WatchTower is a Progressive Thrash Metal band from Texas, formed in 1982. Control and Resistance (1989) is their second full length album to date, released in 1989 on Noise Records. Their style is a bit more complicated to define than other bands of their decade because of the abundance of progressive elements in their music. In fact, their two efforts Energetic Disassembly (1985) and Control and Resistance (1989) saw them take Thrash Metal to a twist with incredibly creative composition skills and this may be the reason they are considered one of the first progressive metal bands ever. Although the actual term was not coined yet when they released their debut album, they were progressive in the sense where they developed Thrash Metal and took it to a new level. And that wasn’t done by mixing some genres together. Their records are 100% Metal; feel, energy, and execution wise, yet progressive. This is why they’re so intriguing.
Vocals – Alan Tecchio
Guitars – Ron Jarzombek
Bass – Doug Keyser
Drums – Rick Colaluca
While Energetic Disassembly (1985) is definitely a classic, and you should all give it a listen, the reason I chose to review their sophomore effort is simply because of Ron Jarzombek’s arrival on guitars. Jarzombek is probably more famous for his work in Gordian Knot, Blotted Science or Spastic Ink. However, his guitar leads and riffing on this album are actually where his signature style was developed. His staccato soloing is a perfect combination with the atmosphere created by the music and lyrics. Nonetheless, his riffs are completely in the vein of thrash, always at high speed, although the general speed of this album was a tad dropped in comparison to its predecessor. Make sure you check him out outside of WatchTower to be able to fully appreciate him. In my opinion, he is a very important figure in Metal.
Moving on, as some of you have probably noticed, there was also another change in the lineup with Hades vocalist Alan Tecchio replacing Jason McMaster on this record. Tecchio is a very unique vocalist. He can hit falsettos in his sleep, but his voice is definitely an acquired taste and his shrieks can get quite heavy on the ear if you’re not used to high pitched metal vocalists. His delivery is however flawless, enthusiastic and full of passion. Most of the lyrics on this album revolve around politics and society, notably the Cold War, some stories of insanity and historical events of the second half of the 20th century. And Tecchio’s phrasings of the lyrics, accompanied by the changing of the musical atmosphere can get intensely enjoyable.
After a brilliant instrumental section in the song Mayday in Kiev, which discusses the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, the vocals kick in with the reference to an Albert Einstein observation about the potential danger of nuclear energy made back in 1946:
“ ‘The unleashed power of the atom..’ – A warning from the past”
Mayday in Kiev
Later on, these lyrics are followed by a chilling spoken word part:
“Entombed in concrete, Chernobyl will forever remain
A monument to the chilling effects of negligence”
Mayday in Kiev
Personally, I consider the rhythm section to be the highlight of this album. I’m not even sure if I can classify the bass to be only a part of the rhythm section. Doug Keyser actually revolutionized the way Metal bass is played. The approach on bass he started on their previous record and mastered here is very original if we keep the timeline in mind. Although Cliff Burton and Steve Harris were already doing their thing way behind, none were at the level of complexity found on this record. The only bass lines of such complexity at the time that I can think of were those of John Myung with Majesty (now Dream Theater), but that was a bit later than WatchTower’s first demo and album releases. One thing that I think helped this approach is the lack of rhythm guitars behind guitar harmonies, melodies and solos. This gave Keyser, who is actually one of WatchTower’s main songwriters, a lot of freedom to incorporate some mad bass lines behind Jarzombek’s leads and during breaks. Bass solos are also common, and they bring forward both Keyser’s musicianship and technicality.
Last but not least, the drum work of Rick Colaluca is just as impressive. The most enjoyable part of his performance on this record is his cymbal work, because it’s mostly unpredictable. His playing also clearly shows some jazz and funk influences. He is always just locked in the groove and his rolls are very diverse. Most importantly, on the instrumental breaks of Life Cycles for example, he just grooves the whole time, it’s actually quite interesting in a speed metal setup such as this one.
People might want to think of WatchTower as a darker, heavier Rush, because of the jumpy bass lines and a busy rhythm section as a whole but WatchTower is actually quite different because of the predominant Thrash Metal feel within this progressive metal outfit. It actually takes quite a few listens before being able to digest and appreciate the music. Control and Resistance is a very complex Metal album that managed to become a landmark in progressive metal music. Another thing to note is that WatchTower have been cited as an influence by very important progressive metal bands such as Atheist, Death and Dream Theater.
Album Highlights: all of them really, but my personal favorites are Mayday in Kiev, Instruments of Random Murder, Life Cycles and Control and Resistance.
Hope you enjoyed the review, and this brief introduction to this unique band. Feel free to express your opinions in the comments.
Fun fact: When the band split up for a period of time in 1991 because of Ron Jarzombek‘s hand injury, bassist Doug Keyser and drummer Rick Colaluca formed Funk/Rock/Rap band Retarted Elf.