Perhaps most known for his work with Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame in poppy proggy combination band ‘A Perfect Circle’, Billy Howerdel has decided to jump the shark and take on a solo project of his own, maybe inspired by his friend Maynard’s recent foray into the world of solo musicianship, Puscifer.
First things first – ASHES dIVIDE is a terrible name for a project, and is made even worse when you decide to go against the rules of grammar and spell it with extreme capital letters. Add to this the fact that the album title, ‘Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright’ sounds like My Chemical Romance’s next release and the warning bells are immediately ringing louder than a fire alarm in Camden.
One thing is for sure – Howerdel really was the creative force of A Perfect Circle. Each song has that same almost ethereal atmosphere that APC managed to pull off on their two original albums (let’s not talk about that abhorrent cover album – as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t exist) with a labyrinth of meddling guitars and simple drumming that, despite being pretty quiet, manages to pierce through the soundscapes like a hoard of stampeding goats. That’s assuming that goats do stampede.
What is even more interesting to hear is Howerdel’s singing. Despite being looked upon as a guitarist, he does a bloody good job of carrying some interesting and haunting melodies with his voice, without falling into the trap of sounding too whingy or too quiet. He doesn’t quite have the same vocal ability as Maynard, but it came as a pleasant surprise to hear him sing, to the point where I almost took a double take thinking Maynard might have slipped in a cheeky guest appearance.
Despite being a ‘solo’ album, Howerdel also enlists the help of some other musicians, including Maynards son Devo playing the cello.
The first single off the album, ‘The Stone’ is the closest thing to that APC sound that Howerdel can’t seem to completely escape from. It’s rocky, there’s a little guitar solo thrown in and a hypnotic chorus that stands out from the airy vocals used throughout the verses and it all eventually builds to a repeated crescendo which see’s the song end in a rather cliché guitar riff and drum bangs. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it was probably the justification for the sheer unoriginality in this track.
The album itself breezes past you in a flurry of four to five minute songs that successfully becomes blander than a white wall. At least with APC you had a mix of heavy and light tracks to keep you aware that you were listening to an album and not the sound of a light breeze. Furthermore, closer track ‘Sword’ does one of the few things that completely infuriates me. During the previous ten tracks things have been fast and digestiable, which is absolutely fine. But, Howerdel, like the majority of rock bands these days, has seemingly tacked on a longer song with a piano for the sake of closing on an epic. It’s just such a tired idea that only seems to suggest that he himself found the sound of the album all a bit dull, and decided to change things for the finale so as to avoid any bitter tastes left in the listener’s ears.
Howerdel has proven here that he is a very talented musician. He played pretty much everything which is no mean feat, but listening to the album just makes it all sound like a poor man’s A Perfect Circle, and even they were a poor man’s Tool. It’s bland, and gets a little bit boring towards the end, only really livened up by a couple of select tracks near the end. Of all the emotions I’m left feeling, it’s one of disappointment – I feel Howerdel can do much better than this, if he just moved away from the sound of his previous work. Perhaps even, dare I say it, take a risk.