My first encounter with Recs Of The Flesh frontman, Massimo Usai, was during the Fall of 2005. Due to a mutual interest in the band Sadus which features bassist extraordinaire, Steve DiGiorgio), we began discussing the state of music, and he soon introduced me to a number of projects he was leading. At the time, Recs Of The Flesh was just a newborn endeavor, but it would soon become the main focus of Max and his group of collaborators. I've tried to keep up with Max's progress, and since the middle of 2006 the band has released two short EPs as well as two full-length albums. I've had the privilege of an (almost) insider perspective through the years, and seen the development of the band as they grew from a man's fever-induced idea into a truly unique musical entity that becomes more defined with each release.
Early on, it was evident that RECS was a rock project, but they were still experimenting with their sound. Their style was characterized by various features of their favorite bands, and you can certainly hear the influences from groups like Prong, Killing Joke, and Sonic Youth, from the crunching guitars and rhythm style, to the sea of noise rock in which the group would immerse the listener. But interestingly enough, they were not only influenced by other bands, but by movie directors and writers. The musical direction of movies by John Carpenter and David Lynch undoubtedly sculpted the atmosphere of the group's work, and W. S. Burrough's "The Soft Machine" has been cited as the catalyst for their creation. Though I wasn't used to the music style at the time, I've grown to like it a lot, and it has led me to check out some of those influences which had previously been unknown to me.
The one constant for this group throughout the years has been Max Usai, who acts as the vocalist, guitarist, and core songwriter. Originally formed as an Italian band, formed from those living in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, I have witnessed the passing and reconstruction of line-ups since its' early days. Along with the revolving door of musicians featured on each release, at times spanning continents, I have noticed the changes in sound and songwriting. With each, the production has made a drastic improvement and the songwriting has become more focused, which I credit to Usai's perseverance as a producer and his ever-refined vision of what RECS should be.
The Threat Remains And Is Very Real is the sophomore album from RECS and a great release. Joining Usai are bassist Federico Loche, as well as drummer Petr Studihrad, both of whom contribute solid performances. But
one of the most interesting things I find about this band is that, ever since their first full length album, dual guitar playing has been replaced by one guitar coupled with a distorted keyboard. Max's playing is complemented by the haunting keys of Sara Melis, which allows for an atmosphere of not only crunch-filled guitar riffs, but melodies and chords of seemingly infinite sustain. This is apparent in the opening heavy hitter, "Subliminal / Delusional", which features drawn-out chords over a racing rhythm guitar, but is used as a means of continuing the tradition of noise rock in other songs. At this point in their career, they've managed to minimize the meandering tendencies that occurred in earlier releases, and the cacophony of sounds converge on a common theme that results in a trippy, but pleasant, musical ride.
Unlike their first album, Illusory Fields Of Unconsciousness, this album is less a matter of introspection and is more focused on, as the name suggests, an imminent threat. At the end of the first track, an audio snippet comes on that warns about an impending atomic war. Though not every track furthers this point, much of the album is themed at the idea that we are approaching an ends of days scenario, such as the near-title track "The Threat", "Musings Of A Day To Come", and the hopeful closing song, "Peace".
This is not your usual radio-rock album. The Threat Remains... is a hard-hitting crash course into a world of gritty guitars, distorted keyboards, and noise rock tendencies. Even as a fan of this band, it took me some time to fully appreciate the atmosphere that Recs Of The Flesh creates. When they released their first album, Max asked me my opinion of it, and when I finally gave it to him he told me that the song "Not Easily Impressed" was a good indication of me. But due to my proximity of the band, I've developed a very critical attitude towards their music. I loved their first release, and I believe this album is a solid improvement. In terms of songwriting, production, and musical ability, The Threat Remains... a step above the rest.
Currently, The Threat Remains... and Illusory Fields... are available for free download through the band's Bandcamp page, with hard copies available for purchase. Go ahead and download it. Don't be afraid...it'll grow on you.
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I'm not really what you'd call a rap fan. Some of you, I know, are thinking, "Oh God! He reviewed a rap album. I'm skipping this." I urge that you hold on for a moment and realize that, if I do not consider myself a rap fan, then there must be something special about this group and album in order to capture my interest. That in mind, let me repeat, I'm not really what you'd call a rap fan. I did pick up "The Marshall Mathers LP" by Eminem when it was released, but my musical tastes were just coming into their own and all my friends loved it, so I figured I had to love it too. In Eminem's defense, I listened to it again recently and I still think it's a great record. But in general, my musical tastes have always leaned more to hard rock and heavy metal, and my interest in rap music has been very selective. The band, Atmosphere, is one of those few rap acts out that I really do enjoy. This is partially due to how Slug (aka, Sean Daley) flows with his lyrics, but more so on the down to earth, real to life stories that he chooses to tell. On The Family Sign you don't find a rapper degrading women, or singing about money or car rims, but rather one who focuses on telling stories about the relationships people experience.
A friend introduced me to a number of rap groups a few years ago. The most accessible of these for me was Atmosphere. Though I still haven't heard most of the material they've released, what I've heard has been great, honest music. So when I found out they'd released The Family Sign in 2011, I decided I should pick it up. Overall, this isn't an upbeat record, and it certainly wouldn't fit the role of a house party soundtrack. "The Last To Say" sets the mood early on, covering the difficult situation of an abusive household and the aftermath of the child that experiences it. "Became" immediately follows, about a friend who has gone missing in the woods and is being chased by a wolf. I was honestly nervous listening to this one, and it's got an unexpected ending that I think couldn't have been done better.
One thing I really appreciate about this album is how much of a group effort it is. Some rap groups release songs that take a piece from this musician, and another from this one, but Atmosphere is truly a band. If you take Slug's vocals out of these songs, I can safely say that you'd still have an album of instrumentals that, for the most part, stand on their own as great tracks. Nate, Ant, and Erick stir their respective talents in a mixing bowl and produce an organic, synergetic, platform for Slug to be poetic. And the album is, of course, filled to the brim with fantastic rhymes. I thought about pulling one out to share, but pulling out the musical rug from under them wouldn't be fair. Just take a listen to one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and see what I mean.
In addition, if you choose to get a hard copy of the album, it comes in a case that has a flip-out back stand. Now why, oh why, would you need to stand a record up? As it happens, the liner notes of the album come with the full lyrics, but on the opposite side contain seven different pictures that you can use as the front cover. They're beautifully embossed with a selected lyric, and while I've never felt the need to display them to the rest of my household, this gives you the opportunity! An unusual, but interesting, little bonus.
As I said to start, I'm not a huge fan of rap artists, but I find this is mostly due to the subject matter and less to how they go about their music. I appreciate the musical talent it takes to make an instrument sing, and the band certainly knows their way around. And while I'm a bigger fan of melodic singing, I can't help but respect (and, at times, become hypnotized) by the fluidity that some rappers spit out their rhymes. Slug is one of those whose flow I really find appealing, and the fact that he has a band backing him, rather than a soundbyte, just makes me find this album that much more enjoyable. If rap isn't for you, that's fine, but The Family Sign might make you
change your mind.
For more on Atmosphere:
Buy "The Family Sign" at iTunes | Amazon
When the Netherland's Kingfisher Sky released Hallway Of Dreams back in 2007, I was absolutely delighted by it. Despite my tardiness to pick up their latest release, Skin Of The Earth, which was mainly due to its poor distribution in the United States and my need of a hard copy, it only builds upon the features that made the debut such a success. A guitar-driven, vocally operatic, journey into a folk-laden musical world is just one way of thinking about this band from the other side of the pond. The diversity of the music presents me with a difficult challenge of trying to describe their sound.
Kingfisher Sky is the brainchild of drummer Ivar de Graaf, formerly of Within Temptation, and vocalist Judith Rijnveld. While the music itself is very guitar-focused, one finds the drumming here is far removed from the conventional rock and metal style. de Graaf is a great composer, constructing percussive groundwork that is interesting and dynamic without being distracting. It's his drumming, such as that in "The Craving" from Hallway Of Dreams, that originally made the music so addictive to me. Judith brings a unique style to the band, singing beautiful melodies, with her vibrato providing an additional instrumentation, almost resembling flute playing. In fact, when I originally heard the flute playing on "Two Old Trees", I thought at first that it was Judith's voice. Joining them are Edo van der Kolk and newcomer Chris Henny, who replaces Daan Janzing, handling dual guitar duties to create atmospheric arpeggiated backgrounds and soaring guitar solos (which are thankfully more frequent than in the first album). Eric Hoogendoorn holds down the low-end on bass, making sure de Graaf's drumming doesn't get too rambunctious, while David Gutierrez Rojas and Maaike Peterse help to further fill out the musical tapestry on keyboards and violoncello, respectively. As Maaike joined them on many of their tours following their debut release, her presence here not only makes sense, but adds another avenue for musical depth.
The music on Skin Of The Earth is powerful, though the way it approaches you changes from one song to the next. From the anthemic call to persevere in "Rise From The Ashes", to the metal breakdown in "My Better Part" over laden with operatic vocals, to the lyrically curious and addictive "Liquid Clocks", each tune composes a part of the whole picture. And, if you order a hard copy of the album, you will, in fact, be able to see that picture. As with the cover art for their last release, for which the artwork was painted by Judith's talented mother, she once again graces us -- this time with an amazing 22" x 9" painting on the reverse side of the liner notes. Each song is a piece of the painting, and it results in an eclectic, but entrancing, work of art that I can not accurately describe.
While Hallway Of Dreams remains the favorite of mine between these two releases, I may be biased in that I've had several years to absorb that one. Skin Of The Earth is no slouch in the strength of its songs, and each carries you along on the waves of melodies until the end. Two differences I immediately notice between the two releases, however, is that, one, the drums are less commanding in the mix than the previous album, and two, instead of fading out, some songs cut off abruptly. I did mention that the drums are less distracting, which may be to allow the other instruments room to breathe, but at times I wish they were more front and center to drive the songs forward. As for the sudden endings, I don't know what the intention was with that. Especially on the last song, "The Edge Of Insanity", which begins to fade and then cuts off, I'm left wondering the point.
For those that have a chance, I'd definitely recommend checking out Kingfisher Sky. They're an extremely talented and catchy band, with arms reaching out in a variety of directions to capture pieces of the musical landscape. I find their amalgamation of styles to be interesting and refreshing, and they make the final result sound seamless. If you can only afford to get one of their albums right now (though both are available digitally for under $10), I'd recommend seeking out their debut, Hallway Of Dreams, before you venture to Skin Of The Earth. That being said, their sophomore release is worth your time and contains plenty of songs that will undoubtedly fill your head in the best of ways.
For more on Kingfisher Sky:
iTunes | Amazon
I picked up Dark Empire's Humanity Dethroned a few years ago when it was released. I did this partly because it was a great album, full of thick, meaty riffs, and soaring melodies, but the reason I even knew of the band at all was due to a friend telling me a guy he went to college with was one of the band members and encouraged me to give them a listen. A thin association, but one that allowed me to play Six Degrees Of Separation, where you see how closely you're connected to someone based on the people you know that know them. Here was an awesome band, and I was only two degrees from them. However, when From Refuge To Ruin was released earlier this year, it was another friend who told me about it. This time, instead of telling me he knew one of the guys that played in the band, he made the bold announcement that he, himself, had now joined their group! Brian Larkin, the new vocalist who stepped in to replace Jens Carlsson (Persuader, Savage Circus) after the last two albums, is someone I respect as both a singer and guitarist, and I immediately knew that I had to hear the new album.
One thing that I loved about Humanity Dethroned was how guitarists' Matt Moliti's and Andrew Atwood's death metal vocals complemented Carlsson's raspy, but clean, vocal melodies. What I love even more about From Refuge To Ruin is how much better Moliti's death vocals complement Larkin's voice. While Carlsson did a fantastic job, and I would recommend everyone go out to pick up the last album they did with him, I feel that Larkin's voice is much better suited for Dark Empire. His voice is cleaner, his range larger, and he never sounds as strained as Carlsson, which is more a characteristic of Jens' voice than a comment on his abilities. The fact that Larkin has a cleaner voice makes the distinction between the harsh vocals and his more obvious and lends to the dynamics of the songs. As far as the music itself, Moliti is a riff-producing maniac. You ever read the back of a peanut container and seen a warning that says: "May contain nuts"? I have, and that's as unnecessary as putting a label on this album that says: "Contains guitar riffs that may melt your face." It's a given! Each and every track is filled with stunning fretwork, catchy melody lines, and finger-blistering solos. And while Moliti is still the mastermind of the band, this time we see a number of tracks where songwriting is shared. It's cool to see ex-bandmate, Atwood, with several contributions both musically and lyrically, as well as the inclusion of new vocalist Larkin, and bassist Randy Knecht in the song credits.
Some people view metal music as mindless, more focused on brutality and speed than anything thoughtful or of artistic value. These are people that are close-minded, and who fail to give anything which does not fall within their narrow field of view a chance. I encourage each of you to listen to this album, not only because it isfull of brutal and speedy riffs and licks, but for the beauty of it. Sometimes harsh vocals mask the lyrics, but if one spends time to read or listen to the writing that Moliti has penned for this release, we find ourselves immersed in a reservoir of poetry.
"When I see bloodshed pouring like rain
And I see infants starved and slain
I see the tyrants cloaked like sheep
Telling us all we're kings of peasantry"
~What Man Call Hatred
I would be upset with myself if I didn't take a moment to remark on the title track, which stands out to me as one of the greatest achievements of this album. It contains, in my opinion, the greatest vocal performance Larkin gives us, as well as a fantastic collage of the musical spectrum. Flowing back and forth from mellow to aggressive, filled with acoustic segments, slabs of savory guitars, and a brilliant melody played by flute and accompanying guitar, all on top of a string orchestral section. While it's a long song, it doesn't feel like it, and something about it just burrowed into my bones and kept resonating even after it had some to an end.
Dark Empire has created a great album, and one I will be interested in seeing them trying to top. The inclusion of the new members has changed the band, undoubtedly, but it's a change that pleases me to no small end. From the opening "A Plague In The Throne Room" all the way to the epic guitar battle between Moliti and Larkin (did I mention he plays guitar too?) in the 13 minute epic "The Cleansing Fires", the group assaults our ears and brains with intense riffs, beautiful melodies, and a burning musical creativity. To them I say, "Bravo, and thank you!" and hope they continue to stoke those embers of songwriting.
For more on Dark Empire:
Buy "From Refuge To Ruin" at Amazon
Buy from iTunes
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I'm a far cry from a August Burns Red fanatic. I guess you could say I'm familiar by association, having heard them blaring from my roommate's speakers in either his room or his car for years. Now, don't misunderstand me, I think they're fantastic! They do a great job blending the recipes for pummeling brutality, high speed aggression, and melodic guitaristry (you can try making it yourself, but it's difficult to fit a sledgehammer, muscle car, and guitar into a single blender). They seem to understand that a song's heaviness is relative to how quiet it can be from one moment to the next, and cleverly craft them such that they don't blow out their listener's eardrums before they can marvel at its gravity. But I'm much more likely to be found listening to Queen than a metalcore band when in my natural habitat, so I'm rather picky about the growling style that many metalcore bands adopt. ABR (August Burns Red, for those wondering) is one of those esteemed bands whose singer doesn't grate my senses. Jake Luhrs' voice and, as I found out, bassist Dustin Davidson's voice (who shares growling duties live), are just right in that they are still comprehensible and don't reach the stages of "nails on the chalkboard".
ABR recently played a show last Friday at the Norva in Norfolk, VA. While that's about a four hour car ride from where I live, I decided it'd be a fun start to my weekend to drive there and hang out with some great friends at the same time. They had several openers scheduled, including The Color Morale, and Of Mice and Men. I must admit, while I had heard of both of them, I had never taken time to listen to their music. As it happens, this evening wouldn't change that! Famished from the ride to the show, my group stopped to eat upon arriving in town. The venue doors had just opened, and we were only concerned with seeing Of Mice and Men and August Burns Red. Considering there were two bands before those were to go on, it didn't seem like a problem. So, around 9:30 we were walking into the venue, and to our utter surprise, ABR were already playing! That may be some of the quickest band set changes I've (n)ever heard of.
I really have to hand it to August Burns Red, because they put on a great stage show! The energy the band possesses, and the amount that it pulls from the audience, is remarkable. Every chorus to every song was sung by the sweaty masses of gathered fans, rivaling the PA system itself, and two-thirds of the audience seemed to consist of a constant circle pit. Except, of course, when the vocalist, Jake Luhrs, would jump onto the monitors at the front of the stage and throw his hands in the air. His presence demanded attention, and people would stop long enough to receive their next set of instructions, such as whipping out their lighters and cellphones, clapping in time with the stunning drumming of Matt Greiner, or, as often was the case, just forming more circle pits. At one point, however, all the music stopped and he went into a speech, telling the audience that "Everyone one of you has dreams, goals, self-control, and a purpose. Your dreams are not meant for when you're sleeping, but are meant to be lived out. Your time is now!" That moment, which seemed unusual to me in this setting, was somehow fitting all the same. It reminded me that despite the aggressive nature of the music, the lyrics sung by this band are often empowering and not to be overlooked.
I was worried that something would be lost with the transition from the albums to the live show. I was impressed by the fact that they were able to translate not only the brutality of the albums, with guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler chugging along at breakneck speeds, but were able to slow it down and capture that mellowness that complements it without losing the crowds' energy. Despite me probably only being able to rattle off the names of a handful of songs they played that night, I don't feel the need to. The music, even the songs I was less familiar with, was played with such passion that I couldn't help but enjoy the atmosphere (minus the occasional stray mosher who crashed into us). I mean, I think having your bass player kick the drummer off his kit and then challenging him to a beat battle is enough to make any concert-goer smile to himself.
Despite the fact that we arrived later than we expected, we had a fantastic time. August Burns Red does an excellent job as entertainers, in addition to their mandatory role as musicians. I wish we would have had time to stick around and thank them for everything they gave to the crowd that night, but I'll just have to trust that the more die-hard fans conveyed that for me. As one such fan, Brian Baker told me after the show, "When I listen to August Burns Red, I connect their music to what's going on in my life. After a show like this, it just makes me feel even more connected to it. They make it mean that much more."
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