Bands have a shelf-life. Most bands peak on their first or second album, maybe put out 3-4 more with slowly dwindling relevance, and then either call it a day or focus on being a “nostalgia act.” It’s just part of the life cycle of a musician: once you run out of ideas, your time is up. Thankfully, no one told Richard Patrick that, because Crazy Eyes, Filter‘s seventh studio album – 21 years after their debut record – is their best, their heaviest, and their most politically charged album yet – their upcoming tour is even titled the “Make America Hate Again” tour, a riff on a certain presidential candidate’s campaign slogan.
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“…an album is more than just the sum of its parts, and the whole of this album is an incredible achievement. The songs flow together flawlessly, the pacing is perfect, the risks are bold enough to demand notice, and subtle enough to do exactly what they are intended to do.”
Album Title: Crazy Eyes
Release Date: 08 April 2016
Playing Time: 00:52:40
Label: Wind-up Records/Concord
Richard Patrick is the only consistent member and primary songwriter of Filter, but his pedigree goes back to 1989, when he played guitar for a little group called Nine Inch Nails. While he was not a part of any recordings, he was a live member until 1993. And his time in NIN is finally in the forefront of his own music on Crazy Eyes. Filter have always toyed with industrial elements, but this is the first time they have embraced them this completely. That said, while the history is certainly front and center, this is still through and through a Filter record.
Leadoff track “Mother E” starts with a whispered vocal that builds with the music into an outright unhinged scream. The buzzing guitars and crashing drums create a stomping rhythm over which the 47-year old Patrick screams like never before. It isn’t just the music that’s inspired by NIN here: the vocals at times uncannily resemble Trent Reznor. But rather than feeling like he’s ripping anyone off, this feels like he’s finally found where his voice belongs. “Nothing In My Hands” features subtle electronic blips and synths leading up to a killer, arena-sized chorus hook. The bridge amps the song up even further with a revving-car-engine riff that should drive pits at live shows into an absolute frenzy. “Pride Flag” is about as subtle as a rainbow banner trailing behind a float made of glitter, gleefully proclaiming superiority over religious bigotry among buzz-saw guitars and an uplifting-but-still-angry melody, as well as TWO guitar solos: one relatively minimalist, and one a full on Van Halen tap fest. “City Of Blinding Riots” is also far from subtle – the chorus lyrics are minimal, repetitive, and satisfyingly vulgar – but it’s infinitely hooky. The electronic elements take the front here, with an old-school dance vibe over a slick bass line. This is another song meant to be experienced live. If you’ve ever seen The Matrix Reloaded, I firmly believe the dance party in Zion should be set to this song.
Lead single “Take Me To Heaven” is actually one of the weakest songs here. That doesn’t mean it’s weak by any means: the hook is extremely memorable and it is certainly radio-friendly, with a familiar raspy shout through the verses and a huge singalong chorus that would fit right in on a Shinedown record. When a song this immediately accessible is a letdown compared to the songs surrounding it, that’s more proof of how strong this record is than of a dull song. “Welcome To The Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” immediately washes away the radio vibe of “Take Me To Heaven,” opting for a soft, dreamy intro and doomy, sludgy, clanking chorus. While slow and almost an interlude between halves of the album, this song deserves special mention for one important reason: Richard Patrick does something new with his voice here, hitting some impressive high notes, but simultaneously injecting them with a rasp bordering on a scream. Only one other singer has ever done that and sounded good: Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Richard Patrick not only matches his signature howl here, he does it completely effortlessly.
“Head of Fire” is next, and is easily the runt of the litter, although it’s still better than most songs you’ll find anywhere else. The Cornell-esque vocal styling makes a reappearance and keeps the song from being boring, but this is the only song here without a memorable hook. Thankfully, “Tremors” is next, injecting both industrial and hardcore punk into the same vein (pun intended, as the song is about addiction). The drum beat isn’t the fastest, but it does carry the track with computerized precision. “Kid Blue From The Short Bus, Drunk Bus” references Filter‘s debut album in the title, and the vibe is a direct throwback, with a meaty bass riff and a major-key, dance-along, sing-along chorus. After how dark the album has been the shift into such a happy-sounding chorus is jarring, but it works, especially since it’s paired with some decidedly furious riffage. The last ‘song,’ “Your Bullets,” is definitely a potential single: the pre-chorus is the best moshing moment of the album, and the chorus recalls the best of another 90s industrial titan, Stabbing Westward.
The last two tracks are a brave way to close an album. The 6+ minute long “Under The Tongue” features no lyrics and minimal, falsetto vocal “ooohs”, but it rises slowly from a tribal drum-led intro, introducing new instruments and layers one at a time until the song is awash with noise, only to fade back out into a drum solo, and crash back in for one last fist-in-the-air riff. And final track “(Can’t She See) Head of Fire, Part 2” is an acoustic-led, ethereal reprise of “Head of Fire.” Oddly enough, the stripped down version of the song works far better than the original, sounding sinister and haunting, similar to some of the most famous Alice In Chains tunes. I’d love to hear a full version of the song given this treatment.
But an album is more than just the sum of its parts, and the whole of this album is an incredible achievement. The songs flow together flawlessly, the pacing is perfect, the risks are bold enough to demand notice, and subtle enough to do exactly what they are intended to do. To stress just how good Crazy Eyes is: this isn’t just the best record Filter have made, or the far-and-away frontrunner for best album of the year. There may be a few years left, but I feel very confident saying Crazy Eyes is going to be one of the 5 best albums of the decade. Do not sleep on this one.