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, 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  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 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 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 ( 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 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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