October Bird of Death – Assemble

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

I’m not sure if this is a side project or full band – but as long as they are putting out great music I don’t care. Made up of current/former members of 2Minute Minor, The Blamed, Headnoise, and Ballydowse, October Bird of Death has punk rock cred oozing out of every pore. But rather than rest on their credy laurels, they have taken things up a notch and put out an new ep that tops the last one by a huge leap. On this ep, the grooves are thick and the guitar rages alongside pounding drums and snarling vocals. Of course,  those vocals will sound familiar to fans of 2Minute Minor (as they share the lead vocalist), but the overall sounds is still distinctly October Bird of Death. Where many punk rock bands find their favorite few notes/chords and play those one at a time really fast, October Bird of Death likes to find a more complex killer hook or groove and play it full throttle to bring the punk rock vibe. It’s the difference between being a band playing punk songs and being punk rock to the core.

[2018 Zap Records | Purchase: octoberbirdofdeath.bandcamp.com]

The Choir – Bloodshot

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

By now, I am not sure what I can say about a new album by The Choir to convince more people to check it out. You are either a diehard fan, or part of the small minority that has given up on the band completely. Let me attempt to appeal to those hold outs: yes, I am one of “those people” that likes much of their recent output. But this album is a whole new level for the band. I feel this is their most consistent and listenable album since their 80s/90s heyday. And again, I like their recent albums. This is just a another step up for them. I’m also not a huge fan of the name of the album, but the album art is cool at least. The feel of this album is darker than past albums. Why you ask? Sure the lyrics are tackling more difficult topics, and the guitar is more prominent on more songs – but it really just a general feel to the overall song writing. Stylistically, I would place Bloodshot as a bit heavier than Shadow Weaver, but still not as heavy as Kissers and Killers. Of course, songs like “Californians on Ice” and “House of Blues” are incredibly catchy… almost pop in sensibility. I’m also digging the upbeat-but-still-somehow-nostalgic-and-melancholy sweetness of songs like “Magic” and “We’ve Got the Moon.” But really, I’m not finding any songs to skip on the whole album. This is currently available streaming, digitally, and on CD… but the band seems to be taking input on a vinyl release – maybe? Hopefully that will happen, as this is screaming for a vinyl pressing!

[2018 Galaxy21 Music | Purchase: shop.thechoir.net]

Jimmy P. Brown II – Eraserhead

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

Unless you are living under a rock, you had to have heard the hype about how awesome this album is. For those that are trying to resist the glowing reviews, let me reassure you: in this instance, you need to believe the hype. Jimmy P. Brown II has been the front-man for many bands through the years – like Deliverance, Fearful Symmetry, and Jupiter 6. While he may have been the driving force behind many albums, this is apparently what he considers to be his first official solo album. And what a solo “debut” it is. Many people are comparing Eraserhead to the classic River Disturbance album by Deliverance, where Brown went to his most experimental extreme. That is kind of a good place to start, but I look at Eraserhead a bit differently. If you took the classic second half of River Disturbance and mixed it up with the atmosphere of Jupiter 6’s second album Movable Walls, and then injected that into the first Jupiter 6 album Back From Mars (in a process that removes the industrial leanings of that album) – that would come closer to describing the sound on this album. Eraserhead has a groove that sinks in from the first track, mixed with a strong David Bowie influence that really works. Each original song is a cohesive movement that you could pick any one from at any moment to enjoy. The only misstep on the whole album is the cover of “Entertaining Angels” by the Newsboys. Brown really tries to improve that song, but there is only so much you can do with a song that has a cliché melody and a boring riff underpinning a bunch of lyrics that stretch too hard to make a spiritual point. But that just might be my hatred for the original showing through – if you like the original, you will definitely like his cover. It just sticks out so noticeably when surrounded by vastly superior tracks. And that is how good the album is – I will completely skip over one misstep to enjoy the whole. Everything about the release – from the packaging to the production itself – is top-notch. The artwork and design are beautiful, and the vinyl itself looks stunning. This is one of those rare full package deals. Even the mix is supreme. Last weekend I was installing a surround sound system, using this disc to test the speakers. Eraserhead sounds amazing in full surround… when many albums would fall a bit flat due to a weaker mix. So stop ignoring the hype and pick this album up. Also, don’t miss out on the vinyl re-issue of Deliverance’s River Disturbance that Retroactive Records put out in conjunction with this album. It is a top-quality re-issue that serves as the perfect vinyl companion to Eraserhead.

[2018 Retroactive Records | Purchase: boonesoverstock.com]

Peacemaker – Concrete Terror

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

I know this gets said in metal a lot… but this is a killer album! Peacemaker is one of those rare heavy metal super groups that manages to transcend the typical trappings of metal super groups. No musical identity crisis here, no schizophrenic pull of different musical visions… just “rip yo face off” metal with a coherent style that is old school yet not stale. For those that don’t know, Peacemaker is Ronny Munroe (Metal Church, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Scott Miller (Tango Down), BJ Zampa (House of Lords, Yngwie Malmsteen, Obsession), and Rc Ciejek (Belladonna). Whew! That is some intense lineage right there. Most of those bands you probably know, but if you aren’t familiar with Tango Down – their album Bulletproof was one of the bigger surprises of 2016 for me (and many others judging by several year-end “Top 10” lists). Peacemaker is a focused mix of trash ferocity with power metal riffage backed by tight songwriting and musicianship. Ronny Munroe proves why he was a part of the legendary Metal Church for so many years. Scott Miller plays riffs like a hungry young shred master that time warped out of the 80s. And the rhythm section of BJ Zampa and Rc Ciejek are the right mix of precision and passion – as a bass player myself, I don’t say that lightly. Some bands sacrifice precision musicianship for passion, and others are so precise that the passion is sucked out. But really, the whole band hits a sweet spot on that front. Not sure what exactly inspired Matthew Hunt of Retroactive Records fame to start Brutal Planet Records for bands like Peacemaker and Tango Down… but I am sold!

[2018 Brutal Planet Records | Purchase: boonesoverstock.com]

Fireworks on Ferris Wheels – Fireworks on Ferris Wheels

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

Fireworks on Ferris Wheels is the new collaboration between singer-songwriters Amy Courts and Paul Koopman. With Courts and Koopman coming together, I knew it would be a great album. But I didn’t know how great until I pressed play on their BandCamp page. The sound here is a mix between pop, rock, Americana, and alt rock. While the first two songs (including a very moving cover of “Lovesong”) kind of give you the impression that this is acoustic pop, there is a good mixture of other texture beyond that as well throughout the album. “Dakota” and “Anthem” are Americana rock songs that kicks things into gear beyond the acoustic realm. “I Won’t Be Satisfied” is flat out guitar alt-rock that is catchy as well – this song is worth the price of admission alone as they used to say. Amy and Paul go back and forth on vocals between songs and within songs, obviously taking into careful consideration who works best for which song or vocal part. Or maybe they just sung their own songs/parts and it worked out that way? Either way, there is never a part that makes you say “ummmm, the other one should have sung that.” Their own description for their lyrics – “tales of love and loss, faith and hope” – really are the best way to describe the lyrics. For example, “The River” is a more sparse piano number that closes the album on an emotional ride through love, loss, grief, and hope. Overall, a very high quality debut by a collaboration that I hope is just getting started.

[2018 Independent | Purchase: fireworksonferriswheels.bandcamp.com]

Kelly Jay Roberts – Alive and Alone

posted in: Music Review, October 2018 | 0

We received a request to review this album months ago… but got a bit distracted by life. I really enjoyed the album, so I am trying to get the word out now. If you have been itching for some new industrial rock/metal, Roberts might be just the right fit for you. His sound has a bit more of a modern edge to it than your typical industrial/metal album from back in the 90s. For me, that is a good thing: modern rock music as a sound isn’t bad – it’s just usually so poorly played too often. For 90’s purists that might be a problem – but maybe its time to expand your horizons, eh? Roberts plays everything himself, but does a really good job of keeping it interesting. I could see this album fitting in with the FixT label – there are certainly many of the same aspects that makes Celldweller successful. For this type of music, there is definitely a sweet spot that has the right mix of heavy guitars and electronica. Many miss that spot, but Roberts nails it. Part of the reason I am behind on reviewing this is that the BandCamp page describes the lyrics as “film noir inspired” and “sci fi epic,” so I wanted to dig into them more. Obviously I haven’t, but from what I hear as I listened a few times (and a few quick scans of the lyrics posted on BandCamp), I would agree with that assessment. I believe this is only available digitally – but it seems to be at most of the regular online music spots, so give it a listen and throw some support to a newer artist keeping the electronic rock scene alive.

[2018 Independent | Purchase: kellyjayroberts.bandcamp.com]

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: alicecooper.com]

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: hindenburgrecords.bandcamp.com]

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: www.mysilentwake.com]

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: blondevinyl.bandcamp.com]