Sunday, July 17, 2022

GOLD, FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH "Framing My Perception"


(c) 2022 Rockfest Records

  1. Burn Your Fears
  2. Framing My Perception
  3. Honest Abe
  4. The Enemy
  5. Why So Toxic
  6. Disrupt The Silence
Maggie English--Bass, Vocals
CJ English--Guitars, Vocals
Lulu English--Drums, Percussion

 Additional Musicians:

Weston Evans--Addtional Guitars

I'm going to be honest.  I have loved what the English sisters have been doing as Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh since the beginning.  Their "beautycore" blend of harsh metalcore screams and growls, downtuned guitars, and furious breakdowns intermixed with the clean vocals and a pop punk charm brought a fun spark to the Christian hard rock/metal scene.

I'm also going to be honest in saying I am a huge fan of what Rockfest Records has done for the Christian hard rock and metal scene.  They have quickly...but not really quietly...snapped up some of the biggest names in the scene and have built an amazing roster of talent.  Joseph Rojas of Seventh Day Slumber seems to have a very good feel for what will work and who will fit with the core artists he has assembled.

Final honest statement ( honest INTRODUCTORY statement...I'm not going to just start lying or something...):  I was rather concerned about GFM joining the Rockfest Records roster because I was concerned that their sound and attitude would be compromised in some way.  I was worried some of the harshness would be smoothed over, some of the rough edges would be polished away.

I was wrong to be concerned.  With their latest EP, Framing My Perception, GFM proves that they have every bit as much punch as they always have, even if there is a certain maturity to their sound with this latest offering.  I'm not suggesting the fun, punkish charm is gone or that the growls have disappeared, but it would be foolish to deny that these girls have started to mature a bit in their songwriting and the structures of the tracks they have put together here.  It was bound to happen after all, as the girls have been performing as a band for more than seven years, with a hard-to-find debut effort, a full-length album (Identity Crisis), an acoustic offering, and a pair of EPs prior to this one (Oh, The Horror and Operation Take Over).  They aren't new to this thing, despite the fact that all three girls are 22 or younger, and with each release they have shown bits of growth and change.  Framing My Perception simply continues that growth.

"Burn Your Fears" kicks things off, and instantly it is obvious that this is going to still be GMF, regardless of what label they are with or who is helping turn the knobs and spin the dials.  A bed of electronic effects opens the song, with oldest sister, CJ, dropping a chugging riff into place, with baby sister Lulu crushing her kit right alongside the snarling guitars.  The contrast between CJ's clean vocals and Maggie's uber-harsh growling has always been a big part of what makes GFM such a unique and fun listen, and Maggie is in full-throated roaring fashion almost immediately.  In fact, she may hit the lowest range growling I have heard from her on this track.  This is a great opening crushfest that sets the course for the rest of this EP.

The title track hits next, and it hits hard, both in tone and in message, while being a PERFECT example of the growth I mentioned previously.  A subtle electronic lead-in builds to a powerful guitar riff before CJ's clean vocals come powering their way into the mix, with Lulu's thunderous drums accompanying her.  One thing that stands out about this track to me is the presence of an actual guitar solo, and a pretty melodic solo at that!  Generally known for her fierce bottom-end breakdowns, CJ is given a chance to shine on her axe and she grabs that chance by the throat!  I always suspected she had this kind of playing in her somewhere, and I'm really happy to hear it come forward here.  I hope to hear more of this kind of playing in the future.  Also noticable is what isn't here; there are no harsh, raspy growls from Maggie.  Rather, the middle sister accompanies CJ on the chorus section, providing that layered harmonic sound that only siblings can really achieve.  All of this newness still sounds like GFM, however, and this is an excellent example of the growth that the girls have exhibited throughout this EP.  A really powerful song about remaining positive and seeing the good in life is further enhanced by the first video released from this EP.  

If "Framing..." isn't my favorite track on this release, next cut, "Honest Abe", likely takes the title.  No electronics or synths to set the stage here, just a punchy drum strike and CJ's rhythm guitars chewing on your ear right from the start.  Rather than lead in with clean vocals, Maggie's deathy growls take center stage as the main vocal type this time around.  No worries that the counter is missing, however, as CJ sweetly chimes in on the chorus section.  This may be one of the heaviest tracks the girls have ever put together, with a booming breakdown section before the last runs through the chorus, and CJ's guitar approach throughout is absolutely a good way.  But it's Maggie's roar that powers this track into the upper echelon of the band's catalog for me, and I find myself hitting repeat on "Honest Abe" numerous times.

"The Enemy" follows the successful formula that GFM has utilized to great effect throughout their recording career, laying down aggressive, buzzsaw guitar riffs and rapid-fire drums with a combination of both clean and harsh vocals being used throughout.  Instead of singing on this track, however, CJ is a bit more snarky in her delivery, using that sneering voice that she has honed to perfection over the past few years to bark at the listener.  There is still plenty of difference between CJ's sharper delivery style and Maggie's gutteral growl, however, and this is a track that long-time GFM fans are going to feel right at home with.

As aggressive and harsh as "Honest Abe" is, "Why So Toxic" showcases the other side of the girls equally well.  Straight-up pop-punk, this is a bouncy, fun track that still showcases some speedy riffing from CJ and that rock-solid drumming that Lulu really deserves more attention for.  That girl has grown up right in front of the music world's eyes, and she has become a seriously talented drummer that people in the rock/metal community should be giving credit to.  Once again, as with "Framing..." there are no harsh snarls from Maggie, but there are plenty of "whoa-oh-ohs" for the listener to bop along to.

"Disrupt The Silence" closes things out with another heavy, high-speed affar that again uses Maggie's growls as the dominant vocal style on the verses, with CJ's cleaner vox handling the pre-chorus and chorus sections.  There is an electronic element running throughout the track that again shows some of  musical depth and growth the band has tinkered with on this EP, and even some programmed drum effects underneath a brief spoken word portion, but it's a vicious breakdown, with pummeling drumwork and macnine-gun rhythm riffing that quickly reminds you that GFM remains a metal/metalcore force to be reckoned with.

The mixture of styles in such a short space of time is interesting and gives the listener plenty to consider on Framing My Perception.  Whether you are a fan of the angrier, harsher side of the band, or you lean more toward the cheerleader pop-punk approach the girls have had so much fun with in the past, you are going to find something on this EP to suit your beautycore needs.   

If I had any complaint with the project it is that this is yet another EP.  In what appears to be a growing trend, more and more artists are releasing music, even in physical formats, just five or six tracks at a time.  This is four EPs in a row for these girls (counting the acoustic effort), and a couple of digital singles have been mixed in there, as well.  I know I should be thankful that RockFest continues to release physical product in this digital world, but the fact that I have all three of their previous EPs ripped and burned onto one disc with room for a good portion of this one frustrates me a bit.   Still, if this is how the girls, who are MASTERS of self-promotion and connecting with their fans, reach out to their audience on a regular basis, I'm sure I will be there to snap it up.  But don't think you can make me stop grumbling about the flood of EPs recently!

Bouncy yet crunchy, angry yet positive, both snarly and clean at the same time, Framing My Perception is a nice step forward for GFM, while keeping a firm foot planted in the band's past.

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  Crank this to 8.5!

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Monday, July 11, 2022

JODI ESSEX "Fearless"

(C) 2022 Independent Release

  1. Offend
  2. Fearless
  3. Unravel
  4. Lean
  5. Bandaid
  6. Shine
Jodi Essex--Lead and Backing Vocals
Josiah Prince--All Instruments and Production

Two years ago, newcomer Jodi Essex dropped her debut album, Irreverant.  While definitely a strong debut with some excellent material, I didn't feel the album really captured all that Essex was capable of.  There was too much middling material on the record as Essex seemed to waffle between being a rocker and being a CCM/pop crossover artist, especially on the ballads.  I opined on my review of the record that "a lot of how Essex fairs from here forward is going to depend largely upon what direction she chooses to take her music.  I have no doubt that she will find success in whatever style of music she chooses to perform  I truly hope it is the rock road that she chooses to travel."

Wish granted!

With her new album, Fearless, Essex comes out firing on all cylinders, producing the kind of album (okay, EP) that I felt she was capable of!  Enlisting the help of one of the hottest writers and producers in Christian rock, Mr. Josiah Prince of Disciple, who co-wrote every track here, Essex has crafted an energetic, rocking record that should open the eyes of many a listener.

Three singles have already been released, and each has delivered a little something different from Essex.  "Offend" is a straight-up hard rock track with an equally punchy message to those members of the church who choose to teach a watered-down version of the Gospel in the hopes of attracting more congregants.  Similar to the way Fireflight addresses the show biz-like atmosphere of many churches today in "Welcome To The Show", the video for "Offend" gets right to the heart of the matter with a steam-punk outfitted Essex asking "would you offend for the Gospel?" as she addresses a panel of wishy-washy church leaders.  From there, thundering drums kick start this driving rock track, with "Offend" taking a far punchier approach than anything on her previous album.  Alternately gritty--almost sneeringly so--and soaring, the verse sections showcase the various styles that Essex spread out over multiple tracks on Irreverent, with a snappy, energy-infused chorus blasting the listener with that same opening line..."Would you offend for the Gospel?  Or will you bend for mankind?"  

On the second single, "Unravel", Essex slows things down to power ballad territory, albeit with some modern rock song structure, to present a song about the power of a person's will and the need to surrender our spirit and allow God to "unravel" the walls we put up around ourselves.  A bed of electronic effects and percussion intros the song, with Essex's breathy vocals carrying the verse toward a powerful-yet-simplistic chorus.  From here, new layers of instrumentation are added, with Prince's (Disciple) guitars adding their voice to the mix as Essex ramps up the power in her voice until it reaches a full-throated peak during the third run through the chorus.  Orchestral elements are added as Prince winds his way through an emotion-drenched solo before giving way to Essex and her closing runs through the chorus.  More outstanding guitar work leads the track out, and almost immediately I hit repeat. the kind of ballad that Essex absolutely dominates and is what I was hoping we would hear from her this time around.  I can't help but think of Berlin's big hit, "Take My Breath Away" from the Top Gun soundtrack when I hear this song (now that I mention it, I would LOVE to hear Essex tackle that classic hit!), and for me it is obvious this is the type of song Essex works best with, at least on slower material.

Most recently, Essex dropped the title track from the EP, a song which finds the singer treading a more mid-tempo rock track and handling it in fine fashion.  Starting off with a punchy rhythm section intro, this straight ahead rock track allows Essex to really shine as the instrument-sparse verse sections provide the perfect showcase for her gritty vocals, while the chorus offers her the chance to soar a bit more with her voice.  There's a cool vocal bridge that has Essex delivering different vocal lines in a nicely layered section, and throughout the track there is a looped vocal that I would swear is echoing "The Warrior" of Scandal fame.  Check it out below.

By the way, I have no idea who the band is in the video, as no musicians were credited in the press information I had with the exception of Josiah Prince (who is featured in the video).  

As to the other three tracks here, all three could possibly see single release, as well, with "Bandaid", in particular, drawing my attention.  The hard-edged modern rock track "Bandaid" starts off with a crunchy guitar riff and some thunderous drums before Essex comes rushing in, singing about not living life with regret or hesitation, imploring the listener "don't waste another day, another minute, another hour...Don't put off the inevitable, Don't wait too long, you'll miss the incredible...".  What's especially striking is the punchy, aggressive chorus which finds Essex snarling "Rip the Bandaid, Rip the Bandaid, Rip the Bandaid OFF!"  

"Lean" has an urgent sound from the get-go, with a pulsating bed of electronics opening things up before giving way to a heavy, plodding rocker with a seriously down-tuned guitar line grinding away beneath the verse sections.  Essex's voice stands in stark comparison to the much darker-toned music of the track, with comparisons to Rage Against the Machine not being out of line, especially in the tone of the guitars (heck, the riff isn't completely different from "Bulls on Parade" if you have heard that track.  No, I'm being serious...).  I could see this song (as well as "Bandaid") becoming signature songs for the vocal powerhouse, as the edgier music really provides a backdrop that allows Jodi to shine.   

"Shine" is something of an outlier here, with its island rhythm and Essex's reggae-styled vocal delivery.  Very laid back in its structure and presentation, "Shine" is nothing like anything else on the EP and I'm a bit torn on my feelings for it.  On the one hand, the track almost doesn't seem to fit what is an otherwise rock-centric album.  On the other, Essex sounds very confident in her delivery here and you can hear her smile as she sings, particularly on the chorus.  Wisely placed at the end of the EP, "Shine" doesn't damage the release by any means, and I find myself inclined to repeat it from time to time, but it doesn't grab me for the same reason as a track like "Offend" or "Bandaid".

In a perfect world, Fearless would be garnering all sorts of attention in both the Christian and secular markets, but as is the case with anyone not named SkilletRed, or maybe Stryper, there are very few chances for Christian artists to crossover these days, especially with all radio being programmed basically the same.  As such, I challenge readers to snag a copy of this digital release and share the love with their friends and family, spreading the word about the talent of this vocal powerhouse. Lyrically bold and passionate, and musically dynamic, Fearless is one great guitar rock album, Christian or not.

Check out for more information, or find the digital EP on all major streaming platforms.  

Rating:  Crankable...very turn this up to an 8.5!