“Doom-jazz” is a genre tag I’m aware of due to my love of Sydney post-metal band Tangled Thoughts Of Leaving. It’s a pretty innocuous tag at the bottom of their 2015 opus ‘Yield to Despair’s’ bandcamp page, and I used to think it was pretty good description despite the doom and noise centred sound of the album. Click it and you’ll find a plethora of albums that may or may not deserve the tag, with varying levels of jazz-influenced music that ranges from what amounts to slow jazz fusion and near-straight doom that occasionally throws in a swing beat, to young metal bands who thought that that one clean solo over a djenty bass -line sounded “kinda jazzy.” And that’s before you get to the really weird stuff.
But why do I bring this up? Well, because listening to New York drummer Dan Weiss has convinced me that doom-jazz as definitely a thing that can be defined. Weiss and his band of metal and jazz affiliated musicians present an exceptionally eerie collection of jazz-metal soundscapes on their new album ‘Starebaby.’ As hinted by one track, the sound is partially inspired by Twin Peaks, with a similar vein of avant-garde atmosphere enveloping the album, and boasting a truly captivating mix of an unsettling mood and jaw-dropping musicianship. But the real draw of ‘Starebaby’ is that this is one of the few projects I can readily think of in which a merger between jazz and metal seems to come more from the perspective of a jazz musician than a metal one, and boy, it is something to behold.
It manifests here as Weiss and co masterfully slinking between uncomfortable rhythms and eerie melodies that are almost reminiscent of bands like Meshuggah and/or Mahavishnu Orchestra, without outright sounding like either of those bands. In other words, it fuses elements of jazz and metal in ways that call to mind both genre’s but don’t really resemble either. And amazingly, it does this consistently throughout the album’s hour-long runtime. The nods to metal with the dark atmosphere, riffage, and occasional shredderific solo give way to moments of jazzy improvisation, cacophony, and, well, the occasional shredderific solo – and it manages to toe this line so amazingly well that you often can’t tell where the one influence starts and the other begins. Furthermore, each track boasts at least one standout moments that feels beautifully weird even within this already bizarre jazz-metal cocktail; the creepy dual keyboard out of Badalamenti, the fuzzed out guitar noise break during Cry Box, and basically all of the 14 minute closer Episode 8, with it’s constantly shifting time signatures, mood, and noise level. The album is almost like the aural equivalent of a Tim Burton movie, veering between feeling creepy, clever, even kinda funny, with changes being sometimes within moments of each other whether it makes sense or not.
The way that many of the tracks seem to be more interested in creating an unnerving soundscape with its often dissonant melodies than serving as a foundation for general jazz-style soloing allows for the moments of improvisation to really stick out, and unlike a lot of jazz-fusion or even more traditional jazz I’ve listened to, I rarely found myself spacing out to ‘Starebaby.’ I have a feeling that upon repeated listens ‘Starebaby‘ may prove to be an album that stays with me for a long time. That said, it’s definitely not an album that I’d recommend to just anyone and everyone. If you’re a jazz nerd reading this and you weren’t scared off by “doom-jazz,” then I think you’ll love this album, and for any particularly adventurous prog metal fans reading this, Trevor Dunn, ex-bassist for Mr. Bungle is on this. If you’re a fan, that’s be worth something.
For everyone else… how much do you like Tim Burton? How about David Lynch?