Sunday, July 25, 2010

"The Gamut" - tonight's playlist + CD Giveaways!!!

I have 2 CD's to give away tonight! First, a copy of the solo debut from Deliverance guitarist Michael Phillips, entitled "Mirrors Within Mirrors"! This unique debut combines progressive metal, instrumental guitar work, and a host of varying influences for an interesting album. Also, tonight I'm giving away the CD maxi-single of "The Forgotten" by Incrave!

Tonight's playlist!!!

Broken Flesh - Yeshua (Death Metal)
Blushing Well - Simple Dreamer (Alternative Rock)
Figure Four - Silence Expected (Hardcore)
Saint - The Mark (Classic Metal)
Antestor - Gamlelandet (Black Metal)
Eloi - Fool's Parade (Groove Metal)
Floodline - Innocence Lost (Progressive Extreme Metal)
Dumpster - Hell Is Just A Home Away (Alternative Rock)
Mad At The World - It Can't Rain Forever (Synthpop)
Aleixa - Ultradramatic (Female-fronted Techno Rock)
Headnoise - Defiled (Female-fronted Punk)
Veni Domine - Last Letter From Earth (Progressive Metal)
The Empty Cross - Upon the Cross (Slam Death Metal)
Michael Phillips - Nails and Tears (Progressive Metal) - CD Giveaway!!!
Jesus Music - Misfit Toy (Alternative Rock)
Gray Lines of Perfection - We Won't Fall Again (Screamo/Melodic Hardcore)
Step Cousin - Tears On My Pillow (Thrash Metal)
Kekal - Characteristicon (Avant Garde Extreme Metal)
Dead Artist Syndrome - Heaven (Gothic Rock/Alternative)
Bloodgood - Alone In Suicide (Classic Metal)
the Human Flight Committee - You'll Get It When You're Older (Indie Rock)
Usynig Tumult - Crucified (Black Metal)
A Plea For Purging - Holocausts (Metalcore)
Incrave - A Shadow In the Dark (Melodic/Power Metal) - CD Giveaway!!!
Kosmos Express - Gone (Alternative Rock)
20/20 Blind - Easier Way (Hard Rock)
xDeathstarx - We Are the Threat (Metalcore/Hardcore)
Every Day Life - The Choice Is Yours (Rapcore)
The Dignity of Labour - Relative (Synthpop)
Extol - Embraced (Progressive Black Metal)
Zaxas - The Anvil (Power Metal)
Eternal Mystery - Breath of Toxins (Grindcore)
Elgibbor - The Seventy Sevens (Black Metal)
Resurrection Band - The Wolfsong (Classic Rock)
Jesus Freaks - Hypocrite (Thrash Metal)
Royal - Cover Me (Female-fronted Indie Rock)
War of Ages - Wages of Sin (Metalcore)

Don't forget to visit the new Untombed website @ ! You can tune in easily via the web-based player (just go the "Radio" tab), link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including the newly redesigned Divine Metal Distro site, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!

Alternate links to listen to the stream in a separate player (Winamp recommended, though Real Player, VLC, iTunes and others work as well):

Here's the link for Windows Media Player:

Also our stream can now be heard on Nintendo Wii! If you have a Wii, here is what you do:

1.go on the net via your Wii console
2. type "" into your browser address box
3. type " into the Search box
4. Click the play arrow

It can take 5-10 seconds to load up & buffer, so please be patient when using this feature :)

You can also stream the station via on your PSP, PS3, Wii, iPhone, or even your TiVo! Plus you can stream the show via your Windows Mobile phone with the free GSPlayer application! Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications also!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Constellation Branch - The Dream Life, The Real Life, The Empty Glass (2008)

I like it when art moves me.  It doesn't have to bring me to tears, stir me to action, or challenge my views on anything to do this, but just affect me on some base emotional level.  When a band or artist can do this, it thrills me.  When it happens nearly every time you listen to an album, you've struck gold.  There are a handful of albums that I react to emotionally every time I play them.  Some are old favorites that always bring back pleasant memories when I spin them, and others are just really good albums that command my attention and give me a certain emotional resonance when I listen.  The latter applies to this, the auspicious debut by The Constellation Branch.

What I feel with this album is a complex emotional melting pot.  There's a sense of whimsy, an emotional intensity, but also an emotional disconnect.  There are frantic moments where the music, vocals & lyrics all swell to great effect.  There are also plaintive, more reserved moments where you are gently lulled into a quiet calm, but with an underpinning uncertainty and trepidation as to the calm or it's source.  I realize words pale in comparison, as truly the only way to get a sense of what's really going on is to actually sit down & listen to the album itself.

Musically, this is a feverish blend of indie rock, disjointed pop, post-hardcore, and cracked melodies all rolled into an interesting mix.  The layout of the album into what essentially becomes 3 "suites" really allows the band to take different textures and move through them in varying levels throughout each "suite", and also recall a couple melodic themes in a couple spots.  Guitars resonate with plenty of echo and powerful distortion when called for, and ring with quiet confidence when the pedal is switched back to a cleaner sound.  There are a number of subtle effects going on that don't overpower the guitar feel, just embellish enough to give it texture.  Drum work is excellent, having a wide range of dynamics, using more drum & cymbal variation than most rock bands know (including good use of rimshots in one song), and having enough authority to know when to really go for it, and when to back off & let another instrument take center stage.  Bass work is fine, though not showy or overtly present, content to fulfill its role in being part of the backdrop.  The varying addition of piano, organ, keyboards, strings, and other sounds is quite diverse here, giving the album a much more expansive feel to it than would have been present otherwise.  Vocally, Jordan Cruz is all over the place, from spirited screams and near-banshee wails to smooth-yet-tortured falsetto crooning and singing that carries the emotional feel of the music.

Lyrically, this is a concept album.  It deals with the idea that we as humans (the empty glass) have this ideal of what our lives should be like (the dream life), and then there's reality (the real life).  We as the empty glass try to fill the void we have in our lives with whatever we choose, and  the album sees the writer expressing himself about the search for the "right" thing to fill the void, and the daily struggles & hardships that he faces through this journey.  It's a compelling story, though naturally somewhat fractured (as only befitting the disjointed indie rock of this type), so you really have to listen to it a few times to pick up on all the themes & get a true sense of what the album expresses.  It's a large, sweeping concept that fits the music well in all its emotional ebb and flow.

So how do you possibly score an album that has both had a profound effect on you lyrically & musically, and yet is a debut album by a band that may yet be finding themselves?  I have no choice but to give this album a high score because they are on the mark so much of the time.  There are a couple spots ("Black Hole" for example) where things get a touch too repetitive, but the emotional impact isn't dulled so much by this repetition that it stunts the album.  The recurring musical themes help tie the record together well, and even the "hidden" song at the end, with its super-simple piano line and reverbed vocal is captivating & a good listen every time.  My only fear is that the band won't be able to follow up this near-masterpiece with something quite as strong, and after all the time between releases, it may seem as if the band has lost some steam.  If they can either continue to write songs based around a concept, or if they can write quality "bottle" songs like fellow indie rockers The Human Flight Committee or mewithoutYou, they will have an incredibly bright future.  As it stands, this record is (as of this writing) my favorite indie rock record and a true show of talent for this band.  Essential.


Video review:

Wintersoul - Frozen Storm Apocalypse (2010)

There's an old adage that older, wiser folks like to use that goes something like this: "Good things come to those who wait."  Thing is, regardless of your age, that can often be true.  It doesn't work in the job market, as waiting around generally means you miss out on opportunities, but waiting on a fine meal to be prepared & cooked can be an experience both excruciatingly long yet ultimately very rewarding.  The dichotomy of this dynamic is what often does in a band or artist when they tease fans with a clip from an up-coming release, only to have its actual "street release" delayed.  When an album has received so much lip service prior to its release that hype becomes hyperbole, meeting expectations can be an insurmountable task.  I believe one Axl Rose, front man of a little band known as Guns 'n Roses can attest to that, given the great chasm between those who love anything he does and worship at the altar of G'n'R, versus those who felt like the seemingly unending wait to finally hear "Chinese Democracy" could never have been worth it, and that the final product was a thundering disappointment.

So where does Wintersoul fit into this picture?  Well, the current musical landscape has the advantage over music lover days of yore, where we have this fantastic invention called Myspace.  It allows us to make a page for our band or art, regardless of how professional or far along we are.  I mean, we can say we are a band and have no songs up, but overnight have hundreds of fans, if we do enough "friend scouting" to drum up the numbers.  Wintersoul has been a member of Myspace since at least 2006, where a couple demo tracks (apparently from the "Dawn of Ice Hearts" demo recordings) were posted.  Once many of us immersed in the "scene" discovered them, it was immediately apparent that this band was going places.  Cool logo, cool artwork on the page, great tunes, good overall sound, and the whole thing had a certain professionalism about it that just made it feel like it was a project that would make waves.  Many of us wondered when a full-length album would be forthcoming.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  3+ years later, we have "Frozen Storm Apocalypse" thrust at us like a bloody sword in the heat of battle, ready to strike at the heart.

Musically, this is a hard hitting release, replete with blast beats & fast complex drumming, fast riffing with some technicality, and aggressive vocals.  The guitars crunch with authority, though they aren't so over the top "brutal" that they lose their melodic quality, which is a nice balance.  The riffing is fast & furious in most spots; indeed, after the intro track, it isn't until the 3rd actual song that things go from hyper-fast to mid-paced.  However, there is melody throughout so it keeps things from turning into a tremolo-picked din.  Bass guitar is actually noticeable in many places, and while not always totally audible or discernable, is well played.  Drumming is intense & incredibly tight; not once did I hear any signs of mistake.  Of course, good editing can give that illusion as well, but this sounds pretty well accurate just from proficiency versus good computer skills.  Drumming sounds good overall, though the ride cymbal kind of gets lost in the mix a lot, and the drumming sounds a touch sterile.  Vocally we have the usual high-pitched raspy vocals found in black metal, though they have a bit more of a death metal tone or feel in places, so the sound is kept a touch more fresh.  There are also female vocals here which end up being a mixed bag.  In places, the sort of dark, echoed sound makes perfect sense & fits well (like in "Shadows of Death"), but they're not always on-point, so occasionally it's as if the vocalist is either not entirely sure of herself, or is just exceeding her ability at times.  Hopefully, if female vocals are to make an appearance on the next album, she will take some time to tighten up her approach and make sure she's on-key more.  In addition, the nice keyboard flourishes here and there are a nice touch, and don't overwhelm the music like some black metal bands allow the keyboards to be - they're kept in a nice layer within the mix.

Lyrically, this is all very metaphorical.  Lots of talk of evil abounding and generally making a nuisance of itself, all within the context of battle and winter themes.  Very little light is shed on things until the end of the album, where a force for good rises up to take on the evil.  It has been hinted at that this is the first of 2 thematic albums, and that this is the first half of the story.  If that's the case, I suspect this volume is the one that shows all the evil in the world, and that part 2 will have a much more triumphant lyrical direction.  As it stands, it's well written and provides sufficient imagery for the themes being conveyed.  I never felt as though the lyrics were too dark or too foreboding - I've read works far darker and more oppressive, even from some of Wintersoul's peers.

At the end of the day, the thing everyone will likely come back with is that this is a fantastic CD for fans of Dimmu Borgir's more well-produced material.  If you are into that style and you haven't already burned yourself out on that, or your A Hill To Die Upon CD, this CD is well worth your time and attention.  I think the biggest drawbacks are it's short length (33 minutes & change after waiting so long?), the less than tight female vocals, the overall lack of variety (very few times where the CD slows down to breathe or change things up), and the fact that the band could potentially be seen or labeled as just a Dimmu Borgir ripoff.  I challenge listeners to look past those similarities, because this is quite a good release, and shows what the group is capable of.  Now I challenge the band to go back to songwriting & crank out another record (hopefully in less time) that will knock our socks off completely.  As it stands, a very solid debut and a bright future ahead for Wintersoul.  Recommended.


Video review:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gig Report - Rex Carroll Band/Unrest In the Midwest 2010

Unrest In the Midwest is a concert event put on by Bombworks Records.  This year saw the 1st Unrest concert, which is an event they hope to carry over into next year and beyond.  The concept is simple: 12 hours, 12 bands, $10.  This is a VERY inexpensive ticket price for the kind of talent being brought in for the event, and a very worthwhile group of bands on the roster.  The event was planned to attract travelers heading to Bushnell, Illinois to the Cornerstone Festival, where several of the bands on the Unrest line-up were slated to play next.

I traveled on Friday, June 25th with a Keokuk, Iowa where the festival was being held, and met up with Bombworks Records owners Matthew Hunt and Doug George, and met several of the bands.  Three of those bands I had previously seen a week and a half earlier in Omaha on the "Droppin' the Bomb" tour.  The bands all recognized my friend and I and we were welcomed warmly.  After a short stop for a bite to eat, we were on our way to a place called L-Treyns to see the Rex Carroll Band.  The venue was nice - it's an outdoor setup with a covered stage, and a decent sound system.  Rex & bassist Antonio N Avocedo took the stage with Bombworks Records man Doug George filling in on drums.  The band sounded great, and Rex was in fine form, cranking out the guitar parts like it was an extension of himself - he's one of those seasoned professionals that just make it look effortless.  Antonio is a monster bassist, all over the neck, moving around on stage & keeping things interesting.  He was a highlight of the show because he's so animated when he plays, and he interplays with Rex very well.  Doug did a great job on the drums, keeping up with Rex and Antonio and improvising well - he apparently only had about a week to prepare, and only a few hours one day earlier that week to actually practice with Rex and Antonio up in Chicago, so hats off to Doug for doing such a great job!  Overall the set was fantastic, with Rex even doing a nice solo himself that encompassed bits & pieces from several guitar solo tracks he had recorded with Whitecross.

After that, things got interesting.  My friend and I were sitting down at a table at the venue with Doug, Rex, and Antonio just making conversation.  It's kind of surreal sitting and talking with one of your heroes about music & various other topics.  Doug had said his local cover band was playing down the street at another venue (sans him, of course) and asked if we all wanted to check it out, so we all walked down the street several blocks to the other venue where this other duo were playing.  After some prompting from one of the members of Doug's band, Rex got up and went to the stage & fired off several songs off-the-cuff on the acoustic guitar!  It was like something out of a movie.  After playing 3 songs, Rex asked if we wanted to hear some Duane Allman, another guitarist I wasn't familiar with, or Stevie Ray Vaughn.  I yelled "Stevie Ray!!!" at the top of my lungs, and he ripped right into a fantastic acoustic rendition of "Pride & Joy".  After 2 or 3 more songs (this time his Rex Carroll Band originals, including a rousing acoustic version of "Delta Memories"), he sat back down with us.  It was nothing short of magical.  After that, we helped Doug secure some amps and turned in for the night.

Saturday was a fantastic experience.  We got up early & headed out to the venue around 9 AM. Unfortunately, I was unable to help with much of the setup due to being called away by the office, and I had to take a few phone calls related to that.  However, once the event was near ready to go, I was mingling with bands, checking out merch tables, and hanging out in the green room with other "staff" and folks who had all access passes.  The venue is called The Haven (formerly Music @ the Mall) in the Keokuk mall, and it's a nice large room with a decent sized stage setup.  The green room was across the hall in a large, open room that was open for bands to bring in gear, set up and relax, and had a nice setup of food that was brought in to take care of the bands.  Kudos to Matt and Doug for providing healthy food for the bands to eat.

First on the stage was And the Greatest Of These from Sioux City, IA.  I had seen 3 of the members of this band in a previous band called Pagans on Wagons about a year and a half earlier, when they opened a show with Wrench in the Works and For Today.  I was impressed with them at that point, but their female-guitarist and female vocalist impressed me even more this time.  The guitarist (Kate) shredded out solos with authority, and I don't think I've ever heard a woman (Nichole) growl that low before - it was awesome.  Next up was SKIES from Kansas.  They had a pretty typical metalcore sound, but did a good job reflecting that sound.  They played well, overall.  They did have some technical difficulties with their bass rig, which shortened their set, but otherwise, they did a nice job.  Switching gears, next up was Leper, a gothic rock band that is part of the Jesus People USA (JPUSA) group out of Chicago.  They had quite a few technical difficulties during their set, primarily because there was no drummer, so they had a laptop with a sequencer that provided both keyboards/atmospherics and drums.  Part of the time the drums were inaudible, part of the time the keyboards were inaudible.  This actually worked well on the last song, as the keyboards weren't present (but drums were), and it gave a real stark, haunting atmosphere to the closing track of their set.  They had a really passionate set, and they sounded good, despite the acoustics in the venue not quite being right for their brand of atmospheric, reverb & echo-heavy sound.

During the break in sets, I took the opportunity to go check out the merch tables again, and I ran into none other than Jarek (Fire) from Elgibbor!  He had come out to check out the bands and see the event, since he only lives an hour or so away from Keokuk.  He and I had a good chance to talk about Elgibbor and the various projects he had been involved in.  I also got an opportunity to talk to more of the bands and get some merch, which I always try to do when attending these shows - I know how frustrating it is when the door money you take home isn't even enough to pay for gas sometimes.  I also got the chance to meet another one of my heroes - vocalist Nancyjo Mann, formerly of Barnabas.  Matt Hunt (RetroActive/Bombworks) had set up a couple tables with classic Barnabas LPs all over them.  Apparently, he had brought his own set of records for Nancyjo to sign.  He had also brought her copies of all the Barnabas albums released to give to her, because apparently her personal copies had been destroyed via a flood in her home several years earlier.  This was a wonderful thing Matt did for her, and she was very appreciative.  Her eyes welled up with tears, and you could just see how overwhelmed she was with the gesture.  She composed herself and shared some fun stories about Barnabas, and even an interesting bit about the cover art for "Approaching Light Speed" that none of us knew about.  My friend took my picture with Nancyjo, and it was an honor to meet such a legend in the scene.  After a spot of lunch, I ventured back into The Haven for the next set.

Copernicus was up next to bring the heavy, as their brand of breakdown-laden deathcore was not lost on the young crowd at the venue.  I missed the first part of their set due to being out in the foyer talking with Nancyjo, but when I came in they were in full force, firing on all cylinders.  Their set was fun, though their music wasn't quite as memorable as I would have hoped.  But they played well and had good energy, so it was enjoyable.  Next on the stage was punk rockers FBS.  They played a great set, including the title song to their latest release, the 7" vinyl "Live Grenade".  The band quickly ripped through a bunch of songs, barely stopping to take a breath more than once or twice.  They had great energy, sounded awesome, and really impressed me with their set.  Having not acquired any of their material yet, I was sold, and bought both the CD and the 7" release.  Last in the 2nd set was Boarders, all the way from Italy!  They flew to the US to play Unrest, and 3 or 4 other gigs they had booked.  This was quite the honor, being at the front of the stage to hear this band, particularly because they came all this way, but also because they played absolutely brilliantly.  My biggest beef here was that all the "hardcore kids" left before Boarders took the stage, which was both unnecessary and a touch disrespectful.  I understand that old-school heavy metal isn't the thing of a lot of the younger listeners, but as far as this band came, the least they could have done was to stick around and check it out.  Nevertheless, Boarders came on and played a spirited set as if they were in an arena in front of thousands.  They ripped through several cuts from "The World Hates Me", including their cover version of Megadeth's "In My Darkest Hour", and also played a new song not included on the CD.  The band sounded fantastic, and Egidio was on-point vocally, nearly replicating his vocal performance on CD as best he could in a live setting.  It was a fantastic set.

There was a meal break between this set and the next, so we took a little downtime & went to get some food.  Earlier in the day, Doug George had asked me if I would emcee a portion of the event, which I was humbled and honored to do.  I hurried back to The Haven after waiting a bit too long for my food at the local Chinese restaurant, and made my way to the back room beside the stage to get ready to introduce the next groups.  I had the privilege of announcing A Hero Remains, who I had seen in Omaha just a few days before.  They played a great set, and sounded even better/tighter at Unrest than they did in the little Omaha venue.  They played great, and their brand of metalcore sounded great live, especially with all the little audio clips and quotes they use to intro and segue songs.  I then got to introduce Divulgence, who play a progressive/technical form of blackened thrash.  These guys sounded better than in Omaha as well, ripping through their short set with fire and authority.  These guys are so tight, I'm looking VERY forward to their album later this year.  They ended their set with a cover of Megadeth's "Peace Sells" which sounded great.  I was then lucky enough to introduce A Hill To Die Upon, one of the premier melodic black/death metal bands in the scene right now.  They had a few microphone issues, where you couldn't hear Adam's vocals because the mic cut out.  The sound man was on it, though, and eventually got that issue resolved.  Otherwise, they played a blistering set that seemed to please fans in the audience.

Another short break and it was back to the stage to introduce newcomers Kidnap the Sun (just signed to the new Bombworks sister label Increase/Decrease).  They changed things up a bit, playing a sort of melodic screamo rock that was heavy on the fun.  While I think the band relies a bit too much on the autotuner in their set, they played well, had loads of energy, and gave the crowd of kids a real fun time.  They did several songs from their previous EP's, and also some new material they hadn't recorded yet.  I was also privileged to then introduce the Rex Carroll Band, which was a great experience.  As if it were even possible, Rex, Antonio and Doug sounded even tighter at Unrest than they had the evening before, ripping through several great tracks.  The setlist was basically the same, with Rex performing an awesome guitar solo version of "The Star Spangled Banner" along with several album cuts.  He was in fine form again that night, and was all smiles, seeming to enjoy the good response he got from the crowd.  After that, there was a late entry into the show - Crush the Enemy, who was on tour with FBS, got a chance to play a short set of songs.  Someone earlier had told me they sounded like Stormtroopers of Death (hardcore "super group" featuring members of Anthrax and MOD), and while I wouldn't agree with that statement entirely, they did have a great old-school hardcore punk sound to them with a bit of the thrash attitude.  They played several songs off their CD in short order and had tons of energy, sounding pretty tight.  They were fun and enjoyable.  Last but certainly not least, Grave Robber took the stage.  I missed my chance to introduce them, having been out of the room a bit too long, so Matt introduced them instead.  They came in from the back of the venue, plodding around like the zombie's they're dressed as, with Wretched carrying his shovel and thumping it on the floor with every ghoulish step.  It was quite a sight, and prepared everyone for the fun that was about to ensue.  Unfortunately, Grave Robber's set was riddled with mic and sound issues, through the sound man was on tap to try & resolve those quickly.  Once that got ironed out, it was a fun show with the crowd singing along to every "woah-oh-oh" and chorus in the songs.  I got to the front of the stage and was belting out every word I knew, having listened to both Grave Robber discs a number of times.  They included their cover of "Love Hurts", which was a fun treat.  Wretched talked in between each song, sort of taking the audience through a bit of a story, which was a nice touch.  After their set was over, and several of us repeatedly yelled "Encore!", the band treated us to one more song, and then the show was over.  I was glad they played "Burn Witch, Burn", my favorite Grave Robber tune.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience.  I hope Doug and Matt have the ability to put this on again next year, and I hope attendance improves, because it was a great day with lots of great music, and unforgettable experiences.  For those that planned on coming but didn't make it, you guys truly missed out on a marvelous concert event that catered to many tastes and styles, but delivered in spades all across the board.

Video review: