Alice Cooper – Paranormal

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

This album, Alice’s 27th, has all the ingredients of a rock classic. It has Bob Ezrin on the production end, an all star cast consisting of Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Roger Glover (Deep Purple), and Larry Mullens (U2), and it has three of the original Alice Cooper Band members on a couple of the numbers. Alice Cooper had the best bands in the 70s, bar none!, Musically, it is tight rock with groove/blues infusions.This album picks up where Dirty Diamonds leaves off.

The title track may actually be the only song about the paranormal on this album. It depicts a man who has died, trying to reach out to his still-alive spouse or lover. I could not get enough of this infectious song. Another one worth mentioning is “Fallen In Love,” with the line: “I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up.” This is the only song touching on erectile dysfunction that I am aware. Am I wrong?!? How hard is it to write a song like that? 🙂 There is also a bonus track called “Genuine American Girl,” about a transgendered person. There are some good topics making an appearance, as to be expected.

So what is not to love about Paranormal? All the elements of a great album are intact. The lyrics are witty and well-written, and there is good touring material on here. I liked the album from beginning to end. And yet, here is the kicker…I can not give this album the royalty treatment it deserves. Why, you might ask? Well, here is what I think:

Rock & Roll has a legacy of being unsafe, risky, and rebellious. It is not the stuff you iron your clothes to. Rather, it is the stuff you tear the house apart with, or drive down the highway with heads reelin’ and hands in the air. Early pioneers like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis had opposition, as did The Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zep, and the list goes on and on. This was the music of new freedom and identity. Rock music risked everything to be irreverent as well as revelatory. Today, music is sanitary and predictable.

Now, do not misunderstand me. I still think Alice Cooper rocks incredibly well, even in his 70s. But I want to see Alice Cooper do an album that breaks new ground. Alice was the original shock-rocker in the 70s, and he earned that reputation. What if Alice did something no one expected him to do? Like record an album with Eagles of Death Metal as the backing band? Or do an album with another well-known musician of another musical genre? Or record an album of early rock and blues covers? We all know Alice Cooper is not afraid of snakes and guillotines, But what gets under Alice Cooper’s skin? I want an Alice Cooper album with the man behind the make-up. I am willing to bet fans would eat up an album like this. Bring it on!

[2017 earMUSIC | Purchase:]

Mad at the World – Hope

Roger and Randy Rose from Mad at the World are back at it, with a powerful re-visit of their early synth-heavy albums. Being a fan of MatW and of good synth work, their album Hope fails to disappoint. The synth structures and sounds are reminiscent of the eponymous first album and the powerful subsequent release of Flowers in the Rain. Fans of 80s synth pop and industrial will find this album a treasure. While the influences from that time are strongly represented, the Rose bros. (I hope they will forgive the use of the phrase!) bring a fresh eye to the music and make it musically contemporary.

The album’s title, Hope, is befitting the overall sentiment and lyrical content. The writing is honest, inviting, and unapologetic in presenting their theological views. It’s not preachy, yet a genuine expression of heartfelt sentiment.

The first track, “Healing on Planet Earth,” is a great introduction to the overall theme. While retaining a sadness and darkness MatW listeners are familiar with, the familiar sense of real, objective hope in the world that has ever served as a stamp of their music. This track is a pleading prayer asking for a return for love and understanding on Earth. A hopeful return of what we appear to have lost touch with and perhaps failed to expand, leaving it withering on the vine as it were. It finishes with a plea to Jesus to heal us again.

“My Old Best Friend” is a send-off to one’s old self and welcoming a renewal of heart. Very nice piano work in this, accompanied by some synth backgrounds.

“You are Free” engages strongly in a celebration of the ‘Orchestral Hit’ sounds common to the 80s, yet as strong as a sound as it is, it’s pronounced yet not overbearing in this song. Perhaps it’s best use is accomplished in this song. “I can’t help but wonder if God is real, or I’m the one to blame, for all my shame” is a well-constructed lyric that is strong and very accessible. In some instances, it brings tears to one’s eyes. The chorus, “you are free,” is moving.

“Moving In and Moving Out” has a very deep synth bassline line continually throughout. As great as all the synth work is in this, the bassline is a favorite feature in this song. The story of the song tells of a malfunctioning love relationship.

The sounds of “Never Gonna Stop” is reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s People Are People era, though more of a thoughtful reflective sound than D.M. expressed in their earlier material. This piece is about Jesus stating that he’s “never gonna stop my love for you.” Quite powerful.

“Can You Feel My Pain?” Is a powerful representation of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane expressed through contemplative piano work backed with strong synth. At least, that’s what the reviewer feels the message is. Something to contemplate in the dark.

“That’s What He Said” has a great danceable synth backdrop. At least it’s a head-bopping sentiment. The lyrics again are powerful. “There’s no turning back. There’s no going home. Everything about you, belongs to me. You’re not your own.” There’s a bit of D.M. sounds in this as well, but definitely in a unique presentation. The D.M. is merely a garnish for the overall song here.

A meditative, slow synth-bass wash defines the backing sound of “Just Beyond the Clouds of Grey.” “A price too high to pay for, I’ll be your currency.”

“Break Me Down” is a surrender to divine love. Very nicely constructed, pointing out a synth sound reminiscent of a 60s garage rock over the bass and synth background. Nice bassline too! It’s got a ‘walking rhythm’ that works perfectly for the song’s theme.

“You Belong to Me” wraps up the theme of hope expressed in the title and encompassing the message of this album. Piano and synth work in this song is great. “Don’t you know you belong to me? You always belong to me.”

Overall, many influences can be heard or almost identified, yet Mad at the World retains a uniqueness that separates them from any other band. I mentioned Depeche Mode as an influence, yet there are so many throughout from which they may have borrowed snippets from it’s difficult to identify, and certainly would be an entire article unto itself. I thought to hear (consciously on their part or not) influences from 70s greats like 10cc and Steely Dan, although I suspect their musical knowledge accesses a catalog extending beyond that which many are familiar. I also think to hear touches of David Ball’s excellent keyboard work from Soft Cell and perhaps a smidgen of Nitzer Ebb.

This reviewer hopes to not take away anything from this album or the overall brilliance of the brothers Rose. The influences, real or imagined, take nothing away from this album. The art that is produced is its own unique, viable, and wonderful creation. The musicianship is remarkable, the lyrics heartfelt and evocative.

From what can be gathered, it seems that this album is just the first of a series of albums to come from Mad at the World, expressing different eras of their sound in new and fresh ways. This sounds like an exciting prospect, and this album definitely enthuses one for future releases, and encourages a delving into their past material.

[2017 Hindenburg Records | Purchase:]

My Silent Wake – There Was Death

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

Hard to believe that My Silent Wake has been around 13 years now. If I am counting correctly, There Was Death is their 10th full length album (not counting EPs, splits, and singles). Also hard to believe that Ian Arkley keeps churning out the metal after so many decades of being in Seventh Angel and then Ashen Mortality before forming this band (be on the look out for an interview with Ian in the next issue). My big question is: does My Silent Wake now hold the record for most doom/death albums recorded by one band? I don’t know the doom/death world well enough to answer that, but I do enjoy listening to My Silent Wake. For those that aren’t familiar with this genre, it is heavy music that is not afraid to move at slower paces at times, but the main focus is on creating a doomy/gothic atmosphere with heavy guitars, keyboards, growled vocals, and – of course – lyrics that discuss death. Songs also become lengthy, as the music can speed up or slow down several times in one song along with multiple time changes. Complex music for complex times. Where to start if that description intrigues you? I would look at one of my favorite tracks on this release: “Damnatio Memoriae.” Or if that is a bit too slow (at first) for you, you can look at the next song (“Killing Flaw”) for a song that starts almost thrash-like before hitting a nice time change and shift not too far into the song. There are also tracks that incorporate other textures as well, like the harpsichord intro of “An End to Suffering” or the symphonic qualities of “Ghosts of Parlous Lives.” While I know that many of us are hoping for a new Seventh Angel album… if you have a good number of members of that band making consistently high-quality music under a different name… does it really matter what band name they use? Maybe, maybe not.

[2018 Minotauro Records | Purchase:]

Michael Knott – Songs From The Feather River Highway EP

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

Hard to believe we let this one pass without a review at DTL. Of course, you might see me as biased here, but I love this EP. Knott obviously wanted to put out an EP that connects his current work with his 90s output, and the resulting EP does a great job of doing just that. The opening chords of “Tremor Train Overload” bring to mind Knott’s Fluid album, with lush layers of sound, guitar, and feedback. This song instantly let’s you know from the beginning that Knott still has it. Many of the songs on the album have definite nods to Knotts work in the 90s – for example, “Lady of the Lourdes” seems to bring in some of the trippiness of Dogfish Jones. “Pictures in Cinders” starts of with a sick Josh Lory bass lick that builds into a full driving song that serves as my current favorite off the EP. “The Medow” is the last non-instrumental track on the album, complete with a cool melancholic guitar sound that brings serious atmosphere to the tune. The EP is officially ended with a nice piano instrumental by EP guitarist Rick McDonough, but there are copies of the CD out there that has the Rocket and a Bomb live concert at the end as bonus tracks. Also, don’t forget that Jesse Sprinkle played drums on this as well – a truly stellar line up. The real treat is that this EP was also pressed to vinyl – making it the first Knott project on vinyl since… Shaded Pain maybe? You will need to find Josh Lory online to see if there any copies left of the CD or vinyl, but both are definitely worth the trouble if you can find them. Knott commented on Facebook that he has 7(!) unreleased albums he is currently working on, so let’s hope this EP is just a tease of what is in store this year.

[2016 Blonde Vinyl Records } Purchase:]

Pacifico – Everest

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

Pacifico returns with their first new album since 2013’s Without Heroes. Everest has been out for a while, so we are obviously a bit behind on reviews. But if you missed this album when it came out, time to rectify your mistake. From the opening track “The Need to Dismantle,” Pacifico proves they haven’t lost a beat in the period between albums. The sound here is more modern, more lush, more rock, and possibly even more catchy than they were in the past. Pacifico worked with Ronnie Martin of Joy Electric fame on this album, and his influence shows. Each song is an intriguing mixture of electronic and rock elements, with Martin’s influence woven into the entire picture more than dominating. This makes sense, as Pacifico is more of an idea than a band anyways (according to the large letters on their website). I would say that is a good way to describe what you are hearing: full realized indie idea rock. You can listen on BandCamp or order the vinyl version (I got the vinyl when it first came out – totally worth it if you are into the superior listening experience of spinning records). At least check out their two singles (“Beautiful” and “Go Alone”) to see what the album is about – you won’t be disappointed.

[2017 Independent | Purchase:]

U2 – Songs of Experience

posted in: January 2018, Music Review | 0

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:]

Writ on Water – A Charcoal Night

posted in: January 2018, Music Review | 0

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:]

Advent – Pain & Suffering

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:]

Aberrations of Light – Banuary

posted in: January 2018, Music Review | 0

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:]

Various Artists – We Bear the Scars

posted in: January 2018, Music Review | 0

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:]