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Electro Quarterstaff – Aykroyd

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I’ll admit, I was a little nervous when approaching Aykroyd by Canadian group Electro Quarterstaff for review. Although impressive shred-fests in their own right, I found their previous releases, Swayze and Gretzky, to be a bit like cramming for a test: at some point, the bombardment of information just collapses into an oatmeal mush. It was obvious from their previous releases that the band are well-versed in every element of metal, and are incredible musicians who can deploy an arsenal of tricks; but sadly, they seemed to have overlooked the most important element of their craft: songwriting. Their music was like a puzzle of riffs that fit nicely together on paper, but which formed a murky whole; they were simply unmemorable – albeit impressive. For a band citing everyone from Human Remains to Van Halen to Ornette Coleman to Shostakovich as influences, their aim was bigger than their bite.

But despite their drawbacks, and perhaps unexpectedly so given my above criticism, I root for these guys. Their music is fun in doses, and while they’re described as “instrumental tech-metal”, they stand out from their peers by how they play and sound, not necessarily from the songs as individual pieces. News that they had added a bass player gave me hope for improved coherence, as the sound of three guitars wailing with no bottom-end took its toll after 45 minutes.

“The Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon” opens Aykroyd with a prominent bass line, and stands as the album’s most accessible track, a two-and-a-bit-minute classical piece sans distortion. From next track “McNutty” on, the songs play out as a blitz of pinched harmonics, flipped time-signatures, dissonance, and drum fills. The intro riff of “Waltz of the Swedish Meatballs” is genius, and could be developed into a song of its own, but instead, it’s turned into 300 other riffs that take away from the power of that one. “The Blacksmith” features some great thrashing, and the end of “Japanese Upside Down Cake” delivers a fitting finale, but otherwise, the album feels like a series of dishes using the same seasoning. Even if it’s something essential like salt, the listener will begin to crave some complementary flavor. With that lack of variation, it’s hard to distinguish one technical part from another, which ends up being exhausting.

The addition of bass has improved EQ’s overall sound, but the end result remains more or less the same. Their closest comparison in sound (although EQ is far more “metal”) is Keelhaul, who also occasionally push the listener too far. With their influences and abilities, EQ have the potential to be great, but instead restrict themselves to one element of their sound. Their MySpace states: “We’re amateurs on our respective instruments but confident in our ability to come up with some neat shit that isn’t fucking repetitive or predictable.” By taking that ethos to an extreme, their intent backfires; by the end of an album, it’s hard to remember more than a dozen parts. I still root for EQ, and believe they have the ability to create incredible music within their career; they just need to take a culinary class first.

— Aaron Maltz

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Electro Quarterstaff – “Waltz of the Swedish Meatballs”

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Willowtip (CD)

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