If you thought you were a seasoned Mike Patton expert, and you’ve never heard of tētēma, then forgive yourself, because it’s one of the more obscure additions to his resume. Their new release, Necroscape is a sequel to the 2014 record Geocidal, and that’s about as much tētēma trivia as I can provide. If you want some Mike Patton context, then think of it as the unbound mashup of Mr Bungle, Tomahawk, Fantômas, and Dead Cross. Yes, you’ll find all of those influences spattered across the breadth of the album somewhere or another. It really is that broad.
As you can imagine, it also means that Necroscape is an enjoyable and varied ride. Previous live recordings have shown that the sounds of this project are forged from a baffling and wild technical rig, of which Patton’s vocals are only part. Orchestral licks scuttle above walls of distortion and electronic blips of noise jolt across fragmented tempos. It’s all made in order to create the heavy, the uncertain, the dreamy, and the thrilling. Through all of this, it becomes apparent that the objective with tētēma is experimentation on a microscopic level. Each song is a tapestry of noise, which the band somehow manage to make into amicable songs. For that reason, some perseverance is advised to appreciate the full effect.
One particular highlight comes in the form of “Wait Till Mornin'”, which has similar spiritual tribal nuances reminiscent of Tomahawk‘s 2007 album Anonymous. It’s quite easily the catchiest pointer on the record, and serves as a good teething spot for the wilder progressions heard in later tracks. Also notable on initial discovery is the bouncy sneakiness of “Dead Still”, and the closing chimes of “Funerale Di Un Contadino”. However, if you listen to the album enough times, everything else elevates to become a highlight too. The controlled bursts of sound prove themselves to be equal commodities in their own right, and there really is no up or down to be found throughout.
By large, Necroscape is a good album to look for if you seek energetic experimentation that’s a little side-on. It’s likely that most people will have discovered it through the Ipecac/Mike Patton connection, but even if unbeknownst ears stumble across it, the quality will resonate all the same. In this regard, it’s good news for both parties, and fans of the more off-world realms of Pattonism will feel as well-treated as any other listener.
Accessible? No. Interesting? Yes. It’s entirely possible that tētēma took a truckload of ideas, threw them together, and hoped for the best, but musically, the talent and intuition is unquestionable. As a unit, this outfit know how to make good music. It’s daunting, mile-a-minute, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink music, but should you take the time to play this on repeat and break the noises down, then you’ll swiftly grasp a sense of atmosphere and clarity that could only have come from the right kind of hard work. Necroscape is a squashed plethora of fleeting sounds, that will intimidate many, but ultimately, it’s a very fun ride. Be it a new string to Mike Patton’s bow, or an obscure addition to your 2020 collection, it’s a good fit, and missing out would be an outright shame.