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Tomahawk is perhaps the first great prog rock-punk band

Wednesday, Apr 30 2003
Once upon a time there was a movement called punk; its members shunned fame, held to a Spartan anti-aesthetic, and kept the bloated beast of prog rock at bay with three chords and a tuneless growl. But at some point all those punkers grew up. Some turned to rockabilly roots, some took to programming beats, and a few made peace with their demons and embraced ... prog.

Tomahawk -- which adopts the proggiest of forms, the supergroup -- is perhaps the first great prog-punk band, infusing the Escher-like rhythmic structures and meandering, drugged-out interludes of acts like King Crimson and Faust with the fiery bombast of early American hardcore punk and metal. It's not an entirely unheralded development: Tomahawk frontman Mike Patton became notorious for fusing hitherto unrelated genres with his bands Faith No More, one of the first true rap-metal outfits, and the even stranger Mr. Bungle, which roped jazz and circus music into a carnival-esque mess of pure excess. If Patton provides Tomahawk's overactive imagination, the band's considerable muscle comes from members John Stanier, Duane Denison, and Kevin Rutmanis, who played with powerhouse groups Helmet, Jesus Lizard, and the Cows, respectively.

Tomahawk's second album, Mit Gas, opens with growling guitar and a peal of birdsong -- an apt encapsulation of the record's extremities. At one end, the jagged guitars and blistering drums of classic hardcore hold court; at the other, spell-invoking vocals and weirdly martial pomp lead the listener back to a fairy-tale land straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. A radically democratic band, Tomahawk considers no element too alien: Hip hop scratching, ambient drone, and steel guitar all find a home here, but they never feel like mere decoration. The subtlest twang and the faintest tweak stand in relief against the dense mass of the music, like veins popping out on the neck of the headbanging punk who stands listening, twitching, and about to explode.

About The Author

Philip Sherburne


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