Saturday, December 8, 2018

LEDGER "Ledger"

(c) 2018 Hear It Loud/Atlantic Records

  1. Not Dead Yet
  2. Warrior (featuring John Cooper)
  3. Bold
  4. Foreigner
  5. Ruins
  6. Iconic
Jed Ledger--Vocals, Drums, Percussion

If you have ever had the chance to see Skillet in concert, there is usually a moment in time when the band's tiny-yet-fierce drummer, Jen Ledger, comes out from behind the kit to allow her showcase her vocal talents away from the kit that hides her away for so much of the show.  Perhaps taking her cue from those concert moments, Ledger fully comes out from behind the kit here on her debut solo EP.  Lest one believe that this is something of a fracture of Skillet, the album was co-produced by Skillet rhythm guitarist/keyboard player, Korey Cooper, and the band's frontman and founder, John Cooper, lends his husky, snarly voice to one of the tracks here, as well.

The album kicks off with the lead single, "Not Dead Yet", a sassy rock number that incorporates piano, synths, and big drums, but don't expect any searing guitar licks to jump out at you, because that is not the direction of this track, or the EP, for that matter.  Ledger's voice sounds a bit processed in places, but that could also be partly due to the heavy use of electronics and synths in not only this song, but throughout the whole 6 track record.  She adds a clean ferocity to her vocals on the punchy chorus, while using a much more reserved, smoky...maybe even sultry...vocal approach on the verse sections, and her drumming, as would be expected, is top notch, with interesting patterns and fills throughout the song and EP.  I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the massive hit that this song has become, garnering airplay on not only Christian rock stations, but also on mainstream rock radio and even Octane on Sirius/XM.    

"Warrior" is the biggest rock moment of the record, which is to be expected when John Cooper is in the mix.  However, the introductory moments of the track would not immediately indicate that, as a robotic-sounding Ledger leads things in with the repeated line, "Heart starts to pound, shaking the ground, this is the sound".  But then the drums hit and an edgy guitar riff kicks the track into full rock gear.  Not a fast song, but the heaviest thing on this record, this track alone should give Skillet fans all the reason they need to snag this EP.  The first verse is all Ledger, A cooing Ledger trill breaks up Cooper's snarling lines on the second verse, and the two pair up for a couple of lines here, as well, before Cooper gives way to Ledger for a couple of lines, with Cooper re-entering to shove the song into the chorus, which he participates in.  Big arena drum lines are present throughout this track, as is the gritty rhythm guitar, and Ledger's defiant stance vocals are the perfect fit for this track that usually ends up on repeat a couple of times when this EP is popped in by me. 

"Bold" goes the other way from "Warrior", opting for more electronic elements and a softer vocal approach from Ledger, who manages to come across as sounding vulnerable on the verses, but empowered and strong on the chorus sections.  I will be very surprised if this track is not released as a single in the near future, as it is pure down tempo EDM ear candy, with no aspirations for big arena rock status.  The electronically enhanced drums and swirling, atmospheric synths supply a strong foundation for Ledger to really let her voice take the center stage here.

"Foreigner" is quirky and different than anything else here, as Ledger plays around with some nursery rhymes to forge the verses that run atop a bed of synths and programming before the chorus adds a solid punch with heavier drums and bass thumps, as well as a bit of guitar work.  Sure, this is more synthpop than the hard rock, but that chorus is just so catchy, and Ledger's voice so smooth and powerful, that it is virtually impossible to turn away from "Foreigner".  Ledger uses the song to point out that social media and reality TV are constantly perpetuating roles and ideals upon people that are virtually impossible to meet, creating self-loathing and misery in those people who try to pursue such things.  The title, "Foreigner", relates to the fact that we are foreigners in this world, destined to just pass through on our way to Heaven, and that giving in to the trappings of this fallen, dysfunctional world merely distracts us from our greater goals while on Earth.

"Ruins" is a true ballad, relying heavily on a piano and synthesized strings for much of the instrumental work here, as Ledger flexes her vocal muscle here, easily bouncing her voice up and down in range, and adding a whispery quality when required.  One thing that I truly appreciate about this track is that her voice sounds less processed than it often does when she's backing things up in Skillet, or even in other places on this EP.  Her backing vocal tracks here are powerful and provide a gorgeous echo to the lines here about love lost and learning to love again.

The album closes with the heavy bass dance groove of "Iconic", which like every other track here is catchy, hooky, and commands the attention of the listener, even if the style really isn't your cup of tea.  I keep going back and forth between this and "Warrior" as to which is my favorite track here (although "Bold" is definitely in the mix, as well), as both have just a bit more of a rock punch than some of the others that, with just a few twists and tweaks, could allow for them to be Skillet songs.  But Ledger avoids that trap and takes "Iconic" in more of an EDM direction than modern radio rock.  If you listen closely, there are some killer percussive moments here, with Ledger adding some fun twists to the typical dance floor beat of most music today.  I would have loved to hear a guitar solo rip through this track instead of the synth solo that we are given, but I totally get it and appreciate her determination to not go the Skillet route, which would likely have been very easy to do.  Some nice programming elements are mixed in, and there's even a brief moment when all the music stops and it's just Ledger's voice that we are hearing before the hip-shaking groove kicks its way back into the mix.  A great, fun way to close out a surprising EP.  

Mine is a digital copy, so I am unsure of packaging or anything of the like.  The production is even-handed, with the synths staying back in the mix when necessary to allow Ledger's voice to fly, and stepping up to fill the solo voids left by a lack of consistent guitar work.

Rating:  Its hard not to like what the young Skillet drummer has done here, so crank Ledger to 8!

Friday, December 7, 2018

STEELHEART "Rock'n Milan"

(c) 2018 Frontiers Records

  1. Blood Pollution
  2. Livin' The Life
  3. Gimme Gimme
  4. Like Never Before
  5. My Dirty Girl
  6. She's Gone
  7. Cabernet
  8. Drum Solo
  9. Everybody Loves Eileen
  10. Rock N Roll (I Just Wanna)
  11. I'll Never Let You Go
  12. We All Die Young
Miljenko Matijevic--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kenneth Kanowski--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Mike Humbert--Drums
James "Rev" Jones--Bass, Vocals

Steelheart is the latest Frontiers Records band to have a live recording released this year, as Dokken, LA Guns, Unruly Child, and Mr. Big have all seen live efforts pressed to CD in 2018, with both LA Guns and Mr. Big having also been recorded in Milan (Dokken's was a 2016 show).  However, unlike the other 80s bands on this list, Steelheart is down to just a single member from its original form, that being inimitable vocalist, Miljenko Matijevic, although both Humbert (2006) and Jones (2007) have been in the band for over a decade, and are credited as playing here, but I have also read that it is actually Marten Andersen on bass for this show and Joe Pessia playing lead and rhythm guitars, so I am not 100% sure of who is playing as I write this...but I know damn well that Miljenko is singing!

The album, as near as I can tell, is a sequential recording of the band's live set played at Frontiers Records' annual festival, and is identical to the DVD in terms of track order, with just a single omission from the DVD.  As such, the album starts off with some crowd noise as Miljenko intros the show with a 2+ minute long reading of a Jim Morrison (Doors) quote, which he reads over the top of some drums, before the album actually kicks off with "Blood Pollution".  As is so often the case with intros, this one is NOT a separate track, so you either have to listen to the dang thing every time you put the album on, or you have to fast forward through it, which is a pain in the butt.  PLEASE STOP DOING THIS, PEOPLE!  Anyway...

"Blood Pollution" gets the audience whipped into a frenzy right off the bat as Miljenko cuts loose on that big scream of his after a rather intense build up of drums.  Easily one of the band's hardest-hitting tracks, Miljenko is able to showcase his still fabulous range right off the bat, as he moves from the gruffer, huskier lower range of the verses to the bigger, higher ends on some of the chorus sections.  And, of course, there's that scream!  Without much of a pause at all between tracks, another Steel Dragon track follows next, with the thumping "Livin' The Life" bursting forward next.  Personally, I don't know why this song was included (much more on that in a moment), as it was not a big cut on the soundtrack, but whatever; the song rocks pretty hard and the band sounds like they are having fun with it, although there is some muddiness to the mix here that blurs the sound of the bass and the drums a bit, which is bothersome.  The guitars are nice and up front on these first two tracks, and Miljenko sounds fantastic, which is really no surprise.

A couple of debut album cuts follow things up, with "Gimme Gimme" really drawing a response from the crowd, and the energy on these two tracks is seriously high.  I was a bit concerned that this may fall off a bit, as Miljenko chooses to drop a brand new song into the set at this point, but he made a wise decision in choosing the sassy "My Dirty Girl", which has an excellent groove to it that the crowd seems to have eaten up in this live setting.  This is one of my three or four favorite tracks off the latest Steelheart effort, Through Worlds of Stardust, which manages to successfully blend a bit of the melodic hair metal from the 80s and a more 70s bluesy, classic rock sound.  If you haven't picked up ...Stardust yet because of the less-than-great earlier 2000s output by the band, wait no longer; ...Stardust is well worth seeking out.

A piano-free version of "She's Gone" is up next (Miljenko plays the piano, so no idea why it wasn't utilized at this show), and the vocalist absolutely shines here, really laying some powerful emotion into this overlooked power ballad.  "Cabernet" from the not-so-great Wait album is up next, and to my ears, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I can absolutely guarantee there is no way this song...or any song from Wait, would have been in my top 15 choices for this album, but I wasn't consulted.  To be fair, I also wouldn't have included the drum solo that follows, but I have a feeling this is as much about giving Miljenko's voice a break as anything.  I guess the solo shows Humbert's skills off well enough, but I don't like drum solos when I am at a concert, and I can guarantee I skip them (if possible) on live albums.

Fan favorite "Everybody Loves Eileen" is up next, and the band threatens to go into serious jam mode here, as the track stretches to more than nine minutes in this live setting, which is pretty cool, honestly.  The guitar work here is excellent, but again, some production issues really mar the performance for me, as there is just too much bass fuzziness overall.  Even turning my subwoofers down doesn't seem to help a whole lot, which is unfortunate.  The band then blasts off into the driving, "Rock N Roll (I Just Wanna)", before Miljenko slows things way down...and tunes his voice way up...for the band's massive hit, "I'll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)".  If there is one thing about this live record that really surprised me, it was the fact that I don't think Miljenko missed a single one of those rafter-scraping high wails on this track, even nearly 30 years after it was recorded.  It is astonishing to me to hear him still so powerful and so rangy all these years later, especially when coupled with the fact the guy nearly died several years back.  "We All Die Young" from the Rockstar soundtrack closes things out for the evening, with Miljenko sounding like he could go another 10 rounds vocally, and the band sounding incredibly tight and energetic down to the last note of the evening.

My biggest complaint about this record is actually song selection (although I will also address the production issues in a moment).  Unsurprisingly, six of the 12 cuts here come from the band's huge debut album, while just one song is chosen to represent band's newest album, Through Worlds of Stardust, although "My Dirty Girl" is a really, really good songWhat IS surprising is that while its cool to have the two main Steel Dragon tracks (1 and 12) from Rockstar included, I can't for the life of me understand why absolutely nothing from their 1992 sophomore album, Tangled In Reins, is included here.  Where is "Sticky Side Up", "Late For The Party", the band's namesake song, "Steelheart", or "All Your Love"?  To me, while not as much of a hit on radio and MTV, this album surpasses the greatness of the debut due to overall better songwriting.  Why Miljenko chose to ignore that record in favor of tracks like "Cabernet" from the seriously disappointing Wait album, or the good-but-not-great Steel Dragon track, "Living The Life"...or a drum solo, for crying out beyond me.  Even on the DVD, the song that was chosen to be cut from the CD listing was another song from Wait ("Live To Die").  I don't get it; there has to be a legal reason for ignoring Tangled...  And if I could complain about the set list just a tiny bit more, adding "Love Ain't Easy" and "Can't Stop Me Loving You" from the debut would have made more sense than the three oddities I listed.    

While Miljenko sounds great and still possesses a maddening range, vocally, the overall sound of the album is lacking.  It sounds like it was recorded from microphones rather than directly through the mixing board, giving some parts a rather muddy sound, especially on the bottom end.  This is unfortunate because the one time I did see this band live, they were excellent and sounded great!

Sadly, guitarist Kenny Kanowski would pass away just a few short months after the recording of this show, and I can't help but wonder if that is the reason this live recording is seeing the light of day, as sort of a tribute to the man. As such, it would have been nice to have a guitar solo section put in, replacing the drum solo, perhaps.  I can't help but wonder if maybe this show was never intended to be released, which could explain the subpar recording.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not watched the DVD and have no real plans to do so.

Rating:  Rock this at 6, with the lower score owing to sub-par production and an odd set list that completely omits several great tracks from their second album.

FIGHT THE FURY "Still Breathing"

(c) 2018 Atlantic Records

  1. My Demons
  2. Dominate Me
  3. Still Burning
  4. I Cannot
  5. Lose Hold Of It All
John Cooper--Lead Vocals, Bass
Seth Morrison--Guitars
John Panzer III--Guitars
Jared Ward--Drums

2018 was an interesting year for the biggest band in Christian hard music, Skillet, and a great year for their fans.  First, the band re-released their latest album, Unleashed, near the end of 2017 with numerous new tracks and updated artwork, calling it Unleashed Beyond.    At least one of the new bonus tracks charted, with others gaining airplay as well, in 2018.  Then, drummer Jen Ledger stepped out from behind the kit to release her debut solo CD, the excellent EP Ledger.  And then, lead vocalist/bassist and band founder, John Cooper, released this EP with his new side-project, Fight The Fury.  

When you first look at Fight The Fury, you can't look past the fact that the band is half of Skillet, with that band's guitar player, Seth Morrison, joining Cooper here.  To be honest, the band is like 5/8 Skillet, because the other guitar player, John Panzer III actually auditioned for Skillet at one time, but was reportedly turned away because of his age (he was only a teen at the time of his audition).  Then, when you hear the first line of "My Demons", the first track and lead single from the EP, it is immediately obvious that this is Cooper's voice blaring out at me from my speakers.  I mean, the guy just has one of those voices that is instantly recognizable, even in the sometimes cookie-cutter vocal world of modern hard rock.  John Cooper sounds like John Cooper, end of story.

But, the similarities really end there, as Fight The Fury is a significantly heavier band that Skillet.  In all honesty, the only track that Skillet would likely ever attempt to do as a band would be the previously mentioned "My Demons", which it could be argued really is just a heavier, less-programmed version of a Skillet song.  I don't have any problems with that line of comparison being drawn, and I am sure that has something to do with why that particular track was chosen as the first one to hit radio; there is a comfort factor here that I feel was designed to ease the listener in to what was to come.  The guitars are more in-your-face than they tend to be on all but the heaviest Skillet songs, and there is a lot more of an aggressive feeling to the rhythm guitars and the drums, which hit particularly hard all throughout the EP.  You can even hear some double bass work in places on the track, which has pretty much become the standard for any band in the 20-teens metal scene.  But the comparisons to Skillet pretty much end after "My Demons" ends and the blistering "Dominate Me" kicks in.  

"Dominate Me" has an absolutely crushing approach that Skillet would never touch, as it would scare off a good chunk of their audience!  A hard-hitting rhythm guitar rips through the speakers first, before Cooper barks a gruff "Go!", and the band is off and running.  Reminding me of Sevendust in the way the guitars come out so choppy and angry, and Cooper's voice bounces across the top of the rhythm of the track, always threatening to break out into an aggro-metal scream, but never quite cutting loose.  Morrison's guitar solo here is perfect, really showing that he has as much talent for this type of music as he does the closer-to-the-vest hard rock of his day gig.  The bass rumbles pretty hard here, also, and the drums are fantastic, as they are throughout the record.  

"Still Burning" is probably my favorite track on the EP.  Again utilizing that hard, choppy guitar style of the first couple of tracks, "Still Burning" has a guitar tone that reminds me of old school Metallica, and the drum patterns on this track would likely have Lars Ulrich's approval as well.  This is not to say the track sounds like Metallica across the board, because it does not, as it remains far too modern for the Metallica comparison to be drawn in a straight line.  However, I don't believe for a second that the hints of Metallica are not unintentional, as Cooper has long stated that the Bay Area Thrashers are a definite influence on him musically.  Cooper unleashes some pretty good screams on this track, but also utilizes a harshly whispered approach on the opening lines of each verse section that really sets the barks and screams apart.  Good, good stuff, and once again, the guitars are absolutely spot on for a track such as this.  This should be the second single, in my opinion, and should hit not only the Octane crowd, but also Liquid Metal, and any mainstream rock/metal station out there that still plays what the audience is going to scream for.

"I Cannot" is the "slowest" track on the album, which is ridiculous to say, because the only slower part is actually the chorus sections, and even those aren't withing shouting distance of a ballad or anything like that.  This is the track that utilizes the most electronic elements on the EP, and it is on this track that Cooper revisits a bit more of the melodic vocal approach that he has used in his main band.  The chorus is more Skillet than any other track other than "My Demons", but it doesn't do anything to diminish the song.

The album closes with another metallic assault in "Lose Hold Of It All".  The first section is more punishing rhythm guitar punches to the gut and kick drum blasts to the face, layered upon by Cooper's darkest, harshest vocals from the EP.  There is a killer guitar solo before the final run through the chorus, then after a false ending, some seriously frantic, fret-running guitar acrobatics to lead off the outro section of this track, which is my second favorite of the record.  Again echoing some of the more progressive thrash stylings of ...Justice-era Metallica, this is a super-fun song to listen to and really puts a bookend on the project for me.

Also of some interest to fans will likely be the fact that Cooper has repeatedly said in interviews that where Skillet is an openly Christian band, Fight The Fury is not.  That does not mean that Cooper denies his faith or anything like that, but this is a far darker project, lyrically, than anything Cooper has worked on before.  "My Demons", for example, is about the sexual abuse of a child and the damage that is done to that child.  I have some fairly serious questions about the lyrics of "Dominate Me", as they definitely seem to have an ambiguity to them that could easily lead a listener to find a sexual slant to them, although I have read that they are actually about a lost person looking for completely devote yourself to when your world is crumbling.  On the flip side, despite sounding angry and aggressive as snot, "Burning For You" comes across as a modern metal worship song of the highest degree, which is awesome, as Cooper screams, "Your's eternally, I'm still burning, I'm still burning... Still burning true, for You".  I know that "My Demons" has been picked up by numerous Christian and positive rock stations across the nation, and there is certainly nothing evil about any of the songs here, but I have a hard time envisioning "Dominate Me" being accepted by most of these same stations.  

I know there are physical copies of the CD available, but my copy is digital, so I cannot speak to the packaging.  However, since it is release by Atlantic Records, I am guessing there is at least a moderate amount of work put into the packaging.

Production is crisp and clean, the separation of instruments is solid, and the vocals are mixed extremely well.  The bass is present throughout the EP, and the teamwork on the guitars, and the heavy hitting from the drums, leaves me wishing this was at least a couple of songs longer, if not a full album.

Rating:  Far, far better than I was afraid it might turn out to be, I would crank this to 8!  I love this more and more with each spin; I just wish it spun for more than 20 minutes.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

ARSON CITY "Hell Of A Ride"

(c) 2018 Independent Release

  1. Prelude
  2. Hell Of A Ride
  3. Business As Usual
  4. Pushing Forward
  5. One Of These Days
  6. Let's Go
  7. Separate Ways
"Mayor" Patrick Michael Wilson--Lead Vocals
"The Doctor" Mark Beckenhauer--Rhythm Guitars, Programming, Keys, Piano
"The Dealer" Matt DiBaise--Lead Guitars
"The Con" Matt Oliver--Bass
"The Enforcer" Matt Denker--Drums

Omaha's Arson City returns with its first release in nearly three years as they follow up the excellent Horror Show record from 2015.

The disc starts with an instrumental section called "Prelude", and while I have made it well known I am not particularly fond of intros...or even instrumentals, in most cases...I do have to admit that I am going to make an exception here for a couple of reasons.  First, the band makes the wise decision to run tracks 1 and 2 seamlessly into one another, so they can be taken as one whole track OR track 2 can be started independently without it sounding like something is missing.  Job well done!  The other reason I am going to allow Arson City a pass on "Prelude" is because it is so beautifully performed.  What starts off as a piano piece from Beckenhauer picks up intensity with the addition of drums, the bass, and some harmonic guitars that remind me of something Savatage might have done in the 80s.  Really good stuff here.

The intensity kicks up even further where "Prelude" and "Hell Of A Ride" meld together, as some gritty rhythm guitars from "Doctor" Beckenhauer join the fray grinding the song to the point where The Mayor jumps into the mix, snarls "Here we go!" and launches the song into a full-throttle rocker.  If you are even remotely familiar with the Horror-Punk backstory of Arson City and its characters, you know that Wilson's Mayor character was brought up in the streets and as a member of a gang called the Horror Squad.  To that end, "Hell Of A Ride" sounds lyrically like it could be The Mayor's origin story, as the opening lines find the song's protagonist waking up under a bridge as a train roars overhead before going on to describe the life that he has lived.  Perhaps it is merely coincidence that it works out in my brain that way; regardless, this big, anthemic rocker is so insanely catchy that it took me about a dozen listens before I actually managed to get past this track.  The songwriting of the band continues to grow and mature and develop, but great songs are meaningless without talent to execute those songs, and Arson City proves from the get-go that they are more than just a really good local band with a kick ass live show.  The guitar work here is top-notch, from Beckenhauer's rhythm work to the leads of "The Dealer" DiBaise, supported by excellent drum work from "The Enforcer" Denker, and pulse-pounding bass from "The Con" Oliver, all of which come together with just enough modern production and programming to create what I feel is probably the pinnacle of this band's creativity up to this point.  But even then , the band throws more into the mix!  There is also a touch of prog running through the veins of the song, with some symphonic-styled keys dropping into the mix in places, which gives the song a fullness of sound that simply adds to the completeness of this track. Simply an amazing track that always seems to find me hitting repeat multiple times.

"Business As Usual" kicks its way through the speakers next, and if anything, is a bit more aggressive than "Hell Of A Ride", which seems crazy when I write it.  The drums from Denker are particularly strong here, and I don't think enough gets said about what this beast brings to the sound of this band.  Interesting rhythms, speed, precision, and the thunderous heartbeat of Arson City, the drums here are produced absolutely perfectly and are a key element here, not just the foundation upon which the songs are built.  Another song with a dark tale to tell, "Business As Usual" tells the story of life in the streets of Arson City, as a strung-out, would-be armed robber gets gunned down by a liquor store owner, and a hard-working single mother puts a bullet through the skull of a wanna-be mugger/rapist.  Serious stuff, to be sure, but "out here death seems so casual, [but] its just business as usual" in Arson City.  Wilson's vocals are absolutely perfect for such dark subject matter, especially in the quiet moments before the chorus sections kick in, when Wilson drops his range even further, intoning "life can change in the blink of an eye".  Once again, buzzsaw guitars and a tight rhythm section are supported by some modern elements, but no matter what you want to label it, this is simply superb modern hard rock/metal that deserves to be heard.

"Pushing Forward" continues the trend of excellent rockers, with a killer intro that features some haunted carnival ride keys at the outset, followed by more huge, pounding drums working in a kind of counter pattern to those of the rhythm guitars, leaving pretty much no empty space between notes right from the outset.  Big, gang-shouted vocals punctuate parts of the verses as well as jumping into the chorus sections on the "pushing forward" parts, while Wilson's angry, lower-range snarl drives the listener through the "nothing's gonna stop us, all-for-one-and-one-for-all" sentiments of the lyrics.  There are some interesting, discordant guitars thrown into the mix in a couple of spots as well, and suddenly this album is three-for-three as far as great songs go.

"One Of These Days" is a slightly slower, slightly off-kilter rocker, similar to something Theory Of A Deadman might come up with, but much darker, heavier at the bottom, and interwoven with a jangly, horror film feel to it.  A piano leads us in once again, along with the sounds of a thunderstorm, as Wilson drops low into a storyteller vocal approach for the first few lines before being interrupted by the dark bounce of the rhythm section.  After two runs through the chorus section, a big, screaming lead solo from DiBaise that leaps straight out of the late 80s metal scene (not hair metal...heavy metal).  I like the feel of this track and I hope that it is one that the band incorporates into their live set, as I think its a great change of pace track that will keep things from becoming too predictable.  The quirky drum patterns give the track a syncopated feel, offset by the chugga-chugga-chug style of the rhythm guitars, all layered over that piano that stays with the song throughout the length of the track, and the thunderstorm that exits the song. 

"Let's Go" pushes the pace back up once again, although we are still not into full break-neck speed territory by any stretch.  Still, this hard-charging modern rocker is fueled by crunchy guitars, another atypical drum pattern that has to be fun for the band to work around., and a strong presence from Oliver on bass, which can literally be felt throughout the track. Following the second chorus there is something of a breakdown section fueled by Beckenhauer and Oliver, PLUS a guitar solo from DiBaise before bouncing right out and back into the chorus song for another run through.  Again, super catchy and so unique when compared to so much of what is heard in rock today.  Good, good stuff.

The disc closes all too soon with...believe it or not...a Journey cover! read that right.  Now, first off, Wilson and Perry will never be confused with being vocal twins separated at birth, and Arson City and Journey have pretty much nothing in common musically, but I can't wipe the smile off my face when I hear this track.  The guitars are grittier, edgier, more urgent, and tuned far lower than anything Journey likely ever attempted, and the unmistakable keyboard intro carries a dangerous, angry edge not found in the original.  The rhythm guitars out of the keys on the intro are also cut a bit short from the Journey version, but there is no denying that the band is working hard to remain faithful to the original song, while also remaining faithful to who the band is and what they are all about musically.  The guitar solo from DiBaise is relatively simplistic at first, but he gets to run the frets pretty quickly before the solo gives way to a final run through the chorus, and the rhythm guitars have a punch to them not found anywhere in Journey's storied catalog.  One of the best touches here is the echoed lines from Wilson...done in a deep, gravelly, whisper-snarl manner...on the verses, which gives the song a darker feel than the original.   

Produced by Beckenhauer and Wilson, the album sounds amazing and professional despite the fact that it is a true self-release, with no label backing at all.  The disc comes in a cardboard sleeve, with the artwork at the top as the front cover, with the back being a continuation of the roller coaster artwork, a track listing, and some skeleton notes regarding credits and so forth.  If you're really nice to the guys, perhaps you can get one from the band that is signed by Patrick, Mark, and the Three Matts (which my physical copy is; the above photo is from the press kit).

As any review of Arson City must do, I have to include a note about the live performance from these guys.  If you have never had the chance, you absolutely need to see these guys in the live setting, whether as an opener or as the main event, as they fully deliver every time they take the stage.  The ultimate way to experience the band is at their annual Citizens Ball every October in Omaha, as the full Horror Punk show is brought to life, with the full stage show, the Horror Squad, the make-up, the costumes, and the fan participation at a peak!

Follow the band at for more information about getting your hands on this CD.  Yes, it is a quick 25 minutes, but it is well worth the investment and one of the truly great releases of the year, label-supported or otherwise!  Every time these guys put something out, the quality increases and the bar for the next release is set even higher.  Hopefully we won't have to wait three more years to see if they can top themselves and this excellent effort!  

Rating:  I don't see any way these guys don't end up with the G2G True Indy Album of the Year with this cranker!  Turn it way up to 9!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

TALKIN' TRASH WITH...Josh Bramlett (The Protest)

With their recently released third album, Legacy, The Protrest has positioned themselves near the front of the pack of the recent wave of modern Christian rockers, and are preparing to embark on the annual cross-country Christian rock tour known as City RockFest.  But before that happens, lead vocalist, Josh Bramlett, took some time away from Thanksgiving dinner to talk some trash with us here at Glitter2Gutter.  So, grab a drumstick and some left-over stuffing, and hang out with us for a bit as we talk about Skillet, Dokken, horror films, sushi, and the not-to-be Bramlett Family Singers, with Josh Bramlett of The Protest...


G2G:  Josh, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today!  How was your Thanksgiving?

Josh:  We're actually having our family Thanksgiving today, man.  How was yours?

G2G:  Mine was great, thanks!  Ate too much, but that's how its supposed to work, right?

Josh:  Absolutely, man!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Well, thanks again for giving us a call...

Josh:  It's an honor to be giving you a call, man...

G2G:  (Laughter)  Well, I don't know about an honor...

Josh:  (Laughter)

G2G:  So the new album, Legacy, has been out for a bit now, and we reviewed it on our site (you can read that HERE), and to me there has been a definite shift to a more melodic style and approach on this record.  Is that a fair assessment?

Josh:  Yes, that is a very fair assessment, yes.  And, I do want to say this, your review of the record was awesome, so thank you very much!

G2G:  No problem, man, I love that record!

Josh:  Well, thank you.  You know, I think this record was kind of our growing up record, you know.  Up until this record came out, it had been going on nearly four years since our last record, and we grew as musicians, as human beings, you know what I mean, as writers, and all that stuff, and I think a lot of that shows on the new record.  But I also think we tried a lot of things we'd never done before.  We'd previously been so afraid, really.  You know, we did some co-writes for this record which before we were very stingy about.  We always did the classic artist thing where, its like,
"Well, this is ours. We don't want anybody helping, this is our art," you know.  But the truth is, we worked with some amazing people that we got to bounce ideas off of so that we came up with some really cool stuff that I don't think we would have come up with without them in the room.  And with this record, I don't know man, we just wanted to go with the music that we were feeling at the time, and Legacy is kind of what came out!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Now on this new album, The Protest joined up with RockFest Records, correct?

Josh:  Yes, sir...

G2G:  And, that's the label owned by Joseph Rojas from Seventh Day Slumber, right?  Did he help out with the sound and direction of the new album, or did you have free reign to do what you wanted?

Josh:  Yeah, Joe owns the label, but so, how it worked out is we didn't sign onto RockFest until after the record was already done.  So, we really brought the product to him, and he really, really liked it and he wanted to release it under the RockFest label, but all the creative control was ours, which was really cool.

G2G:  It's also pretty rare in the music industry isn't it?

Josh:  Oh, gosh yes!  Very rare!  You know, we are very blessed that the label we're on is a small label, its kind of a new thing, but he's (Rojas) an incredible man with a great mind for business and he's been very good about letting us do The Protest thing, which has been very cool.

G2G:  Now, this is not your first's actually the band's third...and the record before this was called Great Lengths.  You actually had a decent amount of success with that album, which I would think has carried over to the new one.

Josh:  Yeah, definitely.  We learned some things on the last record, but like I said, it had been almost four years between records, so we were excited to move forward.

G2G:  When you put out a new record, how quickly are you smacked in the face by radio with, "Well, this is a Christian album.  We can't play that on a rock station?"

Josh:  You know, man, it kind of goes both ways.  The industry is in a weird place right now.  There are some Christian stations that are like, "well, this is too heavy...we can't play that", and some regular stations are like, "well, this is Christian...we can't play that", but luckily, and on this record, especially, and really even the last one, we had some pretty decent success on mainstream stations.  Out approach just has to be a little different, you know.  I mean, yes, we are a band of Christian men, and yes, we are a Christian band, I would say...I mean, our music has a message and we want to reach people with that message...but our approach has been come as you are, you know, with less of a "shove it down your face" type of approach to the message we bring.  Now, don't get me wrong, there is a place for that with some bands, and that's a very powerful way to do it to for some bands, but for us, we just try to talk about our own testimonies and about what's real in our lives.  You know, pain is very real for everybody, whether you're a Christian or not.  We're blessed to have Christ in our lives, and that's changed things for us, and we want to help people find Him, but at the end of the day, that's a decision people have to make as individuals and I can't make that decision for anyone.  I truly believe that.

G2G:  Do you get any pressure the other way, you know, to preach more from the stage?  Or is that pretty much left up to you?  

Josh:  Sure!  No, that's a good question.  We've been pretty blessed; I mean, we can do pretty much whatever we want.  Now, there's some festivals and some shows where they ask you not to be too preachy, or to go on about your own faith too long, you know. And some shows will ask you, "hey, we'd rather you don't give a message, but let your actions off the stage speak for you...and then when you're off the stage you can talk about it as much as you want."  But, you know, most of the time, we have free reign to say whatever we want, and every night I just pray for the Lord to speak through me, you know.  But really, we just want to be relatable.  Yes, we do play churches and youth groups, and stuff like that, but we also play clubs and bars and places like that.  We don't try to limit ourselves.  You know, people are hurting everywhere,'re hurting, I'm hurting, we're all hurting, and we're all in this thing together, and we just want to shed a little bit of light and hope, you know.

G2G:  I can totally appreciate that.  I am very openly a Christian, myself, and I've been involved in the Christian rock and metal scene for years...decades, really...but I also worked in a nightclub for many years and booked bands.  And one year, I booked a festival and brought in some classic Christian bands...we brought in Whitecross and X-Sinner and Stryper's Michael Sweet and Oz Fox...

Josh:  No way!

G2G:  Yep!  And most people were really cool, but there were some people who were like, "Hey, you're bringing these openly Christian acts into a bar, what's the deal?"  So its refreshing to hear you say, "Hey, we play where we play".   To me, its the whole Light in the darkness kind of thing...

Josh:  Amen, man, absolutely.  And the thing is, you know we've had it from both sides.  We've had Christians say, "you shouldn't be playing in churches because your music doesn't fit," or on the other side, people will say, "well, you're Christians so you shouldn't be playing in bars,"but the thing is, broken people are everywhere.  There are broken people in the church, and there are broken people at the bars and at the clubs, so we just kind of do our thing, and honestly, no one has given us too much flak.  I mean, we've had the occasional guy who gets offended, who will stand up and flip us off and walk out the door, or whatever, but really, man, even if people don't believe and don't want to believe, we've still had those people come up and say, "Hey, I respect that you guys stand for something and want to bring positivity into the mix."  So, hopefully, people can tell from our hearts from the moment we walk in the door and start soundchecking and stuff that we're different.  Hopefully.

G2G:  How much do you think the success of Christian bands like Skillet, and to a lesser degree, bands like Thousand Foot Krutch and Red, have opened some doors for bands like The Protest?

Josh:  I do think it has definitely opened some doors.  I do think its a very tough situation, though.  I'm 28, and I think Christian rock, like ten years ago, was booming, you know what I mean?  I think then it was at an all-time high. didn't fall off, by any means, but you know, your Skillets, your Reds, your TFKs...since they got there, you know, since then, there haven't been many that have reached that pinnacle in the Christian rock realm.  And, I really think that now, there's just a lot of great Christian rock music going on out there and I hope that some of those artists have the ability to reach those places that bands like Skillet have reached.  And you know, its not for the money, or for anything like that, but for the ability to get to share the Gospel and stuff.  You know, I mean, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want to make this a good living for my family and I, so there's that, too.  But its one of those things where I think the market has some amazing talent, and I think Skillet did kind of open the doors...I mean, there's always been popular Christian artists in the past...but, bands like Skillet, even if you don't know what Christian rock is, or if you say you've never heard a Christian rock band, there's a pretty good chance you know who Skillet is.  Now for us, I know like one of our biggest influences is a band called Disciple, and those guys are one of the best bands on the entire planet, in my mind.  And they have a great following and a huge draw, and they have the best fans in the world, but in my mind, they should be one of the biggest bands on the face of the planet, Christian or not, you know...

G2G:  Yeah, you kind of stole my thunder there.  (Laughs)  I was just going to say that if you want to talk about criminally underrated bands, Disciple has to be there.

Josh:  Oh, bro!  You said it, man.  I mean, we've toured with those guys a lot now, and they are the absolute real deal.  I'll say it here, man, if anyone ever asks, Disciple is absolutely the real deal and they are so good!  Christian or not, secular, whatever, put Disciple's live show and their energy up against anyone in rock, and I'll take Disciple, you know what I mean?

G2G:  Absolutely.  We've had the fortune of catching Disciple three or four different times now, and they are amazing live, and Kevin (lead singer Kevin Young) just brings it every time...

Josh:  (Laughs)  He brings it hard, that's for sure!

G2G:  Since we're on the band, speaking of Disciple, are you going out on City RockFest this year?

Josh:  Yes!  Yep, we are on that this year.  You know, actually, I think this is Disciple's first year not doing the tour.  They are actually going to be in the studio at that time, so I think Joe (Rojas) took the time to bring in a lot of up-and-comers.  I think it's going to be a really good show and tour, with us, Seventh Day Slumber, Righteous Vendetta, Zahna, Amongst The Giants, and Random Hero.

G2G:  I dig Random Hero.  They were on the tour last year, and we got the chance to see that tour.  It was also cool to see Project 86 out there live again.

Josh:  Oh, dude, yeah.  Those guys throw down!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Alright, getting back to The Protest, for those not in the know, your brother, Jarob (drums) is actually in the band with you...

Josh:  Yes sir, he's the extremely handsome guy in the band that is not me...(Laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter)  How does that work for you?  Is it a comfort to have your brother right there, or does it bring its own set of problems, too?

Josh:  You know, honestly, this is going to sound like a cheesy answer, but it's so true; my brother is my best friend, and has been since we were kids.  We got into rock n roll at the same time, and we...I don't know.  I love having my brother in the band with me.  It's an honor.  You know, there's times where we' know, we haven't had huge success or anything like that...but there's times where, for example, we're getting ready to go on stage in Germany at this huge festival, and I just grab his shoulder and I'm like, "Man, can you believe we are ready to go out here and play in front of all these people and that they know and love our music?  Would you ever believe that this would happen?"   It's just, it's such an honor and I have to pinch myself sometimes because I love my brother and it is just so cool to do this with him.

G2G:  So how did you end up not becoming the Bramlett Family Singers?

Josh: (Laughter)  That's a very good question!  (Laughs)  My mother is an incredible singer, and my sister is a good singer, too.  My dad, is a very talented man in many ways, but not much of a musician, but, yeah, we've had the opportunity to sing with our mother quite a bit at church and at functions around town and stuff.  She's still my favorite singer of all time, so...

G2G:  That's awesome, though.  Obviously having some sort of background in music in the family has to help...

Josh:  Oh, yeah.  My mom's a very good musician, and my brother's just...he's one of those guys that's just good at anything.  He's one of those guys that if he didn't want to be in a band, you know, if he wanted to play football or basketball, you know, he'd just do it, he's just good.  The guy's got a six pack he doesn't even try that hard for, he's just one of those guys.  He's a great artist, a graphic, I'm the guy that I've gotta work a little bit harder for my talent. (Laughs)  It was hard fought for, but I love it...I love it, man...

G2G:  Going back to the last album, "Rebel Static" is the song that really broke things out for you guys a little bit.  What can you tell me about that song?

Josh:  "Rebel Static", I love that song for this reason.  I'm a big fan of film.  I love movies...all movies.  I love great movies, I love cheesy movies, and I was watching what I think is a really cheesy movie called "The Running Man", starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a Stephen King book made into a movie.  And I love Stephen King and I love that movie; I mean I love it!  So, essentially, the nation's new government in the future is very corrupt and they have all these violent games, and its a very violent society with a lot of bad things going on.  And there's this underground movement of people that know the truth and that want to share the truth with everybody, and they're down there with their radios, you know, trying to pick up signals and frequencies as they try to exploit these terrible people.  And, that's kind of where I got the idea for "Rebel Static".  I mean, Christianity now, even though it's one of the biggest religions around, Christians get badgered pretty hard, whether its on Facebook or the news or whatever, and we're labelled as this judgmental group of bigots and hatred-filled people, but this generation, we have a chance to be a voice for Jesus, and to be those rebels, like in the movie, and bring Christianity into a positive light.  You know, they can try to keep pushing us down, but we won't go down, and that's kind of the thought of "Rebel Static"...this underground movement that we're going to bring to the surface.

G2G:  One of my favorite songs from Great Lengths is "Welcome To The Freakshow".  Can you share something about that song?

Josh:  (Laughs)  Oh, yeah!  Thanks, man!  That song...are you familiar with the band The Letter Black, at all?

G2G:  Oh yes!  Great band!

Josh:  Yeah, man, they're awesome!  So, we did that record with Mark Anthony from The Letter Black, and he's a great songwriter.  He had this riff, and we weren't real crazy about it at first, you know, we thought it was really weird and kind of funky, but we got our heads together and came up with this concept and, I don't just really worked out.  Kind of the thought behind the song was there's one place where you're always accepted, and that's the Body of Christ.  No matter what you look like, if you have tattoos, if you're pierced out, if you have long hair, whatever, you are always accepted.  And this song is inviting people in, it's saying, "come join us, it's a crazy, rocking time!"

G2G:  While we're on that album, and you mentioned you love movies, is the album cover a representation of The Maze Runner?  Because that's where my head always goes when I see that album artwork.

Josh:  Yeah!'s so funny!  Ask any of the guys in the band, you know, we always say people steal our ideas and stuff, right, but.... (laughs)...I'm sure they had their cover made way before ours, but I honestly didn't know about it, and it just happens that our album came out after that movie came out, so it probably looked bad, but in our mind, it was a total original idea.  But then I saw that Maze Runner book, and I was like, "what the heck?!"  (Laughter)  "That's crazy!"  But, so, I always tell people that the people behind The Maze Runner are just huge The Protest fans...that's what I tell
myself, anyway...(Laughter)

G2G:  That is definitely the way to go with that!  (Laughter)  So, let's talk about the new record, Legacy, a bit.  Right off the bat...the lead single, "What Else You Got"...I said it in my review, and I'll say it again here...that song should be on a WWE pay-per-view somewhere...

Josh:  (Laughs)

G2G:  ...I mean, it is just that kind of song!  What can you tell me about "What Else You Got"?

Josh:  Yeah, so, we wrote that song with Josiah Prince, from Disciple, and another guy (Jeremiah Jones), and we wrote this up on a synth.  And then we got together and kind of rocked it up, sorta made it our own, and messed it around a bit, and it turned out to be a pretty big rock anthem, and we're super pumped about it.  You know, we had not done a lot of songs like this before...I mean several songs on our previous records were pretty big sounding songs...but this song, it's just huge sounding.  And I don't think we really would have got that if we hadn't been open to new things, like I was talking about before.  So, yeah, I just love that's a great fight song.  And it gets me pretty jacked up, too, when we perform it.

G2G:  I love the drum sound from your brother on this new album.  Was that an intentional move to try to bring the album's overall sound forward, or was it just a change in producers...

Josh:  A lot of know, on songs like "What Else You Got", and later on "Bad Self" and a couple of other places, there are definitely some effects on some of the drums, but we went to a great drum studio in Nashville, and our producer, Matt Arcaini, is just great at knowing what kind of sound we needed.  But I love the drums, and I love our sound on the new record.  Drums can be very tempermental, you know, and can sometimes take the whole day just to get the sound right.  I know my brother had a blast laying those down, and I couldn't be happier...

G2G:  You brought it up, and I'm glad you did, because I think "Bad Self/Ascension" is an excellent song.  What can you tell the readers about this song that is, really, two songs in one?

Josh:  I'm really glad you asked, because that is one of my favorite songs on the record.  It's kind of one of the dark horses on there.  My brother actually wrote the guitar riff for that song, and he's not a great guitar player by any means, but he's very percussive by nature, being a drummer, and that's why that main riff has such a cool bounce to it, I think, coming from him and his style.  It's kind of SevenDust-y, I think, and he had that riff for a long time, wrote it on his acoustic guitar, and we were listening to it and then rearranged it and worked on it.  And the song, it was in the mix of maybe it could make the record, maybe not...we had it narrowed down to like 15 songs, or so, and we played some of the last few songs for our producer, and he was like, "This one's pretty cool," so we went with it.  And the end, the "Ascension" part, it was like just a totally kind of crazy thing.  We had written most of the song up the original ending part, and then our producer had a pretty cool, genius idea.  He was like, "let's just do something crazy, it's the end of the record, let's just make something huge and epic," and we just did like a complete 180.  You know, we're big Avenged Sevenfold fans, and their epicness on certain instrumental things, and our guitar player just really got to show his soul on that "Ascension" part, and we just think it's a really cool piece.

G2G:  I have to tell you that because of the intro line to "Knockout", my six year old will run through the house, yelling, "It's just like swimming with the sharks"....

Josh:  (Laughs)

G2G:  ...yeah...and he specifically wanted me to ask you where you came up with a song about sharks...

Josh:  (Laughs)  Okay, okay.  Wow!  Um, yeah...I'm very honored by that.  What's your son's name?

G2G:  His name is Jaxon...

Josh:  Okay, cool.  Well, Jaxon, so we wrote that song with Andrew from Disciple, and this song is a very chaotic song...I don't want to use the word "violent" because we aren't a violent band (laughs), but this is like our version of "Game On", which is a song by Disciple.  It's a very in your face kind of song, you know, its turn the other cheek and its love, but if you come against me in this kind of Jaws kind of comes to mind when you're talking about being in a bad place, so you know...swimming with the sharks... (laughs)
way...really, what I do is I kind of, when I sing that song, I'm directing it toward satan, really, you know.  But as to the swimming with the sharks like, that kind of just came from, I don't know...(laughs)...I had that melody and I go into screaming that line, and I wanted something kind of tough and different to start the song off.  And, so, instead of singing, "oh, I'm so lost" or "I'm so confused" or "I'm caught in this bad place", I wanted to come up with something a little bit more creative than that, and we're big movie buffs, like I said, and the movie

G2G:  Another song I wanted to ask you about is "Noise Revolution".  I think lyrically, and I said this in the review, I think it's a natural extension of "Rebel Static"...

Josh:  Very much so, yeah...

G2G:  Can you tell us about the video for that song, which I think is pretty funny...

Josh:  Thanks, man, I appreciate that.  We love music videos, I mean, if we had the budget and the time, we'd probably do one for every song, even if it wasn't released as a single.  We just love them that much, we just love making music videos.  All of our videos we've done up to this point have been very serious, and I think they needed to be for what they were, but this song is just so fun that we wanted to use it to poke a little bit of fun at ourselves.  We just wanted to have a blast with it.  We wanted to get our fans involved, too.  And what was really cool, we were looking for a venue, and PR and management wanted this video out pretty soon, and we were running out of time, and we couldn't find a venue, and seriously about a week out from the video shoot we found a venue.  So I started asking people then if they would come out and spend, like, ten hours with us at this place.  People drove from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, from all the surrounding states to come and support us and to help out and take a role in our music video, and it was just, it was very humbling.  I mean, it was June, it was smoking hot...most of our videos it's been freezing cold, but not this one...and it was just a blast, man.

G2G:  From the very first time I put the album it, and every single time that I play it, I have got to play the title track, "Legacy", at least four or five times.  I love it.  It is in my workout mix, it's all over the place for me...I just love that song.  Tell me about "Legacy"...

Josh:  Ah, thanks man.  Yeah, that song is just the biggest statement that we could possibly make, and it's the theme of the record.  You know, when it's all said and done, what's going to be left on this earth is not going to be our bodies, it's not going to be our souls, because they will be with Jesus, it's just going to be what we did with our time on Earth.  And that's just the thought we wanted to get across, even with our band...are we leading people to change, are we leaving a legacy like that, or are we in this for selfish reasons, you know. And I kind of pose that question to fans and people, "What kind of legacy are you leaving?" you know.  Are you leaving a legacy of love, or of something else?  Live, that is my favorite song, for sure.  It's just so raw, and real, and you know, we've always been so careful about mentioning the name of Jesus in songs, not that we're ashamed because we mention his name from the stage and off the stage, but we want our songs to have the ability to reach people in all different aspects, and sometimes people are little bit turned off if they hear direct scripture, you know, although I believe Scripture is a great comeback point.  But in this song, I get to say the words, "bow at the throne of the King of kings", and that's just very humbling for me to be able to say that, because He is the reason we are doing this thing, you know.  And that song, dude, that gets me jacked and I feel like I can just hulk out, or rip off my head, or something, it's just crazy! You know, our guitar player, TJ, is a really good screamer, too.  All the high screams are me, but all the lower ones are actually TJ, the real low, gutteral ones, I can't do those, mam. (laughs)

G2G:  Tell us about your fan base.  When you're out there on tour, your fans...I don't know, are they the Protestors, the Rioters, are they there for you?

Josh:  (Laughs)  So we have a little fan base called the Infantry, the Protest Infantry.  My mother-in-law, and one of our good friends, Christina, they help us run that, and that's what they call themselves.  And I will tell you this, say what you want about Christian music, and Christian rock, but Christian rock fans are some of the most loyal and devoted fans in the world.  I truly mean that.  I mean, I'm a devoted fan of artists, but not like these folks.  I mean, there are some people out there that they will literally do anything for us.  And it is so humbling.  I mean, I've seen people when we've been on tour and I've been in Texas, and I've seen people from the East Coast at the show, and I'll be like, what are you doing here?  And they'll tell me, "Well, I had the day off and I wanted to fly out here and hear you guys," and I'm like, "Whoa! I would NEVER do that!" (laughs)  And they are just incredible these fans, and I don't even like to use the word "fans" because these people are like family, they're friends, and these are people that since the beginning have taken us into their homes and given us gas money when we weren't getting paid very much, and prayed for us and lifted us up, and volunteering and doing their thing.  It's just so very humbling.

G2G:  You mentioned "since the beginning" a second ago.  Where did The Protest come from?

Josh:  We've been...well, it's a total God thing.  It's really wild.  We all went to school together, and we've all been pretty much playing music since about the same time.  Our lead guitar player, Adam, is like five years older than me, and he was in high school when I was in middle school.  I was really getting into rock n roll, and I wanted to learn to play guitar.  I tried taking lessons, but it was too formal, and so, my dad's a high school teacher and he had Adam come over just to try to teach me something.  And, instead of having me try to play "Greensleeves" or something formal like that, you know, he's like, "hey, I'll show you how to play some stuff like AC/DC or Led Zeppelin".  And I was like, "this is so cool, man!" and he and I just became best friends.  And my brother had a drum set, and we started messing around, and then TJ and I became friends, and it just kind of all worked out.  In 2009, Adam joined the band and it's been us four, you know with different bass players here and there, but its been us four since 2009, so its been awesome.

G2G:  You mention that your dad's a high school teacher, which I also am...

Josh:  Oh, no way!  What do you teach?

G2G:  I actually run a program for troubled students and juvenile offenders, so I teach all subjects...

Josh:  That's awesome man...

G2G:  Thank you, thank you.  Um, where I was going with that is with the kids you see at your shows, and the kids you target with the music you play, do you see a lot of darkness out there?  And isn't there a level of hope, too?

Josh:  Oh, man, yeah.  There is.  I've seen both sides.  You know, my heart breaks when I see kids that have cuts on their arms, scars on their arms, or when they tell me stories of they've never known their dad, or they've tried to commit suicide, or they got hooked on drugs when they were 15.  I've heard some heart-breaking stories, but I've also met some young people that are truly amazing and that I think will change the world.  You know, in a lot of towns we will play in, drugs are kind of a big thing, and I absolutely love getting to talk to kids and people that are struggling with that stuff and to talk to them.  Because, really, at the end of the day, we're all struggling with something, I mean I've been anxious and depressed my whole life.  We're all struggling with something, so we want to show these kids, hey, we're not perfect.  We're up here singing about Jesus and playing this music for you, and trying to live right, but we sin and we fall short, too.  But the big thing is that you are loved and you are forgiven, and we love you even if you feel cast out and alone.  We love you, and even more than that, the Creator loves you and if they can take that away from one of our shows, I don't care if they don't buy a record, or if they even remember who The Protest was, I hope they remember God over us, you know.

G2G:  Does it affect you when people say, "Well, nobody was ever saved by a song," or "A band has never changed my life"?  Do you disagree with that?

Josh:  Yeah, I think a lot of things can change people's lives.  Obviously not just music, but I mean, music has had a huge affect on me.  Huge.  It did change my life.  And honestly, even before I knew who Christ was, I think on some level, in some weird way, God used KISS, or classic rock bands in my life to get to me somehow.  I was too young to really identify with Christ, I didn't really have too much to do with that at the time, but I got into rock n roll and then I found Christ, and I was like, "I can use this medium to really reach people!"  And I'm telling you, for example, there's some Disciple songs out there that still wreck me to my core, you know what I mean?

G2G:  Absolutely..."Dear X..."

Josh:  Yeah, right!  And music is so powerful, and if you don't like rock and metal...I'm sure there's people...heck, polka music can change your's just one of those things.  I think music is just such a powerful thing and it is so amazing.  And I think there is nothing I love more or is a bigger honor than when someone says, one of your songs has really turned things around for me, or has given me hope, or saved me from this or that.  That's so humbling, man...

G2G:  For the record, polka has damaged more lives than it has helped...

Josh: (Laughs)  Yes, I instantly...(laughs) soon as I said it, I wanted to retract that statement when I said it because you are right, it has caused many tears, not of joy, but of sadness and pain.

G2G:  On that note, Josh, we like to wrap interviews with a game.  Now, the one we've been playing recently is called, "Take It Off/Turn Me On", but it's's nowhere near as seedy as it sounds (laughter)...

Josh:  Alright! (Laughs)  Let's do it! (Laughs)

G2G:  So, if you're ready...

Josh:  Ready...

G2G:  Okay, we'll start with Take It Off.  Take a band off my list of potential bands to see because they are just not good live.

Josh:  Oh, man.  Darn.  Okay...let's see here.  I was very, very disappointed with Puddle of Mudd, and with Asking Alexandria.

G2G:  Really?

Josh:  Yes.  Now...Asking Alexandria has a new lead singer and different music now, so maybe it's different now.  But Puddle of, I've never been to a concert like that.  The singer, he was like not there, it was just weird, he was not all there and he was having vocal problems, and it was just a weird show...lots of awkward times, was a little uncomfortable for me, so...I would say cross that one off your list.

G2G:  Alright, now turn me on to a band I need to hear...

Josh:  Okay!  I like that one!  I honestly have to give some shameless plugs to some bands on our label.  Amongst The Giants and The Persuaded are two of the younger acts on the label, and they are incredible.  I would also say, I am a huge Avenged Sevenfold fan, so if you haven't seen them, you need to do so, definitely check them out.  And, I'm going to say this because they are my favorite band of all time, but if you haven't seen them live, this is the last KISS tour coming up, and you need to see them live.

G2G:  Have you seen what tickets are going for on that tour?!

Josh:  I have, unfortunately...

G2G:  Wow...

Josh:  My wife and I might have to take out a bank loan, but I'm gonna have to go...

G2G:  Well, they're saying it's supposed to last three years, so maybe the second or third time around the country the prices will come down...

Josh:  Yeah, let's hope so!  That's kind of what I figure...

G2G:  Alright, Take It Off...take a movie off of my list of movies to see because it just was not good...

Josh:  Got it.  Well, I'm a big movie buff, as I mentioned earlier, and I especially like horror movies.  And, you know, horror movies are especially notoriously hit or miss, because it is so easy to make a bad horror movie, and so there are a lot out there.  But, I went and saw Insidious 4: The Last Key, even though I thought the previous one was pretty weak.  I thought, you know, I gotta see this franchise through, and I like the first two pretty well, so I watched the fourth one and, I gotta be honest, it was just a waste of my time.  Poorly acted, not was just weird.  And, trust me, I'm not one of those tough guys that doesn't like to be scared.  I love horror movies and I like being scared, and I like it when a movie actually scares me.  But that one was pretty bad.  I'm also just not into movies that don't have at least a little bit of substance, and the latest Tomb wife likes modern action movies, and I do too, in a way, but this was just very...vanilla.  Very just, "okay, that was...okay", you know what I mean? (laughs)

(Actually on Blu-Ray!)
G2G:  Alright, then Turn Me On to a movie I have to see.

Josh:  Dude, I saw A Star Is Born in theaters, and it was incredible!  I love...a lot of people don't know this about me because I'm in a metal band...but I love Americana, Alt Country kind of music, and that movie is perfect.  And I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in the theater too, and that was great.  Just to see the story behind that band, and some of the trials and tribulations that they went through, it was very encouraging for me.  I'm also going to recommend this one to you, there was a movie called Bad Boys, not the one with Will Smith, but one with Sean Penn.  He's a high school kid, gets into some trouble and goes to jail, and it's just a great one that I think you'd enjoy.  I think it came out in 1982 or something, but it's worth tracking down if you can find it.

G2G:  You mentioned Alt Country.  Are you big into bands like American Aquarium or The Drive-By Truckers, bands like that?

(Jason Isbell)
Josh:  Yeah!  I don't know much of their stuff, but I'm definitely into that kind of thing.  I have definitely heard of them, though.  I'm really into some of the older stuff, like Wilco, Son Volt, and I'm
a huge Steve Earl fan, Jason Isbell, who used to be in Drive-By Truckers, you know.  I like folk, too.  I mean, I'm just really into it.  My brother and I, when we're home for a while, we'll book a little show at a winery or a bar or something and just play some folk covers and a few of our own songs, you know, just for fun.  I love it.

G2G:  I actually was a morning guy and the music director for a country radio station for a few years, back in the 90s during the "Hat Movement", but I grew up with Outlaw Country in the 70s, and I really find myself liking a lot of the Red Dirt and Alt Country stuff today...

(Jason Boland)
Josh:  Dude, that Red Dirt stuff, like the Austin scene and stuff like that, that is good stuff!

G2G:  Oh yeah!  We had the fortune to book some of those bands, also...bands and artists like Bart Crow, JB & The Moonshine Band, Turnpike Troubadours, ummm....Jason Boland...

Josh:  Oh, man!  Jason Boland is cool, man!  That's awesome!  That would be great to see!

G2G:  Alright, back to our game!  Let's see...Take It Off...take a band off of the list of 80s bands that are still out there trying to make it.

Josh:  That are still playing, right?  Man...I'm gonna have to say Dokken.  And I will tell you this, I'm a huge Dokken fan.  I am.  They are probably my favorite 80s hair metal band.  I don't really count KISS, I mean, yeah, they went through their hair metal thing too, but I don't really count them, you know what I mean.

G2G:  Oh, yeah...

(Chaotic Resemblance)
Josh:  But Dokken is easily one of my favorite 80s hair metal bands.  They were so cool, and their songs were amazing, but half the lineup's not the same now, Don is still a good singer but they have to tune down like 500 steps for him to even come close to where he was, and I think at some point it's kinda time.  Now, the opposite, I'd say, is Stryper., Sweet is still singing like he did back in the day, and I feel like those guys could go on forever.  It is crazy!  His voice is probably in better
shape than mine is now! (Laughs)  So, yeah, it's really cool.  And there's a band, I don't know if you've heard of them or not, but probably one of the best Christian hair metal bands going now is our friends, Chaotic Resemblance.  They are good friends of ours and a really good band.

G2G:  Take It Off...a book that you've read that you were like, "Why did I even open this?"

Josh:  (Laughs)  Okay, that's good!  Okay, like I mentioned, I'm a big horror fan so I read a lot of Stephen King, which I have never been let down by a Stephen King book.  I read a lot of Dean Koontz, too.  But, I started reading this one guy called Bentley Little.  His stories were very scary, but dude, they were was like a different level of evil, weird, was just weird.  I honestly don't know why I kept reading those books, because I feel like I've got a pretty good discernment on things, and I watch a lot of horror movies and I'm not really affected by them, but the images I had in my head from some of the very descriptive things that were happening in these books, I was like, man, I don't know if I should keep reading these things.  So (laughs), I took them all to Goodwill and put them away there...(Laughs).

G2G:  So then Turn Me On to the last great book you read...

Josh:  Last great book I read, let's see...I re-read Stephen King's book, The Shining.  Dude, that is just a great book.  It's incredible.  Another one I recently read is a Dean Koontz book called What The Night Knows.  It's really fun, it's a good mystery with some scary, supernatural stuff, too, so...

G2G:  Have you ever read Koontz's The Watchers, with Einstein the dog?

Josh:  Yes, I have!

G2G:  I believe that's one of my wife's favorite books of all time, and I'm not a massive Koontz fan, but I loved that book...

Josh:  Dude, that's a great book!  There was actually a movie made with Corey Haim...

G2G:  I did not know that!

Josh:  Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughs)...there was one with Corey Haim, and...well, it might be the same on, but maybe not, but Mark Hamill was in one, too.

G2G:  Does the dog spell stuff out with Scrabble tiles and stuff?

Josh:  Yeah, dude!  That's the one!

G2G:  Alright, Take It Off...of my plate.  What is a food that I should never, ever try?

Josh:  Oh, uh...let's see here.  A food that you should never try...I would  I like a lot of food, brother, it's hard for me to try to come up with something I would turn down. (Laughs)  I will say, if you are ever in the Midwest and you find yourself in Indiana, do not eat Shenandoah High School's chicken tetrazzini!  (Laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter)  I will skip out on that every chance I get!

Josh:  (Laughter)  Yeah, I'm sure you'll have lots of chances, right?!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Well then turn me on to a food I absolutely have to try.

Josh:  Dude, something I think you would love is schnitzel.  It's a German food.  It's kind of like our version of a breaded tenderloin.  It's a pounded out piece of pork that is breaded, and I know it sounds pretty simple, but man, if done right it is just incredible.  Um, I'm also a big sushi fan, so if you haven't had any know, it's not all raw fish, some of it is fried, and good, and you know...I'm a huge sushi fan, so I'd say you should try that.

G2G:  My wife loves sushi and she can not force me to try it.  There's just a fear factor there that I just...

Josh:  I get it, man, I get that!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Well, since we're on food, and it's your Thanksgiving dinner today, I'm gonna let you go.  But first, what's on the table?

Josh:  Oh, dude...pretty much everything.  We do the classic Thanksgiving turkey thing, but my dad also smoked some pork butts, and we did some rib tips, and we have all the dressing and mashed potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, some salads...its quite the smorgasbord.  I've been on quite a diet lately, but I'm gonna put on my sweat pants and see what happens. (Laughter)

G2G:  I'm on my way over...

Josh:  Yeah, man, hey, come on over!  Where are you based out of?

G2G:  I'm actually in a little town in west central Nebraska, but I'll make the drive!

Josh:  Hey, so you can relate to the Midwest, cornfield kind of life! (Laughs)

G2G:  Absolutely, absolutely!  Josh, how do people stay in contact with The Protest?

Josh:  Sure, the two best ways would be Facebook at  We're very responsive to messages there and we love hearing from people.  And then also our website, where they can drop us a line there, as well.  But other than that, hit us up at a show, we'd love to talk to ya.

G2G:  And when will you be hitting the road again?

Josh:  Mid-December, we'll be heading out on a little headlining run where we'll actually be opening
for John Cooper from Skillet, his new band, Fight The Fury.  Then we have some acoustic dates in Pennsylvania, in Dayton, Ohio, a couple of dates in Indiana, and then heading back out after that on City RockFest.

G2G:  And if people want to snag Legacy...

Josh:  It's everywhere, it's on Spotify, it's on Amazon, all that stuff.  If you want a hard copy, just go over to and get one there, we'll send one out to you!

G2G:  Again, Josh, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.  It went a little longer than I had planned, but it was fun and I hope I didn't disrupt your Thanksgiving dinner!

Josh:  Hey, man, it was no problem.  This was a fun interview for me, this has been a blast, and thanks for the support.  Hope to see you out at a show sometime.


Thanks to Josh for taking the time to Talk Trash with me, and in all seriousness, if you have not picked up Legacy yet, and you are a fan of modern melodic metal, ranging from big stadium anthems to pretty much full-on metalcore, you need to snag it now.  It is definitely a contender for album of the year here at Glitter2Gutter, and I expect it will make some surprise appearances in many people's end-of-year lists if they give it a chance!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


(c) 2018 Roxx Records

  1. Black Widow
  2. Human Equilibrium
  3. Angel
  4. Flesh And Blood
  5. Anti-Evolution
Chaz Bond--Lead Vocals
James Riggs--Rhythm Guitar
Luke Nealigh--Lead Guitar
Sam Nealigh--Keyboard
Dan Nealigh--Bass
Eli Closson--Drums

Following a successful reunion record, last year's A Decadence Divine, Biogenesis wasted little time in getting back to the studio to record this follow-up EP.  Consisting of three new tracks, a cover song, and a reworking of a track from their debut album, Black Widow finds the band in fine form and charging hard heading into 2019.

The EP starts off with the epic title track, "Black Widow".  Clocking in at nearly eight minutes, this song sounds to me like a gruffer, heavier Savatage in a way.  A clean acoustic guitar leads the track in before drums are added to the mix, followed by some rather fierce rhythm guitars from Riggs, and then synthesized strings. Bond, who along with Riggs are the only original members left from the band's debut album, once again showcases why his vocals are a step apart from so many other singers in metal today.  Not ear-shatteringly high, but always powerful and with a strong vibrato when required, Bond delivers both clean and harsh vocals here, sounding even stronger than he did on the 2001 Rowe Records debut, The Mark Bleeds Through, before he put Biogenesis to rest as he went on to front Jacob's Dream for a couple of albums.

"Human Equilibrium" is considerably shorter, at just over five minutes, and the symphonic elements are more out front, weaving their way throughout the tapestry of the song.  Aggressive rhythm guitars are the order of the day here, and Closson's drum work is top notch, as well.  Bond employs a lot of aggression in his vocals here, bordering on the extreme at times with his howls and growls, but he is never hard to understand and never fully crosses over into death or black metal territory.  I love the fact that the band is allowed to perform on this track...and every track here, really...meaning that there doesn't have to be layers of vocals filling up every nook and cranny of the song other than a guitar solo section.  The drums and rhythm guitars are in full effect at all times, especially with a couple of different time changes here, a keyboard solo is thrown into the mix, as is a guitar solo, and the bass at the bottom end is easy to feel and appreciate.  The progressive nature of this track is so beautifully supported by the crunchier, thrashier elements, this is just about the perfect metal song to these ears.

"Angel" is a big power ballad that also happens to be the first single from the EP.  In many ways, this track reminds me of the progressive style that Deliverance was employing on their Camelot In Smithereens and River Disturbance albums, utilizing huge, sweeping, melodic sections interspersed with crunchy rhythm guitars and layers of power vocals of varying ranges.  There is a piano presence throughout the song's seven-plus minutes, as well as more orchestrated synthesizer sections, as well.  Not my favorite track here, but definitely solid and a nice stretch from the more aggressive metallic assault employed on the other four tracks.

Speaking of Deliverance, "Flesh And Blood" is a cover of one of my favorite songs from the classic Christian thrashers, off of their seminal release, Weapons Of Our Warfare.  Musically, the guitars and drums keep their same thrash nature for most of the song, but the addition of the symphonic elements used by Biogenesis is pretty interesting, as is the significant time change after the second chorus section that leads into a massive instrumental section that was not a part of the original.  Of course Chaz Bond shares pretty much nothing in common vocally with Jimmy P. Brown II of Deliverance...other than incredible power...but what he does here fits in nicely.  The drums are insanely fast and furious here, and the more modern production adds a bottom end that was not present on the original working of the track way back in 1990.  There is also a keyboard solo thrown into the mix that I can guarantee you was not in the original back in the day, but somehow it all works out, largely thanks to the relentless rhythm guitars from Riggs who has the unenviable task of trying to replicate the work of Brown, one of the greatest rhythm guitar players in metal history. The synthesized orchestral sections serve remind you that the band is not out to just rehash a classic, but to put their own spin on one...which are two very different ways to approach a cover song.  As a massive fan of Deliverance, I still stand by the original, but I will tell you also that I appreciate everything Biogenesis does on this track and consider it one of the better cover attempts of a Deliverance song I have ever heard, which is saying something as I was the co-executive producer of a 2-disc Deliverance tribute album a few years back!  Excellent work here that I found myself enjoying far more than I would have thought possible!  

The EP closes with a reworking of an original Biogenesis tune, "Anti-Evolution".  Musically, the song remains relatively true to the original as far as style and tempo, but vocally there is a lot more edge to this new version, with Bond mixing in more harsh vocals than he ever attempted in Biogenesis V1.0, and backing off on the somewhat Gothic approach he employed on The Mark Bleeds Through.  There is also a layer of symphonic synthesizers that was not present in the original, and Riggs' rhythm guitars are maybe not quite as out front as on the original, BUT there is definitely more lead guitar on the new version.  Its hard for me to say, "I like this version better than that one", as both are excellent versions of one of my favorite tracks from the band.  If forced to choose, I think I would choose the vocals and lead guitar work here, along with the synthesized strings, and go with the punchier, crunchier rhythm guitars from the original.  How's that for decisive?  Honestly, you can't go wrong with either version, and this one fits where the band is stylistically much better than the original would.

The Biogenesis style is not going to be for everyone, to be sure, but there is no denying their uniqueness in the metal world.  Combining elements of thrash, power metal, symphonic metal, and touches of modern metal all into one swirling, churning, moshing vat of hard music is not an easy task, yet Biogenesis pulls it off keenly!  The resurgence of this band is an exciting one for me, and should be for anyone who considers themselves a fan of metal.  This is good, good stuff, folks.

If you want your own copy, you had better hurry, as there are only going to be 300 of these EPs printed, and then they will be gone. To get yours, head over to now, before they disappear!  Plus, I am told if you order during the Thanksgiving weekend, you will also get the Roxx Records "best of 2018" CD that will also include a bonus, original Biogenesis Christmas track, as well. 

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  I wish it was a bit longer on new material, but the cover and reworking maintain a consistency of sound and style that leaves this EP firmly in the 8 range!

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