Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Step Cousin - The Evolution Religion (2009)

What's in a name? What is it about names that have such command over our thought processes? What is it about names that drives us so much? Of course, Shakespeare's question has been long debated over the years, but I've often wondered why names have such power over us as human beings. Names are identifiers; research shows that using a person's name in conversation with them helps you to "get in good" with them, and possibly establish a greater rapport, and in many cases, a good sales relationship.

In terms of music, and more specifically, heavy metal, names are extremely important. Most people would consider a band called "Candy Fairy Land" to be some kind of frilly bubblegum pop band, while a name like "Evisceration of Mind" conjures up images of grindcore & thoughts of 30 second songs with more raw power than a truck full of "energy drinks". So what does the mind tell you when the name is just unique & has little apparent meaning or bearing on the music played by said oddly named band?
To me, it's actually quite fitting, as the band doesn't really belong in the thrash metal genre from a strict viewpoint, but is related closely enough to it to be included in the "family reunions" and other functions where a seat at the table is set and they are included as if they were a blood relative. That's the parallel I draw, anyway.

That's the quandry with Step Cousin. I first heard the name several years ago & immediately thought, "That's a dumb name." I felt like it was ill-chosen, and not a very good representation of the style they were classified as (Thrash Metal), or as a moniker for a metal band in any way. Granted, I'm of the mind that if it fits, it fits, and who should judge your band by it's name, anyway? Smashing Pumpkins need not apply. But in all fairness to the members of the band, it's not a name that conjures images of headbanging, helicopter hair, or groove-infected thrash riffs. It sounds like something similar to the moniker of "Red-headed step child" that is often used to describe the "black sheep" of the family or other similar motifs. Still, looking past the name we can see what's really important in this scenario - the music. And from that perspective, there is no confusion.

"in My Darkest Hour" begins with a rumbling bass line, and quickly transitions into chunky guitar riffing, thunderous bass, and competent drumming. Kelly Matthews' gruff vocals soon follow with a semi-melodic verse that beckons the listener to pay attention to the lyrics. Kelly's drumming is also impressive already, with great rolls, double-bass work, and loads of power. Once things get going, the bass gets buried a bit in the mix, but is still audible enough to know it's keeping time. The chorus contains some growled "death" vocals, ala early Mortification for effect. This, combined with the gritty semi-clean vocals makes a nice contrast. The 2nd verse has some wicked rolls that just showcase the drumming throughout this album. There's a ton of groove in this song, and that's one of the underlying elements found on the album as well. Jeff Grady's solo here is great, with a bit of blues thrown in for good measure. I like the harpsichord (?) sound at the end of the guitar solo as well, nice touch. Another couple trips through the chorus after the bridge, and then a sudden transition into an electric piano & acoustic guitar passage that is a really cool outro for the song, complete with some subtle electric guitar soloing. "Behind the Veil" blows in at full speed with insane rolls and heavy, chunky riffing right off the bat. I love the "rising stairstep" effect of the riff at the beginning. Vocally, we're into the "death" vocals right away, which complements the speedy thrash riffing. The chorus slows things down a tad for some massive groove and the more gritty semi-clean vocals. The song breaks down around the 2-minute mark for a major groove riff, some cool ride cymbal work, and a great bluesy solo w/ a bit of wah-wah in the mix. Close to the 3-minute mark we're back to the verse riffing w/ speed & "death" vocals, and back to the chorus again, then breaking down into a groove section again near the 4-minute mark for some more solo action, which just showcases Grady's great southern-vibe playing. "The Evolution Religion" begins with a majorly groovy riff in one of the stereo channels, then doubles up with some more ride cymbal work and drumming before going into the chunky verse riff with more "death" vocals. The vocal layering in teh chorus (gritty semi-clean and "death" vocals) works well. The chorus is catchy with a melodic riff that will stick with you. Close to the 2-minute mark you get an audio clip about creationism & evolution, which is a nice touch. Then you get speedy thrash riffing with double-bass drum and no-holds-barred power. At around 2:30 it transitions into an acoustic guitar section with good drum/cymbal work, and then into heavy, chunky riffing around 3 minutes. Next comes a brief solo guitar bit that is very tasteful, and an almost Tourniquet-esque riff from around the 3:30 mark on to about the 4:15 mark, then another audio clip of the same speaker from before, then right back into the verse. While it sounds as though all these clips would interrupt the flow, but it works well here and feels natural. The pacing keeps the song going in the right direction. Another run through the chorus, some speedy, groovy riffing, and all-out madness nearing the end of the song, until the last audio cilp, then a brief instrumental wrap-up.

"Tears On My Pillow" starts with a great melodic riff and bass drum work, then into full-on double-bass drumming, rolls, and speed. The verse of the song is melodic and incorporates a lot of drum work and harmonized riffing. The transition to the chorus slows things down slightly, then stops on a dime for half a second before going right into the chorus at full speed ahead. There's an interesting audio sample after the chorus of a woman speaking in what I believe to be German. Not sure what she's saying, but it's kind of interesting. Verse and chorus again after the sample, keeping the pace up & then breaking down slightly around the 2:30 mark for a short respite moment, but keeping the frenetic cymbal work going before blowing into another lightly blues-tinged solo atop a riffing speed-fest. Verse 3 keeps the urgency of the song going, while the chorus brings things to a close. "Obituary" starts with some cool drum/cymbal work, and then a slower, heavy groove-laden riff to kick things off, with some nice melodic riff work & rumbling bassline underneath. There's also a cool little solo to transition into a slightly doomy-sounding riff section, complete with harmonized guitar riff. This picks up the pace with added double-bass, then again into full-on speed for a moment. This long intro stops on a dime to break down into more groove and finally vocals come in with a gritty feel, and some "death" vocals thrown in as well to contrast. The riffing here is so groovy, yet so chunky & heavy. The clean vocals in the chorus are layered with a subtle harmony, which works well. Great solo work after the 2nd verse & chorus, once again with a bit of a bluesy feeling, and a bit of wah-wah pedal sound to it. This song is melodic without being overly melodic, and loaded with lots of groove while still retaining a thrash aesthetic to it. "A Friend Like You" has a nice intro with background guitar, tom tom drumwork, and then full-on into melodic groovy riffing. Great double-bass work here as well, with nice triplets & quads sprinkled throughout. Kelly Matthews does his best Luke Easter impression during the verse with a real gritty, low-end vocal that is reminiscent of some of Luke's work on Tourniquet's more recent work. The chorus vocal is even more gritty, with a higher-pitched sound that really shows the attitude conveyed in the lyrics well. The chorus riff is just as groove-laden & melodic as the verse, but don't let that fool you - it's also ultra-chunky and nice 'n heavy. The bridge is also melodic and has a cleaner vocal than found elsewhere. Then comes a nice section with some spare drumming, rumbling bass, and a clean "echo" guitar bit that sounds cool w/ the drum backdrop, especially when the drums start getting into the insane tom rolls & double-bass work, until the chorus comes blasting back into action. Then out of the blue, a flute solo (flute solo!?) comes in, followed by a cool guitar solo. Who do these guys think they are, Tourniquet? All joking aside, the interplay between flute and guitar sounds cool, and it's an unexpected twist that gives this song a bit of extra "flavor".

"Cold" begins with a sample from one of those "Time and Temp" services you can call on the phone, except it was spliced together from different times calling in to get the intended effect - "One hundred and one degrees below zero Fahrenheit". It sounds totally seemless, however, so kudos to the band for making it sound as though it was a single phone call. Right away you are pummeled with double-bass drumming, cool tom rolls, and infectious riffing. The verse riff is melodic and is complemented by a bit of harmonized layered vocals. More "death" vocals sprinkled in. I like the backgrond vocal of "Isolate!" in the chorus section with the "echo" and "tunnel" effects on it. The bridge riff builds the tension through with double-bass riffing, then into a section of drum & bass for a moment, into some dual-lead guitar work. All this before 2 & a half minutes! Then into some clean guitar riffing to transition into some more Tourniquet-esque melodic riffing that sounds like it came right from the Ted Kirkpatrick Handbook of Thrash Guitar (TM). Frantic double-bass & drum work over some speedy riffing shows up here as well, then back into a major groove around the 4-minute mark. The chorus transitions from "Isolate!" to "Consecrate!" for the last run-through, signaling the change in the lyrics & the transformation from cold human to someone who has been saved by grace. The speedy riffing closes out the song well and ends abruptly. One of my favorite tracks on the album, for sure. "Scarred" has a groovy riff with a nice pinch harmonic, and is complemented well by the semi-melodic vocal. The "death" vocals come back here for the chorus and the transition from chorus back to verse is a cool melodic, groovy riff. More great double-bass work after the 2nd chorus to work into a speedy bridge that moves the song along, then transitions into the 2nd bridge that showcases a simple speed-picking solo, but retains a melodic quality to it. After verse & chorus 3, the riffing changes to a slower, major groove-laden riff with another pinch harmonic to it, and another solo, this time with a bit more melody & interest. The 2nd part of the solo has a cool effect applied to it, and returns to a traditional solo guitar to finish out the song.

"Life and Dreams" begins with big tom/bass drum hits, thumping bass, and massive groove again. "Death" vocals make an appearance here again in the verse, which speeds things up and moves into a chorus with lots of groove, and a subtle melody that works well without overpowering the song. The vocals here go back to the more gritty, semi-clean sound found elsewhere. After the 2nd verse & chorus, things get groovy again, with lots of chunkiness in the riffing and subtle melodic guitar work. Then things pick up again with more speed for a solo section that has a nice balance between speed & melody. There's a nice melodic bridge nearing the 4-minute mark with a subtly layered harmony vocal that sounds good. Nice clean guitar picking afterward, atop the rumbling bass and subtle drum/cymbal work that hardly prepares you for the thrash-fest to follow back into the final chorus and into the groovy outro. "I Don't Need It" has a cool intro with great drumming, nice riffs, and great pacing. The verse uses a real gritty vocal that recalls Luke Easter again, if ever so slightly, and "death" vocals interplay with some high-pitched screaming in the chorus. This screaming wouldn't sound out of place on a metalcore record, but sounds completely natural here as well, which is cool. Speedy double-bass drumming underscores the acoustic guitar after the 2nd chorus, then into a nice melodic solo section with some dual-guitar lead work. Back into the chorus again for a moment, then into more melodic soloing to close things out. Short but sweet, this track packs a punch & gets it done quickly. "This Is the Time" starts off immediatley with double-bass and groovy riffing, then into a gritty vocal and a riff that "breathes" a bit more than others on the album. "Death" vocals come in again before the melodic chorus, which employs more great double-bass and tom roll work. Bold lyrics here as well; the band is not ashamed to proclaim the name of Christ for sure. Near the half-way point is a nice blues-tinged solo, then some cool melodic dual-guitar solo layering, then back into a verse & chorus section. More melodic dual-guitar soloing brings things to a groove-laden bridge, then fades out over the last 30 seconds or so into silence.

So what's the verdict? Well, mostly positive. Kelly Matthews is a talented multi-instrumentalist with competent bass lines, competent & strong vocals, and fantastic drum work. He's no Ted Kirkpatrick, but he can definitely hang with the best of the speedy thrash drummers this side of the tech-thrash fence. Jeff Grady is a great guitarist as well, showcasing both his tasteful lead playing, and just his ability to transition between speed-metal madness to groove and melody. All the elements combined make this album a treat to listen to. Where the album loses points is that it begins to dip in quality slightly after about the 2/3 mark. "Cold" is the album's last real highlight, with "Scarred" being a nice melodic piece, then things become a tad less interesting. They are still great songs, but it might have been a good idea to incorporate one of the final tracks earlier in the album where it wouldn't have deadened the impact of the album up to that point. Also, Kelly's voice sounds great throughout, but he won't be winning any awards for "Thrash Metal Vocalist of the Year" (TM) or winning any Joey Belladonna sound-alike contests. Still, for thrash metal, he does the job & does it well. If you like groove metal, thrash metal, or just chunky sounding heavy metal with great instrumentation, I'd recommend this heartily.


Video review:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"The Gamut" - tonight's playlist!

Tonight's playlist!

Darkness Before Dawn - Die To Yourself (Melodic Death Metal)
Barren Cross - Dying Day (Classic Metal)
Common Children - Eyes of God (Alternative Rock)
Sympathy - Insurrection (Technical Death Metal)
Deliverance - My Love (Thrash/Groove Metal)
Elgibbor - Lament Concerning the King of Tyre (Black Metal)
Crashdog - Three Is a Magic Number (Punk)
The Chinese Express - Work On Your Landing (Southern Hardcore/Rock)
Ezra - Tantum Ergo (Death Metal)
Once Nothing - Put Some Stank On It (Metalcore/Southern Hardcore)
Consecration - Vision of Ignored (Thrash Metal)
Ruby Joe - Spiritual Heroin (Rockabilly/Alternative)
Asher (CA) - Unavoidable (Female-fronted Melodic Metal)
Stavesacre - Burning Clean (Modern Hard Rock/Ballad)
Newsboys - Reality (Pop/Rock)
Stryper - Surrender (Classic Metal)
Pax 217 - Yesterday (Rapcore)
Nodes of Ranvier - Predisposed (Metalcore)
Waterstain - Shame (Grunge)
Saint - Through the Sky (Classic Metal)
Spirit's Breeze - Integrity Life (Female-fronted Death Metal)
Kaonis - Center Of My Everything (Female-fronted Rock)
Narnia - Break the Chains (Neo-classical Metal)
Lucid - Paperdoll (Groove Metal)
Dead Poetic - New Medicines (Modern Hard Rock)
Starflyer 59 - Good Sons (Alternative Rock)
Galactic Cowboys - The Lens (Progressive Modern Metal)
Last Chapter - In the Wake of Delusion (Doom Metal)
Morella's Forest - Shining Stars (Female-fronted Alternative Rock)
Magdallan - Big Bang (Commercial Hard Rock/Metal)
Unashamed - What Will Become (Hardcore)
Project 86 - Me Against Me (Modern Hard Rock)
Mortal - Kingflux (Techno-Rock)
Siloam - Pain Inside (Commercial Hard Rock/Ballad)
Crimson Moonlight - The Cold Brip of Terror (Black/Death Metal)
The Hope of Change - Silent Scope (Melodic Hardcore)
Fall of Echoes - Land Of No Choices (Progressive Metal)
Scaterd Few - A Freedom Cry (Punk/Reggae)
Step Cousin - Tears On My Pillow (Thrash Metal)
Zaxas - Last Chance Believer (Power Metal)
The Gentleman Homiside - A Question: A Promise (Chaotic Hardcore/Metalcore)

Don't forget, you can tune in easily at the BlabberBoard via www.blabberboard.net & use the convenient flash player on the front page. Or, click the "Now Playing" link to open in another media player (Winamp, Real Player, VLC, and more!). Sign up at the BlabberBoard to use the chatbox on the front page & chat with me & other listeners during the show!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Menahem - Angels and Shadows (2008)

Menahem was a king of Israel whose name means "consoler" or "comforter". He "took office" in the 39th year of Azariah's reign over Israel, and ruled over Samaria for 10 years. What little is known about King Menahem has been summarized in 2 Kings 15:14-22 in the Old Testament of the Bible, an account that is reportedly taken from the Hebrew Book of Deeds. Menahem wasn't a nice king. He conquered several territories during his time as the "Commander in Chief" of the forces of Israel, and apparently to his credit is "ripping open pregnant women", which according to historians was a barbaric practice that was generally associated with pagan cultures, not someone who was supposed to be ruling over an Israeli territory.

So why on earth would a band who sings very heart-felt messages of the love of God and His mercy & grace choose to name themselves after that king? Perhaps they didn't - perhaps they're taking after the Hebrew word instead, seeing themselves as a "consoler" or "comforter" of His people, giving them a message of hope. Or perhaps it's both: consider their message of hope & light something that believers in the Word of God can take comfort in, but perhaps also be reminded of the ever-present sin nature we're all born with and the terrible acts of violence & evil done by God's chosen people, and by those associating themselves with His name (or worse yet, in His name) to keep us humble & mindful of the fact that we are truly blessed to serve a God who has forgiven us of those trespasses.

Whatever the case may be, this Menahem is a progressive metal monster from Brazil whose mission is two-fold. Firstly, to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through music. Secondly, to give progressive metal fans something to sing about. Menahem came storming, seemingly out of nowhere, to put forth a debut effort that is nothing short of breathtaking, and something that deserves to be listened to & lauded by the metal community. Seldom does a band have all the elements in the right place like this and execute everything so well that they can record a debut with as much attitude, presence, and musical chops as what these 6 Brazilian men have done.

"Intro" is the obligatory intro track with a quick build-up of piano, synthesizer and effects, then a ascending guitar riff that fades in & introduces the intro riff of the title track. The title track comes roaring out of the shoot with a fiery guitar riff & odd time signature that immediately tells you what you're in for - smoking progressive metal. Right off the bat you are assaulted by thumping basslines (audible, no less!), heavy guitar, on-point drumming, and then keyboards accenting the melody line. The verse has a nice clean guitar effect with some good drum & cymbal work, an underlying bass riff, and some cool keyboard effects. The 2nd half of the verse brings the metal again, and
Lean van Ranna's melodic-yet-screaming vocals filled with urgency & passion. The chorus is anthemic, and has a nice layered harmony vocal to accent the melody line. Great descending keyboard lines as well in this section. The guitar solo just exemplifies the great musicianship contained herein, and the trade-off between lead players is great, with 2 different styles blending very nicely. After a short bridge section with some cool drum & cymbal fill and a bit more soulful solo work, the chorus comes blowing back with some nice vocal acrobatics by van Ranna. I like how the main riff transitions the song to an abrupt end as well. "Escape" pulls no punches and immediately starts up with a complex riff/drum combo, and more thumping bass and keyboard lines. Great double-bass work to transition into the verse, with a cool keyboard line that has a staccato effect to it. Vocally, it's a bit gritty here to convey the lyrics more effectively, and the fast riffing transitions into the melodic chorus well. I like the simple lyric in the chorus as well - it really conveys the message of the song well. Post-chorus is great with a nice "church organ" sound and some slight "tunnel" effects on the vocals, as well as some cowbell (more cowbell!) in the mix. After the 2nd run through the chorus, we have a nice bridge section with some funky bass work, cool drum & cymbal interplay, and some great keyboard work interplay with the guitar riffing. A short but sweet solo accents this bridge with some fretboard and an awesome dual-guitar riffing exercise prior to going back to the chorus again to close out the song with style, then a nice soft keyboard fade-out. "New Chance" opens with a nice clean guitar picking rhythm, a keyboard fde-in, and a nice drum rhythm with subtle bass line. van Ranna's vocals here are more tender, with a bit more dynamic than before, and then the metal comes in near the 1-minute mark. Van Ranna's accent actually enhances the vocal delivery here, as it gives it a unique feel to it & gives the lyrics a bit more "shape" then they might have if they were sung by a native English speaker. Back to the balladry for the 2nd verse, and more metal in the chorus again with an epic feel to it, complete with layered & effected background vocals, big symphonic keyboard sounds, and just an overall "large" sound to it. Once again, exemplary solo work here that really complements the feel of the song but still shows off the talent of the player at hand, striking a nice balance between showmanship and songcraft. Great piano work to transition after the solo back into the chorus. Very emotional vocals & more epic sounds (complete with "bell" effect) bring the song back to the winding clean guitar rhythm found at the intro. I like how the guitar trails off a bit into its own thing at the end - nice touch.

"Promise" starts right into the thundering riff, drums and bass. Cool keyboards, and a nice "phase" effect over the top of the riffing to transition into the verse. Once again the drum rhythms provide a nice off-kilter time signature going on, and I like the key transition into a slightly disharmonic vocal for the in-between section, which works well. Nice harmony vocals going on in a bit of the 2nd verse portion, and great multi-tracked melodic vocals for the chorus. I can't say enough about the riffing consistency, and the fantastic drum sound here. The keyboard is a tad less present here, but there in the background providing that nice extra layer. The solo near the half-way mark is great, and has some awesome dual-lead action mixed in there. Again, very flashy solo, but in the context of the song it makes sense and doesn't go on so long that you get tired of hearing it. The bridge is cool with brief funky bass and drum/cymbal interplay, then into a cool keyboard solo with some great drumming & riffing to back it up. There's also a nice section of bass & drum work with some layered vocals in there sans words to spice things up a tad. Great keyboard & guitar dual-solo there, and more dual-lead work with nice drum & cymbal accents to top it off. After a brief pause, back to the heavy riffing & "phase" effect again into some double-bass work, and back to the chorus for a last run. I like how the song goes back to the heavier riff again and ends on a minor chord and abrupt drum crash. "Prison Without Walls" fades in quickly with a nice snare/tom roll right into the main riff, complemented by harmonizing keyboard lines. Right away, melodic yet gritty vocals are underlaid with a nice "choir" effect via the keyboard. The pre-chorus has a cool keyboard sound that picks up the song a bit, and transitions into a more "epic" sound with some cool lower-register layered vocals. Nice "middle-eastern" vibe to the keyboard & effected vocal for the 2nd verse, giving it a unique feel. Great solo section after the half-way point with some nice "military" drumming into a cool rhythm & clean guitar layering in the background with bass & light keyboards. The solo becomes more intense as the riffing comes in again & picks up the energy. The chorus comes in again & transitions into another solo section, this time with some cool keyboard that reminds one of the more subtle work of Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess.

"Freedom" shows us a bit more studied version of Menahem, with the progressive elements in full force. Great keyboard lines & riffing complement the off-kilter/time drum & bass rhythms, and again a bit of a middle-eastern vibe in the melody & keyboards. Great drum & cymbal work in the quiet opening section of the verse, and blasts nicely into the heavier verse section with driving riff, drum, bass, and keyboard work. Awesome layered vocals complement the chorus section with a nice harmony effect on display. The 2nd verse is all metal this time, with nice improvisational drum work, and a cool bridge section with clean guitar, some pretty vocals by van Ranna, and a bit of layering. Great melodic solo work here again, with enough flash to make you appreciate the skilled players. More great keyboard work during the post-chorus bridge section, keeping perfect time with the riffing & drum work. Some nice start-stop work here, with very subtle, effective keyboards layered in. I love the ascending, winding riff/keyboard combo here around the 5:15 mark. The great vocal layering in the background gives a nice effect during the 2nd go of the chorus at the end, and the main riff & keyboard line brings the song full-circle to close it with a cool keyboard-filled fade-out. "Ocean of Tears" starts with the sound of ocean waves crashing and a plaintive clean guitar line, as well as a cool "wood flute" effect via the keyboard, layering in drum/cymbal work, and bass guitar as well. This song has some more dynamic vocal work by Lean van Ranna since it starts in more of a "ballad" mode, and has some very pretty moments, some with cool layering of harmony vocals. Piano is layered in during the chorus to great effect. The funky bass work after the chorus is a nice touch. There's subtle layering of the lead vocal during the 2nd verse that works very well, and a bit more layered harmony vocal that blends quite nicely. Vocals become more urgent during the 2nd run through of the chorus after the 2nd verse, transitioning into a soulful solo complete with some wah-wah pedal effects that add a nice feel. More piano & "flute" before the song transitions into full-on metal mode with urgent vocals, intense drumming, thumping bass-line, and full symphonic keyboard sounds. A simple yet effective bridge section with layered, melodic "ooh, ooh, ooh" type vocals and heavy instrumentation transitions back to the chorus, then to a bit of vocal acrobatics before returning to the ocean wave sounds to fade-out.

"Trip Beyond the Mind" starts with a slightly effected guitar riff, and a major wail by van Ranna right into the metal. I really like the Pacman-esque keyboard sound during the verse - it's a great effect. The riffing is effective here as well, being very catchy & driving. The chorus is also very melodic & catchy, with good double-bass work & just the right amount of cymbal work for accent. Urgent vocals through the 2nd verse and into the chorus where the layered vocals work well and are complemented by the subtle keyboard line. Another quick run through the chorus before blowing into a frenetic bridge section that changes the key, time signature, and feel of the song. This has some nice keyboard sounds to it that are reminiscent of mid-70's Kansas - nice touch. Great drumming highlights this section, with cool riffing, solo work, and a nice minor-chord melodic sense. There is some sweet keyboard soloing here as well that gives off that Jordan Rudess vibe. Not to mention the short bass solo in there before the frantic transition back to the phased intro riff again with a "plinky" keyboard sound into the chorus again. Love the bit of cowbell back into the chorus as well. The 2nd run through the chorus at the end is a bit more urgent with a nice change in the melody line to accent the lyrics. Great fast riffing & double-bass work to bring the song to a close. "Creed' is a short, keyboard & piano-laden piece that is basically an explanation of what the band believes in - God the father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. The keyboard layering here is great, and there's some nice timpani drum & cymbal crashing going on at appropriate points in the song to give it that real symphonic feel. Lean van Ranna's vocals here are nicely delivered, with the right balance of emotion & dynamics. "Your Pain" begins with a nice clean guitar riff & keyboard accent into a cool drum/cymbal rhythm with subtle bass line. Vocally it's a bit subdued here until the energy picks up a bit in the pre-chorus with some more urgent drumming and piano work. The chorus brings the metal and the melodic, gritty vocals again and is perfectly placed. I like the marriage of clean & distorted guitar here before the 2nd verse, which ups the ante with more metal & nice keyboard accents here & there. The "wavy" keyboard in the 2nd chorus works well, and the subtle harmony vocal is a nice touch, even if it's understated. Another melodic, soulful solo in here over a clean guitar section, then some cool piano work over distorted riff into a more active solo section, but retaining that sense of melody throughout. Great keyboard lines & effects after the solo really showcase the melody while giving the section a bit of a "playful" feel. Another couple runs through the chorus and some especially gritty vocals by van Ranna, leading to a big wail that transitions into a cool riff/keyboard/drum section, and some layered spoken word stuff to bring the song to an abrupt close. "Suicidal Trend" begins with a cool ambient effect, then into some more middle-eastern influenced keyboard & into the heavy riffing and drum/cymbal work, with pounding bass line and keyboard accent in tow. The guitar/keyboard interplay here before the verse is quite nice. There's a cool harmonic effect in the verse that is unique to this track on the album. Lots of great cymbal work in this song as well, keeping perfect time throughout. The additional keyboard layering during the chorus gives it a "big" sound. The "phased" effect brings us to a subtle keyboard solo, and into an atmospheric section with effected vocal and nice keyboard accents. More of the middle-eastern vibe in the more metallic verse section, and some great wah-soaked solo work, as well as a bit of keyboard/guitar solo harmonizing reminiscent of the interplay you hear on a Dream Theater album between Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci. The great interplay around the 4-minute mark, plus the "spacey" keyboard effects really elevates this track to near-Dream Theater heights with its off-kilter feel and perfectly synchronized guitar, piano, bass, and drum work. This is perhaps the most complex track on the album, with all of its instrumental wizardry & technical prowess on display. The bridge-chorus section comes in again and brings a large sense of melody back to the proceedings & tempers the overly showy aspects of the middle section. More great riffing and melodic vocals help to draw the song near to the close, and more great keyboard work layered in with the riffs brings the song down to a cool fade-out.

Words can't accurately described the music contained herein - I can only give a word-picture as accurately as I can. This truly has to be heard to be believed. 3 of the tracks are available at the band's Myspace page for preview, though the entire album can be downloaded via a link from the Blabber Download entry for the album. If you cannot find a vendor to purchase this CD from directly, at least take the time to download the album & listen to it in its entirety. If you are at all a fan of progressive metal, power metal, or metal in general, this is an important album that needs to be heard by more people. Truly a landmark album in the Christian Progressive Metal realm, perhaps one of the greatest in recent years. I can say very little negative about this album, it's just brimming with excellence all the way through. Highly recommended!


Video review (corrected video to fix audio/video sync issues):

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Gamut" - tonight's theme: METAL \m/

Tonight's episode is all about the METAL. It's traditional, classic, and power metal tonight! Metal from the word "go". No hardcore, electronic, death, black, or other influences, just straight-up metal! \m/

Stryper - Soldiers Under Command
Rage of Angels - Hooked on a Good Thing
Leviticus - I Shall Conquer
Seventh Avenue - Infinite King
Bride - In the Dark
Harmony - Prevail
Narnia - People of the Bloodred Cross
Audiovision - The Calling
Divinefire - Secret Weapon
Saint - Star Pilot
Barnabas - Stormclouds
XINR - Ever Present Angel
Crystavox - Sacrifice
Theocracy - On Eagles' Wings
Bloodgood - Self-Destruction
Final Axe - Soldiers of Compromise
Novoy Zavet - Po Tvoey Vole
Haven - Divination
Random Eyes - Deep Waters
First Strike - Hard Times
Whitecross - Down
Neon Cross - Son of God
Barren Cross - Dead Lock
Majestic Vanguard - The Great Eternity
Holy Soldier - Tear Down the Walls
Venia - Victory By Surrender
HB - Is It Time
Dreamer - Shake the Dust
Guardian - Saints Battalion
Eternal Ryte - The Killer
Sacred Warrior - Evil Lurks
Recon - Lost Soldier
Sardonyx - Heavenly Throne
Towne Cryer - Flesh Disciple
Watchmen - Fear No Evil
Zion - Roll the Rock
XT - The One
Regime - Castles In the Sand
Malachia - Red Sunrise

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Scaterd Few - Sin Disease (1990)

There are a handful of very public personalities that are so widely known that one need only say their name, and immediately an idea of who that person is would be formulated in the mind. Perhaps that person had an impact on culture, politics, religion, or society in general that their very name elicits reactions from across the spectrum, though the overwhelming majority of people would agree that their existence was pivotal to that point in history. There are a number of examples: Martin Luther King, Elvis, Ronald Reagan, and of course, Jesus Christ.

With music, there are landmark albums that either helped to define a genre in its infancy, or embodied that genre so completely that they are considered to be archetypal recordings for their particular musical leaning. That would be the case for Scaterd Few's debut LP, "Sin Disease". Several bands had released punk music in the realm of Christendom prior to this. Notably, Undercover (early proto-punk), Pat Nobody (aka Nobody Special), Lust Control, One Bad Pig, and a number of others. However, despite the quality of material these artists all put out, none of their albums up to this point was the pure visceral experience that "Sin Disease" was, and still is. The album is a quandry because it so fully embodies punk in both aesthetic and approach, but also combines so many other elements that it transcends the realm of punk at the same time. While it may appear I'm veering head first into hyperbole, humor me and read on.

From the first snare hit in "Kill the Sarx", and the driving riff and backbeat, you know you're in for an album of punk fury. The music sounds tight and well played, but also sounds as if all this is barely contained. Ramald Domkus (aka Allan Aguire) wails in a near Perry Farrel fashion, but with his own feel, and the combination of driving bassline, relentless riffing, keyboard touches, and his howling makes the song effective. "Sarx" is Greek for "flesh". Considering that in just under a minute and a half you feel like you've just run the marathon, you get an idea of what this album is capable of delivering right off the bat. "While Reprobate" doesn't pummel the listener quite as heartily, but serves up a chunky riff that transitions quickly into pure punk adrenaline. The background vocals only add to the uneasy atmosphere that Ramald's wail creates. The scream before the guitar solo is effective, and his semi-whispered vocal coming back into the music creates the right mood for the transition. "Beggar" is a bit longer, and has quite a bit of groove to it. The song employs a typical quiet-loud dynamic from verse to chorus, but also has some interesting funk bass going on which adds a unique element to the song. Ramald's double-tracked vocals work well here, and the guitar solo work toward the latter part of the song is quite good, considering the band is playing punk music, which isn't known for adept solo players. "Lights Out" is longer yet, at nearly 3 minutes, and starts out with a bottom-heavy rhythm that intros the song well. I like the funky guitar scratching, and I think the dynamic in the verses between heavy riffing and scratching perfectly fit the sung/spoken vocals Ramald delivers. His high-pitched wail in the chorus is also fitting. The eerie sounds at the end of the song cap it off nicely.

"Later (L.A. 1989)" begins as a much more subdued song, with a rolling bassline and some nice atmospherics. A subtle spoken word vocal by Ramald and simple, effective cymbal & drum work in the background slowly give way to a full instrumental attack around the 1-minute mark. A very groove-laden riff fills the song here, and Ramald's wail contrasts nicely against the catchy riff, emphasizing the disparity between the melody and the lyrics. I also like the play on "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny and Cher in the lyrics. "Groovy" is just that - an acoustic guitar rhythm scratched heavily over a funky bassline, and combined with a groovy (sorry, pun intended) distorted guitar riff, and combines to great effect. This instrumental breaks up the flow a bit, but is a nice break. The punk fury of "Glass God (No Freedom in Basing)" comes crashing in shortly after, and with a short intro of atmospheric goth-punk you get into the primary verse with a lot of rapid-fire vocals from Ramald. The chorus is intense, with a major wail by Domkus warning of the dangers of "freebasing" cocaine. The bridge is creative, with a lot of rimshots and drum rolling. Another good solo here capping off the song. "As the Story Grows" has a pretty acoustic/clean guitar sound to it, and a lower register vocal from Ramald that has quite the goth rock feel to it.

"U" begins with an acoustic riff, and layers of Ramald wailing in the background, only to break into punk fury & speed near the 30-second mark. The layered vocal in the verse sounds great against the riff backdrop, and Ramald's wail in the chorus section drips with passion and intensity. His vocals get more intense and urgent as the song goes on, with more expression and less regard for whether he is actually hitting the notes or not, though he stays on point. Up-front lyrics in the song appear to call out the hypocrites. "A Freedom Cry" takes a completely different direction, by serving up a reggae track. The reggae element is in full swing here, and the female vocal harmony in the chorus is a nice touch. There's a cool, short guitar solo that sort of echoes in the background nearing the end of the song & adds a little something to the song before it fades out. "Scapegoat" is fairly traditional punk, and one of the only tracks on the album to be this traditional in its approach, but not without the heavy gothic element and the Ramald wail to give it that Scaterd Few identity. I like the stop-start before the solo, which highlights the crux of the message in the song - not blaming God for the problems of our society. "Wonder Why" begins with a slight Eastern vibe to it, then transitions quickly into speedy punk rife with energy. Ramald's vocals go back and forth between a spoken and sung vocal from verse to chorus, then into a more urgent spoken/sung sound. Another great solo here in the last 30+ seconds, and another effective stop-start to set up the last blast. This transitions immediately into "DITC", which could realistically have been part of "Wonder Why". Not sure why they chose to split this into 2 pieces instead of keeping it as one song, but it works well both ways.

"Self" offers up another speedy punk fest, replete with Ramald transitioning between spoken/sung vocals in the lower register, and his more high-pitched wailing. The riff here is one of the most "metal" sounding things on the record, and shows that influence in the song. Great lyrics here as well, getting right to the point that God's word is above the wisdom of men. "Look Into My Side" is the 2nd longest single song on the album at nearly 4 minutes. The interesting drum/bass/keyboard intro sets the song up nicely, and Ramald's lower-register singing compliments this nicely. The song has an interesting rhythmic quality to it in spots, and is also very pretty for a punk "ballad". I like the violin sounds near the 1:45-mark, and throughout. Lyrically, the song almost plays out like a surreal salvation experience, a near-euphoric sense of pleasure one might experience when being filled with the Holy Spirit, as if to temporarily forget about all the junk in the world for a brief moment, akin to a drug high. Great solo caps this song off. "Kill the Sarx II (Apocalypse)" is a fun reprise of the lead-off track, in a lounge style that gives the band a chance to ham it up somewhat & show their less serious side. I like the audience clapping & spoken word bits as well; it gives the song that faux-live feel that makes it all the more ridiculous. The lower-register Ramald vocals work well for this type of thing. The "chord" near the 2:30 mark is of course an homage to The Beatles, and then after a brief fade-out, back into heavy lounge with loads of organ and plodding drum beat. Of course, as the song goes on, we get waves of guitar feedback and distortion added, taking that "lounge" feel and turning it on its ear. The song then veers into more obtuse territory, with waves of sound effects, organ, spoken word, and keyboard "choir" sounds that are right out of Scooby-Doo. A bit of "My Funny Valentine" shows up (lyrically), and some interesting industrial/heavy techno/hip-hop comes in as well. Not sure what the purpose of the girl and baby crying is, or the bagpipes, but it all blends together interestingly as the track winds down into a fade of drums and church bells.

The only real issues I have with this album are more issues in general with punk rock, but seem more pronounced here. The super-short length of the more intense pieces means you don't get the chance to really soak in the song before it's done. I realize that's partly the point, but for killer tracks like "Glass God" and "Kill the Sarx" it would have been nice to have a little more to them. Still, they all come off so nicely this is a minor quibble, and one that with repeated listens I have learned to appreciate within the conventions of the punk aesthetic.

This album is THE seminal Christian punk album. There are other punk albums in Christendom that are just as important and have had nearly as lasting an impact, but none are lauded or respected quite as much as this. It's difficult to fully quantify the impact of this album, as well as to accurately describe the music - you just have to hear it for yourself. In addition, I find that I don't spin this often, but I love it every time I listen to it. That's the hallmark of a great album: when you find yourself enjoying it equallyl every time you hear it. If you consider yourself a fan of punk music AT ALL, and you don't have this in your collection yet, you're missing out. Get with the program! Highly recommended.


Video Review:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

GeistkrieG - Demo (2006)

I'm a noob. I need to make that abundantly clear before I say something that will offend anyone. Black Metal fans seem to be the kind that will take offense to things quickly, and have just as strong of opinions, if not stronger, than those of Death Metal fans. As such, it's my responsibility to inform everyone up front that when it comes to Black Metal, I'm still very much a newbie. I also have limited exposure, having heard most "unblack" or Christian Black Metal bands, and hearing very little secular Black Metal, or very little of what would be considered "true" or "kvlt" if you will.

Keeping that in mind, as a metal fan in general, I've tried to diversify myself, not being content to just listen to a handful of genres, but to broaden my horizons beyond the hard rock, traditional heavy metal, and thrash metal that I began with. I have delved into nearly every subgenre of metal I can think of, as well as many styles of punk, hardcore, rock, hard rock, etc. As a result, I feel like I have a good understanding of not only the spirit of rock & roll, but also the aesthetics that make rock & metal so enjoyable. However, as many a Black Metal fan will tell you, that has absolutely no bearing on Black Metal as a style, or as a movement.

So, what is a person supposed to when they learn that the "style" of music they are listening to isn't so much a style at all, but a "movement" of people? And, even though it's not a "style" in the classic sense, there are still conventions that must be followed or it's not "kvlt" or "true" to the spirit of the movment? When I think of this scenario, it reminds me of the early progenitors of the punk movement, and how in the 80's it was such a taboo thing to say you were a punk band if you weren't vehemently against something, or had a platorm on which to stake your claim, be it vegan, anti-establishment, or whatever your political flavor of the month. Black Metal as a "movement" reminds me very much of this, and I think it makes sense that those professing "true" music hold to that mentality as strongly as is possible. For those simply interested in stylistic aesthetics, however, they have the freedom to do much more of what they want, without fear of scenester recriminations, because they will ostensibly be ostracized from the scene they mimic. Such is the way of bands like Bal Sagoth who have a Death Metal and Black Metal hybrid style, but belong to neither camp. They are an island, in many ways.

So it is with GeistkrieG. Jeff Hansen, with his one-man-band approach, creates something that has strong elements of symphonic black metal (ala Dimmu Borgir), as well as death metal elements. However, this is not just a straight death/black hybrid. No, Jeff isn't content to just tread those waters, rather crafting his own unique blend of metal that defies description somewhat, while retaining elements of the 2 base styles he pulls from, along with adding various elements, some of which don't really have anything to do with metal, yet blend nicely. When I first heard his material, I caught wind of the project and visited the Myspace page, quite innocently, to hear a bit of the music from the Myspace player. About 30 seconds into "Spiral of War" I knew I had stumbled onto something special, and immediately placed an order for the demo. For those who don't know me personally, I never do that. I see that as a testament to the quality of the material present. Of course, once I actually received the CD, I was brimming with anticipation to listen to it. I was not disappointed as I popped it in & played the tracks - the unique music was just what I was expecting to hear after hearing a track or two on Myspace. Indeed, this sound is quite unique; I have dubbed it "Castlevania Metal", in reference to the Castlevania series of games. I thought it sounded like it would make a good metal soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for Playstation. Any way you slice it, this is a unique musical experience.

"Spiral of War" begins with some atmospherics and keyboard sounds, then around 15 seconds in, sounds faintly like a turntable scratching. That in and of itself should let you know you're in for an interesting ride! What follows is an onslaught of driving riffs, excellent drumming (including some hyper blast beats), some great keyboard layering, and a nice mix of lower-register death growls and raspier black metal vocals. I also like the symphonic element of the keyboards in the quiet portion of the song before transitioning back into monster riffage. The bass is actually audible here as well, which is a nice touch, since most extreme metal tends to leave the bass buried in the mix. The song transitions about half-way through to what nearly sounds like a breakdown with some rapsy vocals and death layered in along with some rumbling bass, heavy guitar crunch, and keyboard. Then back to the interesting keyboard line & driving riff from the beginning of the song. The quiet section with echoed guitar layers in the background around the 4-minute mark transition the song away from ultra-heavy to an interesting symphonic keyboard affair, and that takes the song out to the heaviness in the last 30+ seconds of the song, once again to what sounds like a breakdown, but not necessarily a hardcore-styled breakdown. It's an interesting way to cap off the song. "Awaken to Trumpets" starts with chirping birds, and a "phased" keyboard and guitar sound that is really trippy. Again, Jeff layers the vocals in here so you get a combination of death growls and higher-pitched black metal rasp. In addition, the keyboards add a nice atmosphere here. At around 50 seconds in, things slow down briefly, and there's a cool keyboard/organ sound that might make one think of the cheesy keyboard sounds in the move "Napoleon Dynamite", which I think is a brilliant move. Of course, this is but a brief moment of respite before the listener is bowled over by chunky riffs again. Interesting keyboard work & sound effects near the 2-minute mark, and a cool effect accompanies the vocals here. We get a short section of sample sounds from some kind of movie or TV show, with a little keyboard, then back into blast beats & driving riffs, with a heavy dose of keyboards to give that eerie "church organ" feel. Great keyboard work transitioning the song at the end with a lot of symphonic feel to it.

"Peculiar Compulsion" starts off with a techno beat and keyboard sounds as if they were coming straight out of an 80s video game, or from the personal library of Joy Electric mastermind Ronnie Martin. Of course, then the song quickly blows right into extreme death/black metal riffing & intensity, with some buried vocals in the mix that creep along under the music. Good transitioning once again between death growls and black metal rasp, as well as some cool fading effects from channel to channel (stereo effects) that sound great with headphones or earphones. The riff around 1:45 is simple, but effective in changing up the atmosphere of the song, and giving it a different feel than just blasting along. Keyboards are a tad more subtle here, but fill in the background nicely, especially with the "plinky" piano sounds, reminiscent of Rammstein in some places. The end of the song brings back some of the "80s video game" sounds as the guitar fades out and back to the techno beats. Closing song "Cobwebs Are Useless For Clothing" has a short fade-in feedback intro, right into a driving riff reminiscent of a monster hardcore breakdown; simple but effective. Of course, the intensity is upped with the keyboards, and the heaviness in the guitar. The transition into an eerie keyboard line over speedy riffing & blast beats is quite cool, with a slightly buried black metal rasp vocal filling in with a lot of inflection. Things slow down slightly & heavy up at nearly a minute & a half in, and the keyboard takes on that real symphonic bent, with some nice faux-violin moments. Death growls start to enter in to the picture a bit later on, and some great double-bass work, as well as sections of blast beats & faster riffing. At nearly 3 minutes, we get a quiet section with a simple drum rhythm, rumbling bass, and a clean guitar rhythm picked out with a slightly dissonant melody. Jeff adds some keyboards about 30 seconds into that, and then brings back a heavily distorted guitar riff and some industrialized vocals, and more of the piano sound from earlier. Nearing the last minute of the song, we get the breakdown again, to great effect. This fades out to a distorted effect at the end, which then fades into silence.

The only drawbacks to this album are the somewhat distorted/compressed production (guitars can get a little too choppy at times), the shortness of the demo itself (minor complaint), and the lack of artwork. The sleeve shown above is just a placeholder. What you get when you order this is strictly a hand-marked CD-R with a small printout card that has the GeistkrieG logo and the list of tracks. Don't let that deter you if you're a fan of the styles involved here, however. This is well worth the effort to purchase. At the time of this writing, the only way to obtain this demo is by contacting Jeff directly on his Myspace.

This has to be heard to be believed. There's really nothing like it that I'm familiar with that so defies black metal convention while at the same time adhering to many of its tenets. If you like the symphonic blackened death sounds of Crimson Moonlight, Grave Declaration, or Dimmu Borgir, you owe it to yourself to check out this one-man project. Jeff is apparently working on a follow-up, though he has said it will be more "serious". My hope is that he won't lose the sense of whimsy that is present here, as well as keeping the experimental nature of the sound, so as not to trudge into already trod black metal territory with little hope of making an impact. I hope by "serious" he means that the project will be more than just a really impressive demo, but more of a fully-realized album event that will take this sound into the next level. Highly recommended.


Video review:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Orphan Project - Spooning Out the Sea (2009)

Perfection is difficult to achieve. In fact, it's impossible. The only human being to ever achieve perfection was Jesus Christ, and that's only because He was also God. However, humanity has an in-born propensity to strive for said perfection. We do it in everything - our jobs, our families, our hobbies, and in our relationship with Christ. Ultimately we fail, and He is there to pick us back up again & push us forward as we continue to strive for that perfection. Though we knowingly won't achieve it, we still work toward that goal. It's a beautiful dichotomy that has to be experienced to be understood.

What does this have to do with music, and more specifically, Orphan Project? Well, perfection may not be possible in this mortal coil, but certainly striving for it sometimes breeds spectacular results. What Orphan Project has done is to take that tendency to shoot for perfection, and achieve balance. Their music is considered "progressive", but don't let that tag be deceiving. It's not the "noodling" that you hear on many a record nowadays that is labeled "progressive". What it is, however, is a balance between all the elements. The right amount of showy musicianship, pop and rock songcraft, vocal prowess and restraint, and lyrical honesty without delving into self-parody. This is the "next best thing" to perfection, and Orphan Project have it down pat.

"Reach" begins with some nice atmospherics, slowly layering in keyboard, piano, drums, bass, and guitar. The intro may seem long to some, but I think it gives enough time to build with that "slow burn" effect, and works quite well. Once the riff kicks in, you're treated to a nice combo of keyboard & guitar with thumping bass and drums. Shane Lankford is in fine form here vocally, and the whole band sounds very tight. I like the wah-wah pedal soaked tremolo picking during the chorus, and the layering of piano and keyboard sounds works well. I also like the "quiet" verse sections with the funky keyboard sounds & heavy bass background, it gives it a nice vibe. Some of the most tasteful solo work can be heard in the song - showy without being a showoff, and melodic but still with a level of technicality. One thing that is apparent in the progression from the band's debut to this album is how overtly catchy their melodies have become. The double-tracked vocals are also nicely harmonized. Great piano outro too, really caps the song off well. "Angel's Desire" appeared on the band's previous EP, and appears to be the same version here. Great intro riff that draws you in, and some nice double-bass drumming helps to set the pace. The start-stop riff dynamic works well in the verse sections, and another harmonized vocal gives the last line of each verse a nice depth. I like the double-tracked harmony vocals in the pre-chorus, and in the chorus as well - very nicely done. Once again, very catchy! The 2nd verse begins with a nice quiet vibe, then builds with some cool keyboard sounds and bass/drums back to the bridge where they bring the heavy again. Awesome solo work around the 3-minute mark helps to keep the pace up, and as before, it shows the talent without being too showy or over the top. "Fallen" has a much different vibe in the opening with it's more modern hard rock type of riff, and rolling keyboard effects. I like the drum groove in the opening as well. Then the song transitions into a more somber, piano-driven rocker with some nice keyboard work & atmospheric elements. The chorus brings the heavy again, and is very anthemic and catchy, and also includes some nice subtle piano work. The bridge is highly melodic, and transitions between choruses seamlessly.
"To Me" is a barn-burning rocker with a cool Hammond organ type of underlying vibe, which sounds cool in contrast. Good solo work during the chorus, which is cool to hear, since not a lot of bands employ that kind of solo sections. The organ gives it a Boston-vibe, but the modern hard rock/metal sounds from the guitar, bass, and drums make an interesting combo with that keyboard sound. Loads of great solo work throughout this song, and as with the rest of the material, is very catchy.

"One Dark Moment (Providence)" is a change of pace with a plaintive piano intro, and some tender vocals by Shane. I like the combination of acoustic strumming, and electric picking that presents between verses, and the violin during the 2nd verse is a nice touch. The transition to heavier material is cool, with a ever-so-slightly jarring effect. The chorus has a nice minor chord feeling to it, and a slightly unconventional melody gives it a bit more variety. Realizing Shane is more a barritone than a tenor, he sounds good in the upper barritone, lower tenor range here. Excellent guitar solo that again, is both tastefully showy and melodically interesting. Nice piano outro to the song as well, takes it back down to the somber intro and reprises that briefly. "My Goodness" fades in with a nice keyboard line, subtle guitar and cymbal work, then blows right into a driving riff to lead into the verse. The quite-loud dynamic works well in the verse, even if it's more subtle than some uses. Vocal double-tracking is used in some places and sounds great. I like the tom work during the chorus as opposed to just a bass-snare rhythm; it adds a nice contrast, and variety as well. The faux-violin keyboard sound during the solo adds a nice layer here, and the bridge has more of those nice harmonized double-tracked vocals. Great lyrics in this song as well, talking about the fact that our righteousness is but "filthy rags" to the Lord and that His righteousness is ultimately what we must lean on. Nice slightly symphonic outro as well. "Head On Your Platter" was the song that got me into the album, having heard it first and having spun the track for my radio show a handful of times prior to the album's release. I like the intro with the moody keyboard, clean guitar, and rolling drum line. Then the riff blows in and just takes the song into high gear. Shane's vocals here are a bit more urgent, and really help you to feel the lyrics. I like the background vocals in the chorus, they add a nice touch & give it a bit of the "call and response" feeling. The slightly effected vocal work blends in well with the music, and with the subtle synthesizer work as well. The keyboards in the bridge have a cool vibe to them, and it's interesting to hear in lieu of a guitar solo for this track. This is a very no-nonsense track that really shows the band at their most lean, sparing nary a note or moment. They're making their point quickly, and you better listen! I quite like the frantic keyboard leading up to the end, as well as the ending with the a capella vocal and final guitar crunch.

"Empty Me" has a nice intro with some keyboard effects, rolling piano line, and moody guitar solo. This continues during the verse, which just swells with atmosphere and emotion. Great piano transition between verse and chorus, which really signals the change. I like the riff and drum interplay during the chorus - it's simple, but very effective and catchy. It is soaked in the modern heavy rock tradition but still sounds cool. Bassist Bill Yost provides some nice background vocals in the 2nd verse, and just propels the song along with additional keyboards & more emotion. The subtle guitar lines during the bridge blend well, though still showcasing the talent. The song quiets down for a portion of the chorus repeat, which is a tried and true songwriting convention, and nearly always works well as it does here. Great solo work leading the song to it's outro, with a lot of speedy picking, but making sense all the way through and not being overly showy. The abrupt change to a piano and keyboard outro works nicely, and fades out to silence. "The Battle Rages On" comes next, with a short intro with the "epic" keyboard sound and pounding of drums, keyboard, and guitar that lets you know you're in for an anthem. The riff comes in & provides a bit of a different guitar sound & vibe than has been present so far, and makes for a nice change. The driving riff in the verse sounds great, and the rolling piano line that accompanies the continued riff during the chorus is a nice touch. The subtle keyboard during the verse sections is a nice layer, and the solid drumming propels the song and keeps things moving nicely. The "military" drumming and kids' chorus of "Onward Christian Soldiers" is a cool idea, and works well. I've always wondered what a rousing metal version of that old hymn would sound like, and though we don't quite get that here, it gives a nice picture of what could be. Layering in Shane's lower-register vocals the 2nd time through is a cool effect. Another run through the chorus & an alternate chorus after that helps to round out the song well, and a cool harmonized vocal by Shane takes it nearly to the end. The albums title track, and real centerpiece "Spooning Out the Sea" closes things out. I like the slightly Pink Floyd-esque guitar line in the intro ("Division Bell"-era Floyd, anyway). Shane's vocal has an interesting "tunnel" effect in the first verse portion, and more background vocals from Bill. The chorus has interesting phrasing that doesn't seem to make much sense the first time you hear it, but after a few spins you'll find yourself ostensibly singing along to it. This track has a great sense of dynamics as well, with great drumming that keeps things light when need be, and with more "oomph" when need be as well. Excellent solo work that really makes sense with the music in the background, and doesn't take center-stage too long. Then comes in a heavier chorus section with a keyboard sound I can only describe as "awesome". It sounds VERY much like the keyboard sound Yanni had on his "Optimystique" release from 1984, and having been a long-time fan of that particular album (having spun it many times since my youth), that's a nice personal connection for me. This great keyboard line helps take the song to fade-out, ending the album on a lighter note, but with no less impact.

What can be said? This is one of those releases that strikes that wonderful balance (there's that word again!) between showcasing musicianship and songcraft, so much so, that you nearly forget you're listening to a band that is classified as "progressive". That's a big plus in my book. I'm all for showy musicianship and flashy guitar & keyboard solos (I AM a Dream Theater devotee, after all), but you can't listen to that all the time. It's like having a sundae - sometimes you want to pile on toppings and whipped cream until you can barely stand it. Other times, a simple scoop of ice cream lightly garnished with the essentials, and a few favorite toppings does the trick. That's what we have here - all the hallmarks of great progressive and hard rock, without overcooking the recipe. Hats off to Shane and the gang for coming up with what will likely be the prog album of the year for many, including myself. Essential.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

"The Gamut" - tonight's playlist!

Tonight's playlist!

Syrens - Equality (Metalcore)
Galactic Cowboys - If I Were A Killer (Metal)
Eternal Ryte - You and Me (Classic Metal)
Saints Never Surrender - Reggie at the Buzzer
Situation Taboo - Under Scrutiny (Industrial)
Eisley - Invasion (Female-fronted Indie Rock)
Disciple - 103 (Groove Metal)
Elgibbor - Beth (Black Metal)
This Very Day - Mouthful of Dirt (Metalcore)
Mehida - Multitude (Progressive Metal)
Lust Control - I Want to Die (Punk Metal)
Crimson Thorn - Beaten Beyond (Brutal Death Metal)
20/20 Blind - Easier Way (Hard Rock)
Anguish Unsaid - The Chronicles of the Restoration of the Church (Hardcore)
The Juliana Theory - Shell of a Man (Modern Rock/Emo)
Sweet Comfort Band - Valerie (80s Rock)
Into the Oceans - Doom (Experimental/Post-Hardcore)
Luxury - Flaming Youth Flames On (Alternative Rock)
Seventh Angel - Farewell to Human Cries (Thrash Metal)
Guardian - Turnaround (Hard Rock/Commercial Metal)
DigHayZoose - Slatherage (Funk/Alternative/Metal)
Immortal Souls - Divine Wintertime (Melodic Death Metal)
Death Is Not Welcome Here - We Are On Fire (Emo/Modern Rock)
The Way - Bearded Young Man (Jesus Rock)
If But For One - In Our Place (Death/Thrash Metal)
Seventh Avenue - Until You Come Again (Power Metal)
Once Dead - Visions of Hell (Thrash Metal)
My Ransomed Soul - My Disease (Melodic Death Metal)
Our Fathers Were Blind - Banner Bedsheets (Screamo)
Borgazur - The Repeat of Underestimated Allures (Experimental Black Metal)
Elder - Little Man (Alternative Rock)
Deitiphobia - Enraptured (Industrial)
The Right Wing Conspiracy - Hollywood, You Are Not Holy (Grindcore)
Lucid - Enemy (Groove Metal)
Crystavox - Sacrifice (Classic Metal)
The Deadlines - Darlin Darlin (Horror Punk)
The Famine - Consume, Devour, Repeat (Metalcore)
House of Wires - Monogamy (Synthpop)
Dreamer - Shake the Dust (Classic/Commercial Metal)
Randy Stonehill - Good News (Jesus Rock)
Baphomet Evisceration - Benny Hinn (Portrait of a Snake Oil Salesman) (Grindcore)

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More reviews coming soon!

I will be posting some reviews I've been working on lately. I realize the blog appears to have turned into an advertisement for my radio show, and for that I apologize. Between work, church, personal commitments, and all the new music I've acquired over the least year, I've had lots to do & absorb. I hope to get back to doing more regular reviews, as I had originally intended. I will also be implementing a "dual-review" system where I'll do the usual track-by-track analysis in written form, as well as hopefully incorporating as many video reviews as I can. If I can get track samples in the video I will do so - otherwise, I will just do a straight video review that gives different talking points than the full text review to give blog readers something a little extra. I have at least 4 reviews at the ready that I will be posting shortly, and I hope to include a video review on at least one of those, it not all of them. I am also working on at least one other review, so the blog will once again be replete with content. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Darkness Before Dawn - King's To You (2009)

In the infancy of the internet, one of the fun things to do was to get into Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to seek out others like yourself who shared common interests. You could find chatrooms on a varying number of interests, and discuss topics with people in realtime. It was a leap over Usenet, where everything was threaded (like a forum), and people could have real conversations in a short amount of time. Of course, the proliferation of profanity & kiddie pr0n over IRC has lessened its appeal somewhat, but it's still a fairly happening place. You can find a chatroom on nearly every subject known to man: talk about fly fishing, how much you miss your moon boots from 5th grade, or rail on the latest Hollywood blockbuster & how much of a cash-grab it is.

But I digress. When IRC first became popular, a common practice for folks to give each other a hard time was to invoke a command on IRC systems or in the software to throw up a message that effectively told everyone in the room that you were slapping another user with a trout (or some other relatively stout fish). If you hadn't experienced it yet, the first time was somewhat jarring. Granted, they were but words on the screen, but if you didn't fall out of your chair laughing at how ridiculous the concept was, you at least sat up and paid attention to the user who "slapped" you around with the fish, as it was often a sign that you had said something stupid & were being branded a noob.

Such is the case with Darkness Before Dawn's debut full-length CD, "King's To You". Despite the somewhat dubious spelling of the title, and the overly dark cover that should have been lightened significantly before going to the presses, the music contained herein was a "slap with a trout" for me in the same figurative manner. I had heard about the band about a year before, having visited their Myspace site and heard a song or two from their earlier EP. It was competent, if unremarkable metalcore with a fair does of metal in the sound, and despite liking what I heard and sending them a friend-request, I never followed up with a purchase of the EP, relegating it to "I'll get to it later" status. Thankfully, when the money was available for me to make a large purchase from Divine Metal Distro in recent weeks, I didn't skip over their debut LP. I had heard clips from the new songs & was surprised by the transition from metalcore (emphasis on the "metal" part) to a more technically adept melodic death metal sound that still retained some of the modern touches & metalcore elements (the occasional breakdown, similar melodic leanings) that their earlier material had. However, it was possible that this album would be lost in the shuffle with all the other great stuff that was released on Bombworks Records in 2009. Would this album even stand a chance against heavyweights like Seventh Angel, A Hill To Die Upon, Dark Lay Still, Bloodline Severed, or In Grief? There are plenty of great choices for people to get their extreme metal fix from Bombworks this year, but I challenge everyone making a purchase of extreme metal to give this album a chance. I'm certain they'll find a similar experience to what I had.

The first thing I noticed when listening to the lead-off track "Monster Condo" (interesting name) was the Castlevania-esque keyboard sounds, which just drew me in, being an old-school gamer. Also, the guitar sound is heavy without being overbearing, and the vocals were brutal without being completely indecipherable. When the song really kicks in, it starts to pick up and you begin to really feel the music. This song is perhaps a bit more metalcore in construction & nature than many of the rest, but the melodic death metal elements & metal soloing are still in full force. In addition, the constant sound of the keyboard gives it another layer that adds quite a dimension to the sound. "Undeserved Hatred" appears to rage against religiosity as well as hypocrisy within the church, and musically is where the album really starts to pick up speed. Great double-bass drumming, great riffing, and that ominous keyboard sound keep this track rolling at full speed ahead. Great bridge section with some change-up in the guitar approach to bring in more melody & great harmonized guitar licks. Sweet solo toward the end of the song as well. "Mobious Strip" starts with a cool lick combo and some cool drum/cymbal work, and that underlying layer of keyboard to give it some atmosphere. The interplay between speedy double-bass drumming & fast riffing, and slower, more melodic bits is cool, and the driving, groove-laden riff as the song transitions is quite cool, with pinch-harmonics in tow. There is a bit of a breakdown section here, but it works well within the context of the song and makes sense. At about the half-way point I like the inclusion of a more Jeff Walker-esque raspy vocal with the deeper death vocals; it provides a good contrast. Once again, a strong solo here as well. The bridge at the 4 minute mark is very goove-oriented, and brings a nice dynamic to the song with a bit of a hardcore/metalcore flair. Great lyrics about failure and persistence in your faith through all of it. "The Slain Reunion" Starts out with some sweet guitar work, and a nice riff, along with some cool high-intensity snare drum. Once again, the keyboard fits in nicely in the background to provide that "extra something" to the sound. Dual-guitar harmonized riffing is the order of the day here, and it works to great effect. Cool lyrics that bring the book of Revelations to mind, and a nice transition at around the 2 minute mark to a fast riffing section and extended instrumental jam. Simple, but effective breakdown with some good double-bass drumming near the 3-minute mark, as well as a bit of fancy fretwork with some dual-leads going on. The title track really ups the ante with super-fast double bass & riffing, and is the fastest thing so far - it's no wonder they named the album after this song! Quite intense and driving, this song benefits from the constant onslaught of vocal interplay, driving double-bass work, and driving riffs. I like the variety of vocals in the song, from deeper death growls to the higher-pitched stuff. The solo work beginning near the 2-minute mark is cool, melodic, and neatly harmonized. I like the keyboard sound during the breakdown after the solo - it gives this section an interesting dynamic. I also like the change-up of the drum patterns during the verse sections, which gives the song an interesting flow as well as nice variety.

"Shattered" brings things down a hair, throwing more groove in the mix, as well as implementing a cool riff that takes the volume down a notch to give the melodic sensibility a chance to briefly shine. The keyboard is more prominent here, but only slightly - it works well in this setting. Cool riffing around the 1 minute mark that is complemented by the frenetic drumming, as well as the nice background guitar riffing. Nice dissonant sound during the breakdown with 2 guitars slightly off from each other, which sounds cool. I like how the song fades out in a wash of keyboards and fading feedback. "Prophetic Heresy" begins with an awesome melodic riff, and a cool echoing guitar effect. Then it kicks into high gear with fast double-bass work and great tom rolls, and great dual-guitar riffing. I like the guitar work around the 1:30 mark as well, with an interesting layered effect of riff & licks. "Battle On" has a nice melodic riff and interesting "bell" sound with the keyboards that gives it a nice extra touch. I like the "winding" nature of the riff - it gives it a minor element of complexity that suits the song well. Great lyrics about leaning on God to find the strength & courage to continue to "fight the good fight" and press on. Cool keyboard work around the 2:45 mark that is the first time the keyboard truly shines on the album, having been relegated to background atmospherics thus far. I like the keyboard solo and think it works well here. I'd like to hear more of this from the band in the future.

"Die To Yourself" begins with some cool dual-guitar licks and nice drum/cymbal work. The driving riff is cool, and the short breakdown around the 1 minute mark works well. The transition into a driving riff section is seamless, and shows nice variety in the song. The galloping riff around the 2 minute mark is a nice touch as well, giving a bit of classic metal influence in the mix. The song is also capped off by a nice solo at the end. "Material Existence" has a nice keyboard/riff intro, and quickly transitions into a fast riff with the cool keyboard pattern as backdrop. Cool dual-guitar work nearing the 2-minute mark, as well as some nice riffing interspersed therein. Another interesting "bell" effect on the keyboards around the 2:45 mark, and back to speedy riffing/drumming around 3 minutes. Closing track "Symbiosis" has a nice heavy intro with plodding riff, and some brief lead work, quickly transitioning into fast riffing with drums keeping the pace steady. Well-placed change-ups in vocals from deep to high as well, with a bit of layering in spots for effect. The song moves quickly from bit to bit, never slowing down to take a breath, but just going in different directions. There are a lot of transitions in this song, which keep it interesting & make the listener wonder just what's coming next. A bit of groove around the 2:15-2:30 mark, and back to faster riffing shortly thereafter. An ultra-low vocal around the 3-minute mark that signals yet another transition to a solo portion, then back to pummeling riffs and double-tracked vocals with fast double-bass drumming to keep the pace. More soloing complements the song near, and after the 4-minute mark, and the listener is pummeled until the last seconds of the song, where the keyboard fades out with the riff to give the listener a chance to breathe again.

Despite being released among a sea of great albums this year, including several label-mates, I must complement Bombworks for taking a chance on Darkness Before Dawn, and I hope fans out there will too. The CD stays interesting throughout by having a number of subtly different approaches, variety in the riffing & songwriting, and a mixture of fairly technical stuff with some more simplistic, groove-oriented material, as well as elements that will satisfy fans of most extreme metal sub-genres. If you're into melodic death metal, metalcore, deathcore, or just extreme metal in general, don't pass this one up. You'll be glad you took a chance on it like me, and perhaps you'll be "slapped with a trout" like I was upon first listen, and will be taken aback by just how good this really is. I daresay, I have spun this at least 10 times in the last 3 weeks, and it hasn't got old or felt like it wasn't fresh, which is a testament to just how strong this release is. I'd say the only shortcomings here are that there should be more variety in the keyboards (too much background, not enough time to shine), and the usual complaint that the bass is difficult to pick out in the mix, which is true of most extreme metal in general. Otherwise, this is a commendable release by a solid up-and-comer who shows a lot of promise. I was certainly "slapped in the face" with surprise as to how good it was, and I suspect others will be too. Recommended.


Video review:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

"The Gamut" - tonight's playlist!

Tonight's playlist!

Krig - Fatality Brutality (Death Metal)
Kainos - Hold Me (Female-fronted Hard Rock)
Wedding Party - Crystal River (Gothic Metal)
Bon Voyage - Birthday (Female-fronted Indie Pop/Rock)
White Heart - More Sold Out (80s Rock/Hard Rock)
Pax 217 - A.M. (Rapcore)
LSU - Shanghai Overdrive (Alternative Rock)
XT - The Rock In My Life (Commercial Metal)
Erasmus - The somnambulant's lament (Black Metal)
Staple - Sound of Silence (Post-Hardcore/Modern Heavy Rock)
Holy Soldier - Gimme Shelter (Hard Rock/Commercial Metal)
Seventh Avenue - Remission (Power Metal)
Exegesis - Destruccion del Dolor (Symphonic Extreme Metal)
Crashdog - American Dream (Punk)
Asher (US) - Can't Get Enough (Indie Rock/Alternative)
Aleixa - Await (Techno-Rock)
Angelica - Sail Away (Commercial Metal)
Thresher - Amazin Grace (Thrash Metal)
Elgibbor - Prepare the Way of the Lord (Black Metal)
The Deal - C-Lo (Punk) CD Giveaway!!!
One-21 - We Have Eyes To See (Punk) CD Giveaway!!!
xLooking Forwardx - The Path We Tread (Hardcore Punk) CD Giveaway!!!
Halcyon Way - Blind Eyes to the Sky (Progressive Metal)
Anberlin - Miserabile Visu (Ex Malo) (Modern Rock)
Wrench in the Works - Brokenness (Noisy Metalcore)
Trytan - Make Your Move (Progressive Metal)
Loudflower - Always Tomorrow (Alternative Rock)
Vomitorial Corpulence - End of the Age (Grindcore)
Joy Electric - The Good Will Not Be Cloned Or Why Should the Christians Have All the Bad Music (Synthpop)
Hortor - Derribando las Fortelezas de Satanas (Black Metal)
Imagine This - Feel (Rock/Hard Rock)
Honey - Wheel Us Around (Indie Rock/Alternative)
Vector - Desperately (80s Rock/New Wave)
Whitecross - You Will Find It There (Bluesy Hard Rock)
Demon Hunter - Fire To My Soul (Metalcore)
Tourniquet - Drawn and Quartered (Progressive Thrash Metal)
Saviour Machine - Behold a Pale Horse (Gothic Metal)
Resurrection Band - City Streets (Hard Rock)
Erase - Wretch (Groove Metal)

Don't forget, you can tune in easily at the BlabberBoard via www.blabberboard.net & use the convenient flash player on the front page. Or, click the "Now Playing" link to open in another media player (Winamp, Real Player, VLC, and more!). Sign up at the BlabberBoard to use the chatbox on the front page & chat with me & other listeners during the show!