Despite fronting the band most likely to have influenced what would become nu-metal, Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton went on to become one of the more esteemed figures in avant garde music. Patton has so many side projects it can be hard to keep up with—thrashy hardcore with Dead Cross, zany prog rock in Mr. Bungle. And not all of them are even arguably rock, like his Italian pop album Mondo Cane, or his recent chamber pop record with Serge Gainsbourg collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier.
Tomahawk is Patton’s band that comes closest to capturing the more in-your-face side of Faith No More. It’s not as dark or heavy as Dead Cross, or as weird as Bungle, but rather the band that packs the most punch, thanks in part to featuring players like Helmet drummer John Stanier and Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison. Tonic Immobility, their first album in eight years, is marked with an increased tension reminiscent of their first two albums. Patton’s lower, throaty whisper is one of the more reoccurring voice techniques that pops up in his ever-shifting arsenal, while the explosive dynamic the first few songs owes a great deal to the Jesus Lizard. Lyrically, this album is another collection of ugly metaphors which is another staple of Patton’s work, though some of it has some literal origins: “Predators and Scavengers” was written after Patton watched animals in his own backyard, which later on led to ruminations on the state of society.
The slower simmer of “Doomsday Fatigue” gives Patton a little more room to flex his pipes, which is always sort of the point—with any project that he’s in, the focus inevitably becomes his voice. This song breaks from the formula by not going to the expected explosion. Bassist Trevor Dunn’s tone propels “Business Casual,” and compared to what he does in Mr. Bungle, he gets to lay back and ride a groove. While politics are not necessarily the focus, Patton does seem to take glee in the barbed social commentary bubbling under the surface. “Tattoo Zero” continues to make an inside joke of the world around them, and no one is safe, most certainly not any flavor of hipster. Yet the sinewy metal-tinged riff it winds up into is what makes it a standout. There are also varied levels of creepiness that sometimes boil over into a more steamy haze, as on a track like “Howlie,” which sheds some of the more metallic sensibilities until it builds back up again.
There is a more melodic come down with “Sidewinder.” It is somewhat of a power ballad and the most Faith No More-like song here. Patton takes cracks at trust fund kids in the lyrics, turning the sugar sweetness into something with venom. There is almost a reggae vibe to “Recoil,” which is more up-tempo than the previous song, but not as finely tuned as “Dog Eat Dog” which finds the roar again. With songs like these—rippers and power ballads alike—Tonic Immobility is more likely to stick to your ears than some of Patton’s more recent work, and I would go as far as to say this is even better than the last Faith No More album, 2015’s Sol Invictus. At this stage in his career, a more conventional rock album might not be the most challenging album that Patton has to offer, but what it lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in sheer replayability.