Pawn and Prophecy  – Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

As much as it is good to talk about how music moves on, evolves, finds new pastures to wander, there are times when you just want something familiar. After all, exploring exciting new fusion cuisine can be a lot of fun but sometimes you just can’t beat mom’s pot roast with all the trimmings. Honest, dependable and associated with fond memories. And the same is true of heavy metal.

Continue reading “Pawn and Prophecy  – Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins (reviewed by Dave Franklin)”

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Resist Lies –  Noise Therapy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

maxresdefaultHonesty is the best policy so I’m gonna come right out and address the elephant in the room that is the stumbling block of Noise Therapy’s sound right away. There is a major discrepancy in terms of delivery and production between the quality of the vocals and the instruments playing behind it. Okay, this is metal, it comes with a certain brutality, rawness and passion but when it comes to the vocal execution you can’t help  but be distracted by it to the point where you fail to appreciate the music that it is paired with. I know not everyone is aiming to have a career in music, maybe this is just for fun but even on those terms I think it is a problem that they need to address.

But with that out of the way I can get on with talking about its selling points, I do prefer to champion a cause rather than poke a critical finger so let’s do that now. Even from the titles you can see that Noise Therapy have something to say, references to freedom of speech, anarchy, change and general statements about dissatisfaction prepare you for a lyrical onslaught that chimes so in tune with the issues of the day.

Devil’s Advocate follows a grunge inspired route, all muted, low end visceral riffs and Atom Bomb laces some dexterous textures through a symphonic metal landscape but for the most part the songs are based around a harder edged post-hardcore but one referencing a classic metal sound. Defend Freedom of Speech is Iron Maiden reimagined for a new generation and No More Platforms For Idiots is straight out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal template.

If they could bring the vocal skills and production up to the level of the music, mix it in effectively rather than sit it on top then they would really have something here, I guess that they are on a budget to make this but with such a great job done with the music it seems that for a bit of extra money and effort they could really get this over the line. They have a lot of poignant things to say, they just need to find a better way of delivering it. 

Musically you could argue that they are not necessarily bring much new to the table but that’s okay with me. Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock and metal before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic musical suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.

Breathe –  Terrell B. (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

nAYHzdzM_400x400Well, that certainly rocks. Breathe is a weave of groove and grunt, interesting dynamic changes and relentless power seemingly forged as much from programming as playing. Not that there is anything wrong with that, after all what’s a boy to do if he would rather keep control of his music by remaining a solo concern? Use the studio as an instrument, that’s what.

Here he plays with post-hardcore melodics, old-school metal technicalities, progressive guitar work, razor wire riffery and white hot industrial edge which feels like the future of extreme rock dancing with the past post-punk attitude that saw a whole generation bend broken keyboards, early synthesisers and distorted pedal boards to their will to create the next wave of new music. 

As such it references the past whilst still striking out for a new future. It is bold and bombastic, slick and well-produced, energetic and electrifying. Rock, metal, hardcore…call it what you will, always used to be the bastion of the guitar and whilst that still sits front and central on Breathe, it is the peripheral sounds and studio technics that Terrell B. uses around it that marks this track out as a brave step into a whole new metal sub-genre and a whole new future.

Gargantua –  Siblings of Us (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

37408986_993850480796544_6311018794349232128_nYou turn your back for a few months and bands go and change their whole sound. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic but whilst there is a radical shift from the crazed alt-disco, warped synth-wave, vibe towards a much more rock driven sound, Siblings of Us approach towards music remains the same. For this is rock music in the same way that their previous endeavours were pop…in that it  is anything but the usual approach. If Who Are We Anymore took synth driven dance pop music hostage, bundled it into the backseat of a car and went joyriding around the midnight streets with the lights off swigging a bottle of absinthe, then Gargantua pretty much does the same for rock music.

Thankfully Siblings of Us are one of those bands where you run out of generic labels, all the best bands do, pop-rock, alt-dance, electronic rock, all seem inadequate in the extreme for this is something much more madly and meticulously put together than those safe terms suggest. Pizza Lisa is what 60’s garage rock would have sounded like if the advent of the affordable synthesiser had happened a decade earlier and where as before Fonzy Armour’s high vocal register suggested a member of The Bee Gee’s having the most musical nervous break down in history, now the power of the music means that he gives any number of metal singers a run for their money. They won’t like that, I can tell you.

Chicago Glass Twins blends the staccato and the soaring and wanders between subtle drops and soaring crescendos that would give a lot of cinematic and symphonic rock bands reason to be jealous and Breed and Company is a manic clubland-metal anthem. And long before you get to A Gang Called Wonder’s perfect finish, its spoken word meets industrial pop meets dance intensity meets punk bombast meets….oh, just throw in your own made up generic descriptions…you realise that there is a brilliant by-product of their musical machinations. By creating heavy songs out of everything that is the very antithesis of cliched rock and by-the-book metal, Siblings of Us show it up for its safe and staid ways. There’s going to be a lot of unhappy people in patched denim jackets wandering around, I can tell you.

Death Demonic Life –  Demon Insane Asylum (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

demonpostersI’ll be honest about it, this is music that is way out of my normal go to listening. I do pride myself on having fairly broad tastes but even I shy away from music made in the extreme fringes…be it bland pop at one end of the spectrum or, as in this case, the intense and industrial strains of Black Metal. But if you like your music to have high drama and be built of byzantine weight and thunderous drive, then you are going to find a lot to like here.

I think it is safe to say that the production lets them down a bit and a slightly cleaner recording might add the required instrumental separation to better define this music, bit it is still easy to see what they are doing here. It is relentless, oppressive in a wonderful sort of way, it speaks of tsunamis and industry, apocalyptic madness and abject horror, which is, I’m sure exactly what they are going for here. So in that regard, a job well done. 

Death Has No Friends –  Joey Niles (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

418893_523240614357146_265391204_nRock music has always had a fine sense of the theatrical, the dramatic, the epic and there is no shortage of such grandeur in Joey Niles sweeping and majestic Death Has No Friends. It is safe to say that the sonic concepts here are going to be fairly familiar to most. It combines that classic metal grunt with technical guitar work, almost prog rock approaches to interludes and breakdowns, deft acoustica and forceful drive. It is a sound that had a golden age in the 80’s perhaps but with the cyclical nature of music, a resurgence in technical rock music and the fact that such progressive metal has quietly being following its own path never out of fashion by virtue of the fact that it was never in fashion, the timing of this song could prove to be perfect.

Musically the song is on interesting ground, combining the same classical interludes and sweeping cinematics, rock muscle and byzantine musical machinations that the likes of Nightwish or Evanescence were so adept at. Such music is built of musical height and tension which when done right can be breath-taking, though all too often it falls into the realms of pretentious, preposterous, bluntness and bombastic. Thankfully, I can report that Death Has No Friends falls pretty much into the former category, delivering a series of dynamic shifts and sonic crescendos, hard driven deliveries and masterful, not to mention unexpectedly, wide ranging vocals. In short it effortlessly walks that fine line between the symphonic and the super-charged.

The video reveals that the narrative is driven from a certain belief, but the song never preaches or tries to sell that particular world view and considering the song deals with such a universal concept, anyone and everyone can find an aspect of it to relate to. And it is imagery that suits the Wagnarian tones that the song uses to deliver its message. Rock and metal has always felt like the perfect medium to express those existential crises, those eternal struggles of morality and man’s effort to understand his place in the grand scheme of things and Death Has No Friends sits perfectly in that realm.

It takes an artist of skill to navigate such waters and come out the other side with a song that avoids running aground or just delivering more of the same. Thankfully, with a wealth of musical experience stretching back to the eighties, Joey Niles has delivered a great, fluid and conceptually brave slice of metal, one that references the past, is relevant to the here and now and suggests a promising future.

Scene and Heard – CCCXLII : Vultures – Memorain (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

10456010_10152162391088870_4475702646082684416_nMemorain appear to be on a mission to keep rock music, especially that infused by its classic halcyon past, relevant to modern audiences. Not always an easy thing to do with the fickle finger of fashion constantly causing scenes to evolve and move on at an alarming rate, when the short attention span of the modern age and the sheer ridiculousness of the amount of music being made these days conspires against you. But they have one thing on their side. Heritage! 

Although they are certainly creating highly original music, it wears its influences openly like badges on a fading and ripped denim jacket for all to see. Badges that sign post everything from raw 70’s classicism, 80’s stadium sky-scraping, even 90’s grunge and the alt-rock of modern times get a look in. This is metal that tips its hat to the past without getting bogged down in its traits and traditions, music that knows where it comes from but is more concerned with wear it is going. And that is the reason why it is both familiar to the metal masses, plays into well worn comfort zones yet also carries a torch into the future.

Okay, it’s not like they creating whole new genres or travelling anywhere too far off the musical map, they may just be re-inventing the wheel, but they are certainly giving it a polish up, a paint job and a new set of white walled tires before leave burnt rubber tracks down the highway. Not that it is a problem, not everything is about kicking down the barriers and exploring new pastures, some of it is about diving for pearls in familiar waters. And that is just what Memorain is all about.

Scene and Heard – CCCXVIII : Adhesives –  Vaudeville Remedy (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

27750211_1982748585099063_3638013684457436231_nMusic historians will tell you that Punk, in its original form, evolved from two separate sources. In America, the nucleus was a New York scene of garage rock bands, musical hustlers and street urchins, in the UK bored London art college kids re-appropriated glam imagery and invented their own high velocity pop. Their common ground was always to be found more in the attitude and swagger than in any strong musical bonds. It is interesting to note, therefore, that Saskatchewan’s Vaudeville Remedy seem built on the twisted heritage of both scenes, the advantage afforded both in being able to look back from afar and the ubiquity of old music to the modern market.

Adhesives is a raw and raucous blending of grunge deliveries, US college rock outsiderisms, thrashed out blues-metal and first generation punk swagger, it is ragged and uncompromising. If it were more technical it would be metal, slicker it would be alt-rock and more melodic it would fit in to the commercial end of punk but Vaudeville Remedy is obviously happy skirting the fringes of all of those and fully committing to none. You have to love an outsider.

Scene and Heard – CCCIX: Violet – Blacknoise ft. Maria Skaaren (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

29313871_195408037902593_4789006019575414784_nI have to be honest, when I saw the name and the geographic location of the band I did jump to some conclusions as to what to expect from this track. The last thing I need in my mind’s eye is a load of black clad Norwegians doing their best to look tough and demonic whilst sounding like the girl from The Exorcist (post-possession) over some excessive use of double kick drum and unnecessary guitar showboating. Thankfully, although Blacknoise certainly come from that corner of the music scene, Violet is actually much better than the conclusions that I drew.

Yes, there are some screamo vocals going on, but not many, the song being led by the much more palatable classic rock meets classical diva tones of Maria Skaarsen, which makes the play off between her dulcet vocals, the gruffer male harmonies and the fleeting troll impressions much easier to take. I’m sorry, but I just don’t get the point of those gurning, gargling grunts…but at least it comes with a lyric video in case you do want to decipher or even learn the words.

Musically the song is on much safer ground, combining the same classical interludes and sweeping cinematics, symphonic stylings and byzantine musical machinations that the likes of Nightwish or Evanescence were so adept at. Such music is built of musical high drama which when done right can be breath-taking, though all too often it falls into the realms pretentious, preposterous, bluntness and bombastic. Thankfully, I can report that Violet falls pretty much into the former category delivering a series of dynamic shifts and sonic crescendos, hard driven deliveries and ethereal vocals, walking that fine line between the symphonic and the super-charged that such music has to deftly juggle to work.

And work it does, the guitar breaks are great, driving the song for the most part rather than adding unnecessary top end soloing to feed the ego, the tsunami back beats and bass growls provide a solid platform for everything else to sit on, and as previously mentioned the different grades and tones of vocals add unexpected dimensions to a style of song that thrives on conflicting textures. Okay, we have heard this sort of thing before, but it often isn’t constructed this well and apart from a few Nordic names who have made a career on such big sounds, this sort of music generally gets the better of the artist behind it. But not this time, Violet really works. (I’m still not sure of the screamo vocals though but in the scheme of things, it is a small criticism.)

So we have heard it before but sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of rock history before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic musical suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.

Stagger The Devil –  Song Of Love (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

23561355_1591011920987909_80311552838917893_nPrevious Song of Love music I have written about has, and the band admit this to be the case, suffered from poor production to the point that whilst you could see what they were trying to do, it was difficult to really appreciate the music fully. Well, what a difference a month or so makes as the latest piece of rock and roll goodness from gang is leaps and bounds above those previous recordings.

Stagger The Devil is a blend of New Wave of British Heavy Metal style classic rock and more progressive and technical metal styles. It is now possible to appreciate the intricacies of their playing and at times they remind you of the likes of Rush or Triumph in the way that they are able to mix heavyweight guitar riffs with more deft and delicate playing. The bass pops and pulse and the drums keep things firing on all cylinders. Maybe there is still some work to be done on the vocals but considering how far they have come in such a short space of time they will have that issue addressed in no time at all. Good work guys!

The Rebel –  Ravenscroft (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Rebel_Cover_2.jpgHaving teased us with a couple of releases from this ep, Ravenscroft now unleash the full package, and as expected it just bristles with their trademark classic rock infused sound. Over six songs  it is the perfect mission statement for a band that knows its place in music history, know where they are coming from but are more concerned with where they are going. It is a sound which matched classic rock moves with more modern alt-rock swagger and it also shows sides to them that we haven’t seen before.

Denomination kicks off the ep and this opening salvo of brutal beats and razor edged riffs pretty much tells you what sort of  world you are entering here. Theirs is a world of big ideas made into big music, hard and heavy music, music that balances melody and menace, brims with attitude and grim determination. But, they also prove that they are not a one trick pony as the inclusion of My Dearest One shows, a dexterous power ballad that builds from gentle acoustic precision into a full blown stadium rock work out of the sort that people don’t seem to write any more and this more than addresses that issue.

But for the most part, Ravenscroft are about the grit and the growl, no nonsense, straight down the line rock. Classic rock, hard rock, metal, rock…music…call it what you will but we can all agree that we are in familiar territory here. Not that it is a problem, not everything is about kicking down the barriers and exploring new pastures, some of it is about diving for pearls in familiar waters. And that is just what Ravenscroft is  all about.

Stand Up is an aggressive call to arms, The Chase is a white hot slice of melodic metal, one that doesn’t compromise on wonderful sonic detail and infectious groove but still falls on you like a ton of bricks and the title track is the perfect fist in the air anthem that will unite old fans and new followers alike. This sort of music is done often, too often really, but it is often not done well. That then is the bands selling point for whilst they are clearly playing with familiarity and comfort zones here and wearing their references very openly on their sleeve tattooed arms (presumably, I haven’t checked) they do it much better than most.

Sometimes it is enough just to re-invent the wheel especially if the wheel in question allows you to open up the throttle and take a white-knuckle joyride through the side streets and alleyways of the history of rock before unashamedly heading down the highway to follow in the tyre marks of previous iconic musical suicide machines. Or something…I’m not great with analogy.

Signs of The End –  Song of Love (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22554928_1562511940504574_4448267353892692753_nOne of the great things about the advent of cheap studio technology is the fact that anyone can invest in studio software, record and send their music out into the world. You could argue that this is also its downside, in that often the enthusiasm of making the music isn’t checked or balanced by the quality control systems that used to be built in when it was someone else’s money involved. This isn’t a criticism, more an observation, after all the more people being creative in any form the better.

The latest release from Song of Love, does suffer from this phenomena, but thankfully I am the sort of reviewer who looks past the sub par production and the unconventional sound mix and look more for the potential in the music. And there is a lot of potential, especially in the way that they think. After all six and a half minutes of squalling, old school metal, of shifting dynamics and relentless musical attacks is a brave thing to do, played a bit too straight to be called progressive but certainly thinking well outside the box.

Guitars blast through the middle ground or aim for arpeggio crescendos , drums play around the beat and bass lines pulse out interesting low end melodies but sadly the vocals get a bit lost in the mix. Like I say, its all about potential and there is plenty here but I would suggest that they invest a bit more time and thought into the production but it does make you wonder what they would sound like with a good engineer, a better mix and a decent studio to work in. That would be well worth hearing.

 

Scene and Heard – CCXXXXII : Babylon is Fallen –  Song of Love (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

22554928_1562511940504574_4448267353892692753_n.jpgSong of Love make no bones about their mission to re-instate metal to its rightful place in a increasingly “bland and fake” musical world. So I guess that it is logical that their response to the three minute, throw away, day-glo pop song that rules the roost should be a meandering and technical metal instrumental weighing in at over six and half minutes. I’m to sure that Babylon is Fallen is going to blow away the corporate pop fat cats on its own but it is an interesting reaction none the less.

Throughout its wandering dynamics it broods, blasts and bruises, hits crescendos and drops into understated territory, you hear echos of Sabbaths low end groove and turn of the century technical nu-metal sonic frippery, it covers a lot of ground for sure. But it isn’t all a nostalgia trip, it may juggle the same building blocks as bands which of gone before, what makes metal sound the way it does isn’t going to change, but the fact that the band is brave enough to assemble those signature songs to make a long and progressive musical structure, one fixed by industrial grit, dark textures and visceral power certainly stands them apart from the pack.

Crow Eats Man –  Crow Eats Man (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Crow Eats Man Album Cover_previewThe wonderfully named Crow Eats Man wear their musical hearts very openly on their sonic sleeves, nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all with declaring a love for the music which sat at that point where the melodic end of grunge butted up against the formative years of the alt-rock sound that it paved the way for. But like any band working with tried and tested genres, and familiar sounds, you have two options. Either you try to bring something new to the genre, though not so much that it wanders too far from its home turf, or you just aim to do it better than the rest of the bands journeying through similar musical landscapes.

Thankfully Crow Eats Man manage to do both. Not only is this the perfect blend of celebrating the past and carrying that specific musical torch into new, future potential, they also manage to nail down the hall marks of the alt-rock sound in a way that few bands manage to. Opening salvo and lead single Jaded leaves you under know illusion as to what the band is all about, big riffs, powering back beats, pulsing bass lines, urgent energy – old school rock being made over for the next generation. And if that was all that was going on here, that would be good enough, but as you work your way through the e.p. you realise the width and depth of the sonic stall that they are laying out before you.

 

Lost Son broods and bristles with dystopian blues and dark intent and Deependit pushes the sound into the realms of the metal fraternity, though due to Sebastian Sanchez powerful vocals, the band never feels the need to play the screamo cop-out card – come on, do you think those cacophonous crooners would be making such silly noises if they could actually sing? None of that nonsense here, no sir.

The e.p. bows out with the majestic wall of noise, staccato dynamics and gang vocals of Fresno Cigarette Run, a brilliant excuse to show the bands blend of weight and intricacy as a tsunami of power chords and low end bass come tumbling out of the speakers to be played to the finish by wonderfully manic guitar work. And it says something about a band that despite all their demonstrable musical skills, they always serve the song rather than fuel the ego and the only bit of showboating comes in the last minute of the album, and by then, they have earned the right and then some.

Rock has been in a difficult place of late, resorting to electronica, parody and indie-lite trappings to try and find a new purpose. Crow Eats Man remind us that rock always had a purpose and always will, it just requires not forgetting the genres roots, its place and path through musical history, once you have learned that, you will find you have all the ammunition you need to succeed. Crow Eats Man knows this all too well and thanks to them it looks like serious and well crafted alt-rock is back on the menu.

Love Kills Slowly – Black Bluebirds (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Black_BluebirdsWhilst there has, in the modern age at least, been a real disconnect between the potential of the original goth scene with all its pomp and drama, knowing pretence and theatrical allure and the grit and integrity of the modern alt-rock and fractured, tribal metal community, Black Bluebirds feel like that missing link, that bridge between the two worlds. To be honest they should never have lost touch really but as the metallers swapped musical tenacity for sonic technicality and the gothic realm traded cinematics for cyber, the two musical worlds seemed set on very different paths.

That is why bands like Black Bluebirds are so vital, a reminder that both were once musical allies and by taking the power and potency of metal and using it to channel the dark and sultry temperament of gothic rock a wonderful reunion unfolds. But more than sounding like a reunion in the truest sense of the word, a nostalgic gathering, a remembrance and a rose tinted revisit to past glories, this is instead the sound of both camps moving forward in unison. Grating guitars and synth washes, pounding bass lines and thunderous back beats all swirl in the mix and the vocals bruise and brood, and the result is a grinding grooving alliance of musical blood brothers. Okay, it’s not the first time such a generic gene splicing has been tried, but rarely has it been done this effectively.

Shutting Down/Take Me Home –  Tombstones In Their Eyes (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Tombstones In Their Eyese (cover)There was a time when music such as the cavernous and reverb laden sounds that Tombstones In Their Eyes made didn’t come on download, CD or even in the form of a live band. Instead it came in pill form, on blotter paper, in tabs, creating imagined music that hotwired straight into the back of the brain, a revelatory experience but a solitary one also. This double A side is the sound of a band doing its best to capture the insanity and dark haze of just such a  bad acid trip and it is at once scary and beautiful, and primordial and sophisticated.

It plays with Doorsian psychedelia, desert blues stoner vibes, echoing doom and heaviness, and the same arched sub-metal sounds that defined the glorious collection of songs which made up the Fear e.p. earlier this year.  And whilst Take Me Home is a weighty slice of cosmic rock and roll, Shutting Down seems, within these sonically muscular demarcations, to somehow find room for everything to breathe effectively. The result is that the latter feels more in keeping with the psyched out indie of the likes of Echo and The Bunnymen whilst the former is as solid and claustrophobic a piece of work as anything in the Spacemen 3 or The Jesus and Mary Chain canon.

It is the sound of the band continuing their dark crusade to create music which sounds like the after growl of the big bang, the collision of planets, the collapse of mountains and the sound of the history of the industrial revolution all scored as music. Nothing wrong with thinking on a grand scale I guess.

Tales From The Bermuda –  Buried In Smoke  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a0294245164_10As opening salvo Satisfy starts chugging from the speakers, a vocal onslaught leaves you in no doubt as to exactly what Buried in Smoke’s mission is, they pretty much lay it out before you even place one foot in their musical world. The removal of what they see as inferior music from the airwaves and media channels to be replaced with various forms of rock, punk and metal! A bit extreme perhaps but catch me on certain nights and throw in a bit of old-school post-punk and I would say that they might just have a point. And with the task at hand clearly identified they waste no time at all in laying out a stall of classic rock and metal riffs, and dark and intense alt-rock grooves.

Although I grew up on what was then termed as “metal” bands, the classics, bands that could be referenced by only using half of their name, Maiden, Purple, Priest, then the genre moved on to more extreme potential and left me behind. Buried In Smoke, however, seem to reference those heady and more melodic days in their music and because of that I find a lot here I like.

And even within the confines of the heavy genres they have chosen to work in, there is a fair bit of variation. War Dogs bristles with vicious energy and visceral drives, Southern Pain is a Dixie-metal boogie and Home is a dark acoustic touch song which ends up in big theatrical crescendos. Closing song, Want You Mine, is a half-rapped, blues bombardment that The Wildhearts would be proud of. It is a taste of the past, repackaged and represented for the more robust and broader tastes of the modern rock fan and even though it works with familiar building blocks, razor wire riffs and white noise guitars, thunderous back beats, bruising bass pulses and raw and reckless vocal workouts, it is still more concerned with moving the sound forward than revelling in past glories.

Rather than the extreme technical style over substance that prevails in the genre today, this is a band that understands the middle ground, riffs are big but accessible, the beat moves with the song rather than dominates in a showcase of double kick mayhem, the songs groove and swing whilst coming at you like a thing possessed and the lyrics are aggressive and growled, yet clearly identifiable rather than the guttural screamo noisefest that has become fashionable.

In short it moves the modern metal format on by referencing what was so good about the past, a past where bands like Pantera led the game, and the end result is an album that will appeal to old school hard rockers and modern day metallers alike.

Fans of rock and metal in all its forms will find a lot to like, the gothic set will appreciate its dark soundscapes and the more industrial minded will find its raw beauty and dystopian vibes to their tastes. But if like me you have been away from the upper echelons of hard rock and  metal trenches for a while and are looking for a way back in, this is the perfect place to start. Okay chaps, over the top we go….

Fear EP – Tombstones in Their Eyes (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Tombsones_In_Their_Eyes_-_Fear_EP_(cover).jpgHow can something so ominously cavernous still sound fragile and on the point of collapse? That is the wonderful juxtaposition that runs through Tombstones in Their Eyes, a strange blend of muscle and delicacy, like marvelling at the awesome grandeur of a glacier and realising that it is only so much water.

Metallers take some comfort in their chosen genres being the loudest, hardest and heaviest environments, but they are more than missing the point. Strip away all the showboating and “more is more” approach, the posturing and the clutter, slow it right down almost to a dead stop and what is left is actually the primal spirit of the sound of heavy metal. What is left is Tombstones in Their Eyes! Ambient doom grunge? A proto sludge trudge? Bronze Age metal? Pick your own label, we are in new territory here, there is no wrong answer.

Separate provides the submerged rhythms that Handsel and Gretel would have made had they wandered the woods leaving a trail of cracked Ziljian cymbals and badly wired reverb pedals rather than breadcrumbs and Always There is the missing link between Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath.

The music is sweeping, terrible, claustrophobic, Shamanic and chilling, but it is also majestic, nightmarishly eloquent and beautifully Wagnerian. It is almost music as a dark religious rite, a primordial summoning but far from playing with all the shtick and cliché that most bands opt for, this seems all too real. That’s a bit of a worry to be honest.

 

Such is Art – Black Note Graffiti (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

coverAt a point where the weight and claustrophobia of the raw end of the grunge sound crashes into the more melodic end of the technical metal spectrum, you find Black Note Graffiti. Where the former tended to exult passion over prowess and the latter deliver deftness over emotion, this Ann Arborean quartet manage to circle that square with ease and play to both sides of that particular musical divide.

 
Such is Art is a powerful slab of evolving music, building from simple visceral riffs laying out anticipation and sign posting the way to a spectacular crescendo, through brooding minimalism to its inevitable intense play out. If the current metal scene seems dominated by screamo caterwauling and showboating solos that seem unrelated to the song, then Black Note Graffiti are probably the answer. If you miss the gloom and dark glamour of goth before it turned into a cyber-fetish scene…again these are you guys. If you feel the angst and vitriol of grunge is a thing of the past…. well, you get the picture.

New Music of the Day – CLVIII : The Day That The World Breaks Down – Ayreon

image003THE SOURCE is an exciting new chapter in the Ayreon saga, with contributions from renowned vocalists like James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). The Source will be released on April 28 through Ayreon’s new label Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings.

                            

While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid-90’s.

 

 

The story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity.  Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price. It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years.

 

The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).

 

Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.

 

2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.

Treacherous – In Silent Agony (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

tumblr_ohzmz6jv8o1rll5k4o1_500I sometimes struggle with music in such an extreme end of the market, a lot of it doesn’t speak to me on a very personal level, that isn’t a problem, not everyone can be the target audience. But then I heard Our Darkest Shadows, a song that sits both comfortably within the sound that In Silent Agony make but also seems to explain to me the scope and potential of the music much better than any of the other songs.

There is a depth, drama and dark theatrical script at work here, a mad combination of Wagner, Jim Steinman, Fields of The Nephilim and Anne Rice; a metal opera for a dystopian world and once I had that key to the music I found I could unlock and appreciate what was going on around this central song.

Approaching the rest of the EP with this new understanding I also realised that a second obstacle had been dealt with. Most of the music I have encountered in recent years that falls into such genres – thrash, metalcore, death metal – has been….now, let me be delicate…not very well conceived, all  front and bravado and  shown up by a record such as this. Part of the accessibility of Treacherous is the production, separation of sounds, the layering and textures, especially those that wash emotively behind those visceral riffs, textures that help build tension and sculpt otherworldly atmospheres.

Existing fans of metal in all its forms will find a lot to like, the gothic set will appreciate its dark soundscapes and the more industrial minded will find its clinical beauty and cold apocalyptic foreboding to their tastes. But if like me you have been away from the extreme metal trenches for a while and are looking for a way back in, this is the perfect place to start. Okay chaps, over the top we go….

A Mouthful of Marbles – GagReflex (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

covershot-v1The rules of pop used to make things very clear. A band with members numbering double figures is an orchestra, one with less than three is a duo…a lounge act, the sort of thing that you’d find at the bar of the Ramada Inn doing jaded covers to jaded listeners and probably billed as a popular beat combo.

But somewhere along the line something changed, technology began to compensate for mere numbers, new possibilities presented themselves and suddenly even the lowly 2-piece could be anything they wanted to be. And what GagReflex wanted to be was a big, aggressive, punk leviathan, which is just as well really.

The fact that they are a bass and drum set up means that they are massively rhythmic in their delivery, but a straight four-four approach just wouldn’t really cut it and so with Stuart Hawkins mixing thundering bottom end with dexterous riffs and runs across the four string and Seb Goffe’s skittering fills, rampant rolls, solid drives and underpinning emphasis, they have created something far more interesting. Interesting and then some. And somehow the absence of widdly lead guitars and power chords seems to keep things cleaner limbed and certainly more inventive. The fact that you can see the musical machinations that the two of them employ to build their songs is not only wonderfully honest but fantastically hypnotic. Is Math punk too much of a mutually exclusive concept?

And lyrically there is a lot more going on than you would expect from the format, dark and savagely intelligent commentary on the world around them is spat at the listener matching the aggression of the music. Lit-punk anyone?

Anyone who has seen the band live might have once wondered if it would be possible to catch the raw energy of the band on record, harness the savage musical knife-edge they walk, the one that throws experimental ideas and jazz references into the punk, rock and metal melting pot. Well, this album is the proof that it can be done and that punk can be big and clever…though the term punk might need some qualification in their case.

Prog-punk? Jazz-core? Punk with a college education?….oh, I give up. Just listen to the damn album!

Hour of the Nightingale: Trees of Eternity (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

trees-of-eternity-hour-of-the-nightingale-2lpProbably more than any genre I know, metal has been the one to change the most over the course of my many years listening to music. The melodic, sonic charges of the early bands, classic metal I guess, always made up part of my intake but as the fashion for more brutal, screaming, guttural intensity took hold, it was a musical pasture I wandered less and less often.

But there has always remained one small corner of that musical field that I still made time to visit, that of the emotive, symphonic and haunting sub-genre. Gothic metal? Doom metal? Call it what you will, Trees of Eternity are just the latest reason to revel in its dark beauty.

Despite the loss of their singer, Aleah Starbridge, her surviving partner, Juha Raivio and the rest of the band, Mattias and Fredrik Norrman (Katatonia, October Tide) and Kai Hahto (Swallow The Sun, Wintersun) made the decision to put out their last album with her on the Svart label as a way of honouring the impressive body of work she left behind, the perfect elegy to her untimely death. The bittersweet new album, Hour of the Nightingale will be released on 11th November.

It is in such regions that metal comes closest to classical music and here the dark majesty of the likes of Wagner are writ large across a sonic canvas, but the doom-laden music themes also encroach on the star-crossed romance of goth and even the lush soundscaping more associated with dreampop. But at its core it has all the trappings of the rock and metal you would expect and flashes of white hot guitar, pulsing back beats and dynamic interplays that take the songs from gentle introspection to heart wrenching drama and back again are all hard at work.

As a tribute to their dear departed singer it is a fantastic legacy, an album which combines grace and grandeur, matches depth and delicacy with accessibility and muscle and if there is one sub-genre of the complex metal muso-political machine that I still hold a torch for, Trees of Eternity sit at its very heart.

Avatar – Shadow Hunters (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

 

13620072_596887580479507_7430400725441454943_nSee, never judge a book by its cover, or an album for that matter. The combination of the band name, album title and the slick, futuristic artwork had me thinking thoughts of indulgent progressive rock or cyclonic and largely unlistenable metal. Thankfully first impressions are often wrong and what lay in store was something much more palatable.

 

Shadow Hunters are a Norwegian rock two-piece but far from the gloom and fantasy medieval imagery beloved of that nations rock fraternity, this is a symphonic journey into the future. And if thoughts of a dystopian Blade Runner-esque doom come to mind, dispel them immediately, this is the sound track to a gleaming, hi-tech vision, one of science and success, vast galactic vistas and boldly going where Norman has gone before. Whoever he is.

 

They conjure these images from swaths of symphonic backdrops, stratospheric rock crescendos, charged atmospherics and, ironically, Vangelis-like chiming synth lines. But above all the feeling is one of positivity and potential, a space opera built of “turbulence and tranquillity” but with enough rock know how to keep its feet planted firmly on the ground. It is a combination of the here and now and the what might be, of modernity and futurism, of solidity and dreamscape. Their guitars may indeed be in the gutter but they are certainly looking at the stars.

New Music of The Day: LXXXVIII – More to Life – Jack The Envious

13902_668224699940361_1103929578905245205_nFirst new music video recommendation of the year and I thought that we should kick in with something brash, boisterous, riotous and raucous, you know, really kick some arse and cut the mustard, clear away the cobwebs and other cliches and alliterations. Jack The Envious are an alt rock/post hardcore band from Israel who combine  aggression and dexterous riffing with driven back beats and a slightly desolate, world weary feeling.

This is the first single from their forthcoming album Pull You Down and will go a long way to ingratiate them to the contemporary rock and metal crowd.

Showing just how over the whole music tribalism and genre-wars we are, I should also draw your attention to their excellent cover of Gorillaz Feel Good Inc, it’s enough to give Damon Albarn a bit of a fright…and that has to be a good thing , right?

 

World Wide Genocide – Shotgun Rodeo (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

12006306_734800449996668_8543850978524339218_nAlthough I grew up on what was then termed as “metal” bands, the classics, bands that could be referenced by only using half of their name, Maiden, Purple, Priest, then the genre moved on to more extreme potential and left me behind. Shotgun Rodeo, however, seem to reference those heady and more melodic days in their music and because of that I find a lot here I like.

 

Rather than the extreme technical style over substance that prevails in the genre today, this is a band that understands the middle ground, riffs are big but accessible, the beat moves with the song rather than dominates in a showcase of double kick mayhem, the songs groove and swing whilst coming at you like a thing possessed and the lyrics are aggressive and growled, yet clearly identifiable rather than the guttural noise that has become the fashion.

 

In short it moves the modern metal format on by referencing what was so good about the past, a past where bands like Pantera led the game, and the end result is an album that will appeal to old school hard rockers and modern day metallers alike.

Her Halo – Teramaze (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11219684_10153517784765281_1710479661361104455_nI have to admit that I am often put off of venturing into reviewing a record when it has the word metal in the genre description. Although as a younger man I was brought up on many of the classics of that genre, the metal world has moved on a long way since then and sadly left me behind. If not out of my comfort zone, I’m certainly no longer best equipped to review the stuff and what’s with the fact that there’s about 357 sub-genres of metal; would I know my Teutonic Thrash Metal from my Crust Punk? And try as I might I can’t find Djent on my road map of Wales. Put the word Progressive into the mix, however, and I’m on much safer territory. Progressive normally implies a tempering of the blind aggression and “more is more” approach, progressive implies melody, structure, dynamics and inventiveness, all things I can hang my reviewer’s hat on, and Teramaze has all that in spades.

Without abandoning the power and drive bestowed by the Gods of Metal, this is an album that has room to embrace some wonderfully tangential musical moves, piano balladry, sweet vocal harmonies, guitar solos built from sounds more reminiscent of a Pendragon album (remember them?) and brooding electronica.

The bands ethic seems to be to build the song only from what is required to hit its mark, just because you can shred like Steve Vai on his 10th espresso doesn’t mean you have to throw it in all the time, they don’t let such showpieces become their hall mark, they let them become their secret weapon, just one of many in a whole arsenal of musical munitions. And if a song has the desired effect from just the most straight forward of playing, with out needing to be forged of time signatures that you would actually need an extra leg to dance to, then that is the route they are happy to take.

This is an album of majesty, nothing less, the sound track to worlds colliding, hearts breaking and empires falling but also the sound of the intangible forces, emotions and introspection, the mighty and the minutiae, the complete spectrum of life and it proves that power and elegance, impact and eloquence are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Magnet – The Fierce and The Dead (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

11011887_10152971855155222_8687662636560725026_nI won’t dwell too long on the lead single Magnet in Your Face, we have already covered that ground, except to say that it makes for the perfect opening salvo to this record. Yes, I’m old, I still call them records. Perfect in that it introduces you to a band whose sound ricochets between the pent up aggression of the metal world, trippy experimentations, brooding atmospherics and the byzantine complexities of progressive rock. Yet throughout all of it’s twists and turns as a mission statement if only tells part of the story and what follows is nothing short of mesmerising.

It doesn’t even begin to hint at the violent undertones of Palm Trees, a song that begins in jaunty hypnotic spirals of music and ends in what sounds like the inner soundtrack of a raging serial killers mind. It doesn’t prepare you for the cinematic Part 6, which starts life as a score to images of deep space, colliding worlds and dying suns and resolves itself as a late night chill out track from the house band at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Spooky Action pushes their eclectic ways to the limit, jumping from a heavy gothic introduction through bright interludes, slowly building into ever denser textures and a raw and visceral crescendo.

One of the things that TFATD prove is that as important as great lyrics can be, when you get the music right that can also speak to you in the same way. Not through direct communication but through non-verbal avenues, emotion and musical colours, through a sort of acoustic body language and at times almost a feeling of your personal space being invaded and at it’s most extreme Magnet does feel like an unwanted presence that almost makes you recoil.

It is heavy but understands that density and strength comes from proper construction rather than just bulk. It is dark and brooding but without resorting to the schlock-shock of the current gothic scene or the easy root of melancholic machinations. Above all it is intelligent and conceptual but without the trappings that have often made progressive rock an easy target of ridicule. Whichever way you look at it and whichever part of the rock spectrum you prefer to stand in, The Fierce and The Dead is a band who are embracing the post-genre possibilities of the modern music paradigm and more than delivering the goods.

New Music of the Day: LX – Magnet in Your Face – The Fierce and The Dead

11011887_10152971855155222_8687662636560725026_nFor some progressive rock or prog-rock (I’m still not clear on the generic distinction even after witnessing miles of passionate 3 am forum posts on the subject) often comes across a bit too full of itself, a little precocious, a little to smug. Many find full blown metal in all of it’s 468 sub-genres and cultish backwaters a little short on substance. Yes it’s technically clever but where’s the groove? Well, The Fierce and The Dead neatly sort the problem out in one fell, 100 second swoop.

The guitar work is technical but never impenetrable, riff based rather than bordering on musical brinkmanship and the band clearly know their way around song dynamics as they deliver waves of power and restraint that ebb and flow to maximum effect. Proggy but concisely delivered, wandering around the fringes of heavy territories but clearly aimed at grown ups. With both of the aforementioned genres often being mentioned in the same breath as Dungeons and Dragons or Buffy The Vampire Slayer maybe “aggressive progressive” is the way forward.

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