Friday, November 26, 2021

THE BRAVE "Evie's Little Garden"

 

(c) 2021 Independent Release

  1. Evie's Little Garden
  2. Run To You
  3. I've Always Wondered
  4. We're Not In Kansas Anymore
  5. Elevate Me
  6. Creep
  7. If I Told You
  8. Lonely Bones
  9. And We All Fall Down
  10. Lucid
  11. Come To Me
  12. Love: Automatic
Stayce Roberts--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Keys
Malcolm Paris--Bass, Backing Vocals
John Spittle--Drums

From the Out Of Nowhere Files, 2021 saw the return of one of my favorite melodic rock bands of the 1990s, The Brave.  Now, it is true, The Brave did previously make a comeback effort with the release of  the rather unspectacular 2014 record, Rise, but after that disappointing effort, I truly didn't feel like we would ever hear from the band again.  It has been a long time since I was so glad that I was so wrong!  

No, Evie's Little Garden does not fully transport the band back to 1992 and their insanely slick and highly polished Battle Cries album.  Nor does it truly recall the dirtier, bluesier, grittier sound of 1994's Trust record.  However, Evie's Little Garden does find the band settling somewhere in the middle of those two excellent albums, treating listeners to an album that combines surprisingly strong lead vocals (why hasn't Roberts been fronting the band all of these years?!) backed by Paris' tight vocal harmonies, excellent guitar work, and a powerful bottom end that all work together to support some truly great songs that breathe new life into the Christian branch of the melodic hard rock genre.  While Roberts and Paris remain from the original version of the band, and Spittle has been with The Brave since the mid-90s, unlike on their last release, Rise, where they chose to pay homage to their past by re-recording several tracks from their first two records, this time The Brave exclusively moves forward with all new songs and an updated sound.  

The record kicks off with the title track and lead single, "Evie's Little Garden", which sets the Creation of man, and his subsequent fall in the Garden of Eden, to a killer, hook-laden rock track.  Guitars rumble to life to intro the track, then the percussion-driven verses and Roberts' gritty, gravelly vocals snarl their way into the mix, not even hinting at the melodic hook that is going to snare you in the ear once the chorus hits!  Expertly layered backing vocals add to the snarl that Roberts incorporates here, creating one of my favorite melodic rock tracks of the year, Christian or secular!  There's also a great guitar solo, some cool snake sound effects thrown into the mix, and just enough keyboard to round out this melodic rock gem.  This is a MONSTER of a song that had me clamoring to hear the entire record the very first time I laid ears on the track.  But as great as the music is, the construction of the lyrics, particularly the chorus, really grabbed my attention...

"Something's goin' on down in Evie's Little Garden,
Somebody said they saw a snake!
Hell's breaking loose down in Evie's Little Garden,
There's gonna be some Hell to pay...
There ain't no Garden anymore!"

Check it out below...


Follow-up single, "Run To You" shows up next in the track list, this time adding a bit more polish to the sound, with smooth, soaring vocals.  Definitely a bit "poppier" in the songwriting department, "Run To You" sounds a bit like an updated version of the type of tune the band burst onto the scene with on Battle Cries.  Roberts backs off the grit and gravel, vocally, allowing his voice to soar a bit in places, with Roberts displaying a fairly impressive range for a guy who had three separate chances, on three previous albums, to step up to the microphone, and in all three cases utilized a different lead singer!  And while he doesn't have the smooth, rich delivery of original frontman, James Salter, I have to say that I am far more able to listen to Roberts' voice repeatedly as it has that edge that just grabs your attention.  Again, this is a solid rock track, a bit more uptempo than the punchy "Evie's Little Garden", and features some really strong drum work.  Check this one out below...


"I've Always Wondered" heads more in the bluesier direction that the band's sophomore record, Trust, travelled, and I have to say it is one of the best tracks on an album chock full of great tunes!  Pondering the question of what life would be like had Christ not died for our sins, this track hits hard both musically and lyrically.  This type of track really seems to be the band's strong suit, to be honest, and is definitely put together well.  Once again, we have a really good guitar solo following the second chorus run, and Roberts sounds extremely confident with this type of vocal approach.  Again, I have to give a nod to the really well done backing vocals that add even more depth to the lead vocals from Roberts.  And, yet again, the band has offered up a video for what I am assuming will be the third single from the album at some point.  


As great as "Evie's Little Garden" is, as a song, I have to say that the next cut, "We're Not In Kansas Any More" may be my favorite (although it is definitely close!).  As I alluded to earlier, I really, really liked the musical turn the band took between their first and second albums, and "...Kansas..." definitely has that bluesy style that was utilized so expertly on the Trust record, which I would have previously said was my favorite.  If you are familiar with Trust, the killer "Can't Let The Devil Win" is a great stylistic comparison, and I find myself considering whether I love this track more than that one, which says a lot!  Here, this slower mid-tempo rocker just has such a cool guitar tone, more of those amazing backing vocals, and a big guitar hook that sinks itself in and refuses to let go.  Again, Roberts proves himself to be an expert vocalist with this type of track, and I highly doubt I have made it through this album without hitting repeat on this track every time.  I hope this song is released as a single in the near future, as I think "We're Not In Kansas Anymore" could end up being one of the band's signature songs.  I love it!  

"Elevate Me" stays in this bluesy groove, and I have to admit that I found myself starting to feel like this was the pocket the band would spend the rest of the album working from, and I was completely okay with that.  The Brave definitely has a style that they seem at home working with, and this heavy blues rock style never gets old for me.  As I have mentioned before, the harmony vocals just work incredibly well on this record, and what Roberts and Paris put together here is spectacular.  I'm not sure if there are some other singers added into the mix, but if not, the work from these two guys is top shelf, to be sure.

"Creep" is likely to throw listeners for a loop, with its demonic-vocal spoken intro and the, well, creepy vocal approach Roberts uses to start the verse sections.  Being 100% candid, this is a dark track musically, with a chilling, haunting style running throughout the song.  The solo, which is the finest on the entire album, shifts from a smooth string-bender, using some discordant tones, to a high-speed fret-runner near the end of the initial run, before bleeding under the closing turns through the chorus.  I say "bleeding under" because even as the chorus is sung repeatedly to close the song, the frenetic guitar acrobatics continue, with Roberts really going off near the end.  Definitely a top four song for me, all depending upon how I choose to arrange my favorites here.  Guitar fans are going to love this track, I have zero doubt!

Those demonic vocals pop up on "If I Told You" again, both at the intro and later on in the track, but generally speaking, this is a more straight-forward melodic hard rocker, with another great (but too short!) guitar solo from Roberts.  Spittle delivers some really good drum work here, with some hard-hitting fills and a sharp style that I find myself really appreciating here.  

"Lonely Bones" is the other top four track for me on this record, combining the hard-edged bluesy approach with that haunting, creepy style used in "Creep", but with some big, gang vocals on the slick "whoa oh ohs" used throughout the track.  Punchy drums, a solid bass line, hooky guitars, and smooth-yet-gritty lead vocals...yep, this song pretty much has everything that I could want from a track on this record.  Really, really good stuff here that I again find myself hitting repeat on.

"And We All Fall Down" uses some 80s rock keyboards (think Bon Jovi) combined with a slicker, poppier songwriting style to deliver an uptempo rocker that would find its way onto the tracklisting of several of the melodic rock albums being released by Frontiers Records bands today.  Another fun guitar solo is dropped into the mix here, and by this point in the record, I find it hard to come up with new ways to express just what an incredible job Roberts does as a vocalist.  He just nails the delivery and all the nuances and subtleties of handling the lead vocals on an album such as this seem to come naturally to him.  It seems obvious to me that Roberts was paying close attention to the Elefante brothers back in the early days of the band, and possibly took some lessons away from John Elefante's time in the legendary progressive rock band Kansas, as well.

Speaking of prog rock, "Lucid" is a bit of a curveball on the record, sounding more in line with 70s prog than 80s AOR or 90s/2000s melodic rock.  Think later Beatles, maybe some Electric Light Orchestra, and even hints of theatrical era Alice Cooper, with some quirky synthesizer effects at play in the verse sections of this mid-tempo number.  Not my favorite track, but definitely not throw-away material, either, "Lucid" expands upon the band's influences and presents a song that is more dependent upon synthesizers, along with vocal harmonies and layered musical textures, to set the mood than thundering drums and screaming guitars.     

"Come To Me" has a keyboard intro and opening drum line that are VERY much like the song "I've Got A Lot To Learn" by The Storm, which is a good thing, as I love that band and song.  Aside from that keyboard line, however, this is a bit more restrained song, more in the AOR ballad territory than anything else on this album, and The Brave proves they are more than capable of handling this style of song.  Roberts unleashes a great solo heading into the last runs through the chorus, filled with emotion and intensity, and his smooth vocal delivery is on full display here.  I could easily hear this song performed by the original version of the band on Battle Cries, but I honestly believe Roberts' singing and guitar playing are both miles ahead of where the band was at that time, and this song is an excellent bridge between The Brave of the past and where the band is now.

"Love: Automatic" closes the record, and once again we are treated to a hook-filled melodic rocker with a catchy, sing-along chorus, a fun guitar solo, and more of those killer harmony vocals that have highlighted so much of this record.  Uplifting and positive in nature, "Love: Automatic" is probably the perfect closing song for this record (at least of the dozen tunes presented here), as it leaves the listener on a musical high, combining all of the elements that make Evie's Little Garden such an excellent record from start to finish!

Lyrically, the album does not apologize for who the band is or what they believe, as The Brave lays it all out in the open from the very first track.  While a lot of Christian bands today choose to tackle social issues and leave some of their lyrics more open to interpretation and introspection, The Brave hearkens back to a day when singing about Jesus and boldly professing His Word was perfectly acceptable and the point.  While that may not be for everyone, and while it may drive a few listeners away, the hope is that the message also draws some listeners in, as well, providing hope and love and truth to those who may be seeking such things.  

The production is handled here by Roberts who does an excellent job of not being too heavy-handed, not too slick, and not trying to recreated the chrome-like polish of the Elefante Brothers sound from that debut Battle Cries album.  The instruments are each given life and room to breathe, and I particularly enjoy the drum sound and the excellent backing vocals used throughout the album.  Roberts proves himself far more than capable of handling the lead vocals for these new songs, and I'm sure he can tackle anything on the Trust album, as well, plus he's a top-notch guitar player that should garner more attention after this album.  Paris is solid on bass, but is irreplaceable on harmony vocals, and the drummer, Spittle, really adds a spark of energy to these tracks; the man is a rock drummer, through and through, with no quirky jazz fills or off-tempo rhythms to distract from the straight-forward,  punchy attitude of this batch of melodic hard rock songs.

Whether you are a fan of the band from back in the day, or are simply seeking some killer melodic hard rock from a new source, I can't stress enough how good this record is.  Pretty much guaranteed to be in the Top 10 of 2021, Evie's Little Garden is an absolute must-have for fans of the genre.  Available as a digital download pretty much anywhere, you can also order the CD directly from the band HERE.  I truly wish a label would pick this album up so it could get more distribution, more attention, and a broader spectrum of potential fans, but who knows if that will happen.  Once you get the record and fall in love with it, which you will, make sure you spread the word on your favorite socials so that The Brave can continue moving forward with outstanding music such as that found on Evie's Little Garden.  

Rating: A truly crankable comeback!  Crank this to an amazing 9 and let's hope we don't have to wait decades for another record from The Brave!

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

DEVIN WILLIAMS "Every Eye"

(c)2021 Independent Release

  1. Every Eye
  2. Sunshine
  3. Riverside
  4. Sunshine (Acoustic)
Devin Williams--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeremy Holderfield--Guitars
Bass--Brent Milligan
Drums--Lester Estelle, Jr.

Additional Musicians
Andrew Stanton--Guitar Solo on "Riverside"
Marco Pera--Guitar Solo on "Every Eye"
Jonathan Yudkin--Strings

When Devin Williams calls in his friends for a project, he holds nothing back!  Featuring Jeremy Holderfield (Seventh Day Slumber), Lester Estelle, Jr. (Pillar), Brent Milligan (Steven Curtis Chapman/Seventh Day Slumber), Andrew Stanton (Disciple), and Marco Pera (Amongst The Giants/Disciple), Williams has put together a powerhouse of an EP with Every Eye that incorporates elements of modern hard rock, southern rock, and melodic rock that should tide fans over until he is able to put together a full release.  Delayed by COVID and life, in general, this EP manages to pack a punch, tug at the heartstrings, and give the listener pause all within the span of three new songs.

The EP kicks off with the big Christian radio hit and title track, "Every Eye".  Taking inspiration directly from Revelations, "Every Eye" is about the return of Christ and every man, woman, and child in the world knowing of the return of the King.  But also intertwined is an observation about the state of the world today, a world which has turned from God and His Word, as Williams warns that "Now is the time to get it right, Before He steps out on the clouds", at which point "Every Eye will see You, The mystery is finally revealed...and all the world will know that You're alive!".  He echoes these sentiments in the liner notes, where he professes "I feel it's time to prepare our hearts for Jesus' return, whether it's next year or 100 years from now."  Musically, this aggressive rocker kicks off with haunting guitars chords before making way for a big, chunky guitar riff and thundering drums that punch this track into high gear.  Williams' smooth vocal delivery glides through the verse sections before ratcheting up the urgency, and dropping in a bit of an edge, on the chorus sections.  The solo from Pera is excellent, with a strong sense of melody without fading from the power of the song, and a vocal bridge with a nearly spoken delivery from Williams adds to the full scope of what the song delivers, stylistically.  While Williams has had numerous albums and songs hit multiple Christian rock charts, I have to say that "Every Eye" is very possibly my favorite track in his catalog up to this point.  Check it out.   


From here, the EP takes a much calmer turn with "Sunshine".  Introing with a soft build of guitars and strings over a bed of programmed elements, the song is, for me, a showcase for the vocal gifts of Williams.  Acoustic guitars accompany Williams' voice throughout, with strings adding to the lush feel of the track.  Following the second chorus there is a bit of a musical build that hints at hitting power ballad territory, but nothing really comes of it other than the drums getting a bit punchier in sound.  Regardless, this is a very nicely constructed song, and the string section is a really nice element here, with several flourishes from the violin section.  But, again, it is Williams' voice that is the real draw here, and there is no denying the vocal gifts of the man.  If you are willing to look for more than just the edgy rock anthem of "Every Eye", you are likely to find something to enjoy here.    

Current single, "Riverside" is up next, stylistically splitting the difference between the full-blown radio rock of "Every Eye" and the balladry of "Sunshine".  The Southern side of Williams shines forth here, with a lot of soul in the mix of this song that invokes the imagery of the old-time river baptisms.  While the tempo is not as full throttle as "Every Eye", "Riverside" hits hard, nonetheless, and Andrew Stanton of Disciple really adds to that with an absolutely stellar guitar solo.  While too short (in my opinion), Stanton absolutely shines with his string-bending fret run here, and I would love to hear these two work together again in the very near future.  In fact, the collection of talent here really shines on this track more than anywhere else on the EP, as it is filled with punch and power, but also given enough room to breathe.  Estelle's drums are snappy, and Milligan's bass work here, while not flashy, really serves to add to the power of "Riverside".  Williams is fully in command here, vocally, with his rich voice really hitting its stride in the soaring chorus, and his conviction to the music and message really comes through in his performance.  Yet another top five track in the Williams catalog for me, and a song that I really hope gets a strong run on radio.  

The acoustic offering of "Sunshine" here, to be honest, isn't staggeringly different than the original.  I'm typically not really a fan of acoustic mixes, although this is well done.  I would have far preferred a 4th new song here, but there's no harm in this track's inclusion, even if it doesn't really offer up anything new.

The production on this project is top-notch, with Holderfield and Kellen McGregor, respectively, handling the producing and mixing.  The mix is excellent, with no muddiness at all, and the guitars especially coming across as having individual, unique voices.  I also love the drum sound that Estelle brings to the table, and a big round of applause goes to the entire production team for putting so much into...and getting so much out of...these new tracks.

Overall, this is a great little EP, and at just $8...for an actual physical CD that will arrive signed by Williams...the price is absolutely unbeatable!  Head on over to www.devinw.com and snag your copy today.  Christian rockers, you will not be disappointed! 

Rating:  Again, I don't love rating EPs, but to deny the crank-factor of this little project would be foolish.  Crank Every Eye to an 8 and let's hope we get a full album in 2022!



Tuesday, November 23, 2021

MAD ANTHONY "Party Heaven...Hell...WHATEVER!"

 

(c) 2021 Eonian Records

  1. Just My Type
  2. Party Town
  3. I'm The One
  4. Mother's Helper
  5. Falling Out Of Love
  6. Back Stage Boogie
  7. Face To Lace
  8. Stay With Me
  9. Tonight We Ride
  10. When We Touch
  11. Big Ole Long Red Hot Rod
  12. Rock Me
  13. Nadine
Rik Burnell--Lead Vocals
Ralph Longo--Electric & Acoustic Guitar
Mark Freseman--Guitars
Bryan Lujan--Bass
James Bohn--Drums

Mad Anthony.  You know....from San Francisco.  Big time party band in the mid-to-late-80s scene.  Ever hear of them?  No?  Not surprising, as Mad Anthony is yet another in the long...LONG...line of "coulda, woulda, shoulda" bands that, by all accounts, wowed audiences and packed the clubs, but never had that one little thing that would get them their big break and a record deal: luck.  It seems that Mad Anthony, like so many others, was just never in the right place at the right time with the right song being played to really hook the attention of whatever talent scout or A&R guy was in the club that night.  But did the band have the goods to attract that attention?  Eonian Records has assembled a 13 cut retrospective of the band that gives listeners a chance to make their own judgement.

Before really digging into the CD, I think a couple of points need to be made.  First, I'm not sure if these 13 songs were ever released as a proper album, or if they are assembled from multiple demos and singles, so the flow of the record may seem a bit uneven to some people, and I get that, as I felt that way, too.  Second, keep in mind that while this is definitely good-time, hard rocking party music, this is not hair metal of the late 80s/early 90s.  Mad Anthony came about just a couple of years after Quiet Riot broke big with Metal Health, and Ratt was coming Out Of The Cellar while Motley Crue was still Shout(ing) At The Devil.  This isn't Poison or Warrant or Firehouse or any of the slick pop-metal/hair metal bands that were MTV darlings even outside of Headbanger's Ball.  There is far more Y&T or KEEL here than Winger or Bon Jovi.

With those things being said, it's still apparent Mad Anthony was about having a good time and partying.  This fact is laid bare with opening rocker, "Just My Type", which extols the virtues of the ladies that are the subject matter of the song.  Right away it is evident Mad Anthony (by the way...what a really bad band name!) is definitely coming at things from a Y&T meets Ratt direction, and the song actually has the feel of an album cut from either band, really.  Lead vocalist, Rik Burnell, has something of a Stephen Pearcy quality to his vocals at times, especially in the chorus sections of this, and a few other songs, where he employs more grit and edge to his delivery.  Track two, "Party Town" adds a bit of a Van Halen flair to the mix, but overall it doesn't come across as anything overly special.  Not bad, just not amazing.  Two tracks in and I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed.  But then things changed in one big clump of songs, starting with track three.  

"I'm The One", which starts off in a very...VERY...Dokken-esque fashion, is definitely one of the best tracks here, with Burnell's vocals climbing the ladder in a few spots and making me think a bit of another shoulda-been-bigger band, Sledgehammer Ledge.  Musically, the song is a mid-tempo rocker with a pretty good guitar solo and simple, sing-along chorus, and anyone who doesn't hear Dokken's "It's Not Love" in the guitar lick here must not be listening to the same track.  "Mother's Helper" is another great song that I can't help but feel should have been the real centerpiece of any presentation the band pitched to a label.  With backing vocals that remind me of early Britny Fox, a big rhythm section presence, and those mid-80s metal-edged guitars, "Mother's Helper" is a seriously kick-ass song that I am certain had clubs shaking when it was played.  That high octane rocker is followed by the best ballad here, yet another Dokken-ish tune called "Falling Out Of Love", which has a really cool musical vibe and a great overall sound.  Freseman's solo starts off a bit slow but really builds into a strong, flashy affair by the time it is over, and Burnell's vocals have a strong resemblance to Sebastian Bach's big power wail that he uses on several of Skid Row's best ballads.  Add in the bouncy, Van Halen-styled boogie number, aptly titled "Backstage Boogie", and you have now have four top-shelf tracks, backed up with my second favorite song here, the punchy "Face To Lace", with its solid bass work, gang-shouts in the chorus section, and a gritty, galloping rhythm guitar line that just drives this edgy rocker perfectly, although the "I like to f**k!" line that is thrown in near the end is absolutely insipid and serves zero purpose.  So, for me, tracks 3 through 7 would have been a really solid EP or showcase demo.

Things decline in varying degrees from these five tracks, however, though the it's not like the wheels come off the ride altogether.  "Stay With Me" is decent mid-tempo number with a pretty solid solo from Freseman, but the song generally feels like a weaker version of a Ratt album cut.  "Tonight We Ride" has potential...in fact, I generally really like the song with its darker vibe and haunting feel, but there is something that's a bit off here, likely the echoing reverb used on the backing vocals in the chorus section.  "When We Touch" finds a nice Y&T-meets-Ratt groove to work in, and is also a pretty good rocker musically, but some of the lyrics are just hard to listen to.  It feels like the guys were just fishing for rhymes at one point.  I mean... "I see you sitting there, and the way she combs her hair"?  What the heck does that even mean?!  "Big Ole Long Red Hot Rod" is just one big ole long musical cliche, although it is kind of fun the first few times through, and "Rock Me" is another one of those Van Halen-styled rockers the band seems to enjoy throwing into the mix and pulls off pretty well.  I'm not really sure what "Nadine" is supposed to be, but at less than 50 seconds, it's either a brief listen or a very quick skip that really doesn't add anything or damage much.    

Overall, Mad Anthony is a pretty good listen, with a handful of really strong, standout cuts that would have potentially seen the bottom of Billboard's Hot 100 at the time, maybe squeezed their way onto a  compilation cassette or a movie soundtrack, and if a video had been made, might have even spent some time on Headbanger's Ball.  But in the end, there just isn't enough to truly separate Mad Anthony from so many other bands of the time, and the things they do well, other bands simply did better.  That's not to say that a big time label with a full production budget wouldn't have bolstered a few of the best songs here, but all in all, as I was listening to the album, I kept getting the image of the fun, regional party bands that opened for tours in the area to draw the locals.  We all knew of bands that everyone was friends with and would go watch play, but that were likely never going to click in a massive way, at least with the line-up and group of songwriters that they had at the time.  For me, bands like Zwarte, Vyper, St. Elmo's Fire, The Untold, and others come to mind when I think of the tier where I think Mad Anthony likely existed.  To be fair, however, I think Mad Anthony had more talent than several bands I've heard that DID get recording contracts, so I have to go back to my original belief that Mad Anthony simply wasn't in the right place at the right time.      

The production here is really good, with the re-mixing/re-mastering beefing up the sound and eliminating nearly all of the "demo" feel of the songs here.  Kudos to Eonian for putting together yet another solid release of an unknown that is likely to spark a lot of interest from fans who remember the band from back in the day, and from fans of the scene and genre, in general.  If you are one of the numerous collectors that are continually looking to bolster their catalog of well-produced unknowns, make sure you add Mad Anthony to your shopping list!  I'm sure you won't be disappointed if the rare and unknown is your thing!

Rating:  Rock this to 6.5, with tracks three through seven nearly pushing this nice collection into crankable territory.

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BLOODLINES "Hevel"

                               

(c) 2021 Facedown Records

  1. Lotus
  2. Devil (featuring Brook Reeves)
  3. Colder
  4. Ruah
  5. Hevel
Alexis Rodriguez--Vocals
Daniel Camacho--Guitars
Aldo Mayorga--Bass
Matthew Benavides--Drums

Fresh on the heels of the blistering new War Of Ages EP, Facedown Records unleashes another pummeling mini-album of metalcore, this time from Bloodlines.  Entitled Hevel, which translates from Hebrew to "meaningless", the EP focuses on crushing, start-stop-start riffs, hard-hitting drums, typical-of-the-genre harsh vocals, and some really tight, clean vocal harmonies, wrapped around several heavy breakdowns, some surprisingly progressive moments...and a few surprises thrown into the mix to keep Bloodlines from becoming just another band in the metalcore world.  

With most of the material here, Bloodlines takes a route not wholly unlike what bands like Fit For A King have adopted on their last couple of albums, or even fellow Texans, War Of Ages.  However, Bloodlines goes a bit further in differentiating themselves by incorporating pretty atypical instrumentation for the genre.  For example, Bloodlines incorporates hip-hop-styled electronic drum patterns into a couple of tracks here, specifically the newest single, "Lotus", and what may be their best, most diverse song, "Devil".  With "Lotus", the programmed drums hit near the end of the track, giving the track a different feel as the screamfest comes to a close.  It threw me for a loop the first couple of times through, but after repeated listens, I have to say it works pretty well and isn't the distraction it was initially.  "Lotus" also features some pretty good clean vocals on the chorus sections, and the bottom end of the track (and the entire EP, for that matter) is really tight, really heavy.

"Devil" may be one of the angriest songs I have heard in a long, LONG time.  Were it not for the fact that Bloodlines is a Christian band, and the lyrics to the song leave little doubt as to that fact, the truly demonic-sounding vocals at the end of "Devil" would send chills up my spine.  If you've ever wondered what the sound of the Biblical gnashing of teeth might sound like, you need only scan forward to about 3:30 in "Devil" (you can't miss it....it follows more of those electronic drums I mentioned), and you will hear brutal vocal anguish in a way I can't say I've heard before.

Those harsh vocals are quickly put in the rearview by the clean, melodic vocals that intro the album's lead single, "Colder".  This track incorporates some of that more radio-ready metalcore style that I alluded to on "Lotus", with some definite crossover appeal that carried the track into some non-metal/metalcore formats.  There are definitely more melodic, clean vocals on "Colder" than on the previous two tracks, and the band makes heavy use of harmony parts on the chorus, which works really well.  Even the harsh vocals don't take on the brutality level of something like "Devil", and the breakdown here is pretty sick, but non-threatening.  The lead riff on the track is one that instantly gets stuck in my head, and "Colder" is a track that stays with me for a long time every time I hear it.  "Colder" has spent quite a bit of time on various Christian hard rock and metal format stations, and really did a good job of introducing the band to the scene.  Check out the video for that track below.


"Ruah" is another straight ahead scorcher, from the aggressive guitar that intros the track to the barked vocals that Rodriguez attacks with straight out of the gate.  Multiple layers of harsh vocals carry the pre-chorus into a pretty melodic chorus with really strong clean singing soaring across some thick rhythm guitar riffs and really solid drum work.  Again, not as brutal as "Devil", and a bit more melodic overall than "Lotus", "Ruah" is likely the third single from this EP (at least it would be if I was in charge of the promotion), and I think it has the potential to do well across multiple hard formats.  Still a punishing track, featuring a solid breakdown coming out of a spoken word section...more of a prayer than anything, inviting God to breathe His breath of life upon His people..."Ruah" really has a more progressive feel to it than a lot of the music of this genre.  Good stuff.

The EP closes with the title track, which is where those progressive elements I mentioned in the first paragraph really pop up.  "Hevel" starts off very soft, very melodic, completely clean as far as vocal style, and you are lulled into a false belief that the band may actually be tackling a ballad.  Where's my Zippo to thrust into the air?!  In fact, during each of the verse sections this softer approach is utilized, with the drums taking on something of a more controlled marching cadence in places, more of a jazz style in others, but the chorus...whoa...the chorus unleashes the harsh vocals and the thick rhythm guitar and bass cords, going from a quiet, contemplative sounding track to a swirling morass of aggression and angst.  The dichotomy of styles here works really well, and while I definitely wouldn't call this a ballad (no slow dancing, for sure), there is a musicality here that I think will end up serving Bloodlines well in setting themselves apart in this genre. 

How far Bloodlines goes is obviously totally up in the air at this point, but Hevel is a great starting point for the band.  This is a debut EP that makes a statement, and I hope that the band can catch on as the opener for some touring band, or get onto some festival stages, to get themselves broader exposure.  Available digitally pretty much everywhere, you can also order the CD here (I believe vinyl is also available).     

Rating:  Crushingly crankable!  Blast this at an 8!



Sunday, November 7, 2021

DEVOID "Lonely Eye Movement"

 

(c) 2021 Frontiers Records

  1. Lonely Eye Movement
  2. Man Without Fear
  3. Impostor
  4. Destination Heaven
  5. Waiting For The Storm
  6. In The Absence of Holiness
  7. Mirror Maze
  8. Hands Of Salvation
  9. Stroboscope Life
  10. Martial Hearts
  11. Wood And Wind
Carsten "Lizard" Schultz--Lead Vocals
Shad Mae--Guitars
Gwen Kerjan--Guitars
Jorris Guilbard--Keys
Geoffrey "Shob" Neau--Bass
Benjamin Lesous--Drums

Additional Musicians
Jonas Klintstrom Larsen--Saxophone
Fabrizzio Sgattoni--Additional Guitar solo on "Man Without Fear" and "Impostor"
Max Van Esch--Additional Guitar solo on "Waiting For The Storm" and "Destination Heaven"
Christian Muenzner--Additional Guitar on "Absence of Holiness"

Four years ago, I heard an album that I declared to be "the most crankable melodic metal album I have heard in some time".  I was honestly left somewhat slack-jawed, as it had been a long, long time since a melodic prog metal record had grabbed me the way Cup Of Tears from Devoid did.  To this day, even after changing vehicles, Cup Of Tears is one of a small handful of albums that is always with me when I commute or travel.  I love that record that much!  So, when Shad Mae told me that he was working on a new Devoid record, I was obviously filled with excitement, but also a bit of trepidation, especially after I learned that the band had been signed to Frontiers Records.  Not because I have an issue with Frontiers, but more because I was worried the label might try to impose some sort of style or sound on the band, whereas Cup Of Tears was released as an indie project on Melodic Rock Records, with Shad having complete control of the sound.  Additionally, there are a couple of lineup changes here, as the entire rhythm section is changed with Neau and Lesous coming on board on bass and drums, respectively, and a second guitarist being added to the mix with Kerjan.  Would the magic and chemistry of that first record be diminished?  

And, of course, there's always that dreaded "Sophomore Slump"...can the second record EVER live up to the original?

Turns out, I had absolutely nothing to be concerned about, as Devoid has released yet another stunning album of top shelf melodic prog metal, with touches of power metal and hard rock thrown into the mix!

The album kicks off with the title track, "Lonely Eye Movement", and almost from the get-go, my ears feel like they are in their happy place!  Frantic-yet-melodic guitars rush in in a flurry, with some intricate piano work off-setting the riff frenzy that is only enhanced by the rapid-fire drum work from newcomer, Lesous.  Wow...there is a LOT going on right from the start, and the raspy powerhouse that is Lizard Schultz hasn't even sparked to life yet!  To me, Schultz is an absolutely one-of-a-kind talent that has a "gun for hire" kind of reputation (he's performed with a LOT of bands) that I am always surprised was never locked down as "the guy" by someone, and his performance on the previous Devoid album cemented his upper-echelon status for me.  And now, just one song into Devoid, Mk. II, nothing has changed, as he manages to be smooth, yet with an edge, as he drives through the album's namesake tune.  The piano break at the 2:30 mark reminds you that this is not purely a metal album, but an album of movements and textures and layers, and the album is off to a rip-roaring start!  Check out the video for this lead single below...


"Man Without Fear" (the theme song to a new Daredevil series?  No comic nerds, here?  Okay....) intros with a synthesizer that is soon buried by a screaming guitar and frantic fret runs, before everything becomes momentarily still, allowing the focus to be placed solely on Schultz as the first verse kicks off.  Have no fear, however, as the guitars return to work in short order, as does the rumbling bass from Neau, as the song builds to a powerful chorus section that really lets Schultz air things out, especially on the second and third times through.  The first guitar solo here is more about feel and fluidity than on string-scorching speed, and the keyboards add different textures to the song here as it leads into a short vocal bridge.  From this point, the speed picks up on Mae's next solo, a more aggressive attack that fans of the first album are probably accustomed to.  



"Impostor" builds upon the big, atmospheric, choir-like synthesizer that leads the song into existence, adding Lesous' thundering drums and the twin guitars of Mae and Kerjan on this seemingly mid-tempo melodic rocker.  I say "seemingly" because there is all sorts of aggression and speed and metallic intent dwelling just beneath the surface here, with machinegun-like bursts from Lesous and some seriously aggressive, metallic sonics in places here, including an absolutely blazing guitar solo, that doesn't do anything to belie the epicness of the song overall.  This is a big song that may require multiple listens to truly appreciate everything that is going on...because there is a LOT going on.  Definitely a track that vies for top-billing here.

"Destination Heaven" mixes things up, with an Eastern-sounding intro with a much slower tempo than anything else up to this point, but that changes up quickly as Mae's fingers start to fly on a big solo run before the first verse even kicks off.  And Mae isn't alone in his solo efforts on this track, as Max Van Esch also throws down with a massive axe attack on this song that features not one, not two, but three different guitar solos, along with even more impressive kit work from Lesous, who may be becoming a real hero on the drums for me.  It's not that he's the fastest drummer on Earth (although speed is NOT an issue), it's the little things he does to fill in gaps, to alter tempo ever so slightly, or to catch the listener's attention in a passage that may otherwise sound relatively routine.  Of course Schultz dominates here, alternating between a full bore wail and a lower-registered rasp, and everything is clicking perfectly and the Devoid machine is charging ahead with precision performance at this point.

Things change a bit, stylistically, with "Waiting For The Storm", which is a bit moodier than the previous tracks.  The second longest track on the record at more than six minutes in length, "Waiting For The Storm" is also the album's first venture into slower territory, although we aren't listening to a ballad by any means.  The track enters with a wash of keyboards, followed by much slower-tempo guitars and drums than anything up to this point, building in power through the verse sections to get to the big chorus, where once again Schultz is given room to soar across some excellent layered backing vocals.  At around the four minute mark, Devoid really throws a curveball to the listener, as a rich tenor saxophone solo drops in, adding a completely different flavor and mood to the tune.  Personally, I have always loved the use of the sax in the right songs ("Promised Land" by Queensryche, anyone?), and this is definitely the "right" song!  This is a big, big song already, and the addition of out-of-the-box instrumentation only serves to show the depth of the songwriting and the confidence of the band in the material they are working with.  A lot of bands might have chosen to play things safe with a big label debut; I'm glad Devoid isn't a lot of bands!

"In The Absence Of Holiness" jolts the listener with yet another quirk, this time with a syncopated drum rhythm that totally changes the feel of the track right from the outset.  Slower during the verse sections and built up just a bit tempo-wise in the chorus breaks, the pace of this track is all over the place (in a good way), and it is amazing to me just how fast a drum pattern can be in a song that is otherwise not really all that fast.  Ditto the blistering fret-burner of a solo from Mae; how fast can your fingers fly in a song that many would consider the "slow point" on the record?  Again, this isn't some kind of power ballad, but it definitely isn't speed metal, either, and keeping track of the tempo changes from instrument to instrument would likely require a chart and musical calculus I don't feel comfortable performing.  "In The Absence..." is a completely different animal than pretty much everything else on Lonely Eye Movement, and even after repeated listens, I can't always predict where the speed-ups and slow-downs are going to hit.  Good stuff!

"Mirror Maze" picks up the pace from its predecessor, with even more virtuoso-styled playing from Mae and Kerjan.  For me, however, the use of a completely foreign percussion element here adds an entirely different layer of uniqueness to this track.  The first time I heard it, I was scouring the internet (seriously...I can be that big of a nerd at times) to find out what instrument I was hearing, as it sounded like hollow wooden blocks, the type you sometimes hear on music from remote islands, was being implemented in this otherwise modern melodic metal tune.  Finally, just the other day, I messaged Shad to enlighten me as to what was being played.  He put my brain to rest when he told me the sound was actually synthesized, but in no way does that fact damper the impression the sounds add to the music here.  I love the experimentation and the ability to move beyond the scope of what is considered "metal", even in a prog metal atmosphere.

"Hands Of Salvation" continues with the more aggressive work and follows up "Mirror Maze" spectacularly.  Pretty straight forward in its sonic assault, the rhythm guitars claw their way through the track and Lesous utilizes a galloping style in numerous places here to push the band's sonic agenda here.  The solo from Mae is absolutely blazing along...and then BAM!...a completely out of nowhere piano interlude drops in at nowhere near the pace of the rest of the track, only to be absorbed back into the rest of the song as the tempo builds back to its original level, with the guitars screaming to life then fading, leaving only Schultz to hold out the last few beats of the chorus by himself at the end of the track.

"Stroboscope Life" hits hard right from the start with the guitars and drums, with the verse sections especially aggressive, before the keys are filtered into the chorus sections and the tempo backs off a click or two.  Once again, some really solid layering is done to the backing vocals, which I always love to hear, and some metallic riffing is done to really kick off Mae's next fret flurry, with a run that changes tone and style no fewer than three times in the span of the solo.  The music fades beneath the repeated runs through the chorus at the end, and Schultz stands alone at the close as he runs through "another flash of light..." one last time.  

"Martial Hearts" feels like a bit of everything this album has been building to, taking various elements of speed, melody, harmony, and rhythm, and intertwining everything.  A big, epic keyboard intro, powerful verse sections supported by those taut, aggressive rhythm guitars and machinegun drums, and a catchy, hooky chorus all snag the listener's ear, only to be dragged this way and that by the various guitar acrobatics that Mae unleashes.  Schultz is equally impressive, utilizing multiple different approaches on his vocals, adding grit here, subtracting volume there, building up and then backing off.  Clocking in at more than 7 minutes, "Martial Hearts" is broken into two cleanly separated sections, with the interlude at the 4:30 mark washing into nothing but a single, static layer of keys holding the same note for a stretch of several seconds.  It feels as if the song may be allowed to fade out after a time, but slowly the band rebuilds everything it had seemingly allowed to come crumbling down, a new sonic landscape of guitars and drums and keys growing and growing out of that interlude of nothingness.  For more than two minutes the song builds to a crescendo, with new layers of instrumentation being added, new guitar lines ringing in, and then the song is allowed to finally fade, bringing the album proper to an uplifting end. 

The album closes with "Wood And Wind", an acoustic jazz instrumental that features more saxophone than many of "true metalheads" have likely heard on an entire album, let alone on a song, as outside of the acoustic guitar, that sax is really all there is.  Written for Shad's daughter, "Wood And Wind" won't add a ton to the album for a lot of people, again, especially not the "true" crowd, but for those of us who simply appreciate great musical talent, it is a fun, fascinating listen.  To me, it adds further proof as to the songwriting abilities and musical talents of this incredible band. 

The production is spectacular to my ears, with a clear separation of guitars and really, really good sound being culled from the drums.  I love the tones used throughout the record on all of the instruments, and I am impressed with how Schultz's vocals are handled, as he is never buried, nor does he bury anything else.  The flow of the record is pretty much perfect to my ears, with the variance between song lengths and styles keeping things interesting and unpredictable.

How you receive this record is going to depend largely on how you approach music in general.  If you are looking for horns-in-the-air metal anthems, or big-haired power ballads, neither is going to be found here.  No death vocals to offset the clean vocals, no breakdowns, and no radio hits are going to be found on Lonely Eye Movement.  What you will find, however, is one of the most compelling, interesting, sonically intricate melodic metal albums of the last few years, with long, string-bending solos and flourishes of speed countered by sections of power and expression, both musical and lyrical.  Heavy doses of aggression are backed by equal doses of melody, and massive, hook-laden songs that stick in your brain for hours on end, not because of a repetitive chorus being chanted over and over, but because the songs speak to you in a way most music doesn't.  At least that has been my experience in absorbing this latest effort from Devoid, and I truly feel it will be yours, as well.

Devoid proves they are no fluke with Lonely Eye Movement, adding new elements to the already spectacular platform created by the band on Cup Of Tears.  Continued emphasis on superior songwriting, Mae's exceptional guitar work...now bolstered by his accomplice, Kerjan...and Schultz's top-notch vocals all contribute to an amazing follow-up.  No "sophomore slump" here, Lonely Eye Movement is guaranteed to hit the G2G Top 21 of 2021!

Rating:  Crank this to an incredible 10!


Saturday, October 30, 2021

WAR OF AGES "Rhema"

 

(c) 2021 Facedown Records

  1. Sleight Of Hand
  2. Pyrite
  3. Unspoken
  4. No Altars
Leroy Hamp--Vocals
Steve Brown--Guitars
Jack Daniels--Guitars
Elisha Mullins--Bass
Kalem Luebchow--Drums

Sixteen minutes and change.  That is all you have to brace yourself for the (mostly) full-on metalcore onslaught that is War Of Ages new EP, Rhema.  16:02, is the length of the entire EP, to be precise.  That is not very long.  You can almost get your oil changed in the same amount of time...which, come to think of it, would be a great way to spend the time!  The point is that War Of Ages has just these four songs and 16 minutes to melt your face and pummel your body with crushing riffs, thundering drums, and harshly barked metalcore vocals.

And they do exactly that!

If you are a follower of the metalcore scene, in general, or the Christian metalcore scene, specifically, you likely have already heard half of this EP, as both "No Altars" and "Sleight Of Hand" have been previously released as singles.  "No Altars" which debuted in June of 2021, may be my favorite War Of Ages track ever, with its absolutely crushing twin guitar attack and Luebchow's massive drum sound all combining with Hamps signature vocals to deliver an absolutely scorching, yet somehow still melodic, slab of metalcore that fans of the band have likely been salivating over for several months now.  This is one potent track, both musically and lyrically, with Hamp barking in the first verse: 

"My God will set fire to your altars!  
Pray to your gods while burning in your disbeliefs!  
You'll be the first to admit that you've abandoned...
All hope in your fight for integrity!"

Before the melodic pre-chorus sings:

"Oh, God, eternal
Reach down, You see all that I am.
You know my heart is yearning.
All else will fade away."

And then roaring through the chorus...

"Fall to your knees!
Bow down to the one true King!"
 

"Sleight Of Hand" is a bit more chaotic at the outset than "No Altars", with discordant guitars crashing their way through a brief intro before the machine gun burst of the drums bursts the song into its true form and Hamp comes out ferociously snarling at his angriest!  "Sleight Of Hand" of course, still maintains the melodic sensibility that War Of Ages is known to weave throughout the brutality of their songs, and an early guitar solo, along with the layered singing portions of the song, serve to set what War Of Ages does apart from so many others in the field.  Equally as crushing and intricate as "No Altars", "Sleight Of Hand" is another WoA track that has wormed its way to the very top of my faves list in a rapid ascension.  Truly great stuff here.

The other two tracks here are, as of yet, unreleased.  "Pyrite" is another all-out-angry crushfest, with some of the most interesting drum patterns on the EP, and an absolutely frantic-yet-melodic guitar line running through the pre-chorus sections.  Make no mistake, the jackhammer rhythm guitars and absolutely devastating drums (do I detect some blast beats in one brief section?!) set a tempo that threatens to launch the track right out of your speaker....until a sudden tempo and stylistic shift turn the song completely on its ear for about 40 seconds as a gorgeous, soulful guitar solo threads its way through the darkness that Hamp's throaty death growls delivers.  There is a LOT going on here, and I suspect fans of As I Lay Dying are going to find themselves hitting repeat, well, repeatedly on this one.

"Unspoken" sets the listener back on his/her heels immediately with the bluesy, jazzy style of guitars that intro the song.  Not kidding, I thought that somehow the preview tracks I was sent got mislabeled somehow by my computer, as those first 15 to 20 seconds are completely out of left field.  However, once the melodic clean vocals hit with a hint of what is to come on the chorus, my brain rights itself and is instantly sucked into this more mid-tempo metal assault.  Tempo-wise, this track treads very similar ground to what Fit For A King has done on its last couple of albums, although I have to say the solo guitar work here...along with Luebchow's absolutely insane drum work...set War Of Ages apart from their metalcore counterparts.

How this band has not become more well-known is beyond me.  Hamp and Brown have been hammering away at your eardrums and skulls as War Of Ages for nearly two decades now, and every release has been a blistering, sonic assault on the senses.  With the addition of Daniels in 2013, the band stepped things up even further, and with a full line-up that has been in place for four years, there is a chemistry that is undeniable on the last two albums and now this new EP.  Will Rhema be the step that launches the band into the realms of the metalcore elite?  There are 16 minutes and two seconds of melodic metalcore fury and aggression on Rhema that say it may just be the ticket.  If not, stay tuned, as I have no doubt that War Of Ages has even more to crush you with in the near future!

Available digitally, on a limited edition vinyl, and CD, snag Rhema today at     www.warofagesmetal.com and maybe schedule an oil change during which you can absorb the melodic ferocity of this EP!

Rating:  Short, to be sure, but blisteringly crankable!  Spin this up to an 8, with two or three more songs likely pushing this into 9, or higher, territory!  Get it now, metalcore fans!

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

VICTORY "Gods Of Tomorrow"

 

(c) 2021 AFM Records

  1. Love Hate
  2. Gods Of Tomorrow
  3. Cut To The Bone
  4. Dying In Your Arms
  5. Hold On To Me
  6. Into The Light
  7. Mad
  8. Unconditional Love
  9. My Own Desire
  10. On Fire
  11. Rising Force
  12. In Rock We Trust
  13. Leave You Alone
Gianni Pontillo--Lead Vocals
Herman Frank--Guitars
Mike Pesin--Guitars
Malte Frederik Burkert--Bass
Michael Stein--Drums

As a teen, I was constantly seeking out bands that my friends had never heard, obsessed with amassing a musical catalog that was unparalleled in my small section of the universe.  We are talking about the 1980's, when there were new labels popping up left and right, and new bands showing up all over the place, providing me an endless supply of unheard of hard rock and metal bands.  Then, because of an ad in the back of one of the various metal magazines I read at the time, I made friends with a couple of guys in Europe...through the mail of all things...and I was suddenly awash in even more bands...FOREIGN metal bands that no one here knew of...as we established a pretty intense trading network.  

Among the piles of cassettes I received was an album called Don't Get Mad...Get Even! by a German band called Victory.  I thought it was pretty cool, made even more cool by the fact that the founder of the band was originally in Accept, who I had taken a pretty quick liking to, as well.  I wasn't as fond of the US radio single, "The Check's In The Mail" as a lot of people seemed to be, but I liked a lot of the album.  Then Culture Killed The Native came out in '89 (I missed 1987's Hungry Hearts until several years later) and I was hooked in a big way, especially by the vocals of the new lead singer, Fernando Garcia!  To this day, I still pull that CD out and crank "On The Loose", "Don't Tell No Lies", and "Never Satisfied" when I'm hitting my home gym.  Temples Of Gold, You Bought It--You Name It, and Voiceprint all followed, and while I enjoyed each of these albums, none of them caught my ear the way Culture... did.  The band broke up in 1997, only to reunite in 2002 with a basically the original line-up, which meant no Garcia, and the couple of albums Victory released in the 2000's did pretty much nothing for me.  Their last album was 2011's Don't Talk Science, which I found to be a pretty serious disappointment, after which the band announced they were riding off into the sunset.    

Now, a full decade since that "last album", Victory resurfaces once again with a brand new line-up and a new album, Gods Of Tomorrow. With Frank the only remaining member, I was very curious as to the sound of the new version of Victory, and as to whether the songs were going to be better than the rather boring material that had appeared on those final few records.  

Immediately, it is evident that the new line-up has infused some life into this once great band! "Love Hate" kicks things off with some distant-sounding guitars and percussion elements, slowly building and becoming more prominent, until the song-proper kicks off with a biting guitar riff and huge, thundering drums.  New vocalist, Gianni Pontillo, snarls his way into the mix and I am intrigued.  He is definitely not as rangy as Garcia, but there are definitely some similarities which lead me to believe Pontillo can probably pull off the band's catalog pretty well in a live setting.  His husky, gruff delivery fits the music extremely well on this aggressive track that reeks of the straight-up metal sound of the mid-to-late-80s (don't think hair metal...think early Ratt, Accept, Priest, Leatherwolf, Keel, etc.).  The solo is powerful and sharp, and I have to admit to being very taken by the drums from Stein, which have a really big sound and are delivered in tight, aggressive patterns.  One track in, and I am sold on this new Victory!

The album's title track is up next, and the band does not let up one bit.  In fact, "Gods Of Tomorrow" is even harder, faster, and crunchier than the lead-in track, and the solo here is exceptional!  After several listens, Pontillo's voice really sounds to me like a combination of Garcia and Les Carlson of Bloodgood fame, with that aggressive snarl firmly in place, a pretty solid range, and enough character that he doesn't sound like a cookie-cutter frontman.  I was pretty skeptical, to be honest, as the guys brought in on the last few Victory albums really didn't do much for me (although, to be fair, the songs really weren't there, in my opinion).  The twin guitars give this track (and the album) a complete, full sound, and Burkert's bass really gets a chance to be heard here, which is a bonus.  I dig this track a lot, and  I could listen to an album of this type of high-intensity classic metal pretty much any time!

"Cut To The Bone" continues in that classic 80s metal vein, although there is more of a hard rock element here, as the guitars aren't quite as aggressive as on the first two tracks.  Don't fret, my friends, as this is still a really good track, with the Carlson vocal comparison for Pontillo really coming across strong on this track as the vocalist keeps his range a bit more in the middle-lower end.  Still a great song with another blistering guitar solo that makes me really wonder if Frank was struggling with a burnout that a decade away from recording as Victory has really helped him recover from.  Not my favorite track on the record, but still a great song to my ears.  

Things slow down for the first time with "Dying In Your Arms", and this is where I am completely sold on this record (and we're only 1/3 of the way through).  Not quite a ballad, but definitely slower in tempo, "Dying In Your Arms" is a huge song with a killer riff, a big, power solo that will have lighters thrust into the air almost immediately, and some of the best vocals on the record.  This song would have been all over 1987 radio and MTV, right next to Whitesnake and bands of similar heft and melodic sensibilities.  Again, more hard rock than actual metal, this is a great song, regardless of the decade, and is one that I hit repeat on numerous times.  

"Hold On To Me" ups the tempo once again, and those hard-charging twin guitars kick things back into gear.  Some big backing "whoa-oh-ohs" support the bridge between the verses and the chorus, and Pontillo uses a bit more range here...not glass-shattering, but climbing his range...while still retaining that snarl that works so well for him and this style of music.  By this point, this iteration of Victory has established a comfort zone that fluctuates between punchy hard rock (such as this track) and classic metal, and they deliver in a big way.  This is a total sing along song that will have fans chanting along almost instantly with fists and horns thrust in the air.   Big, big arena rocker here with a solid, heavy bottom end and a catchy rhythm.

The more metallic edge returns for a couple of songs with "Into The Light" and "Mad". While both utilize a heavier, more "metal" approach, "Mad" is the heavier of the two despite being more mid-tempo than "Into The Light".  "Mad" comes churning out...well...rather angrily, with crunchy guitar riffs and plodding drums, and the seething intensity doesn't let up throughout the song's entirety.  Even Pontillo's vocals take on a bit of a darker tone, carrying that Les Carlson vibe I mentioned before, and "Mad" sounds a lot like something Bloodgood would have done on their last effort, which is a great thing!  The chorus has some great backing vocals and has a big, sweeping feel, which serves to set off the verse sections exceedingly well.

From here on out, it is pretty much anthem after anthem, all of them ranging from really good to excellent!  "Unconditional Love", despite its name, is a searing rocker with one of the fastest tempos on the entire album.  Charging straight ahead from the get-go, this track definitely has that classic Victory feel to it, and the tempo shift in the pre-chorus section screams of something that would have slipped easily onto Culture Killed The Native or Temples Of Gold.  "My Own Desire" holds that same high-intensity drive, as well, with some smoking guitar licks helping to intro the track as the rhythm guitar grinds across the punchy drums.  These two track back-to-back are an excellent representation of what Gods Of Tomorrow is all about!

The rest of the album holds its own with everything that came before, which I will admit I was concerned about with 13 tracks.  Generally speaking, if a band is able to keep my attention past 10, its a really solid record.  That there are no tracks I would give the axe on Gods... says something to me!  "On Fire" blazes forth with yet another screaming guitar solo and fist-in-the-air chant-along chorus that I truly hope the band interjects into any live set they have in the coming years.  I really dig this track!  "In Rock We Trust" (not a Y&T song) packs a punch in a big way with its snarling verses and big, shout along chorus, all bolstered by yet another scorching guitar solo.  Album closer, "Leave You Alone" is also one of the absolute best here, with a cool bass line pulsating throughout the track, and Pontillo spending much of the track in the lower fringes of his range on this story song that drips with 80s nostalgia, teasing you with the edgier, more metallic guitar tones but staying comfortably in the hard rock vein with the multi-layered chorus and the show-stealing guitar solo that may be the absolute best on an album chock full of string-benders!

The songs here are all structured for maximum listening pleasure, it would seem, built around memorable choruses, some absolutely stellar guitar work, and a big arena anthem feel to just about everything here.  The production is also excellent, and I really enjoy the sound obtained with the drums here and the amount of presence given to the bass is appreciated throughout.  I am typically pretty happy with the sonics on AFM Records releases, and Gods Of Tomorrow is not an exception.  Definitely better than anything the band has put out in the post-Garcia years, and possibly my favorite Victory record since Temples Of Gold, Gods Of Tomorrow is due out in late November and is an album that should be on every metalhead's Christmas list for 2021!

Rating:  A very crankable return for Victory!  Crank this to 8!

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

FICTION SYXX "Ghost Of My Father's Past"

 

(c) 2021 Independent Release
  1. Bleed For The Truth
  2. Caught Up In The Moment
  3. Whispers In  The Dark
  4. My Father's Ghost
  5. History Comes Tumbling
  6. Innocence
  7. This Place Called Life
  8. Waiting, Wondering
  9. Beyond The Shadows
  10. Children Of The Sea (Black Sabbath cover)
Mark Allen Lanoue--Vocals, Guitars
JK Northrup--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Eric Ragno--Keys, Piano, Organ
Larry Hart--Bass
Rory Faciane--Drums

When I first heard that Fiction Syxx was set to release their third album in as many years, I was all sorts of excited!  Had the band done what so many others did (or at least attempted to do) during the Covid shut-down, and gotten themselves busy creating new music?  Then I started asking myself if the project would feel rushed as the band felt some kind of pressure to do something with all of the forced downtime so many of us have faced over these past several dark months.  Would the album be all brooding and cold?  Would it come out like some others I have heard, completely overworked, over produced, over...over-EVERYTHING...as the band had so much time to write and re-write and re-edit everything it came out sounding cold and mechanical and sterile?

Turns out, the down time had given my own mind too much time to worry about such things, as Fiction Syxx has unleashed an album for the ages with their newest offering, Ghost Of My Father's Past!

Right from the outset, Fiction Syxx is in top form, with "Bleed For The Truth" bursting forth with the kind of melodic power that has been their calling card ever since Tall, Dark Secrets was unleashed in 2019.  Their sophomore effort, The Alternate Me, upped the ante a bit, adding a bit more punch to their already powerful approach to melodic prog, and "Bleed For The Truth" steps right back up to where the band left off and smacks a home run!  Sweeping guitars from both Lanoue and underrated wizard, JK Northrup, attack your senses almost immediately, but its the power of Lanoue's voice that seems to haunt me when I am listening to this album, even more so than on previous Fiction Syxx records.  Hart is in full-force here, as well, as his bass is solidly present in the mix, as are Faciane's drums.  And while it is a well-documented fact that I think too much keyboard can kill just about any song or album, the expert work from Eric Ragno may be the overly-cliche glue that holds this project together.  All of these elements come together right from the start of Ghost..., which had me instantly hooked.

"Caught Up In The Moment" finds me being exactly that, as this rocker enchants the listener almost instantly!  The Eastern-styled guitar tones (or is it an electric sitar?) are always catchy to my ear, but the performance here is not utilized in the typical way.  Don't imagine a full-blown Zeppelin approach here, as that is not the goal.  Rather, the band uses this unique sound to set the lead guitar apart from the chugging riff of the track and to set up Lanoue's sonic attack as he vocally glides across the atypical guitar bed and powers the song along.  A more traditional sounding, yet oh-so blistering solo run scorches through the midst of this hard-hitting rocker, and two tracks in, it is apparent that Fiction Syxx is operating on a new level, which is saying a lot considering the rare air they had been working in on past albums!  Not willing to settle for what they have done in the past, Fiction Syxx has challenged themselves to take another musical step, and they are obviously challenging listeners to come along for the ride, as the first two songs make it nearly impossible to not wonder what is coming next.

Lead single, "Whispers In The Dark" comes haunting its way in before tribal-sounding drums kick things up a bit and the harmonic guitars spring to life.  Ragno proves he is a master of subtle support on tracks such as this one, as his keyboards offer so much additional life to a track such as this without becoming overly-dominant and distorting the sound of a track such as this one.  This song is pure melodic hard rock ear candy, mid-tempo in pace and blissfully proggy in all the right spots.  Lanoue really allows his voice to soar throughout the track, and Northrup's chilling string bending solo, followed by Lanoue's speedier, crunchier fret run...just...wow.  The chorus is beautifully structured so that you feel the bass and drums pulsing beneath, rather than just being buried.  I truly love this song.  Check it out and see if you agree...


 "History Comes Tumbling" continues the power-prog mastery, and the mournful wail of the lead guitars throughout is chilling to hear.  I love the extended guitar solo on this track, and the bass work from Hart is not lost on the listener as it really helps to drive the song and lay that foundation that these soaring, searing guitars layer themselves upon.  Once again, Lanoue proves himself more than capable of handling just about any approach within his range, and the man is a melodic machine in my opinion.  I could listen to Mark sing the phone book, I think.

"Innocence" slows things down to ballad territory for the first time, and Fiction Syxx tackle the track with absolute mastery.  Lanoue varies his vocal delivery here, utilizing a softer approach on some of the verse sections, while also allowing his voice to really take flight on the chorus sections.  Again, Ragno is the master of the backing sounds on keys here, and the song completely sucks you in after just a single listen.  And the real magic of this song?  The writing!  Seriously, there is some thought-provoking stuff going on here... 

"Look into the eyes of the children, and lose yourself within their Innocence.  
Remember that you were once just like them. 
Now blinded by yourself, Society.  
Where it's all about me..."  

Wow!  Nobody writes like that anymore!  Without beating anyone over the head and telling them HOW to think, "Innocence" implores people to just...well...to just THINK!




"This Place Called Life" comes out nasty and gritty from the word jump, with a dirtier tone to the guitars and some darker supporting sounds from Ragno's keys throbbing through the verse sections.  Doomy, almost Dio-Sabbath-esque here (more on that in a bit), this is a tasty slice of musicality, with the band showcasing an ability to walk on the darker side of prog.  Lanoue adjusts his delivery to fit the track, but never does he drift off into a sullen, sulking approach.  Instead, I imagine a glint in his eye and a sneer on his lips as he powers through the choruses here.  Then, seemingly from nowhere, a brilliant flash of light bursts forth from the darkness in the form of an absolute eruption of a guitar solo, and "This Place Called Life" finds itself fighting for song of the album honors!  Love it, love it, love it!  

If "Waiting, Wondering" doesn't have you thinking Dream Theater to at least some extent, I'm not sure we are listening to the same song.  Also borrowing a bit from classic prog masters, Kansas, "Waiting, Wondering" is one of those songs that just seems to draw you in and wrap you in a sonic embrace, completely absorbing you with its melodic mastery.  Lanoue absolutely kills it here, and the keys from Ragno are spot-on superb!  Normally, the ballads on an album aren't really my thing; oh, sure, I've had my lighter in the air at concerts, but I'm typically a harder, heavier song kinda guy.  However, when a song as chock-full of emotion as "Waiting, Wondering" comes on, I definitely take notice!  A brilliant song, to be sure!




Beyond The Shadows" follows "Waiting, Wondering" up in truly stellar fashion, bumping up the tempo to mid-tempo territory, but definitely increasing the musical intensity.  The guitars are absolutely gorgeous here...seriously, someone needs to find out how these guys are wringing this much melodic soul out of their six strings and let the rest of the world know!  The solo is just achingly beautiful as Northrup runs the frets, and Lanoue is once again completely at the top of his game on this track (and the album in its entirety).  

"Children Of The Sea" closes things out, and if I am being 100% honest, I was pretty worried about this track.  I mean...Dio-era Sabbath?!  It takes massive balls...and humongous talent...to even think about tackling what is considered by many to be a melodic metal masterpiece.  It turns out my fears were for naught, as Lanoue avoids the guaranteed death sentence of trying to ape RJD, and instead delves into the lower ends of his spectacular range to pull off perhaps the vocal performance of the record!  Yes, there are hints of Dio's snarl here and there, but Mark is Mark to the fullest here, and it is amazing.  The Hammond from Ragno is perfection, and the combination of both acoustic and electric guitars absolutely shines.  Heck, even the percussion is spot-on throughout this true metal classic, and I find myself feeling a bit silly for ever questioning how the band might power through this track.  An absolutely perfect end to a dang-near perfect record!

The production throughout the album is crystal clear, and the separation of the guitars is exquisite, with Lanoue and Northrup both getting a strong voice from their respective instrument.  Huge kudos to Northrup who has shown himself to be a true production wizard through the years, and who possibly outdoes himself here.  This is how a melodic prog metal album should sound, plain and simple.  All you other bands of this ilk...take note.

I'm not really sure what happened, nor is it any of my business, but from what I have been told, the album is no longer available through Melodic Rock Records and can only be obtained directly from the band now by clicking HERE.  Regardless of what hoops you need to jump through, make it a priority of yours to hunt down Ghost Of My Father's Past.  You will NOT be disappointed in any way!

Rating:  Supremely crankable!  I'm giving this one the rare 10 and challenging anyone to try to knock this record from Album of the Year status here at G2G!

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Friday, October 1, 2021

THE PROTEST "Death Stare"

(c) 2021 Rockfest Records

  1. Paper Tiger
  2. Greater
  3. Show Up To The Showdown
  4. Voices
  5. Hell To Hold You
  6. The Mountain
Josh Bramlett--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Adam Sadler--Lead Guitars
TJ Colwell--Rhythm Guitars
Jarob Bramlett--Drums, Percussion

Indiana's The Protest come roaring back with an EP of new material that follows up the band's 2018 Rockfest Records debut, Legacy.  This new release features six new tracks (two have already been released as singles), with five of the six being up-tempo rockers, with the sixth being something of a ballad, although don't expect slow dancing and big-haired power balladry here.

The band picks up right where they left off on Legacy with the ferocious "Paper Tiger", which comes off every bit as heavy and aggressive as the previous album's title track.  Some buzzing guitars intro the track (followed by a tiger's roar), with Jarob dropping a big drum rhythm that sets the song off on a mid-tempo-but-crushingly-heavy track that chugs toward Josh snarling and barking his way through the first verse.  On this song about letting go of the fears that hold us back, Josh does everything in his power to abuse his vocal cords, especially on the seething chorus as he exclaims...

"You're just a paper, paper tiger!  
Nothing more than a silver-tongued liar!"   

The chorus is packed full of backing shouts and chants, none of which are credited here, but there is a lot of energy packed into this 3 minute...ahem...rockfest!  A solid breakdown is also incorporated in this fun, punchy kick off for Death Stare.

"Greater" has already surged its way up the charts for many Christian rock stations (and some forward-thinking modern rock stations, as well), and is definitely one of my two or three favorite tracks from the band at this point.  Programmed elements lead the churning guitars and drums into the mix, with Josh utilizing a much more controlled vocal style here as he explains to the listener why The Protest does what it does, despite the long hours on the road and the lack of acceptance among their secular peers.

"I don't do it for the money,
Don't do it for the fame,
As long as someone listens, don't care who knows my name.
I don't do it for the glory
Don't do it for the game,
I do it all to make them see that this all for something Greater than me!"

A truly powerful message about self-sacrifice, not only for doing what you love to do, but also doing it for the One who loves you!  The video is a solid performance piece, as well...check it out...


The EP's current single, "Show Up To The Showdown" is up next, and the band takes a bit of a different tack here, utilizing a sparser sound in the verse sections, followed by a big fist-in-the-air chanting chorus, complete with gang-shouted "heys" scattered throughout.  Jarob's drums have a huge presence throughout this track, as does an uncredited bass line on this thick rocker about standing up to the challenges put in your path.  The band recorded a really fun video for this track as well, which can be seen below...



From here, the band launches into another high energy rocker, this one a bit more uptempo and more straight forward than some of the others, with "Voices" tackling depression, negative thoughts, and self-doubt that creep into our minds from time to time.  The longest track on the EP, "Voices" still clocks in at just over four minutes, and is just straight-forward, guitar-driven hard rock from start to finish.  Some excellent guitar work from Colwell flashes through the track, and once again, an uncredited plaer lays down a rumbling bass line that really establishes a solid structure for the rest of the guitars to grind across the top of.  Once again, Josh spends more time singing than roaring here, especially on the verse sections, while he does get a bit more aggressive on the chorus.  There's a very cool vocal bridge that showcases the angrier side of his vocals, when he starts off in a controlled-but-snarled whisper that builds to a full-on scream as he intones...

"I've got this sickness,
It eats me to the bone...
I'll never make it if I try to do it all alone!
I've got this sickness,
It's poisoning my mind...
I'm climbing out of this and now I'm taking back my LIFE!!!"

A tough, tough chug-chug breakdown follows before the band revisits the chorus again.  A really, really good song that I find myself returning to a lot.

"Hell To Hold You" is the ballad of the EP, but again, don't think Homecoming slow dance material here.  A thick, bouncing bass line really drives the verses, with Jarob's drums keeping pace, before the guitars jump into the pre-chorus and chorus sections, with some big "whoa-oh-ohs" accompanying the chorus lyrics...

"Never knew I needed You 'til now...
A part of me was missing.
There's nothing that can keep me from You now.
As long as I'm still breathing, 
My heart is in Your hands.

I'm alive again...
No matter what we've been through
I'd fight hell to hold you."

While the first section of the chorus seems fairly obvious, I find myself asking if that that last part Christ making a statement to the singer.  Hmmmm.....  Some programmed strings are subtly woven into the mix, with them being the most obvious as the song fades out at the end.  This song really surprised me, honestly, but I like the band taking the chance and throwing the curveball when the rest of the record was nothing but heat (sorry...baseball references are what I do...).

"The Mountain" is an absolutely quirky rocker that I can't help but love.  I would imagine it will be very difficult to pull off live due to a lot of programmed stops and starts with the guitars, but Jarob's drums are an absolute treat to hear on this track as they bounce and prance throughout the song.  There's a big arena rock feel to the track when the guitars punch you in the gut, but those sparse moments in between are what really gives this plucky song its true feel...at least for me.  This song has a lot of Skillet styling to my ear, but it is fresh and definitely not some sort of rip-off track.  This is still purely The Protest, throwing back to some of their earlier, pre-Rockfest Records material.  I will be massively disappointed if this song isn't released as a single, as I absolutely love what the guys pull off here and they sound like they had a blast doing it.

Not even 21 minutes in length, the EP should seem much shorter than it does.  However, the high quality of the songwriting and the top-notch performances keep you so engaged you really don't realize how wrapped up you become in each and every track and, at least to me, the EP doesn't feel as short as it actually is.  Maybe that is due in part to the high amount of energy the band pours into each track, wiping you out as you listen!  Very, very well done overall!

I do have a complaint, but it isn't lodged so much at the band as it is at Rockfest Records.  Let me preface this by saying I love Rockfest Records, I buy all of their releases, and I am in awe of their line-up of artists.  That being said, I have to admit to being upset about the way this EP was handled, for a couple of reasons.  First, it is packaged about as simply as anything I have ever received from anyone, with no lyrics, no credits, no thank-yous, and no band info.  Nothing.  It is a simple cardboard slipcase with the cover art on one side and the track listing on the other.  Period.  And, yeah, I could live with that, if I wasn't charged more than $11 for FORCED Priority shipping (there was no First Class option) for this practically weightless CD (there is no jewel case or digipack, so seriously...this thing weighs next to nothing).  That means I paid nearly $20 for a six song EP that isn't signed or anything.  Normally, Rockfest does an amazing job with the packages they put together, and yes, there was a big package with a shirt and trading cards and other things, but the people who only want the CD shouldn't be charged a ton on shipping to make up the cost of the bigger packages.  Trust me when I say this CD did NOT cost $11.50 (or whatever the exact cost was) to ship, even with the bubble mailers factored in.  Hopefully the goal here is not to drive even more people to digital purchasing because I will always be a CD-first guy.

Regardless of that issue (which I really hope was a clerical error), Death Stare is well worth tracking down and is an incredible effort on the part of The Protest!  I have thoroughly enjoyed it since I received it, and if I have spun it fewer than 30 times in the past two weeks or so, I'd be shocked.  If this was a hold-over project as the band works on their next full release, I can't wait to hear what they have in store for us next!

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  Crank Death Stare to a powerful 9, even at only six songs!  It really is that good!

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