The Price of Progression Review

The Toll
‘The Price of Progression’

This is an important album.  Not in the sense of filling coffers through multi-million sales (although if there’s any justice…), but because of its intense artistic sensitivity, uniqueness and articulacy.  The Toll stand alongside Jane’s Addiction as the most primal form of rock band to emerge in recent years.  No thrash act comes even close to matching the sheer undulating terror, mental violence and emotional extreme of these two bands.  They stand as vociferous challenges to the listener, inmates of the darker regressions of the mind.

‘The Price of Progression’ offers a musical breadth and depth redolent in places of U2; Rick Silk’s guitar shards occasionally splay and splatter in a manner rather akin to The Edge, yet also pinpoint and wrap themselves in warmth in the manner of a true blues fanfare.  There is also a sense of rhythm and pulse that brings to mind the Velvet Underground, or the Doors or the Mission.  The musical backcloth is woven, mingled, maimed and sparkling in the manner of so many, yet also holds the attention for its own cause and effect, its own deliberations in the vortex of Damnation Valley.

But… what truly sets The Toll aside and places them downstream of all comparisons is lead vocalist Brad Circone.  Live he is reputed to be a manic rage.  On record his every utterance and nuance holds court with the crimson charisma and shadowy pleasures only few are blessed with.  There is the essence of the macabre, and of pain, of sadistic sensuality, of libido, of compassion, of… so many strange courtesans jostling and heckling for position ‘neath the throne of intelligence.

It is he who turns this record into a carnival after sunset – full of freaks and fears, of beliefs and mirrors into the soul.  He lashes out on occasions with such ferocity that the sheer force sends tremors gushing through your every fibre.  This is not an easy record.

His finest performance is surely during ‘Living In The Valley Of Pain’, wherein he intones the despair of the individual being increasingly suffocated by the constraints of superstition and hatred.  Jameson Rain is the tormented creature, whose creative instincts are drowned in a swirling viscera of recanted guilt and fear of ‘The Church’.  ‘Catholicism pushes guilt, imposes guilt and leaves me with insanity and rage’ screams the protagonist at one point.  It’s so personal, so racked with purged angst that one could be forgiven the thought that Circone was reliving a dreadful nightmare from his own past.  I can’t answer that, but this surely represents the power of his own storytelling.  Circone draws you in, holds you spellbound at the epicentre of his persona.

‘Jonathan Toledo’ tells of the agony, dignity and poverty of the American Indian, raped, pillaged and smeared with stigma by the White Man.  ‘Anna-41-Box’ extols the darkness of a woman driven to the edge of an uncaring husband.  Abused, defiled, desecrated.  ‘I don’t wanna go through the crucifixion of womanhood’ pleads Anna as she sinks further into the mire of morbidity, an infested soliloquy of blood-stained pariahs and prayers, dreams thrown as carcasses into the slaughterhouse of indifference.

And so it goes on.  Each track is a gem, every utterance an enclave of cultural shockwaves.  I cannot even begin to do this record justice.  So let me simply state that The Toll are special.  ‘The Price…’ is worth paying.

9 (out of 10)
Malcolm Dome
‘RAW’ Magazine issue 5 (October 26 – November 8 1989)