Whatever fires were relit somewhere around the self-titled record; whatever mystical chalice was drunk from to restore the waters of life; whatever devilish bargain was struck to recover the spark of a long-lost youth…
After about a quarter-century spent mucking about in the stagnant waters of groovy alt-rock-tinted half-thrash, Flotsam & Jetsam sputtered back to life some five or so years ago with that eponymous effort. Maybe it was the process of revisiting their highwater mark with the 2014 re-recording of 1988’s classic No Place For Disgrace that showed them the light again, or maybe it was any number of events, but the end result was the same: Something somewhere clicked, and cylinders started firing again, culminating in the strongest record the band had released in three decades, 2019’s The End Of Chaos.
Long the not-so-secret weapon of Flotsam & Jetsam (and their only consistent point across every record), Erik A.K.’s voice remains stellar, soaring and snarling in equal measure, sometimes approaching a Dickinson-ian wail. A.K. has always been the most noticeable factor that separated Flotsam from the pack of thrashers that came up beside them; his melodic abilities gave them a power metal edge without sacrificing any of the aggression of thrash. Forty years later, he’s absolutely on fire here, his voice having aged perfectly into a still-powerful force, one that avoids the shriller tones from way back when and yet still possesses the range necessary to send these melodies flying. Founding guitarist Michael Gilbert and relative newcomer Steve Conley (now on his third Flotsam record) make a killer tandem, also, ripping through riffs and solos with ease, bouncing atop the rhythm section of journeyman drummer Ken Mary (Fifth Angel, Alice Cooper, and more) and bassist Bill Bodily, who’s making his Flotsam debut here. The band is tight and polished; the performances are top-notch; the production is big and punchy without being overly slick.
The only real bit of criticism I can muster is admittedly a bit of a weak one: At twelve songs and just a little under an hour, Blood In The Water does drag on just a teensy bit long. Across its midsection, there are a handful of numbers that feel interchangeable or just lose a little of the momentum. Cut out maybe two of these songs to trim it down to an even ten tracks and down to about 45 minutes or so, and you’d have a tighter, punchier, more consistent album. For my money, what little of it I have, those sacrificial two would be “Cry For The Dead” and the thrashier “Too Many Lives,” the latter of which suffers a bit from its semi-questionable “let’s just shoot a bunch of people” take on global sustainability. Neither of those songs are duds — nothing on Blood In The Water truly is — there’s just a little more of it than is truly necessary to make the same impact.
Now forty years since their inception as Paradox in 1981, Flotsam & Jetsam is fueled by the fact that they’ve never quite achieved their due. After coming out with two straight classics in Doomsday For The Deceiver and No Place For Disgrace, their momentum was repeatedly derailed by a seemingly endless series of missteps, from label changes and bad production choices to line-up shifts and just simply some weaker records. They’d rebound with a strong effort here and there (Cuatro, Dreams Of Death), and then whatever would go wrong, and they’d be reeling again. The line-up changes seem to be an eternal factor for Flotsam, but for the first time in their entire career, they’ve strung together three rock-solid records, the first three in all the decades since that can stand with those two early classics.
So yes, whatever they’ve done to find their footing, whatever they’ve done to rekindle the spirit, it’s working, and it’s working brilliantly. Flotzilla has returned to wreck your city, and it’s an hell of a sight.