Let’s be honest here: most people had already decided whether or not they would like the new U2 album before they even heard it. You could have probably predicted who would have liked it and who would have hated it before they ever tweeted or posted on Facebook about it. Yes, I tend to like U2 albums, but it has always been a process. You see, I wasn’t sold on The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby when I first heard them back in the day. But I kept hearing them so much that I came around to loving them as some of my favorite albums. So I have to look at each new U2 album as a process. I initially liked No Line on the Horizon but it kind of started falling apart the more I listened to it. I still like some of the songs, but I prefer to skip some of them as well. I initially didn’t know if I would like Songs of Innocence because of several songs, but after repeat listens, I love it as a whole album. Songs of Experience I liked initially, and that seems to be holding up after repeat listens… even though there are a couple of songs I could do without on it.
Of course, my initial appreciation may be because Songs of Experience is pretty much Songs of Innocence part 2. You could find someone that hasn’t heard either album, play both albums on a randomized playlist, and that person would probably not be able to tell you which album the songs came from without examining the lyrics. And even that is not a given. These two discs are basically parts 1 and 2 of one double album.
Songs of Experience opens with a more atmospheric moody piece called “Love is All We Have Left” – which is a bit different place than Songs of Innocence started off at: the lead single right out of the gate. While that will be hard for some that want the big hit up first, it still works nicely when listening to the whole album (even if it doesn’t really stand on its own as a song). This song leads into even more album set-up with “Lights of Home” – a song designed to build up to the singles, but still not quite a single itself. Still a great way to build a mood. This mood kicks into high gear with the first punch of the 1-2-3 knockout of the first half: “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” Probably one of the catchiest songs about a really sad topic (how people have to leave loved ones to work, serve, even live). I have heard this song playing on pop radio stations around town, and it works great as a killer single. Next up is another single “Get Out of Your Own Way” – a bit more down tempo than the last song, but still a great groove. This song ends with a spoken word modern take on the Beatitudes that leads to the fuzzy, nasty rock of “American Soul.” This song is pure, great driving music. It is technically a song built around the breakdown from “Volcano” off of Songs of Innocence (“You and I are rock and roll…”). Its a great song, but the break down in “Volcano” had a bit more punch. “Summer of Love” is a pretty song, but I wouldn’t miss it if it was gone. “Red Flag Day” takes a while to build up, but works a lot better once the full groove kicks in. It is one of those songs that you have to hear all the way through first to really appreciate, cause you have to know where it is going to like it. If that makes sense. “The Showman (Little More Better)” is U2 going being whimsical and romantic, almost like they did on “The Sweetest Thing.” “The Little Things That Give You Away” and “Landlady” are decent songs, but they feel a bit like filler to get to 13 songs. Why 13? Well, we’ll get to that in a second. What follows next seems to be everyone’s favorite song on the album, and I would agree. “The Blackout” is a snarling rocker that sounds like it could have been front and center on Achtung Baby. I would have honestly cut about 2-3 of the filler songs on this album and replaced them with songs like “The Blackout” or “American Soul” to give the album an over “feeling” of experience that is slightly lacking. “Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way” is another filler song. “13 (There is a Light)” is the 13th song, which I guess was important to end the album with that number (although I am not sure why). It is basically a reprise of “Song for Someone” off of Songs of Innocence with a new verse or two. It works well because the original is such a great song.
The deluxe version contains a good electronic-based mix of the non-album track “Ordinary Love,” another filler track called “Book of Your Heart,” and different versions of “Lights of Home” and “You’re the Best Thing About Me.” The remixes of “Ordinary Love” and “You’re the Best Thing About Me” are worth a listen, but the rest of the deluxe version doesn’t stand up to the bonus songs on the deluxe version of Songs of Innocence. Those were some great bonus tracks.
So in the end, I find Songs of Experience to be a mostly great album with some filler that I would probably skip. I actually like the build up songs at the beginning, but find some of the mood-building tracks at the end to be unnecessary. Overall, probably still a step behind Songs of Innocence for me, but still an overall enjoyable album to listen to. The experimental nature of many songs might turn off core fans, but we may be at the end of another experimental cycle by U2, and here is why I think that is so.
If you count albums with new songs on them like Rattle and Hum, U2 has been releasing albums in trilogies. Boy, October, and War was a trilogy of U2 discovering their sound. There was more experimentation on these albums, even while they were developing towards the classic U2 sound we all know. The Unforgettable Fire, The Joshua Tree, and Rattle and Hum was a trilogy of U2 perfecting their sound. These are the albums that pretty much define the classic U2 sound. Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop was a trilogy of U2 deconstructing their sound. They went back to experimentation to find a new purpose for their music – and connected with an even bigger audience than their massive earlier one. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and 18 Singles (have to include this one if you include Rattle and Hum because of the new songs, and it works in my analogy) was a trilogy of U2 rediscovering their sound. The experimentation was decreased while they went back to the sounds that made them U2 (HtDaAB even stretched all the way back to their pre-Boy garage rock days on a few songs). No Line on the Horizon, Songs of Innocence, and Songs of Experience was a trilogy of U2 modernizing their sound, often in experimental ways. Of course, you could make a case that 18 Singles still doesn’t count as a trilogy album, and that NLotH is actually the close of the “rediscovering trilogy.” That would work, too – it straddles between rediscover and experimental. If that is the case, we are in for the last of the “modernizing trilogy” for the next album. However, if my analogy holds up, and we are due for another trilogy to start with the next album, then my prediction is that they stop the experimentation of the “modernizing trilogy” and go back to their roots in some way. Because there is also another pattern among the trilogies: an experimental trilogy, then a U2-sounding trilogy, an experimental trilogy, then a U2-sounding trilogy. If they just finished an experimental trilogy (and I think they have), then we are due for a more classic U2-sounding album.
We will see once they get around to a new album. I would welcome returning again to the classic U2 sound, as I am sure many fans would as well.[2017 Interscope | Purchase: U2.com]
Writ on Water has returned with a new ep of two older songs and four new songs. Don’t worry if that description makes it sound like this is a disjointed ep of leftover tracks – A Charcoal Night sounds like a cohesive whole project rather than a b-sides collection. Whether that is talent or intention or both, I will leave up to you to decide. For the two older songs, there is “Wicker” in its original arrangement, and a studio recording of “Windsor” – a song which had originally been demoed for The Greyest Day. Despite the time between releases, Writ on Water never seems to lose a step. They can still write (and record) moody, ethereal alternative rock. For example, the first new track, “Twenty-Three,” starts off with a two minute instrumental intro full of intricate interplay between instruments that oozes more atmosphere and feeling than many bands do in an entire album. I’m also glad that “Windsor” finally sees the light of day again – it was originally on The Greyest Days Sessions disc… I always liked it way back when that album was available. If you are a fan of Writ on Water, this ep is another great addition to your collection. If you are not a fan but like deep, moving alternative rock, carve out some time to give this ep a listen. This one is a serious contender for my top albums of 2017 list. Also for fans that have not heard yet, Writ on Water has an exclusive song called “Placate” on the Opus Zine compilation Twenty Years and Counting along with Sam Billen, the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Caul, and many more – don’t miss that one as well.[2017 Independent | Purchase: writonwater.bandcamp.com]
Advent, a four piece band from North Carolina, came on my radar through the Bridge Nine Records label. I was unaware of their previous incarnation as Beloved, a band that you might remember being on Solid State Records back in 2008 and 2009. Beloved broke up around 2011, and Advent formed in 2015. Their first release is the four song EP Pain and Suffering, and this is a solid release! Everything that I love about hardcore is on here; the breakdowns, the blast beats, and the riffs that chug along with the force of a locomotive about to run off the tracks! What’s not to love? These guys have been snatching accolades from the scene for a few years now. I came late to this party, but if Advent is the future of hardcore, we’re in capable hands! A must have![2017 Bridge Nine Records | Purchase: https://bridge9.bandcamp.com/album/pain-suffering]
This ep almost slipped through the cracks. That would be a shame if it did, because this is an excellent album of drone/ambient/instrumental music. Aberrations of Light is Mark Skelton, who set out to record one song a month for a year. The song titles are those dates – so it looks like we only have half a year so far. If I am reading the BandCamp page correctly, this is all mostly guitar and various effects (and maybe some samples of some type of instructional program that I hear in the background?). The ep’s own self-description is the best I can think of to describe it: “a gorgeous and meditative recording of billowing and cascading guitar tones.” The July entry is out of order, and is about twice the length of the other songs. I wonder if there is a hidden meaning there? I would agree with others that it is my favorite track on the album. It serves as a good climax to album, with a final December track to finish out with. But if you like to listen to ambient beauty with a good dose of drone to ponder life or enjoy the scenery with, I would recommend checking out this ep. Also available in cassette form, probably perfect for a road trip down memory lane in an old car that still has a cassette player.[2017 Independent | Purchase: https://aberrationsoflight.bandcamp.com]
This is a killer compilation in the vein of the old Helpless Amoungst Friends albums. How this hasn’t sold thousands of copies yet is beyond me. The rare Living Sacrifice and Warlord tracks alone should move several hundred copies each by themselves. Come on – Warlord came out of retirement to record a killer groovy track. Living Sacrifice contributes a long lost track from the Hammering Process sessions that was unreleased until this comp. Un. Re. Leased. Living. Sacrifice. people! But that is not all. As far as I can tell, this is the only place to currently hear a song by The Satire – a new band with Jim Chaffin and Bryan Gray. And a trippy chaotic awesome song it is! Or how about the only known recording by Deathbed Atheist (Matt Johnson of Roadside Monument + Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter + Nathan Burke of Frodus)? You know that one slays just by reading the players. Then you have the doom of AAPOAA (Brian Fletchner post-Warlord). Plus Eso-Charis throwing in a rare 7-inch track. Or what about The Soul’s Unrest featuring Blaze Pearson of World Against World? Unteachers, Maranatha, and Death Therapy all contribute brutal tracks. Plus a bunch of indie/up and coming bands to discover – 18 tracks in all. These are not leftover songs that should have stayed buried, either. These are top-notch songs that cover a variety of brutal metal genres. The best part is that this album is a fundraiser for Timothy “Greybeard” Henderson, drummer for Warlord, Mr. Bishops Fist, and Catechumen. According to the compilation website, Timothy “has fibromyalgia & several other health issues that have put his family in great financial need over the last 11 years.” Tim is a great guy that I know through Facebook. We have been having a deep philosophical discussion on and off for years now that will hopefully get finished and published in Down the Line. But his condition slows that down, like everything else in his life. So grab a copy or two, spread the word, and get this compilation out to as many people as possible to support a great cause![2017 Independent | Preview or purchase: http://benefitcomp.weebly.com/]
We all probably remember how the 90s produced a massive amount of bands that put out one album and then disappeared. One would assume that quality was a factor in the lack interest in many of those bands, and that would be a good assumption in most cases. However, Killed by Cain was the exception to this assumption. When their self-titled debut album was released in 1993 on R.E.X. Music, some compared their sound to Guns N’ Roses meets Metallica (or Pantera or Sepultura, depending on how deep their metal knowledge went). That is fair starting point. In the Christian world, this was “converted” into Bride meets The Crucified on the front cover promo sticker… which is not a good description at all. Back in the day, I was instantly hooked on the sound Killed by Cain created. Pummeling riffs melding with slick grooves all over the place. But I remember that me and the only other person I ever knew that liked the album had the same problem with it: the sound was muddy, muddy, muddy. Like listening with actual mudballs stuck in your ears. I don’t know if it was the mix or the mastering or what, but we used to lament that it needed a sonic improvement someday… realizing that day would probably never come because they didn’t quite “make it.” Luckily, we were wrong on that front… because here we are in 2017 with Retroactive Records re-issuing one of my favorite unknown bands. Of course, the big question is: did they improve the sound, or was it too mucked up to even make it worth the effort? I admit that some re-issues just clean-up bad sonic quality material and the results are mixed at best. With this remaster job, my verdict is: pedal to the metal! The mix is clean and improved, without sounding like they had to cut out the low end to deal with muddiness. Although, I have to point out that you actually have to listen through a real stereo or decent headphones to actually appreciate that difference – no ear buds! My musical tastes have expanded into more mellow and alternative music since 1993, but this album still scratches an itch for loud music that has its own sound. It is also shorter than I remember it – 10 songs, with one of them being an intro – seemed longer back in 1993. But as I would have said back then (if I had noticed): all killer, no filler! Oh, and this album is also getting the vinyl treatment as well! Hope I can swing that someday with so much great vinyl coming out. Also, keep your eye out for their demo collection album – they used to be a more straight-forward metal band called White Ray that put out several popular demos in the tape trading underground. Retroactive Records is putting that collection out in the near future as well.[2017 Retroactive Records | Purchase: boonesoverstock.storenvy.com]
Twenty-seven years ago, Deliverance recorded a follow-up album to their spectacular debut. Let us be clear, Brethren and Sistren, Weapons was a thrash masterpiece. It earned unique distinction amongst metal purists as an epic release. The album was mixed by the legendary Bill Metoyer and produced by their then-new guitarist George Ochoa, and the results were stunning. Weapons was remastered by Rob Colwell at Bombworks Sound in 2008, and then remastered again by Cliffy aka J Powell at Steinhaus in 2017 for this Bombworks Records edition. Like any album that is high in demand, you keep pressing it, make some improvements, and it still sounds like pure gold!
I barely know where to begin with describing the attributes of this album. Fans will know this album inside and out. If you are new to the scene, or need a refresher, the title track had a video which got some MTV action. The two guitars going ballistic on “This Present Darkness” is definitely worth noting. The “Greetings of Death” track was originally from their early 1985 demo by the same name, and it was the fastest and heaviest material out there by a faith-inspired thrash band, beating out Tempest (Ohio) – Annihilation of the Wicked demo by about a half year. Midway through the album is a dark yet eloquent thrash ballad “23,” based on that particular Psalms passage. It was a ballad yet full of power and subtlety, a mix not easily found. Some of the songs are reminiscent of early Sodom, while others have the riffage-style of Slayer. But comparisons can be cheap, and Deliverance has forged their own sound, which gives them a matchless status as they approach thirty-two years of being a band! Can you say AMAZING?!?
What warms my heart with Deliverance is that this band has been around longer than any other band playing Christian thrash, bar none. Their were some albums that veered towards alt metal in their career, but the solid guitar sound was always there. I recognize that Believer still does albums but not as consistently. And Tourniquet may be a solid contender, but they did not get out of the starting gate as early on as Deliverance. The real clincher is that Deliverance’s new album, The Subversive Kind, is a bonafide cruncher, and freakin’ incredible at that!! Any band that can pull off brilliant metal for over thirty years, unswerving in their convictions, is an enigma in my mind. Thank you to Jimmy Brown and to all the amazing people who have contributed to the legacy of Deliverance. God Speed![2017 Bombworks Records | Purchase: boonesoverstock.storenvy.com]
Lo Tom came from several cool bands: Pedro The Lion, Starflyer 59, and Velour 100 to name the obvious ones. The common element amongst them is they played Christian festivals and local shows together. After a couple decades, the musical comradery is thick and defies anything that could have been achieved if done from obligation or contract. To clarify just how connected Lo Tom is, check out this graph, made with the love of detail only a music geek could possible create: https://www.instagram.com/p/BUfTfvUFblV/. The pop art cover, which I think has to be a joke, was designed by Demon Hunter’s Ryan Clark.
The band made its entrance with TW Walsh and Jason Martin sharing music ideas online, then Bazan adding his voice to the riffage for a more elevated status. Bazan does not have to try hard to set a narrative in motion with his voice. He resonates deep tones, carrying more emotion than most seasoned singers. Trey’s drumming and Bazan’s bass set a solid foundation, and that gives the guitars a lot to work from.
Starting off is “Covered Wagon,” a tongue-in-cheek storyline on the realities of touring. It also features all minor chords except the last chord of the song (I’ll admit to hearing this on their KEXP live performance.) “Overboard” is up next, showing off a superb chorus hook. It sounds to be as a song that could have been on a Pedro album. It also strikes me as one person’s side of a conversation, with the listener as a fly on the wall, only able to hear the voice closest to you. “Bubblegum” is the heaviest number of the project. You would swear they tapped into the soul of Malcolm Young (AC/DC) for the guitars on this sweet track. Things slow down a bit for “Bad Luck Charm,” which features brooding guitar exchanges and a bass line reminiscent of what you would hear off of Winners Never Quit. The album ends on a passionate note with “Lower Down,” the lengthiest track, as well as Bazan’s most edgy singing.
In my estimation, Lo Tom have found a niche amongst the best that indie rock has to offer. The songs are played with seasoned precision yet sound as effortless as putting on your favourite walking shoe. There is not a throw away moment on the entire album. This debut project has the appearance of something serious as opposed to a one-off. Here is hoping, anyways.[2017 Barzuk Records | Purchase: lotomlotom.bandcamp.com]
The mighty Barnabas is back! The band is not, but their music is. Retroactive Records signed a deal with Nancy Jo Mann to remaster and repackage all five albums. Rob Colwell has done a competent job getting the sonics to be the best they can be. In this review I will focus on the first three of the five reissues that are coming out first, November 2017. The last two reissues of the Barnabas discography will be released in December, so stay tuned.
When Barnabas embarked on their musical journey, there were few bands doing anything like them in the faith community. There was Resurrection Band in Chicago, Bill Mason Band and Ishmael United in the UK, and Andy McCarroll & Moral Support in Ireland. Hear the Light came out in 1980 and it was a truly unique punk-esque album. A year later, Lifesavers with Mark Krischak released their US Kids, but that is another story. Barnabas, in their early formation, had guitarist Monte Cooley, who could write fast numbers with infectious distortion like no other. What placed Barnabas on top of the rock pile were Nancy Jo Mann’s soaring vocals, backed by a beefy and intricate rhythm section. Songs such as “Savior,” “Directory Assistance,” “B.C.,” and “Playin’ for Him” are reckless and melodic, trademarks of the first album. On this reissue, the overall sound is more full. The vocals have more clarity, the bass is improved, and the guitars are more proportional in the mix. Hands down better.
On Find Your Heart a Home, the sound once again is improved with the reissue. Guitars and bass get their due place in the recording. With this album, Barnabas lost Monte and gain two guitarists who play well but nothing identifiably extraordinary. Keyboards become a staple element due to bassist Mann’s love for full arrangements. Find Your Heart a Home has a myriad of rock variations, from the hard-rollicking to blues-infused and even a bit of funkiness. Drummer Kris Klingensmith began showing more maturity in his lyrics. “Conflict of Desire” and “Way of Destruction” are a couple of fast, progressive tracks that sound stellar even after repeated listening. The album ends off with the memorable “Southern Woman,” reminiscent of Jefferson Starship at their finest. A solid album; consistent yet diversified.
Their third album, Approaching Light Speed, brings guitarist Brian Bellow to the helm. Bellow is a shredmeister much like Randy Rhoads. What I adore about this album is how it cements Barnabas doing metal. Barnabas can do many styles of rock proficiently, but it is at this juncture that they find the foundational sound which carries them to the end of their musical career. Once again, Rob Colwell does a spectacular job on remastering. The snares and bass fit like a glove and Nancy Jo’s voice is compelling and rapturous. With Klingensmith penning lyrics and Mann on music composition, Barnabas had grabbed hold of a winning combination. The year this album came out was the same year Dio put out the quintessential Holy Diver, Iron Maiden released Piece of Mind, Def Leopard launched Pyromania, and Motley Crue unleashed Shout at the Devil. Barnabas had some tough competitors… but they faired quite well. On the faith side of the coin, you had Rez Band, Jerusalem, Daniel Band, Leviticus, and Stronghold, amongst a few others. Barnabas was unique in that they played top-notch progressive metal infused with intelligent lyrics, with a singer who could belt it out like a rock goddess. Tracks like “Stormclouds,” “Waiting for the Aliens,” and “Subterfuge” still make the hair on my neck rise. If you like metal done well, this is a must-have.
When these three reissues are available in November of 2017, head over to Boone’s Overstock and secure your copies[2017 Retroactive Records | Pre-oreder: boonesoverstock.storenvy.com]
The first time I was able to see U2 play live was September 25th, 2006. This was the first game the New Orleans Saints would play in the Superdome following hurricane Katrina. I was lucky enough the get last minute tickets for free and my brother-in-law and I hurried to the Superdome and made our way to our seats really close to the 40 yard line.
This was a big deal for the Saints to be playing at the Superdome again. To commemorate this event the pregame show needed to be just as epic and inspiring. A small stage was pulled out directly in our line of sight and U2, Green Day, and some local brass bands played a short set including “Beautiful Day” and “The Saints Are Coming.” Bono changed some of the lyrics to reference specific New Orleans neighborhoods.
The performance was the encouragement we all needed after a year of hearing all the bullshit from the news, family and friends about how New Orleans shouldn’t rebuild or deserved the destruction. It was a much needed group therapy session consisting of almost 80,000 people that affirmed how and where we choose to live our lives.
Fast forward to Sept 14, 2017. I’m at the Superdome again, this time with my wife and thankfully again, with some pretty good seats. Of course I couldn’t help but feel those emotions from 2006 rise up as I sat there and waited for the show to start. I’m sure there were plenty of others there that were feeling the same thing.
The show started with an audio recording of The Waterboys’ “The Whole of The Moon.” U2 walked out on the smaller front stage with simple lighting and packed somewhat tightly together and opened the show with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”.
After that set they moved to the big stage and played The Joshua Tree all the way through. One of my favorite U2 songs is “Red Hill Mining Town” which The Edge Played on the piano while the video and audio of a Salvation Army Band played along on the screen.
The Joshua Tree has a lot of staying power and while it spawned several chart topping singles, it is a great album all the way through. The last two songs “Exit” and “Mother’s of the Disappeared” shone a little brighter in a live context then they did on the recording which made for a great ending.
The encore featured “Elevation” and “Beautiful Day.” Bono also spoke about The Edge’s “Music Rising” charity that supplied musical instruments to New Orleans musicians after hurricane Katrina and is going to do the same for those who lost their instruments recently in Houston and Florida due to the recent hurricanes.
It was U2 so of course it was a great show and one I brought a lot of emotional baggage and expectations to. The hope and encouragement they provided after hurricane Katrina and the the early inspiration they provided to me as an artist are the things that demonstrate how powerful and healing music can and should be.
Here’s to hoping for an Achtung Baby anniversary tour!
(Mike Indest has worked in the music business and in radio for the past 25 years, is a Lutheran Chaplain, and has just released a music retrospective that you can download for free at mikeindest.bandcamp.com.)