Thursday, July 21, 2016

3D IN YOUR FACE "Lost In The Volume"

(c) 2016 Retrospect Records

  1. 2 Miles Down
  2. Moscow Queen
  3. Loud
  4. Memphis Mile
  5. Sound of Recklessness
  6. This Isn't Goodbye
  7. Ringing In My Ear
  8. Baptized By The Radio
  9. Static Renegade
  10. Show Me How To Love Again
  11. The Unknown Frequency
Alan "Hot Rod" King--Vocals, Keys
Chris "Sniper" Hineline--Lead Guitars
Sam "Spade" Morris--Bass
John "The Hammer" Lovings--Drums

I love the underdog.  I really do.  I love the fact that there are small bands out there that are busting their guts to keep the style of music that they love alive.  I salute all those bands out there slogging it out in small, sweaty bars, playing county fairs, and doing whatever they have to do to keep the fires stoked for the music they have a passion for.  As such, I have a soft spot for 3D In Your Face, a four piece hard rock./hair metal outfit from my home state of Nebraska.  

These Omaha natives have been around for many years now, and if you have caught their live show, you know that they are a full-scale entertainment package, with a big sound and light show, true-to-the-era costumes, and, yes, the "hair" of the time...albeit in wig fashion.  However, don't think that 3D In Your Face is a farce cover band, as that is not the case.  Yes, they do play some excellent covers of music from all of the biggest bands of the 80's and early 90's, but they are also serious musicians and artists with their own material as well.  This new release, Lost In The Volume is their fifth studio album of all new material, in fact, and their follow-up to 2014's well-received Midnight Devils.  

The album kicks off with some thick, heavy guitar riffing of the angry variety, before the drums come thumping in and King's lower-register snarl claws its way into the mix.  There's a nice, heavy guitar solo from Sniper on this track, and while the backing vocals could use a bit of a boost from an additional couple of layers, the song is catchy enough and likely one of the new songs to find their way into the live show as it is one that fans could easily catch hold of and sing along.

"Moscow Queen" is not my favorite track on the record by any stretch, and is really one of the few filler tracks on this disc, in my opinion.  I just don't care for the happy-yet-punky vibe on this track, although there are still some nice 80's-influenced guitar flashes here and there.  Be that as it may, I'm not going to lie...I skip this track every time.

"Loud" quickly makes up for the misstep of "Moscow Queen", and is one of the two or three best songs here.  An urgent, George Lynch-esque guitar riff (think the first couple of Dokken albums as far as style goes) opens things, and King's snarl is in its most comfortable range zone here, as he neither plumbs the depths of his range, nor does he try to reach the upper stratosphere with screams or falsetto.  This is a really, really good hair metal track with a nice, aggressive guitar line running throughout, and Spade's bass work is in top form, as well.  Sniper scorches a killer solo at about the 2:10 mark here, before giving way to the lone King scream of the track, and then the final verse kicks in.  Again, this track is pure early Dokken-worship musically, but vocally it reminds me more of the aggressive approach used by bands like Loudness, for example.  Truly love this track.

"Memphis Mile" keeps the pace rocking as they name-drop their hometown on this rollicking track that has a bit of a Poison feel to it.  Sniper has a couple of more blues-inspired drops under the verses in this track before again smoking his way through a high-speed shredder of a solo.  One of the fastest pure rockers here, this is again a song that I think fans will instantly gravitate toward in a live setting, as it is catchy, upbeat, and easy to follow.

"Sound Of Recklessness" is another track that really challenges "Loud" for best song on the album.  Again, we have a strong, churning rhythm guitar to get things started, with a heavy backbeat from Spade and The Hammer plowing the way forward so that King can come blasting through with a confident, snarled tenor that suits him well.  Sniper tears up the fret board once again on his solo as The Hammer churns away on a machine-gun styled snare march tempo, before the band backs way off, allowing Spade to set the stage for King to moan and wail for a moment before Sniper rips back into another blistering run.  Awesome stuff to hear!

"This Isn't Goodbye" is more of a mid-tempo rocker, and while not my favorite number here, it is not a bad track.  I'm just not a fan of this tempo.  Think GnR's "Sweet Child of Mine".  A LOT of people love it, but I never did, as it has a tempo that just never resonated with me.  Same with "This Isn't Goodbye".  It just lacks the aggression and punch that the band incorporates into its best material.  A lot of great 80's albums had tracks that fit this sonic style, and it is performed well overall, although again, the backing vocals could use some beefing up here.

"Ringing In My Ear" kicks the pace back up with a high-octane pace that keeps the album from bogging down at this point.  A churchy keyboard intro leads the band into "Baptized By The Radio" which is a decent track, but comes off as a bit bloated at nearly six and a half minutes.  

"Static Renegade" is a nice, fast rocker that opens with...what else...static, as the subject of the song fiddles with a radio dial, trying to find something to listen to, before a roaring guitar comes ripping out of the speaker.  Released as a video by the band, you can get an idea of what 3D In Your Face brings to the table below:

"Show Me How To Love Again" is the album's ballad, and it is executed pretty well.  A piano is the only instrument at the outset of the track, accompanying King's more upper-range vocals through the first verse, before the entire band kicks in to back the chorus and the following verses.  Something about this song sounds familiar, but I'm not certain what it is.  Anyway, it is a nice ballad in the power ballad style of the 80's, and while it's not "Is This Love", "Something To Believe In", or the epicness of "November Rain", it is definitely better than a lot of what passes for balladry these days.

"The Unknown Frequency" closes the record in fine fashion, returning to the driving hard rock that I feel is 3D's strong suit.  Sniper's guitars lead the track in, and the solid backline of Spade and The Hammer (sounds like a hardware store chain...), keeps the song thumping along in a song that, in places, has a "Gypsy Road" feel to the guitar stylings, although it is in no way a rip-off or sound-alike song.

If there's one real complaint here it would be one that the production, especially on the drums, is a bit thin in places.  I'm not sure if it was a microphone set-up issue, or perhaps this is the sound they were going for and I'm just missing the point.  It just feels like the drums could be a bit bigger in spots, especially the toms and the kick.  Also, as I mentioned in a couple of places, the backing vocals could utilize a few extra layers of "oomph" here and there, but these are relatively minor issues, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that this is an independent project likely put together on a relatively small budget.  I am more than willing to bet the best songs here sound even better live, as I have seen 3D In Your Face live on several occasions and, as I mentioned before, they bring a huge sound and show with them in whatever venue they are playing, as well as an energy that compliments their material even further.  

3D In Your Face is not the best band you have ever heard, but they are also not a group of clowns that are out there making fools of themselves with parody songs and running jokes filled with juvenile locker room humor.  Yeah, they are a bit tongue-in-cheek in places, but they have a passion for what they do and it shows in the work they put into both their live show covers and their original material. 

The liner notes come with full lyrics, band photos, thank-you's and writing credits, for those interested in such things...such as myself.

To get a copy of this album, or the equally well-done Midnight Devils, head to the band's website, and check out the band's store.

Rating:  I can't help but crank this record, as I love the effort, the style, and the majority of the songs here.  Crank it to 7, and be sure to track this band down in a live setting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

STEVEN TYLER "We're All Somebody From Somewhere"

(c) 2016 Dot Records

  1. My Own Worst Enemy
  2. We're All Somebody From Somewhere
  3. Hold On (Won't let Go)
  4. It Ain't Easy
  5. Love Is Your Name
  6. I Make My Own Sunshine
  7. Gypsy Girl
  8. Somebody New
  9. Only Heaven
  10. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me
  11. Red, White & You
  12. Sweet Louisiana
  13. What Am I Doin' Right?
  14. Janie's Got A Gun
  15. Piece Of My Heart (with the Loving Mary Band)
Steven Tyler--Vocals, Harmonica, Bass, Synth, Tamborine

...and a whole bunch of other folks!  (Seriously, this list would be incredibly long!)

I decided to approach this review in a completely different way.  Instead of telling you everything that this album is, I'm going to instead tell you everything it is NOT.  So, as a primer, the four "NOT's" we are going to cover here are:  

It is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project.
It is NOT a country record...seriously...
It is NOT horrible...
But is is NOT great, either.

First, it is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project should be simple enough to understand.  Outside of Tyler, I cannot find a single instance in any of these 15 tracks where another Aero-member made an appearance, a co-writing credit, or was even thanked.  So if you were going into this with some sort of hope for at least a partial Aero-reunion, forget it.  This is a Steven Tyler solo record done in the purist Nashville sense, meaning that there isn't even a cohesive band used on the record.  Instead, what Tyler does is what the vast majority of country artists do, which is assemble a massive collection of studio and session talent to put together the best sounding record possible.  Does it work?  Largely, I'd have to say yes, as the performances here are musically solid...even very is generally the case in the Nashville music scene, as that town is seemingly chock full of top-of-their-game pickers, pluckers, fiddlers, and drummers who have their craft down to an absolute art form.  For that reason, I do think Tyler should get at least a nod of appreciation, because he didn't do the easy thing and just grab a couple guitar players and build a band.  He went for the best and it generally shows through in the performances.  Now, he did pull in some pretty big names for production help, and that's not a bad thing.  Anytime you get Dann Huff to work with you on an album, you have managed to get one of the best, period.  T Bone Burnett helps out on half of the album, with Jaren Johnston from the Cadillac Three and Marti Frederiksen lending assistance on a few tracks as well.  So, while NOT an Aerosmith record, it is also NOT lacking in musicality or top-notch performances. is NOT a country record....seriously.  For those who may not know, I grew up in rural Nebraska where you would hear Hank Williams, Jr., Alabama, Johnny Cash, Chris LeDoux, and Waylon Jennings mixed in with AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Poison, and Ratt, and think nothing of it.  I also spent many years working in country radio, so it is not like I don't know a thing or two about country music.  In fact, while it is definitely not my main go-to musically, I still enjoy several country artists from time to time, mostly older "Outlaws", newer "Red Dirt" artists, and a few neo-traditional artists.  What I don't like at all is what passes for about 90% of Top 40 Country Radio these days; the music that people attempt to pass off as country these days is downright stomach-churning most of the time.  Bro-country, hip-hop-country, pop-country...I can't stand the vast majority of it.  So, with that understanding, what Tyler does here really isn't country.  Sure, it was done with Nashville session artists, and yes, you can hear a lot of country music instrumentation, but the record, as a whole, is not a country record.  Yeah, he gets a bit "bro-ish" on one of the dumbest songs on the album, the lame radio grab, "Red, White & You", and the equally desperate "Sweet Louisiana".  Same with "Love Is Your Name", which, again, just begs late 90's/early 2000's country fans to request it on their favorite radio station.  And the instrumentation of "It Ain't Easy", which features not only pedal steel and fiddle, but also a mandolin, is definitely country-tinged.  But when you are looking at those four songs...and another one or two that come readily to mind, especially "I Make My Own Sunshine"...through the scope of 15 total tracks, you can't truly call this a country record.  Maybe a label more along the lines of an Americana album would be more fitting and appropriate.  Now, country fans aren't going to be offended by anything they hear on this record, by any stretch.  In fact, I think several of them will throw this Tyler record in their disc changer right next to Eric Church (who kicks serious tail, by the way), Turnpike Troubadours (again, ass-kickers...), Little Big Town (who does NOT kick serious tail), and Thomas Rhtett ( thank you...).  And maybe that ownership of Tyler will lead them over to explore more Aerosmith, and maybe some similar artists, which can only be a good thing, right?

Thirdly, it is NOT horrible.  Not at all.  In fact, there are a few songs I really, really like here.  The opening track actually sounds like something that Aerosmith could tackle at any given time, and Tyler's ability to cheekily coin a lyric is in full effect from the get go, as he proclaims, "I could blame Jesus, I could blame Momma, I could blame Brahma for all the bull that's in my head...".  Pure Tyler right there, folks. The chorus part sounds a lot like "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from "Armageddon".  I really, really like the Jeff Beck-inspired "Hold On (Don't Let Go)", which features an excellent blues-soaked harmonica solo (which is oddly enough NOT performed by Tyler), and a great clap-clap-stomp pattern that just hooks you from the get-go and doesn't release you at all.  Of course, everyone knows that "Janie's Got A Gun" is an Aero-tune, but this version is even darker and more desperate sounding in its slower, sparser acoustic presentation here which relies heavily on the vocal prowess of Tyler and far less on the strength of Aerosmith as a band.  I know some purist fans are going to disparage his effort here, but for my money, I actually think I prefer this version.  And, Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" is given yet another send-up here, with Tyler doing a pretty good job of letting country fans know that the pop-country version Faith Hill released on her debut album 20+ years ago is NOT how this track is supposed to sound.

Finally, this is also NOT a great album, either.  Largely, this is a product of Tyler not really being given a chance to really shine in his areas of strenght, which are his lyrics and his grasp of bluesy, soulful songs.  The material Tyler works with here just doesn't have that sexy swagger that you expect from something with his name attached to it, and a lot of the lyrics are hokey as opposed to cheeky.  For example, from "It Ain't Easy", we are given this great lyrical drama: "Lookin' for the hand that holds the smokin' gun/It's like tryin' to squeeze a drop of rain out of the sun"?  What the?  Or how about these charged up lyrics from "I Make My Own Sunshine":  Everything is woderful, everything is great/And I'm as free as a bird outside my window pane"?  Sheesh!  And when he isn't being corny, he's being so dang serious!  Fun is definitely something that is lacking in great doses on this record for the most part.  And with the record being bloated with 15 songs, when most of them aren't fun, it makes it hard to get through on repeated listens.    

In the end, if I'm asked to sum up We're All Somebody From Somewhere in one simple paragraph, I would state the following:  

This record, depsite being a Steven Tyler solo record, lacks the things that make Steven Tyler who he is, and has always been.  There is no sex, there is little humor, and there is very little in the way of fun.  When mixed into a 15 track album that really only contains 4 or 5 memorable of which is an Aerosmith cover, and another is a tired Janis Joplin cover...not even the sound of Tyler's voice can salvage an album that, for all intents and purposes, lacks anything else that is truly Tyler.  This is a mix-in album at best, and realistically, I'd only mix in about 5 of these songs.

Rating:  Rock this at a relatively disappointing 5.5, knowing that even trimming the fat of the absolute worst tracks here wouldn't bump it past 6, however.                

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

**RETRO REVIEW** TRIUMPH "Surveillance"

(c) 1987 MCA Records

  1. Prologue: Into The Forever
  2. Never Say Never
  3. Headed For Nowhere
  4. All The King's Horses
  5. Carry On The Flame
  6. Let The Light (Shine On Me)
  7. Long Time Gone
  8. Rock You Down
  9. Prelude: The Waking Dream
  10. On And On 
  11. All Over Again
  12. Running In The Night
Rik Emmett--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers
Gil Moore--Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Michael Levine--Bass, Keyboards, Synthesizers

Additional Musicians
Steve Morse--Acoustic Guitar on 4, Electric Guitar on 3

Every now and then I like to dig deep into my collection to pull out an artist or album that I feel is shamefully overlooked.  With this review, I cover both aspects, as I think Triumph should receive much more acclaim than they are afforded, and I feel this album is not even recognized by far too many hard rock/classic rock fans.

Despite international chart success, Canada's Triumph was, in my opinion, a criminally overlooked act, as I feel they were one of the best outfits of the 70's and 80's classic rock era.  A hard-rocking power trio, the band was sometimes kiddingly referred to as "the poor man's Rush", a moniker which I have always felt unjust and cruel, as I would take the best of Triumph over 99% of Rush's catalog any day.  Classic rock staples such as "Lay It On The Line", "Hold On", "Fight The Good Fight", and "Magic Power", as well as powerful albums such as Allied Forces and Never Surrender, are still considered to be among the best material to come out of that late 70's/early 80's hard rock scene. 

The mid-80s found Triumph attempting to go in a more pop-oriented direction as they tried to garner more radio airplay to bolster their career after parting ways with RCA Records in 1984 and signing on with MCA Records.

Surveillance is the final album recorded by the band with all three founding members on board, as Emmett would become frustrated with the direction of the band and embark upon a solo career.  As such, bassist Levine actually referred to Surveillance as nothing more than a "contractual obligation" album.  Personally, I think this Surveillance is one of the top three albums the band ever put together and showcases some of the most aggressive, hardest-rocking guitar work from Emmett since the Allied Forces record.  I have no proof, but the record really feels like Emmett decided to make HIS Triumph record with Surveillance, especially following the frustration he has stated he felt with the band's previous album, the spotty, hit-and-miss effort, The Sport Of Kings. 

It's hard to argue with the screaming solo in "Never Say Never", the hard-charging riffage found in "Headed For Nowhere", or the absolutely soaring guitar solo in "Long Time Gone".  Emmett, who I have long felt was among the most underrated guitar greats of his era, really flexes his muscle throughout the record, even on tracks like "Rock You Down", where lyrical cliches and cheese-filled choruses threaten to choke the life out of parts of the record.  Emmett's vocals, as well as his guitar, soar in "On And On", and the Kansas-tinged "Carry On The Flame", with its keyboard/synth flourishes and solid rhythm guitar riffing, is a strong example of the band working together at it's best.

Unfortunately, this album is two tracks too long, in my opinion, as "All Over Again" and "Running In The Night" both are too slow, too AOR for my tastes, although "Running In The Night" does feature a pretty solid...if too short...guitar solo from Emmett.  If these two tracks were carved off, I truly feel that Surveillance may be looked upon by hard rock/classic rock fans as the second best in the full band's nine album catalog (a tenth album, Edge Of Excess, was made with out Emmett in '93), behind only Allied Forces.

To the best of my knowledge, this album has never been reissued, but it is still fairly easy to come by at a good price.  I would strongly encourage fans of the band's best-known material, or fans of classic rock in general, to seek out Surveillance, if only for the chance to hear Emmett's guitar scream to life one final time in the band he helped found more than 40 years ago.

Rating:  Two weaker tracks to end the album...and a lame intro...are all that keep this from hitting 8 on the scale.  Crank this to 7.5!

THADEUS GONZALEZ "Thadeus Gonzalez"

(c) 2016 Independent Release

  1. Diamond High
  2. The Surgeons
  3. A Murder When I Sing
  4. Bite It
  5. Silver Inside
  6. Bat Snake Tiger
  7. It's A Sure Thing
  8. A Real Class Act
  9. Stand On Ceremony
Thadeus Gonzalez--Vocals, Guitar
Scott Reategui Richards--Bass, Guitar

Additional Musicians
Dennis Hill--Guitar, Bass
Nathan Walker--Drums

Even in the hard rock world, Thadeus Gonzalez is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, exactly NONE of my friends had even heard of this singer/guitar player until I introduced them to his album, Utopian Society, a couple of years back.  To be honest, even I lost track of Gonzalez after that album because I had not heard a single new note from him in that time.

Gonzalez remedies that issue with his new, self-titled album, Thadeus Gonzalez.  Self-released and available through his website,, this new album finds Gonzalez in fine form with an album of eight new hard rock numbers and a lone ballad ("Stand On Ceremony"), each crafted with solid rhythm guitars, Dave Grohl-esque vocals (provided by Gonzalez), and a punchy rhythm section that really lays a bedrock foundation for each of these numbers to be built upon.

The album kicks off with "Diamond High", which comes charging out of the gate, bass, and drums all pummeling the listener before Gonzalez crashes in with his angry, snarled-not-screamed vocals.  There is an interesting tempo change near the end of the track, throwing the listener for a bit of a loop, before the pace picks back up and finishes in hard-charging fashion.

"The Surgeons" is one of my favorite songs here, as it really showcases Gonzalez's ability to meld a more melodic rock style with the aggressive-sounding rhythm guitars that his music incorporates throughout the majority of this record.  The chorus is particularly strong as Gonzalez sings about "everybody takes something until there's nothing left inside".  The churning guitars are solid throughout, although I do wish there was a rocking solo thrown into the mix after the second chorus. 

Hand claps and a bouncing bass line intro the next track, which I find to be rather humorous.  Seriously...any singer that dares to title a song of his "A Murder When I Sing" has to be able to plant his tongue firmly in cheek.  Now, obviously, the song isn't about his singing being so bad that people die when he steps to the mic, but c' gotta see the humor here, right?  Again, this is a cool, aggressive hard rocker that is definitely in the upper-half of the material on the record and it is catchy as all get out.  I would imagine live crowds are going to eat this track up!

"Bite It" is an extremely aggressive modern rocker, with some absolute breakneck rhythms and jackhammer drums coursing throughout the angry track that constantly grinds away with buzzsaw rhythm guitars and a rumbling bass, while "Silver Inside" backs off the aggression and tempo just a bit, utilizing more of a classic rock guitar tone, especially at the beginning, to establish the attitude and approach of this song.  

"Bat Snake Tiger" is another favorite of mine here, with its stripped down approach, relying almost exclusively on the drums and bass underneath each of the verses, with the guitars snarling their way in to help fill up the chorus before backing off a bit once the chorus ends, and then completely disappearing again once the next verse starts.  I really, really dig the structure and design of this song and it is with this type of experimental approach that I think Gonzalez shines.  Again, I think a nice, screamer of a solo would add to the overall feel of the song, I still enjoy it for what it is and find myself returning to this song again and again.

"It's A Sure Thing" starts off rather quietly, just a lone guitar and Gonzalez working through the first verse, only to be joined by a bass drum for the second lyrical pass, then allowing the entirety of the band to come crashing in for the chorus and the rest of the track.  Again, not a traditional rock arrangement, especially in the modern rock world, but effective nonetheless.  This track, along with "Bat Snake Tiger", really reminds me of some of the stuff that Bobaflex does so well, which is perhaps why I like them so much. 

"A Real Class Act", co-penned by Gonzalez and Richards, is another nice rocker before the album closes with its lone down-tempo track, "Stand On Ceremony".  Gonzalez says in his press release that this track is "about not following tradition.  Times change, views change; you have to adapt and believe in yourself."  Gonzalez and his guitar stand alone for the first 70 seconds or so before the rest of the band joins in on a track that is structured a lot like the ballads that Foo Fighters have utilized to such great effect.  This is also the one track on the album with an absolutely true guitar solo, and it is pulled off in excellent fashion with a lot of emotion poured into its execution.  Very nicely done and an interesting way to close an otherwise balls-to-the-wall rocker of an album.

The band is very tight throughout the record, with only a change in bass players from the first record.  Nathan Walker of the band Lit again joins Gonzalez on drums, and new bassist/guitar player, Scott Raetegui Richards, really helps to round out the overall sound of the record.  Despite the indie nature of the record, the production is top notch, with Dennis Hill (Hagar/Satriani, Lit, Good Charlotte) producing, as well as contributing some lead guitar and additional bass, as he did on Gonzalez's previous Utopian Society record.

I have a promo copy, so I am not 100% sure of the packaging for this record.  Mine is just a simple cardboard sleeve with the album cover on the front and a skeletal outline of information on the back.  No lyrics are included, but Gonzalez is easy to understand throughout the record, so with a couple of spins through you will likely be singing along, especially to the catchiest tracks here.

Edgy, aggressive, fast (for the most part), and yet still experimental in places, Thadeus Gonzalez will be a nice introduction to the album's namesake for those who may have missed him the first time around.  I doubt the record will get much in the way of airplay, largely due to this indie status with no label backing, but that shouldn't stop fans of modern hard rock from jumping over to the website to snag a copy of this album. 

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, with the lack of lead guitars being the main thing that keeps it from edging a bit higher.  Not earth-shattering, but definitely enjoyable.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

RED "End Of Silence 10th Anniversary Edition"

 (c) 2006 Essential Records

(c) 2016 Essential Records

  1. Intro (End Of Silence)
  2. Breathe Into Me
  3. Let Go
  4. Already Over
  5. Lost
  6. Pieces
  7. Break Me Down
  8. Wasting Time
  9. Gave It All Away
  10. Hide
  11. Already Over Pt, 2
  12. Breathe Into Me (Remix Acoustica) *BONUS*
  13. Already Over (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  14. Lost (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  15. Hide (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  16. If I Break (NEW)
  17. Circles (Working Demo) (NEW)
Michael Barnes--Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano
Anthony Armstrong--Guitar, Backing Vocals
Randy Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano

Additional Musicians
Jason Rauch--Guitars
Andrew Hendrix--Drums
Bernie Herms--String Arrangements
Rob Graves--Programming, Additional Piano
Steve Brewster--Drums on "Pieces"
Various string performances by the Prague Philharmonic, Jim Grosjean, Kris Wilkinson, David Davidson, David Angell, Pam Sixfin, Mary Katherine Van Osdale, Matt Walker, and Anthony Lamarchina

I don't know if this is becoming a trend, or if I am just noticing something that has actually been going on for a while now, but it seems to me we are seeing more album re-releases than ever before.  Now, I'm not talking nostalgia reissues here...I'm talking albums that are only a few years old (ten, in this case), that are reissued with new material and with singles being pushed again.  And perhaps I notice it more than the average person, especially with bands like Red and Jumpsuit Apparatus, for example, as I pay far more attention to the Christian hard rock charts than most people.  Regardless, Red (or their label) has decided to re-release the band's 2006 debut album, End Of Silence in this 10th Anniversary Edition, featuring slightly altered artwork, two completely new tracks, four acoustic versions of previously released songs, and updated insert information.

Without completely re-reviewing the record, let it be stated that it was obvious from the original release of this record that Red had something special going on.  The symphonic rock/metal movement that was in full-swing in the Christian market by 2006, as numerous bands were flirting with adding violins, violas, cellos, and all sorts of string arrangements.  (In all fairness, Christian symphonic thrashers, Believer, were doing this extensively back in 1993 on their Dimensions record...).  But Red was different.  Red didn't just add strings to their music; they built the string sections into the songs themselves, creating truly atmospheric and symphonic rock songs while holding onto their alt metal edge.  With the addition of the extraordinarily powerful vocals of Barnes, Red burst out of the gate doing something that other, more veteran bands were aspiring to add to their sound.  The result was an amazingly popular debut record that features the 2007 and 2009 Christian Rock Songs of the Year in "Breathe Into Me" and "Lost", as well as "Break Me Down", which was nominated for the same award in 2008.  "Already Over", which I feel is the most powerful track on the album, also received significant airplay on both Christian rock and modern rock radio, as did "Let Go", while "Hide/Pieces" was released as an additional split-single, as well.

On this new version, we are treated to two new songs and four acoustic remixes.  "If I Break" is a dark, somber song, featuring a brooding string arrangement and Barnes haunting vocals.  The first third of the song is purely Barnes and various acoustic stringed instruments, but the band punches itself into the equation at about the 1:45 mark, bringing the song to full energy and life, mixing it perfectly into the rest of the original record.  "Circles", meanwhile, was a "working demo" for the original record, and is 7 minutes of orchestral alt metal at its finest.  I am not sure if there were ever supposed to be lyrics and vocals for this song, but I have to say that I love the song in this instrumental version, as the instruments are given a chance to really shine here, especially the solid drum work of Hendrix and some really nice string arrangements.  There is also a particularly strong guitar line that works its way into the track at about the 5:30 mark that charges the track with a new, angry life as it grinds across the surface of the cellos and violas that continue to saw away in the background.  Powerful stuff.

The acoustic remixes are really not overly surprising, but they are very well done, with "Already Over" and "Lost" being essentially the same songs with just vocals and strings as the electric guitars and drums are stripped away.  "Hide" has its arrangement changed a bit to incorporate some really nice acoustic rhythm guitar work, while "Breathe Into Me" showcases some excellent layered backing vocals that are not nearly as obvious in the fully electric version.  If nothing else, these tracks serve to really highlight Barnes' powerful tenor and the intricate work involved under the heavier elements of each song, and I think they are nice additions, if not essential ones.  

Also of note here is the band's decision to change the insert information.  There is a new, very brief biography of the band up to the point of signing their contract prior to the making of End Of Silence, as well as the inclusion of the lyrics for "If I Break", as well as some new writing info for the new tracks.  Most notable, however, is the change in the band's line-up reflected in the Anniversary Edition notes.  For those who may be new to the band, or for who possibly were unaware, Hendrix had left the band before the original release of this album, but he performed all of the drums except for on "Pieces".  Rauch, who wrote the majority of the music on this record, became a non-touring member in 2009, and has subsequently left the band.  (Whether an oversight or intentional, Rauch is not listed as performing ANY of the music on the reissue...)  The album has also been digitally remastered for this anniversary edition.

The packaging for the new version is now a slip-sleeve cardboard tri-fold package, rather than the jewel case offering of the first.  There are no new pictures added to the new layout, although the photo under the tray in the original release is now the face artwork of one of the new package's sleeves.  The color changes exemplified in the various versions of the cover art above are consistent throughout the new packaging.  My guess is this new packaging is simply cheaper.  The CDs themselves also look different, with the new disc a goldish color, as compared to the black and white of the original.  Not really big deals, although we all know I am a firm believer in the jewel case being the superior packaging form.  C'est la vie, I suppose...

So, is it worth it to pick up the new version?  I guess that depends.  Personally, I love the new version, as I think the two new songs are excellent additions that do add something to the original album, and the acoustic renditions are a nice touch, as well.  If you already have the 2006 version, and don't care about acoustic remixes, you can always just download the two new tracks and burn yourself a new copy of the record, I suppose.  If you have the band's other material, but had never gotten around to picking up this excellent record, then by all means you should do yourself a favor and pick up the definitive version of End Of Silence, which would definitely be the 10th Anniversary Edition.

If I had any real complaint, I wish the acoustic versions of the songs would have been placed at the end of the original record, with "Circles" and "If I Break" mixed into the original tracklisting, to help improve flow.  I think "If I Break" would've worked well right before "Already Over, Pt. 2", personally, and I think "Circles" could've fit behind just about any of the hardest songs here, although I know a lot of people don't like instrumentals interrupting the flow of a record.  

Rating:  An 8 in its previous form, I recommend cranking the new version up to 8.5, as I feel "Circles" and "If I Break" really add a significant element to the re-release.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ONE BAD PIG "Love You To Death"

(c) 2016 Porky's Demise Records

  1. Love You To Death
  2. What Does The Fool Say
  3. The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & The Pride of Life
  4. Get Your Hands Dirty (featuring Les Carlsen)
  5. Footwashin'
  6. Sunday Skool Rawk
  7. Teenage Royalty
  8. Heads Will Roll
  9. It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)
  10. Judgement Stick
  11. Straitjacket
  12. Ben Moors
  13. Red, White, or Blue (Colour Me)
  14. Tumbleweed
  15. OMG
Carey "Kosher" Womack--Lead Screamer
Paul Q-pek--Guitars, Vocals, Trumpet, Wails, Half an Accordian
Daniel Tucek--Bass, Vocals, Madolin, Other Half of Accordian
Lee Haley--Guitar, Vocals
Paul "PJ Bostic" Roraback--Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Its' been twenty-five LONG years, but seemingly out of nowhere, Christian punk pioneers, One Bad Pig, have returned to the sty with their latest offering, Love You To Death.  Founding members Womack and Q-pek, along with long-time member, Daniel Tucek, have recruited a couple of new swine this time around, with Roraback sitting in on drums for Philip Owens (who was unable to commit to the project for family reasons) and Lee Haley, whose addition gives the band dual guitar players for the first time in its recording history.  Despite the long layoff, the change in musical landscapes, and the independent nature of this Kickstarter-funded project, One Bad Pig has largely managed to recapture the magic of the past 30+ years, and definitely succeeded in recapturing the fun that was such an essential part of the Pig.

The album starts off with the title track, "Love You To Death", and almost immediately there is a noticeable rawness to the band's sound that captures the energy the band brings to their live shows.  There is no slick, polished production to be found here, but the mix is still solid and professional, with production tandem of Roraback and Q-pek tending the album's sound.  Kosher's vocals, punkish as they are, retain essentially the same tone and quality as on previous recordings, and the energy of the band is definitely still present.  It is interesting this time around to hear how the addition of Haley on guitar really adds to the fullness of the songs here, with this quality being obvious from the very opening track.  Starting off with a surf-rock riff, "Love You To Death" quickly (d)evolves into the high octane punk stylings the band is so well known for, especially as Roraback's machine-gun drums and Womack's razor-and-broken glass vocals come snarling across the rumbling bass line laid down by Tucek.  An excellent way to kick things off for me...

"What Does The Fool Say" is one of my favorite tracks on this new album, with it's question-and-response styled format really adding to the overall performance of a song that, lyrically, is an extension of early Pig favorites, "Let's Be Frank" and "Don't Be Fooled".  Interestingly, the gang chorus actually starts off each verse here, asking "What does the fool say?", before Kosher responds with lines such as, "There is no God, I've been left here all alone", or "There is no God, no omnipotent hand".  Instantly catchy and fun, both my 4 year old and my 9 year old have already figured out the timing to jump in on the "What does the fool say?" parts with near perfection.  Just a great, great song that reeks of Pig greatness from the past.

Anyone who knows the Pig knows that covers are one of the things they have always loved to do, and this album features their latest addition to their collection of cover tunes with "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life".  Originally performed by another classic Christian punk band, the 77's, the track is given new life and energy by One Bad Pig, with the rawness of the production again really adding to the punch of the track, and the Irish sing-along feel of the chorus adding to the fun, especially with the "hey, hey, hey's" mixed in.

The band shifts into a slightly more metal mode with "Get Your Hands Dirty" which features co-lead vocals from Les Carlsen of Christian metal legends, Bloodgood.  The interplay between Kosher and Carlsen works surprisingly well, as even I couldn't have predicted how these two starkly different vocal styles and tones would mesh.  The chorus is extremely simplistic, with just a simple multi-repeat of the title doing the job, but it is still effective nonetheless.  This song is a prime example of the two guitar approach really adding to the overall power of the song, as there is an excellent solo ripped off here while the rhythm guitars and bass continue to chug along in the background.  Definitely a top 5 song for me here.

"Footwashin'" returns to more purely Pig-styled punk territory, both musically and lyrically.  Perhaps that is because this is as pure as any of the songs here can get in regards to it being a classic Pig song, as the lyrics were handled by Kosher and the music was all Q-pek's.  Its this collaboration that I feel brings out the best in the band, especially when Kosher is able to add his twisted humorous take to the words while still pushing forward the lesson and message of the song.  No one but Kosher can pump out lyrics such as "Big feet, small feet, all feet stink/Feet are the grossest, don't you think?", while still telling the story of Jesus humbling Himself to wash the feet of even the lowliest of people that He encountered.  Prime Pig, to be sure.

"Sunday Skool Rawk" is a string of all the Sunday School/Bible School songs you learned as a child being set to a breakneck punk pace...and briefly, a Spanish cantina-styled interlude, complete with Spanish lyrics and Q-pek on trumpet!  Brings a smile to my face every single time.

"Teenage Royalty" is more fast and furious punk fun, with another classicly catchy chorus, particularly with the gang-shouted, "I'm the king of the World!".  Once again, a purely Pig song from start to finish, with Haley contributing to the lyrics here, which is nice to see.

The album takes a distinctly dark turn with the somber, heavy, and doomy, "Heads Will Roll".  Ripped straight from current events and newspaper headlines, the song deals with the martyring of Christians being beheaded, hung, or burned alive for their faith and beliefs.  Extremely powerful musically, and lyrically honest...even brutal...this track is an ominously beautiful, angrily hopeful song of people willing to die for what they believe in, but dying not as aggressors but as those who love what and Who they believe in.  Very obviously directed at Al Qaeda, ISIS and all those involved in the whole terroristic Islamic movement, "Heads Will Roll" is the one track on this album that really pushes the Pig into new, undiscovered territory...and it does it with great effect.  As dark as it is, "Heads..." is hands-down my favorite track on the record.

The band shifts back into fun-loving territory with "It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)", which, while not my favorite track, definitely brings a solid degree of levity back to the proceedings, as does the follow-up, seventeen-second burst of "Judgement Stick".  "Straitjacket" keeps things in impish fun mode, although there is a really cool musical section near the end that again finds the band expanding upon their typical musical styles.

"Ben Moors" is a song that was written for the song title's namesake.  Ben Moors is an Australian gentleman and Pig fan who contributed a large donation to the Kickstarter fund (I believe it was $1000) to have a song written about him.  Its humorous, to be sure, but really doesn't do anything to advance the album lyrically.  A fun little piece, and not a skipper by any means, but don't spend any time looking for much in the way of Biblical lessons in this song that is basically just a fun-loving musical autobiography of this superfan.

"Red. White, or Blue (Colour Me)" returns to the Irish pub-style of punk, which I think the band does extremely well on this album.  Again, a really catchy chorus, and the Pig-perfect partnership of Womack's lyrics and Q-pek's music produces another top five track for me.

"Tumbleweed" is an odd song here...not bad, just odd.  Very chunky, with a discordant sounding lead guitar weaving its way through the background, it is unlike anything I have heard the band try before, and I think it works to a large degree, but other than Kosher's vocals, it really doesn't feel like a Pig song to me.  

"OMG", which stands for "On a Mission from God" closes the album out with a flourish of heavier, more metal-edged guitars, some of the harshest screams from Kosher, and that solid, mid-tempo (for punk, anyway) pace that the Pig pulls off so well.  There is also an excellent guitar solo ripped off before the song's bridge, that is unlike pretty much any solo you have heard from the band in the past as there is a definite nod to the 80's metal scene in its execution.  An excellent way to go out swinging from this classic band.

The packaging is digipack, with full lyrics, thank you's, and Kickstarter credits (yes, I am in there) included in a 12 page booklet, along with some different shots of the band...and Ben Moors.There is also an explanation from the band as to why they have decided to return to the musical scene and about where they stand with their faith in today's world.  There is also a full-color picture of the band on the inside of the digipack sleeve, as well as band line-up information and production credits and another picture under the CD tray.

In so many ways, this album is the perfect bookend for the band's catalog, particularly if you go all the way back to the demo, A Christian Banned.  The evolution of the band from straight street punk to well-versed musicians with an ability to expand upon their repertoire is seemingly complete.  The new musicians slide seamlessly into the mix here, not only occupying space, but also making really nice contributions to the sound and the writing of the record.  Is it the end of the Pig?  As a fan, I certainly hope not, but if it is, I can honestly say that the band has gone out on a high note and that they have exited stage left doing things in a manner only One Bad Pig can seemingly do. Kosher told me in our recent interview, "here's a good rule of thumb when it comes to One Bad Pig: never say never!"

If you loved them in the past, I can't imagine you not loving them now.  And if you are new to the band, this is as good a place to start as anywhere in their catalog.  It is that good, especially for fans of fun, insightful, quirky punk.

Rating:  Pure crankable fun, as only the Pig can deliver!  Crank this up to 9 and enjoy it for what it is!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ATTALUS "Into The Sea"

(c) 2015 Facedown Records

  1. The Ancient Mariner
  2. This Ship Is Going Down
  3. Sirens
  4. Desolate Isle
  5. Man, O Shipwreck
  6. Step Out
  7. Albatross
  8. The Breath Before The Plunge
  9. Into The Sea
  10. Coming Clean
  11. O The Depths
  12. Voices From The Shore
  13. Safe
  14. The Greater Tide
  15. Death Be Not Proud
  16. Message In A Bottle
Evan King--Guitar, Vocals, Bass, Additional Keys & Instruments
Seth Davey--Lead Vocals, Keys
Chris Sierra--Drums, Vocals
John Sierra--Guitars
John Amos--Bass on "Sirens"

Attalus is a difficult band to pin down, style-wise.  At various times, they can come across as something of a modern metal outfit, a post-hardcore band, a modern hard rock band, or something of a heavy progressive amalgam that defies true categorization.  I don't know if that is intentional, if it's just a little bit of all the members' personalities and styles being thrown into a musical blender, or an effort by a slightly disjointed band to try to come up with something at least semi-cohesive to call an album.  What I do know is that while it is fairly diverse...especially for an album from a Facedown Records is brooding, heavy, lyrically challenging...and a LOT to try to take in all in a single sitting.  Talk about using every second of a CD's recordable space, this album checks in at nearly 79 minutes, and 15 of the 16 tracks here are actual songs, not just intros, outros, or interludes of some sort.

Taking a quick glance at the artwork and the song titles will present the listener with an obvious nautical theme running throughout much of the record, and lyrically that same theme is used to great effect to present the band's straight-forward Christian message of struggle, perseverance, faith, and forgiveness in a fallen world.  

The band has seen recent chart success with the single "This Ship Is Going Down", a somewhat punkish rocker composed of multiple shifts in speed, tempo, and pattern...even styles...within a five minute song, with vocals seemingly ranging from shouted/barked to screamed to sung.  There are drums, guitars, bass, and then random keyboards thrown into the mix, all tossing and turning and churning in a sonic wave that never leaves the listener 100% sure of what they are partaking of, but still finding themselves liking nonetheless.   

"Sirens" does much the same thing, establishing a largely post-hardcore musical approach, which rips right along for the majority of the track before breaking down into a relatively spoken-word style interspersed with shouted responses...and then ramping back up the sonic attack of the guitars and drums.  "Desolate Isle" is a progressive...albeit very heavy and vocally aggressive...rocker that has the feeling of being tossed around at sea, while "Man, O Shipwreck" backs completely off, utilizing Davey's surprisingly strong singing voice and a piano to carry the weight of this ballad that melds into the alt rock stylings of "Step Out"...which in turn explodes back into the disjointed crush of "Albatross"....that then gives way to a jangly, jazz-infused, post-hardcore shouted "The Breath Before The Plunge"!  

And we're only half way through the record!

On and on the album goes in much the same way, throwing you this way then pulling you back the way you came, only to knock you in an entirely different direction once again.  I can only compare it to a feeling of  musical sea-sickness that washes over me at times as I work my way through the album.  I dare say the unprepared listener...which I was, for sure...could find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer scope and volume of music here.  And I'm not completely sure if that's a good thing or not.  

There is a lot of musical talent here, to be sure, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that all the members went to musical school somewhere, met in college, and formed a coffeehouse jam band that just happened to jam way HEAVIER than the usual goateed alt rock strummers one encounters in such coffeehouses.  And maybe its my age starting to catch up with my musical tastes and tolerances, but there is seriously such a mish-mash of styles and sounds going on here that I find myself having to shut it off, walk away, take a breather, maybe hit the gym to flush some angst out of my system, and then return to try to get through a few songs more.  My senses literally can't handle the all-overness of this album in a single sitting...or in fewer than four sittings, to be honest.  

Like the majority of Facedown's roster, this band leaves absolutely no question about where they stand from a lyrical standpoint, as their Christian faith is a huge part of what they do, even if they use nautical themes and various musical styles to get their messages across.  Can there be little doubt of the band's beliefs with lyrics such as "The Tide is coming, o man what wrecks are we becoming?  dive in the Sea of Grace before it changes face.  the sky is turning black -- a sign that Justice is at hand" ("This Ship Is Going Down"), or "follow the One before me, out of the ship into Grace, this is the way to Glory, there's no turning, no turning back no more, sink or swim -- don't care, just dive in" ("Into The Sea").   

It is important to note that this is a concept record of huge scope, utilizing nautical themes to tell the story of a man who sets sail on a voyage (the voyage of life) on a ship (which is the fallen, or "sinking" world), upon an Ocean/Sea, which the listener will discover is God.  I strongly recommend reading along with the lyrics sheet as the album unfolds to not only get a better grip on the story, but also to really absorb the power of the message being delivered here.

There are a few songs here that really stand alone well, with "This Ship Is Going Down", "Into The Sea", "Coming Clean", and "Safe", a flawlessly executed. largely instrumental piece, being the cream of the crop as far as I am concerned.  In fact, I have taken "Into The Sea" and "Coming Clean" and mixed them into a playlist that I use while doing work around the house or in the yard, as I really like these two tracks and they way they mix with a lot of the modern hard rock I find myself listening to these days.  I also really, really like "O The Depths", which is just a beautiful, emotionally piece of music that I returned to several times when I was first working through this record.

Amazingly performed in places with a musical skill not found in a lot of the hard music world, and poetically written, and just brutally dense, deep, and emotionally draining from a lyrical standpoint, Into The Sea is a huge project that leaves the listener feeling challenged and drained and almost washed-out if they manage to get through everything in one sitting.  I would have no clue how the band could perform this in a live setting, as I think it would exhaust all of their energy reserves just to get through the first ten or eleven songs...and they would still have five more to go!

Rating:  A concept record of immense proportion, Into The Sea is crankable from a talent and execution standpoint, I give this an 8, but I do so with a warning that the average human will not likely be able to swallow more than half of this record in a single sitting.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

7EVENTH TIME DOWN "#God Is On The Move"

(c) 2015 BEC Recordings

  1. God Is On The Move
  2. Hopes And Dreams
  3. I Still Believe
  4. Lean On
  5. Always
  6. Unbelievable
  7. Pray It Down
  8. Kingdoms
  9. Beautiful Life
  10. Revival
  11. Promises
Mikey Howard--Lead Vocals
Eric VanZant--Guitars
Cliff Williams--Bass
Austin Miller--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Scotty Wilbanks--Keys
Mike Payne--Guitars
Tony Lucido--Bass
Rob Venable--Programming
Anthony Porcheddu--Keys, Programming
Barry Weeks--Programming

Change is an inevitable thing in music, or so it seems.  This seems to be especially true in the hard rock world, where we regularly see bands experimenting with new sounds and styles, whether it is incorporating rap/hip-hop vocals (Anthrax was a pioneer here) or dub-step programming (KORN, Papa Roach), or steering their sound in a completely Nashville-styled modern country approach (Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, Bret Michaels, etc.).  The same holds true for the Christian hard rock market, although the trend for this niche tends to find bands sanding off their rough edges, polishing up their sound, and heading in a decidedly more pop...or at least AOR...direction in what can only be perceived as a grab for airplay and a wider fan base.  This is the direction that 7eventh Time Down has seemingly been steering their ship in with each successive release, and now, on their 4th effort (counting their Christmas release), the band seems to have found the sound they have been seeking.

Its hard to argue with success, especially when it is as substantial as the success that 7TD has found with #God Is On The Move, because the song has managed to reach the number one slot on Christian radio, and the album has charted Top 25 on the Christian Rock charts (#21) and the Top 20 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart (#16).  And, they have done it without changing their all.  The four members here were all on the band's debut album, Alive In You, in 2011, and Just Say Jesus, from 2013.  Scotty Wilbanks has moved from a full-time touring member to an "additional musician" on this record, but no one has left and no one has been added.  So, one can only draw the conclusion that this is where the band wanted to go with their sound, they executed their plan solidly, and now they are reaping the benefits of staying the course.

The production is top-notch, polished AOR-meets-CCM, with crisp guitars, strong lead vocals from Howard and excellent backing vocals, and a nice, tight rhythm section that is solid, if not flashy.  The previous Daughtry comparisons are still going to be made, especially if the more recent efforts from that band are used as the measuring stick, but comparisons to bands like Train and Jars Of Clay will also likely come into the discussion for #God Is On The Move, as well.  

If there is one weakness on this record it is that it does tend to bog down a bit in the middle, as several of the songs start to really sound alike tempo-wise.  The songs are still executed well and passionately performed, especially in the way that Howard delivers his vocals and with VanZant's hooky riffing on the guitar, but another uptempo number being wedged in somewhere between "Lean On" and "Unbelievable" would probably help to break up the logjam a bit.  That being said, the reworking of "Lean On" from the classic Christian hymn, "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" is pretty cool, although there is no way the little blue-haired lady in the pew in front of you is likely to recognize where this track gets much of its verbage.  

Stand-outs here are varied, depending upon what you are looking for from the band.  They still maintain their ability to rock, especially on the title track and the amped-up rocker "Pray It Down", which is a really nice kick-starter for the second half of the record.  In fact, "Pray It Down" is the track that fans of the first two albums are likely to point at and say..."there!  That's the band I knew so well!", as the guitars are punchy and the drums kick pretty hard throughout.  "Always"starts off presenting itself as almost a ballad, but it eventually kicks things up a notch to become a nice mid-tempo rocker that I envision being one of the high points of 7TD's live set.  I really like this song as it is one of the most passionate, powerful songs on the record and one that I find myself returning to with its story and message of redemption that it presents.  "Hopes And Dreams" is a highly polished mid-tempo rocker with a solid hook and an easily sung chorus that will also have many fans on their feet.  Despite coming off as much more of a country-rocker in its overall sound, "Revival" is a track that reminds me a LOT of "Road Of A Thousand Dreams" by Trixter from that band's Hear record, and I could actually imagine it garnering some country airplay, especially on Sunday gospel shows.     
All in all, I think #God Is On The Move is a solid album and a very well put together record, even if it abandons some of what I liked about the band's earlier output...especially their second studio effort.  If you are looking to band your head and pump your fists endlessly, then this is not the record for you by any means.  If you are looking for a more polished musical affair with impassioned, up-front Christian lyrics, and catchy, toe-tapping mid-to-uptempo rock, then I would imagine #God Is On The Move is exactly what you are looking for.  

Rating:  Definitely rock-worthy, I step this one back just a notch from their 2013 effort, slotting this one in at 6.5, with only the sameness of several tracks really hurting the overall rating of the record, as it is a truly solid effort and one I enjoy.

Back To Reviews Index

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ANOTHER LOST YEAR "Alien Architect"

(c) 2016 EMP Music

  1. Intro
  2. Wolves
  3. Bastard Sons
  4. Trigger Finger
  5. Best Is Yet To Come
  6. Run The Tank Out
  7. This Is Life
  8. He Took Beautiful Away
  9. Memories
  10. We All Die Alone
  11. On And On
  12. Holding On: Letting Go
Clinton Cunanan--Vocals, Guitars
Adam Hall--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jorge Sotomarino--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nathan Walker--Drums, Backing Vocals

Evolution is a process; it doesn't happen overnight.  Or at least it shouldn't.  Sure, sometimes bands "evolve" musically seemingly from album to album, but these "evolutions" are usually just massive shifts in musical style and philosophy, or outright genre jumping.  But these aren't the types of evolution that North Carolina-based rockers Another Lost Year have experienced over the past couple of years.  No, we are talking solid, honest-to-goodness musical growth that is a natural progression from what was already an above average band.  But where Alien Architect finds the band in 2016 is leaps and bounds beyond where they left us with their last full-length studio effort, Better Days, and their breakout radio hit, "War On The Inside".

Evolution for this band starts with a change in members, first and foremost.  Cunanan and Hall remain from the last album, but Sotomarino and Walker have climbed aboard the Another Lost Year train.  Also new for the band is Dave Ellefson's EMP Music Group label, as the Megadeth bassist obviously liked what he heard from the band and threw in with the lot.  The results of having a big name and a high quality studio behind the music is nothing short of amazing on this record as everything is bigger, bolder, thicker, and punchier in the recording this time around, giving additional bounce and life to each of these songs.

But in the end, it is the songs themselves that have evolved the most.  The songwriting here is nothing short of stellar, in my opinion.  At times deeply personal, introspective, angry, hopeful, and every possible combination of these and other emotions, the self-described "Freedom Rock" songs here have a life of their own, yet meld together flawlessly to create a nearly perfect musical landscape.  As good as "War On The Inside" was and is, songs like "Run The Tank Out", "Trigger Finger", and "He Took Beautiful Away" simply blow that hit single away.  From the first time I heard the lead single, "Wolves", I went on record and stated that it was going to take something MASSIVE to knock that song from the Best Song of 2016 position for me.  And wouldn't you know's Another Lost Year themselves that attempt to do just that!  How?  Where?  Hang on, I'm getting there. 

First off...the one lone weak spot for me.  The intro.  There is absolutely NO SECRET about my disdain for intros/outros, and nothing changes here.  So, that is a definite strike for any album when I have to auto-skip the very first track...but at least it is a separate track and not part of an actual song.  Okay, now that that is out of the way...

Lead single "Wolves" comes screaming out of the gate, setting the tone and attitude for the rockers on this album from the word "go".  Punchy rhythm guitars and thundering drums just crush from the start, drawing Cunanan's soulful vocals forward as he challenges the listener "I'm giving you one last chance to run like hell before I come"!  Hall's backing vocals are the perfect match for Cunanan's on the chorus harmonies as both men possess soaring tenors of great power and depth, and the song is just relentless in its catchiness and snares your attention with multiple hooks, both vocal and instrumental.  Months later, this is still the best song I have heard in 2016...

"Bastard Sons" picks up right where "Wolves" abruptly ends, with more chunky rhythm guitars and some nice, thick bass work, along with a blistering solo from Sotomarino that leads into the final bridge and chorus of the song.  Once again, Cunanan's voice soars through this track and easily glides over the backdrop of buzzsaw guitars, churning bass lines, and some catchy drum patterns.

"Trigger Finger" showcases an energy and urgency that is missing from so much of the modern hard rock scene today as everyone seemingly sounds the same now.  Not the case with this song, which has some nice tempo changes that really highlight Walker's skill behind the skins, and which give the guitars little windows which they can use to perform almost mini-breakdowns at the end of the choruses before ripping wide open once again.  There's some funky bass work here, also, that gives further life to this crunchy number that additionally sports some cool jack-hammer snare and a ringing fret run of a guitar solo.

"Best Is Yet To Come" is the first time the album even allows you to take even a slight breather, but don't imagine that we have backed off into ballad territory, for that is simply not the case.  The track starts off starkly with just Cunanan and an acoustic guitar, then Hall chimes in with his harmony vocals, giving the track a tease of balladry, but the guitars come ringing in shortly thereafter, bumping the energy forward without pushing the pedal down past mid-tempo, speed-wise.  It reminds me a lot of the track "Better Days" from their previous album, at least as far as style and tempo. 

"Run The Tank Out" is another piece of musical brilliance about youth, growing up, and making memories for a new generation.  Heck, by conjuring up lyrical images of Jack and Dianne (look it up if you need to, kids...) for THIS generation with lines such as "my hand between your legs and your arm around my neck" and "stars light the path so I know it's right, turn the headlights up and run the tank out tonight", this song could've been part of the sound track of MY youth growing up in the country with seemingly nothing to do on those long, hot summer nights.  The song incorporates just enough reverb on Cunanan's vocals to give them a ringing, haunting quality that further adds to the nostalgic essence of the track, and the rhythm is simple-yet-catchy as it drives you down that dusty country road of your soul.  Love this song and it is easily a top three track for me!   

I could go on and on about each and every song here, as there are no bad ones at all.  However, I feel that there is one song that still deserves extra-special mention, and that would be the hauntingly gorgeous "He Took Beautiful Away".  Surprising in its initial approach, the song starts off with just a simple drum and guitar line before a mournful slide guitar comes wailing in, along with some background handclaps, setting the stage for Cunanan to spin his web of heartache from a shattered relationship.  You can hear Cunanan's voice drip with ache and angst as he wrings each word of the chorus out in his rich tenor as the guitars moan perfectly in the background, adding their sorrow but not stealing anything from the lyrics.

"Memories" doesn't turn the heartache down much on the next track, but the band manages to start the slow climb from the emotional depths they pull the listener down to with "We All Die Alone", which, admittedly, doesn't sound like it's exactly shiny, happy music, either!  Make no mistake, however, "We All Die Alone" adds solid, hard-edged guitars back into the mix an the tempo takes a fairly sharp jump from "Memories", but not so much so that there is an obvious jolt in the flow of the record.  "On And On" is another nice rocker with a jangly guitar line under the verses, before "Holding On: Letting Go" rounds things out in fine fashion with a snappy drumbeat and some more catchy rhythm and bass guitar work bolstering Cunanan's top shelf vocals as they lead into a smoking guitar solo from Sotomarino.

It is a rare thing that I am so moved by an album that I am actually willing to repeatedly stream it, as I do NOT like to listen to audio streams, whether it is for reviewing a record or for personal consumption.  I want to be able to jump all over the place, skip forward, jump back, pause, re-start, shuffle, and do any other number of things to the music I listen to.  But with Alien Architect, I was more than content to be absorbed into the experience as it was being presented to me.  I can't even put an accurate number on how many times I sat through this album in its entirety.  Ten?  A dozen?  Twenty times?  Its possible.  But the amazing thing is that no matter how many times I played it, it still sounded fresh and it hooked me...sucked me in.  I felt like I was there, a part of the music, a member of an exclusive audience that was being treated to something extra special.  And, I guess in a way I was because I got the honor of hearing this expert piece of music days and weeks before the rest of the world, and all I can say is I feel sorry for those of you who have to wait.  This album is as close to musical perfection as I have encountered so far this year...and it really isn't all that much of a competition.

As 2016 slides into it's sixth month, it is without hesitation that I state that Alien Architect is the album of the year at the midpoint, and it is going to take something STUNNING to knock it from its place atop the heap.  It is truly that great.

Rating:  Crankworthy to the extreme.  Crank this to 9.5, with only the intro holding it back...and I almost wavered on that!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

AUSTIN JOHN "Love Sick Radio"

  1. Clique To Follow
  2. The Plague (featuring Sophie Summers)
  3. Carry You
  4. Howlin' (featuring Jessie James Decker)
  5. Road To Paradise
  6. Hate That I'm Loving It

Austin Winkler--Lead and backing vocals
(No other musicians credited in the press release)

Take a good look.  No, seriously...get close.  Look familiar?  Even a little?  If you think yes, but can't place the guy in the photo, that's because it's Austin in the former singer of Hinder.  Yeah!  That guy!  Thing is...he forgot how to rock once he was kicked out of/departed from the band.  Like so many others doing the trend jumping thing, Austin has decided to try his hand at country music now, at least on this track.  But we're not talking conventional, traditional country, no, no.  We're talking Florida Georgia Line, hip hop Bro country, with looped drum beats, rhythmic rap-esque vocals, and no real sign of actual instruments being played...just a bunch of beats strung together with some keyboard sounds and various layers of Winkler's vocals mish-mashed together.  "Clique To Follow" is a prime example of this.  It's not rock, it's not country, it's not rap...heck, it's not music, if you ask me!  What an uninspired mess this thing is...

"The Plague" gets a little better, as Winkler relies more heavily on actual singing, Summers seems to have some degree of talent (although I have no clue who she is), and I think there may be actual instruments played here, but the drum loops and drum machine are tired sounding.  You can hear the "Lips Of An Angel" vocals coming from Winkler here, however, and the listener is given reason to believe that the first track was just an anomaly of some sort.

"Carry You" is pretty dark sounding and has elements of modern rock mixed in with what would most likely be labeled as electronica and it is one of only two songs on this collection I would say that I like, with Winkler's voice sounding especially strong here.  In fact, I could even go so far as to say I could tolerate an entire album of material like this from Winkler...err, Austin John...although I'm guessing that won't happen.  Hinder it is not, but at least there seems to be aim and direction with this track.

"Howlin'", according to the press release, features "country star, Jessie James Decker", but, as someone who used to program a country station and who currently books country and alt-country acts from time to time, I can honestly say I have no clue who Jessie James Decker is.  I will say this, however...she is attractive and she can sing, for sure, but I don't know how someone born in Italy and who sings this type of music can consider themselves "country".  But I digress.  This is the best song here, and that is largely because of relatively strong songwriting and another strong vocal performance from Winkler, coupled with Decker's equally strong presence.  Again, I wouldn't call this "country" music by any stretch, at least not in the traditional sense, and if this is what passes for country now, I don't think I would even know if I accidentally turned a country station on.  Again, we have looped drums and minimal actual instrumentation here, but for a quasi-ballad, its actually not a bad song at all.  As with "Carry You", I could probably listen to an entire album of this style of music without having an aneurysm or some sort of seizure...probably...if I had to...

"Road To Paradise" reverts to the brutal schlock that the first couple of tracks was, with a particularly inane chorus and a keyboard line that sounds like it was borrowed from a clown act at a circus...on an island populated by Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffet and their fans.  Just...plain...bad...  If I could program my CD player to auto-skip, this could well be the first song of 2016 that I would blow right past without a second thought.  Horrible.

"Hate That I'm Loving It" mercilessly brings the EP to a close.  I say mercilessly instead of mercifully because there is no mercy given here.  This is a blatant stab at airplay in some kind of non-rock, hip hop, college, alt...SOMETHING...and it is just bad.  Yeah, you can recognize Winkler's voice to a degree, although it is a bit more strained at the top end than on the couple of decent songs here, and it is by no means a good song.

I have no idea what Winkl...sorry...Austin John's...goal is with this EP, but if it is to completely alienate Hinder fans, and also to turn off 99% of the music listening population of ANY genre related to this EP, then he succeeded, because this is a disaster.  I think the reason there are no musicians credited here is because either there ARE NO MUSICIANS on the record, or they simply didn't want their name associated with this dreck.  All I can say is, for their sakes, I hope Summers and Decker have strong fanbases that are going to be willing to overlook this steaming pile of horridity, or else their careers may be in danger (assuming they have careers...I still have no clue who they are!).

Rating:  Turn it down...WAY 3, and that's only because I didn't projectile vomit on my monitor or keyboard when "Carry You" was playing, and I almost caught myself tapping my foot to "Howlin'".

Back To Reviews Index

DECYFER DOWN "The Other Side of Darkness"

(c) 2016 Fuel Records

  1. Rearrange
  2. Dead Skin
  3. Nothing More
  4. Believe In Me
  5. The Other Side of Darkness
  6. Beautiful Lie
  7. Lifetime
  8. Anchor Me
  9. Don't Walk Away
  10. Burn Back The Sun (acoustic)
Brandon Mills--Guitar
Chris Clonts--Guitar
TJ Harris--Vocals, Guitars
Benjamin Millhouse--Drums
Chris Furr--Bass

After taking a couple of years off, modern Christian rockers, Decyfer Down, returned to the scene as part of the successful City Rockfest Tour with Disciple, Nine Lashes, and Seventh Day Slumber, and almost immediately had fans begging for new music, as it was evident the band's spark was still there in their live performances.  To that end, the band has answered the call with a brand new album, The Other Side of Darkness, and a new set of tour dates to go along with the new record.  

Returning on this record are the three longest-tenured members of the band, Harris, Mills, and Clonts, who have all been with Decyfer Down since at least 2008 (Mills co-founded the band in 1999), along with relative newcomers Furr and Millhouse who take over the rhythm section of the band, and to my ears, they have never sounded tighter.  Continuing to evolve musically while still sounding like, Decyfer Down, the band retains a bit of the southern rock-meets-post-grunge sound of the last album, Scarecrow, but for the most part they return to the more aggressive, straight-forward modern rock sound fans grew to expect from them prior to Harris taking over as the singer following the End Of Grey album.  As such, Decyfer Down plunges right back into the modern hard rock waters they so expertly navigated previously when songs like "Desperate", "Burn Back The Sun", "Fight Like This", and others were burning up both the Christian Rock and Modern Rock charts.  While Scarecrow failed to produce any charting singles of it's own, there is no denying the power of songs like "Westboro" and "Worst Enemy", especially in the craftsmanship of the songs themselves, so it should come as no surprise that both eras of the band have been melded together to bring out quite possibly the best album in the band's catalog.

 The lead single for the album, "Nothing More", is a prime example of where the band is at musically, as it comes out charging hard from the get go with a crushing, Sevendust-inspired guitar riff and pummeling drums, setting the stage for Harris' edgier, angrier sounding verse vocals, only to ease back slightly to allow his more melodic singing style take over on the chorus sections.   Fans obviously took to this approach from the band as it almost instantly managed to crack the top ten on the Christian Rock charts and garnered airplay on mainstream modern rock stations as well.  My personal favorite from the record, "Dead Skin", and album opener, "Rearrange" are also of this same angry, chunky modern rock style, incorporating aggressive rhythm guitars, tight bass lines, punchy drums, and snarly verse vocals in front of  more melodic chorus vocals.  The fact that the band is now a three guitar outfit should not be lost on listeners, as the overall sound is now much fuller, particularly on the harder, heavier numbers, with virtually every nook and cranny crammed with distorted six string angst of some sort. 

The band does take risks on The Other Side of Darkness, however; I don't want to give the impression that all is aggression and channeled rage at a fallen world.  "Believe In Me", for example, is far more laid back and melodic in every way, Incorporating an un-credited piano/keyboard, "Believe In Me" backs off on the tempo and the rasp and allows Harris to display a very strong tenor singing voice on what I am guessing is a deeply introspective song with some touching lyrics about others seeing more in us than we see in ourselves.  I have a hard time seeing a situation where this song isn't just soaked up by both Christian Rock and Christian CHR radio charts, as well as on modern rock charts and stations, as it is expertly performed.  Likewise, older fans of the band will undoubtedly appreciate the updated, acoustic take on the band's classic hit "Burn Back The Sun" which hit number 1 on the Christian Rock charts ten years ago.  Harris' voice is different from the band's previous singer, yet he does an excellent job on this track which is stripped bare of any pomp or power in this acoustic state, which would leave a lesser singer exposed and vulnerable vocally, especially when presented to a fan base that knows the song so well.  Harris handles it perfectly, in my opinion, and makes the song his own here.

Other favorites here for me are the title track, "Beautiful Lie", and the love song, "Lifetime", which has just a hint of a CCM feel to the first verse before kicking into a melodic-yet-rocking chorus.  Definite wedding material here for the rocker crowd!  "Anchor Me" is another really solid hard rocker that is top three or four for me here, and "Don't Walk Away" is a great ending to the new material here, giving way to the previously mentioned acoustic remake of "Burn Back The Sun".

In all honesty, there are no weak songs here, and nothing here is overly blown up or bloated by excessively long performances, as the longest track clocks in at just 4:05.  Nothing feels rushed, nothing feels shorted...each of the nine new tracks here feels complete and given appropriate amounts of time to grow and build to their respective high points.

The packaging is very nicely done, with complete lyrics, songwriting credits, thank you's, and production information.  There's a cool full-band photo under the tray insert, as well, and the whole project has a very professional feel despite being an independent project.  The production and mix are spot-on as well, with no muddiness or slurring of sounds anywhere on the disc, and there is plenty of punch to the drums without having them dominate the mix.

Overall, one of the best start-to-finish products of the first half of the year for me, and a powerful return to form for this excellent band.  As much as I enjoyed the change in style on Scarecrow and the maturation of the band's songwriting, there is something to be said for a band fully embracing who they are, and then taking that identity and moving forward with it.  Decyfer Down does just that on The Other Side of Darkness.

Rating:  Definitely a cranker, here!  Turn it up to 8.5!