November 28, 2006

Buckethead impossibly good, unfathomably weird

Buckethead, one of underground rock’s most eccentric and highly acclaimed avant-garde guitarists, has been lighting up the world of hyper-speed shred metal since the early 1990s. Starting out as the masked axe-swinger for the bay area–based band the Deli Creeps, Buckethead (aka Brian Caroll) quickly established himself as one of the world’s premiere guitarists via impeccable technique and an uncanny aptitude for producing face-melting riffs. Perpetually sporting his signature white kabuki mask and his famous Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket hat, the masked guitar virtuoso recently concluded a nationwide tour in promotion of his latest album, Crime Slunk Scene. Beautifully engaging and highly satisfying, Crime Slunk Scene takes the listener on a musical journey that combines psychotic shred, ethereal guitar melodies, and Buckethead’s signature tapping and tremolo techniques into a wonderfully constructed experimental album that is his strongest release since his much-lauded 1998 masterpiece Colma.

The album opens with Buckethead breaking out the whammy pedal on “King James,” hitting impossibly high notes that he skillfully brings to life with tremolo effects. As is characteristic of a Buckethead song, “King James” has a simple, yet catchy, backing riff that chugs along under the ebb and flow of a technical lead line. Short, catchy, and aggressive, it’s a great album opener that clips by at a fast pace and seamlessly transitions into the funk-metal track “Gory Head Stump.” Here we see Buckethead’s funk influences (he is a self-proclaimed disciple of Bootsy Collins and Eddie Hazel) come out in full force. His impossibly fast slap guitar riffs collide with equally mind bending Yngwie Malmsteen–influenced harmonic runs in a song that gradually evokes the full range of aggressive emotions. This heaviness continues into “The Fairy and the Devil” and “Buddy Berkman’s Ballad,” two tracks in which Buckethead successfully bounces back and forth between distorted rhythmic vamping and crisp melodic riffing.

The transitions between all the songs are relatively seamless. In fact, one of Crime Slunk Scene’s most laudable features is the painlessness of its changeovers—a notable feat on an album full of such eclectic musical stylings. As the album plugs on, horror movie fans will feel at home with the track “Mad Monster Party,” an eerie piece where homicidal guitar riffs are fired out through a series of abrasively beautiful effects.

Unquestionably, Crime Slunk Scene’s strongest track is the nine-minute tour-de-force “Soothsayer,” a brilliantly crafted piece that is one of Buckethead’s best compositions ever. Establishing itself with a beautiful clean-toned melodic line, “Soothsayer” gradually builds in intensity, juxtaposing elementary rhythms with virtuosic melodic phrases evocative of innumerable emotions. This track alone is worth the price of the album. Buckethead also manages to avoid the all-too-common pitfall of shred guitarists—the unnecessarily long guitar solo. In a genre where showcasing virtuosity is all too often valued over song structure, Buckethead’s “Soothsayer” proves that guitar gods (with melodic sensibilities) still exist.

The rest of Crime Slunk Scene is highly experimental. “Col. Austin versus Col. Sanders” is a heavy track that focuses primarily on rhythmic work, but has some catchy melodic breaks that keep the song structure interesting. In “We Can Rebuild Him,” Buckethead again explores his funk-metal roots, fusing fast-paced melodies and percussive riffs with a tasteful use of effects and time changes. The album segues brilliantly into “Electronic Slight of Hand,” employing a tapping riff that showcases Buckethead’s shred guitar prowess once again. The rest of the song sustains this insight as the masked man pulls out all his techniques—tremolo effects, slap guitar, bluesy lead playing, and lightning fast riffs that would make the likes of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci look twice.

“Mecha Gigan” and “Slunk Parade,” the final two tracks of the album, are largely forgettable demonstrations of Buckethead’s astonishing command of his instrument. Still, the entire album after “Soothsayer” is so experimental it could potentially alienate casual listeners and non-musicians who are not familiar with Buckethead’s highly original technique. Crime Slunk Scene definitely takes a turn towards the weird, but any true fan of Buckethead would be disappointed without such flights into the bizarre (the guy wears a KFC bucket on his head for God’s sake!). For the uninitiated, the first half of the album more than makes Crime Slunk Scene a worthwhile investment. Previously available as a tour-only-release, Crime Slunk Scene is now available via mail along with other CDs by Buckethead online at