The better part of seven years as a staffer at MetalReview has given me lots of occasions for regret. Just for starters, there’s botched reviews, missed opportunities… And near the top of the list is this: I never put pen to paper to review Warning’s flat-out brilliant Watching From a Distance, despite most of us staffers singing its praises incessantly in the forums. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to effectively express the album’s greatness—it’s a near-perfect masterwork of doom and an absolutely soul-shakingly personal record. Unfortunately, it was also Warning’s last. On the bright side (not that Patrick Walker likes it too bright), Walker and drummer Christian Leitch now return with a brand new three piece, 40 Watt Sun. I suppose the only lapse in judgment worse than failing to capture the opportunity to write about a favorite and landmark album is the decision to try to fairly evaluate that album’s successor. Regardless, I’m giving it a shot…
So just what is it that makes 40 Watt Sun’s debut such an amazing piece of work? It’s not overly complex; it’s highly repetitive, largely one dimensional; and let’s face it, it ain’t the most metal of metal albums. But deconstructing The Inside Room is not only counterproductive, but also counterintuitive. All important works of art are truly impressive in their ability to move the audience. You see, Patrick Walker and crew know that form follows function. They’ve crafted an album with a collective sum far more compelling than its individual components look to be. Walker continues here in the vein of Warning’s Watching From a Distance, showing an incredible talent for delivering utterly captivating songs with a penchant for completely resonating with the listener, for reaching him or her in a very fundamental and universal way. Albums that create this kind of consistency of effect and impact on the listening audience are truly rare. The feeling of being pulled in and locked on and utterly engaged in a piece of art is the foundation of why we love music in the first place. The personal experience and connection felt with music that is important to us is fundamental to our interpretation and value of the art, and any critic who is (at the best of times) worth his salt can not only dissect music but also convey the merits of its personal impact. Like Watching From a Distance, The Inside Room succeeds so magnificently because of its eerily high success rate in reaching listeners in the same manner, with the same ‘message.’ All you have to do is hang around the MetalReview forums for a bit to see how people, when talking about Warning, focus as much upon the impact of the music—upon the intensity, beauty, and emotional nature of their music—as they focus upon the music itself (and they’re now beginning to say the same things about 40 Watt Sun). Folks, that just doesn’t happen often.
It’s fair to say that fans of Watching From a Distance are also sure things to devour The Inside Room, and that Walker has picked up where he left off with that record, but at the same time, he has managed to create an identity for 40 Watt Sun. It’s a situation not unlike the transition Mike Scheidt made when he briefly disbanded YOB and formed Middian. The core of the sound and personality remains, but now they’re flavored with more emphasis on a loose, almost rock-ish flow. Walker’s chords heave in massive waves, as opposed to the more scaled back and minimal approach of late Warning. This effectively pulls his vocals further into the mix, which is appropriate, despite being a disappointment initially. The rhythm section also is more nimble than the near-lock-step trudging of Watching From a Distance. Leitch and bassman William Spong take ample opportunity of the space to adroitly weave and fill around Walker’s guitar and vocals. And oddly enough, given the pedigree of its members, 40 Watt Sun would seem to have a legitimate shot at crossover appeal to a non-metal audience. Album closer “This Alone” in particular has a vaguely optimistic lilt to its lazy droning melancholia. Elsewhere, the stunning opener “Restless” probably does the most to recall Watching From a Distance. Leitch is particularly effective here, as his snare fills at the end of each measure are a simple flourish that makes a big difference. The centerpiece of the album is “Carry Me Home,” an absolutely jaw-dropping number with a rich, classic Walker soul-rending vocal melody counterbalanced by classy, heavy-handed and fill-heavy drum work from Leitch and bass melodies from Spong that tie the two together. It’s pure class. And if you can find the vinyl version, it’s well worth the expense, as it sports the sumptuous bonus cut, “Take Me In.”
40 Watt Sun consistently gets the little things right, and this record has some subtle depth to it—the kind of depth that makes an album a grower and one that ages very well over the years. It’s rare that an artist can create such perfectly moving and utterly arresting music, and all without coming across as the least bit contrived. But Walker and company have done it again, building from the brilliant work of Warning and shaping it into something different, yet the same, and entirely beautiful.