Album Review: Idlewar – Impulse (2016)

3 Nov

 

0d579042-445f-4374-865f-45b833ec0841-810x810

7/10

30th September 2016 marked the release of Idlewar’s first full length album, Impulse, following on from their well-received EP, Dig In (2015). I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard Dig In. I’d seen the band’s name over Twitter as a few friends follow and re-tweet them. They have been on my (ever growing) list for a while and now is the time that I finally got around to taking a listen. I’m gutted that it’s taken me so long. This Californian Power-Trio are fantastic. Combining elements of AC/DC, Foo Fighters and Clutch, Idlewar craft melodic Hard Rock music that demands to be listened to. So let’s give in to impulse (1 point for punnage) and dig in (ooh triple points).

“Stone in My Heel” kicks things off and immediately piques my interest. It has a bit of a lo-fi, Stoner Rock sound to it and James Blake’s passionate vocals pull off a sort of Ozzy Osbourne/Ian Gillan combo (on the chorus especially). “Soul” up next with Rick Grahams 70s styled fuzz guitars hooking you in. James’ vocals are once again superb, this time channelling Chris Cornell. Lots of comparisons to be made but he definitely brings together the best of the 90s-era Grunge mixed with the Classic Rock greats. Dirty solo before the closing chorus. What more could you want? Great stuff!

“Criminal” is the albums first single and reminds me of Chickenfoot. It’s a hard rocking, upbeat number with a ridiculously catchy chorus. It sort of goes against the majority of the albums overall sound but retains the catchy guitar hooks. From that upbeat, almost funkiness, we go into “All That I’ve Got” which is a very brooding, hypnotic, slower song. It showcases James’ vocals superbly.  Everyone is given space to manoeuvre and it creates this dark, unsettling vibe. It’s captured perfectly.

We’re back in uptempo-land next with “Innocent” and whilst there is nothing overtly wrong with this track, it surprisingly didn’t grab me as much as the previous four did. There is another cool guitar solo which I enjoyed and I’ve got nothing bad to say about the vocals. I don’t know, it’s weird. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have dug this song. Maybe it’s one of those that will grow on me over time??

Once that midway portion of an album hits there is always that worry of how the second half will stack up against the first. Some bands are notorious for putting their best material at the front end and hoping it’ll carry through to the finish. I didn’t need to worry. Peter Pagonis’ drums come out of my speakers before Rick Graham churns out another catchy guitar riff and the stoner groove of “Glory” is in full swing. Sort of Alice In Chains meets Deep Purple. That groove is so hypnotic. What’s that? Another catchy riff? Oh, come on Rick, you’re spoiling us here. This would be “Apathy” and with “Damage”, “Burn All This” and “On Our Knees” following they all offer an up-tempo riff-fest to close out the album.

All three members of Idlewar are on top form. From Pagonis’ hard hitting drums, Blake’s groovy bass-lines and impassioned, gritty vocals to Grahams stellar guitar riffery, there is very little to fault here. There is a live feel about the songs which adds to the overall sound of the record and its 37 minute running time made it very easy to digest. It has a sleazy, bluesy, stoner vibe to it and if you’re a fan of bands like Sabbath, Deep Purple, Soundgarden etc. then you should easily find something to enjoy here.

Well worth checking out. I’m putting on Dig In as I type this and look forward to hearing how that one sounds.

David

 

Why I write (mostly) positive reviews.

3 Nov

“Why are your reviews so positive?”

This was a question asked to me recently along with “Hey dude, why did you give Avenged Sevenfolds ‘The Stage’ a good review? It sucked”

Music is art and, as we know, art is subjective. It is all down to personal preference. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In MY opinion, that particular album was a pretty good listen. Sure it had some issues, in MY opinion, but nothing that impeded my overall enjoyment. You may have other issues with the record, you may go as far as saying it sucked. That is YOUR opinion and you are entitled to that. It doesn’t mean that either of us are right though. Opinions do NOT equal fact.

To write music, to play your songs in public and to make them available for the World to hear, takes guts. You are opening yourself for a potential beating. Why would you put yourself through that? As a musician myself, I know the giddy highs of finishing your latest ‘masterpiece’ and the excitement of having everyone listening to it and basking in your genius. I also know the suffocating paranoia of wondering what people will actually think when you make it available for public consumption and the crushing lows of watching your YouTube views or Soundcloud plays not tick over as much as you’d like. I’ve also experienced negative reviews. I despise the badly written ones. I can take a certain amount of criticism if it’s constructive but “You suck” isn’t.

We are all guilty of saying that a piece of music is shit, or that a band sucks. I hate myself when those words leave my mouth because what I should say is simply “I don’t like this piece” or “I’m not a fan of that band” – For every person that slates Nickelback, there are two that love them. Which group is wrong? Neither. Personal taste again. I like them myself.

All musicians want is for people to listen to their music. If I hear something that I’m not 100% enamoured with, I’ll try to gloss over the negatives and accentuate the positives. I’ll try be constructive where I can be, and always stress that anything negative, and positive for that matter, is simply MY opinion. I don’t expect any band reading a review I’ve written about their work to agree with everything I say, but I’d like to think that I am fair with my opinions and give a balanced viewpoint. If I don’t like something and I have to pass comment then I’ll try to explain why it didn’t mesh with me. It’s fine to have a different point of view and if you can explain to me why you have that point of view then that is great. You may even sway me to come around to your way of thinking. Oh I didn’t think of it like that.

So why do I write (mostly) positive reviews?

Because I genuinely enjoy music, can find enjoyment in the majority of things I listen to and am open minded enough to accept “differences” – Argh! He’s a witch!

I listen to a wide range of different music from Country to Blues to Pop to Metal and all in between. It allows me to be a bit more open minded (I think) about certain things and be more accepting. I don’t see the need to outright criticise a singer or a guitarist, or even the production because it is all down to that personal preference I spoke of before. The artist has made personal choices as to why their song sounds a certain way. It is then down to our brains to determine whether or not this choice fits in with what we like or dislike.

David

 

Album Review: Helmet – Dead To The World (2016)

2 Nov

helmetdead-400x400_center_center

7/10

Has it really been six years since their last album? (2010s Seeing Eye Dog). Helmet have been genre blenders since they emerged onto the scene in 1989, mixing Classic Rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal and Alternative. It’s because of this that they defy classification so easily. Why be pigeon-holed into one genre when you can blend so many so well?

Dead To the World is jam packed with sludgy, down-tuned riffs and the grooves keep on coming. Relentless. In fact we speed through the 11 songs in 36 minutes 58 seconds. In a World where bands are pushing their albums running times to eek out every last possible second, it’s positively refreshing when a band puts out an album that doesn’t conform to being 75 minutes long for the sake of it. So what Helmet have given us with Dead To The World is an album that doesn’t outstay its welcome and demands to be repeated. Helpful in an age where the collective attention span has reduced significantly.

From the opening seconds of “Life or Death” you know exactly who is playing and what to expect. No build up into the verse, just straight into a bludgeoning slab of 90s Post-Hardcore.  There is an energy and vibrancy to this record that the momentum of “Life or Death”, I Love My Guru” and “Bad News” as an opening trio carries through to the end.

As I said previously, this is a short, sharp record and the majority of the album follows in a similar vein with Hamilton and Dan Beeman trading sludgy, razor sharp riffs that cut through the more melodic moments and show that Helmet are not taking it easy almost 30 years into their career.

Page nasally croons over the backdrop of unhinged, unrelenting guitar riffs and lead guitar wails and delivers one of his best vocal performances for a while. He seems to have tuned into a formula for making his vocals accentuate the songs rather than hinder them. There is a snarl and there is a melody. Yes, he may not be biting but there is still plenty of bark.

There are some crushing doom rhythms (“Red Scare”), the utilisation of synths (“Dead To The World”, “Look Alive”)  and a cover (“Green Shirt”). An Elvis Costello cover to be exact and it sort of feels out place amongst the originals with it being a lot more upbeat and quirkier than everything else. They make it work, however.

“Expect The World” is an angsty slow burner whilst “Die Alone” just spits out vitriol. “Drunk In The Afternoon” contains backmasking at the end, showing a side that you don’t often get with Helmet and before long you get a reprise of “Life or Death” which gives the opening track a renewed purpose by making it slower and more menacing.

There is a lot of anger and frustration in the lyrics. Songs such as “Bad News”, “Life or Death” and the title cut “Dead To The World” seem to reflect the disappointed political attitude that Page Hamilton has towards society.

Dead To The World is another good album from Helmet. There is the melody that made 1994s Betty a hit along with the relentless jackhammer riffing of Meantime and whilst they haven’t strayed too far away from what made them successful, they have released an album that offers something different to what is currently being put out by others.

All in all I enjoyed and would recommend it and at just shy of 37 minutes it is definitely worth a listen.

David

EP Review: Dorje – Centred and One (2016)

1 Nov

untitled

7/10

The biggest band you’ve never heard of!

Or so says the press release for Dorje’s new EP, Centred and One. They may have a point though. Their previous release Catalyst charted in 44 countries and topped the iTunes rock chart and frontman/guitarist/Monkey Lord Rob Chapman’s YouTube channel has provided him the platform to reach out on a global scale. *side note* I highly recommend checking out Chappers YouTube channel for his lessons and gear reviews, as well as Andertons, where he and the Captain provide countless hours of entertainment.

With Centred and One, Chappers and co. have put out an EP that marries the Hard Rock styling’s of Alter Bridge and Sevendust (Robs vocal has some serious Lajon style going on in the title track) with progressive elements. What you then have are infectious grooves and emotive melodies with some blistering riffage and solos. So let’s break it down a bit.

“Centred and One” kicks us off with Rob giving us a raw scream of “I will guide your way” before moving into one of those infectious grooves that I was talking about. The catchy riff captures your attention immediately and has you hooked from the start. As someone that has followed Dorje for a while I am glad to see Robs vocals continuing to improve. He does a fantastic job here.

Up next is “Outspoken” with its crunchy riffs avec pinch harmonics. Rob is, once again, on top form vocally, channelling Lajon Witherspoon of Sevendust and I heard some Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage) in there too.

“To Survive” gets a bit funky in places and its intro guitar lead has a bit of an Eastern flavour (to me at least). I love the tight sounding snap of the snare drum that cuts through in the verses. The song builds and builds to an incredible solo at the end whilst “Zero” goes all brooding with quiet verses and its soaring chorus. I guess this is the obligatory Power Ballad. Also, is that a cello on the intro? It reminds me of Therapy? and “Diane.” “Flower of Life” closes the EP with possibly my favourite riff on the entire record and features more stellar guitar work and impassioned vocals from Chappers.

There is a familiarity with this EP. As I’ve mentioned before, you can hear the Alter Bridge, Sevendust and Killswitch Engage influences all over the record but that’s not to say that it’s a bad thing. There’s enough on Centred and One to keep it interesting and fresh, lots of little nuances and details. Rob and, second guitarist, Rabea Massaad work together exceptionally well and the rhythm section of Dave Hollingworth (Bass) and Ben Minal (Drums) lay down some sick grooves and are as tight as a mutha.

If you are looking for a solid Hard Rock record with sprinkles of Prog and have 25 minutes to spare then look no further, for I highly recommend this EP and look forward to hearing more in the future. They are very well worth catching live too.

David

 

Album Review: Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage (2016)

1 Nov

thestage_coverart_jpg-1

7/10

When your last two albums (2013s Hail To The King and 2010s Nightmare) debut at Number 1 on the Billboard album chart, you know you’ve got a pretty good fan base and that you’d probably be able to pull off releasing a “surprise” album. Surprise in that we were all expecting something in December. Voltaic Oceans to be exact. A title/release that Fozzy frontman, WWE Superstar and close friend of the band Chris Jericho “leaked” (that’s it Chris, you’ve made the list!).

So what do we have here then? An 11 track concept album that clocks in at 73 minutes and 40 seconds, making this the longest studio album that Avenged Sevenfold has ever released. The theme is Artificial Intelligence inspired by the works of Elon Musk and Carl Sagan and also features a spoken word piece written and performed by astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. It is also the first to feature drummer Brooks Wackerman (ex-Bad Religion) who replaced previous incumbent Arin Ilejay in November 2015.

This ambitious album opens with the title track “The Stage,” which, aptly enough, sets “the stage” for what is to come throughout. M. Shadows sings in a higher register as he channels his inner Axl Rose whilst Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance showcase their six-string skills as they are given a lot of room to play with thanks to the extended length. A theme prevalent throughout the course of the record.

“Paradigm” and “Sunny Disposition” are next and Brooks Wackerman shows why his place in the band is fully deserved. Some brilliant work on display here. Actually, brilliant work on every song to be fair. “Sunny Disposition” features orchestral elements as well as a horn section, which was a nice surprise. Upon hearing this for the first time I got a Specials vibe when the brass kicked in.

“God Damn” is the shortest song on the record. The most straight forward of them all. I can see it going over well with fans and along with “Paradigm” they showcase the flash that the rest of the album has, but without the length or pomp. They are much more concise in their approach. Something that a few other songs could’ve done with being in my opinion.

More fantastic guitar on display on “Angels” and “Simulation” from Gates and Vengeance. This is the albums turning point in terms of aggression. Whilst the twists and turns still come, it is, as I say, a slightly less aggressive half in comparison to the first.

Jason Freese’s keyboards kick off “Higher” resembling something from John Frusciante (think The Empyrean album) before choral sections come in and the track takes on a different life. It definitely takes you on a journey, much like many of the songs on the album do.

Another ballad in “Roman Sky” featuring strings and a film-score atmosphere as well as another great outro solo and is a good example of the band implementing those progressive touches. “Fermi Paradox” and “Exist” close out the record. The former has tremolo-picking and blastbeats that are almost black metalish whilst the latter finds Avenged Sevenfold at their most Pink Floydish. At 15:41 it is an opus that switches from thrash to ambient to metalcore to power ballad to rock and features the aforementioned Neil deGrasse Tysons spoken word piece. This is the band at their most experimental/epic.

Lyrically this is probably the best album they’ve done. Compositionally the album is fantastic. This is most definitely the Synyster Gates/Zacky Vengeance show. Their duelling guitar work throughout is incredible. Unfortunately though, good instrumentation doesn’t necessarily equate to good songwriting.

I’m sure The Stage will polarize listeners. Some will love it, others will hate it. I am in the middle. I think by emulating Dream Theater and other prog bands some of the songs get bogged down by the extravagance and grandiosity of it all. Style over substance. Not that I have issues with long songs, far from it. It’s just that some fat could’ve been trimmed in certain areas.

I would recommend this album if you are a fan of Dream Theater, Between The Buried And Me etc. I commend Avenged Sevenfold for stretching their creative muscles and creating an ambitious album and one wonders if this is the path they wish to take on future releases.

David

Album Review: Dusks Embrace – ReAwakening (2016)

31 Oct

album-cover

7/10

Dusks Embrace is a Progressive Rock/Metal band from Salem, Oregon and in the past eight years they have released three full length records (Paradigm Shift (2009), The Twilight Enigma (2010), To Realms Beyond (2012)), and two EP’s (Oblivion at Hand (2009), From Idols To Dust (2014)). This year sees the release of their new full length effort, ReAwakening.

When a band states that they draw inspiration from death metal to Michael Bublé and everything that comes in between, you get the sense that you’re going to hear a record that is haphazard and inconsistent with no real focus but ReAwakening is anything but that. What this range of inspiration does is give the band additional sensibilities that they can tap into where, perhaps, their contemporaries can not. It also gives them a melodic edge. Refreshing.

ReAwakening open up with “Harbinger” with its tinges of EDM, Periphery style and video game music all rolled into one. Mix that in with some black metal elements and clean, melodic vocals courtesy of new lead vocalist, Aldo Arevalo and you have a solid slab of Progressive Metal.

Next up is “With Cleansing Flames.” This song has a Dream Theater feel to it in places and comes across as a more traditional Prog Rock song. The way the vocals soar is beautifully haunting and gives the track a dark undertone and a Gothic quality that I enjoyed.  I also enjoyed the majestic sounding synths, giving it moments of a Nightwish or Within Temptation sound.

“Face Forward” is a slight change of pace from the opening two songs and it’s the first real glimpse I got of the bands clear Katatonia/Porcupine Tree/Opeth influences. Vocally this song channels Steven Wilson, Jonas Renske & Mikael Akerfelt. The intro has a definite Opeth vibe and would not feel out of place on Damnation.

“Psycasthenia” is another mellow track featuring more Katatonia-esque vocals and showcases once again, the talent that is Aldo on vocals and proves that the band can handle the gentle, melodic side just as well as they handle the heavy. “Reflections” is a short, jazzy instrumental piece. Very calming. Very Opeth. Very good.

“Lydian Dreams” picks up the pace once again with it’s synthy, Dream Theater intro and melodic lead guitar before the vocals kick in over what I could only describe as experimental, jazz-fusion. Experimental would be a good word to use actually because this song is where the band seem to jump from one idea to another. However, it works. It never feels like anything is out of place or that change-ups are made just because they can be. Controlled chaos 🙂

“Winters Epitaph” is a dark, haunting song that is reminiscent of Porcupine Tree with a beautiful backing track. Possibly my favourite song on the album actually. The album closes with the title song “ReAwakening” , and instrumental featuring Industrial drums and synths that comes across as a Depeche Mode number. Has a very different feel about it than the previous seven songs but closes the album up nicely.

Now, the one thing I haven’t touched upon in my review are Josh Brewers guitars. This is a seriously talented player. Everything he plays has a purpose, with all the lead lines meticulously crafted and it never once feels like he’s overplaying, or playing for the sake of it. Don’t get me wrong though, I like a good guitar wank like the next man but Josh just plays to serve the song and I thoroughly enjoyed his melodic guitar playing throughout the entire record.

This album is a grower, not a show-er . On first listen I enjoyed it, especially as I didn’t know what to really expect and on subsequent listens it got better and better. It’s a band that deserves to be heard as they have some serious talent on display. If you’re a fan of bands like Dream Theater, Circus Maximus, Scar Symmetry, Katatonia, Porcupine Tree and Opeth, I feel that you will enjoy Dusks Embrace immensely.

ReAwakening is out on November 15th 2016 and I urge you to check it out.

David

Dusks Embrace are

Aldo Arevalo – Lead Vocals
Josh Brewer – Guitar, Keys, Vocals
Michael Daniel – Bass
Liam Manley – Drums

Official Website

Official Facebook

Album Review: Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues (2016)

27 Oct

jimmy_eat_world_integrityblues

7/10

Full disclosure. I haven’t listened to Jimmy Eat World for years. Not that I was so ignorant to think that they simply ceased to exist but they just weren’t on my radar until I came across “Get Right” on my phone, and made a mental note to check out the album when it dropped, and check it out I did.

Integrity Blues is Jimmy Eat World’s ninth album and some say it’s their best since 2004’s Futures. (I wouldn’t know!). Going into this I didn’t know what to expect other than that I had heard the two singles they released prior to the album launch, “Get Right” and “Sure and Certain” and that I liked them. My impression of those two tracks were that this was a more grown up sounding Jimmy Eat World, with a moody, modern electro pop-rock sound and evoking images of night-time driving and headlights etc. A far cry from my memories of their emo, pop-punk days.

They certainly are a band that I need to delve deeper into because as soon as anyone mentions them I instantly think of “The Middle” or “Sweetness” from 2001 release Bleed American and it’s quite evident from the get-go that they have more to offer me.

The aforementioned “Sure and Certain” puts me in familiar territory, a bright, up-tempo rock song but it is opening song “You With Me” with its synthpop sound that sticks in my head long after it finishes. This is possibly my favourite track on the album. “Pretty Grids” also has a synth hook at the end of the chorus that could very well be put in an 80s movie soundtrack and not feel out of place.

“Pass The Baby” starts off with a drum machine and has a very dark and eerie quality about it. Again it’s another song that has that movie soundtrack feel to it in that I instantly imagine a dark and sleazy Los Angeles with glimpses of neon here and there. Very atmospheric indeed. What comes next though is completely unexpected as the understated tones fade and the song erupts into noise and a big, hard Audioslave-esque rock riff kicks in. Not being overly familiar with a large chunk of their discography I wouldn’t know but, is that the heaviest Jimmy Eat World has ever been? My only gripe with the end of the song is that it ends abruptly. Doesn’t feel right to me. This leads us into “Get Right” with its chugging guitars and  where singer Jim Adkins seems to channel his frustration with stagnation and the anthemic “You Are Free”

The acoustic breakup song “The End Is Beautiful” is pretty but nothing about it stands out. “Through” is another decent effort but to me sounds like a generic Jimmy Eat World song. Title cut “Integrity Blues” is very experimental and has a Sigur Ros quality about it. Delicate layers of textured guitars, organs and brass play underneath Jim’s vulnerable, reverbed vocals. “It’s all what you do when no one cares” he sings.

The second half of this 11 track album is definitely weaker than the first, but, for me, its momentum does carry it through and leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just heard a good album as opposed to a great one. I have listened to this album a few times since its release and I do enjoy it for the most part and definitely recommend it. I’m off now to pore over their back catalogue.

David