Why, oh, why are the talented and the adventurous never commercially successful? It's Wednesday July 30, 2003, and last night I received an autographed copy of a CD called Number One by a band called Pist-On. A friend of mine in England used to manage the band and based on the fact that I listened to them in College she thought this would make a nice gift. She was correct. In the last few years there has been little that has come out in the field of metal (or in Rock in general) that has been this inventive (Deftones notwithstanding). The curious thing about this fact is that Number One, the debut album from Pist-On, is not new, and in fact was released almost six years ago! I write this review now because I've been sitting on the latest from Staind and the latest from Metallica waiting to review them, and I realize... this half-a-decade-old album is more progressive than either of these new releases.
Pist-On (pronounced like "pissed on" not "piston" as the DJs in our nation call them) is, at core, the project of Henry Font (song writer, guitar, lead vocals) and the more than likely irreplaceable partner Val Ium (bass, backing vocals). They debuted at a time when what is now known as "numetal" was beginning to take hold with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Pist-On followed none of the "numetal" conceits such as abandoning guitar solos and offering only guttural growls or raps rather than real singing. Neither do they sacrifice the "wall of sound" for sputtering staccato riffs. Pist-On was a pissed off newcomer who did something unique by working with their own methodology and never following any trends that, frankly, stink up the room now days. Thus far Ium, Font, and a revolving door of guitar and percussion players have released two albums, and with luck, more will be coming.
Number One (a dubious double entendre for a debut and a short bathroom break) is a textured sonic gem in the rough landscape of the late nineties, and in my final year of College, I couldn't get enough of the whispered screams of tracks like "Grey Flap!" Surprisingly, Number One carries on the richness of "Grey Flap" with less filler material than a deflated Teddy Bear! This isn't to say that Number One is by any means a mere extension of that one single, but is instead a varied piece of experimental metal that dives into different tones, moods and lyrical digressions without ever feeling like any other band out there.
The album begins with a rip-roaring, almost Ministry tinged rocker called "Parole" which focuses most on unrequieted (or even stolen) love. This track establishes Pist-On as a band who can hold their own with the heaviest of the bands out there. "Turbulent" continues the vibe in a lead-driven guitar chain which breaks into an almost ballad-like lament on identity crises, and then alternates beautifully between the two soundscapes. The aforementioned "Grey Flap" is truly a haunting blend of the silent but violent musings of Font's softer side, and the heavy metal scream that he can perform all too well. Meanwhile, Ium's a cappella accompaniment and driving bass keeps time and adds dimensions to the song. This mixture of so many of Pist-On's abilities answers any wonder of why this was their first single, and, in fact, why the song stayed with me as a favorite for all these years! As almost a slap in the face to the metal-heads who picked up the album, Pist-On immediately covers "Shoplifters of the World Unite" by the Smiths! Their proficiency at metalizing the already guitar-driven Smiths is a sound to behold. Smiths fans (and I am one) might still prefer the original, but won't question why the song was covered. Pist-On owns it, and shows their influences are as progressive as they come! "I Am No one" is an eerie take on religious abandonment that can be ultimately interpreted in variable ways. The abandonment continues in "Eight Sides" in a more familial vein that precedes the morbid, yet entrancing lyrics of "I'm Afraid of Life." "Elecrta Complex" makes one wonder what Font's family life must have been life growing up, as it's the third parental distress song in a row (not counting the "Holy Father" mentioned in "I am no One")! The song explores the syndrome like a textbook recitation of recorded therapy sessions. "Down and Out" begins with Ium's howl over a drivingly progressive ringing guitar with thrashing undertones before Font takes over and growl's his hatred for the "lazy and sleazy" and the "Selfish and Jaded!" The scary "Mix me with Blood" alternates between start-stop guitar and flowing waves of tonal measures before painting a dark portrait in music, voice and lyric of what... I just can't tell! "My Feet" continues the mood established by "Mix Me with Blood" with ringing notes that sound almost like church bells amid thrashing chords and a painful mourning about powerlessness over alcohol. The album closes, appropriately with "Exit Wound." One can't help but feel that the song as well as the album itself end too quickly with "Exit Wound's" final arpeggio. Clearly Font and company wanted to end the record before their stylistic imagery and inventive work wore out its welcome, however, with only two albums in six years (which means they're due), I was left wishing for more to chew on!
Pist-On's music is more layered and textured than anything being recorded today. Somewhere along the way heavy metal guitar solos have been deemed masturbatory and self-indulgent. Like Meshuggah, Pist-On makes them work well with the tapestries they create, and would sound emptier without them. I only wish more bands would allow for such additions.
Another fascinating aspect of Pist-On's guitar work shows when they accent the wall of sound with harmonized, overlaid guitars. When Font and lead guitarist Paul Poulos rip the same leads at the same time, the result is a golden thread through the sonic wall that does for overdubs what color does for paints. 311 and Kiss have both performed in this manner, and it works, but Pist-On uses the tequnique sparingly and to add richness, not over-decoration. Drummer Danny Jam Kavaldo likewise throws in ringing sound effects where needed to season a guitar solo, never to mask its strength!
It is to Pist-On's credit that they know when not to play. As strange as that sounds, they are never boxed in by being a "wall of sound" band, and seem equally comfortable allowing only for Font (or Ium's) voices over a quiet guitar to add to the creepy mood. Sometimes such a technique actually soothes the listener into a false calm before the heavy guitars take back over. Font likes to keep one on one's toes!
The most striking thing about Pist-On is the vocal harmonies, and the use of the human voice as an instrument. Jonathan Davis of Korn is able to scat like an old Jazz Man, but Pist-On uses an almost operatic harmony to add yet another layer of suede texture over alternately rough and frightening landscapes of music. The instrumental voices of Val Ium and Henry Font blend to form ooos and aaahs as well as escalating cries to heaven that break in mighty crescendos. There is no pop-oriented na-na-na-na-na sort of voice-play, but rather a classically influenced harmony that captures both voices as one. Font's vocals themselves are alternately hissed and screamed, yet are strangely always intelligible. Font isn't afraid to act the part of an angry poet or a tortured soul, and he lets his voice tell you what he is in that moment, however, he also never forgets that his lyrics are the driving force behind his singing, and therefore he makes sure that every word is heard and felt. All the while Ium's cries and wails alternately back Font up and add a feminine strength to the multi-subject lyrics. Never is this better demonstrated than in the opening of "Exit Wounds" during which Ium and Font bellow out the title in an almost animalistic cry. "Grey Flap" also shows what Ium can do to back up the already opulent tones with her second instrument. Make no mistake, both of these people can sing, and can sing with great range not just the same, repeated inflections.
Four and one half stars for Number One! I tip my hat to Pist-On for not catering to the record buying public either with a radio-friendly name or with cookie-cutter lyrics and stale, tired and tried music. In short "Thank you for being so Bold!" The only shame is that all of the music being on their own terms have caused them to be less accessible to the broad audience they deserve to have. This isn't to suggest that Pist-On should ever go commercial, but judging from the nearly universally strong reviews and the admiration they have garnered from listeners willing to take a chance on them, it is clear that Pist-On is a great band, and should have a rabid cult following by now. Number One feels as fresh and progressive in 2003 as it did in my senior year in College, when it was released. Trust me... they're worth it! If you don't try Pist-On, I'll be Pist-Off! (Ew! That was bad, even for me!)