Saturday, June 24, 2017

RIGHTEOUS VENDETTA "Defiance"

(c) 2014 Street Smart Recordings

  1. Defiance
  2. Take Over
  3. What You've Done
  4. Hard To Breathe
  5. With Love
Ryan Hayes--Vocals
Justin Olmstead--Guitars
Carl Heiman--Guitars
Zack Goggins--Drums
Riley Hayne--Bass

There are several places in the world that come to mind when one thinks of hard music.  Hollywood, obviously.  New York City.  London.  Pretty much the entire Scandinavian region.  Now, you probably noticed that Wyoming is NOT a place on that list.  I mean, just the sparse population and lack of any real cities is a definite strike against trying to make it in the modern rock/active rock scene.  And yet, Righteous Defiance has been working since 2008 to do exactly that, and in 2014, they took a significant step in the right direction with their EP, Defiance.

While not doing anything to stretch the boundaries of the genre, Righteous Defiance certainly has a firm grasp on the Sirius/XM Octane sound on this five track record.  Buzzing guitars and HUGE drums kick things off with the fist-pounding anthem, "Defiance".  Right away, the band asserts themselves as more than merely competent players, as the musicianship is tight and crisp, with an excellent rhythm section and tandem guitars all working together to whip the listener into a frenzy while Ryan Hayes' raspy, core-ish vocals acknowledge "Great is the power of violence, But greater is the power of defiance", while urging the listener to "Come on stand up, Put your hands up, Live in defiance!" against those who seek to keep them down.  Good stuff that I am sure is a fan favorite live.

"Take Over" continues the aggressive riff-fest, with some programming elements mixed in for good measure, especially evident with the stutter effects used on Hayes' vocals.  There is also some nice twin guitar work utilized in this track, adding a bit of a metallic feel to the otherwise decidedly modern radio rock track.  Another anthemic, crowd participation-styled chorus is a big part of this positive rock track that also uses a few slightly softer moments to change things up a bit.

"Hard To Breathe" is probably the most truly radio friendly track here, but that doesn't mean that it isn't just as aggressive as anything else on this EP, because it is still a definite skull crusher.  However, there is a clean melodic element to the chorus vocals that is not a part of the equation on other tracks here, which really sets the harsher verse vocals apart.  The guitar work that is going on in the background is particularly strong on this track, with a little string-bender of a solo even thrown into the mix, and the big drums are still pounding away, the unheralded driving life force of this band, in my opinion.

"What You've Done" has some fast and furious guitar running throughout the track, with a quick little fret run after the first chorus teasingly close to actual shredding in a modern rock track, which just doesn't happen often enough. There's a pretty cool guitar outro on the song, as well, and after hearing "What You've Done", I find myself really wishing that there was this much melodic guitar emploed on more of the songs here, as Olmstead and Heiman really seem to feed off of each other well and have a lot to express musically.

The album closes with the slowest number on the EP, and "With Love" is a really good way to wrap things up.  Again, very radio friendly in its approach, another positive, uplifting message is driven home with aggressive, yet relatively clean, vocals atop a slower-to-midtempo song that finds the band sounding a bit more calculated than elsewhere on this record.  Catchy, hooky, passionate, yet not losing its edge, "With Love" puts a nice bow on this short little musical endeavor.

The packaging is simple, with no lyrics included, but Hayes is not difficult to understand at all.  Positive and uplifting vocals are the order of the day throughout this EP, which is refreshing to hear.  Having toured with such Christian rock heavyweights as Skillet, P.O,D., and Red, the boys have learned how to get their faith and worldview across without making anyone uncomfortable or feeling preached to.

I know at one time you could order this EP directly from the band and it would come delivered with the band group photo in the middle autographed by all the members.  Carl Heiman has since left the group, so I am not sure if there are some pre-signed EPs available, but its worth a shot if you like to have a bit of a personal touch from bands you support.  Check out their website at www.righteousvendetta.com  for merch and band info and tour dates.

Rating:  Being from rural Nebraska...and not that far from Wyoming...I've been pulling for these guys for some time.  This is their most crank-worthy effort to date, despite being just five tracks long.  Crank this to 7.5 and check them out live if you get the chance.

Friday, June 23, 2017

*RETRO REVIEW* SILVERTIDE "Show And Tell"


(c) 2004 J Records
  1. Ain't Coming Home
  2. Devil's Daughter
  3. S.F.C.
  4. California Rain
  5. Blue Jeans
  6. Mary Jayne
  7. Heartstrong
  8. To See Where I Hide
  9. You Want It All
  10. Nothing Stays
  11. Foxhole J.C.
Walt Lafty--Lead Vocals
Nick Perri--Lead Guitar
Mark Melchiorre--Rhythm Guitar
Brian Weaver--Bass
Kevin Frank--Drums, Percussion


Very few bands hit me as hard...and then disappeared as quickly...as Silvertide.  Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a revivalist movement of the 70s and 80s classic hard rock sound.  Black Crowes are often credited with leading the way when they hit the scene in 1990, although to me that band always had as much in common with the southern rock sound as it did the classic rock of the 70s.  Other bands, such as Jet, and later Airbourne, also really carried the torch for this musical revival, but for my money, the best of the bunch was the "here today, where the heck did they go two weeks later?!" kids of Silvertide.  I say "kids", because the whole band was in their teens and very early twenties when they released their debut EP, American Excess, in 2002, and then this, their only full-length release, Show And Tell, just two years later.  Brass, bold, chock full of attitude, and loudly in your face, Silvertide wore their influences on their sleeve, but put their own stamp on a yesteryear sound that none of them were alive for when the style was fresh and new!  AC/DC, Aerosmith, and 70s-era Styx and Cheap Trick combine with the sleazier, dirtier Hollywood underbelly of bands like Faster Pussycat and Guns N Roses on this killer debut record.  Forget the nu-metal of the band's era, these boys came to throw a party while they were rocking your face off, a fact that was very much evident on Show And Tell.

This album is an absolute must own, as there is just solid rocker after solid rocker after solid rocker on this record, with two nicely executed ballads mixed in for good measure.  From the kicking album opener, "Ain't Coming Home", with its gritty AC/DC three chord rock n stomp, punchy drums, and Lafty's sneering snarl, all the way through the angst-laden closer, "Foxhole J.C.", which was written shortly after the events of 9/11, the band had a chemistry and attitude of acts many times their age and experience.  This attitude and energy and chemistry was obviously apparent to others in the industry, as the band was chosen to open for their heroes, Aerosmith, after only being a band for 6 months, and then later toured with Van Halen and Motley Crue, among others.  Talk about running with fast company right out of the gates.

Four singles were released from this record, with three of them charting Top Twenty on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Chart in 2005 ("Ain't Coming Home" #6, "Blue Jeans" #12, and "Devil's Daughter" #18..."California Rain" didn't chart), but honestly, I think the band/label made a mistake by not pushing the big ballad, "Nothing Stays", which really showcases the band's strong songwriting and their ability to rein in all of their musical aggression and expertly showcase their softer side.  Some of the best lyrics on the album are found in this softer section, as well.  Just a solid song that I think would have charged up the charts for the band.

Two songs, "Mary Jayne" and "To See Where I Hide" were carry-overs from the band's debut EP (which was actually their demo), and I think you can tell the band was not quite as sharp with their songwriting on these two older tracks.  Neither is terrible, but lyrically they are both lacking.  Of the two, I would say "To See Where I Hide" is the best, simply because it has some excellent guitar work...including a Hendrix-esque intro...and some really nice drum work, along with a solid bass line, that would possibly be one of the better tracks on a truly great album had it been stronger lyrically.

Favorite tracks on the record would be "Ain't Coming Home", the catchy, more 80s-feeling "California Rain", the lyrically catchy, "Blue Jeans", the biting "Foxhole J.C.", and both of the ballads, "Heartstrong" and "Nothing Stays".  Nothing here is skip-worthy, however, as this is one of the best overall debuts I have ever encountered in any style of music that I listen to.  It's too bad the band's 2013 reunion didn't result in any new music, and nothing I have seen or heard would lead me to believe a new Silvertide record is even a remote possibility at this time.  The EP is available out there, and I know there were at least five "B-side" tracks recorded for Show And Tell, although I have only managed to find two, both of which are really good, if not great.

Here today and gone just five minutes later, or so it would seem, Silvertide had a world of promise, and they totally delivered on that promise with this dang-near perfect debut effort.  I still feel they could be a force in the hard rock scene today had they managed to survive, but perhaps too much fame and too much success came far too quickly for these young guys, and Show And Tell is the lasting legacy of a band that could've been the beginning, rather than the end, for a killer rock band.

Rating:  Definitely a crankable gem, even after more than a dozen years, Show And Tell is still a 9 in my book, maybe even a 9.5, given my mood.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

GOLD, FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH "Identity Crisis"

(c) 2016 GFM Music

  1. Beneath The Skin
  2. Graveyard Of Identities
  3. Stuck In My Suicide
  4. Twisted Humanity
  5. Judas Kiss
  6. Darkness
  7. Chatter In The Room
  8. Evil Lies
  9. Death Of Giants
  10. Dimensions
CJ English--Guitar, Vocals
Maggie English--Bass, Keys, Vocals
Lulu English--Drums, Vocals

Additional Musicians
Jonathan Chu and Andrew Piland--Strings on "Chatter In The Room"

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are, of course, the gifts of the Magi, given to Jesus Christ upon his birth.  Gold, as we all know, is a precious metal, while frankincense is a perfume or an incense, and myrrh was used as an anointing oil in Biblical times.  

Now, Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh (or, GFM as I am going to call them now, as Frankincense is just so darn long to type!) is something completely different, yet related.  GFM is an all-girl, all-sister band that has come onto the Christian rock and metal scene seemingly out of nowhere.  To help put that myth to rest, the sisters did NOT, in fact, come out of nowhere.  Rather, the trio hails from Florida, and apparently they refer to their style of music as "beautycore", which is a mixture of hard rock and metalcore that is played by all-female bands (as if we needed more genre splitting, right?).

Regardless of where they hail from and what they call their music, one thing is for certain: they appear to be a force to be reckoned with.  Identity Crisis is the band's second album (their first full-length release), and it finds the girls hitting hard, both musically and topically.  Listing bands such as Five Finger Deathpunch, Skillet, and Disciple as influences, the three sisters range in age from 17 (CJ) to just TWELVE!!! (Lulu...Maggie is 15) but pack a musical punch that belies their age, helped along in their musical development by Jake Jones and Justin Foreshaw of As We Ascend.  Two singles have been released thus far, with both "Beneath The Skin" and "Darkness" getting considerable airplay on Christian rock and metal radio stations, as well as garnering chart success in the Christian rock format.

The album kicks off with one of the singles from the record, as "Beneath The Skin" comes ripping from the speakers in a big way.  The harmonizing vocals of siblings is definitely there on the backing vocals in the chorus, but the liner notes are unclear about who handles the clean lead vocals, the harmonizing backing vocals, and (later) the harsh, screaming vocals...so I contacted the band's Facebook page!  I was told that CJ handles the clean leads, Maggie does the harsher vocals and screaming, and Lulu tackles some of the harmony vocals.  Regardless of who sings/screams what, "Beneath The Skin" is an infectious rocker, with some solid rhythm guitars, a nice breakdown section, especially coming out of the final chorus, and some truly great drum work from the youngest sister of the trio.  I was duly impressed with what I heard on this first single.

The girls ratchet things up on "Graveyard Of Identities", which is one of my two favorites on this album. Rapid fire verse sections, slower, down-tuned bridges, and then slightly ramped up speeds on the chorus section are enhanced by the introduction of some ear-shredding, guttural screams offsetting the otherwise clean lead vocals.  This song should be all over active rock and metal radio, in my opinion, as it is catchy, has a nice hook, and packs a serious vocal punch (although the harsh vocals may be a bit too much for more conservative rock stations).

"Stuck In My Suicide" is equally punchy in its blistering approach, and there are some obvious comparisons to a band like In This Moment, particularly in the modern elements thrown into the mixing and producing of the lead vocals.  Again, there are some harsher screaming elements on this track, but not to the brutal level of "Graveyard...".  

"Twisted Humanity" slows things down somewhat, but retains its overall rocking approach.  If it were up to me, "Twisted Humanity" would definitely be released as a single, as it showcases so many different elements within the band:  harmonizing vocals, screams, a tight rhythm section, some really solid, grinding rhythm guitars, a couple of tempo changes, solid lyrics with a positive message speaking against self-harm...all wrapped up in a three-and-a-half minute ball of fury.

"Judas Kiss" is NOT a metalcore version of the classic Petra song...which was, of course, turned into a punk song by punk thrashers, One Bad Pig.  Instead, this "Judas Kiss" is a mid-tempo metalcore number that again alternates between harsh and clean vocals, with a bit of spoken word thrown in for good measure.  There is a solid, if not crushing, breakdown section before the final chorus section, and the tightness of the girls' playing is once again the really impressive part of this song, overall. I wish there was a bit more thump to the breakdown here, but not a bad track at all.

"Darkness" is another of the album's singles, and it is easy to see why.  Probably the most radio friendly rocker on the disc, "Darkness" again features some of those programming-stuttered vocals used by bands like In This Moment.  "Darkness" also features what passes for the only real guitar solo on the record, but its nothing overly flashy and is far more smooth and melodic in its approach.  The harsh vocals are absent here, but the harmonizing is not, and the finish of the song has a big, epic feel to it, which is pretty cool.  This is a track that was originally recorded for the Death Of Giants EP that GFM released a couple of years ago, but this version is an improvement over the original.

A mournful cello leads in the next song, and almost immediately, "Chatter In The Room" is going to draw comparisons to a band like Evanescence, with the soaring female lead vocals, programming elements, and strings.  While I can certainly hear it, "Chatter..." is a powerful, emotional ballad on its own and doesn't need big name comparisons to validate it.  CJ really gets to stretch her vocal wings on this track, showcasing a strong, emotive voice that I believe will only get stronger with time.  A powerful message is delivered in the lyrics here, as well, and once again, this is a song that I would push...and push HARD...as a single from this record to get these girls some exposure.  This is, bar none, the best song on a record filled with good-to-really good work.  While I certainly don't want to see GFM back away from their throat-punching, core approach by any stretch, if they can deliver one or two tracks like this on any future albums, they are going to draw fans from the followers of bands such as Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, or secular bands like Lacuna Coil and the previously mentioned Evanescene.  Again, this is a carryover from Death Of Giants, but is also superior in its re-recording and new production.

"Evil Lies" brings the punch and crunch back on the intro, backs off a bit during the verse sections, then flows right into a tightly harmonized chorus section.  Not my favorite track, but it is a nice transition from the softer musical side the girls exposed on "Chatter..." into the full on thump of the next track, "Death Of Giants".

"Death Of Giants" is the title track of the girls' debut EP, although it has been given new life and a new recording for this effort.  Again, the interplay between the clean vocals and the brutal harshness of the screamed vocals serve the song extremely well.  The rhythm section is solid, with Lulu establishing a tight tempo that never wavers, while her older sisters grind away on rhythm and bass guitars.  Lacking a true solo, but sporting a nice little breakdown section following a chanted, "Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!", this version of "Death Of Giants" is definitely superior to its first incarnation and is one f the highlights here.

The album closes with one more reworked song from GFM's debut EP.  "Dimensions" starts off with some programmed elements before giving way to the chugga-chugga-chug of the rhythm guitars that are so prevalent in metalcore.  Yet again, we have a nice mix of harsh and clean vocals, with some programming tricks giving a stop-start stutter to some of the lead vocals.  A nice, crunchy number to wrap up an overall solid and promising effort from one of the exciting new acts to hit the Christian rock/metal scene.

The production is very strong here, with Jones and Foreshaw doing an excellent job of giving each girl's instrument a chance to be heard and not buried in the mix.  The packaging is simplistic, with a simple tri-fold insert featuring both individual and group photos of the girls, along with extensive thank you's and production notes.  I got my copy directly from the band's website, so my liner notes are autographed (in GOLD!) by the girls.  There are no lyrics included, which is too bad, as it is evident the band has a powerful, bold stance and it would be nice for younger listeners who may look up to these girls to be able to read about exactly where they stand.

Overall, this is an impressive effort in a genre that, honestly, is rather same-sounding most of the time.  While not necessarily reinventing the metalcore genre, the girls' take on "Beautycore" breathes enough freshness into it to make Identity Crisis an album worth tracking down.

Rating:  Crankable if you are into metalcore at all, and featuring enough elements to cross fans over from multiple rock and metal areas.  Crank this to 7!

RIVERDOGS "California"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Music

  1. American Dream
  2. Revolution Starts Tonight
  3. Something Inside
  4. Golden Glow
  5. You're Too Rock N Roll
  6. The Heart Is A Mindless Bird
  7. Searching For A Signal
  8. Welcome To The New Disaster
  9. Ten Thousand Reasons
  10. Catalina
  11. I Don't Know Anything
Rob Lamothe--Vocals, Guitars
Vivian Campbell--Lead Guitar
Nick Brophy--Bass, Vocals
Marc Danzeisen--Drums

It has been nearly 30 years...27, to be exact...since Riverdogs released their stellar debut, eponymous record.  Yes, there were a couple of Riverdogs releases after that first effort, but neither 1993's Bone, nor 2011's World Gone Mad, had the kind of material to really grab me as a listener or fan. Sure, both had their moments, but nothing like Riverdogs did back in 1990.  So when I was sent the newest Riverdogs effort, California, for review, I was guardedly optimistic that perhaps a better-than-average record was what I was about to listen to.  

I got a lot more than I bargained for.  

For me, this record, as well as the debut, really starts and ends with the combination of Vivian Campbell's amazing guitar skills, Rob Lamothe's smooth yet still muscular vocals, and some excellent song writing.  This is not to take away from the contributions of Brophy or Danzeisen, but if you take away any part of the trio of items I mentioned, this project would likely fall into the "not bad, but missing something" department, like so many other good-but-not-great records that cross my desk or end up in your shopping cart.  

Campbell is, of course, no stranger to anyone from the melodic rock/Hollywood hair scene, having been an integral part of Dio, Whitesnake, and now Def Leppard, as well as the massively underrated one-off supergroup Shadow King (with Lou Gramm), and his guitar wizardry is all over this new Riverdogs record.  In fact, this record is as guitar-driven as probably anything Campbell has done in quite some time, as there is no obvious use of programming or synths on this record at all.  California is just pure, straight-forward, at times blues-edged hard rock from start to finish.

The album kicks off with the decidedly uptempo shiny happiness of "American Dream".  As soon as the "hey hey hey hey" vocals kick their way free of your speakers, the rock n roll show is on.  Feeling very much like the kind of upbeat rock Night Ranger has released on their last handful of records on the Frontiers label, "American Dream" is easy to latch onto and one of those tracks that could very easily have you speeding along a bit too quickly down the highway as it blasts from your stereo system.  The rhythms here are tight, the simple chorus is catchy, and the melody hooks you and drags you in, but the real highlight here...and on so many of these songs...is the guitar acrobatics of the solo, where Campbell unleashes his skill in a flurry that is not stifled by time constraints to just a few notes and chords; he is given ample time to run the frets for your listening pleasure!

"Revolution Starts Tonight" is a bit darker musically, with a bluesy, grungy attitude and some killer song writing.  I especially love the lyrical slant on this song, which was almost instantly my favorite tune on the record, with the first verse musing, "I don't know where the sun goes at night, Maybe She's just sleeping off the drugs.  And maybe we're just living on a blue satellite, And gravity is flowing in the blood".  Musically, this track reminds me of some of the moodier hard rock that Winger has released recently, which is a good thing, and Lamothe's smooth vocals are an absolute treat here.  Again, another excellent guitar solo is embedded in this track which I think most people will grab onto as one of the top efforts on this new record.

"Something Inside" continues along the same stylistic lines as "Revolution...", as it is another darker, more brooding type of song, but the tempo doesn't bog down and the listener never feels the need to drag the flannel and Doc Martins out of their closet just to give the song a fair listen.  A definite blues vibe runs throughout the track, and a hint of smoke whispers across Lamothe's vocals, giving just a tinge of an edge to the smoothness he brings to this set of songs.  The bass of Brophy is also given a bit more voice in the background here, and the record is instantly three-for-three as far great songs goes, with these two back-to-back numbers the definite highlights of the first half of the record.  

"Golden Glow" is the record's big lighter-in-the-air power ballad, reminding me a bit of Cheap Trick's "The Flame", especially on the intro and in the drum line and tempo used.  A classic feel on a tasty song, to be sure.  Again, superb song writing is at the forefront here, and the storytelling really lends itself to the big production video I can conjure up in my mind, but sadly this isn't 1989 and nobody really plays videos any longer.  Campbell doesn't dominate the song with a long, flashy solo here, but rather drops in here and there, his guitar singing along with Lamothe, on yet another truly quality song from this quartet.

"You're Too Rock N Roll" has a cool, dirty rhythm hitting right from the start, and Lamothe seems to be to be channeling his inner Don Henley here, as his vocal approach reminds me a lot of "Boys Of Summer", even though the song itself doesn't.  However, a harder-edged Eagles isn't a horrible comparison to the style of music here, laid back and cool, yet still sassy and sarcastic in all the right places.  Campbell rips off a nice solo here, and the drum work from Danzeisen is nice and tight here, with some simple-yet-catchy fills.

The title of "The Heart Is A Mindless Bird" really had me curious about what I was going to get when I got to this track, which is the midpoint of the record.  What it turns out to be is a really cool song with a dark, bluesy vibe to it, and once again, some excellent lyric writing that doesn't rely on tired rock n roll cliche just to give the singer something to vocalize.  "Who will hear the poetry?  The songs, the wasted words, Splintering like shards of glass, The sigh that goes unheard..."  Just really good stuff here and, really, all throughout the record.

"Searching For A Signal" kicks the tempo way back up, matching the opening track as far as pace goes.  Not quite as catchy as "American Dream", and a bit dirtier in the tone of the guitars, "Searching For A Signal" is a solid rocker, nonetheless, and one that finds the guys sounding very much like they are just jamming and having a good time.

"Welcome To The New Disaster" has a bump-and-grind rhythm, more darkly bluesy guitar work, and a smokey barroom vocal approach from Lamothe who does his best to steal the show on this track.  Gritty and soulful, "Welcome To The New Disaster" fits right in with the best material of the first half, and slides easily into my top 5 songs on the record.  Love the overall feel and vibe on this song.

"Ten Thousand Reasons" is another great ballad, with deeply emotive lyrics that manage to stay on this side of the saccharine side of things.  More bittersweet than sickeningly sugary, this is a mature band's love song, not an "I love you, stay with me or I might die" ode of a thousand teen hearts' angst.  Campbell manages to slip in a fairly biting solo without disrupting the tempo and feel of the song, and the rhythm section really supports the overall structure of the track, giving Lamothe a solid foundation to slide his vocals across.  

"Catalina" bumps the tempo up just a notch and is a solid guitar rocker, but is probably my least favorite track on the record as it doesn't really hold my attention like the rest of the record does.  The lyrical work is solid once again, and Lamothe is still in fine form...as is Campbell, for that matter...but overall this feels more like a filler track to me than the rest of the material here.  Still, it is a far sight better than much of what gets dumped onto records now to take up space between singles, and I doubt many people find the urge to hit the skip button when "Catalina" comes on.

The album wraps with "I Don't Know Anything", a wistful, mid-tempo rocker with multiple guitar interludes from Campbell, an emotive tenor glide from Lamothe, and a nice, blues-drenched bass line throbbing along, setting the current of the song.  Again, not quite as solid as, say, "Revolution..." or "Something Inside", but still a really, really good song that puts a nice bow on an overwhelmingly solid effort.

There is very little I can say negatively about this record, and I find myself drawn to just put it on "album repeat" and let it run over and over in the background...except that I keep finding myself stopping to appreciate the overall musical experience the album brings.  As I mentioned in one of the song descriptions, this is a mature rock record, to be sure, with deeper thought levels involved in the lyrics of the vast majority of the songs, (the hooky, bouncy "American Dream" being the one true exception here), but that doesn't mean it isn't catchy or inspired.  Quite the opposite is true, in my opinion, as something about nearly every track here definitely catches my attention and pulls me in its direction.  To say that this is a candidate for Record of the Year for me is not an overstatement at this point.

Rating:  Definite cranking material here!  Crank this one up to 9.5!  Just a really, really good record that I truly love from start to finish.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

AS WE ASCEND "Farewell To Midnight"

(c) 2017 As We Ascend

  1. Hatchet
  2. My Ghost
  3. Expendable
  4. Tell Me
  5. When The Gun Goes
  6. Insulate
  7. End Of Me (featuring Zach Myers of Shinedown)
  8. Watch The World Burn
  9. We Fight
  10. Wash Away
  11. At My Door (featuring Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down)
Jake Jones--Vocals, Guitars, Programming
Justin Forshaw--Guitars, Vocals
Robert Venable--Drums, Vocals

Additional Musicians
Misty Cordle--Vocals on "Insulate"
Kody Robinson--Vocals on "Wash Away"
Jeremy Cays--Strings on "At My Door"

As We Ascend could be a bit of symbolic wordplay for this new band, as they ascend from the smoldering ruins of what I considered to be one of the more exciting, up-and-coming bands in the Christian active rock genre, We As Human.  After a couple of EP releases, a few charting singles, and an even more popular full-length release that was supported by an appearance from Skillet's John Cooper, who also discovered the band, on the track, "Zombie", We As Human seemed to really be going places.    

And then they ceased to exist, seemingly disappearing just as their star was on the rise.

There is quite a bit of information about the breakup of We As Human if you use even the tiniest bit of effort on the internet, but you don't even have to go that far, for As We Ascend pretty much confront the entire situation in just the first handful of songs on their new album.  The album opens with the scathing rocker "Hatchet", which features the biting chorus, "Its hard to breathe with your hands around my neck/Its hard to bury this hatchet when its in my back".  Featuring some programmed elements, a nice, solid drum line, and aggressive guitars, "Hatchet" is very reminiscent of the style We As Human utilized on their self-titled album, and the vocals don't sound completely unlike those of WaH's singer, Justin Cordle.  This is likely due to WaH's guitar tandem of Jones and Forshaw handling pretty much everything except the drums on this new album, with Jones even handling the mixing and engineering of the record that was funded through PledgeMusic.  Definitely one of the punchiest, most aggressive songs on the record and probably my favorite track here.

"My Ghost" treads musical territory not far removed from the style that Red handles so well, and As We Ascend does a more than admirable job here.  Venable's drums are prominent in the mix on this track which also features a lot of programmed elements and some big, sweeping movements as the song leads into each of its choruses.  This song has active radio/modern rock radio written all over it, and it shows a musical growth away from where We As Human left off.  Again, one of my favorites on the record after dozens and dozens of spins.

"Expendable" continues in that Red-styled vein, although with a bit more punch to the guitars than "My Ghost" utilizes.  "Expendable" is a decent enough song, but it isn't overly distinguishable from several other songs on the record, although there is some pretty good riffing and solo work going on here, along with some nice guttural screaming of the song's one word title in the background.

"Tell Me" jumps back into the personal issues of the breakup of We As Human, with the band using the lyrics to tell of Cordle's infidelity to his wife, Misty (who appears as a backing vocalist on a song on this record.  Odd???).  I'm not really a fan of the airing of dirty laundry on a record, although I am sure it is done far more often than I am aware of.  But for a Christian band to do this, it seems...I don't know...shameful, to me.  The song is nicely constructed, the atmosphere is dark and haunting, and if you didn't know what the lyrics were alluding to, I am sure it would be a really good "pain" song for some people.  For me, however, it is far too blunt, far too "thumb in your eye" lyrically, whereas "Hatchet" is much more ambiguous in the way it tells its story.  Anyway, I don't skip "Tell Me" by any means, I just don't think it was the classiest move by the band to air grievances against a past member like this.

"When The Gun Goes" is an aggressive, guitar-driven rocker with a huge anti-suicide message to it.  Extremely catchy, even if a bit corny, "When The Gun Goes" is a bit reminiscent of the Saliva hit song, "Click, Click, Boom", and is also a logical lyrical-and-musical follow-up to We As Human's "Take The Bullets Away".  I can see where the song may get a bit annoying to some, but for me, and especially for my kids, the chorus is so easy and so catchy that we all gleefully shout along in full-throated fashion every time the song comes on.  Cheeseballs, we may all be...

"Insulate" is another gritty rocker with some high speed drumming and riffing during the chorus sections, while using some slightly more mellow moments underneath the verses. Its a decent enough track, but much like "Expendable", it doesn't do a lot to set itself apart from a lot of the other rockers out there on the radio waves now.

"End Of Me", which features Zach Myers from Shinedown, is an absolute curveball, as it is so quirky, so not like anything else here that I can't even decide if I like it or not.  At times, specifically during the verses, it reminds me of TwentyOne Pilots (whom I can't get into at all), but then there is this excellent guitar solo thrown in by Myers to tease me back into, "well, maybe this isn't so bad" territory, before quirking out all over again.  

The album has a couple more solid rockers in "Watch The World Burn" and "We Fight" before closing with the only true ballad on the effort, "At My Door", which features Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down.  A really, really strong piece of music, this ballad slips into the top three or four tracks on the album, and at times has me thinking it may even be my second favorite behind "Hatchet".

The production is straight forward, fairly crisp, and has a nice mix.  There is no muddiness that I can detect, and the tracking is done pretty well, also.  The musicianship is really good and draws from the strengths of We As Human, which is to be expected.  New drummer, Venable, is very tight in his work and is definitely a strength on the record.

Overall, the debut effort from As We Ascend is a bit uneven in spots, but not horribly so.  I look for even better work from the band in the future, and if they can lock down a specific style and sound that they are comfortable with, such as they do in the first few tracks and a couple of the last songs, I think they could potentially top their previous band's efforts.

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

EDGE OF FREE "Edge Of Free"

(c) 2017 Digitally Sound Records

  1. Blood Eagle
  2. Soul of Your Grace
  3. Pony
  4. Higher
  5. In My Time (Falling)
  6. Autumn
  7. Edge Of Free
  8. Pushin' The Needle
Scott Sneddon--Vocals
John Hussey--Guitars
Chris Autry--Bass
Steve Ebe--Drums

Edge Of Free is an acoustic rock band from Nashville, TN, which I am sure immediately puts people on edge.  Acoustic rock...Nashville...sounds to me like a way to re-label an unsuccessful country act, right?  While that may (or may not) be the case for some bands, rest assured that it is indeed NOT the case for Edge Of Free.  These guys are 100% committed to the rock cause, and despite the word "acoustic" being thrown into their description, make no mistake, these guys are here to rock hard.

From the first spin, I was definitely intrigued and taken by the overall talent of the four guys involved in the band.  In fact, when I first heard "Blood Eagle" burst from my speakers, my first reaction was, "Dang, this sounds like an acoustic Savatage track!"  The guitar tone and style, the haunting lead vocals and expertly utilized backing vocals, and the sparse, yet powerful rhythm section work had me absolutely hooked.  Starting off rather stark in its approach, the track builds to a powerful crescendo in the chorus, with Sneddon's vocals going from soft and somewhat scratchy to a soaring, full-throated power rock approach.  The guitar solo here is expertly executed, and the throb of the bass is infectious.  Just a killer way to open up an album, especially for a new band like Edge Of Free!

"Soul Of Your Grace" stays in the same vein, with Sneddon really stretching his vocal range at both ends, but never stretching to the point of cracking.  This man is a dang fine singer, to be sure, and his "instrument" is every bit as important here as the guitars of Hussey, or the bass and drums of Autry and Ebe, respectively.  He is especially powerful in the chorus section, once again, allowing his vocals to build and build until they are commanding your attention as the music continues to ramp itself up, as well.  There is a little interlude section here that has Sneddon basically doing a bit of spoken word work, before he harnesses that big voice once again and builds things back up for a final run through the end of the song.

"Pony" is an acoustic blues-based number that really relies on some strong songwriting to drive itself.  With some hints of roots-rock embedded in the acoustic hardness of the track, "Pony" reminds me a lot of the way many 70s classic rock bands would incorporate unplugged versions of their music into their sets back in the day.  Referencing their hometown of Nashville in the lyrics, Edge Of Free really pours themselves into this track and the result is easily one of the top four songs on this 8-song effort.

"Higher" has some really cool drum work running throughout the track, and rocks as hard as anything on this effort.  Once again, Sneddon's work, particularly on the chorus, is outstanding, and the rhythm guitar work here is top-notch.  A solid song, although not quite as catchy as "Blood Eagle" or "Pony".

"In My Time (Falling)", sounds a bit more modern rock in its approach than most of the other songs here.  Extremely stripped down, especially throughout the verse sections, this song also features some additional string accompaniment (cello and violin, I believe) that adds to the depth of the song, which I guess would fall into the descriptive realm of  "ballad" territory, although that is not necessarily an accurate representation of the song.  It reminds me a lot of the approach used on "Rooster" on Alice In Chains Unplugged album.  

"Autumn" continues in the slower, acoustic AIC vibe, which is a very good thing, in my opinion.  There is a haunting slide guitar used on the solo section of this track, which is about as "Nashville" as this album gets, but it is not done in country way as much as it is done in a bluesy way.  

The band's namesake track, "Edge Of Free" brings the tempo back up, and for the first time, I am reminded of the other really big acoustic rock act in recent memory, Days Of The New.  The musical approach on this track reminds me a lot of songs like "Shelf In The Room" and "Touch, Peel, and Stand", although there is some orchestration used here that is not present on DotN's music.  Sneddon's voice also has a lot more of an upper-end range dynamic than Travis Meeks, and he really pushes himself in this area here, reminding me a lot of Chris Cornell (who is thanked in the liner notes, by the way).  

"Pushin' The Needle" closes out this effort with return to the more haunting approach used at the beginning of the record, and stands alongside "Blood Eagle" as one of the hardest rocking songs on the album, and is right behind that track for me as far as the best song on the record goes.  Really powerful stuff here, with some nicely crafted lyrics and a stark message of drug abuse that is so reminiscent of the grunge era.  A great groove, some pounding drum work, and the continued emotional assault of Sneddon's voice make this a great bookend on an overall very solid album

The album is pretty short, with just 8 songs and checking in at 35 minutes, which seem to just fly by as the music is so absorbing.  The first time I played Edge Of Free, in fact, I thought my player may have skipped a song or two, as it was seemingly over so quickly!  "In My Time (Falling)" and "Autumn" run a bit into each other, with relatively similar tempos and approaches, which may also contribute to the album seeming to be so short.

Produced by Toby Wright, who has worked with such big names as Korn and...wait for it...Alice In Chains (he produced their Unplugged album.  Hmmmm.....), the album has a great feel to it that is just amazingly moody, powerful, emotive, and darkly attractive.  Every time I put it in, I find myself spinning all the way through it, never once considering switching discs, skipping tracks, jumping backward, or just ejecting altogether.  It is truly one of the rare discs in recent memory that just grabs me and forces me to spend half an hour with the band.  That says something to me...

The packaging is above average, with full lyrics included in the 10 page booklet, along with the requisite thank-yous and credits, as well as photos of the band members.  Mine also came with a band sticker, although I don't know if that is standard packaging or just a throw-in for review materials.

Rating:  Don't let the "acoustic" tag fool you...this is some crankable stuff right here!  Crank this to 8!