As someone who was just a boy back in 1998, I’d like to know what was more shocking that year between Rob Halford’s coming out and the release of 2wo’s debut album. The former couldn’t have been surprising for anybody paying attention, but the latter must’ve been a curveball for even those keeping an eye on the Metal God’s post-Priest career. An industrial project executive produced by Trent Reznor with contributions from John 5 and Bob Marlette is a pretty big jump from Fight’s two groove thrash albums, let alone any feeble hopes for an 80s-style return to form.
The execution certainly doesn’t help anything feel less weird. John 5’s chugging guitars are the closest thing to metal you’ll get on here, leaving the tempos to be chosen by extensive drum programming and the melodies to be delivered by a slew of keyboards, robotic effects, and soft-loud contrasts. Halford’s delivery is also far removed from past projects, as his shrieks and confident bravado are replaced by an uncertain mid-range sneer and often distorted layering.
That description lays out some understandable deal breakers for the truest of metalheads, but I find Voyeurs to be an oddly compelling listen. The music is cathartic despite the mechanical presentation, and Halford’s diminished range results in a performance that is vulnerable rather than weak. Songs like the plodding “Water’s Leaking” and the closing “Bed of Rust” show genuine existentialism at work, and even upbeat tunes like “Deep in the Ground” deliver their hooks with backhanded optimism. It’s clear that he is not underutilizing himself but rather doing exactly what material this grim calls for, even if it is an all too human view that some of us still find hard to look at.
But even after you get used to Voyeurs’ style, the songwriting still makes for a tricky listen. It’s a very repetitive album as the vocal lines are simply constructed and the rhythms tend to trudge on with little variation added. It doesn’t detract from the emotion on songs like “Water’s Leaking” or “My Ceiling’s Low,” but it does diminish the appeal of others like “Leave Me Alone” and “If.” In addition, “Hey Sha La La” and “Wake Up” don’t really add much to the album and probably could’ve been cut for brevity’s sake.
I wouldn’t say that 2wo’s sole studio album is necessarily misunderstood. The metal fans that were turned off by the industrial sound shift probably wouldn’t be too amped to see one of the genre’s most legendary singers in such an uncomfortable position, and I imagine actual industrial listeners weren’t into it that much either. But once you get past those reservations, Voyeurs turns into a fascinating case study with some enjoyable tracks. I’d encourage curious listeners to at least try it out. Believe it or not, Halford has been on worse albums than this.
“I Am a Pig”
“My Ceiling’s Low”
“Deep in the Ground”
“Bed of Rust”