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 of...help, 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 record...it'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, man...you'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.  And...it 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've...you 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 artist...me, 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"...man, 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 know...it 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!  So...it'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 song...it'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 it...you 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, whatever...how 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 life...it'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)...as 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 harmless...it'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 Mudd...man, 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, and...yeah...it 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 scary...it 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 Raider...my 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.  They...wow, 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 so...it was like a different level of evil, weird, sexual...it 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 say...wow.  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 sushi...you 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 www.facebook.com/theprotest  We're very responsive to messages there and we love hearing from people.  And then also our website, www.TheProtestRocks.com 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 www.TheProtestRocks.com 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

BIOGENESIS "Black Widow EP"

(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 www.roxxproductions.com 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!

Back to Reviews Index 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

WICKED GARDEN "Already Gone" Maxi-Single

(c) 2018 Shock Records

  1. Already Gone
  2. I-15 South
  3. Hey Bitch
Dominick Muzio--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Shawn Trojahn--Lead Guitars
Troy Spriggs--Bass, Vocals
Jason Dardano--Drums, Percussion

For anyone that is somewhat familiar with the 1990's hard alternative/grunge scene, the name of the band, Wicked Garden, should pretty much immediately draw your attention.  For the uninitiated, "Wicked Garden" is the name of one of the biggest songs of Stone Temple Pilots' career, despite the fact that it was never released as a single from that band's 1992 debut record, Core.  So, knowing where the name comes from, it should be no real surprised that Wicked Garden, the Las Vegas band, is heavily steeped in the musical scene from which their name was extracted.

Combining bits of the grunge of Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, and a touch of the hard alternative of Live, and even Filter...especially on the vocal effects used in parts of "Hey Bitch"...Wicked Garden plays a style of music that (unnecessarily?) divided the hard rock community in the early 1990s.  Either you mourned the death of glam and hair metal, or you found yourself embracing the bottom-heavy angst of the grunge movement.  If you are stuck in a world of stacked hair and stacked heels and Hair Nation, you are probably not going to find much to like in Wicked Garden, but if you are like me, and enjoy flipping over to SiriusXM Lithium on a regular basis, this band is going to be right up your alley.

This maxi-single kicks off with the title track, "Already Gone", and it is instant grunge and sludge oozing out of the speakers.  Bottom heavy and thick, "Already Gone" features everything that was great to me about the grunge sound and instantly recalls Stone Temple Pilots and even some Alice In Chains due to its heft.  Lead singer, Muzio, has a vocal style that is somewhere in the vicinity of those employed by Jason Ross of Seven Mary Three.  Unlike a lot of the music of the time, however, Wicked Garden is not afraid to throw in a distorted, down-tuned guitar solo, and the band calls upon their pal, Michael "Doc" Ellis to lay into a great one here, before the bass and drums take back over and escort Muzio back into the final chorus section.  

"I-15 South" is an interesting track, as it is much moodier than the other two songs on this maxi-single, and features guest duet vocals from Todd Kerns, the bassist and backing vocalist for Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.  The track starts off with simple guitar line running atop the thicker bass and drum sounds on the entire first verse, with both Muzio and Kerns taking their respective turns on the lead microphone.  By the time the second verse kicks in, the entire track has beefed up considerably. Musically, I hear elements of Live in the style, and even a bit in Kerns' vocal turns (although never as high in range), on the first trip through, but we drift into Seven Mary Three territory on verse two and throughout the remainder of the track.  Trojahn utilizes a nice slide-guitar solo to great effect here, adding a bit of a bluesy feel to this grungy alt-rocker that was written as an ode to Las Vegas.  The harmony vocals on the chorus sections are great stuff on their own, but when listened to as a whole with everything else going on here, they are merely icing on the cake for fans of this style of music.     

The single closes with "Hey, Bitch", which combines a definite Nirvana musical feel...think that watery guitar tone used in "Come As You Are"...with a Filter vocal approach on the verse sections, a la "Hey Man, Nice Shot".  Once again, the soloing here from Trojahn is a great addition to what is basically a bass and drum thumper of a song throughout the verse sections, with occasional rhythm riffs dragged across the surface of the song and tying each verse into the accompanying chorus sections.  

The production here is raw and completely polish-and-shine free, retaining just enough of that grungy garage recording element to lend authenticity to the style of music employed here.  My guess is this any of these songs could be thrown into a mix of 90s period music and most people would be none the wiser, as these three tracks are pulled off that well and performed that true to form.  I wouldn't mind if the mix was cleaned up just a bit, but overall, these guys have the sound down pat, and nothing here is a major distraction for this style.

This maxi-single is just a teaser of the band's full-length, debut album, Post Dystopian Leisure Music, which is set to be released in early 2019, and is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.  I believe you can stream it on Spotify, also, but I'm not going to lie...I have never actively used that platform, so I am not 100% sure about that.

If you are into bands that like to do their own takes on the grunge/hard alt-rock sound, a la Emperors & Elephants, Stardog Champion, I have a strong hunch you are going to like what Wicked Garden has to offer.  I am anxiously awaiting the full-length release to dig more into what this band is all about.

Rating:  Its tough to rate just three songs, but these three definitely crank in the 7.5 range.  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

HUSH "If You Smile (Recycled)"

(c) 2018 Lions Pride Music

  1. Talk To Me
  2. Babe
  3. Believe
  4. Piece Of The Action
  5. Let It Rain
  6. This Side Of Love
  7. Heaven Ain't
  8. Big Time
  9. Sometimes
  10. G and B
  11. Hold On (Acoustic Bonus)
  12. She Will Be The One (Acoustic Bonus)

Patrick Simonsen--Vocals
Kenneth Kristiansen--Guitars
Stein Andersen--Bass
Jon E. Ostberg--Drums

Hailing from Norway, Hush is a highly polished melodic rock/AOR band that wears its 80s influences with pride.  Definitely more guitar-driven, and with fewer keys than many of their European AOR peers, Hush has decided to re-release their 1998 debut album, If You Smile, but they are doing so with a bit of a twist.  Rather than simply repackage the old album, and instead of completely re-recording the album, the band is doing a bit of both.  Utilizing two new band members, the band has decided to release what they are calling a "20 Year Jubilee Edition" of the album, hence the title, If You Smile (Recycled), with a 50/50 mix of old and new recordings, sometimes even within an individual track.  It is definitely a different spin on the idea of a reissue, to be sure.

The tracklisting is identical to the 1998 original that was released on AOR Heaven/JVC Victor, with the only exceptions being the bonus tracks.  "Hold On", and "She Will Be The One", are brand new acoustic bonus tracks for this release, while the original 1998 bonus, "If (Butterfly)", has been dropped altogether.  

"Talk To Me" starts things off, and is a great representation of what to expect from this album, overall.  Solid guitar hooks, strong tenor lead vocals with nicely layered backing vocals, and straight ahead rock rhythms are what Hush does best.  While not rocking quite as hard as Stage Dolls do on their edgiest material, Hush is definitely a guitars-out-front band, and Kristiansen is a formidable player, both on rhythms and leads.  Lyrically, "Talk To Me" isn't particularly deep, but that just adds to the overall feeling that you have heard this band before...perhaps in a high school gym somewhere in 1988...even though this album didn't originally see the light of day until a full decade later.



"Babe" has one of the corniest lyrical phrases I think I have ever heard, when Simonsen intones, "I live in a one-room monkey cage, too shy to hold the rage" as he describes the craziness of his life with out the "Babe" that is the object of his affection.  It's hard to not laugh when I read what I just typed here, but they are his words, not mine. Apparently he escapes that cage later in the song because he is found "walking sleepless through a dead town and the wind is blowing me again, down a cold and sunny street/I'm feeling helpless on the rebound, though I'm wandering from the wake-up and one lie from the truth." Ummmm...what?!  Despite the absolutely desperate grab for some sort of emotional lyrical hook here, the music on this track is actually really good, and Kristiansen has a great guitar solo here that has a good chunk of the emotion that the lyrics are lacking.

"Believe" starts of with some rather frenetic guitar work from Kristiansen, before it settles into a bass and drum track for most of the verse sections except for a couple of guitar licks that sound like they were lifted from "Get It On (Bang A Gong)", as remade by The Power Station.  Not kidding...note-for-note.  Now, on the original 1998 version, this doesn't happen, as the song featured a LOT more keys than it does in this new version and that guitar lick simply doesn't exist.  I think the new version is better, overall, as I am generally not a huge fan of gobs and gobs of keyboards being shoved into my ears, but to ignore that simple guitar hook is virtually impossible for me.  Regardless, the song is one of the better moments here, and again, Kristiansen gets to flash some nice skill on guitar.

"Piece Of The Action" has a bluesy feel to it, from the opening guitar lick to the funkier delivery style used by Simonsen.  Definitely not the typical style and feel of the majority of the album, but I have to admit to liking what the band is showcasing here, and Kristiansen's versatility is on full display.  There's a nice bass groove to this tune, as would be expected from a blues-funk number, and the drums do just enough to keep the tempo rolling while managing to stay out of the way and not distract from the guitar antics here.     

"Let It Rain" is a piano-based ballad where Simonsen gets to stretch his chords a bit, although he goes down in range, rather than up, adding some huskiness and sounding relatively similar to Foreigner's Lou Gramm in his prime.  In fact, this entire song feels like something Foreigner might have tackled on their Inside Information record in 1987, as does the next track, "This Side Of Love", albeit this song also has something of a "Purple Rain" quality to the music, particularly in the slow build at the beginning.  Again, Simonsen channels his inner-Gramm here, particularly on the verse sections, and Kristiansen delivers a tasteful, soulful solo here that really fits the slower tempo and milder approach.

"Heaven Ain't..." picks the pace back up just a bit, and this feels a lot like the best mid-tempo rock material that Stage Dolls has released.  Simonsen comes off as confident here, his voice flowing effortlessly on this track that you will swear you have heard before, especially on the verse sections.  This song is so comfortable, so easy to listen to, that I find myself dragged back in time every time I play it.  This is what Hush does especially well when they are at the top of their game, even fighting through a corny line like "I'm on a Mercedes ride to the moon".  Kristiansen again flashes some big time skill on the guitar, and I find myself wondering if he wouldn't have been better served auditioning for one of the bigger Scandi bands, rather than forging forward with Hush.  He really is that talented. 

Things stall out a bit at this point, as "Big Time" sounds like a movie soundtrack song from 1988...and not the big, hooky track that is released as a single.  No, "Big Time" would be the track that plays as the credits roll on one of those cheesy raunch comedies ("Porkys" or "Hardbodies" come to mind), where they play something uptempo and punchy, but also just annoying enough to get you to hustle out of the theater so that the staff can come in and sweep out the popcorn before the next show.  "G and B" is equally as cheesy, but in ballad form, and it pales in comparison to the much better slow material of "This Side Of Love", and the album proper ends on something of a whimper.

The two acoustic bonus tracks here are pretty good and nice additions to the record.  "She Will Be The One" has a catchy rhythm, a toe-tapping acoustic rocker that finds the band sounding so comfortable, so completely at-home, that I wonder what a full acoustic album from this band might sound like.  "Hold On" is a much slower acoustic song, and is well-performed, especially by Simonsen.  The percussion section here is a nice touch, giving the song an overall different feel, sounding like it was written and structured to be acoustic, rather than coming across as just an "unplugged" song.  The harmonizing here is good, and Kristiansen plays a really nice, clean acoustic guitar, counterbalancing the amplified antics he employs throughout the rest of the record.     

So, if you have the original, is it worth tracking the new version down?  In my opinion, yes.  I think the new version has a fuller sound, with slightly better production, although the original still sounds pretty good to me.  Plus, this version has FAR fewer keyboards than 1998's effort had, with the guitars grabbing a lot more spotlight here, which is definitely a bonus as Kristiansen has a LOT of talent, which he gets to display far more often here than in the past.  "Hold On" is a pretty good addition here, and "She Will Be The One" is flat-out catchy and one of the high points of the record.  If you don't have the old version, but are a fan of Scandinavian melodic rock and AOR, then I would add this to my list of wants, even if its not at the very top of the list.

Overall, if you are a fan of Scandirock bands like Stage Dolls, DaVinci, Grand Design, or even North American bands such as Giuffria or Honeymoon Suite, you are likely to find something to enjoy about this release, but don't expect a genre revolution.  It is a bit lyrically cliche...and makes some extreme lyrical stretches at times...but more often than not, the solid guitars, better-than-average vocals, and overall well-written songs make up for the lack of original wordsmithing here.

Rating:  A solid rocker at 6.5, I suggest snagging this new version over the 1998 version.

Friday, November 9, 2018

STEPHEN PEARCY "View To A Thrill"

(c) 2018 Frontiers Records

  1. U Only Live Twice
  2. Sky Falling 
  3. Malibu
  4. One In A Million
  5. Double Shot
  6. Secrets To Tell
  7. Not Killin' Me
  8. Dangerous Thing
  9. I'm A Ratt
  10. From The Inside
  11. Violator
Stephen Pearcy--Lead and Backing Vocals
Erik Ferentinos--All Guitars, Backing Vocals, Keys
Matt Thorne--Bass, Keys, Backing Vocals
Scot Coogan--Drums

While the band Ratt continues to slog things out in the court system to see who can call themselves Ratt and to try to sort out who is in the band (currently, Pearcy and bassist, Juan Crocier own the band name, with drummer Bobby Blotzer on the outs and guitarist Warren DeMartini apparently in exile or retirement), the always-interesting lead singer has released his second solo record in as many years.  Once again enlisting the help of Erik Ferentinos on guitars, and Matt Thorne (Ratt, Rough Cutt, Jailhouse) on bass, Pearcy also brings Scot Coogan (Brides Of Destruction, Rat Bastards) on board to put forth the best Ratt record the band has never made.

From the album artwork to the thinly-veiled name change of the album title, it is apparent Mr. Pearcy has something of a James Bond fetish going on here...there are also numerous James Bond mentions in the lyrics...but don't worry; Pearcy isn't out to sound like Duran Duran on their soundtrack hit, "View To A Kill".  In fact, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect from Pearcy and his rodent-esque pals (Thorne co-wrote Ratt's monster hit, "Round And Round", and Coogan played with Pearcy in Rat Bastards), which is pretty much shamelessly Ratt-sounding music.  

Things kick off with "U Only Live Twice", which sounds to me like it wants to bleed right out of "Shame, Shame, Shame" from Detonator, with the way the guitars into the track.  Pearcy sounds in top form here, with his voice sounding as good as it has in years, both in lead and backing vocals.  Coogan's drums are sharp and snappy, and the bass hits hard on this slithering rocker that sounds very much like vintage Ratt.  Ferentinos rips off a Ratty solo and everything is clicking right from the start.

"Sky Falling" continues this trend, with Pearcy sounding quite a bit like he did back in the Invasion Of Your Privacy days, and the supporting vocals from Thorne and Ferentinos really help to bolster the overall sound.  Ferentinos delivers an excellent solo here, possibly the best on the record, in what I would have to say is my overall favorite track on this new album, although "U Only Live Twice" and "I'm A Ratt" try to lay claim to that title as well.

"Malibu" keeps right on with the top-notch rock, with another catchy, guitar driven rocker.  In fact, "One In A Million" and "Double Shot" do exactly the same thing.  There isn't a ballad to be found on this record, only rocker after rocker after rocker.  "Double Shot", which drops a Bond reference with the lines "die another day" and "man with the golden gun", is a cool, punchy track that also quotes his own band, going "round and round and round" on the vocal bridge before the solo.  Like I said before, Pearcy doesn't shy away from who he is or what he does, and especially on the first five tracks here, and then BLATANTLY on "I'm A Ratt" a few tracks later, he is playing up his past in no uncertain terms...and this Ratt fan is perfectly happy with that!

"Secrets To Tell" is a bit more aggressive in the guitar approach than some of the other tracks here, but it works really well.  The tone reminds me of "Slip Of The Lip" from the Dancing Undercover record, which I think is criminally underrated in the Ratt catalog.  Again, Pearcy sounds spot-on, and while there are is a somewhat modern production approach here, it doesn't alter the sound to come off as anything other than what it is.  Make no mistake, Pearcy isn't trying to sound like Shinedown or Godsmack or Halestorm here; this is non-lawsuit-involved-Ratt-music pure and simple.

Thorne gets to shine a bit on "Dangerous Thing", which features a thick, nasty bass groove, and some odd time signatures in a couple of places on what is the least-Ratt sounding song on the record.  Pearcy tries to work his magic, and there is some fast and furious shredding from Ferentinos, but there is something that is just a bit off for me.  Still an interesting track, but definitely not my favorite here.

"I'm A Ratt"...well, do you really need to ask where this track is going?  The lead single from the album, "...Ratt" is everything the title would have you believing it is, with a catchy guitar hook, pure 80s-era production on Pearcy's voice, and a great rhythm and tempo, with a really tasty solo from Ferentinos thrown into the mix.  I have heard some people complaining about this being the lead single, and for the life of me, I have no idea why.  This is EXACTLY what fans of Pearcy and Ratt should be clamoring for.  Yeah, I'm not exactly a fan of that weird musical tag at the end of the track, but I can forgive the last 12 seconds for what is an otherwise great Ratt track!  Easily one of the top two songs for me on a record filled with great stuff.

"From The Inside" is another great, straight-ahead rocker that channels a bit of Cinderella's "Somebody Save Me" in the rhythm guitar line and the phrasing of the verse sections.  I'm not completely sold on what Ferentinos is doing on guitar in a couple of spots here, but I'm not reaching for the skip button or anything, and to be fair, Ferentinos does right his guitar ship on the work he does as the song closes.

The album closes in nasty fashion, with the sleazy "Violator" wrapping things up nicely.  Pearcy manages to weave another James Bond reference ("007" thrown into the first verse here...) into the record, along with some gang-chanted "hey, hey, hey's" to get the crowd pumped up in the live setting, no doubt.  Again, a bit more modern sounding than most of the other songs, at least from a production standpoint, but still an overall solid track to close out a really good Ratt...err...Pearcy record!
  
The typical "I hate Frontiers' production" complaints have been bandied about when the singles and videos were released, but I honestly don't have an issue with this record.  Yes, there have been a few Frontiers Records releases this year that I have found less than appealing as far as production goes, with some muddiness issues, but I don't get that from View To A Thrill.  Is it the crispest sounding record I've heard this year?  Nope, but it's not supposed to be, either.  That is never what Ratt was about, and it isn't where Pearcy has come from on any of his solo records, either.  The grit and sleaze and sludge are part of the sound.  Overall, I have no problems with the sound of this record.

I know there are going to be people who complain that Pearcy isn't stretching himself or that he is just trying to cash in on Ratt.  Ummmm....duh!  This is who Pearcy is and what he has (mostly) always played, even when he polished the sound a bit for Arcade.  Look, if you were expecting anything else from this record, you have not been paying attention to Pearcy lately.  The man is pretty much out to prove that he and his version of Ratt are the real deal, and the music on View To A Thrill is more Ratt than anything that's been put out in a decade or so.  Sounding very much like it could have slotted in right between Detonator and Infestation, this new effort from Pearcy should be pure ear candy for any Ratt fan.  Another excellent solo record from the Ratt frontman, and even better than last year's really good SmashWhether or not we ever get another true Ratt album is anyone's guess at this point, especially with the apparent insanity of Bobby Blotzer, Warren DeMartini's "retirement", and Pearcy's own problems at some recent live shows.  But, if we don't, View To A Thrill is about as good as its going to get...and that's pretty dang good!

Rating:  Crankable excellence!  A definite 8.5 for Mr. Pearcy!

Monday, November 5, 2018

BRAINSTORM "Midnight Ghost"




(c) 2018 AFM Records

  1. Devil's Eye
  2. Revealing The Darkness
  3. Ravenous Minds
  4. The Pyre
  5. Jeanne Boulet (1764)
  6. Divine Inner Ghost
  7. When Pain Becomes Real
  8. Four Blessings
  9. Haunting Voices
  10. The Path
Andy B. Franck--Lead Vocals
Torsten Ihlenfeld--Guitars
Milan Loncaric--Guitars
Antonio Ieva--Bass
Dieter Bernert--Drums

Since I first discovered this German power metal band on their 2001 album Metus Mortis, Brainstorm has probably been the most consistent power metal band that I have followed.  I suppose this can be attributed, at least in part, to the consistency of the line-up, which has remained 4/5 steady since Franck came on board in 2000, with bassist Ieva being the "newbie" of the group, not coming on board until 2007.  So, if you are doing the quick math, that means this current version of Brainstorm has been together for a full 12 years, which is a rather considerable time for a band to stay together these days.

Of course, consistency in a line-up means very little if the musicianship is not in top form, which has never been an issue for Brainstorm.  Combining the underappreciated vocals of Franck with the blistering fret speed of Ihlenfeld and Loncaric would be enough to bolster any metal band's line-up, but when you take in the sprinter-speed footwork of Bernert on the drums, and the galloping bass approach that Ieva brings, you have a nearly unstoppable force, musically.  And with top-of-the-heap songwriting, Brainstorm has long been one of the two or three standard bearers of power metal, in my opinion.

As is typical of the band, Midnight Ghost is filled with breakneck speed, incredibly thick note density, an impeccable sense of melody, and huge...HUGE...hooks, both vocally and musically.  Fast, heavy, and aggressive, Midnight Ghost actually manages to take the band to a new level of excellence, a statement that I thought might not be possible following the greatness that was 2014's Firesoul...or 2005's Liquid Monster, which many fans point to as the previous pinnacle for the band.  

From the very first drum kicks of "Devil's Eye", there is an aggression to Midnight Ghost that may have been at least somewhat lacking on the last couple of albums.  Bernert is a sheer heart attack waiting with the pace he sets on this track (and throughout the record), but the tandem of Ihlenfeld and Loncaric are equal to the task here, which is a rather amazing statement to make, honestly.  And its not just the sheer speed that Bernert plays with, it is the interesting and change of tempos and rhythms that he mixes into each track that really provides the heartbeat for this band.     


But its not just blazing speed that makes Brainstorm the great band that it is.  You need look no further than the second track, "Revealing The Darkness" to find a haunting intro featuring piano and strings that bleeds into a guitar riff that carries on throughout the track, weaving an intricate melodic thread throughout the song.  Franck's vocals range from a thick, rich baritone to a somewhat higher ranged tenor, never straying into territory where his power and command are lost.

"Ravenous Minds" is a crushing, metallic assault, not so much in tempo as much as in heaviness and crunch.  I'm not a huge fan of the effects used on Franck's vocals on the chorus that intros the song, but fortunately those effects are a one-time thing, and it is just clean vocals utilized for the rest of the track.  Big, chunky rhythm guitars are buoyed by a current of keys that tinkle just below the surface, adding a nice melodic contrast, and Ieva's bass work is especially present here.  The twin guitar riffing on the solo is especially enticing, and the sharp snare and thunderous kicks from Bernert keep me absolutely riveted upon repeated listens.

Two tracks really boil down the greatness of this album for me, although everything here is of excellent quality.  But the album's epic track, "Jeanne Boulet (1764)", which clocks in at nearly eight minutes, may be the show-stealer.  A thunderstorm, a haunting church bell, and a snarling narrative from Franck lead in this song that would seem to be about a true-to-life French girl who, in 1764, was among a number of teen-aged children and women who were killed by a "horrible beast", believed to be a large wolf (or possibly a pack of wolves) in the region during a stretch of time from 1762-1767.  (Sorry...the history teacher in me had to do some research!)  The telling of the story seems to be a bit erroneous in the song, however, as this Jeanne Boulet is apparently being sacrificed for some unknown crime...in the same year as the ACTUAL Jeanne Boulet.  Hmmmm....  Regardless of the historical accuracy, the tale told in the song is an excellent one and performed in fine fashion, with Franck masterfully manipulating his voice to fit the emotion of the song, especially when he dramatically intones "sacrifice her!", while the guitar playing is powerful, melodic, and chock full of hooks.  Tempo changes, multiple guitar solos, huge drums...this track has it all!  Don't believe me?  Feast your ears below...


The other track I would steer you to as an example of the band's greatness would be the penultimate track on Midnight Ghost, "Haunting Voices".  The chug-chugga-chug rhythm guitars, the raspiness that Franck adds to his voice in sections of the verses (think Mike Howe of Metal Church, for comparison), the big, harmonious, layered chorus sections, and the hook-laden melody of the guitars is, for me, exactly what I think of when I think of Brainstorm.  The change in drum patterns from verse to chorus are spot-on perfection, and the deep, snarling vocal bridge before the guitar solo, only add to the greatness of the track.


The album closes on another great song, with "The Path", a track that upon first listen reminds me a bit of something Demons & Wizards may have put together, with the more melodic approach of Blind Guardian interspersed with heavy, thunderous Iced Earth moments.  Again, thick layers of backing vocals support Franck on the chorus, only adding the the raw power that he possesses.  I truly feel he is one of the best vocalists in all of metal today (and, really, for the past fifteen or so years), and his perfect handling of the heavy, simple-yet-deadly riffs that Ihlenfeld and Loncaric attack each song with is merely more proof of that greatness.

And, while mentioning greatness, I contend that Dieter Bernert is quite possibly the most talented, and certainly the most interesting, drummer in power metal today.  I find myself focusing so much on his performance on this record (and on most of Brainstorm's albums, really), that I have to restart songs sometimes to get the full effect of the track.  That is saying something, my friends, for I would say I am generally a vocalist-first, rhythm guitar-second, drums-third listener, with lead guitars, bass, and then keys following in that order (I think a killer rhythm guitar can cover up a good deal of weakness in lead guitars...see Iced Earth as an example...).  That is not the case here, as Bernert captivates me with his originality, force, and speed nearly every time I put in an album by the band.

The production here is really good overall, with generally great separation of instruments, although there are a couple of spots where I felt the bass could have possibly been brought forward just a tad.  There is no muddiness at all, however, and my one minor complaint could also be the result of my copy of the album being presented in mp3 format, which as we all know tends to compress things to varying degrees (depending upon the quality of the files).  I would expect that when I receive my physical CD of Midnight Ghost, any misgivings I may have had will slip away.

If Midnight Ghost is not the absolute best record in a string of really good-to-excellent records from this German powerhouse band, it is absolutely in the top three of their 12 album catalog.  Today, perhaps due to an excitement about new material, I would have to say Midnight Ghost is my new favorite from the band, but only time will tell if that impression remains.  And who knows...maybe the next Brainstorm album will knock all contenders from the ranks!

Rating:  A brilliantly crankable 9.0 masterpiece!

Back To Reviews Index