Sometime in 1989, the folks at MCA Records sent out a flyer to everyone on the Flotsam and Jetsam mailing list with a photo of the band and producer Alex Perialas (Anthrax, Testament) in a recording studio. Also included on the flyer was an update on When the Storm Comes Down, the Arizona group's upcoming third album, and first for MCA.
Flotsam and Jetsam were coming off a successful album in 1988's thrash classic, No Place for Disgrace, and with former bassist Jason Newsted replacing the late Cliff Burton in Metallica, the heavy metal community was waiting for When the Storm Comes Down with bated breath.
Released on May 1, 1990, When the Storm Comes Down found prominent placement at my local record at the time, Number's Records and Tapes in Jackson Heights, New York. I rushed home to play the CD, finally hearing the opening chords of "The Master Sleeps," the first track on the album. One thing that immediately stood out to me within the first few minutes of the track was its strange mix.
For starters, Troy Gregory's bass is way too upfront in the mix, and the fact that it's got an annoyingly clangy tone to it only makes matters worse. Kelly David-Smith's snare drum sound is also an issue. While it's nowhere near as awful as Lars Ulrich's garbage can-like snare on the debacle that is Metallica's St. Anger album, it still has a "look at me!" kind of quality to it that distracts attention away from the songs on the record. Perialas' move of bringing the snare and bass to the front of the final mix so much has always baffled me.
Aural criticisms aside, When the Storm Comes Down remains one of my favorite heavy metal albums from the era on the strength of Eric A.K.'s vocals and the Flotsam's forward-thinking arrangements, which offer unique melodic nuances and tempo shifts around every corner. Michael Gilbert and Edward Carlson also deserve credit, dealing out a seemingly never-ending onslaught of meaty guitar riffs and instantly memorable solos that rival A.K.'s vocal melodies in their hookiness.
In terms of standout songs, "The Master Sleeps," "Burned Device" and "Suffer the Masses" all rise above, but it's "E.M.T.E.K." that has always killed me a little inside every time I hear it. An acronym for each member of Flotsam's first name, "E.M.T.E.K." tells the story of a man who submits himself to medical experiments out of financial desperation. "Organ donor before my death/what a foolish risk," goes one particularly brutal lyric.
Whether it was its shoddy mix, terrible album cover (see above), or MCA's publicity and radio departments dropping the ball, When the Storm Comes Down failed to find the size of audience it deserved upon its release. I remember playing it for my friends when it was released, trying to get them to really dig into its songs, and look past its flaws. No one really bit. But here we are, almost 25 years after it first hit stores, and When the Storm Comes Down still finds its way onto my daily playlists on a regular basis.