It’s completely criminal that Psychotic Waltz slipped under most people’s radar back in the 1990s. Despite being one of the earliest examples of progressive metal, there were numerous factors that meant they never saw the same spotlight that other contemporaries like Fates Warning, Queensryche and Dream Theater saw. Partly this was due to their hometown; San Diego’s heavy music scene back in the 1990s largely consisted of punk bands which catered to surfers and skaters, so it’s no surprise that a progressive metal band like Psychotic Waltz wouldn’t have seen the same amount of success in their hometown. The second factor was that this band had a lack of proper management and signed to rip-off record labels.
In spite of this, Psychotic Waltz have slowly built up a very dedicated following and in their heyday they were able to tour a lot throughout Europe. They released four highly-acclaimed albums in the 1990s and then broke up shortly after the release of their fourth album Bleeding. The band members went their separate ways following this, with frontman Buddy Lackey (aka Devon Graves) retaining the largest public figure, performing with new band Dead Soul Tribe until their eventual split in 2009. The band decided to reform in 2010 and after a lot of warm reception from their reunion shows, they decided to start writing what would eventually become their fifth studio album, The God-Shaped Void.
Despite there being a 23 year gap between this album and Bleeding, Psychotic Waltz are sounding more focused than ever on this release, and The God-Shaped Void fits in perfectly with the progression of their 1990s material. Between their debut album A Social Grace and their last album before their split, Bleeding, Psychotic Waltz slowly replaced their grandiose and overt progressive sound with a much darker, more atmospheric sound, and this is a theme that is continued on this new record which is undoubtedly their darkest and heaviest album so far. The two tracks released prior to the album release ('Devils and Angels' and 'All the Bad Men') are a good introduction to the album’s overarching sound; building on the darker riffs first introduced on Bleeding, coupled with the band’s trademark soaring guitar solos and Buddy Lackey’s operatic but haunting vocal performance.
Other than the more modern production on The God-Shaped Void, there is almost nothing to suggest that this is a band that formed in 1988 and spent 13 years not playing together; the musicianship is crisp and full of brooding energy, and Buddy’s vocals sound just as good here as they did back in the 1990s; much like Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill, Buddy Lackey’s voice appears to be immune to the effects of ageing.
This is an album that demands to be immersed in; whilst there aren’t many moments where the music will surprise you with a sudden left-turn, there are certainly still shockingly good moments where the band uses dynamics to create hugely intense soundscapes, such as the outro of 'Devils and Angels', or the chorus of 'The Fallen'. Perhaps the best moment on the entire album is the track 'Sisters of the Dawn', which is The God-Shaped Void’s magnum opus; embodying everything that this album does right into a 6 minute and 40 second monster of a track.
When a band reunites and releases a new record after a long period of inactivity, it’s easy for fans to become overwhelmed with nostalgia, expecting the new record to remind them fondly of a band’s classic material. What makes The God-Shaped Void such a great album is that it isn’t a nostalgia trip by a band that wants to please fans, but rather a progressive metal band doing something that is truly progressive within their catalogue. It isn’t a rehash of A Social Grace, nor is it even a rehash of Bleeding, in spite of the similarities. The God-Shaped Void is one of the greatest comeback records released in recent memory and a near flawless execution of the natural progression that Psychotic Waltz was showcasing on their 90s material. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 23 years to hear the next Psychotic Waltz album.
The God Shaped Void is released Friday 14th February via Inside Out Music