the wrong music. The third track, and by now the album is really flying by, is ‘Taser’, which simply tears into the listener in a frenzy that sees flesh pared from bone with surgical precision. This is high-tech thrash with attitude and whilst AK deserves continued praise for a vocal performance that is flawless in its delivery, special mention must go to Jason Bittner whose drum performance on this track is four minutes of demented genius. The sort of song that you could easily jam on repeat, this is the sound of metal, nothing more, nothing less. As timeless as it is brutal, ‘Taser’ is a bruising masterpiece of a track. A change of pace sees ‘Iron Maiden’ not just describing the titular torture device, but also standing as a tribute to the eponymous band and it is a stunning tribute. Playing with their influences, and yet filtering them through the Flotsam and Jetsam lens of thrash ™, ‘Iron Maiden’ takes the lyrical prowess of Steve Harris and the harmonised guitar solos and sets the whole thing to a thunderous thrash back drop that leaves the listener breathless. The darkness returns for the moody ‘Verge of tragedy’, a chugging, groove-laden piece that sees Michael Spencer’s bass given a good workout, whilst the band conjure up a slithery atmosphere that is perfectly juxtaposed with the brutal riffing of the chorus. The first half of the album concludes with the appropriately titled ‘Creeper’, a track that emerges from the back alleys swathed in smoke and atmospheric touches that build a nice sense of suspense before the hotwired central riff finally shatters the mood and drives the song forward.
The second half of the album kicks off with the old school thrash of ‘L.O.T.D’, a track which sees the duelling guitars of Steve Conley and Michael Gilbert circling each other at hyper-speed whilst, at the heart of the storm, AK continues to prophesy destruction. The short segue track ‘The Incantation’ sees a subtle acoustic refrain overlaid with reverb-drenched lead and banks of synth that has more in common with the progressive majesty of Dream Theater than Metallica, only for the devastating ‘Monkey wrench’ to send the album spinning back out into the realm of thrash with its dirty riff and ferocious vocal performance. Jason announces ‘Time to go’ with a drum barrage that, played at suitable volume, threatens to undermine the foundations of the house, whilst AK’s stream-of-consciousness verse gives way to a Dio-esque chorus that is irresistible. The Iron Maiden feel is back for the punk metal blast of Smoking gun’ whilst the album concludes with the epic ‘Forbidden territories’. Resisting the temptation to mellow out at the last, ‘Forbidden Territories’, with its storied lyrics and heroic feel, is the perfect concluding track for the album and it leaves the listener on a massive high as the adrenalin continues to surge through the veins long after the last note has been wrung from the guitars.
Dressed up in the peerless artwork of Andy Pilkington, Flotsam and Jetsam have never looked or sounded better than they do here on this self-titled effort. With a spot-varnished digipack (or Double LP), this is the sort of record you certainly want to own thanks to the care that has gone into the package and, with every single track a killer, it’s easy to imagine this record crowning the album of the year lists in a few months’ time. Flotsam and Jetsam have had moments of greatness throughout their career, but this epic album is the crowning glory of their work. A brutal, thrilling album from start to end, it sees the band demonstrating their versatility and power in equal measure and the results are nothing short of astounding. Buy. This. Album.