The T 666
This was quite a surprise.
I really wasn't expecting much of this side project. I'm not much into side-projects. I've always felt that musicians tend to give their best to their main bands, and that side-projects are usually just ego-boosting attempts that usually end up being flat as each individual artist is not as good as the combination of a few of them forming a music group.
I was expecting that even more in the case of Joey Vera, a great bass player but never an outstanding member in his excellent band, FATES WARNING, where guitarist Jim Matheos and drummer Mark Zonder are the ones that generally steal the spotlight.
But in the case of A CHINESE FIREDRILL, Vera's most recent project, the complete opposite is true. Here we have an album of pure originality, great innovation, and full of energy and passion. This doesn't feel like a side-project. This feels as Vera's real thing. He's the absolute star as he plays all the instruments but one (the drums) and sings in "Circles", the first album under this name. Most importantly, he is the only songwriter, and thus he's been able to show us what a terrific, underrated musician we've always have hidden behind his bands' biggest names.
What we have here is an excellent collection of songs of the most varied style and mood. If we were to describe what this music sounds like, we would have to begin with TOOL, even though that influence is very important mostly in the first song, with its very distinctive riff. Another immediate influence is MUSE, especially in the calmer moments. PINK FLOYD's shadow permeates the whole album, as does PORCUPINE TREE's, for this is a very, very atmospheric, psychedelic record. One can hear a little, just a little of Vera's band FATES WARNING in the music, which goes from metal to space-rock to alt-rock with ease. The experimental bits owe a little to OSI, a side-project of his band mate Jim Matheos. But through all of these different mentors, Vera manages to create a thing that is completely his own and that sounds unique.
Talking about the performances, Vera shines in almost every instrument. He has good skills in the guitar, making it produce effects and notes of great beauty and atmospheric effect; he is a capable keyboardist, doing just what he needs to do to add to the magic; of course, he absolutely conquers when he's playing the bass, so there's little to question about that. But is his singing which is a good surprise. No, he's not the next Sinatra, but his voice, helped by effects that make it sound a little bit like Arjen Lucassen's one in any AYREON album, is sedative, narcotic, weirdly pacifying. He can also rock. At his side and rounding up a perfect team, Greg Studgio on drums delivers a magnificent performance, full of incredible creativity, amazing chops and fills, and tight, precise rhythm.
A word about the songs. From the first, "Circles", that has a very strong TOOL influence, to the last, "Rock Paper Scissors", the longest and most ambient of the record, we never feel like there's one wasted minute in this recording. Even though all of the tracks are great, my two favorites would be "Insane" and "Siucra", the first with a fantastic little figure which could very easily be an alt-pop- rock hit if it had any chance at airplay, the latter with an infectious chorus and a nostalgic, questioning riff and melody.
An absolute success. I really confess I didn't have much expectatives coming from Circles but, lucky me, I was incredibly wrong. A must for fans of space-psychedelic-metal, and all rock music fans in general.