Album Review: SUPERJOINT Caught Up in the Gears of Application
Any metal fan worth his or her salt will be well aware of the dramatic schism that tore apart Pantera at the turn of the millennium, but there's been plenty of drama – albeit of a more discreet kind – behind the hiatus of former frontman Phil Anselmo's post-Pantera project, Superjoint Ritual. The secrecy behind the latter's extended hiatus has been attributed to an unwillingness to speak publicly due to ongoing litigation (understandable), but here's what we do know: in 2004, after a few years of extended touring, Anselmo broke up the band to get belated back surgery, as well as a grip on a longstanding heroin addiction. At least that's Anselmo's version, other members of the band have intimated that an unnamed former member (which has been narrowed by process of elimination to former drummer Joe Fazzio) initiated a legal dispute that effectively shelved the band for a full decade.
The truth is probably somewhere between the two: ie. Anselmo did indeed put the band on ice to convalesce, and sometime later when the idea of reforming came up Fazzio made demands that necessitated getting lawyers involved. Whatever the scenario that actually went down, the band's decade-long absence finally ended in 2014 with a one-off appearance (that eventually blossomed into many) at Anselmo's second annual Housecore Horror Fest. The group dropped the Ritual and went by Superjoint due to the aforementioned, vaguely sketched out legal issues. Two years later the band have a new, long-belated album out under the same name.
Aside from Fazzio being replaced by Jose Gonzalez (Warbeast, Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals), Hank III had to bow out of live engagements due to previous commitments, and appears to have been permanently swapped with the Illegals' Stephen Taylor on bass. This refitted group leans a lot more heavily on the hardcore influences than the prior incarnation, sludge riffs still abounding on tunes like "Circling the Drain" and the title track, but rarely lacking an equally prominent 80's-style punk riff to go along with it. On the other hand, songs like "Sociopathic Herd Dillusion" [sic], "Rigging the Fight" and "Ruin You" are almost entirely punk in nature.
This priority shift may turn off some fans of the previous two albums that were hoping for a rowdier version of Down, but with that band already an ongoing concern of its own you can't blame Anselmo and co. from wanting to differentiate Superjoint musically from his other projects. If anything, Caught Up in the Gears of Application more closely resembles Anselmo's Illegals album, albeit in a more streamlined, less experimental mode (those who found the Illegals album interesting but too experimental should especially enjoy this). Anselmo's voice is more gravelly than ever here, but presumably that was intentional as I just caught him with Down at Pscyho Las Vegas a few months ago – around the time this album would have been recorded – and he sounded great then.
Even the production, by Anselmo himself along with regular collaborator Stephen Barrigan, seems designed to sandblast sheet metal rather than cleanly highlight musicianship or lyrics. This is an aesthetic choice that's liable to rankle some – there are enough bottom-heavy sludge riffs that a case could be made that this music deserves a more expansive mix – but if there's a bigger gripe to be had it's that most of the straight hardcore material (save the pretty great "Sociopathic Herd Dillision") serves more as a spice of variety than compelling songs in their own right. Not a fatal flaw by any means, but Caught Up in the Gears of Application is an album that most fans will probably end up listening to via highlights rather than straight-through repeats. Still a solid outing that shouldn't be dismissed on the grounds of thwarted expectations, though.