Sunday, September 20, 2020

RELENT "Heart Attack"

 

(c) 2020 Rockfest Records

  1. Six Feet Under Me
  2. Changed
  3. Rise
  4. Without You
  5. Send A Miracle
  6. Addicted
  7. Surrendered
  8. Low
  9. Jesus Freak
Miggy--Vocals
Josh--Guitars
Chris--Guitars
Bruce--Bass
Gaston--Drums

Ah, Nu-Metal.  If there has ever been a more maligned sub-genre of heavy metal, I don't know what it was, and, to a degree, I get it.  Once Korn broke big, bands started to try to take elements of that band's sound and formula and recreate the magic.  The problem was that in doing so, Nu-Metal copied itself so much in the late 90s/early 2000s that it imploded in exactly the same manner that hair metal did in the early 90s.  There was just so little originality left in the genre, and as a result very few bands from that once thriving scene managed to survive.

But, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV), "all things have become new" and Nu-Metal has started to re-emerge in the modern hard rock scene, albeit with some much-needed upgrades to production and a more intense focus on quality songwriting (thankfully!).  One of the bands I am expecting big things from in this updated scene is San Antonio's own Relent.  Wait...did I just suggest a new Christian band could make an impact on the current musical scene?  I did, indeed, and there is zero doubt that Relent fits the bill for the style of band that the modern hard music scene is hungry for, and the reissued edition of their debut EP, Heart Attack, is exactly the vehicle to introduce this extremely talented band!  
Recently signed to Rockfest Records, Relent has just dropped the revamped version of Heart Attack, complete with new artwork and two new songs, stretching the EP from seven tracks to a nearly full album of nine songs.  

The album kicks off with a flurry of crunch and grind from the rhythm guitars in that stop-start chugging fashion so many of the 90s heavy rock bands used, accompanied by a bit more bass than a lot of people may be expecting.  The drums are hard-hitting as well, and from the get go it is evident Relent is out to do something most bands are not doing today with their style and sound.  Miggy's vocals are going to draw a huge amount of attention throughout the record, as there is a definite style similarity to that of Lajon Witherspoon from Sevendust, most of which is derived from the soulful delivery utilized, as well as the ability to both add and subtract a gritty edge when the song calls for it.  From the first note he sang, it was obvious to me that Miggy was going to be a big draw for me with Relent.  

Anyone who says they don't hear bits of Korn in the next track, "Changed", has likely never actually heard 90s-era Korn.  The spoke rap section that intros the song just reeks of something that Jonathan Davis would work into a song, and Miggy absolutely nails the delivery here!  The bass is thick and rumbling beneath the entire track, and the quirky rhythm guitar line here is top shelf stuff!  There are some swirling lead guitars thrown into the discordant mix here and a sick breakdown, just for good measure!  A song about true change from within, "Changed" is blistering nu-metal track that has a little bit of everything good about that style, along with some more modern elements...especially in the production...to update the sound in great fashion.  Definitely one of my favorites here.

While "Low" is the current single (more on that in a bit), I think "Rise" has to be strongly considered for the next track to impact radio.  Once again, while the music is perfectly filled with chugging riffs and thundering drums, it is Miggy that steals the show with his vocal prowess.  Bordering on rap-styled vocals on the second verse, Miggy also delivers that Sevendust-inspired, edge-laden crooning style that just demands to be listened to!  Another excellent track to start the record that will likely have most listeners completely hooked by now.

Miggy is likely at his most aggressive on the next track, "Without You", as his aggro-vocals take on an almost bestial snarl in places, especially when ripping through the words "why?!" and "try" on the pre-chorus sections.   A song asking Christ "where would I be without You?", this is a perfect example of the band not watering down their faith in the lyrics and also remaining just as uncompromising in the aggression of the track's music and performance.

Introduced by Miggy singing the song's title in acapella fashion, "Send A Miracle" features the most punishing breakdown of the record, with Miggy imploring the band to hit the listeners with a "Faith Bomb" multiple times, and this track is pure Sevendust...and God...worship, which I dig in a big way!  Truly excellent stuff on this track that I find myself hitting repeat on numerous times when it comes up.

"Addicted" is another track that I believe has single written all over it.  Featuring some computer-enhanced synth vocals along with a rap section and yet another brutal breakdown, "Addicted" should be all over both Christian and secular modern rock stations the second it is released.

"Surrendered" finds Miggy singing that "on my knees I find my place, at Your feet I give You praise" as he tells a personal tale of surrendering to his Creator, with the most metallic rhythm riffing of the record accompanying him.  Pure intensity fuels the verse sections of this punishing track, while a more melodic approach is used in the choruses, with Miggy again adopting a Witherspoon approach to his soaring, power-filled approach to singing.  Some electronic elements fill in what musical gaps may exist in this dense song, and I would anticipate metal stations may snap this song up even if it is never dropped as a single.    

The last two tracks here are the new additions to Heart Attack.  "Low" is the current single and it has been blasting its way across multiple playlists and charts, Christian and secular alike, garnering airplay on terrestrial radio stations, as well as Octane on the satellite, and TheBlast.FM and ChristianHardRock.Net on the Web!  Tackling depression and addiction, "Low" has enjoyed a huge amount of success at Christian radio, and has also crossed over to Octane on SiriusXM.  Heck, it has even been re-released in Spanish form.  With a big bottom end, both clean and aggro vocals, and some serious crunch to the guitars, "Low" is a great indicator of what to expect from Relent and the rest of the Heart Attack release.




The album rounds out with an interesting song choice, as the band tackles one of the more popular Christian hard rock tracks of the past couple of decades in DC Talk's "Jesus Freak".  Let's be honest; deciding to take on a track with that much popularity takes a level of confidence a lot of bands don't possess...and rightfully so!  Relent, however, not only takes the track on headfirst, they aren't afraid to experiment a bit and make the track their own.  For starters, the Relent version is noticeably heavier and down-tuned, bringing out an angrier, darker tone.  The bass is aggressive here, and the guitars have a bottom-end crunch that wasn't present in the 90's hard-edged alt rock style that DC Talk utilized.  Another thing that will immediately catch people is the slight change in the delivery of the lyrics in the chorus.  So catchy and so sing-along is the song that people are invariably going to jump in and join the band, but when Miggy stretches the word "they" a bit, everyone that is singing along will already be onto the word "hear" already.  I know I was!   There are a couple of other minor differences here and there, but not to the point the song is unrecognizable and fans of the DC Talk version will likely enjoy this take, as well, though there is no doubt that Relent's version is definitely the heavier, more aggressive version by a good stretch.   

As much as I hate it when people say, "such and such band is the Christian version of so-and-so", it is going to be very obvious that Relent is heavily influenced by my favorite Nu-Metal band, Sevendust, and elements of P.O.D., Pillar, and even a little bit of Korn filter through the mix.  Never, however, do you feel like you are listening to a knock-off band, however, as Relent is a band all their own, with an approach that will have fans instantly fist-pounding and head-banging along!  To drop a likely over-used pun, Relent is absolutely relentless in their approach, both musically and lyrically, leaving no doubt as to what they are about.  

Rating:  Oh so crankable...and so difficult to pry out of my player!  Crank that dial to 9!

DISCIPLE "Love Letter Kill Shot Deluxe Edition"

 

(c) 2020 Tooth & Nail Records


  1. Cuff The Criminal
  2. Reanimate
  3. Wake Up
  4. Panic Room (Featuring Andrew Schwab of Project 86)
  5. Play To Win
  6. Fire Away
  7. Misery
  8. Chemical Wisdom
  9. Never Too Late
  10. Touch of Pain
  11. Walk With Me
  12. Best Thing Ever
  13. Darkness Dies (New)
  14. Enemy (New)
  15. Kingdom Come (New)
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Guitar, Bass, Backing Vocals
Andrew Stanton--Guitars
Joey West--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Dane Allen--Backing Vocals
Andrew Schwab--Guest Vocals on "Panic Room"

Okay, allow me to rant for just a second.  I LOVE when bands release new music.  Love it.  It is something that I look forward to with great anticipation, whether it is new bands that I am excited to hear from for the first time, or long-established favorites that I get to hear something new from.  It just gets me jacked up thinking about it!  BUT...I hate, and I mean HATE, when bands re-issue an album that isn't even two years old with new material on it (Skillet, I'm looking at you!).  I'm then left with three choices, none of which makes me very happy.  One, I can re-purchase the entire album, and then have to figure out what to do with the original.  Two, I can digitally purchase the new songs and then rip the original CD and burn it again with the new songs included.  Three, I can just live without the music.  Well, option three ain't happening, folks, which really leaves only options one and two, and neither is ideal.  And with Disciple, you only have option two because the three new tracks are only available as digital downloads (which could send me off on an entirely different rant, but I'll let that go for another day).  Why not just hold off until you have two or three more songs, maybe a remix and a live track also, and then drop a physical EP?  I get that with the lack of touring going on bands need to come up with ways to generate an income, and I am more than happy to help out in that arena, but I am still a physical-product guy and I hate being backed into the digital-only corner.  Anyway...rant over...for now....

Disciple has re-released their latest album, Love Letter Kill Shot with three new tracks, much to the excitement of a fairly rabid fanbase.  I have attended a lot of shows from a lot of bands, and I haven't come across many bands that have the devotion that Disciple fans have, which is an awesome thing since Disciple is also a band that gives a lot back to their fans.  It's a truly symbiotic relationship.  As such, I am certain the band is currently selling thousands of downloads of the three new tracks, and probably hundreds of downloads of the new album in its entirety.  Me, I just went with the three new tracks, which I then burned onto a CD with the entire album to make my own "deluxe CD-R" of the album.  According to Joey West on a live Instagram video earlier this summer, there are currently no plans to put out a physical re-issue of the album, although that could change at some point OR, as I mentioned in my rant above, I could see the songs being released at a later point on an EP, similar to what the band did with the Vultures EP a few years ago.  

For the purpose of this particular review, I will only be covering the new songs.  If you want to go back and read my thoughts on the full Love Letter Kill Shot album, just click on the album title and you can check that out. (Hint...I love this record!)  

The first of the three new tracks is, in my opinion, by far the best, and one of my favorite Disciple songs in years...which is saying a lot.  I absolutely love "Darkness Dies"!  Love...it...!  The album kicks off with some electronic elements, but then a big, aggressive drum fill from Joey fires the song into motion, and once the rhythm guitars kick in, things are off and running.  Again, there are some subtle electronic elements running beneath the first verse, which Kevin delivers with a slightly breathy approach, before the pre-chorus hits telling the listener to "put your money where your mouth is, put your faith in what you're doubting, if there's no telling where the Truth is, they why (do) you keep looking?!"  From here, the soaring chorus bursts forth, with Kevin singing, "I'm not a savior, I'm just a man, and I'll let you down if you give me a chance...", imploring people to seek the Light rather than look to man for answers to their struggles in life.  Following the second chorus run there is a breakdown of sorts, and while there is no true guitar solo, the six string work here is top notch and aggressive!  I repeat this song two or three times every time it comes up, no exaggeration.



"Enemies" is up next, and it is, in my opinion, everything "Darkness Dies" is not.  "Enemies" starts off with an angry-sounding Kevin screaming "I only have nightmares when my eyes are open!"  Then a staccato guitar chug-chug-chugs to life, crunching alongside the pounding drums through the verse sections, before a slightly more melodic chorus.  Kevin's angry tone is incorporated throughout the second verse, and those hard-hitting rhythm guitar riffs just reek of anger and aggression in a way that Disciple hasn't really delivered in some time.  Yes, "Panic Room" hits hard on this record, and there are some aggressive tunes on each of the past several albums, but "Enemies" takes that aggression to a new level.  Stop-start electronic effects are added into the mix, and then seemingly out of nowhere a soaring, melodic guitar solo sings out (I'm guessing from Stanton, as it sounds like his style of playing), which leads the track into the final run through the chorus, with Kevin singing "Deliver me from myself", before the final musical flurry closes things out.

"Kingdom Come" closes out the new tracks, and for people who ordered the Love Letter Lockdown internet concert during Covid quarantine this summer have already heard a live version of this track.  To me, "Kingdom Come" is a track that falls in the middle ground between "Darkness Dies" and "Enemies" as far as style of these three new tracks goes.  Still edgy and aggressive, but carrying a melodic tone that "Enemies" really only hints at.  This is a really well-written track, with tempo changes, aggressive rhythm playing, rapid-fire drumming, and a solid bottom end from Prince's bass work, and Kevin reins in his vocals just a bit from the aggressive screaming of "Enemies" but still delivers with plenty of passion.  Not quite as catchy as "Darkness Dies", and not as angry or metallic as "Enemies", 'Kingdome Come" is a bit of both and works very well to close out this deluxe album edition.

Look, I'm not a digital fan, but at only 99 cents a track on Amazon...and available on every streaming and downloading platform that I am aware of...all three are worth downloading and ripping to create your own deluxe version, and the purchase will help out one of the best, most passionate, most fan-friendly bands going in the Christian scene.  Hopefully a track like "Darkness Dies" will get the band some crossover attention with the Octane crowd, and maybe "Enemies" will even find its way onto the Liquid Metal playlist on SiriusXM.  Request these songs (and "Kingdom Come") from your favorite local radio stations and on Christian internet stations to get some love for Disciple to start spreading.  It has worked recently to get some national attention for bands like Seventh Day Slumber, so perhaps Disciple will be next to explode out of the Christian-only market!

Rating:  As an entire package, Love Letter Kill Shot Deluxe edges up slightly to a 9 now!  I truly hope it will be available in true physical form at some point.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

RED JUMPSUIT APPARATUS "Emergency EP"

 


 (c) 2020 A+R Productions/CMG

  1. Brace Yourself
  2. A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Called LA
  3. Don't Buy Into It
  4. Is This The Real World?
  5. Stuck On Repeat
  6. Please, Unfriend Me
Ronnie Winter--Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Josh Burke--Lead Guitar
Randy Winter--Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Joey Westwood--Bass
Danny Resnick--Keys, Backing Vocals
John Espy--Drums

I will be the first to admit I have always kind of avoided Red Jumpsuit Apparatus purely based on the name.  I mean...what the what?!  And I know that's terrible of me, because an attitude like that has probably prevented me from hearing dozens of bands that I really would have loved.  As I have gotten older, I have been ignoring that inner-urge to discard a band based solely upon its name, and I gave the new RJA release, The Emergency EP a shot.  What I got was both surprising...not surprising...and in one instance downright shocking.

What surprised me was just how great this band is musically.  Honestly, I would never have predicted the intensity of the drums, the talent of the twin guitar players, or the near-perfectly executed placement of the keys in a position of support rather than out front (which we all annoys the metalhead in me!).  The guitar solos here are melodic, if not overly elaborate, and the interplay between Burke and Randy Winter is excellent, with some really strong rhythm guitar work driving several of the songs here, with "Stuck On Repeat" coming instantly to mind.  The backing vocals are also spot-on throughout this EP, which really help to support Ronnie's lead vocal approach.  And the songwriting for most of the record is equally strong, leading me to wonder why I hadn't checked out this band before...other than the name...or really heard much from them on radio, satellite or terrestrial.

This brings me to what didn't shock me...at all...which is the relatively emo-style of vocal delivery that I got from Ronnie Winter on about 2/3 of the record.  There are moments on the EP where he allows an angry edge to creep into his vocals ("Don't Buy Into It" has some of these moments, to be sure), and it is at those times that I find myself really cheering for more of the same.  Alas, it typically doesn't last very long, although "Stuck On Repeat" (easily my favorite track here) has less emo drone to the vocal approach, and "Brace Yourself" manages to work around a few weak spots to also be a top-of-the-heap track for me.    

Lyrically, the band doesn't make any bold pronouncements of faith on the EP, but they spend a lot of time on social issues, and steer themselves into some controversial territory with "Don't Buy Into It", a song that could find the band alienating some of their more conservative fans.  In the very first verse, the band addresses the transgender issue as Winter sings about meeting a boy dressed as a girl whom people (presumably Christians) have told will burn in hell for his/her gender decisions.  The song also references the building of the wall between the United States and Mexico, to which Winter encourages "I say build it up so we can tear it down!" on multiple occasions, and he sings in the chorus, "Fear leads to anger to hate," seeming to indicate that anyone who stands opposite Winter's (and presumably the band's) views on illegal immigration are "fearful" and "hateful".  The press release for the album states, "As a Christian, Winter's prism of the religion is far more inclusive than what the gatekeepers preach," with Winter himself being quoted as saying, "These are things that really bother me--with this EP I'm bringing fans to the next level."  The "things" he is speaking of are LGBTQIA+ issues and the Black Lives Matter movement.  While there is growing support in many Christian communities for the LGBTQIA+ issues, hitching one's wagon to BLM is a dangerous move, in my estimation, as I don't know of very many groups...and NO Christian groups...who advocate the wanton vandalism, property destruction, assault, and even murder that have become hallmarks of that group, and for Red Jumpsuit Apparatus's lead vocalist to state his backing of the movement is going to be a BIG "off switch" for many people.  

The band proves elsewhere that they can focus on positivity without becoming controversial.  On the  track, "Is This The Real World?" the band does a far better job of interjecting thought into social issues as they as they encourage people to seek truth rather than simply believing what they read and hear on-line and from the media.  Album opener, "Brace Yourself" has become something of an anthem for First Responders and Emergency Support Workers, with a portion of the sales from the single actually going to benefit families of these extremely important people.  Check out that track below:




For me, five of the six songs here are of above average quality, and all are up-tempo, which helps drive the EP home in relatively quick fashion.  The musicianship, as I mentioned before, is of a surprisingly high level, and I have to admit to being very surprised when I read that all of the songs except closer, "Please, Unfriend Me" were actually written and recorded in the back of the band's tour bus while on the road last year.  As to "Please, Unfriend Me", that track was recorded using technology while the band members were in Covid lockdown earlier this spring.  The best tracks are bunched at the end, with "Stuck On Repeat" and "Is This The Real World" being the biggest winners of the bunch, with "Brace Yourself" the top choice of my 8 year old, who seems to sing it non-stop.  I also enjoy "Please, Unfriend Me" quite a bit, as well.  "Don't Buy Into It" isn't a horrible song musically...not by a long stretch...but I just can't get behind the "think my way" political agenda that Winter seems to be aiming at band fans that don't see things through the same lens he uses.  As to "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Called LA", while it isn't a terrible song, I just don't feel it...at all.  Seemingly a love story (perhaps Ronnie Winter and his wife's story?), the song is just too cheesy for me and I honestly skip it just about every time I have a free finger while driving down the road.  

All in all, I was impressed with the band's talent and the catchiness of the majority of the songs here.  I do wish we had a bit more solo work from Burke whose guitar has a definite melodic quality to it that I really enjoyed, and I would love to hear more bite and edge from Winter's lead vocals, especially when the emo whine seems to come on to strongly, but overall I'm pretty happy with my introduction to the band.  I may even seek out the band's previous efforts, some of which I have been told has more hardcore and punk influences, and I will definitely keep an eye and ear out for future releases.  That being said, if the band becomes more even political and starts to swerve further into social justice warrior territory, I highly doubt they will find a fan in me, as there is plenty of that to be found in both mainstream and social media, so I don't need it in my musical choices.  

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5.  Musically, I'd give it a 7.5, but the EP's brevity, the band's politics, and the emo stylings of much of Winter's vocals do some damage to my introduction to what is obviously a musically talented band.

RAVINER "Drown" (Single)

 

(c) 2020 Independent

Kamber Kigin--Vocals, Keys
Jon Wisecarver--Guitars
Colt Capperune--Bass, Programming, Additional Guitars, Production
Rob Shollenberger--Drums

With the pandemic putting the brakes on a lot of music-related activities this summer, a number of new and lesser-known acts have started to bubble up on different platforms as radio stations and internet platforms have been bolstering their playlists to accommodate listener's thirst for more music.  Because of this, I have come across several new bands, as well.  One such band for me is Raviner.

Raviner is a new band to my ears, but this Tennessee group has actually been putting out music since 2016, with their last long-form release being the Beast EP in 2017.  Following a brief hiatus, the band reformed to begin work on a new EP which will include the lead single, "Drown".  Featuring powerful female vocals, nice edgy, crunchy guitars, rock-steady drums, and just enough modern programming effects, "Drown" is an excellent introduction to this new band.  And while the smooth rocker should find a lot of success on modern rock formats, Christian or secular, there is also a uniqueness to Raviner's sound that should help them to stand out from the crowd.  That uniqueness comes largely from the soaring vocals of Kigin.  As I have lamented numerous times, there is a distinct lack of true female singers in the Christian rock genre (although there is an ever-growing number of highly talented female screamers and snarlers!), but that short list gains a new member with Kigin, who I feel compares very favorably with Dawn Michele from Fireflight and with Deena Jakoub of Veridia.  In fact, those two bands are also good comparisons for people seeking a sound comparison, especially the later, more synth-oriented material from Fireflight.  

On "Drown", a powerful song about dealing with individual struggle and turbulent times without allowing oneself to go under and succumb to the darkness of the time, Kigin maintains a powerful grip on her range, staying comfortably in the middle of her range but with plenty of inflection and nuance.  The guitars from Wisecarver carry a nice level of aggression to counter Kigin's melodic vocal offering, and Shollenberger's drums have a big, full sound, not coming off as flat like so many drums do today.  Shollenberger's patterns and fills are strong, especially on the breakdown section coming out of the second chorus, where the drums and bass combine to generate a lot of power and thump which runs counter to the atmospheric programming that runs throughout the track.  Also of note is the production, which I find to be really strong, especially when the independent nature of this record is taken into consideration.  Capperune gives plenty of room for each instrument to breathe here, and offers up some solid bass work, as well.  

Check out the track below...




If you are into this type of dark, electronic-edged modern rock with an uplifting message of hope, I strongly suggest you seek this band out, as there is a lot of talent and potential here!  I am anxious to check out the new EP, which was apparently stalled by the Covid situation.  "Drown" can be found on your favorite platform here:  http://smarturl.it/rvnr.drown/ and you can also snag their previous EP, Beast, at this location: http://smarturl.it/rvnr.beast