Album: Mit Gas
Subgenres(s): Experimental Rock
Length: 41 minutes
Language(s): English, Spanish
Label(s): Ipecac Recordings
02. Rape This Day
03. You Can’t Win
06. Capt Midnight
07. Desastre Natural
08. When the Stars Begin to Fall
10. Harlem Clowns
11. Aktion 13F14
Tomahawk Mit Gas Review
Mit Gas (German for With Gas) is the second album by American experimental rock super group Tomahawk. Released only 2 years after their self-titled debut and the band has already shed themselves of their country influences and delved a little bit further into soundscape territory with more noise and ambient elements creeping into the mix.
Birdsong sets the ball rolling, ever so slowly, with a mild-mannered wall of distortion contrasted with samples of birds tweeting. If you can imagine a sludgy liquid slowly oozing out of your speakers with birds gently perched on your lightshades tweeting joyously then you’ll have some understanding of the surreal nature found in this song. The tension builds up over the first minute and then bassist Kevin Rutmanis and drummer John Stanier change the pace by beginning with a moody mid-tempo rhythm before Duane Dennison’s guitar comes in to enhance the tension further.
So far so good – and steady – then Mike Patton introduces his eclectic vocal stylings in the form of a wordless wail that sounds rather distant and is somehow akin to a lunatic chasing you through the woods with a knife, if only that lunatic was a gleeful Mike Patton taunting you with his sinister vocal acrobatics. The verse arrives with a characteristically obtuse narrative delivered in a deep spoken voice about “the way you look at me when you’re hungry/lay your head down, shoot a load in your ear/the way you look at me when you’re hunted” that only gives credence to the lunatic-chasing-you-through-the-woods image. The song eventually breaks into a frantic lead-guitar with the energetic rock attitude fans will be anticipating. A steady decline in tempo then leads to what would have been a disappointing fade out but buzzing noise, church bells and the familiar bird tweets carry the song into an unexpected and satisfying conclusion.
Delving into completely new territory, a looped drum beat more akin to an ambient drum and bass song is coupled with a slow and sombre clean guitar to make the mid-album Capt Midnight instantly stand out. In case there’s a chance of you losing interest the song explodes into full-on rock fury half way in and Mike Patton goes from an eerie croon to shouting without any vocal effects which lets the rawness of his performance stand by itself. The drum loop and ambience is restored after the outburst with the song ebbing and flowing to the build-up of it happening again through the use of noises and sound loops to keep the anticipation high without ever reaching the expected payoff.
More atypical song arrangements are also found at the end of Mit Gas with the bass and keyboard centric Harelip breaking down and turning into the transitional piece to Harlem Clowns to create a two part song. The latter quickly returns to the distortion and noise first heard on Birdsong and uses a looped snippet of dialogue stating “I don’t know how to read notes” before the unusual soundscape becomes the focal point. Another recording is played at the end which listings numerous other bands and artists.
Even more challenging than this is Aktion 13F14. It marks the return of the acoustic sound found on their debut but is nothing like what Tomahawk has done before. A mechanical voice, presumably performed by Mike Patton, is overlaid and gives the listener instructions on how to defeat an opponent in hand-to-hand combat and concludes with a reminder stating “remember, attack aggressively, with one purpose in mind: to kill”. A series of rapid snare drum rolls are performed before ear shattering noise is pumped into your skull at maximum volume and goes on relentlessly for about half a minute. Assuming you haven’t suddenly developed tinnitus there is a graceful period of silence before a melodic guitar begins and is overlapped with mumbled and incoherent voices.
There isn’t any real context available for the last two songs so their durability is down to how outside the musical box you’re willing to travel before you start asking if you really get what’s going on or if Tomahawk is just taking you for a ride.
With so much focus being given to the noise and experimental aspects so far it is fair to ask what happened to the atypical rock songs. The answer is that they’re still here with inviting names like Rape This Day, Mayday, Rotgut, When the Stars Begin to Fall and Harelip. They’re far more accessible and probably what most fans are after so they are more likely to garner repeat listens and favourability than the bits that genuinely remove themselves from most people’s understanding of music. In contrast to all of this there is a sincere moment to be found in Desastre Natural, a ballad with its only quirk being that it is sung entirely in Spanish and somehow it manages to fit in with everything else around it.
Mit Gas has a broader experimental edge that draws on ambient and noise music while still maintaining a balance with their off-kilter rock foundation. However at the same time these new influences are more likely to deter listeners so it is worth listening to for existing fans but for newcomers it is advisable to start with Tomahawks self-titled debut.
Mike Patton: Vocals, keyboards
Duane Denison: Guitar
Kevin Rutmanis: Bass
John Stanier: Drums