Once more musicians have united, rearranged themselves and reassembled into an entity unlike any of their respective previous work. Yes, it is another supergroup; that ill-fated term that sometimes proves to be an old friend, but all too often fails to live up to expectations. Formed from Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Danny Carey (Tool), Jimmy Hayward (better known as a director and animator for numerous Pixar works), Pete Griffin (Zappa plays Zappa / Dethklok), David ‘The Doctor’ Dreyer, and Chris DiGiovanni.
As with all supergroups it’s important not to focus on what it isn’t, because this band isn’t Mastodon, or Tool, or Zappa plays Zappa—and whilst this shouldn’t need to be said, given the theme, I feel it prudent to emphasise this isn’t Alestorm either—a fact that suits me just fine given that I can’t claim to be a huge fan of any of the musicians origins. In fact, despite the musicians involved, I have a hard time describing them as a Metal band, nestling themselves comfortably in that late 70’s Hard Rock/Metal period where the lines between the two remain blurred. And even then it doesn’t quite fit. Everything feels too... cinematic. The most apt comparison would be to call it the successor to “Running Wild”; there’s definitely humour here but it’s played with a straight face, the focus instead firmly focussed on the galloping riffs and setting an atmosphere.
It’s this atmosphere that’s perhaps the most elusive thing to pin down because there isn’t a single member that feels ‘responsible’. Nor is the atmosphere quite the same from one track to the next. Where other artists have nailed a ‘nautical’ tone, these guys have somehow managed to find an entire scope for variation within that; guitars transition from the bearded old man with a peg-leg sitting in the corner of a wooden tavern, armed with only an acoustic guitar and telling people to ‘gather ‘round’, to the outright energetic fury as they hunt a foul and elusive beast not unlike they once did for Hinds “Leviathan”. Keyboards lay down a misty calm atmosphere with just enough a mystery to let you know something’s about to happen, or create an epic, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean-esque’ backing score perhaps best demonstrated in the closing moments to “The Ballad of the Deep-Sea Diver”.
In fact the only real weakness comes from the vocals. In an album boasting such a variance in pace and aggression, the vocals never seem to quite follow suit. I kept looking for a booming epic tone like “JB” Christofferson (Grand Magus), or a thrashier rasp for the more upbeat moments, or something with a greater sense of calm mourning for the quieter moments, but these moments never really come. Whilst his vocal work never detracts from the tale being told—and I certainly give him commendation for what he manages to deliver—the monumental task being asked of him could perhaps only be pulled off by the handful of Mike Pattons and Stu Blocks in the world capable of producing such versatility. Whilst the singular vocalist approach has proven effective for countless artists, I could see a rotation of vocalists serving them wonders, fully embracing the rock opera they so often hint at with the various tales being told by their respective sea captains.
Whenever I’m faced with a supergroup, my biggest fear is that the talent involved fail to gel. You could slap the greatest musicians in the world and lock them together in a room for a year and you won’t get a fraction of what they’re capable of if they aren’t on the same page. Legend of the Seagullmen prove to be a supergroup with that rarest of traits: chemistry. There’s no ambiguity as to their direction. Hinds doesn’t just solo off on a tangent to the rest of the band but rips out some of the best riffs of his career. Danny Carey doesn’t drum to the fibonacci sequence for no apparent reason but thunders and blasts his way with a defiant certainty to his beats—one can’t help but get the impression this is the most fun these guys have had in years. This doesn’t just feel like some “side-project”, this is the sort of album musicians leave their previous bands for. The Legend of the Seagullmen has only just begun.