Category Archives: Music

Erasure

erasure1The Violet Flame by Erasure (Mute Records)

I actually enjoy this whole CD, and the deeper you get into it, the better it gets. The Violet Flame is the 16th studio album from UK electro-pop duo which has lasted close now to nearly 30 years in the music pop business. The music will sound like the old 1980’s synth style we have become a custom to. You’ll still find Andy Bell’s crystal lush vocals ringing out over Vince Clarke’s upbeat lavish melodies. The album comes across as a lightness of touch which makes you enjoy the bass dance background beat to get you moving faster. Many of the songs are infectious. My favorite song on here would make for a great video which is: Under The Wave. Under The Wave would also work well for radio. This CD is one of those that grows on you with each listen. This was really a nice treat because I had to really listen to the whole CD this time around instead of only getting a couple of great tracks. Listen to other great songs on here as well such as Paradise, Be The One, Elevation and Promises.

The Violet Flame is a great comeback to last year’s great package Snow Globe for Christmas. As a matter of fact the same producer from Snow Globe is the one who is also producing The Violet Flame. The Violent Flame should get the best production and best overall produced album of the year.

(Review by Jonathan D. Wright)

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In Flames

siren-charmsSiren Charms by In Flames (Epic Records)

There’s plenty of bands that started out metal and went on to something else: The Gathering turned their back on metal adding influences from Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins to their style, Anathema evolved into a more atmospheric rock band and Cynic turned into a progressive, ambient, jazz, rock amalgam that is a thrill to hear. On their two most recent albums Opeth channels pastoral and psychedelic bands of old without losing their own past heaviness. And there are plenty of bands that incorporate pop elements into their metal.  In Flames want to be catchy and accessible and metal all at the same time.  After two decades of causing neck damage they continue to experiment with textures, vocal approaches and rhythms searching for that one (or, hopefully, an album’s worth) great pop metal song.

in-flames-2014-640x400On Siren Charms  the band sounds eager to bring in new ears. In Plain View balances heavy & hard with a softer side in Anders Friden’s varied vocals, swinging from anguished clean singing to gut-punching screaming in the chorus, it’s all crisp and shiny and razor sharp.  Everything Is Gone combines several tempos, Daniel Svensson showing off his skills, speed punk one second, double bass kicks the next, then slamming into an all-out brutal metal part.  Paralyzed sounds like In Flames’  version of a post-apocalyptic love ballad with Orjan Ornkloo’s buzzing synths and Friden’s singing about being out on our own in a wasteland.

With Eyes Wide Open begins with harmonized guitars leading to a very catchy rock ballad, the keyboards way in the background, Friden singing clear and strong, Bjorn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin’s guitars shining through for maximum uplift.  When Worlds Collide remind you In Flames can do dangerous and they don’t disappoint. Swedish opera singer Emilia Feldt joins in with her sexy croon and angelic fills to add a sense of wonder.

Creeping up towards the end of Siren Charms, on Monsters In The Ballroom, In Flames tempers what’s mainly a soaring and heroic rock song with screamed vocals and chugging and harmonized guitar riffs. The crunchiness and double kick drum finale is especially satisfying for the headbanging.  To wrap up the album, Filtered Truth features Peter Iwers’ bass, carrying the melody along with Ornkloo’s keyboards, Friden screaming about the rage inside as the guitars and drums burn and crash.

In Flames will be on the Siren Communion Tour with Red Fang and Opeth this winter and will play the Hollywood Palladium on December 9th.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Inflames.com
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Engineers

Engineers_-_Always_ReturningAlways Returning by Engineers (KScope Records)

Until speaking with electronic producer Ulrich Schnauss for an interview for the last album A Long Way To Fall, the music of Mark Peters and his band Engineers had flown under my radar. Little did I know how much I’d love his music.  The band is multi-instrumentalist Peters, Schnauss  and drummer/keyboardist Matthew Gilbert Lindley (who releases music as “Gilbert“).  Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off into the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making. There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.

engineers band shotOne of the many incredible songs on Always Returning is Fight or Flight where synths swell and wash over the song, electronics perco-lating and dancing throughout.  One of the most blissful songs you’ll likely hear for years to come. It Rings So True showcases a mesmerizing guitar lead, lightly accompanied by keyboards, Peters’ close-mic’ed voice drawing you in and building suspense and mystery.  The final minute of the song is an understated prog rock masterpiece.

Drive Your Car begins with pretty piano and Peters’ quiet vocals, acoustic guitar and swirling synths join in, rising into a rocking climax with a buzzing electric guitar lead dueling with an energetic piano performance.   Innsbruck presents a tight and bright guitar pattern that is played off of by Schnauss’ keyboards and powerful drumming by Linley.  The song is reminiscent of New Order’s instrumental Thieves Like Us with its cautious optimism and colorful outbursts of guitar and piano.

Smiling Back is a hazy nostalgic song with echoes of early Pink Floyd in their slower more introspective moments.  On Smoke and Mirrors Peters’ piano and guitar and Schnauss’ motorik synth loops meld wonderfully.  A Million Voices is a straight-up rock song, though one coming from the corner of synth-pop, Peters’ whispy vocals float through a peppy beat, shiny keyboards and a thrumming bass guitar.

Closing Always Returning, the title track offers so many memorable melodies that I found myself humming the piano refrain this morning. The song somehow sounds both sad and uplifting until the final third where the guitars, bass and piano riff off each other fading into the heavens.

Peters and Schnauss have also collaborated on two albums under their own names.  Both albums released on Bureau B, link below.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
KScope
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Bureau B Records

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Slipknot

greychapter1.5: The Gray Chapter by Slipknot
(Roadrunner Records)

Slipknot

What can one say about them? Since their break into the music scene in 1999 with their genre changing Self Titled album, to the extremely sadistic Iowa, toning it down a few years later with Vol 3. The Subliminal Versus, to the there amazing comeback in 2009 with All Hope is Gone many people have asked what more they could do? With the death of beloved bassist and co-founder Paul Gray in 2010, and the departure of powerhouse drummer Joey Jordison in late 2013, many, including myself thought the band was finished and over with. I can’t even tell you how wrong we were.

A few months back after the drama had subsided, all of Slipknot’s social media had literally, gone black. There was nothing. Out of nowhere random words started to be posted. With this tease everyone began to regain hope that the Knot would return. On August 1st 2014, the nay Sayers sure had to bite their own tongue with the release of their first song in 5 years, The Negative One. Every Slipknot album to date has been extremely different from one another each having its own special factors. With the release of only one song, The Negative One takes every aspect of Slipknot that we all love and crams it into one song. The pure energy emitting from the lyrics sparks feelings of anger and sadness almost instantly. After a few more weeks, a music video was released for the first official single of the new album; along with a music video for the song The Devil In I which metaphorically punched everybody in the face. With heavy riffs to strong and meaningful lyrics the first single of the album is sure to make every new and old Slipknot fan happy. The music video also features two new members on bass and drums, the identities of which are still to this day unknown, and Slipknot plans to keep it that way. Although the bassist has been pretty much guaranteed, we will keep the name to ourselves out of respect to Slipknot.

A lot of times when reviewing an album it is hard to get through, not because the music is bad, but because ever so often the music sounds so repetitive and the same as the bands last album. With the release of Slipknot’s fifth album .5: The Gray Chapter, it is sure to shock everyone. This record has given me no trouble in writing about it due to how solid it is from start to finish.

slipknot2014The first song  XIX is more of an intro into the album. With bagpipes and what sounds like solders marching in the background, Vocalist Corey Taylor sings with such grief and anger that it immediately puts you in the mood to listen to a Slipknot album. With lyrics such as “Nothing appeals to me, no one feels like me, I’m to busy being calm to disappear”, the song is a perfect intro in the record.  Continuing with the slow sounding intro but this time with a soft guitar riff the second song Sarcastrophe begins, after a few seconds a powerful distorted band comes in. With a particularly impressive drum fill (WHO IS IT?!), the band comes in with a fast paced classic Slipknot riff. The emotion that comes to mind with Sarcastrophe is panic. The intense screams of Corey Taylor and the riffs by guitarists James Root and Mick Thomson, this song will definitely hit you in a way you would never imagine.

In the middle of the album a song by the name of Skeptic plays. This song is most likely very special to the band because it is obviously about Paul Gray. With lyrics such as “There will never be another crazy mother fucker like you” and “You were the best of us,” a dedication to Paul Gray this song surely is.

A song that stood out to me that was particularly different was Killpop. Emitting emotions of grieving, sadness and depression, you really hear the pain that this band is feeling. Towards the end of the album you hear some truly classic heavy Slipknot with my two favorite songs, Custer and Nomadic. These two songs really bring the band together as a whole. These two songs really bring the remaining members into the picture. With percussionists Chris Fein and Shawn “Clown” Crahan, and DJ’s Sid Wilson and Craig Jones, these two songs scream aggression. Going all the way back two Iowa, which many say is Slipknot’s most aggressive and heavy album, these two songs are as hardcore Slipknot as it gets. Prepare to go crazy when you hear them. Sid Wilson and Craig Jones surely add a side of crazy to this album. Any band can be 2 guitars a drummer and a bassist, but with these two it brings a sense of insanity to the music that helps define what Slipknot truly is.

All in all, Slipknot’s fifth album .5: The Gray Chapter is absolutely perfect. Front to back this album puts you through every emotion that is possible to feel. I will say that a lot of people were worried that the new drummer, who ever he (or she?) is, would not be able live up to Joey Jordisons style. Let me assure you that although it is not Joey, whoever this guy is the perfect choice besides Joey. This record takes old and new Slipknot and puts it together in sweet, sweet harmony. With amazingly heavy songs, heartfelt lyrics this will take you through a wild ride. When listening to the album, don’t be bitter because its not him, because trust me, this guy is great. .5: The Gray Chapter hits stores on October 21st. Be prepared for a ride through hell and back. This album will not disappoint and makes me proud to be a Slipknot fan.

(Review by Edward Brandon)

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Exodus

exodus coverBlood In, Blood Out by Exodus (Nuclear Blast Records)

The tenth studio album by Exodus grabs you by the throat and throws you into the mosh pit from the opening minutes of their new album Blood In, Blood Out.  Guitarist and leader Gary Holt has paired down the Exodus sound and this is their best album in years, if not their whole career.  While Exodus hasn’t enjoyed the success of some of their peers they have sold over five million records in their 34 year career and they continue to create compelling and complex metal that is both visceral and violent and a whole lot of head-banging fun.  Original singer Steve “Zetro” Souza also returns to the fold bringing even more energy to the songs that Holt had written.  Souza’s vocals are a thrill to hear, as he wails, growls, chants and raps his way through the songs.  Sparks fly off the guitars of Holt and Lee Arbus, solos attack  you like the chest-bursting Alien, Jack Gibson’s bass sounds like he’s using bridge support wires and Tom Hunting excels at both a fast punk beat and the slower tempos, a powerhouse of a drummer.  Kirk Hammett offers a guitar solo for the anthemic Salt The Wound, Testament’s Chuck Billy roars over the end of BTK.

(Photo by Bruce Getty)

(Photo by Bruce Getty)

On Black 13, the title track, Salt the Wound, Body Harvest  and the rest of the album the band play like men half their age, seemingly revitalized and ready to prove to themselves, if not the rest of the world they’ve still got what it takes to blow minds and speakers.  This is driving music, metal to kick-start your heart, audio defribullators to remind you you’re alive.

Exodus get more complex  in their arrangements for the second half of the album, slowing down only a little, crafting a convoluted yet powerful middle section for Wrapped in the Arms of Rage, with also features many awesome guitar leads.  Food For The Worms is how you’ll feel after being battered and bruised by the last song on Blood In, Blood Out, a go-for-broke song that alternates between stupid fast beats and heaviosity that still remains accessible.

Blood In, Blood Out is a career high for Exodus, joining  fellow thrashers Testament and Anthrax who have both recently released their best albums to date.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Exodus’s website
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Nuclear Blast
YouTube

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Zola Jesus

zolajesustaiga1500_6Taiga by Zola Jesus (Mute Records)

Nika Roza Danilova’s Zola Jesus releases are works of a singular talent, made by someone willing to experiment with styles, textures, traditional instruments and a voice that shines through strong and has an emotional weight not heard often enough in modern music. Listening through Danilova’s back catalog of EPs and full length albums brightness shines through the dark, upbeat tempos burst out of seemingly gloomy mood music, pop songs are buried in goth/industrial trappings yet always with Danilova’s voice the prominent instrument, the ship you ride through the storm.

To ground  the music of Taiga, Danilova and her husband spent time on Vashon Island, a forest island in the Puget Sound near Seattle, only reachable by ferry.  She wrote the songs there in the peaceful, natural surroundings.  Taiga is a word that refers to Coniferous forests, the likes that cover over 1/5 of the northern hemisphere, specifically in Russia and Siberia.  Places removed from people and technology where the chatter of the modern world is replaced by the sounds of wind through the trees, the bending of branches, the chatter of birds, the melting of ice.  Danilova then took her songs and with the aid of co-producer Dean Hurley, who has worked as a sound editor and music arranger for the likes of David Lynch, crafted a collection of beautiful, mysterious and heartfelt songs.

(Photo by Jeff Elstone)

(Photo by Jeff Elstone)

Danilova also wisely couched some of the incredible songs on Taiga in the framework of modern music, mainly that of the dancefloor-ready pop songs of today.

The opening title track is our introduction: her heavenly layered voice repeating the word “taiga”, a blast of drum’n’bass, a shadowing of ominous horns.  Dangerous Days, is catchy and often light, yet has a delicious and dark undercurrent of churning and scraping synths that brings solidity to the song. Danilova sings sultry and soaring, drawing you into her world.  Dust is a torch song with horns that pepper the song, itchy electronics and a pretty breakdown at the end.  Hunger grabs you immediately with brash horns and pounding drums, Danilova growling “I got the hunger, I got the hunger in my veins/ I won’t surrender, still it takes me away” like a mantra.  Go* blends primal and earthly with heavenly and electronic elements, another cathartic chanted vocal delivery “And I say no, I say no one can stop me now/And I say no, I say no one can stop me now” that will have you wanting to follow her wherever she takes you.  While Ego does have sounds in it other than vocals, it’s Danilova’s voice that is front and center, clear and powerful, a Venus rising from the ocean.  Lawless starts up with clattering percussion and a creepy cool undertow backing soulful and searching vocals, then majestic strings join in and the song morphs into a brightly-colored butterfly.

Taiga closes with It’s Not Over, a song that combines Danilova’s love for both dark and brooding and big and bold, as she sings enigmatically about only she knows what, chanting “It’s not over tonight” at the end of the song making you believe that whatever she’s working through will have a positive outcome and she’ll be stronger for it.

The artist known as Zola Jesus is only 25 and Taiga took four years to make. Her new album reveals an intelligent and bold woman willing to bare her soul in her vocals even while her moving lyrics are pictures to be interpreted by the listener however they like.  And the music contains traditional and modern instrumentation with an ear towards the dancefloor while retaining a serious significance that will keep music fans interested and engaged for years to come.

Go was originally released in 2010 on the Valusia EP as Sea Talk.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Official Website
Facebook
Soundcloud
Youtube
Video for Orbital’s New France (with Zola Jesus)

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Yellowcard

liftasail1Lift A Sail by Yellowcard (Razor & Tie Records)

Just off from being on this year’s Van Warped Tour 2014 as one of the headline bands, Lift A Sail marks for Yellowcard their seventh studio album. Lift A Sail is a personal album surrounding lead singer Ryan Keys’ wife suffering a spinal chord injury and the road to recovery.  At times the listener feels as if eavesdropping in on the emotional and physical pain that the band is feeling. This does give the album a more mature feeling to it. This expression is so different than the fast fun punk style that you are accustomed to from Yellowcard.

yellowcard2014Lift A Sail is absolutely inspiring with songs like: The Deepest Well and Convocation. Some of the other stand out songs are: California and Madrid. I just want an explanation to what the outstanding art work is all about as that really shows the maturity of the band. Any idea’s about this art work?  Lift A Sail is powerful, heartbreaking, and will ultimately lift your spirits!

(Review by Jonathan D. Wright)

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Heliosaga

towersinthedistanceTowers In The Distance by Heliosaga (Self-released)

One chance encounter with Heliosaga, and you would thoroughly believe this collective to be the next great European symphonic metal band in the grand tradition of Nightwish and After Forever.  Surprisingly, Heliosaga hail from the Midwestern town of Isanti, MN – clearly showing that Europe does not hold a monopoly on one of the most magical sub-genres in the metal arena.

Towers In The Distance by Heliosaga is a stunning collection of songs that will set the imagination in flight, complete with emotional operatic vocals and wondrously imaginative musicianship. You’d have to go as far back as the vastly underrated Aesma Daeva to find an American symphonic metal band so vibrant and inspiring.

heliosaga2014The glorious adventure begins with the epic A Tower So Tall, where one immediate notices the gorgeous lead vocals of Chelsea Knaack weaving gracefully through the fiery metal soundscapes. Scarlet Sphere is so vast and memorable, one could imagine the track all over radio airwaves – if stations ever played anything this sweeping and mystical. Lost then rages at the listener with a feral intensity that will tingle the senses.

Hideaway is a power ballad that has the operatic vocals spiraling into the stratosphere – such a wonderful showcase for all musicians on this evocative piece. To Heal All Wounds then sends Heliosaga into sonic overdrive with its bombastic melodies and hard rocking dynamics. Memorativa will haunt the senses with its tragic opulence permeating throughout.

Hunter’s Moon cleverly shows a mixture of classical music and driving metal that should capture the hearts of many a music aficionado. Edenscar is sure to have the genre fans waving the metal fists high in the air while Luminary is destined to enrapture all who encounter its darkly enchanted reprieves. The grand finale then commences with the staggering unleashing of All Souls, showing true artists at the very height of their creative genius.

Towers In The Distance by Heliosaga present an intriguing magnum opus that connects with its audience on a deeply personal level. Chelsea Knaack’s vocal performance is captivating, ranking right up there with the likes of Tarja Turunen and Vibeke Stene. The guitar artistry of Damien Villarreal is absolutely adventurous, leading the material into such majestic heights. Jordan Ames delivers a tremendously solid performance on drums. Bass guitar tracks were recorded by Chad Novell (Fibonacci Sequence) and a guest guitar solo was performed by Gilbert Pot (Elegy). Superb tech credits include Michael Hansen (Phonomik, Chainfist) handling the mix at Phon Studio and Jacob Hansen (Epica, Volbeat) supplying mastering duties at Hansen Studios. With a debut this magnificent, it will be exciting to see what the future has in store for the monumental Heliosaga.

(Review by Ken Morton)

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Meshuggah

meshuggah i coverI (Special Edition) by Meshuggah (Nuclear Blast Records)

Ten years ago this past summer Meshuggah released the 21 minute epic I to commemorate the beginning of their friend Jason Popson’s Fractured Transmitter label. While fans are hungrily awaiting the next Meshuggah full length, we’ve got this re-release of I to sate us. As disjointed as the various parts may have been prior to mixing, they all sound of a single ear-melting piece. The band didn’t have to appeal to their present label, given release for one song to support Popson, the band still had the pressure to continue to impress their fans.  Every member an imaginative musician, I feels like classic Meshuggah: downtuned guitars and insane solos, harsh vocals, the percussion of three men in one, multiple rhythms and tempos and movements within songs among other elements. Turn it up loud and revel in the ambient guitar string plucking, followed by double-bass kicks, guitars locked into tight circles leading to a chugging and angry section, then a slow yet menacing guitar segment building to a futuristic “protecting the world from extinction” vibe that would make Geddy Lee smile.

Also included in this special edition is a live version of Bleed, taken from their 2012-13 tour.  The band play with such precision I wonder if they’ve been bionically augmented to be able to keep up their style of playing. Dancers To A Discordant System follows, also from the same tour and released last year as a free promotional release for Scion. Dancers is a slower song yet no less thrilling for it, the band playing variations of the same riff, the groups coming to an agreement at the halfway point then getting down to a truly godlike headbanging session for the ending, mountains crumpling at the power.  Pitch Black ties up the EP. Recorded in 2003 and previously released on the Scion download with Dancers, Pitch Black reveals a more accessible yet still brutal side of Meshuggah.  beginning with a downtuned guitar chug accompanied by tribal drum tattoo, mysterious guitars pluck in the shadows, Jens Kidman’s vocals a smoky and subtle chanting, a guitar solo crashes down, at first sounding like a hard jazz saxaphone.  Later, the quiet segment features a guitar part that is bluesy and played with soul. Then to bring it all to a destructive conclusion, the band combines performances from all the previous parts for one serious pit-stomping party.

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS
www.meshuggah.net
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SPC ECO

spc eco sirens coverSirens and Satellites by SPC ECO  (Saint Marie Records)

SPC ECO is the band created by former Curve architect Dean Garcia and Dean’s daughter Rose Berlin. Father and daughter have been making music together ever since Rose displayed singing talent as a baby.  As SPC ECO they make music for themselves, at their own pace, without label support.  Musically, at least on the new album Sirens and Satellites, this is like I imagined it would: a further evolution of the Curve sound (or I should say the Garcia Sound).  The overarching feel is fire and ice, with Rose’s vocals icy beauty and Garcia and friends offering the heat and sizzle from guitar textures, synths and usually midtempo percussion. Fallen Stars will bring chills up your spine upon hearing the swirling, grinding and wailing guitars against thrumming bass, Rose’s voice powerful yet restrained. Delusional Waste goes to the dancefloor with a techno bass and beat, Rose’s voice ice cold, yet still inviting. Hold You Up is one of the most delicate tracks on the album, simple bass, drums, synths and voice building to a quiet yet powerful end.  High On It is another dance track with pulsating beats, guitar echoes and Rose’s dancing ice queen vocals.

spc eco Rose-pop2-crop4-460x460Songs like Zombie and The Whole Day Long are as good as anything Garcia’s done in the past, Make Me Say is brutal and bloody guitar slashes and crunchy rhythm loops, Rose  purring and cooing like a mantis before taking off  your head.  Don’t Need Fear is a slow bass dub, guitar effects aiding Rose’s voice insinuating itself deep inside your psyche. Tweet Fields At Night opens pleasantly with sweet vocals and feathery synths, A trip-hop beat kicks in, joined by a uplifting guitar melodies to accompany those light synths, the loveliness of it all punctuated by a big swell of guitars and big drums, then taking the first part and dirtying it all  up with distorted guitars and bass, closing with the nostalgic refrain, leaving you with a sense of wonder.

Sirens and Satellites surprises on so many levels, from their genre-blurring compositions to their juxtaposition of light and dark, fast and slow and fire and ice, the invigorating, dark, emotional and beautiful songs on Sirens and Satellites will be enjoyed, dissected, danced to and be the inspiration for many for years to come.

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Youtube channel
SPCECO.COM
Bandcamp
Facebook

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