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Psychotic Waltz

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Biography

Psychotic Waltz were one of the most underrated progressive metal bands of their era. While most of the group's early-'90s peers (primarily Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream Theater) were still performing traditional heavy metal with more cerebral lyrics, technical expertise, and a '70s prog rock aesthetic, Psychotic Waltz and a few other, mostly lesser-known outfits were actually, truly engaged in "progressing" the state of heavy metal into altogether novel stylistic combinations. Alas, as is often the case with such groundbreaking pioneers, the band proved a little too intractable for the mainstream music marketplace and met with a premature demise after years of meager financial and critical reward.

Psychotic Waltz were founded in 1985, in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, originally under the name Aslan, which they dropped after a 1986 demo, having learned that another band had already laid claim to it. Self-promoted shows and T-shirt sales eventually brought enough funds for bandmembers Brian McAlpin (guitar), Dan Rock (guitar), Ward Evans (bass), Norm Leggio (drums), and charismatic weirdo vocalist Buddy Lackey to finance recordings of their first demo in 1988 and, later, their independently released debut album, A Social Grace. Here, in all fairness, Psychotic Waltz's angular riffs and heady lyrics still owed much inspiration to Fates Warning and Texan tech-metal overlords Watchtower, but European critics were still mightily impressed (Germany's Rising Sun Productions had released the album there) and the incredulous bandmembers soon found themselves performing at Holland's prestigious Dynamo Festival in the summer of 1991.

That career high was followed by a comparable low, however, when guitarist Rock suffered a near-deadly fall while rappelling off a bridge. He was lucky to be alive, never mind able to perform (though he missed a tour) on the band's often startling sophomore effort, Into the Everflow (1992), which introduced what were then very unpopular slow tempos, mellow atmospherics, tripped-out lyrics, and burgeoning psychedelic nuances into Psychotic Waltz's sound, earning them several awards, including Best Hard Rock Band at that year's San Diego Music Awards. Meanwhile, the group's profile was reaching an all-time high in Europe, and after completing additional tour dates there, Psychotic Waltz repaired to Los Angeles to work with famed metal producer Scott Burns (Sepultura, Obituary, Napalm Death, etc.) on 1994's Mosquito (their final album with original bassist Evans, soon to be replaced by Phil Cuttino). By this stage, the members of Psychotic Waltz had taken to describing themselves as an "underground hippie metal band," and the shoe really did fit, given this latest album's increasingly dreamy musical psychotropics and swirling instrumental layers, wed to Lackey's uniquely free-spirited world-view. Psychotic Waltz maintained this direction on their fourth opus, Bleeding, released in 1996, but they continued to experiment with new progressive sounds as well: preempting the 2000s post-metal craze with densely hypnotic offerings like "Locust" and "Freedom," tossing a flute solo into "My Grave," and goosing energetic lead single "Faded" with funky slap-bass. Ironically, the video shot for this track proved to be a catalyst for the band's undoing, as a crew member later claimed that lighting on the set left him blind and sued.

The ensuing court proceedings and a mixture of distraction and exhaustion among the musicians ultimately signaled the end of Psychotic Waltz's star-crossed career, but not the individual bandmembers' involvement in music. Norm Leggio went on to work with Brick Bath, Cage, End Amen, and Teabag, also featuring latter-day Psychotic Waltz guitarist Steve Cox, who'd recently replaced Dan Rock; Rock himself recorded a pair of instrumental projects as Darkstar; and the ever quirky Buddy Lackey moved to Vienna, Austria, cryptically renamed himself Devon Graves, and formed a new progressive metal outfit called Dead Soul Tribe with local musicians. Then, in 2010, Lackey, Leggio, and original bassist Evans reunited Psychotic Waltz with a returning Cox and new guitarist Steve McAlpin — partly to undertake a few select performances but also to support the release of a special box set entitled The Architects Arise: The First Ten Years. There has yet been no word as to whether brand-new Psychotic Waltz material may be forthcoming.