Buckethead is among the elite class of guitarists who can shred the competition to sad little bits without so much as dropping a pick. And he wears an upside-down bucket o’ chicken over his willowy brown curls. Buckethead’s creative and technical skills rival those of modern virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Adrian Belew. To be more specific, we’re talkin’ about a bucket of KFC chicken, although on this album cover he dons a colorful fashion bucket (in case that term catches on, I coined it) that reads “FUNERAL”. Oh, and he also wears a creepy white mask—somewhere between Jason and Mike Myers. But boy can he play.
Enter the Chicken proves as much without a doubt. Yet Señor Bucket’s 13th record in 16 years is different from anything he’s done before. That And Friends appendage to his name is more than mere novelty—Enter the Chicken is a collaboration album, in which our hero teams up with a small army of singers and songwriters from across the musical spectrum. First and foremost, the whole affair is produced (indeed, facilitated) by System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, and released on his Sejical Strike label. Tankian also co-wrote and sings on three of the nine songs.
The result is more rock album than guitar album. Buckethead’s guitar god histrionics are downplayed in favor of integrating his wizardry into traditional songwriting structures. The record is also an opportunity for Tankian to experiment with different genres. Except for the blazing metal opener “We Are One”, his co-writes are of a mellower, more melodic nature than typical System of a Down fare. “Coma” is an ethereal, almost ambient number voiced by Azam Ali of the world music troupe Vas. Tankian’s got back-up moaning duties covered, and all Buckethead has to offer is a basic riff that runs through the whole thing unchanged. Six minutes of this. If you’re lucky, you’ll emerge from your coma just in time to hear the chorus of the next song, “Waiting Hare”, which features a kickass hook from Buckethead and sharp, emotional singing from Tankian. If it weren’t for its chorus, this quasi-ballad, with Shana Halligan on lead vocals, would unravel into another uninspired bore.
Also singing and earning writing credits on Enter the Chicken are Saul Williams (poetry meets metal in “Three Fingers”); Efrem Shulz of Death By Stereo (metal meets more metal in “Botnus”); Maura Davis of Denali (the Evanescence-esque, yet rap-less “Running from the Light”); and about eight other folks. Told you it was a small army. Basically what we got here are a few decent low-key mood pieces sandwiched between some satisfactory metal and hard rock, with above-average lead guitar parts falling here and there amongst them. Axe-wise, the highlight is easily the instrumental closer “Nottingham Lace”, in which Buckethead solos for four minutes over the chugging rhythm of a second guitar track. It’s a memorable end to an uneven effort. But Buckethead fans have no right to be put off by Enter the Chicken; when you rock across almost two decades with a bucket atop your skull, you earn yourself a little leeway.