Listening to Anonymous without knowing what Mike Patton project it was, those familiar with previous installments in the Tomahawk catalog might have been hard-pressed to pin the work specifically on them. Where the earlier two albums focused on abrasive metal, the thematic Native American nature might cause some to assume that Fantomas was responsible.
Still, there are also nods to two other Patton projects of the distant past: Faith No More and Mr. Bungle. But sure enough, this is all Tomahawk, delivering an album of music inspired by Native American Indians that befits the band name. How listeners feel about it will depend on how adventurous they are.
The Fantomas comparisons begin immediately when Anonymous opens with “War Song,” an atmospheric start to the album filled with wailing vocals and churning guitar. “Mescal Rite I” follows, lending more credence to the belief that this is a Fantomas product: All the vocals are Indian chants. In fact, Patton fills many of the rest of the album’s songs with Native American chants, with English vocals taking the helm on only a few of the album’s tracks. What’s most surprising is that they’re the album’s least interesting songs.
When freed from typical song structure, the band seem to flourish with this material. Guitarist Duane Denison and drummer John Stanier are to be applauded for providing such stunning backing for Patton. Not only is it rock that is significantly Native American inspired, it’s neither cliched or laughable — as might be the case with many others’ efforts. It’s actually beautiful.
As the album wears on however, rather than sounding like Fantomas it becomes more obvious that the album doesn’t sound like Tomahawk specifically. The project just doesn’t bear the stamp of the previous outings. So those picking up Anonymous looking for something more in the vein of Tomahawk or Mit Gas, might be in for a surprise — or disappointment. Tomahawk has evolved, it seems.
In fact, “Antelope Ceremony” bears some resemblance, vocally at least, to California-era Mr. Bungle, while “Omaha Dance” sounds like it could have fit on Faith No More’s final project, Album Of The Year. Only “Sun Dance” seems to fit the mold for what a Tomahawk song “should” sound like.
That’s not to say the album was a disappointment — only that it was very different. It might just be Patton’s most unusual project, and that’s saying a lot coming from the guy who routinely makes weird screams and gutteral sounds with his voice on outings with John Zorn. What made it so unusual is that, while working within a basic rock format, Tomahawk managed to make something so foreign to most listeners sound so inviting.
Anonymous ended up as one of Patton’s most satisfying releases in recent memory, and still comes highly recommended for adventurous, open-minded listeners.