A Sound Of Thunder have been a busy band for, well, as long as I’ve known them. It seems as though every time I sit down to review their newest album they have already written half of the next one. And that’s if they’re feeling lazy! But this doesn’t surprise me one bit, for the group is brimming with talent and likes to dabble in a little of everything. Their latest offering is called The Lesser Key of Solomon, which arrived this September, but it is far from a lesser album in this prolific band’s catalogue.
I had heard this release was darker and more story driven compared to their previous albums, which is true to some extent. Within this opus are stories of death and destruction; voodoo, curses, and resurrections; and pleasures of controlling flesh, mind, and soul. Not exactly the stuff from which children’s books are made! It’s not a single story that’s being told, as I originally expected, but rather a handful of stories that all lay within the realm of horror. The lack of a single epic narration was a little disappointing to me, especially when my arm became covered with goosebumps at the sound of the opening track, “Nexus of Reality”, an instrumental reminiscent to the introductory “Anarchy X” of Queensryche’s famous concept album, Operation: Mindcrime. But I got over it, for the songs to follow soothed my ears with their combination of tenderness and vehemence.
You don’t have to be a heavy metal fan to like A Sound Of Thunder, but admittedly it helps. A track like “Udoroth,” which regales us with the tale of the “seventy-third infernal spirit evoked by King Solomon”, is an unrelenting monster bent on sonic supremacy. The other tracks, as dark as they may be, can be hard hitting but lean towards a more dynamic balance of aggression and breathing room, such as “One Empty Grave,” which alternates between multi-string finger-plucked guitar verses and thick distorted riffs. And finally you have the ballads, such as “The Boy Who Could Fly,” though this long distance love story is borne more out of the supernatural than most others you may find. Gentle to the touch, coated with the silky smooth voice of frontwoman, Nina Osegueda, the song resonates with sincerity and emotion. Don’t even get me started on the heart-wrenching guitar solo from Josh Schwartz, who always seems to find the sweet spot on the fretboard.
The Lesser Key of Solomon is another step forward for A Sound Of Thunder. By releasing albums so quickly, they aren’t taking giant strides in style that alienate their fans, but rather allow us to see the changes come gradually. They’re becoming more comfortable and adventurous, bringing more instruments into the fold and incorporating different musical themes into their passion for traditional heavy metal, but they’ll still knock your teeth out. If you’re new to the band, you may want to steer yourself to Time’s Arrow or Out Of The Darkness first, as the subject matter is more diverse, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t come back to this wonderful work of art.
For more on A Sound Of Thunder, visit:
Buy The Lesser Key Of Solomon: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band!
So, you're telling me there's a European folk-punk band that features an electric guitar, bass, drums, a dread-locked mandolin player, and a moshing fiddler? Well, considering that I've had Chinese food imported from Canada, that doesn't sound too crazy.
Wait, they're from Canada too? Now that is crazy!
My girlfriend has had a longtime love for The Dreadnoughts, so it wasn't long after knowing her that I too became hooked by their spell. It's difficult not to be taken in by this motley musical crew, who possess an energy that exudes not only in their live performances, but also in their studio material. Polka's Not Dead, the quintet's third album, pours over the listener, cascading them in a shower of rowdy drinking songs, beautifully moving instrumentals, and of course, polka. Throw in an a capella sea shanty for good measure, a recurring theme in their albums, and you've got a good time for any man, woman, or child (though parents that prefer a docile child might want to keep their ears away for fear that they might develop a little spunk).
For the uninitiated, the term polka may lead you to thoughts of large men wearing lederhosen playing accordions on a green hilltop somewhere in the European wilds, far removed from modern society. However, one listen to The Dreadnoughts' song “Polka Never Dies” will quickly change that image to something quite unexpected. With good results, I assure you! One can hardly expect to go wrong when left with the likes of vocalist and guitarist Uncle Touchy, bassist Squid Vicious, mandolin extraordinaire the Dread Pirate Druzil, the sensational fiddler-accordionist Seamus O'Flanahan, and the energetic drumming of the Swedish Bastard. While these names may sound outlandish, legends are better made of unusual titles and go well alongside a chilled mug of cider. And if there is a fuel for this brash bunch, this is their fuel of choice. The opening track of the album is, in fact, entitled “Cider Road”, and sets a splendid theme.
When I think of punk music, I often imagine a slew of poorly played power chords serving as a background for some adolescent lyrics. I was never a big punk fan, as you might have noticed, but this group might just have changed my mind. The gintlemen here, while certainly possessing youthful spirits, are no amateurs at their instruments. One need simply play the introduction to the track “Paulina” to find each in top form. The Swede's rolling drums and Squid's fluid bass, quickly followed by the superb plucking of Druzil's mandolin, with the accompaniment of Seamus' fiddle-work and Uncle Touchy's gritty guitar demonstrate the exceptional quality of this wild ensemble. But whether it be their infatuation with“Paulina”, the hauntingly beautiful “Clavdia's Waltz”, or “Poutine”, an homage to an addictive Quebec-based dish (look it up), we find not a single sour song or note. Their diversity of styles and interests, stopping not at Celtic themes alone but reaching throughout Europe, allows for songs that mesh well without ever becoming tired and overdone.
I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this band in concert and each listen of Polka's Not Dead or any of their previous albums reminds me how unfortunate that is. In 2011, they announced that they'd be taking an indefinite hiatus. While several shows have been played since that announcement, this means that it's unknown as to when, or if, they'll write and release more music. Their reasoning, which you can read here, makes total sense to me. Despite that, however, I'm still saddened by it. Since then, Uncle Touchy has joined a band called Consuelo's Revenge, but that is an entirely different animal with no intention of being a suitable replacement. If Polka's Not Dead is the final full-length for The Dreadnoughts, it is an extremely great note to go out on, but also unfortunate that such obvious talent shall no longer be shared with those who are eager to listen.
For more about The Dreadnoughts, visit:
Buy "Polka's Not Dead" at: iTunes | Amazon | Stomp Records (Hard Copy)
An enjoyable expedited experience for every ear.
Sorry, I'm in the mood for alliteration.
Skitzo Calypso may be a name new to you, but they've been around since 1996. Originally created as a solo project for singer/guitarist, Brad Cox (check out his new solo project We Love The Underground), it eventually morphed into a concerted group effort. Ghosts is the most recent product of this effort, audibly built by Cox, lead guitarist Bryan Holmes, drummer Gary Holmes, and bassist Zeke Johnson. While not very lengthy, one shouldn't be hasty to judge this EP as falling short. The five tracks here tease us with the future of the band, providing a small window in which to view the road they hope to take.
Skitzo Calypso enticed me. I had seen them open at a show I recently attended and found their tenacity, especially that of their lead singer, to be appealing. Though he was faced with a lukewarm audience, he performed with all the energy he possessed. Returning home, I investigated their music more and discovered a treasure trove of great songs, as well as the knowledge of a solo project by that tenacious frontman, Brad Cox. We Love The Underground is his vision, which combines various musical styles into songs that are not only interesting, but catchy as well! I've let the album grow on me over the last two weeks and I'm thrilled to share with you what I've found.
In a pre-release statement, Cox said that the album title refers to how media and marketing infiltrate our day-to-day lives. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of time to synthesize down our true emotions and thoughts,” he said, “without being interrupted with false ideologies, hope, agenda, propaganda and group think. The way our society is constructed doesn’t allow for a lot of soul searching, which is what I wanted to do on this record.” The album artwork does a wonderful job of tapping into this idea, displaying a present-day interpretation of Lady Liberty transformed from a symbol of freedom to an over-privileged teenager, neglectful of her people, standing on a modern foundation of gossip and materialism. As vivid as this statement is, and as much as I agree with the sentiment, the music is why we're really here. And for good reason!
The Day The Devil Fooled The World is packed to the brim with track after track that pulls you in and refuses to let go. While admittedly, I found the opener, “Afire”, to fall short of greatness, the rest of the album makes up for it in spades. The album takes off in a splendid way with the second track, “The Sharper Your Love”. Starting off small, it grows to epic proportions through the use of orchestral strings and scratch guitar, swelling into a brilliant chorus and beautiful solo. No song faulters from here to the end, though the style adjusts to the mood. Soon we find ourselves listening to a pop-induced, upbeat tune entitled, “Back To The Cold War”, which could have found a home just as easily on The Darkness' second album. Later on the record, we encounter “Let No Hand Hold Us Down”, a truly empowering powerhouse that fills you with energy and gets your fist slamming against imaginary doors in the air. “The Ties” takes us to the other end of the spectrum, plummeting us to the depths of hopelessness and tragedy, as Cox sings about the lost relationship between himself and his mother. And I can't forget to mention the closing self-titled track, where we're greeted by horns, an electro-funk bass drum, as well as stunning classical Spanish-laced guitar solos. When he starts singing like Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose...well, a listener might not know what to do with themselves!
Brad Cox has a talent for writing great songs. I've been listening to his collaborations with others, as well as his solo project for a few weeks now, and on only a few occasions am I not as awed by the result. But not only is he a great songwriter, but he's a fine musician as well. After seeing Skitzo Calypso, I assumed that he was mainly a rhythm guitar player, which he may be. But here we find several moments of great fretboard finesse, not the least of which is the solo for “The Sharper Your Love”, which is melodically tasteful, but blisteringly fast. However, his main instrument is his voice, which he uses to great effect. I don't know where he grew up, but he possesses an accent that carries into his singing, and I constantly get the feeling that he's British. But what's important about him isn't his accent, but the way he sings. Whether he aims to empower or lament, his voice is filled with energy, as though he's tearing away pieces of himself and handing them out to the listener. The Day The Devil Fooled The World is a jigsaw puzzle of Cox's soul that he's laid out for all to see, and when we take a step back we can see the beauty and tragedy that has colored it.
For more on We Love The Underground, visit:
Buy "The Day The Devil Fooled The World": Amazon | CDBaby | From The Band!
Brutality with zero latency. X, by the masterful do-it-yourself guitarist, Joboj, begins with an all out assault as soon as you hit play. Shortly into the opening track, appropriately entitled “Chest Compression V.6”, we are pushed out by the riff-tide into an anxious audible area filled with incomprehensible murmuring and steadily quickening “beeps”. As these things go, the track explodes once more, this time into a groove-filled rhythm backed by turn-table scratches and wailing guitar wizardry. This is just the beginning of things to come. You may be unaware of it now, but you're in for a funky, groovy, brutal, melodic, chromatically careening ride to a place you've never heard before.
You'll love it.
This is a review I've been wanting to write ever since I began Better B#, but one I put off until very recently. Was it that the world just wasn't ready for this guitar marvel, also known as Joe Bochar, who plays every instrument on the album, including programming drums -- done better than any I have heard before or since? Or was it that his recent focus on being a guitar luthier over a musical artist resulted in a feeling of less urgency for me? Perhaps I simply wanted to hone my writing skills a little more to do justice to such a fine example of music. I don't know, alright!
X is the third instrumental guitar album from Joboj, and without a doubt his most developed in terms of songwriting and production. I am extremely uneasy to please when it comes to instrumental albums. I usually long for the variety of a voice, and with it an additional connection to the music through lyrical subject matter. Even some of my favorite guitarists have released purely instrumental albums that I can't make myself sit through. It often becomes a monotonous stream of high speed guitar solos over a backing track of some sort. The albums that Joboj has released, with X as the pinnacle, have been some of the chosen few that I can listen to attentively, or let drone on in the background, that never once bore me. His ability to make a cohesive piece of music, rather than one purely serving the purpose of propping up his fretboard abilities, set him apart from so many of his guitarist peers.
While Joe's previous album, Orange, was a brightly colored adventure in melody, X finds him in a moodier, brooding place. Both albums were released after moving to Los Angeles, and it is as if the former embodies the surf and sands, while the latter focuses on the dark underbelly of the city. Despite saying that, X is not based on the concept of Los Angeles' darker side, but more likely the mood of the music is simply influenced by it. Rather, if we look at the artwork for the album, we immediately notice a Matrix-esque image of an individual who is either “plugged in” or actually a part of a computer system. Questioning whether we are a number, composed of 0's and 1's, or even commenting on our growing technological dependencies also accounts for such a dark tone. However, as it is an instrumental album, aside from the artwork, all we have to judge the intent of the album are the song titles, which consist of curiosities such as the sinister surf tune, “Vulcanized Rubberneck”, the paranoia-inducing mellowness of “Tryptophen Junkie”, and the absolutely funk-filled album closer, “Screaming Chicken”. Right in the middle of this brooding environment is a complete change of scenery. One moment we are amidst a sorrowful series of arpeggios and the next we are swept up into the one cheerful song on the entire album, shining like a warm sun arriving between sections of a dreary storm. This little cozy tune is oddly entitled “Bitch” and fills me with joy every time I hear it.
You don't have to be a fan of “guitar music” to enjoy X, though if you fancy artists like Joe Satriani, Buckethead, and the solo work of Gun N' Roses guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, you'll be pleased to find that Joboj is no slouch. Bochar gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy his work by making it as if a group of mutually talented musicians came together and put a little piece of each of themselves into the songs. While he does take liberties every once in a while to melt your face off with his soloing exploits, overall the guitar serves the song, rather than the song serving the guitar. As I find myself arriving at the end of the album, I suddenly appear back at the start of it, finding that I need to take “just one more listen.” I have played this album for years, yet I still find myself pleasantly surprised at all the intricacies that have been placed meticulously for my aural pleasure. X is, quite simply, a damn good album.
I love it.
For more on Joboj, visit:
Buy "X": iTunes | Amazon | CDBaby
Official Joe Bochar Guitars Website
Official Joe Bochar Guitars Facebook
Official Joe Bochar Guitars Twitter
I was first introduced to Death and Chuck Schuldiner between 2003 and 2004 by a drummer I knew who was into death metal bands like Morbid Angel. While I never became overly fascinated with the latter, the introduction to Death quickly captured my interest. This was incredibly unusual to me, because one of the key features of death metal bands is their use of harsh, grating vocals and my entire childhood had consisted of following bands that possessed very melodic singing styles. Another aspect of the harsh vocals that many bands employed was that I had a difficult time understanding what they were singing at times, making it doubly hard to connect to the music. What was unique about Death's situation for me was that their founder and frontman, Chuck Schuldiner, sang in such a way that still allowed me to understand each and every word, and while the vocals weren't the most melodic, his desire for melody was conveyed through every note of the guitar playing.
While Death has a plethora of fantastic albums, I was pointed first in the direction of their release entitled Symbolic. Though Death's early albums did cover some of the subjects normally found in death metal albums, such as gore and violence, over the course of their development Chuck began to write more and more about philosophical and real world topics. Throughout Symbolic, Chuck dwells on loss of innocence (“Symbolic”), the ever increasing lack of privacy to a world of growing technological advances (“1000 Eyes”), and the judgment from others who claim a higher status due to religion (“Crystal Mountain”). While he does not denounce religion itself, he doesn't hesitate to point a finger at those who falsely claim to be reverent while displaying no signs of character to that affect.
The backdrop to his poetic lyrics, and they are quite poetic, is an onslaught of some of the tightest metal playing I've ever heard. Chuck and guitarist Bobby Koelble complement each other beautifully, thickening out rhythm sections, providing melodies over the other, and trading off moving, and at times even blistering, solos that are sure to make your head spin. The drum duties are handled by the menacing Gene Hoglan, who has played with acts such as Dark Angel, Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory, Testament, and most recently, Dethklok! His work here is a perfect match to the rhythm and bass guitars, performing stop-start breaks and walls of double bass with frightening accuracy. Bassist Kelly Conlon fills in the gaps between Hoglan's wall of sound and the rhythm guitars like water, leaving no room to breathe until the music allows you.
Death's career has seen albums transform from very raw, pushing closer and closer to more listener-friendly production. As someone who is extremely picky about his death metal, their debut LP, Scream Bloody Gore, is a far cry from my regular listening habits. With this album, they were getting closer than ever to something Chuck had wanted for a long time – a melodic metal band. While they certainly are not trying to cater to the masses, they did intend to give them a hefty injection of metal, and their tour for this album was even called “Metal To The Masses”. Symbolic provided just the right amount of attitude with the right amount of reflection to make this the best chance the band had thus far to do that.
Chuck Schuldiner passed away in 2001 after a fearless battle with a brain stem tumor. He was in the process of writing two albums before finding out the cause of his constant neck pains, one entitled The Sound of Perserverence and the other under a new band named Control Denied, which was entitled The Fragile Art of Existence. Whether Chuck had a feeling of his condition subconsciously while he was writing, I do not know, but the fact that discovering his ailment only pushed him harder to attempt to finish his next album stands as a testament to his character and his love for his art. Symbolic was written and recorded long before these symptoms showed, but Chuck was no less of the dedicated individual. Does this dedication make Symbolic any better as a result? Of course not. Regardless of any other facts, Symbolic stands as a remarkable album in its own right, encompassing not only aggressive metal and stirring acoustics, but subject matter that urges you to think, question, and keep moving forward.
“Filtering out the bad that holds us back...
Take hold of what is true to your hunger
A hunger that will not go away
Plans for tomorrow, they will remain.”
~ Perennial Quest
As Chuck used to say, "Support music, not rumors" and "Let the metal flow!"
Additionally, there will be a Death To All Tour, featuring former members of the band, touring to celebrate Chuck's music and for the benefit of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund (which provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems) beginning on April 13th. Catch it if you can!
For more on Death, check out:
Buy "Symbolic": iTunes | Amazon
With the recent meteorite crash in the Urals of Russia, as well as the passing of Asteroid 2012 DA14 between the Moon's orbit of Earth just a few days ago, I thought that the title of this album made it fitting for review. If you don't know who Recs Of The Flesh are by now, you should check out my review of their last album, “The Threat Remains And Is Very Real”, as well as my interview with frontman Massimo Usai. But if you're low on time and can't be bothered with extra reading, let me just say that they're a rock group based out of the Italian island of Sardinia and they create some extremely trippy music.
I've been excited for this album ever since Max first told me about his main influences when writing it. With a list including Megadeth, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Michael Jackson, I knew that it would be quite a ride. From the high paced opening track, “Obsessive Compulsive Dispersive”, I could already hear his heroes echoing through the music. Scattered throughout the record, Max takes on a Dave Mustaine inspired vocal style, snarling through the lyrics. Meanwhile, the up front bass guitar mix is reminiscent of QOTSA, and RECS choice of using a distorted keyboard (which has been a longstanding instrument of choice for them) may remind some of the warbling guitar effect in “Go With The Flow”. Foo Fighters shows through more in attitude than in musical influence, and while Max may have enjoyed Jackson's songs while writing, I don't feel his style really makes an appearance on this release. However, I get a distinct Prong influence from tracks like “It's All Gone” and a personal favorite, “Of Fears & Liars”, which may be one of RECS catchiest songs to date.
“Fear, Lies and Collapsing Comets” is the first RECS release since their second EP to feature an entirely Italian line-up. As a result, they sound more unified than on either of their previous LPs. Max doesn't hesitate to put bassist Federico Loche front and center, showcasing his talents at the front of the mix. Initially I was worried that this made the bass too overpowering, but quickly realized how wonderful it was for the listener, who is often robbed of distinguishable low end melodies. This band has had a series of great drummers command the kit, but it has been a revolving door of musicians thus far, mainly due distance between band members making touring impossible. Luckily, Edoardo Musiu has joined the fold, and he doesn't disappoint! I'm listening to “One More Wish” as I type, and his sense of groove is impressive! As always, the core of the RECS sound has been and remains the combination of Max's distorted guitar and Sara Melis' distorted keyboards, which complement each other to create a sonic atmosphere that is both addictively catchy and psychedelically trippy.
With a title such as this, I can't help but delve into the lyrical subject matter a bit. While the name would suggest governmental conspiracies, cover ups, and end of the world hysteria – and it isthere – much of it is about personal turmoil and people who cause it in us. As Max told me in our interview, “there is one person, particularly, that this album is aimed at...” While I connect with a lot of the lyrics to these tracks, I find myself most interested in those that do deal with paranoia of governmental conspiracies and all the aforementioned subjects. Tracks like the closing trio “Of Fears & Liars”, “Reckless Ways” and “In This Darkness” just hit a nerve with me. I suppose it could be my love of The X-Files, or it could simply be due to the fact that all of those songs totally ROCK!
“but in this darkness here I've started seeing things again