Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Review: The All-American Rejects - Kids in the Street

 My first full listening experience of the All-American Rejects came after listening to 2004s Move Along in it's entirety and it really summed up the entire experience of the band. The songs that gain radio play and have music videos are the decent songs, as Dirty Little Secret, Move Along and It Ends Tonight prove themselves to be delighful slabs of tearaway emo pop. The rest of the album? Meh. Good filer material apart from the closer Can't Take It, the dullest song in my music colection. This is the  overall experience with most AAR albums. Dirty Little Secret, Swing, Swing and Gives You Hell are now emo pop anthems but there's little to be made of the rest of their albums. And now, with their fourth release Kids In the Street, listeners are presented with an album that's pretty lacking in hit material as well.

 The album is a clear indication of maturity within the band which reflects on a growing influence from more sophisticated acts of alternative rock coming into their work. It also reveals the band dwelling more on their pop music credentials, as shining production from Greg Wells (Known for his production work with pop acts like Mika and Katy Pery) gaves the groups music a much daintier touch. This will without a doubt annoy fans of The All-American-Rejects' pop punk based material as there is generally little impressive work to be found here in terms of guitar playing and decent hooks. Occasionally you can find features such as Someday's Gone's impressive buildup of riffs from Nick Wheeler and Mike Kennerty, or the swinging hooks that make up Walk Over Me, the most stripped down and rock based song on the album. However, the overall result is music that lets synthesized backdrops and the pop swagger of frontman Tyson Ritter do the talking.
 Without a doubt, Kids in the Street does have a certain amount of charm riding on it, very much in a blissfull summery way. Perhaps it's easier to appreciate right now because across Scotland there is actually sun in the sky for the first time in an eternity and the bright melodies of songs like Beekeeper's Daughter are much easier to appreciate when the climate is like this and we sit out in the park during our free periods in school. It is very much an album with summery tunes and the idea of it being used in any other situation is somewhat proposterous.
 Sadly, there are a lot of songs that do try and take away from the blissful attitude on this album. There's very little to these songs that make them engaging in any way. Heat Slowing Down presents itself in the form of a horrendous 80s pop ballad with dated sounding synthesizers and Ritter's desperate romantic tone throughout makes it anything but appealing, plus tracks like Gonzo and Affection see the group lose themeselves in their attempts to sound more sophisticated and end up dripping with pretentiousness. The only tiem these elements work well is on the morbid-romantic closer Drown Next to Me which is much more engaging.
 Overall, while this album is certainly not going to be appreciated by the emo pop community, we've reached a time of year that allows this collection of bright summery tunes to be appreciated as best as they possibly can. You could say I enjoy it on account of the heat getting to my head. But this is far from the essential All-American Rejects collection and if you want to have the essential set of AAR songs, be a lazy music purchaser and download their singles. They're all you'll need.

 The All-American Rejects' Kids in the Street is out now via DCG. The band will tour the UK in June with Blink-182, Four Year Strong, Twin Atlantic and The Blackout.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Review: The Used - Vulnerable

 Possibly the kings of emo pop music as we know it, at least they've become one of the bands to take the Emo genre and give it the most engaging array of poppy hooks and dynamic digital effects, Utah's the used make a joyous, uplifting return on their fifth album Vulnerable, an outlook that seems necessary within the group, particularly following the reports of frontman Bert McCracken's lapse into painkiller addiction. This album basically sees him laying out his life and moving towards a sense of positivity. The result, not so bad. His life's clearly back on the line.

 So the album is very much the tale of how McCracken has managed to get his life back on line and his message in lead single I Come Alive emphasizes this effectively as he calls out "When I'm there, at the edge/ In this moment I feel it I know/ Come alive when I'm feeling down." Sighs. part of me wants to laugh at the entire whiny emo nature of it all, but of course, there's a more serious nature behind this in relation to real life, so I can't just scoff in it's face, I guess. But without knowing of all these personal traumas within the band there is a lot of lyrical content across Vulnerable that wouldn't look out of place on a poster of some kind with a background image that in no way relates to the message. If you don't know what I mean, look up Go Cry Emo Kid. They mock those posters all the time.
 The musical performance across the album is, like Bert, very much alive on this album. The band deliver some of their biggest choruses and shiniest hooks to date as tracks like Hands and Faces and Moving On explode into massive sing along choruses with an extremely uplifting outlook. Their emo pop performance is near pure perfection, but Now That You're Dead and Give Me Love also give the group the chance to release their punk and post-hardcore ethics as well. The rapid fire performance on these tracks make them the most pulsing experience of the album.
 The use of electronics have always been prominent in the work of The Used and it's certainly no exception here. They may be at their most prominent on this album and some songs feature verse sections using only synthesizers to accompany McCracken's messages. Some electronic parts even take a dubstep influence. Not real dubstep by any means, but do feature the kind of swirling synthesizers that often appear in the dubstep-rock collages. There's also a more traditional element in backing music as well and the string backdrop on This Fire echoes The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby in a manner that is subtle as a brick.
 The album isn't filled with highlights by any means and very often when ballads are attempted to be pulled off, the overall result is pretty tedious and painful such as the desperately whiny Getting Over You and the weak sing-along closer Together Burning Bright.
 Overall, Vulnerable sees The Used making a return on what is very much a creative high returning to positive ground with an air of recklessness about them while maintaining poppy songs filled with hooks. Sometimes the levels of positivity aim a little to high and the overall result feels over-sugary and annoying and sometimes a bit whiny, but this is a fine return to form from a band with a frontman who has been in desperate need of a positive kick-start in life.

 The Used's Vulnerable is out now via Anger Records. The band will tour the UK in April.

Review: Meshuggah - Koloss

 Meshuggah. Along with Dream Theater, Cynic, Gojira and a host of other bands, they have been a band that have cast an incredible influence over metal as we know it today with their immense range of technicality and complexity in their rhythmic style. Some may argue that right now, times are troubling for the Swedish quintet. Their reputation is being tarnished by the most recent rising of technical metal bands who have credited them as their main influence, they might say. Bands like Periphery and Tesseract have managed to get on some metalheads nerves with their insisting on making "djent" a regularly used generic term. I like the bands who have made use of this term though I'd try not to use the term it'self all too extensively. It's so good to see that Meshuggah have no time for taking advantage of the fact that they've become responsible for creating a genre and on their seventh offering Koloss do their own thing while keeping in touch with this style of music that has made them such a game-changing band.

 There's always been something of a doom-laden and deathly characteristic to be found in Meshuggah's music, but on Koloss, it's become the real driving force behind the set of songs on the album. And so the likes of the booming opener I Am Colossus and the devastating Behind the Sun take on a sludgier sound which pummels listeners into the depths of oblivion. The atmosphere created is one that is relentlessly dark and hellish and the extreme heaviness of guitar work from Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström alone manages to be quite intimidating.
 With this greater emphasis on putting a bleak characteristic in front of anything else, the pulsing seven-string thrashing that Meshuggah has become loved for also makes it way as a prominent force on Koloss. The intense performance on the likes of The Devil's Name is Surveillance and The Hurt That Finds You First are filled with the kind of performance that as someone who has troubles with tuning a guitar, may never be able to explain or comprehend, but with their range of bizarre time signatures and apocalyptic trailblazing in their rhythms sounding not dissimilar to the firing of a machine gun are truly definitive elements of the band forcefully coming to life in the form of intense juddering.
 Tracks like Do Not Look Down and Break Those Bones Who Sinews Gave It Motion see the band taking a more rhythmic approach towards the complexity and succeed in making the songs that bit more accessible while still appeasing technical enthusiasts. Truly, a masterful approach to their music.
 So this album is overall a pure monster of  bile-infested aggression and atmospheric bleak soundscaping executed in a way that makes the rising number of djent musicians seem almost artificial in comparison. It proves that in this modern day and age Bands like Meshuggah that hold such an incredible legacy over modern metal can still grip firmly onto their throne as the kings of technical metal. The overall strength of Koloss means they will be moving nowhere any time soon.

 Meshuggah's Koloss is out now via Nuclear Blast. The band will tour the UK in April with Animals As Leaders and We Are Knuckle Dragger

Review: Cannibal Corpse - Torture

 Like many death metal enthusiasts, my first purchase of the genre was Cannibal Corpse's 1992 disgust inducing Tomb of the Mutilated and like many, as my love for the genre began to grow, I wondered just how good a choice starting with that album was. They are a very extreme band to start on. They are in many ways definitive death metal. Lyrics splattered with blood and gore, musical arrangement always frantic and brutal, Cannibal Corpse aren't so much a band that comes with a bite to listeners, they are a band that smashes their listeners in the face. With a hammer. Obviously.

 Though the sense of shock within Cannibal Corpse's music isn't really that present any more, it is still awe-inspiring in a brutal (I may use that word a few more times) sort of way particularly in their newer work with Erik Rutan at production and the overall vibe on their twelfth studio offering Torture is no different. As the finely arranged music provides impressive riffing skills from Pat O'Brien  and Rob Barrett on tracks like Scourge of Iron, a song that sees this guitar work being slowly pressed down into listeners eardrums as deep as possible and the brutal chugging found on Encased in Concrete, which is a sign of death metal sounding as classy as Deicide manage to make it. Yeah, also as my love of death metal has expanded I've definitely come to find that Deicide are a far superior band to Cannibal Corpse. Make what you will of that.
 So, it's basically moments like these sections of music that really have a blood-soaked spark covering them that really make this album and on Torture, there sadly isn't enough music like this to be found. Tracks The Strangulation Chair, Caged... Contorted and Crucifier Avenged may be high on frantic riffs and brutality but low on real substance and things start to get pretty dull from there. There's little distinguishable features to be found within these songs and frankly difficult to tell them apart from each other. I know right now I probably sound like one of those totally anti-death metal "Waah it's not real music" kind of people but the constant intensity and brutality does get pretty mindless after a while. It would help this album if it were maybe more dynamic. Like Deicide.
 So, if you're looking for an album that provides you with non stop headbanging opportunities, this album is probably your favourite album of 2012 already, but if you want a little more substance and dynamism in your music, I would try looking at Corpse's earlier material. Tomb of the Mutilated, Gallery of Suicide, even 2006's Kill has a better offering. Or Deicide. Torture has a problem of having too many tracks and not enough music. There's little on here that makes Cannibal Corpse anything similar to one of the most feared bands of the 1990's who frequently saw their distribution being banned across the globe that they once were.

 Cannibal Corpse's Torture is out now via Metal Blade.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Review: Shinedown - Amaryllis

 There's always a sense of fear that emerges from music enthusiasts when considering the many hard rock bands that have had much success. Florida's Shinedown is a good example of this. Personally, I've really gotten into their heavy and hooky-filled performance which has always revealed a sense of dynamism that sets them apart from the rest of their peers. But they've sold over six million albums and are becoming more recognised in the UK now than ever before and there's a threat that they may begin to water down their music to match their commercial success and create songs that would be played by that radio station I listened to during my brief visit to New Jersey which said they were going to play something extreme before playing Coming Undone by Korn. While Seether sadly followed this instruction with their most recent offering Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray, it's a refreshing sight to see that Shinedown haven't fallen to such temptation and return with their fourth offering Amaryllis sounding more triumphant than ever.

 And as opener Adrenaline opens the album in a way that does exactly as it says as the title with pulsing guitar solos and driving basslines, it's clear that Shinedown aren't looking to water anything down and instead reach new boundaries in their levels of intensity and extremity. Thankfully, this sense of intensity and passion is always at a high across the album and the furious performance from frontman Brent Smith on lead single Bully, a gathering for all those who've taken crap from their fellow peers is one of genuine authenticity and the pulsing selection of hooks from Zach Myers gives it that bit more of an anthemic quality.
 This is one of Shinedown's prime qualities in their ability to have a constant anthemic streamlined quality to their music, no matter what kind of atmosphere they play in or the tone of their performance. There's the pure anthems like Bully and the rich symphonic aided textured I'm Not Alright, there are the ballads that thankfully manage to remain engaging and have a real emotional impact like Unity and I'll Follow You and then there are the moments where things go a bit off-the-rails like Enemies which is a highlight of the album, with Myers' infectious groove and Smith's vocals of swaggering evil or the unsettling My Name (Wearing Me Out).
 The album throughout serves as evidence of how much genuine class and soul is found in the music of Shinedown and the on edge performance of Smith and ever-shifting musical performance from Myers, Barry Kerch on drums and Eric Bass on... bass moves this album to a higher standard than many of their peers and makes Amaryllis devoid of any radio rock clichés. This is by far the strongest piece of work the band have turned in to date and proves that commercially successful rock can still pack a punch. This album snarls in the face of radio rock.

 Shinedown's Amaryllis is out now via Roadrunner. The band will play at Download Festival at Donnington Park, Derby on Sunday 10th June.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review: Hawk Eyes - Ideas

 At the start of 2011, the emergence with a funny seeming band with a funny sounding name Chickenhawk came into emergence. Being taken seriously seemed out of the question. Most bands that have the word "chicken" in their name tend to have a hard time being taken seriously. Chickenfoot are an incredibly boring supergroup. About half way through the year, the band noticed this and the chicken was disposed of and the group got themselves a set of Hawk Eyes. And it's with these eyes that they've gained a greater vision and focus to make a major impact in the world of rock and metal. And with the strength of their debut Ideas, it's clear that this goal has already been achieved.

 This is perhaps once more an album that displays the ethics of rock and roll in it's purest form. It's rough, it's aggressive and every moment keeps you on the edge of your seat guessing what's going to happen next. The performance of the Leeds quartet is constantly alight with a range of frantic energy and twisted melodies. For me, any band that plays with the kind of heavy melodic relentlessness that Queens of the Stone Age had at the turn of the century is a winner in my eyes and Hawk Eyes certainly have that Rated R passion within them and go beyond that, unafraid to take things that bit further injecting their red hot spiraling riff-athons with more hardcore - mathcore even complexity and skill that would make Dillinger Escape Plan members happy with the kind of influence they've spread over the years.
 The band do elaborate on their sterile delirious guitar skills across the eleven songs on this album with a constantly heavy performance to keep things forceful and unrelenting, whether it's found in the frenzied stoner grooves that kick off proceedings on Witch Hunt, the blistering solos found in schizophrenic punk belter Yes Have Some or the thrashy pounding of closer Bees which manages to be every bit as trippy and atmospheric as it is brutal and ass-kicking.
 But the desire for absolute intensity and to create music that serves as a permanent rush of blood-soaked aggression makes this album really hit listeners hard. Hawk Eyes drag listeners down into their world of snarling Hellfire and keep you hooked throughout. The music is very much that which you will lose yourself in whether you like it or not.
 So, this debut hopefully marks out the beginning of a long-lasting and ever-successful career for Hawk Eyes. With their fiery mix of punk, metal and rock and roll at it's most ferocious they pretty much have all things forceful covered. It's perfection.

 Hawk Eyes' Ideas is out now via Fierce Panda Records.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Review: Sharks - No Gods

 There's something charmingly surprising about the music found on No Gods, the debut release from Leamington Spa's Sharks. Surprising in the sense that from a glance, with the posing in black and white, cold expressions and somewhat bleak and album titling skills, I was expecting something more akin to the grim and relentlessly scathing hardcore battering of Converge or Touché Amoré, but it's not that at all. Yeah, it's pretty much the opposite.

 Instead, this album is very much bursting with a mass sweeping of warm positivity, as Sharks play their mod rock inspired songs with vibrant energy and charismatic performances. Songs like Matthew's Baby and Dawn Soft Light with their atmospheric guitar work from Andrew Bayliss and frontman James Mattock and pounding mod rock performance carries the spirit of traditional bands like The Clash and Social Distortion and to use a more modern comparison, carries a reminiscence to a more upbeat Ordinary Boys - in reference to their debut Over the Counter Culture, the only good work they've ever made.
 There's a real sense of rawness to the album and it's sparkling performance which elevates the freshness and punk dynamism offered in the likes of Arcane Effigies and On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself, which with their bouncy hooks makes them overall rousing performances that will engage listeners of all sorts. More than anything the sheer strength of these songs is a powerful feature on it's own. The band's homegrown roots and relentless international touring is reflected in the sheer sense of natural charisma and comradeship heard across the album.
 So, what more can I say? No Gods is home to some of the most whole-hearted, warm and uplifting punk songs heard in a long time. The genuineness behind these songs is unmistakeable and the passion with which they spread their songs of roughened beauty is undeniably poignant. Sharks are going to find themselves over the coming months to be a band that everyone will fall in love with.

 Sharks' No Gods is out now via Rise Records. The band will tour the UK from March-April with Crowns.

Review: Your Demise - The Golden Age

 Graaah!!! Stupid band! They're not hardcore anymore! They betrayed the scene! is the kind of thing many enthusiasts of previous material from St. Albans punk quintet Your Demise might be saying regarding their latest offering The Golden Age. True their first three albums injected a shot of venom into the UK hardcore scene, not before Gallows obviously, but their most impressive moment was when they really managed to set themselves apart from their fellow hardcore ranks with the recruitment of vocalist Ed McRae for 2010's The Kids We Used to Be. Considering the album was the first set of new material since their vile fall out with previous frontman George Noble, the album was a more fresh and positive outing for the group.

 Since then the positivity within the group has only begun to flourish and on The Golden Age, this is clearly reflected. And so on this album, the sense of bile and scathing in toned down and in their place we have... melodies and ... hooks!!! Basically, The Golden Age is a melodic hardcore album, a pop punk record, bringing elements of their hardcore past with elements of that genre that celebrates three cord fun. So, it's less Gallows, more A Day to Remember, so it's little surprise that most hardcore enthusiasts will be asking "What the fuck? Those sellouts!" and the like. However, in my own opinion the more hardcore take on pop punk which has emerged in recent years is awesome and one of the few reasons why the statement "Pop punk's not dead!" is still valid. And Your Demise nail this type of music on this album. Whether they totally lose themselves in the poppy charm like on the infectiously hooky These Lights or Paper Trails which is only made glossier as breakdowns from Stuart Paice and Daniel Osbourne are accompanied by guest vocals from Evarose's Dannika Webber or their anger is properly released on the likes of Forget About Me and The Colour of Envy which carry a reminiscence to Your Demise's metalcore peers in August Burns Red and The Devil Wears Prada, the ability to create a set of captivating songs with juggernaut heaviness that will ensue all sorts of headbanging and moshing is permanently on display. 
 The vocal performance of McRae is perfect in captivating the full emotional spectrum with his smooth poppy vocals giving the glossier moments that extra sheen and his frenzied screaming highlighting the prominent brutality that the band can still unleash. However, to get things going the extra mile, the range of guest vocalists across the album is also a pulsing and exciting feature. Such as I'm (Not) the One's appearance from letlive.'s Jason Aalon Butler, whose deranged impassioned screaming makes the song that bit more schizophrenic or A Decade of Drifting's contribution from You Me At Six's Josh Franceschi whose soaring melodic performance encompasses the switching attitude between fun and serious that the song has.
 So, with sing-along choruses, poppy hooks and associations with You Me At Six, Your Demise can pretty much kiss their credibility from full-on hardcore meatheads goodbye but that doesn't mean their music doesn't still kick-ass. There's a tremendous vibe of positivity on this album as pulsing riffs work with punk melodies and a dose of brutality. This is definitely a more accessible album but it still hits hard. It's an album everyone can mosh to.

Your Demise's The Golden Age is out now via Visible Noise. The band will tour the UK on The Rock Sound Impericon Exposure Tour with Trapped Under Ice, Man Overboard and Basement.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review: Anti-Flag - The General Strike

 From their formation in the late 1980's Anti-Flag have been one of the leaders of left-wing political punk rock filled with a striking message played with an igniting performance. They return in 2012 at a time when their political beliefs are beginning of take up the news headlines with full force. Capitalism is being taken on in worldwide Occupy protests to the extent that it's now reached Dundee, Governments across the Middle East are finding themselves in turmoil through major revolts and in the group's homeland of the USA, various Republican Presidential candidates have risen to greater public consciousness and aren't finding a positive reaction from many people at all. It's a time when left-wing bands should be at the height of popularity and giving the performance of their lifetime.

 However, Anti-Flag's ninth effort The General Strike doesn't really ignite as punk enthusiasts may hope. While all the ingredients for a perfect political punk albums are present; energetic buzzsaw riffs from Chris Head and activist frontman Justin Sane, choruses filled with engaging hooks and anthemic lyrics of political gathering ("Become the pulse of the revolution!") and tracks like The Neoliberal Anthem and The Ranks of the Masses Rising bring these techniques together to stunning effect, but overall, the type of spark of rebirth that should be present just isn't anywhere to be found. And without this spark, much of the album really seems to just run together in a continuous series of rough riffs and formulaic punk structures and the overall sound is simply average and lacking in any sense of significance.
 So, while there's nothing wrong with The General Strike, because it is a well made political punk album, it should be one that becomes an album definitive of their talents. It may annoy people if I use of pop punk comparison but when Green Day released American Idiot in 2004, it was an album that protested against then-President George W. Bush and it was a message that people across the world could get behind which then saw them become the biggest band in the world despite being well-over a decade into their career. With the world's political mindset turned in a way that's seeing more support than ever rooting for those in a left-wing state of mind, bands like Anti-Flag should be making an album more powerful and more relevant to our times. It seems that the group aren't taking advantage of the world they are living in.

 Anti-Flag's The General Strike is out now via SideOneDummy.  The band will headline the Anti-Fest on the 3rd of May at the Herts University Forum, Hatfield.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Review: I See Stars - Digital Renegade

 Well, this is the band that are claimed to be the pioneers of the electronicore sub-genre that everyone loves to hate, and that I've really managed to get into for some reason. I See Stars' second album 3-D has had a considerable impact on a small-sized generation of people into emo, metalcore and electronica music, wondering if there's anywhere where they can find all three at once. Sounds reasonable. Despite their major influence however, I See Stars have always been in the shadow of other bands that have prospered and have recently been playing second fiddle to Asking Alexandria on their massive Still Reckless Tour taking place across North America, acting as support along with The Amity Affliction, Motionless in White and for some weird reason Trivium and Dir En Grey. So, in many ways, the group's third release Digital Renegade sees I See Stars taking a step up to the air of respectability in the world of electronicore they demand.

 If it's going to make them bigger anywhere it is going to be very much limited to getting bigger in electronicore circles and if that's not you're scene, you're probably only here because you're lost and the correct term you're looking for is "astronomy". There's no sign of the band taking on more traditional metallic qualities here. There's big choruses filled with hooks and auto-tuned vocals from Devin Oliver, there's still continuous usage of synthesizers and not the ambient kind, the ones that create trance music in order to accompany the constant breakdowns from Brent Allen and Jimmy Gregerson, which at random points of the album, leads the musical proceedings with no guitar backing and stops the group from having any kind of metallic qualities and makes them sound more like Cobra Starship and tracks like Summer Died in Connersville feels more inspired by pop punk music than any kind of hardcore group. In many ways, I See Stars still prove themselves to have the kind of music you could headbang to, but you would definitely cringe if you heard anyone refer to them as "brutal".
 Still, with their position as a poppy post hardcore group established, there is lots to be impressed by. This album sees a great increase in focus in terms of merging these styles together and the relentless juddering mixed with pulsing dance synthesizers seen in tracks like NZT48 and Filth Friends Unite shows these influences brought together and executed in a much more seamless form in a way more definitive of what electronicore should be, the latter track even carrying the sense of ambition to see the group take on Enter Shikari. And get instantly defeated because Enter Shikari are incredible.
 Needless to say, an emotional impact is created across the album, be it the kind of dark and furious tones contained across Mystery Wall and Endless Sky, aided with guest vocals from Yorkshire rabble-rouser Danny Worsnop or are more rooted in melancholy and tragedy, as Electric Forest tells of romantic loss and woe with the intense rush of emotion heightened by guest vocals from Hey Monday's Cassadee Pope. Albeit it can be difficult at times to distinguish her voice from that of Oliver's, due to the auto-tuning.
 Overall, Digital Renegade is very much a prime album that in realms of electronicore ticks all the boxes. The synthesizer work remains pulsing and dynamic and the strength of the post hardcore performance is very much cranked up. It's unlikely that it will make them any friends out of this scene but, it's a pretty solid effort that shows I See Stars to be a rightfully respected act as one of the main innovators of this genre.

 I See Stars' Digital Renegade is out now via Sumerian Records. The band will perform at the Slam Dunk Festival at the Leeds University Union and University of Hertfordshire Forum from 26th-27th May.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: Blood Red Shoes - In Time To Voices

 Post punk duo Blood Red Shoes are yet to find themselves in a position of titans among fellow post punk duos such as The White Stripes, The Black Keys and The Kills, but their ongoing sense of passion and willingness to succeed in the realms of rock and roll is commendable. There's always something of a more human element when listening to them  both in and out of the studio. There's always a sense of genuine willingness to become rock and roll giants within them and it's a much more likable factor than the constant poseur-based swagger of their fellow peers.

 That's not to say they don't carry a sense of effortless coolness amongst them as well, because they definitely do that. Their third album In Time To Voices, then is the group's strongest effort to date, showing the chilled out swagger and sense of emotional passion all coming together and taken up to a much higher level. And so, listeners are presented with a collection of glorious alt rock songs filled with distortion drenched melodies and emotional impacts be it joyful or chilling.
 The performance of Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell is alight in the scuzzy rock n' roll swagger in which it's delivered and the pounding riffs that Carter hammers out in tracks like Cold and Down Here in the Dark are reminiscent of some of the later work of Queens of the Stone Age but with more bite attached, while influences from Josh Homme's earlier days and the more hyper moments of Nirvana come out the short but impacting Je Me Perds, a real display of punk adrenaline and intensity. Plus the more ethereal performances and soundscaping that comes out on the likes of Night Light and 7 Years means that their Pixies influence cannot be denied either. The vocal performances of Carter and Ansell are crucial in creating the perfect musical atmosphere whether they intend to make listeners feel warm and touched in their performance or leave them feeling in the exact opposite state of mind with use of haunting harmonies.
 Anyway, it's probably best to not totally elaborate on bands they sound like, although the heritage of modern rock bands is a crucial element across this album. The dirty rock and roll swagger paired with the shimmering production that the duo took part in, in accompaniment with Mike Crossey (Razorlight, Arctic Monkeys) makes the overall sound very unique and the bizarre combination of distortion riffs and buzzing synthesizers takes the music to new areas atmospherically, only to heighten the immense power of their melodies.
 So, on In Time To Voices, what have Blood Red Shoes created? Their post punk performances means the music has a raw and rough edge but also manages to stay smooth and swaggering thanks to great production. They manage to play heavy, but there's also a delicate nature contained as well and the rush of emotion put on this album is also particularly major. So, what they have created is an album which expresses pretty much what modern rock music should sound like, while keeping hold of what makes that classic rock sound so unforgettable. I think it's time this duo move into the big league.

 Blood Red Shoes' In Time To Voices is out on the 26th of March via V2 Records. The band will tour the UK from April-May with The Cast of Cheers and will play the Reading and Leeds Festival in August.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Review: Epica - Requiem for the Indifferent

 Truly, there is no band more suiting of a name like "Epica" than the Dutch sextet we have come to look at today. Everything they've done is just so... epic. It's one of the most accurate names since Japanese heavy metallers Loudness proved themselves not to be the quietest of bands around. And so their fifth album Requiem for the Indifferent proves them once more to be a band whose namesake reputation remains intact, standing strong.


 Symphonic metal albums sort of carry the same rules as family adventure movies in a way. In the sense that when creating a follow-up, a sequel, or in this case, a... 5th film in the franchise, it should comprise of similar characteristics of the first film only bigger. And this is something Epica have total understanding of here. And so, on Requiem for the Indifferent, the levels of lavish sweeping symphonic backdrops well-constructed to fit in with the thrashy and chug-tacular guitar performances from Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye that reveal an influence from the best in speed and power metal. And the fitting performance of the symphonic and metallic elements in highlighted from the very beginning of the album which sees the joining between Karma and Monopoly on Truth, which in it's over-the-top playing with an air of fantastical grandeur creates an audible image of what The Lord of the Rings would have been like had it been a series of metal albums.
 The vocal performances are also crucial in upholding this sense of fantasy and epic wonder. One of Epica's main traits is the contrasting styles between frontwoman Simone Simons and Mark Jansen, as the pairing of Simons' ethereal operatic grace and Jansen's near morbid guttural growling is cleverly brought together revealing an extra dynamic and fearlessness int heir performance. Tracks like Storm the Sorrow and the album's major title track execute this feature well which really builds up the introduction of the growling, where listeners know that it's time for extra brutality.
 Now symphonic metal is always a genre that's managed to divide opinion, with some believing it's too cheesy and artificial, and when it goes fully over-the-top, there is perhaps some sense in that. Requiem for the Indifferent would be a difficult album for anyone to make an emotional connection with but when Epica mean to unleash an atmosphere of melancholy, tracks like the mournful delicate Deep Water Horizon does the job pretty well. But it's when you want music with a real sense of driving adventurous force that the force of songs like Internal Warfare and Deter the Tyrant come to full effect.
 So, when the target audience of symphonic metal are people who dig fantasy, metallic grandeur and little chance to drop down to reality, the exquisite lavish performance on this album is very much a crowd-pleaser. How well it would translate into the real world is questionable but then if you like things mental and skillfully performed then this album, like the name of the sextet behind it, is Epic...a.

 Epica's Requiem for the Indifferent is out now via Nuclear Blast.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Review: Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction

 So far, 2012's offering of the newest names in doom metal has seen the highest amounts of praise go towards bands that believe in regression and so take the genre back to it's original roots of the 1970s and add their own sense of grandeur and sweeping performance to the mix. Misery Wizard, the debut from Rhode Island's Pilgrim has been the most effective example of this so far, although one cannot help but feel that it received a little more praise than it was really worth. A lot of the times the album felt a little hollow. That's my honest opinion there. And it is also in my opinion that a band that are much more worthy of praise are new American doomsters, Pallbearer.

 The Arkansas quartet have managed to take very traditional doom metal into their own hands and make it their very own as they make full use of the varying range of doom metal elements and take it to new emotional depths and the range of style found on their five track debut Sorrow And Extinction proves this with ease. The relentlessly somber The Legend and An Offering of Grief are much more suited in the realms of sludge doom in their relentlessly sluggish delivery which manage to capture the minds of listeners with the dazzling sensation of being dragged along with the gritty riffs from frontman Brett Campbell and Devin Holt which are soaked in distortion and scuzzy fury into otherworldly realms coated in phantasmagorical darkness. While there's little of a pick-up in pace throughout the album, there is more melody injected within Devoid of Redemption which gives it more of a stoner doom reminiscence. The heaviness provided in the dual guitar attacks with fuzz and phaser playing full effect which is vital in building up a mass atmosphere of constant extremity with a trippy edge which manages to be simultaneously thrilling through it's monolithic playing.
 The vocal performance of Campbell is one that truly epitomizes the group's emotional impact and the constant comparisons to a young Ozzy Osbourne couldn't be more accurate; perhaps without the double O's nasal style and Campbell's ability to execute the vocals with a much greater poetic charm which really heightens the sense of awe and hard-hitting tragedy that comes with the deathly impact which questions the type of outlook on life we ought to adopt.
 However, it's the emotional impact that Pallbearer unleash on this album that makes it such a special listening experience because musically and lyrically it sees the group doing so much more than simply lurking about in doom and gloom. Even when managing to create an atmosphere of absolute bleakness and despair, the band still manage to sail through with a sense of triumph; Sorrow and Extinction is an album that laughs in the face of death.

 Pallbearer's Sorrow And Extinction is out now via Profound Lore Records.

Review: Soulfly - Enslaved

 It's the devotion to creating only the most ferocious and unforgivably brutal performance with a real spirit of fighting and vengeance that has made Max Cavalera one of the central names and relentless forces in metal as we know it today. His roaring performance in Sepultura is one that has saved the lives of himself and many other names in modern metal who would have come to nothing without their influence and when Max formed Soulfly in 1997 following a difficult and hate-filled departure from Sepultura, the performance was more devastating than ever before. The relentlessness of Max Cavalera is something that could be discussed all day, but for now let's just know that on Soulfly's eighth offering Enslaved it is at an all time high.

 Maybe it will infuriate people who came to love Cavalera for his work in shaping alternative metal and groove metal as we know it today, but Enslaved leans more towards a death metal influence than ever before. Cavalera has stated in interviews that there's been more of an influence on this album from bands like Morbid Angel and frankly, there's a lot of moments on this album that would make Trey Azagthoth and co. quake in their boots. Tracks like Intervention and Legions feature atmospheric backdrops of pure grandeur paired with a ripping assault of juggernaut riffs and mental basslines that all fans of Nile and Behemoth will have come to appreciate. The performance is that of absolute venom injected bile and intense aggression.
 Even when the pure death metal is put to one side the shot of aggression and adrenaline is still present in Soulfly's array of groove metal at it's most frenzied as Gladiator's juddering riff-attack and anthemic qualities make it a thunderous display of modern metal at it's best plus the guest appearance on Redemption of Man By God from Devildriver's Dez Fafara, one of the undisputed kings of groove metal shows Cavalera is very much on board with groove metal and the performance of the two is just as injected with unrelenting bile and adrenaline as the band playing behind them. Plus the ever presence of more South American based instruments on tracks like Plata o Pomo and the alt metal riffing turned up to a level heavier and more evil than the 1990s could have ever offered found in this song and the monolithic closer Revengeance featuring performances from Max's sons Richie and Zyon as well as his nephew Igor Jr. which shows that truly metal is running thick and fast within the Cavalera blood.
 So, by now I may have established that this is an angry album. It's message against slavery in our world past and present (too late to make a Kony reference) is preached in a slamming manner through gritted teeth. The band's performance is very much rough and brutal as rough and brutal can be and Max's intense passion is highlighted throughout the album's violent and shattering delivery. And it's with pride as a metal fan to look at this album and say that Max Cavalera's metal god-like status can proudly live on. This is an album that is purely definitive of heavy metal.

 Soulfly's Enslaved is out now via Roadrunner.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Review: Mayday Parade - Mayday Parade

 Mayday Parade. Apparently there's a lot to be said about the Florida quintet. I'm not so sure. Personally, I find it difficult to really identify anything new they've brought to the modern pop punk table, apart from an increased number of dreary emo pop ballads. But it goes without saying that the emo pop crowd somehow have managed to become a bizarre force in the world of big-selling rock music, so they can't exactly be dismissed, even though the album we're looking at today came out about six months ago.

 So Mayday Parade found themselves at a loss in 2009 following the release of their second album Anywhere But Here which saw mass criticisms from fans of their debut release A Lesson In Romantics mainly due to a weakening in songwriting after the band had little part in the songwriting after producers at Atlantic Records decided the band would be unable to write any songs without the original songwriting talent of the group Jason Lancaster. What resulted where songs with little input from the actual band, songs which the band "didn't really care about."
 And so, with their self-titled album, the group have sailed away from the large-selling tides of the Atlantic and are drawing out the lyrical maps for themselves. Yeah. And now that the group have regained control, the music feels much more authentic and much more real. Needless to say, there's nothing on this album that reinvents rock music in any way and songs like Oh Well, Oh Well and Call Me Hopeless, but Not Romantic take perfect advantage of the classic formula to making a perfect pop rock hit, mixing hooky choruses with emo laced verses which are very much softened and have some piano accompaniment to add some extra emotion to help convey the atmosphere of bitter romantic tragedy.
 That's not to say there's always sadness involved within the album. Songs like Priceless and A Shot Across the Bow pack a much more adrenaline packed rush of pop punk with the tearaway uplifting romantic lyrics. Is it fully satisfying musically though? That's debatable. It ultimately ends up sounding like A Day To Remember Lite.
 Lyrically, the content of this album is too sickeningly romantic and soppy to even begin considering. With lines like Stay's "If you believe that everything's alright/ You won't be alone tonight/ I'd be blessed by the light of your company/ Slowly lifting me to somewhere new" and the more twisted "And even if it's dark at least we'll be together/ Slowly sinking in the earth to lay forever" found on Without the Bitter, the Sweet Isn't As Sweet, it's clear that Mayday Parade are clearly looking to hit the totally do-lally romantic fools with their lyrics.
 In a sense, this album is great - it's great for what it is and what it is is just another album by another band that got popular from the emo rock trend of the mid 2000s and continue to show their strength in playing it today. And if you enjoy this kind of thing, this album is in many ways a modern essential. But it's hard to think of any other reason why it'll blow anyone away.

 Mayday Parade's Mayday Parade is out now via Independent Label Group. The band will tour the UK from March-April with You Me At Six, Kids In Glass Houses and The Skints and will play The Slam Dunk Festival at Leeds University Union and The University of Hertfordshire in May.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Review: Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball

 You'll have your own thoughts on the iconic music of Bruce Springsteen. You may find it to be overrated and overplayed, and that many people enjoy it only to look reputable as the guy's already an affirmed rock icon. icon or not, I've always found his music to be delightful experience. Something that's wonderful about it is that while it started off very rough and menacing, as Springsteen has aged gracefully, the music's aged with him in a similar graceful manner which obtains the spirit of roughness and grit of his older performances. And this still present on seventeenth studio outing Wrecking Ball.

 Basically, The Boss' ability to craft a rousing song that just makes you want to clap your hands and sing along like a drunken fool is stellar and swinging blue collar folk punk songs like We Take Care of Our Own and Death To My Hometown are guaranteed to raise your spirits in their subtly anthemic nature. The album's title track is especially brilliant for this, which is probably the most beautifully crafted song on the album which was written in 2009 as a tribute to the Giants Stadium of Springsteen's homeland New Jersey which was demolished the following year and as Springsteen belts out "Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you got/ Bring on your wrecking ball" you can feel the spirit of collected strength and devotion and love for this traditional stadium.
 Even when getting everyone to sing along isn't the goal, the slower songs like Jack of All Trades and This Depression are gripping in their sense of delicate charm as the battered punk soul of The Boss manages to shine through his roughened vocals. The gospel-vibe blues rock performances in Rocky Ground is also effective here, with the chilling harmonies with backing vocalist Michelle Moore, plus her rapping bridge creating an atmosphere that is perfect for heightening the songs cauterization of struggle and worry.
 But with this album, you're never far from hearing a series of wonderful life-affirming rock n' roll songs with influences from gospel, blues and folk music and the songwriting allows for big sing-along choruses constantly and there is little that carries a much greater uplifting charm than Bruce Springsteen. 
 Truly, Wrecking Ball is an album for the people. it's an album that creates a sense of community and rousing happiness. It's awash with total delight. I would advise those feeling bitter and hateful of everything not to approach this album any time soon. Everyone else; jump right in.

 Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball is out now via Columbia. Springsteen will perform at The Isle of Wight Festival at Seaclose Park in June and at hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, London in July.

Live review: Chimaira, Beat Generator Live, Dundee

 I've been in and out of the wonderful city of Dundee for over ten years now and usually, I'm still finding myself getting lost and confused all over the place. The music scene of Dundee is questionable in it's sense of mystery and variation in terms of what the people are into and what bands lurk in the underground. It's hard to tell what the preferred type of music is in this city but I wouldn't deny Dundee's love for modern metal at all. Just look around the city and you'll see a number of T-Shirts which prove this. Whether it's for some of the original alternative metal bands that emerged in the 1990s like Pantera, Machine Head or Slipknot, or the most relentless names in modern deathcore like Carnifex or Chelsea Grin that's printed across the chests of people walking through the Murraygate, there is a visible love for today's biggest names in heavy music in the city of Discovery.
 So it's little surprise to see that the intimate room that is the Beat Generator is awash with people in black T-Shirts and drunken bravado in anticipation for tonight's array of modern metallic vigor and brutality that has come with the UK leg of The Age of Hell Tour, promoting the album of the same name from Cleveland bruisers Chimaira. I rated the album at number 47 on my apparently popular Top 50 albums of 2011 list, but apparently it needed more promotion than that, so the sextet arrived here on the second leg of the UK part of the tour and in the crowd was myself, my tour companion Callum, whose devotion in continuing to come to gigs with me is commendable and a whole host of other Dundee metalheads. I know I'm going to have to write about this so I keep my alcohol intake as low as possible, settling for a can of Budweiser, two Jägerbombs and a bottle of Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale. LoL lOoK aT mE Im So HaRdCoRe!!!!11!!!ONE!!! So the night proves itself to be an exhilarating rush of metal at it's most relentless which shows a devotion to the genre from Dundee, the raw talent of all the bands involved and above all else, proves how terrible I am at taking photographs at gigs.

 Opening up proceedings just for tonight are local metallers Excellent Cadaver who open the show with their pulsing and ferocious take on metalcore. It's a set of extreme energy from the group as frontman Andrew Downie dances chirpily to the juddering riffs and immense breakdowns his band behind them produce. The crowds's reaction is admittedly less engergetic with most people looking to keep their energy and necks intact for the following acts. However, Excellent Cadaver's set proves them to be above the average support group level and suggests promise for bigger things to come, which is also revealed after listening to the sampler with three demos of songs from their upcoming debut release Faith Destroyed. Seriously though, Andrew Downie's onstage energy was immense. He was the only one that jumped off the stage to perform in the crowd tonight. Here's photographic evidence.

 Following the official Dundee support are Swiss juggernauts Neosis, who to my surprise are the band that actually manage to get the heads properly banging. There's always a fear that bands like Neosis that thrive on playing with a sense of complexity and dynamic conceptuality as them have an ability to isolate the audience and the lack of crowd interaction feeds in with that, but with their Messhugah inspired seven-string juddering and intense focus and immense playing, they find themselves a lot of love from the people of Dundee tonight, even if they don't appear to return it.

 Next up is a band better known in the world of up and coming metal bands, Revoker. 2011 was a big year for the South Wales quartet, with the release of their debut Revenge For the Ruthless and appearing as support for a diverse group of acts from fellow Welsh comrades The Blackout to heavy metal royalty Ozzy Osbourne, but tonight they're in more intimate surroundings and when songs like The Great Pretender and Stay Down are slammed into action, they get the exact response they're looking for as the real moshpits begin to emerge. Everyone is jumping up and down and colliding into each other. One of the gentlemen in the moshpit wears a leather jacket and constantly smashing into him with the heat of the building is an extremely uncomfortable experience. It gets so much worse as more sweat begins to emerge on everyone. But, with a more brutal take on classic swinging heavy metal, Revoker are excepted into the Dundee metal community with open arms.

 So after a fairly long wait and performances from two of the most awesome soundcheck guys ever, it's time for the headliners to unleash The Age of Hell upon us. Chimaira is somewhat akin to Megadeth these days - in the fact that there's pretty much a revolving door system with the lineup now and we're at the point in which frontman Mark Hunter is the only original member remaining. There is some stability in the lineup now though. Following the departure of guitarists Rob Arnold and Matt DeVries in December, a large amount of members now are former members of Atlanta death metal outfit Dååth and play Chimaira's music with the same amount of passion and ferociousness as any lineup has in the past. It's great to see the crowd's warm - well moshing reactions to newer songs like Losing My Mind and Born in Blood but it's the classic affirmed hits like Power Trip and Nothing Remains that really ignites the Beat Generator. And when they close proceedings with a pulsing rendition of Resurrection, one of my favourite songs... ever, it's clear that their work here is done. I've heard Resurrection live and now I can die happy.

 The evening was pretty much an astounding maelstrom of brutality and punishing performances that really emphasized the strength that modern metal has over here in the 'Dee. I've spent most of my weekend recovering from the intense whiplash from headbanging and getting elbowed in the face and still feeling impressed at the immense brainwave one gentleman had when sellotaping his tape recorder to the railings on the roof before Chimaira came on stage and feeling sorry for the gentleman that fell over during Revoker's set, spilling every last drop of beer in the can he was holding at the time. But for all the bands ability to create as big a spark as they did at the beat generator tonight, this will be an evening that will be remembered for a long time by all of Dundee's finest.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Review: Crowns - Full Swing

 I may have given this EP the wrong title. It might just be a self-titled effort but this is what the title is on Spotify. This is unimportant, but some fans of the group may be annoyed if I've made a mistake. "Mistakes" is my middle name.
 Anyway, Cornish punk rockers Crowns are finding themselves in the stage of rising to the public eyes for their raucous and joyous take on traditional punk music making themselves the Cornish equivalent of The Pogues mixing traditional Cornish music with the classic punk style of The Clash. For some, this may sound disgraceful, like my Dad who finds the Pogues to be one of the worst bands ever and also hate Cornwall due to an unhappy holiday in Bodmin. However, there's been a lot of views opposing to those of my Dad and Crowns have found themselves being played on Radio 1 by Zane Lowe and supporting fellow traditional punk superstars The King Blues, it can't be denied that things are going up for the quartet from the land of Pasties... or some better Cornish joke. Corny joke? This blog is called "Ramblings" for a reason... anyway here's a review of their EP Full Swing.

 The sense of tribute to music with a heritage found across these six songs is very high and reveals an attention paid to traditional folk songs from history and a learning from them in how to write songs and create a rousing tune to get everyone in the bar singing along and so with rough production and rousing tunes played out on guitars and mandolin and making big hooky choruses and swinging rhythms throughout. 
 In many ways there's something of a contrasting atmosphere throughout the EP. With tracks like Kissing Gate and Bodmin Town having lyrics of warm adorable romance and intimate folk performances, there's some level of a touching and sweet atmosphere to their performance but then there's also tracks like Full Swing and Whose Pint's Whose which in their swaggering punk performance are much better party pieces... at least for parties in Cornish Pubs where sobriety is non-existent.
 And that's basically what you're getting from Crowns here. It's hardly dynamic and production wise, a further similarity is shared between the and The Pogues in that the songs sound as though they were actually recorded in the back of a bar, but in many ways these qualities sum up Crowns' goal in musical. To gain heartfelt success and lots of love from playing simple folk songs with a punk rock influence to unite drinkers and romantics everywhere. Will it happen? We'll just have to wait and see.

 Crowns' Full Swing is out now via Ship Wreckords. The band are on tour of the UK from March-April with Sharks.

Review: Seether - Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray

 While the mass post grunge explosion of the early 2000s may have dwindled away in terms of it's overall sense of popularity and credibility, there's no denying that the performers are still going strong to the delight/dismay of many music enthusiasts across the globe. Some bands have a musical sound that at best can be described as "turgid", while other acts make it quite enjoyable. For a while one of the groups that have made post grunge enjoyable has been South African trio Seether. It's been cool seeing the way the group's ability to bring in a little extra sense of wit and originality to a genre often slated for it's often dull characteristics. However, their fifth album Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray doesn't really manage to ignite quite as well as one would have hoped and shows signs that the group could well get buried with the rest of their post-grunge peers.

 That's not to say this album is fully dire because without a doubt, there are plenty moments on this album that will draw in fans of Seether's previous work. Opener Fur Cue is alive in it's fiery grunge explosion filled with bitterness and unrefined anger that has fueled some of the group's finest hours and despite it's predictable and less-encouraging influence from country rock music, the power in terms of heaviness and hooks found in the aptly titled Country Song is undeniable.
 One of the prime features of this album is the performance of Shaun Morgan. I could imagine there are some people who may have reservations about his style, but it's executed well here and covers a wide emotional spectrum effectively. His performance on the ballad Pass Slowly is touching and Down is pretty immense in it's sense of bitter fury. Essentially, if you like your music filled with big hooks and bigger choruses that release a more emotional impact than other mainstream acts, you'll probably have a great time with this album.
 But if you like your music a little more substantial, I would suggest looking elsewhere because this album comes with a lot of moments that are pretty much crafted for radio play. Tracks like Here and Now and Fade Out feel like they could be a lot heavier but have had the distortion levels turned down for radio play and it really manages to remove Seether of their teeth and full-blooded assault that they've come to be loved for.
 So, while this album manages to get a little dull and losing in it's sense of creativity at times, the ability to bring hooks and bouncy riffs to songs designed to be bleak is undeniable, plus the real saving grace of the album is Morgan's performance which remains passionate when the other bandmates aren't doing so. Perhaps Seether are the master of radio rock. What a horrible title to gain.

 Seether's Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray is out now via Wind Up Records. The band will tour the UK from the 11th-15th March with 3 Doors Down.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Review: Meat Loaf - Hell In a Handbasket

I feel that and I'm pretty sure I'm alone in feeling that the full extent of the glory that theatrical rock star Meat Loaf receives is questionable. When his musical career first really took flight, the intention was to create music with a dark atmosphere that left a real emotional impact and while creating time for some light-hearted moments in the duration of the songs ultimately leave a chilling and shocking impact towards all who dared to listen and leave a lasting impression on all generations of gothic charm to come. Apparently this has happened. I don't see any evidence of it. The biggest Meat Loaf fan I can think of is my my Mum. And songs like Bat Out of Hell and I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That) have become cheap party songs played so people can be intentionally cheesy and nostalgic. I speak harshly of these songs as someone who likes them and likes Bat Out of Hell I and II but has simply watched the reputation of their songs getting tarnished.

 Actually, I've grown fonder of Meat Loaf's more recent work and I'm probably the only one who thinks this way. I really enjoyed 2006's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose. It's probably my favourite 'Loaf album so far as it shows the desire to create dark and theatrical hard rock actually coming to full effect with a perfect emotional effect being reached with lots of theatrical madness and kick ass hard rock in between. But even then, listening to album number twelve Hell In a Handbasket feels strange because, overall, this theatrical element is much less present here. The album feels stripped down in many ways. But it's actually enjoyable. As opener All of Me introduces the album with a simple swinging piano led blues rock backdrop, while 'Loaf's powerful operatic vocals are released in a mellower fashion, listeners are treated to what is perhaps Meat Loaf sounding at his most real.
 So across this album, Meat Loaf's prime skill of creating piano-led rock ballads filled with intense soul and emotion is executed effortlessly as any focus on creating any atmospheric elements with extra orchestration or synthesized backdrops is replaced with extra emphasis on creating melodically crafted songs with big choruses and hooks so tracks like Live or Die and Another Day are soul rock perfection and 'Loaf's legendary voice is released here to astonishing and epic effect with the full amount of power to fill up... stadiums, I suppose.
 Although, this album is not full on straightforward in it's approach by any means. There's a great emphasis on more adrenaline packed hard rock on Hell In a Handbasket as well, as Party of One comes with the rambunctious, clattering sound of rough hard rock that has sparked 'Loaf's most famous work. There's also risky collaborations to be found on this album as well. It's probably the reason why Bat Out of Hell purists have slammed this album but I think the collaborations are awesome here. In particular, the guest appearance on Blue Sky/ Mad Mad World... from Chuck D of Public Enemy, one of the few rappers I can get behind, whose guest vocals in the song's bridge is genuinely gripping and adds to the intensity of the song rather than simply serving as a gimmick and simple sign that purely represents musical variation. Surprisingly, the collaboration filled Stand In the Storm is also very gripping considering the lame premise behind the collaboration that the three other musicians, country music star Trace Adkins, rapper Lil Jon and Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath first met with Meat Loaf when appearing on the 11th series of America's Celebrity Apprentice and recorded a song together for that reason. However, with that aside, the result of the four collaborating is a slamming piece of dirty uplifting soul rock of rather epic proportions.
 Overall, Hell In a Handbasket is a wonderful listening experience for those that love their music big with melodies and emotion and for their captivating performance filled with hooks and melodies, praise must be given to The Neverland Express for their exquisite backdrops. The performance of Meat Loaf is large on power and ability to stun and it's very impressive to see his legendary voice continuing but in a manner more earthly and intimate than before. So for now, my enjoyment of Meat Loaf stays at parallel levels to most people I know by preferring his newer material to older, but with the strength of albums like this, can you blame me?

 Meat Loaf's Hell In a Handbasket is out now via Sony Records.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Review: Every Time I Die - Ex Lives

 You can make your own thoughts on this but along with a few other groups, Buffalo's Every Time I Die have the devastating sound that in this modern era of rock and metal is most representative of the living, breathing face of hardcore. They've proven themselves to be a band with a raw, harsh and brutal performance of wicked punk rushes,and also a band that is unafraid to carry a sense of humour around with them while still preaching a serious message within their music. Truly, the spirit of hardcore dwells within them.
 And one thing that hardcore music is all about is pushing boundaries and on their sixth release Ex Lives, the most personal piece of work from the group that does just that. Reading recent interviews with frontman Keith Buckley reveals a sense of fear and worry from the thirty-two year old vocalist regarding the fact that he is getting older, now that he's entered his thirties. And so, it's this fear of ageing and desire from the band to recapture their youth by recording this album in a style similar to 2003's juggernaut Hot Damn! by recording songs in one take and not allowing any kind of technical mastering get in the way. As well as recapturing their youth, this style was also adopted to show that the group could still play in a style that is truly representative of hardcore youth when at an age when many would consider staring a family and moving to the suburbs and grow to hate everyone around them, or something.
 And so, this desire from ETID to prove they still have fire in their bellies is pulled off with immense ease and astonishment as the album proves itself an intense rush of hardcore punk at it's most brutal and most aggressive. Listeners will be pleased to find the quintet playing in a way as in-your-face as possible as the unrelenting riffs of Jordan Buckley and Andrew Williams are played with buzzsaw-like speed and distorted frenzy in a style that sees them get completely in your face with fists and claws attached. Tracks like Holy Book of Dilemma and I Suck (Blood) also reveals the extent of their skill as they fill the songs with variation in time-switch signatures and play melodies with extreme complexity.
 Of course, there's always room for some sense of class in hardcore and the lyrical mastery of Keith Buckley nails this on the head throughout Ex Lives. This album sees his attention focused more on talking of things in a manner that is bleak and hopeless, as religion is constantly targeted ("Thanks Lord, but I don't need any more poor advice") as well as the decision between being out on thee road suffering or being stuck at home with a family, suffering ("I'm bored as hell in Sodom and Eden is just another dry country") as well as many other topics that come with turning thirty, regarding booze, conforming to be part of society and problems with women. And when these messages are delivered with his rough scorching screams the realism and harsh nature of these lyrics are only heightened.
 So, while the ultimate attitude left when listening to the album is one of insecurity and fear of ageing, it's clear that Ex Lives is a hardcore victory, showing your never too old to simply lose it. Every Time I Die pack a serious punch across these tracks to all listening, with a performance more viscous, more intimidating and more biting than ever. In the world of modern hardcore, Every Time I Die have always been purest, but this takes things to a new level. Ex Lives is hardcore at it's most raw, earthly and real sounding.

Every Time I Die's Ex Lives is out now via Epitaph. The band will perform at the Slam Dunk Festival at the Leeds University Union and University of Hertfordshire Forum from 26th-27th May.

Review: Dry the River - Shallow Bed

 London indie rockers Dry the River have already been making a name for themselves having been featured in the BBC Sounds of 2012 poll and they keep appearing on little adverts on the side of my Facebook page, so y'know - that can't be too bad. I've been looking to review their debut album Shallow Bed for a while now because they were one of the first albums to appear in the New Artists of 2012 section on the iTunes store when the year started. And in may ways that says it all, because the artists that appear there are generally soft and pretentious music for hipsters.

 But, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a type of music I've grown quite partial to and has taken in fans of alternative rock worldwide and with their collection of pleasant soothing indie folk music, Dry the River are a group which verge at the very centerpiece of this indie revolution. Though the extent to which they let their full sense of creative dynamism doesn't put them in the same league as Wild Beasts and puts them closer to the likes of Elbow (Who I don't mean to criticize as I like them a lot, just to suggest they're not as fully creative as they could be) and Mumford & Sons, (Who I do mean to criticize. They define "overrated".) Shallow Bed features a blissful atmospheric performance which reveals a demeaning artistic credibility and powerful melodic strength.
 This intelligent alt rock performance is displayed on tracks like New Ceremony and Lion's Den which in their soothing indie rock melodies played out through battered out power chords from guitarist Matt Taylor and whumping basslines from Scott Miller put into accompaniment with violin strokes from Will Harvey  (A sure sign of their artful nature - there's a full time member for strings!!!) and the delicate intimate crooning from frontman Peter Liddle is effective in giving these songs and the whole album a much more awe-inspiring atmosphere at a more grandiose scale making the songs that bit more epic in their playing. In this sense, the buildup is used as a powerful tool in Dry the River's music, as tracks like Lion's Den, the depression inspired Demons and the wondrous closer Family all make use of turning their peaceful acoustic led indie folk songs into massive orchestral climaxes.
 So, does it all work? Well without any question of a doubt the skill in songwriting and crafting songs is stellar on Shallow Bed but there's no way it could be said that it's an album that really leaves a lasting impression. The album comes with the ability to switch between gripping and more testing to listen to and the constant climaxes feel more like a way to stop listeners from getting fed up. But, much of Dry the River's music manages to be very touching and achieves the emotional impact they're looking for. Anyway, I'm sure tracks from the album will become permanent fixtures on Absolute Radio and they'll win big at the Mercury Music Awards. Good for them I say.

 Dry the River's Shallow Bed is out now via RCA Records. The band will tour the UK from April-May.