Eclectic, Experimental, Cinematic
Shortly after replacing Chuck Mosley as the lead singer of alt-metal band Faith No More in 1989, Mike Patton emerged as one of the more highly regarded rock singers of our generation, captivating fans and critics alike with his unique versatility. Using an impressively elastic range, Patton could fluidly modulate between different vocal styles – from rapping, to crooning, to screaming, to scatting, to virtually everything in between. However, perhaps unknown to some, Patton has also carved a niche for himself within the realm of experimental music. His credits span across many genres, and include collaborations with a diverse collection of artists, including prolific avant-garde composer John Zorn.
Most recently, Patton has once again teamed up with idiosyncratic Norwegian composer, John Kaada, marking the duo’s first full-length studio effort since 2004’s Romances. The newly-released, eight-song album – Bacteria Cult – builds upon the deliciously eclectic and experimental tone of its predecessor. Kaada, now joined by the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, adeptly blends eerie orchestral textures, subtle electronica, and Patton’s vocal acrobatics. While Romances relied mostly on a palette of evocative digital sounds, Bacteria Cult uses its large orchestra to capture a much more imposing and cinematic sound.
Kaada cleverly refers to a wide array of cinematic musical styles throughout the album. The Spanish trumpet and electric guitar twang featured in “Black Albino” is highly evocative of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks of the 1960s. The winding melody heard in “Imodium” relentlessly employs semitones and tritones (two highly dissonant intervals) that work to establish an unnerving sound emblematic of horror cinema. “Dispossession” combines pizzicato strings and orchestral swells that effectively capture the suspenseful tone of a spy thriller. Kaada’s compositional elasticity is truly impressive – almost a direct reflection of Mike Patton’s vocal range. Due to the range of cinematic vignettes captured by the album, one almost wishes that Bacteria Cult could have an accompanying motion picture.
Despite its clear allusions to cinema, Bacteria Cult is hardly derivative. Kaada and Patton leave their indelible impression of esoteric curiosity and innovation on the album. As previously stated by Patton himself, John Kaada’s “orchestral arrangements for this project are harmonically dense and delicious”, as he is incorporates an inventive blend of orchestral instruments within sophisticated tonal formats that frequently eschew consonance. Throughout most of the album, Patton plays second fiddle to Kaada. His hauntingly amorphous voice merely imitates instrumental passages, providing texture and character, whilst periodically performing wide intervallic leaps that demonstrate Patton’s six-octave vocal range. Rather than simply emphasizing virtuosity, Patton and Kaada try to accentuate intriguingly crafted atmospheric structures.
Bacteria Cult is an inspiring feat in experimental composition. Fans of complex orchestration will relish in Kaada’s arrangements, while devout Patton followers will certainly enjoy his subtle, yet undeniable, influence on the album. However, be warned: both artists tend to lean heavily toward the avant-garde. For the casual music listener, Bacteria Cult may be an album best consumed in moderation.