Prior to investing much, if any money in Punctuated Equilibrium, one should self-assess a number of factors: affinity for guitar solos; tolerance level for wah pedal in aforementioned guitar solos; likelihood of blissful spacing-out to three- to six-and-a-half-minute guitar solos with wah pedal. If these check out on all accounts, well… one should still proceed with caution.
Scott “Wino” Weinrich holds legendary status in the world of metal, as the former leader of classic doom bands the Obsessed, St. Vitus, Spirit Caravan, and most recently, the blistering trio Hidden Hand. He has a quavering, Ozzy-esque voice, can shred like nobody’s business, and possesses an arsenal of effects pedals. Punctuated Equilibrium comes billed as Wino’s solo debut, which seems to pertain primarily to Wino’s state of mind, as he is backed throughout by Jon Blank on bass and drummer Jean Paul Gaster.
With its heavily compressed production and occasional dips into blues-rock (the opening of “Smilin Road”) and video-game-sountrack prog (the guitar solos of the same), this will not bring fans of labelmates Sunn 0))) over to the stoner metal camp. But dearth of mass appeal is not the key problem with Punctuated Equilibrium. More crucially, it lacks the memorable, carved-in-stone, epic riffs that powered Wino’s previous efforts. As he did in Hidden Hand, Wino adds unanticipated elements to his guitar parts, either with peculiar effects or discordant notes. Here, though, these efforts sound off, half-baked. The title track’s riff, for instance, has quirky, non-melodic harmonics, neither innovative nor interesting – just kind of weird. Throughout the album, as soon as the drums and guitar slide into nod-inducing alignment, they veer off-track. The songs simply do not cohere. The numerous instrumental tracks on the album show off the band’s virtuosity, but to entirely unmemorable effect.
The album’s high point comes at its end, after a distinctly unfortunate pre-Obama, anti-Bush administration rant-with-goofy-vocal-distortion, “Gods, Frauds, Neo-Cons, and Demagogues.” “Silver Lining” declaims the previous administration while anticipating a brighter future. Its lyrics have the pointed obtuseness of “War Pigs,” and though the song has distinct parts, it stays brilliantly focused, resisting the meandering that mars the rest of the album. It starts slow and doomy and ends on a screaming two-minute guitar solo. Unlike the album’s other songs, the tempo changes seem intuitive rather than forced, catchy rather than confusing. Wino can write this kind of song like no one else in the business, but apparently not as frequently as he used to.