Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Gamut is moving!!!

And now for a MAJOR announcement for The Gamut - the show is moving!  Not only is The Gamut moving to Wednesday nights, but it's also moving to Sanctus Gladius Radio!  That's right - The Gamut is to have a new home after 3 years of broadcasting on Blabber Jesus/Untombed Radio!  Thanks to BJR/Untombed for the years of fun and music, but it's time to make the move!  The show will stay in the 9 PM EST to midnight slot, but will now be on Wednesday evenings!  Not only that, but The Gamut is getting a new logo!  More to come, and an official announcement of when the show starts up again will be forthcoming - stay tuned!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dalit - Dalit (2009)

Very few bands can truly embrace both real melodic sensibility and oppressive atmosphere and heaviness at the same time.  Usually, a fair degree of either element is sacrificed in favor of the other.  Bands that are oppressively dark and heavy usually focus less on the melodic side of things, while bands focusing on melody usually lose some of the aggression or heavier atmosphere in the process.  When a band can combine both elements successfully, the results can be quite a treat.  That's not to say that the combination must represent the pinnacle of melodicism while also representing the pinnacle of oppressive atmosphere and heaviness.  That would be too much to ask, even for masters of the craft.  But certainly striking a balance between the two elements while both still being present and evident in the mix is an achievement unto itself.

Dalit accomplish this balance with their eponymous debut.  The band plays a melodic form of extreme doom metal, much in the same vein as early material by doom stalwarts My Dying Bride, or at times like the heavier material of My Silent Wake from the UK.  Dalit are not mere clones, however: their style is familiar, but the band has their own take on the doom metal atmosphere and heaviness.  It's difficult to label specifically, other than to say it follows the conventions of other doom bands that go for a sound less influenced by traditional doom bands like St. Vitus and Candlemass, and more influenced by the gothic doom sounds of early Paradise Lost.  Either way, Dalit creates a solid atmosphere peppered with melodic lines and interesting things going on, even within the somewhat purposefully minimalist constructs of doom metal.

What is easy to pin-point is that the band is already adept at making highly listenable yet heavy doom metal.  Guitars ring out here with style, crunching with low-end heaviness when they need to, and singing forth in glorious high notes and harmonic resonance at other times.  The layered guitar sounds work well, with underlying riffs powering the songs while melodic lines are played atop that base to great effect.  In several spots there are also clean guitar sounds that complement the distorted guitar sound well.  Bass guitar rumbles nicely underneath - not flashy, but competent and on-point.  Drum work is mixed interestingly here: bass drum sounds thump underneath and cymbals crash and ring nicely, though a bit low in the mix at times.  Snare sounds good, though not too punchy.  Vocals sit in the mix at a nice spot - not too loud to overpower the instrumentation, but not so low in the mix that they can't be heard or understood.  Vocalizations are generally in the "death growl" space, though there are a few clean female vocals here and there which sound great.  They're not the over-done sub-standard female gothic vocals either; they have a bit more personality  than you might think.  There are a couple spoken word voice samples used on the album as well, which is a nice touch.  "Silent Genocide" also includes a distorted vocal sound which also sounds cool over the music.

I took this CD with me on a business trip out of town and literally spun the thing constantly the entire week.  I would guess I probably listened to the CD all the way through while in and out of the car some 30-40 times during the course of that week.  I never got tired of it, either as background music, or as something I was intently listening to.  I have since plugged it into my car stereo or at the office for listens on repeat and it works well as music that can be easily engaged in, but also serves as excellent background music.  This is a nice touch as well, because some music demands 100% of your attention, and some is content to play as a soundtrack to your life.  This falls somewhere in between and is quite capable of being in either space.

What's not to like?  At first blush, I was disappointed that this wasn't more crushingly heavy.  I wanted something to pummel me over the head like Paramaecium's debut "Exhumed From the Earth" did.  But then that was an entirely different animal - a doomy death metal band versus this straight up heavier doom metal.  Having softened on that initial viewpoint, my main concerns now are that the drums are mixed a bit too low.  Given that the album is released on Endtime Productions via Sam Durling (mastermind of percussive industrial entity Mental Destruction) to mix the drums that low is a bit of a mystery, considering the bread and butter of his own former project was percussion.  In some ways I wish the album, though it works well as just under 40 minutes.  At that length, this is just screaming for a vinyl issue.  There was supposed to have been a Dalit 7" release, but to my knowledge it has never materialized.  This would be a treat to own and hear on vinyl, as the overall warmth of the album (curious, given it's chosen genre) would benefit nicely from this format.  As it stands, it's available in 2 CD flavors: the standard jewel case version, and a digipak with alternate artwork.  If you're a fan of deathy doom metal, this is an album you likely already know about or have in your collection.  If not, this probably isn't the best place to start, but you can certainly do a lot worse than Dalit, and this fine debut shows the band already skilled enough to make their mark.  Recommended.


My Modern 7 Inch vinyl collection

Here's a smattering of different 7" record releases that I own - enjoy!

My Facedown Records vinyl collection

Here's what I have so far from Facedown Records pressed to vinyl!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Artist Spotlight - Mad At The World

It may seem old-fashioned or even kind of goofy now, but the expression "mad at the world" was at one point a perfectly reasonable thing to say when you were frustrated.  Nowadays it's all f-bombs and histrionics, with everyone scrambling to outdo everyone else's expressions of frustration and anguish.  But you don't have to scream at the top of your lungs to be heard, nor do you need to pepper lyrics with expletives to get the attention of those who might benefit from your stated position and/or message.  It helps sometimes, but taking the high road is usually the best way of communicating these things to your audience, because in the long run, the short-lived attention getting techniques may only serve to later alienate the audience as they age, so the impact you may have once had will be lost.  Avoiding these kinds of pitfalls will ensure a more lasting, positive impact on the crowd who may be listening to you.

Such is the case with Mad At The World, who came out in the late 1980's with a new sound (for "Christian music" anyway), a bit of a fresh perspective, and a decidedly intelligent lyrical bent that expressed the disenfranchisement and detachment some people felt with the world at large, in a way that would have both immediate impact, as well as leaving a lasting impression.  In the years that followed, MATW (as they shall heretofore be known) changed their game (more than once) and took on dark subject matter from a vantage point of exposing those things and shining upon them with truth and light so as to warn listeners of societal and spiritual pitfalls, as well as being frank about things that some folks weren't entirely comfortable being frank about.  It is this blatant honesty and vulnerability that made MATW so endearing to listeners, and why so many years later they are still held in such high regard.  The fact that their music (regardless of what genre they were taking on) is great certainly helps as well.

MATW started out in 1987 when Roger Rose began composing music and recorded a demo tape that landed in the hands of a Frontline Records executive.  Roger's tape was impressive enough to garner him a record deal, and he then set out recording the eponymous debut album with younger brother Randy, and guitarist/bassist Mike Pendleton in tow on several tracks.  Initially, the style was a very Depeche Mode-esque synth/dance pop with a melancholy bent and a very serious lyrical direction.  This was not to be bubble gum pop music, but real thoughtful pop with weight and meaning to it.  The debut was released in 1987 to critical acclaim among the CCM press, and fans of the synthpop style ate it up.  The 2nd release, "Flowers in the Rain", saw the group incorporating more traditional instrumentation beyond the synthpop base they started out with, so there were more drums and guitar on the record, as well as more rock-oriented songs and arrangements than before.  Indeed, the last track on the album "Dancing On Your Grave" (with the first lead vocal by Randy Rose) signaled the coming change to a more hard rock direction.

The 3rd release, 1990's "Seasons of Love", showed the band shifting entirely toward an alternative/hard rock style, complete with an acoustic ballad, several hard rocking tracks, and more blues-influenced arrangements.  This album also included 2 tracks with Randy on vocals, giving him more opportunities to show his talent as not only the band's drummer, but also as a vocalist with a decidedly grittier approach than Roger's more smooth vocal sound.  The 4th album, "Boomerang" (1991) took the hard rock sound full-on, sporting even harder tracks and more straight-ahead rock arrangements than ever before.  This album included more tracks with Randy on vocals, and the band's most controversial track, "Isn't Sex a Wonderful Thing?", which posed the question that if God created sex, shouldn't it be a wonderful thing?  Unfortunately, as the lyrics explore, it's not always wonderful when used out of the context of a marriage relationship, as the examples of misuse of sex provided by the song will attest to.  1992 saw the band's 5th album "Through the Forest", often considered the best by fans of the group.  This saw a continuation of the alternative hard rock sound from the previous 2 albums, but had an overall darker tone with punchier songs and arrangements, as well as material that was a bit more exploratory in nature with other stylistic elements included for great effect.  One particular highlight was "M.A.T.W. (Reprise)" which was a driving hard rock remake of the band's eponymous track from the debut album.  The final track on the album, "If I Can Dream" is a cover  of an Elvis song, and a stylistic departure from the rest of the material, signalling another change in direction.  Also departing were Mike Pendleton and guitarist Brent Gordon.

"The Ferris Wheel", released in 1993, saw the band moving away from the hard rock of the previous 3 releases into a more alternative pop-rock (or power-pop) direction, concentrating less on muscular guitar-driven songs and more on pop and rock arrangements, with a decidedly less "tough" sound, reminiscent of mid-period Beatles music in many respects.  While Randy continued to explore a heavier hard rock/metal sound in his band Rose, he was lock-step in MATW with more mellow tunes on this disc as well that he wrote and sang.  Randy also brought in 2 members of his solo band, Ben Jacobs on guitar and Mike Link on bass to round out the line-up.  Coming some 2 years after that was the band's final studio album, "The Dreamland Cafe", which featured an even greater emphasis on Beatlesque power-pop than before, as well as tinges of light psychedelia.  Some of the material, according to interviews, was played entirely by Roger Rose.    Though this was the last studio album the band recorded, they remained active in some fashion until 1998 when they officially called it quits.  Randy continued making solo music for a time (under the new Mothership moniker), and Roger disappeared from the music industry limelight.  1998 also saw the release of "World History", a somewhat uneven compilation album of tracks from the band's 1st 6 albums - curiously, their final album is not represented on the release at all.  Also curious is that the compilation steers toward the more mellow side of the band, though a couple harder rock tracks are included, rather than exploring all facets of the band's sound.

The band's impact is difficult to quantify, because they were a small fish in a small pond, in the sense that they didn't sell a lot of albums, and were probably more critical darlings than a band with a large fanbase.  Still, their influence can be heard throughout popular Christian music over the following decade and then some.  Synthpop duo House Of Wires covered the song "Mad At The World" on their 2nd album "Monogamy", and many bands from a number of genres have expressed both respect for and love of the music of MATW.  Some other bands respect what MATW accomplished musically and lyrically, even if they aren't necessarily fans of MATW's music.  Either way, Roger and Randy Rose (and the other various members of MATW through the years) have made an impact on the rock music world with their songs and their hearts worn decidedly on their sleeves.  I salute MATW for their creative approach, their lack of fear in changing things up when they felt called to do so, and for the wealth of great music they have released.

Monolith - Monolith (2010)

It's a sad thing when talent goes under the radar due to lack of exposure or an over-crowded art scene.  All too often, talented musicians go unnoticed because the ones that hog the limelight, though often talented themselves, are taking up too much of the public consciousness.  It's not the popular artist's fault most of the time, because that's just how things work out based on promotion, and being in the right place at the right time.  At least in current times, with the advent of the Internet for self-promotion and distribution, it's possible to overcome that in small measures.  I'm hopeful that Monolith seizes the opportunity to do so, because there's a definite talent at work here.

Monolith is a 3-piece band based out of Ontario, Canada.  They play a highly melodic, symphonic style of extreme metal.  While this kind of thing isn't new by any means, the way the band executes their particular brand of symphonic extreme metal is interesting and highly listenable.  Some bands of this style get bogged down in overblown arrangements, lack of songwriting ability, or too heavy a slant in one direction or another (in terms of how they balance the elements of their style).  Monolith suffers from none of these shortcomings, and their debut shows they not only have great command of the style, but the songwriting is quite adept, showing maturity in melodic sensibility, arrangement, and balancing the heaviness required for this style with the catchiness one might expect from a band far less heavy in sound.  The 12 tracks contained herein represent a very strong debut album that puts the band in a very good spot to get their name out there among the bigger names in the industry.

At its core, the Monolith sound is constructed of melodic death metal, but it's really so much more than that.  Indeed, there are times here when their sound barely meets the requirements of said style, while other times they embrace those aesthetics and capture that sound more completely.  The symphonic elements put the band above and beyond many in the "melodeath" camp by giving such a layered feel to the material that many melodic death metal bands simply can't match in terms of sheer melodicism and "fullness" of the sound.  The bands use of dynamics is also strong here, knowing when to fully pummel the listener with heaviness and aural intensity, and when to pull back to sparser riffs and arrangements to let the songs "breathe" a bit, giving the listener a more varied experience.  This maturity in songwriting is at once surprising and refreshing, given the short list of recognizable bands these guys have been in.

Guitar work here by Colin Parrish is excellent, with chunky riffing, melodic solo work, dual-guitar leads sprinkled throughout, and plenty of catchy melodic lines.  While Colin isn't the finest guitarist in the scene, he does a good job of showcasing his talent for melodicism and his knack for driving riffs that help propel the songs forward.  Drumming by Colin Nafziger is quite good, with mostly sub-blastbeat drumming and some interesting fills and things going on here and there.  Double-bass work isn't flashy, but is appropriate for the songs, and his sense of implementing drum fills and rhythms that fit into the songs is on display here.  Bass by Mike Gallant is also strong, with a bit more presence in the mix besides just being backbeat.  Bass guitar isn't as instantly audible as in some less "dense" metal, but he does a good job of providing the necessary "weight" underneath the guitar, and complementing the songs while not showboating.  Colinl Parrish also provides all the keyboard work and symphonic elements.  These bits contrast each other nicely by having very overt, obvious keyboard sounds alongside synthesized-yet-realistic symphonic elements.  This contrast works well most of the time and provides an interesting element more bands should consider exploring.  Vocal work is two-fold here: bassist Mike Gallant provides all the "harsh" vocals, while guitarist Colin Parrish provides the cleanly sung melodic vocals.  Unlike Christian Ã„lvestam (Miseration, ex-Scar Symmetry), Colin's clean vocals aren't the passion-filled wails one might expect, but are a carefully honed "effected" vocal that employs an interesting "tunnel" effect while smoothing out the sound.  It's not an autotune vocal sound, but it does have a very mechanical feel to it.  Colin also double-tracks the clean vocals at time to great effect.  Nothing I say can accurately describe the music, however.  I'd recommend listening to samples via the band's Myspace page to truly get an idea of what they're doing.

The only real knocks I have about the album are that Colin's clean vocals can get a touch monotonous, even though his highly stylized approach works well for the music.  Also, the drums have plenty of power behind them, but they sound 100% triggered.  Nothing wrong with that per se, but I would love to hear what Mr. Nafziger could do with a totally acoustic kit in the studio and what that might produce.  I'd also like to hear Parrish flex his guitar muscle a bit more and increase the complexity of his solos a touch and do more of that in general, though not to the point where it interrupts the tasteful flow of the songs.  I think the band strikes a good balance between metal aggression and melodic flair, and I think given more time, their catchy songwriting could develop even further to make an album that will do more than fly under the radar like this excellent CD has.

Some may be unaware of the rough road this album has had getting out into the music world.  The band had recorded this material in 2009 and I actually had an advance digital copy to use for my radio show, and I interviewed Colin Parrish at that time to get the skinny on the band.  At that time they were freshly signed w/ Bombworks Records and working toward a CD release.  Unfortunately that deal fell through and it never materialized, so the band released the CD independently.  I applaud them for their determination to do so, because the album not only sounds fantastic (excellent production!), but the complete CD package is also nice with easy to read lyrics and a nice booklet.  If you're not a digital-only person and you like having the physical product in hand like I do, this is one to have to show the quality of what an indie release can be.  All in all, this is a high quality metal release that should please fans of melodic death metal, metalcore, possibly deathcore fans (those of more melodic persuasion), and "extreme metal" fans in general should get a kick out of this.  Highly recommended.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Omar Domkus - Shades Of a Shadow (2010)

I'm a rock and roll kinda guy.  Don't get me wrong, I love music in all its various forms, and appreciate nearly every time of musical expression.  But one look at my cassette, vinyl, and CD collection will tell you that my musical interests lie primarily in the form of rock, hard rock, punk and all forms of heavy metal.  That said, I do consider myself to have fairly broad taste in music, and I enjoy diversions from "rock music" often.  Most frequently this is in the form of either electronic music or what is classified (often erroneously) as "new age", i.e. Mannheim Steamroller or Checkfield.  Sometimes, however, other diversions strike me just as much and I end up enjoying them immensely.  Such is the case with Omar Domkus' "Shades of a Shadow" album.

For those of my readers also of the rock persuasion, the name Omar Domkus might sound familiar, and it should.  He was the bassist for the once prominent goth-punk powerhouse Scaterd Few, alongside brother Ramald Domkus, now christened simply Allan Aguirre.  Scaterd Few's debut "Sin Disease" had a HUGE impact upon its release, at least in circles of such familiarity.  I myself own an original CD copy of said album and enjoy it a lot.  Subsequent albums were quality, if not missing that visceral feeling and energy that the debut possessed.  If you're expecting anything near the punk rock assault of Scaterd Few, you'll be sorely disappointed.  Open your mind, however, and you're in for a real treat.

"Shades of a Shadow" is by all accounts a bass guitar album.  Not in the sense that it's nothing but bass guitar, but as a bassist (fretless, at that), Omar propels and dominates the album as necessary.  There is plenty of other varied instrumentation on here, from "world music" styled drum work to ambient keyboards, jazz horns, layered guitar, acoustic guitar, and so on.  But by and large, Omar's bass work is what defines this CD at the "base" level (sorry, pun intended).  And that's a good thing from where I sit, because bass guitar is often the forgotten element on rock and metal records, the back-seat driver who rarely gets a word in edge-wise, content usually to plunk along with the drums to help propel the music.  But here, Omar gets to showcase his talent for melody, his playing ability, his songwriting skill, and his overall command of the instrument.

The thing that strikes me (in a good way) immediately about this CD is its diversity.  The opening track is an unassuming ambient piece, dominated by dreamy keyboard sounds, while "Tianenman Square" is a full-on female-vocal alternative music piece with a lush harmony and guitar sound.  "Little Man" is an almost folk-like acoustic guitar number that sounds like a New York City street jam, and "Baroque" is an interesting diversion into muted horn work and interesting minor key bass/drum interplay while "Rejoice in the Dance" is a cool lounge jazz number.  Most of the rest of the material follows a bit more common thread, being bass driven songs lightly flavored in a "world music" kind of vibe, but probably not fitting 100% into that mold or description.  These tracks are interspersed with vocal work (by Omar), while some remain totally instrumental.  This variety of material and the way the album flows from track to track is part of the success of the release - Omar has enough variety here to keep things fresh, and the tracks that deviate from the common formula are sprinkled into the track order perfectly to break up the monotony (so to speak) and add a little spice to the proceedings.  He couldn't have chosen the track order any more perfectly if he tried.

The instrumental work here is great - Omar's bass is, of course, in top form, with a lot of chording and interesting things going on, as well as plenty of sliding up and down the neck to accentuate that aspect of playing fretless bass.  Drum work is tasteful and well done, with the appropriate amount of drive when needed, as well as being sparse when the song calls for it.  Guitar work in various forms all sounds good, especially on the aforementioned "Tianenman Square".  Horns come off nicely with that classic muted sound, and in spots are either piercing or calming, effectively evoking the right flavor.  Keyboard work is also good, though less present after the first few tracks, though it is generally also tasteful and well done.  Omar as a vocalist is better than I expected - he sings well, on-key, and has the right kind of voice for this type of project.  It's a very "real" sounding voice, with no unnecessary inflection or bravado.  It's just a man singing from the heart, and that's refreshing.

This kind of album is hard for me to "rate" accurately, because this is not the kind of music I listen to frequently.  I must say, however, that after Omar sent me this CD I took it on a work trip with me.  I was out of town for a whole week on business, and about half-way through the 8 1/2 hour drive to my destination I popped this CD in and started listening to it.  I only took the CD out of the player once during the week to play a couple other CDs during a long drive on a busy evening during a major snowfall.  Otherwise, I listened to this CD basically all week long in the car.  In total, I probably spun it well over 20 times during that span, and I wasn't tired of it.  I occasionally get the melody for "Tianenman Square", "Little Man", "Aishes Chayil" or "Looking Darkly Through a Mirror" stuck in my head, and I still pull this CD out nearly a year later and play it semi-frequently when I am in a mellow mood.  To me, that speaks to the quality of the overall package.

I must conclude this review with an apology to Mr. Domkus for my tardiness in writing this review.  I had hoped to write the review during that week of being away, which was my initial reason for spinning it so many times.  However, with the frequent listens and my inexperience with this style of music I held off until I could put my thoughts into words more eloquently.  While I'm not sure I have done that, I feel confident that I have at least said good things about the release.  There are some tracks here that are probably "filler" in the classic sense, because there are a few slightly redundant melodic lines throughout, but overall this is a strong release.  Take my rating below with a grain of salt and understand that it's more a personal barometer for me than a true rating of its quality.  I enjoy this CD and I think anyone who enjoys mellow stylings and appreciates the bass guitar would enjoy listening to this disc.  Recommended.


Theocracy - As The World Bleeds (2011)

Heavy metal fans can be a persnickety bunch, often being overly sensitive about genre boundaries or what category a particular band or album fits into.  If there's too much influence or sound borrowed from an outside style, or too many "unmetal" elements injected into the style, it often becomes the death knell for a band trying to gain crossover appeal between metal fans and rock fans in general.  Metal bands often have to walk a slippery slope between artistic integrity and pleasing their fanbase.  Steer too far away from your metal roots and you're branded a traitor.  Don't inject enough "freshness" into your sound or music and after a couple albums you run the risk of being a "stale, washed up has-been" in the metal scene.

Thankfully, Theocracy doesn't have to deal with either question.  They are a metal band through to their very core, as their 3 albums will attest to.  And each album has been a different experience from the others, offering different elements and feeling while retaining the same basic metal constructs that fans have come to expect.  With this, their 3rd album release, we get a further development of the Theocracy sound.  For the genre-specific out there, this band falls squarely in the "Progressive Power Metal" category, but to tag them merely as such does this band a grave injustice.  Theocracy have to be heard to be believed, and their music transcends the basic category it falls into because of just how well it's written, performed, and just executed overall.

In a bit of turnabout from 2008's "Mirror of Souls", "As the World Bleeds" sees the band beginning the proceedings with the longest song of the album, the epic opener "I AM".  This song perfectly encapsulates everything this band is about: it's brimming with catchy melodies, contains both quiet moments and driving metal, is passionate and anthemic, and takes the listener on a journey while listening.  As you listen through the rest of the album, you get much of the same in varying degrees - not every song is nearly as epic as the opening track, but the variety the album presents in tempo, melodic feel, heaviness, etc. is part of what keeps Theocracy albums so captivating from beginning to end.  The songwriting is also a big part of what makes this record such a winner.  In this regard, "As the World Bleeds" is quite possibly their strongest record.  "Mirror of Souls" had a lot of heavy-hitter tracks which really showed what the band could do, but a couple of the tracks were a touch less memorable after multiple listens. I have spun this CD numerous times so far and have not tired of the material at all.  While some songs tend to blend together a touch more than those on "Mirror of Souls", the overall strength of the album as a whole outweighs this minor shortcoming.

As expected, the instrumentation on this album is fantastic.  With Matt Smith moving full-on into the role of vocalist, one might expect this album to sound a lot different than previous Theocracy releases in terms of style and presentation, but it really is consistent with what has come before in terms of songwriting approach and quality.  Guitars still ring through the speakers with sufficient crunch and authority, and solo work is as good here as it has been.  In some ways, the guitar solo work is a step up from the previous album as there is more of it here and it is more varied an interesting.  Bass guitar adds nice weight underneath and while not being overly flashy, is well played and a good compliment.  Drum work is as good as ever with on-point double bass work and the right balance of speed and precision with dynamics and range when called for.  Keyboards sound great here, encompassing a number of different sounds and adding plenty of texture to the overall presentation.  Matt Smith's vocals are in fine form here, as strong as he was on "Mirror of Souls" and perhaps even a half-notch above that album in terms of his overall vocal use.  He really pushes himself here both in terms of the use of his upper range, as well as his overall versatility and dynamic range.

What more needs to be said?  This is a strong contender for me for "Metal Album Of The Year" if such an award existed in my little world.  The year isn't over yet, and there is at least one other hotly anticipated album I haven't heard yet that could rival this for sheer quality and presentation, but either way, Theocracy delivers again in spades with this release.  If you are one of the few who didn't get into "Mirror of Souls" because of the epic 22-minute suite at the end, give this album a fair shake.  I think you'll find the consistency of songwriting and quality of material to be welcome, and the immaculate performances here are some of the best you'll hear in metal music this year.  If you're in any way a fan (casual or hardcore) of progressive rock and/or metal, you won't want to miss this one.  Essential.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Modern Vinyl Releases From My Collection

I define "modern" vinyl as anything post-1991, since that's the year that US-based record companies really dropped out of the mainstream vinyl market and started focusing almost solely on cassettes and CDs.  Vinyl never left completely, but it stopped being available en masse at every corner music store.  Records covered here:

  • Luscious Jackson - In Search of Manny EP
  • Circle One - Patterns of Force re-issue
  • Grave Robber - Be Afraid
  • Grave Robber - Inner Sanctum
  • Grave Robber - Exhumed
  • Theocracy - Mirror of Souls picture disc
  • My Silent Wake - A Garland of Tears black/red special edition

Tourniquet Vinyl Re-Issues!

Just a few thoughts on the recent re-issues of the 1st 2 Tourniquet albums by Vinyl Remains:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Gamut is taking a short Christmas season break!

The Gamut will be taking a short break during the Christmas season.  With Christmas Day and New Year's Day both falling on Sundays, plus work commitments and family Christmas celebrations, I'm just swamped during the month of December!  The Gamut will return in January with a renewed sense of purpose and hopefully more surprises in store for all of you!  I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Video - My Media Collection

So I have begun to record videos of me showing off my media collection.  I am starting with some current vinyl releases and will eventually show off my entire vinyl and CD collection, and at some point will start to include my video games, DVDs, comic books, etc.  This video is just an intro to all that, laying the groundwork for what's to come.

Hopefully everyone will enjoy seeing my collection!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Gamut - Vinyl Confessions tonight!!!

As is Gamut tradition, the 3rd episode of each week is a theme - tonight's theme is Vinyl Confessions!  Named after the classic Kansas album of the same name, it means that every song you hear in the show tonight is something that has been pressed to vinyl.  You may be surprised at how much new music is on vinyl, as well as what classics are on vinyl that you may not have been aware of!  Tons of awesome wax in the show this week, so tune in tonight at 9 PM EST via http://www.untombed.com to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Impending Doom - There Will Be Violence (Deathcore)
Whitecross - Red Light (Classic/Commercial Metal)
Daniel Amos - My Room (New Wave/Rock)
Place of Skulls - Cornerstone (Doom Metal)
The Way - Do You Feel the Change? (Jesus Music)
The Crucified - Mindbender (Crossover/Thrash Metal)
Tourniquet - The Threshing Floor (Progressive Thrash Metal)
Grave Robber - Fear No Evil (Horror Punk)
Frost Like Ashes - Born To Pieces (Black Metal)
Vector - Mannequin Virtue (New Wave/Rock)
Leviticus - Let Me Fight (Classic Metal)
Further Seems Forever - How To Start a Fire (Emo/Modern Rock)
False Idle - High Hopes (Punk)
Theocracy - 30 Pieces of Silver (Progressive Power Metal)
Detritus - Point Of No Return (Thrash Metal)
Joy Electric - Burgundy Years (Synthpop)
Guardian - I'll Never Leave You (Classic/Commercial Metal)
War of Ages - The Fallen (Metalcore)
The Esventy Sevens - What Was In That Letter (Rock)
Deliverance - If You Will (Thrash Metal)
Mortification - Impulsation (Progressive Death Metal)
Barnabas - Subterfuge (Female-fronted Progressive Metal)
Petra - He Came, He Saw, He Conquered (Hard Rock)
Vengeance Rising - Fatal Delay (Thrash Metal)
Jetenderpaul - Seapoon's Casket (Indie Pop)
My Silent Wake - Cruel Gray Skies (Doom Metal)
Love Song - Freedom (Jesus Music)
The Dark Romantics - Lonely...Alone (Indie Pop)
SinBreed - Dust to Dust (Power Metal)
The Blue Letter - We'll Cutn Down the Trees and Name Our Streets After Them (Post-Hardcore)
For Today - Seraphim (Metalcore)
Becoming the Archetype - Into Oblivion (Progressive Death Metal)
Anberlin - Godspeed (Modern Rock)
Hands - Cube (Progressive Post-Hardcore)
InnerWish - Sirens (Power Metal)
Bloodgood - Self-Destruction (Classic Metal)
A Plea For Purging - Heart Of a Child (Metalcore)
Mad At The World - There Is No Easy Way Out (Synthpop)
Stryper - Surrender (Classic/Commercial Metal)
First Strike - Hard Times (Hard Rock)
Final Axe - Baptized In Blood (Classic Metal)
Carrying the Fire - Bleednig Hearts and Bloody Hands (Hardcore)

Check out the Untombed website @ www.untombed.com !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to Untombed.com at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

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 "www.Wiihear.com" 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 xyzmp3.com 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, or your new Windows Phone 7 device via StreamyThing!  Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hands - Give Me Rest (2011)

When I listen to hardcore, I am usually listening for one of two reasons.  One, I am listening for the primal energy and heart that comes from more old-school hardcore, where it's early punk rock made angrier and heavier because they just needed it to be more in-your-face due to whatever it was they were trying to express.  Two, I am listening for the simplistic heaviness and "oomph" of modern hardcore with its down-tuned guitar sound, overly bassy tones, intense group shouts, and powerful presentation.  And while there are certainly crossovers between early hardcore and what is considered hardcore in today's world, the aesthetics are still often separate between the two.  Hardcore bands of today are often striving to be faster, heavier, and more "brutal" than their hardcore brethren of yore, sometimes neglecting one of the elements that makes hardcore so vital, so intense: unbridled passion.

Now, hardcore isn't the only form of music teeming the passion.  No, there is plenty of passion to go around in nearly all forms of music.  The difference, though, is that sometimes hardcore music can be almost entirely carried by the passion injected in and through it.  Not that hardcore musicians are limited musicians, because many of them create catchy, interesting riffs and songs that stay with you, not just content to simply pummel you with loud audio.  But there are hardcore bands whose musical aesthetic is faceless and nameless, and their acclaim is solely based upon their chosen "platform" or lyrical bent, and the copious amounts of passion they put forth in their work.

Hands 3rd full-length release doesn't suffer from this disease of indistinguishable (or passionless) hardcore, for a myriad of reasons.  First and foremost, while the band started off as a reasonably melodic, passion-filled hardcore band, their earliest material was devoid of any defined personality or lasting impact.  Indeed, "The Everlasting EP", while being a good listen from beginning to end, is hardly memorable.  Its songs are too "samey" and often go on far longer than they need to.  By all accounts, though I don't yet own it myself, "The Sounds of Earth" was a major step up for the band, with a more muscular sounds that retained the melodicism of the EP and brought more atmosphere along with it, as well as more succinct songs.  "Creator" was another step in the right direction, offering better riffs and a more honest, gut-level take on the proto-progressive hardcore the band was attempting to play on their debut.  With "Give Me Rest", the band has thrown away the "hardcore handbook" entirely, creating an altogether unique and engaging listening experience.  While traces of the hardcore-infused sludge/metal are still present, they are tempered with loads of atmosphere and feeling.

Immediately noticeable is the fact that the music presented is so spare.  This is not to be taken as a bad thing following how "Creator" made ample use of guitar riffing and melodic playing.  Rather, it is a seemingly deliberate attempt at making more out of less, as if the simple melodies and instrumental passages were meticulously constructed.  No drum hit or cymbal crash, no bass string pluck or guitar strum is wasted in any way.  Each note is purposeful, doing its job in constructing the bare minimum necessary to propel the song.  That's not to say there aren't a few more complex riffs, because there are.  But those riffs seem to be specifically placed every 2-3 songs to build momentum, only to allow the atmosphere of the surrounding tracks to be the dominant theme.  All instrumental performances here reflect that minimalist ethos, and the album is stronger for it overall.  Of particular note is the drum work by Josh Silbernagel - his rhythms and playing here may seem overly simplistic at first, but it's deceptively so - it makes sense in context of the material and makes for the perfect accompaniment to the bass and guitar, as well as the vocals.

Lyrically, the album is very personal, but not so much that it's difficult to glean meaning or purpose from the songs.  This album appears to reflect a spiritual journey that seemingly starts during a crisis of faith, a point at which the narrator is both wrestling with his own faith and questioning the moral center of the world around him.  The story shifts into a mode of recognizing one's own "filthy rags", then repentance for said indiscretions, then into a somewhat militant view of the world (typical with young Christians judging the world through what they perceive as the eyes of their Creator), and then a more softened perspective at the end, much more at peace and harmony with their faith and their environment.  It's a fantastic journey that is at times tense, other times quite subtle and serene.  Vocalist Shane Ochsner is in fine form here, with both emotive and accurate clean singing, as well as a combination of more hardcore vocal sounds, from a higher pitched scream to a lower toned, more "throaty" growl, reminiscent of the heavier material from "Creator".  His performance on this album is impeccable.

All in all, this is my contender for hardcore album of the year, even though truth be told, it's probably more post-hardcore in aesthetic and execution.  Still, when I have the CD in constant rotation in my van for 2 weeks straight, including a day trip 2.5 hours away from home where I ended up listening to the CD 5 or 6 times in a row on the way home, it's fair to say that once you "get" what this band is serving up, you'll be addicted to this album like I have the last few weeks.  The one caveat I would have is, purchasing the album on CD or digitally is probably the best choice.  I am a vinyl enthusiast and will definitely be purchasing the vinyl version when I get a chance, because the songs here flow so well together and so seamlessly at times, listening to the album from start to finish, uninterrupted is the primo way to experience this opus.  Highly recommended to all fans of hardcore - this is what hardcore music can be when you think outside the box and allow creativity to rule versus merely "following the script".


Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gamut is back tonight!!!

The Gamut is back in full effect after a week off, and there's lots of great music in the show, so tune in tonight at 9 PM EST via http://www.untombed.com to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Seventh Star - Thick and Thin (Hardcore)
Crux - Generation X (Punk)
Saviour Machine - A World Alone (Gothic Metal)
Galactic Cowboys - Just Like Me (Progressive Metal)
Whiteheart - Dominate (Hard Rock)
Soul-Junk - (zayin) threewise (Indie Pop)
Besieged - The Years Between (Metalcore)
Whitecross - When the Walls Tumble Down (Classic Metal)
Krig - Chaos In the Air (Death Metal)
Jimmy Hotz - Observations of a Larger Reality (Progressive Rock)
Wigtop - March of Souls (Techno-Industrial)
Kekal - Longing For the Truth (Black Metal)
Norma Jean - A Small Spark vs. a Grat Forest (Metalcore)
Luminaria - Imao (Gothic Metal)
Floodline - Surrender (Progressive Metal)
Eternal Mystery - Insanity Plea (Grindcore)
Starflyer 59 - Something Evil (Alternative)
Once Dead - Flesheater (Thrash Metal)
For Today - Words of Hope (Metalcore)
Glamdring - Consecrate (Black Metal)
Rosanna's Raiders - Love the Lord Your God (Female-fronted Hard Rock)
Fourth Estate - Crazy Ivan (Instrumental Rock)
Saints Never Surrender - Inspiration (Hardcore)
Angel 7 - Power of Belief and Love (Black/Power Metal hybrid)
Dumpster - Divining (Alternative Rock)
Stryper - More Than a Man (Classic Metal)
Mortification - Human Condition (Progressive Death Metal)
Disciple - Dive (Groove Metal/Hard Rock)
Living Sacrifice - Dealing With Ignorance (Thrash Metal)
Dogwood - Out of the Picture (Punk Rock)
Rehumanize - Rick Warning (Grindcore)
Joy Electric - J.E. Picturephone (Reflect You, I connect You) (Synthpop)
Common Children - Storm Boy (Alternative)
Sweet Comfort Band - Get Ready (Classic Rock)
Vociferor - Unworthy (Black Metal)
Inked In Blood - Compassion Is My Own Descent (Hardcore)
Heaven's Force - In League With the Priest (Thrash Metal)
Blenderhead - Power Trip (Hardcore Punk)
Narnia - Inner Sanctum (Power Metal)
Underneath the Gun - Muckracker (Deathcore)

Check out the Untombed website @ www.untombed.com !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to Untombed.com at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

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 "www.Wiihear.com" 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 xyzmp3.com 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, or your new Windows Phone 7 device via StreamyThing!  Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ReinXeed - 1912 (2011)

Tommy Johansson is a smart guy.  After a couple early attempts at putting the ReinXeed project together, he finally got started with a full album release in 2008 and has been going at breakneck speed ever since.  He has released 4 albums under the ReinXeed moniker so far, one each from 2008 through 2011, as well as participating in both Golden Resurrection albums in 2010 and 2011.  He also recorded a compilation called "Swedish Hitz Goes Metal" which takes classic pop hits from Ace of Base, ABBA and other Swedish pop stars and metalize them.  This idea is not new, as Helloween did an ABBA cover (along with several other varying styles) a few years back, but certainly the man has done his fair share of making a name for himself within the European metal scene over the last 4 years.

The other thing that Tommy has done is consistently improve upon himself during that timeframe.  By all accounts, each ReinXeed album is an improvement over the previous release.  While I can't speak for the 1st 2 ReinXeed releases, as I haven't acquired or heard them yet, I will say that 1912 is a step up from Majestic both in terms of songwriting and overall performance.  While Majestic was a fine album of neoclassical power metal, it had a hard time (like many of its peers) of separating itself from the pack, though the guitar work certainly helped it gain ground.  1912 puts ReinXeed in another league, however, by doing more interesting things melodically, pushing Tommy vocally in terms of combining that pop sense of melodicism with the, erm, "majestic" (sorry, pun intended) feel that this style demands, and by improved songwriting that makes the album a more interesting listen throughout.  Where Majestic was content to take the rote neoclassical and power metal formulas and add Tommy's fretboard magic on top, 1912 becomes a much more fully realized release, due in part to the concept and storyline of the sinking of the Titanic.  Much like the blockbuster film on the same subject, this album takes the event and turns it into a more personal and interesting affair than simply the sinking of the world's largest cruise ship.

Musically, this album is quite the tour de force.  Tommy is in fine form, pumping out melodic, unique, and catchy riffs that allow the songs to be both firmly grounded, but also weightless and majestic due to the bombast.  Lead playing is as good as you've ever heard from Tommy, with a nice combination of both tasteful licks and shredding leads to keep guitar solo fans happy.  Drum work by Viktor Olofsson is quite good, with plenty of galloping rhythms, and his playing here is rife with precision.  Bass by Nic Svensson is also good, though a bit less audible in the mix.  Additional guitar work by Matias Johansson and Calle Sundberg is as it should be, with precise playing that is at once emotive and powerful.  Tommy is no slouch on the keyboards as well, with several nice spots where he allows that instrument to shine without taking center stage or over-utilizing it.  Lyrically, the album is strong as well, with the perspective of a passenger of the sinking Titanic through most of the songs, as well as an outsider's perspective on a couple tracks reflecting on the size, scope, and historical impact of the Titanic itself, as well as on the fact that the ship was supposed to have been "unsinkable".  One contrast I find particularly enjoyable is how the sinking of the ship is somewhat overwrought in the lyrics, and an event that likely didn't take long (in the sense of the passage of time) is looked at very carefully and from multiple angles, which takes on a bit of a "slow motion" effect from the story perspective, contrasted with the speedy and melodic power metal being played.  This juxtaposition works surprisingly well, and gives the album a unique feel to it.

Some of Tommy's melodies are quite unique and interesting, like the chorus melody in the title track.  They are somewhat remeniscent of Blind Guardian's "A Night At the Opera" album in their sort of unique approach, and also in their somewhat grandiose execution, complete with vocal and instrumental layering.  ReinXeed doesn't come off as a clone, however, which helps keep the material fresh, despite the similarity.  Honestly enough, other than perhaps the album's longevity (all this bombast can be slightly tiresome after a while), or perhaps the somewhat disjointed flow of the lyrics (going from chronological storyline to musing about the Titanic and back to storyline), I don't have anything negative to say about this album.  ReinXeed has done what every band should do from one release to the next: namely, to improve upon what they've already done and add new elements to their proven formula so it doesn't become stale.  The band has accomplished that in spades, as I think "1912" is a significant enough step up from "Majestic" that fans of the band and newcomers alike will find plenty to love here, and will be impressed by the band's overall success with fusing the concept and story to the music.  Highly recommended, if not essential for fans of the band and melodic power metal in general.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Gamut - theme episode tonight, "Epics and Long Songs"!

Long-time Gamut listeners will remember that every 3rd Sunday used to be a "theme" episode - well, now new listeners can get in on the fun because "theme" Sundays are back!  Tonight is all about epics and super-long songs!  This may be the shortest playlist in Gamut history, but the show is still full of awesome music, including an 11-minute epic from Theocracy - "I Am" from the band's up-coming "The World Will Bleed" album debuts in The Gamut this evening!  Tune in tonight at 9 PM EST via http://www.untombed.com to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
As I Lay Dying - Condemned (Metalcore)
Theocracy - I AM (Progressive Metal)
Kekal - Escapism (Avant-Garde Metal)
Agathothodion - Man Born Blind (Black Metal)
Veni Domine - The Chronicle of the Seven Seals (Progressive Metal)
Mortification - EnVision EnVangeline (Progressive Metal)
Virgin Black - The Everlasting (Gothic Metal)
Paramaecium - The Birth and the Massacre (Doom/Death Metal)
Deuteronimium - Tales From the Midst of the Battle (Progressive Death Metal)
Kinetic Element - Reconciliation (Progressive Rock)
Michael Phillips - Mirrors Within Mirrors Pt. 2 (Progressive Hard Rock)
Thy Pain - Wounded Heart (Melodic Death Metal)

Check out the Untombed website @ www.untombed.com !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to untombed.com at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

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 "www.Wiihear.com" 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 xyzmp3.com 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, or your new Windows Phone 7 device via StreamyThing!  Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Gamut - tomorrow night's playlist!!!

The Gamut is full of awesome music and huge variety, as always!  Tune in Sunday evening at 9 PM EST via http://www.untombed.com to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Tortured Conscience - Modern Day Pharisees (Death Metal)
ReinXeed - 1912 (Melodic Power Metal)
Halcyon Way - On Black Wings (Progressive Metal)
Carrying the Fire - Free At Last (Hardcore)
Fear Not - Give It Up (Hard Rock)
Behold the Kingdom - Valley (Deathcore)
Kekal - Futuride (Avant-Garde Post-Metal)
Terraphobia - Soldiers of the New Millennium (Thrash Metal)
Believer - End of Infinity (Progressive Metal)
Blood Covenant - Fall Babylon (Black Metal)
Golden Resurrection - Standing On the Rock (Melodic Power Metal)
Dirge For Today - There are flowers on your grave (Blackened Folk)
Decision D - Diabolic Shadow (Technical Thrash Metal)
Joy Electric - The Electric Joy Toy Company (Synthpop)
Oh, Sleeper - Son of the Morning (Metalcore)
Menahem - Prisons Without Walls (Progressive Metal)
The Scurvies - Don't Let Me Go (Punk)
Swine Suicide - Howls of Worship (Black Metal)
POD - On Fire (Rapcore)
Crossforce - Out of the Darkness (Classic Metal)
Project 86 - The Spy Hunter (Modern Heavy Rock)
Eisley - Oxygen Mask (Female-fronted Indie Pop)
Becoming the Archetype - Path of the Beam (Progressive Extreme Metal)
Random Eyes - New Flow (Melodic Power Metal)
Sotahuuto - Tohuaja (Modern Death Metal)
Saint - To the Cross (Classic Metal)
Stairs to Nowhere - Silent Times (Between Torpedoes) (Indie Rock)
Staple - The Songwriter (Post-Hardcore)
Woe of Tyrants - Break the Fangs of the Wicked (Melodic Death Metal)
Incrave - Unveil the Truth (Melodic Power Metal)
Pastor Brad - Turn Up the Light (feat. Ken Tamplin) (Hard Rock)
The Moshketeers - Locked In Chains (Thrash Metal)
Omar Domkus - Tianenmen Square (Female-fronted Alternative)
Nomad Son - At the Thresholds of Consciousness (Doom Metal)
Job - A Psalm for the First Caust and Last Refuge (Experimental Doom Metal)
Seven Kingdoms - Somewhere Far Away (Female-fronted Power Metal)
Thy Will Be Done - Mourning Without the Sun (Metalcore)

Check out the Untombed website @ www.untombed.com !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to Untombed.com at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter
account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

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 "www.Wiihear.com" 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 xyzmp3.com 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, or your new Windows Phone 7 device via StreamyThing!  Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Golden Resurrection - Man With a Mission (2011)

Christian Liljegren (aka Christian Rivel) is a busy man.  And not just busy like having plenty of stuff going on.  I mean busy as in, the guy apparently doesn't sit still.  If my count is right, Christian has either spearheaded or been involved in the recording of some 15 albums since Narnia released their debut in 1998.  So by my count, that is more than 1 album on average per year.  Sure, there have been years where he hasn't released any material, and heavier periods (like 2004-2006 where he was involved in at least 5 different albums, 3 just in 2005!), but suffice to say, the man has kept himself busy, professionally speaking.  Add to that the fact that he runs his own record label(s), and you have one busy guy.  He left Narnia, presumably so he could be less occupied, but aside from less constant touring, I think Christian is probably still busier than the average metal musician.

2010 was another busy year for Mr. Liljegren, as he released the 2nd Audiovision album, guested on the 2nd 7days release, AND put out the debut of his latest endeavor, Golden Resurrection.  The album hailed a return of the neoclassical metal he had become known for in Narnia, but bumped up the speed and intensity factor a bit, resulting in a strong showing and a fine debut album.  Just 11 months (to the day!) later, Christian and company are back with their sophomore outing, "Man With a Mission".  Still present are Tommy Johansson's sweeping neoclassical playing and Christian's strong vocals.  The big difference here, however, is that everything has been amped up save for the speed.  In fact, the album has considerably slowed down to where the number of "speedy" songs has dwindled to just a couple.  Most of the material is mid-tempo, or meets somewhere in the middle between the speed of power metal and neoclassical, and a more traditional metal stomp.  This isn't wholly unique, by any stretch, but does give Golden Resurrection slightly more identity than they had before.  In a way, it's like they've taken a Hammerfall approach that says, "Speed isn't always better, sometimes it's just more."

In terms of guitar work, Tommy is on-point as always, and brings some fairly strong riffs with a good melodic sense.  His lead playing is always skillful and technically adept, while also being melodic, and that shows here, perhaps a bit more strongly than on the debut.  He also adds some vocal work here and there, harmonizing with Christian in background and group vocals, as well as doing a few lead vocal trade-offs with Christian at times (including on the bonus tracks).  Christian is in fine form here as well; I firmly believe he has only improved with age, and his material with Divinefire was (I feel) his strongest work up to that band's original demise in 2008.  Golden Resurrection has continued this, with Christian nicely transitioning back and forth between his smooth-as-butter "golden" voice, and his more gritty, aggressive tone that he uses at times to accentuate the tempo, mood, or power in the songs.  Bass work by Stefan is solid, though it's often difficult to pull out of the mix.  In other words, his contribution is less overtly obvious than the rest of the band, but when you hear his rumbling underneath, it's easy to see he contributes.  Drum work by Rikard is also quite good, with a good use of varying tempos, not content to just double-bass drum his way through the album.  He is quite solid and provides competent rhythms behind all the music, and doesn't showboat or take over the music.  Special mention must be made of keyboardist Kenneth Lillqvist - the man certainly knows his way around his instrument, and he provides an excellent backdrop for Tommy's guitar, sometimes acting as a "second lead", other times merely providing a melodic framework for Tommy's guitar pyrotechnics so the song doesn't lose the melodic sense in the midst of all the fireworks.

Lyrically, the band trudges the usual territory of faith in Christ, power through faith in Christ, empowerment through Christ, etc.  There are a couple of exceptions, such as "Golden Times" which is more of a reminiscence than an overt statement of faith, and "Flaming Youth" which is directed a bit more specifically at, well, the youth and their direction.  But if you're no fan of "Christian metal" because of the lyrics, this won't win you over, and will probably be one more album on the pile of records that turn you off.  I would challenge those listeners to keep an open mind, however.  While Christian isn't the most adept lyricist out there, he tries, and he is earnest in what he is singing, even when his stuff tends to veer into "maximum cheese" territory.  So while the lyrical themse on the album tend to be a touch redundant at times, they're at least consistent.

The digital release of the album includes 2 bonus tracks not available on the physical CD: "Point Of Know Return" (a Kansas cover), and "The End Of the World", which is a fitting and timely tribute to the late Gary Moore.  Both songs are well done and show the band from a slightly different vantage point.  Actually, I quite like their take on "Point Of Know Return" after listening to it a few times, with Tommy providing the bulk of vocals and Kenneth's keyboard shining throughout.  If the band decides to change things up again after this release, a metalized Kansas-like progressive direction would be something I could see (and would welcome) from this group.  Likewise, "The End Of the World" is a strong closer, though perhaps just a touch overlong.  It starts with a lot of guitar wizardry by Tommy, obviously paying homage to Gary's underrated guitar playing skills, particularly in light of his time in Thin Lizzy, no doubt.  Once the song actually gets underway, after a 2 minute solo-fest, we are treated to a mid-tempo rocker with a strong, aggressive vocal by Christian and some guitar flourishes by Tommy.

Overall, this is a strong second album by the group.  After my initial disappointment that the speed and power of the debut isn't present here, I think that actually works in their favor in the long run, as the market is currently overloaded with a glut of also-ran power metal bands.  I'm betting Christian and Tommy know that, and this album seems like a conscious shift away from the speedy European power metal sound to a more hybridized sound that combines classic European power metal with traditional heavy metal and hard rock, which I think will give the band plenty of crossover appeal.  It also gives their songs a bit more collective identity this time around, so while the songs start to bleed together a bit mid-way through, this sees the band moving in the right direction.  Recommended for fans of melodic, power, or really any traditional European style of metal.


TV Time - Star Trek: Voyager

Who would have thought after mid-1969 that Star Trek, then just a freshly cancelled TV series, would have grown steadily to become a juggernaut of a franchise, spawning 11 movies (across 3 iterations of the franchise), 5 follow-up series (including an animated continuation of the live-action original), and a multi-billion dollar industry including toys, props, costumes, novels, comic books, video games and conventions worldwide?  I suspect if Gene Roddenberry were alive today, he would even be surprised at the level the Star Trek saga has become ingrained in the cultural lexicon.  Despite the long-running popularity of Star Trek in some form or another, some iterations of the franchise have been regardless as "lesser" in the Trek canon, often unfairly.  One of the more slighted portions of the Trek universe has been the unfairly maligned Star Trek: Voyager series.

Voyager comprised many firsts for the Trek universe.  It is the first show to feature a female captain, the first to feature a ship designed for scientific exploration (versus diplomatic missions like the Enterprise), the first ship to incorporate bio-electric circuitry (the "gelpacks"), and the first to put the crew in a long-term situation where zero Federation support is available during the course of the show's run.  After the ratings for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were less than what Paramount was probably expecting, Rick Berman and company were probably looking for ways to recapture much of the finge "Trek audience" that weren't rabid fans, per se, but were fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation because of it's emphasis on exploration and "bottle episode" plots, while still weaving in drawn-out plotlines, character development, and a general underlying theme.  Personally, I feel they accomplished this with Voyager.

In case you, the reader, are one of the folks who never saw Voyager, here's the synopsis.  Captain Catherine Janeway has been given command of Voyager, a starship from the new "Intrepid class" whose chief mission will be scientific exploration.  However, their initial mission will be to thwart the Maquis, a group of cessationists who were protesting (and fighting against) the Cardassian occupation of the Bajoran system.  The Maquis vessel had gone missing in an area of space known as The Badlands.  During the course of the mission, both the Maquis ship and Voyager got caught up in a subspace phenomenon that pulled the ships over 70,000 light years into a region of space yet explored or charted by the Federation known as the Delta Quadrant.  The area of space where the Federation is based (on Earth) is known as the Alpha Quadrant, for comparison's sake.  Once they were thrown into the Delta Quadrant, they encountered several new races, one of which was the being responsible for bringing them that far, who died shortly after their arrival.  Due to this being's death, they were unable to be transported back to the Alpha Quadrant, and thus was born the show's primary underlying plot line - getting back home.  Both being stranded and needing to rely on each other for survival, the Maquis and Federation crews banded together and became one crew aboard Voyager to find a way to get back home, despite the fact that at maximum warp, it would take some 70+ years to do so.
You've come a long way, baby... 

It is in this goal, and the determination of the crew to find ways of shortening their trip home, that the show finds its initial footing.  However, viewers are quickly drawn into the myriad storylines, and are quickly prompted to care about the characters in the ensemble cast due to the vulnerability of their situation, their determination to get home, and their "humanity", indeed, even for those characters who aren't even human.  Alien crew members who joined the Voyager crew early on whose "humanity" was evident early on include the Ocampa named Kes, and her love interest, the Talaxian junk dealer known as Neelix.  Perhaps the most shining example of character "humanity" is the "Emergency Medical Hologram" doctor, played expertly by Robert Picardo.
Did someone forget to deactivate me AGAIN?

The thing about Voyager that makes it so endearing is that the cast is so well chosen for the show based upon the characters they play.  Half-Klingon, half-human B'Elanna Torres can be at once fired up and yet still tender, accentuating both sides of her personality.  Janeway is a strong lead with a commanding presence, yet she reveals her layers and gives viewers a reason to rally behind her as the captain.  Ensign Harry Kim may have the nickname "Starfleet" from Belana, and his "by the book" approach may seem a bit silly in the face of the odds the crew faces, but he's just such a nice guy that he's hard not to like.  Tom Paris' renewed sense of responsibility and desire to experience life is infectious, and who doesn't like Neelix and his over-eager personality and "people-pleaser" mentality?  Then there's Kes, who, despite only being on the show for 3 seasons, manages to capture a child-like wonder (indeed, for a race that only lives between 7 and 9 years, at 2 she is still very much a child) that is inspiring.  Let's not forget Chakotay, who nicely balances his Maquis bravado with his previous Starfleet sense of duty, and then The Doctor, who brings much comedy to the preceedings.

Captain, I have a delightful Leola Root Stew you simply must try...

Now in 2011 (10 years after the show's run ended), though the show looks a touch dated due to changes in hairstyles, updated CGI and special effect techniques, Voyager still looks pretty good and still manages to impress, though not in the same way TNG did years after its debut.  Still, it's no slouch when it comes to the visual department.  Depending on your chosen format for viewing, some of the visuals may be a touch "jittery".  Now that Voyager is on the Netflix Instant service, that's where I'm watching it (though I do plan on purchasing either a DVD or perhaps BluRay set at some point), like the intense orange lighting in portions of Engineering on the ship.  It's slightly off-putting at first, but you get used to it, considering the timeframe when it was made and the limits of the effects technology at that time.  In terms of sound, the modern Trek series have always been good about sound editing, and Voyager is no different.  Rarely do you need to either crank the volume up, or turn it down in order to avoid being "blasted" by your TV, or to catch that lingering word or phrase.  The show has always had well-balanced sound.  A handful of the early episodes are unintentionally funny at times, in part due to the cast sort of feeling their way through their characters - like when Kes freaks out due to being unendingly hungry and Neelix throwing her over her shoulder to haul her off to the doctor - her reaction is priceless.  But then TNG suffered from a very "stiff" cast for about the first season and a half or so, which makes this less a complaint and more an observation.

I guess the thing that makes me most nostalgic about Voyager is that I never properly finished it.  Voyager, like the other modern Star Trek series, was in syndication, and not long before it moved exclusively to UPN is when I stopped watching because we had no UPN affiliate where I lived.  So while I watched long enough to see the introduction of the much-lauded Seven of Nine character (Jeri Ryan's calling card), I didn't get to see much of her character development before I was unable to watch the show.  I wasn't madly in love with Jeri like most other Trek fanboys were - honestly, with what little I saw, I preferred her in Boston Public after Voyager ended.  That said, I am anxious to see the development of her character fully, as I understand it was an interesting evolution from dyed-in-the-wool Borg to a more fully realized individual.  And perhaps that's the thing that Voyager boasts, at least as much as The Next Generation - that ability to take a cast of characters and propel them into a situation that forces you to care about them from the word "go", and then keeps you interested by making them as real as possible within the context of the fantasy world they were created for.  That, and the blissfully utopian view of society that Gene Roddenberry espoused, are the endearing qualities that give Voyager a leg up over much TV sci-fi fare, and certainly allows the show to hold its own against its other Trek alumni.  If you haven't jumped on the Voyager bandwagon, now's a good time to start.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Gamut - tonight's playlist!!!

The Gamut is full of awesome music and huge variety, as always!  Tune in at 9 PM EST via http://www.untombed.com to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Renascent - Scenes of a Tragedy (Melodic Death Metal)
Whitecross - Straight Thru the Heart (Classic Metal)
Vector - Fine Line (New Wave/80s Rock)
Plague of Ethyls - Blaze (Female-fronted Grunge)
Every Man's Hero - No One Ever Said a Word (Hardcore Punk)
The Color Morale - Hopes Anchor (Melodic Metalcore)
Uthanda - Wrapped Around Your Heart (Alternative/Ballad)
Bon Voyage - Diary (Female-fronted Indie Pop)
King James - The Calling (Metal)
Exegesis - Guerreros Del Rock (Symphonic Extreme Metal)
LSU - Shallow (Alternative Rock)
Golden Resurrection - Glory To My King (Power Metal)
Outlander - Worlds Away (Progressive Hard Rock)
In the Midst of Lions - Opposition (Deathcore)
Blessed By a Broken Heart - She Wolf (Heavy Modern Pop-Metal)
Hguols - My Eyes Have Opened (Instrumental Black Metal)
Sever Your Ties - Things Are Better (Left Unsaid) (Melodic Hardcore/Screamo)
Divinefire - Secret Weapon (Power Metal)
Deitiphobia - Crucifixion of Will (Industrial)
Starflyer 59 - Blue Collar Love (Shoegazer/Alternative)
Benea Reach - River (Sludge/Extreme Metal)
Stir - Joe's Son (Hard Rock)
Enshrouding - Final Ravages (Black Metal)
Morella's Forest - Star Gazer (Female-fronted Alternative/Dreampop)
A Hope For Home - Restoration: The Return From Exile (Progressive Hardcore)
Scaterd Few - Kill the Sarx (Gothic Punk)
Petra - Counsel Of the Holy (Hard Rock)
Darkness Before Dawn - Material Existence (Melodic Death Metal)
Asher (CA) - Unavoidable (Female-fronted Melodic Metal)
Crimson Moonlight - The Cold Grip Of Terror (Black Metal)
Post Mortum - Goodness Gracious (Nu-Metal)
Rehumanize - Repent and Believe (Grindcore)
Nobody Special - Sliding Backwards (Punk)
Haven - Deliver Me (Classic/Power Metal)
Goodnight Star - Dubparty (Synthpop)
In Grief - I Am (Progressive Death Metal)
Step Cousin - Standing On the Mountain (Groove/Thrash Metal)
Flee the Seen - Wardrobe Full of Fiction (Female-fronted Post-Hardcore)
Mortification - Elastisized Outrage (Metal)
Jimmy Hotz - Beyond the Blues (Progressive Rock)
Recession - Get Killed (Chaotic Metalcore)

Check out the Untombed website @ www.untombed.com !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to Untombed.com at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

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 "www.Wiihear.com" 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 xyzmp3.com 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!  Got Windows Phone 7?  Check us out via www.streamything.com! Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Best Music You've Never Heard - Nine-Headed Cactus Demon

"The hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote are not rude per se. But it can be difficult to observe all the niceties of etiquette when you're being chased down the street by a nine-headed cactus demon." - PJ O'Rourke from "Modern Manners: An Ettiquite Book For Rude People"

Okay, so I know what you're thinking: "Nine-Headed Cactus Demon? Sounds like some obscure black metal band, or maybe some obscure 60's psychadelic or acid rock band."  You'd be wrong on both counts, however.  Nine-Headed Cactus Demon (NHCD, as they shall be heretofore known) was a short-lived alternative/indie "college band" in the literal sense, in that they were a group of students at the prestigious MIT university in the early-mid 1990's.  NHCD is particularly of interest to me because of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter David Penner.  He is originally from my hometown of Aurora, Nebraska, and his younger sister was in my class in school, though I didn't get the opportunity to know her very well.  You see, her parents worked in some government-related discipline, so this classmate spent most of her time in Pakistan at the US Embassy.  Quite the swanky gig, and quite an eye-opening experience for a young girl in a country dominated by Islam, where women and females in general aren't well regarded.  So while I knew her by her brief attendance during my 5th grade year and occasional visits back to the US through Junior High, I can't say I actually knew her.

Fast-forward from 5th grade to the end of my Junior year of high school, approximately April of 1995.  I was riding high on having a car again (after totalling my first car within a month and a half of purchasing it), and my friends and I were working toward our ACT tests, and were preparing to take those.  Having only a cassette deck at that point, I of course had the wonderful tape adapter that would plug into the headphone jack of my portable CD player (an early model with some limited "skip protection".  It was this device that fueled much of my early CD purchases, as having the ability to "crank up" these tunes in the car was a real treat.  I had borrowed this underground CD from a friend (earning me cool factor points in nerd-land), and had spun it a few times, but other than casually enjoying what I heard, it hadn't quite "clicked" with me fully yet.  The morning we were to take our ACT tests I got up WAY too early, and went out driving to go pick up friends.  Turns out, they weren't planning on me picking them up until a few minutes before we were supposed to leave to drive the 30 minutes to the large regional high school where we'd be taking the test.  So in the meantime, because I was wide awake, couldn't go back home and go to sleep, and needed to de-stress from the thoughts of ACT test failure looming in my head, I just drove around in the dark and played some new tunes.  Among those was the Megadeth odds-and-ends CD "Hidden Treasures", which still has a couple favorites for me from the band.

After jamming out to some metal, I decided to change things up and played the NHCD disc.  Though I had listened to it before and enjoyed it, the full realization of how awesome it was had failed to capture me - until that morning.  As the sun was rising and I played that 6-song EP through, it dawned on me (see what I did there?) what I had been missing thus far.  The CD had its own sound, its own vibe, its own unique feel.  Not only that, but while the band was far from the over-produced "alternative" music we were being fed on the radio, they still sounded professional and like they weren't just some fly-by-night band making a CD because it sounded like a fun thing to do.  This band was more truly "alternative" than most of what my generation was being told was actually so.  Suffice to say, I ended up liking the CD so much that I just conveniently forgot to return it to my friend...

What makes NHCD more special is the variety in songwriting and performances.  They mix a laid-back guitar pop/rock sound (though not jangly) with some jazz influences, as well as a bit of neo-folk, funk, light grunge, and adult contemporary (don't let that tag scare you, this isn't Michael Buble) to forge a relatively broad, open-ended sound that has a lot going for it.  In terms of songwriting, these 6 nuggets represent a very strong batch of material that David and his bandmates composed, and the diversity of material is more of a strength to the EP than it is a weakness, like it often is for bands that have trouble finding their identity.  Instead, NCHD's identity is in the loose feel and leisurely pacing of the material, coupled at once with the precision of their performance.  It is this balance that has made "Gone" such a consistent player in my car or van, and on my iPhone.  I keep coming back to it time after time, and 15 years after it's release, it still sounds great, and still represents a real "alternative" to most of the rock and pop on the radio at that time.

Sadly, NHCD seemed destined to be a shortlived project, as many "college bands" tend to be.  A guy who was a year ahead of me in high school went on to MIT and supposedly joined NHCD (on bass) for a time.  When he was back in our hometown visiting his family, we struck up a conversation with him, asking if the band was going to make any more CDs, and he said they were (then) currently working on new songs and recording.  I don't know if anything came of those times or not, because "Gone" is the only evidence I have that they released recorded material.  This upperclass guy also said he would bring some more copies of "Gone" back with him on his next visit because they still had a box of them sitting around unsold, but that also never transpired.  If anyone has any other NHCD demos, EPs, or albums that I am unaware of, I would love to get copies.  I would also love to get another copy or two of "Gone", preferably in mint condition, as I've played the heck out of my copy and it's seen better days.  Copies of "Gone" are few and far between, and there's very little out there on the internet about NHCD, though Amazon has a couple copies of it (as of this writing) that are priced higher than I'd like to pay for a replacement copy.

After the demise of NHCD, David Penner went on to join (or possibly form) the techno-dance outfit Andain, which was poised (according to the press release, anyway) to take the dance/house world by storm.  As it stands, however, they only made one CD single (with numerous remixes) that has since gone on to have some level of internet fame, in part due to the music video with a rather attractive woman writing around amidst colored laser lights and such.  It's a great danceable synthpop tune, and would have been a good direction for David if he'd have stuck with it.  I suspect he chose the professional route, however, as his MIT degree likely would have been wasted on such things as pop music.  Andain fizzled out prior to an official release of their album, but have reformed as a duo (sans David) and have new music, so at least part of that legacy lives on.  But my fondest memories of David's music will always be the little 6-song EP he and his college buddies recorded, because it's such a raw expression of what real musical talent unencumbered by record company politics can truly be, while maintaining an excellent sense of melody, songwriting, and professionalism through it all.  Bravo to you, David.

Oh, and, sorry Matt - you can't have the CD back!

As a side note, since it's 15 years now since the release of the CD and there's virtually no chance that it's ever going to be re-issued, I have decided to take the chance of uploading the disc in variable-rate MP3 format, so others can hear the music and experience what I've been enjoying all these years.  If any of the band members decide they want the link taken down I will certainly oblige, but my guess is, they probably won't mind having the music out there for others to hear.  Either way, be my guest and download what is probably one of the most unique and interesting indie releases to come out of the "alternative" era.

Download here