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For Metallica fans, the debut album from Jason Newsted's Echobrain may come as a bit of a shock. After all, who knew that an alt-rock heart was beating in Newsted's sinewy body during his 14-year tenure with the metal icons? Newsted left Metallica
in 2001, sick of their no side-project clause. He had begun working with two teenagers--drummer Brian Sagrafena and guitarist-vocalist Dylan Donkin--in 1995, and completed this album seven full months before leaving Metallica.
Given the bassist's state of mind, it's no surprise that Echobrain contains none of the thrash-happy music that put his former band on the map. With the rather sparse arrangements, retro obsessions and rhythmic playing, they are the clear descendants of 90s stoner rockers Masters of Reality and Queens of the Stone Age. Echobrain play the same kind of mind-bending jams and ultra-heavy riffs grafted onto shimmering pop, with Donkin's beguiling vocals hovering somewhere between Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Grand Funk's Mark Farner. The unsophisticated lyrics are marred by sophomoric imagery and forced rhymes, but now and then they'll zing one across the plate, such as the witty skewering of a rock-god's ego in "Colder World", which you can't help thinking is a rather unsubtle dig at one of Newsted's former band mates ("Sometimes the crowd goes into a coma / You're so great / I know you could never see it / You're too busy being it"). Kirk Hammett guests on the majestically doom-ridden "Suckerpunch", elevating the track with his innovative and distinctive playing. Echobrain are a work in progress, but one you can't help but hope will hone their style. --Jaan Uhelszki