Buckethead: 'Decoding the Tomb of Bansheebot'


If this is a plan for world domination, I'd consider signing up!

Review by Gregory S. Burkart

When it comes to the appropriately-monikered guitar magician Buckethead ? a musical enigma whose identity (some say his real name is Brian Carroll, but most claim him to be a non-entity raised by chickens) remains hidden behind a plastic kabuki mask and an upended KFC chicken bucket atop his long black locks ? there are those who worship the sublime supersonics that flow from his nimble digits, and those who ask, ?so what's with the damn bucket?? or ?this is cool, but when does the singer come in?? Some people just wouldn't know real art if it jumped up their... well, never mind. I invite all open-minded listeners, or just aficionados of really awesome electric guitar technique who haven't been exposed to this virtuoso, to sit up and take good notes. If you're already a fan, just nod sagely in approval, with horns held high in respect.

I won't go too far into detail about the profound influence and scope of this man's musical career, because that would take weeks. Suffice to say this dude has sat in with scores of different bands, cut nearly 40 solo albums, a ton of side-projects, and entered collaborations that span the world of music and film ? helping score Ghosts of Mars for director John Carpenter, briefly touring with Guns N' Roses, accompanying projects by actors Viggo Mortensen (on seven albums!) and Bill Moseley (for the band Cornbugs), as well as Iggy Pop, Les Claypool of Primus, Serj Tankian from System of a Down, and tons more. The name of his band, Death Cube K (an anagram of Buckethead), was reportedly borrowed by cyberpunk author William Gibson as the name of a Japanese bar in one of his novels. He's even got a bonus song on Guitar Hero II.

With a musical history that reads like a who's who of modern rock and one of the most prolific recording careers of any guitarist working today, it's hard to imagine this guy has time to get from one performance to another, much less finish recording any of his dozens of albums. It makes you wonder if that almost featureless white mask hides a trans-dimensional being capable of playing many gigs at once, spreading mind-altering sonic waves wherever he passes. If this is a plan for world domination, I'd consider signing up.

Without the flamboyant and often bizarre production techniques that categorized this eccentric axe-murderer in landmark albums like the awesome Monsters and Robots, this project (which is already being shoved aside by his next release Cyborg Slunks even as I write this) is more focused on pure musicianship and the electric acrobatics that have always been the masked one's stock in trade. Surreal freestyle is the order of the day, brought to seething life by nimble finger-picking and fret-tapping arpeggios that would make Yngwie Malmsteen take pause, combined with some jazzy Stanley Jordan touch-method, thrashy tremolo strums and straight-up windmill power chords. Multi-track layering gives the music heft and grounds it with solid rhythms, pinned in place by unobtrusive drumming (which I think is performed by Buckethead himself).

The entire opus really plays like a 46-minute jam session, but there are some memorable stand-alone cuts on Tomb: ?Asylum of Glass? begins with a warm, synth-backed ascension of fingered chords and bursts into a pensive mid-tempo fuzz pattern that climbs and descends with slippery grace; ?Killing Cone? opens with a beefy doubled thrash riff, then flies to acid-land with manic finger-picking, hammer-ons & -offs and a peppering of ghostly sound effects; ?Checkerboard Incision? is packed with emotional highs and lows, and ?Circarama? has a deranged metal carnival feel. Besides having a most excellent title, ?I can only carry 50 chickens at a time? also features some of Buckethead's finest subtle chord-work. The gem in this crown, however, is the epic ?Hall of Scalding Vats,? which contains some seriously creepy moments and sounds like a cyborg creation with bolted-on body parts from Tommy Iommi and Dick Dale. The album comes to a somewhat somber close with ?Sail On Soothsayer,? a warm, dreamlike tribute to the artist's aunt, who passed away last year.

Production, though simpler and more intimate this time around, is still deftly handled by Buckethead associate Dan Brewer Monti, who also provides an able assist on bass. No other recognizable album credits are listed in the minimalist CD packaging; the artist himself is credited only with ?Glow in the Dark Cattleprod,? and there is another credit for ?Cow Maintenance.? I'm not even going to speculate about what that means.

If you're new to the whole robo-chicken-monster groove and this all sounds just weird enough to get you buzzing, I'd consider Decoding the Tomb Bansheebot a great starting point, as it reveals the technique and artistry at the heart of the Buckethead experience. If you admire his handiwork, definitely dig back into the vaults and pick up a copy of Monsters and Robots to fully appreciate his equally profound skills as a producer and sonic mangler that reach far beyond the realm of the guitar. I'll betcha a donut you'll be back for more.