Roots of the Tomahawk 

Tomahawk’s third record gets tribal

As an underground music supergroup of sorts, Tomahawk’s Anonymous is perhaps the highest-profile release carrying a Lake Fever Productions credit to date.

by Matt Sullivan

As an underground music supergroup of sorts, Tomahawk’s Anonymous is perhaps the highest-profile release carrying a Lake Fever Productions credit to date—the same Nashville studio where locals The Privates, How I Became the Bomb, Feable Weiner and Slack have laid down tracks. Current Nashvillian and former Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison (also the guitarist for new local band U.S.S.A.) and ex-Helmet, current Battles drummer John Stanier recorded a significant portion of the band’s third album here, while the ever-prolific Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantômas, Mr. Bungle) recorded vocals, keyboards and percussion in San Francisco.

Anonymous marks the departure of former Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis, and, as a trio, Tomahawk forge into drastically different terrain from the proggy art-metal upon which their reputation is built. While on tour with Hank Williams III, Denison began researching late 19th century Native American music. The band interprets these compositions on Anonymous, fusing them with their own heavy prog-rock, and the results are mixed. The competing elements of urbanism vs. tribalism and industry vs. agrarianism occasionally feel at odds with one another—and though that tension is likely the impetus behind much of Anonymous, the album sounds less like a rock band and more like a soundtrack.

Still, the album’s winning moments are its most subtle, where Denison’s guitar work is most able to shine, such as the opening “War Song,” “Ghost Dance” and the closing ballad “Long, Long Weary Day.” Tomahawk’s contributions to the traditional songs are most effective when they transform the mood of the song, creating a haunting atmosphere. Occasionally, the band’s desire to more actively alter their source material sounds forced, lending to the album’s more cartoonish moments. “Red Fox” and “Antelope Ceremony” are the worst offenders, with the former’s power chords overstepping its tribal beats and the latter’s giddy guitar line and keyboards. “Mescal Rite II” strikes the perfect balance, while venturing almost into trip-hop territory—the song opens with a clean guitar melody doubled with the same vocal line, supplemented by sparse keyboard flourishes before the percussion enters two-and-a-half minutes in, sullied only slightly by Patton’s quasi-rapping.

And therein lies what will make or break Anonymous for most listeners—is Mike Patton a mad genius or just plain obnoxious? No pre-existing opinions will be changed on this album. For fanatics, this album will undoubtedly enter the Mike Patton canon, while a song such as “Omaha Dance”—where he sounds remarkably similar to Brandon Boyd from Incubus—will likely earn derision from his detractors. But on the very next track, “Sun Dance,” Patton showcases his exceptionally wide range, chanting softly before barking out a few bars of snarling punk that bears the most resemblance to the band’s past catalog.

Tomahawk venture far out on a limb on Anonymous, even by their standards, but the album’s novelty is both its blessing and its curse. Those looking for the same Tomahawk that recorded Mit Gas will be disappointed, but, at the same time, it isn’t an album for the uninitiated.

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