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MP3 Death & Taxes - The Alaska 12 Expeditions

A CD with a great mixture of hard rock, metal, jazz and prog with a grunge attitude - recorded to raise money for cancer research in honor of their founding bass player who recently succombed to the disease.

11 MP3 Songs
METAL: Progressive Metal, ROCK: Hard Rock

Death & Taxes Honors Founder Tom Shannon with the Release of New Material
On November 14, 2002, Tom Shannon, creator of the band Death & Taxe$ died from a cancer that seized his brain. The surviving Death & Taxe$ members give to you The Alaska 12 Expeditions, an album of recorded material recorded in Tom''s honor with help from their musical brethren. The result is what might be the strongest and most thought provoking Death & Taxe$ material to date. The Alaska 12 Expeditions is made up of songs written with Tom while still living with the disease. It was recorded after Tom''s death with the intentions of raising awareness and funds for cancer research.
Vince and new drummer, Dean McCall, made sure that these efforts would not fade in vein and discovered a way in which they could bring goodness out of such tragedy: record an album that would help raise money to fight the disease that took the life of Tom, and so many others. This album is an act of love and respect in musical form. Tom''s legacy runs strong in the release of new material from his final years. He would be proud.
The Alaska 12 Expeditions takes compositions from the last days and applies the spontaneity of several guest artists to deliver D&T as never heard before. From the intense, stormy depths of "Misunderstanding a Little Less Completely" to the vulnerable throes of "Revolver", the versatility of D&T shines. Including a song that was completed on the night of the band''s last rehearsal, eerily titled: It Is Now Becoming Fantastic. The drive from previous releases is still evident, but with a passion and maturity yet unheard. Punctuated with tracks of Tom in lucid form, "Alaska 12" takes you through a journey of living, loving, and transcending.
Joining Vince and Dean were musicians Mark Segal (percussion & harmonica), bassist George Radai, saxaphonist Marc Mylar, and guitarist Anthony Cossa of the great improv band, Bag: Theory; solo artist Matt Brown on keys and vocals (formerly of Genesis cover band, Cinema Show featuring the late Shaun Guerin); former D&T drummer Don Medina; and the mighty voice of John Stack, singer/songwriter of the hard rock band Numira. And of course, recordings from the man himself, Thomas Patrick Shannon.
For further details of the circumstances surrounding this album, please visit our website at https://www.tradebit.com
Sales of The Alaska 12 Expeditions will be used to support the worthy cause of cancer research. Proceeds will go to UCLA''s Jonsson''s Cancer Research Center. https://www.tradebit.com

Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, May 2004

Death & Taxe$ got their start 14 years ago, spearheaded by bassist and vocalist Tom Shannon, though they didn''t release their first album until 1996''s Paradigms For A New Quarter; Theenigmathatisman followed in 2001. And in late 2002, Tom Shannon passed away, having been battling brain cancer for most of the previous year. This third release by the band includes material that guitarist and vocalist Vince Martinez and Shannon were working on before Shannon''s death. Proceeds from the sale of The Alaska 12 Expedition album will go to UCLA''s Jonsson''s Cancer Research Center in honor of Shannon. You can find out more about this project in my interview with Martinez.

If you try to pin Death & Taxe$ down as a metal band based on "Misunderstanding A Little Less Completely," then you''d be only listening to one aspect. And even then, "Misunderstanding..." is what might be called avant-metal, as there''s arty angularity to it that puts DnT closer to a true progressive rock level. And before you start wondering just what I mean by "true progressive rock," step back and don''t look at the last two words of that phrase as a genre. The comparison I was going to make was a metal band influenced by King Crimson (which DnT were, though also by a host of other folks), which might be a new progressive direction in itself, except then Tool comes to mind. So it''s a least a small pocket of the wider progressive music genre. Truly, as much as some (I) love the progressive rock (genre, this time) of The Flower Kings, Pallas, IQ, etc., it''s not truly progressive (as a concept) as they dabble very much in the sandbox of others. But remember, I love those bands, and I''m not making digs, just observations.

I think DnT''s sandbox has so much sand from so many shores, it may be more microcosm of the whole musical sphere than mere sandbox. I mean, for every comparison I make here, it is just a fragmentary point of reference, because in truth, DnT rarely sound like anyone else specficially. Their music is complex structurally, and so there''s no easy way to say, this is this type of track, this is that. They aren''t styles or genres, but moods, abstract paintings in colours that one can only describe by finding colours that come close, but aren''t exact, and aren''t even comprehensive. And to me, that is progressive, when your music is still easily classifiable as music, but doesn''t fit really into a known genre, meaning one has to be invented. This does sound like a whole lot of hyberbole, I suppose... but bear with me.

"Misunderstanding..." is played both furiously and languidly, as with the liquid section that begins the second verse (and there''s a lot that happens between verses). But, this leads back into some furious (as in fast, quick, not as in angry) playing. But don''t think thrash - remember there''s an artiness here. The bass punctuates each and every moment, matched in impact only by the drums (Dean McCall). Which isn''t to say the guitars have no impact on the mix, only that these two other elements hammer each note home. Martinez''s guitar playing is what gives this piece it''s occasional liquid feel, and he does also play an acidic bit before the third chorus. By the way, there''s an aspect of this piece that reminds me of a Kinks song, "Destroyer" (I think).

And see, there''s the bluesy harmonica in the mostly instrumental "Death: Theory," a piece that includes some crying guitar leads that are quite sad and sweet. The percussion (Mark Segal and McCall) seems jazz influenced - a far cry from the bash-bash-bash rhythms of most metal bands, even progressive metal bands. Which is to say, no, you can''t call them a metal band, and have it say it all. This piece is a funky jazz that falls somewhere between rock and fusion, closer to one or the other at times. Oh, and there''s sax (yum) from Marc Mylar. And this track, this very eclectic track, even ventures into the psychedelic, including the spoken-word poetry of David McIntire (yes, shades Morrison and The Doors in that).

And if you categorized DnT as a mostly arty, sometimes metal band, then you''d be overlooking the mellower "Revolver," which seems more like something off a Mike and the Mechanics album, especially as guest vocalist Matt Brown sounds like Paul Carrack. It''s a beautiful - and the most concrete - track that includes both string-like and piano-like keys (Brown as well), a dreamy atmosphere, and glistening guitar phrases that shimmer. Thematically it is at once dark and hopeful, and certainly something many can identify with if you''ve ever felt hopeless or depressed.

Then, just following that piece, there''s the angular, funky, but still arty, "The Suffer Ring" that recalls at times the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There''s also the distorted, fusiony metal of the Rush-tinged "It''s Now Becoming Fantastic" here - just listen to the bass work of the Shannon and guest George Radai -, although the distorted vocals (Martinez, Brown) are something else again.

But, in listening to the heavy "Famous Strangeness" you will call them a metal band, one that has a bit of a Soundgarden feel to it. Yes, that means a bit of a grungy metal feel to it. But also a bit of a vocal and guitar rock feel to it with a catchy though chorus. And the death knells sounding in "Terrifying Anticipations Of The Unspeakable" are chilling, even without a "real world" context. Guitars and bass are given a warped and eerie,... chilling sound, all played at a pace just a few clicks above...a death march. It''s odd and fascinating at the same time - the horror you can''t turn your eyes away from... yes, the title says it all. You know something''s coming, you can see, and yet you can''t move. Grim, very grim, and arty, and there''s some ugly beauty in its awkward darkness.

After a short spoken word piece, "Introduction S.F.T.G", the album opens with the dark and moody, and somewhat eerie, "The War Against Mental Atrophy" which is Shannon playing bass - actually it sounds like several basses layered, including Chapman Stick (which may mean Chapman only, given the range of the instrument). It''s a bit haunting, but part of that comes from the thought that it represents some of Shannon''s last work.

Okay, so it''s gangly and weird and ugly, but it is good? Yes. Quite so. If you like music that defies easy categorization, then this album is as unavoidable as, well, death and taxes.

Rating: 5/5

https://www.tradebit.com (original review in German)

The question "What can still be called progressive nowadays" has been overused pretty much and for this reason should only be asked in the rarest cases amongst Prog fans - ask only if there is a good reason for the question. The third album of Death & Taxes is the best new reason that I have heard in years.
I don''t want to analyze what has been progressive at some point in the past, but there are certain elements that will always stay progressive since they can never wear out. One of these is the ability to connect different styles in a way that the listener wouldn''t expect and create surprising mixtures again and again. One of the examples that is part of this, a whole genre - in this case Metal - not to serve it''s own purpose but to build a style and use it amongst other elements. Another thing that is part of this is, when it is tried to put new life into a style that has been heard for a long time and has turned into a demonstration of instrumental fast-finger tricks - in this case, the "King Crimson" style that has been established by this band in the 80ies and is being expanded since then.
What has been mentioned is in the main aspects what Death & Taxes are doing. It''s almost impossible to describe in words how they are doing it if you, as the reviewer, don''t have the possibility to permanently give musical examples for demonstration purposes. What I''d really like to do is to say that due to my knowledge, something like this couldn''t be found or listened to since the most creative times of the band mentioned earlier, King Crimson, and would like to close my review with this. But I will have to pick out a couple of examples so that the words make more sense.
The music of Death & Taxes lives because of it''s Bass and Drums - like the sound of King Crimson used to live amongst others because of a Levin and a Bruford. It also lives because of the way the song writers and players (with the recently and much too young deceased Tom Shannon on the top) understand to construct structures of a unique mixture of down-to-the-ground certainty in style and passionate pleasure in experimenting that literally encourage the listener to climb in (dive in) by promising a trip that will be exciting and adventurous without making you fear a drop into the musical senselessness (Translator: ..they really said "musical shorelessness, but I guess that doesn''t make sense).
Example "Death:Theory": Generally, I''m not a friend of the use of a harmonica and saxophone in prog since I fear the drift into the blues-jazzyness and because I fear that this would make me part of the kind of prog-listeners that expect the touchable composed (?!?) besides that "progressive". This track manages though, that I do not only have to accept his harmonica and sax, but even have to admit that this track couldn''t even have been played in any other way. For example, the heavily percussion oriented and furious middle part wouldn''t really have made it''s full impact without them. Not to mention that the track couldn''t end in the genius way as it does with the Talk-Singing (Rap) at the end - Rap as the logical result from a harmonica? Well, if this isn''t progressive...!
Example: "Misunderstanding a little less completely": this music contains the strongest type of Metal-thrashing, but with such a metallic hollow and almost angled stroke (Translator: Probably refers to the guitar almost being "harmonically off") guitar (in the style of Adrian Belew) thrown at you and structured with security in to the point pauses (breaks) so that it is neither a Crimson ripp-off or a Metal-rocker: it is simply a new musical world full of fascination.
Example "Revolver": A so touching but at the same time simple Ballad I haven''t heard since King Crimson''s "Walking on air" - but it is much better, because the "touching" part of it practically happens just as a side effect and doesn''t seem to be done on purpose. Not even the "orchestral effect" in the background can make this seem the most remotely tacky.
Example "The war against mental atrophy": If I write that this is a very appealing bass-song that goes straight into your ear, then this sounds boring. But it''s exactly that, just that it sounds as if Roger Waters in 1971 could have written an acoustic song under the influence of such dull song-intros as can be heard with diverse metal bands of today - some songs of Iced Earth as an example begin similar but without ever getting this much of a mood out of he beginning theme... and not at all by using the bass. Tom Shannon (who''s sound tracks are audible in original here) demonstrates how this works... just like that.
Example "Terrifying anticipations of the unspeakable": Title and mood remind of the film "The Village" by M. Night Shamalyan (I can''t tell if this is a coincidence or not ). In any case, this is a track with which many gothic bands would stomp out a whole concept album out of the graves - here, a band is satisfied to use their bells, basses and guitar effects to give their listeners real horror shivers through the hearing channels (...or into their ears) for six minutes - just as if quality instead of quantity was the most normal thing there is in the music.
The words of these examples should be enough (which doesn''t mean that the other songs would be less mentionable, quite the opposite is the case). With the death of Tom Shannon, the prog-world lost a irreplaceable genius and it will be difficult for the band - if not impossible - to hold this unbelievable level. This alone is reason enough why you have to have this album. And if enough people would know it, then there would finally be the chance that followers of these ideas could make one of my very personal dreams reality: To realize that metal can be a genius style element, but isn''t something that should hammer down the listener for hours on end. This is an idea that Dream Theater have hinted at here in there in one or the other one of their works and that hopefully is screaming to get more widely spread. It''s realization would then be as certain as "Death & Taxes".


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