“Supergroup” has become something of a dirty word amongst music enthusiasts. There’s just been one too many bands that didn’t live up to the hype, and one too many records that made up much less than the sum of their parts. These days, fans usually imagine the dangers of clashing egos, and contrasting styles, instead of the transcendental music they are sold. Given that Giraffe Tongue Orchestra is made up of members of metal heavyweights including Alice in Chains, Mastodon, The Mars Volta, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Dethklok, do they befall the same fate?
The thing that’s most immediately striking and reassuring about Broken Lines, is its efficiency. This is a group made up of members of “big” bands, and creating an overly ambitious record must have been tempting. Luckily, Broken Lines totals a brisk 40 minutes, with simple, pop songwriting, heavy, crisp production, and a healthy dose of variety to boot. The moment Adapt or Die begins with a rollicking drum beat and angular guitars, it feels like the song title is a mantra the band will live by. They have no interest in overt pyrotechnics or bombast, just making great songs.
The entire album doesn’t stick to the heavy-metal template of the opener either. Whilst tracks like No One Is Innocent and Back to the Light have their fair share of punishing riffs, other songs explore softer textures. Blood Moon has a bouncy guitar line that could come from The Black Keys, and that restraint leads to a great rock song. The “ah-ah” vocal hook in particular, conjures up fond memories of early Wolfmother. All We Have Is Now is an honest-to-God ballad, made up of gentle drums, and swirling, hazy alt-rock guitar. The climax of Everyone Gets Everything They Really Want has anthemic guitars that would sit comfortably in any arena rock band. The group is comfortable being uncomfortable, and a varied palette looks good on them.
Anyone who has noticed the fairly ungainly song titles has picked up on the weakest aspect of the album: the lyrics. As far as metal bands go, they’re not terrible (except for Thieves and Whores), but they’re not great either. There’s a real seriousness and portentousness to lines like “when your dreams betray you” that seems awkward and corny. Vocalist William Duvall generally comes across better when he allows himself a little leniency, singing amusing lines like “my demons stick to me just like glue” or “it’s like a tragicomedy”. That tone fits much better with the tone of the actual music, particularly in the more upbeat tracks.
Even with the inconsistent lyrics, Broken Lines is an extremely consistent album. It succeeds both because of how much it accomplishes, and because of how much restraint it shows. Only one track runs over 5 minutes, yet the group manage to explore numerous little sub genres of rock and metal throughout the album. Giraffe Tongue Orchestra manage to beat the odds, and show that sometimes a supergroup can match up to the expectations.