All That Remains: Victim of the New Disease was AWESOME!!

What’s up guys! Time for a discussion that’s LONG overdue.

Last October, while his band was getting ready to unleash their highly anticipated ninth album, one of my heroes suddenly passed away.

The tragic, untimely, mysterious death of All That Remains shredder Oli Herbert shook the Metal community (particularly here in New England) and, needless to say, added a great deal of dark context to Victim of the New Disease, the ATR album released the following month in the wake of his passing.

Now that nearly a year has gone by, there’s something that I STRONGLY felt needed to be said about Victim of the New Disease. Several things, actually. And no, not just that it’s “AWESOME!!”

In the video below, I walk viewers through the crucial importance of Victim of the New Disease, both to the All That Remains legacy and the Metal world at large. If you’re an All That Remains fan, this is a must watch!

And as always, be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on Victim of the New Disease! Thanks for watching!

Volbeat’s “Last Day Under the Sun” Single

After the one-two punch of 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, Danish Hard Rockers Volbeat certainly looked poised to fill the urgently vacant “Next Stadium Rock Act” slot. They toured the world with coveted opening slots for the likes of Metallica, Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, and others. They won over the hearts and minds of mainstream Metalheads with a King Diamond guest vocal and the ace shredding of former Anthrax axeman Rob Caggiano, and simultaneously grabbed serious market share in swaths of the “Active Rock radio” community.

Then 2016’s Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie was underwhelming and repetitive. No big deal, they’ll get ’em on the next round.

Well, the “next round” is here, in the form of the band’s clumsily titled seventh album Rewind, Replay, Rebound, out August 2nd. And things are not looking good.

Released today, “Last Day Under the Sun” is the second single from the LP and hints at an all-in, spit-shined radio Rock approach. And it’s shockingly bland. I find it amusing that the band thinks that extending the song structure and adding in a guitar solo somehow masks the dull chord progressions and sugary Pop melodies that fill in the bulk of the song. Don’t worry kids, there will surely be a “radio edit” soon.

I’m still holding out hope, though. Volbeat do have a penchant for diverse track lists that run the gamut from borderline Pop-Rock (like this track) to a vintage Heavy Metal assault. But I’m definitely worried that the band have been lured into the depths of Butt Rock by their radio paychecks. They (and many of their fans) wouldn’t be the first victims. We’ll have to wait a couple more months to find out.

 

 

 

August 2018 Album Round Up!

Hey guys! Psyched to make my return to Monthly Round Ups during an action-packed month! Apologies for my little hiatus – work these past several months has been an absolute bitch and it’s been straight up unrealistic to try and squeeze in several listens to 20-25 albums every four or five weeks. It just wasn’t gonna happen. But I’m proud to say that I’m back and here to stay! Kinda like when Jay-Z came out of retirement after not even a year and released a shitty ass record that no one liked but eventually went on to do things like marry Beyonce and make an album with Kanye and start his own streaming service so it was all good. Ok, maybe not quite like that. But still. God, there’s so much to break down from August 2018! I hope you’ve been keeping up via my email list and YouTube channel while I’ve been away!

Mac Miller – Swimming

Five albums and at least twenty (!) projects into his career, one fact remains: Mac Miller is a hell of a beat picker. On Swimming, he lines up an endlessly listenable and surprisingly unique platter of instrumentals, from the funky “What’s the Use?” to the jazz-tinged “Jet Fuel” to one of the sexiest beat switches I’ve ever heard in the trap-laced “Self Care”. Everybody from J. Cole to Flying Lotus to Kanye collaborator Jon Brion to fellow Pittsburgh natives ID Labs to “God’s Plan” producer Cardo contribute to this album’s impressive sound. However, another fact remains: Mac Miller doesn’t really have a whole lot to say. Even after a public split with Ariana Grande earlier this year, Miller’s lyrics on Swimming – rather than directly addressing his feelings – often find him simply crawling between various esoteric trains of thought that leave the production to carry him. I find myself wincing in the first verse of “Wings” when he clumsily points out “that’s a motif!”, and I really struggle through the bleary-eyed pseudo-raps of “Dunno”, the meandering mopefest of “Small Worlds”, and several other underwhelming lyrical moments. So while I dig this album sonically, I don’t find myself connecting with Mac’s words like I did on the lovey dovey Divine Feminine or the triumphant “I’m off drugs!” comeback that was GO:OD AM. I salute Mac for continuing to be carve out his own sound within hip-hop, but I probably won’t be returning to this all that much. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sinsaenum – Repulsion for Humanity

Back in 2016, when ex-Slipknot skinsman Joey Jordison and Dragonforce bassist Frederic Leclercq teased their new supergroup Sinsaenum as an epic collision between Black Metal and Death Metal, I was ecstatic at the thought. At the time, Behemoth’s The Satanist was the last truly great Blackened Death Metal LP I had heard, and I was aching for something new. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when Sinsaenum’s debut Echoes of the Tortured was pretty much just Morbid Angel worship with creepy keyboard interludes. But then, last year’s Ashes EP renewed my hope with a short set of killer tracks that gave me exactly what I wanted – some eerie-yet-brutal, Black Metal-infused Death Metal! So, anticipation was high for Repulsion for Humanity, the band’s sophomore outing and follow-up to Ashes.

Well, they kinda let me down again. Don’t get me wrong, Repulsion for Humanity is very well-executed, but on this record Sinsaenum spend far too much time on compositional Death Metal clichés, aimless guitar solos, and tired lyrical subject matter, rather than turning their attention towards atmosphere and genre-fusing like they did on Ashes. At the end of the day, I found more positives than negatives, but given the raw talent that this band posses, I still wish Sinsaenum would have given us more than a slightly-above-average, dime-a-dozen Death Metal record. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Travis Scott – Astroworld

Trap powerhouse Travis Scott came in hot with album number three, armed with quite possibly the craziest guest list of any Hip-Hop release this year (Drake, Frank Ocean, James Blake, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Swae Lee, 21 Savage, Quavo, Juice Wrld, and Nav all appear). Not to mention, it’s a who’s who of Hip-Hop production as well, with people like Mike Dean, Hit-Boy, Cardo, Murda Beatz, Boi-1da, Thundercat, and even Tame Impala involved. If anybody has done a better job setting themselves up for an “instant classic”, I’d like to hear you argue against Travis Scott. And of course, many critics quickly obliged and gave it that label.

However, I find it surprising that any album containing a Drake verse about taking prescription drugs to fall asleep on a plane can be considered an “instant classic”. Not only do I find Drizzy’s aforementioned “Sicko Mode” verse boring, but a significant chunk of the LP as a whole, with mid-album cuts like “5% Tint”, “Astrothunder”, and “Can’t Say” lulling me to sleep. Surrounded by so many industry heavy-hitters, it’s strange but unsurprising that Scott and his familiar auto-tuned brags are the most non-essential part of this album. The beats are off the chain (see the tuneful Tame Impala and Weeknd collaboration “Skeletons” or the sensory overload of “Carousel”), and more than enough to keep me around most of the time, but Scott himself is just not that interesting to me. So, “instant classic”? Eh, don’t believe the hype. NOT RECOMMENDED

Snak the Ripper – Off the Rails

I got turned on to this amazing record by an Instagram post from Rittz (one of my favorite rappers for several years now), from whom Snak the Ripper had snagged a guest verse for the single “All Out”.

And yet again, Rittz has done great things for my life. I can’t believe how good this record is! Skill-wise, Snak is your archetypal rappity-rapper, packing dense rhyme patterns into complex, high-velocity flows, but his abundance of thoughtful content and his selection of low key, contemplative beats (see “I Ain’t Dead”, “I’m Good, or “Hourglass”) that give him room to let loose lyrically are what ultimately make him stand out. There’s not a single track I don’t like on here, but I’d especially recommend “Baby Boy”, where Snak has some touching words for his newborn son, “Driftin”, which has a super dope video with some tour footage mixed in, and “Knuckle Sandwich”, which brings on R.A. The Rugged Man for a murderous guest appearance.

Seriously, I can’t say ENOUGH good things about this LP! Should definitely end up in the year-end Hip-Hop conversation in a few months! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Jason Mraz – Know

Back in college, if you saw a corny dude wearing a fedora and strumming his Ukulele in the middle of campus, you’d make fun of him. The kid’s clearly just trying to get laid in the saddest, most transparent way possible.

Well, Jason Mraz’s albums are the sonic equivalent of that. I don’t know the guy personally, so if he really is this sunny and optimistic all the time, God bless him. Lord knows we have enough cynicism in the world at the moment. But this cutesy RomCom music is tough for me stomach. When I hear lines like “we could be bigger than cheese and macaroni” (on a song that is titled “UNLONELY”, mind you) I feel like punching him. A decade after Mraz’s most ubiquitous hits – “Lucky” and “I’m Yours” – he’s still using the same old chord progressions, the same child-like turns of phrases, and making the same manufactured Summer picnic music. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today

I had no idea how much I missed Death Cab’s warm, comforting sound until I heard this LP. Regrettably, I skipped over 2015’s Kintsugi, so it had been around seven years. But I quickly got reacquainted thanks to misty-eyed highlights like “Autumn Love” and “Summer Years”, as well as the hooky “Northern Lights” and the contemplative intro track “I Dreamt We Spoke Again”, which almost felt Kid A-esque to me. While it fizzles out a tad with the last few tracks (I’m not crazy about the somber “You Moved Away” or the generic “Near/Far”), Thank You For Today is a wonderful way to send Summmer 2018 off, and it’s inspiring to dig back into the Death Cab catalogue a bit! RECOMMENDED

Ariana Grande – Sweetener

I realize that 2016’s Dangerous Woman might’ve been the most overplayed Pop album of that God forsaken year, but I still thought it was excellent. Even the deep cuts. I still jam it all the time. And it makes me sad that I couldn’t feel the same way about its follow-up, Sweetener. I’m very lukewarm on this one, mostly because of the beat selection. Personally, I would much rather hear Ariana’s gorgeous voice over stuff like the bluesy “Dangerous Woman” or the boy band nostalgia-invoking “Sometimes” from her last record than, say, the obnoxious Pharrell-ism “The Light is Coming” or the generic trap of “God is a Woman”. It just doesn’t excite me. Sweetener already feels a bit tired by the time the stand out single “No Tears Left to Cry” arrives ten tracks in. But I remain a fan and look forward to Ariana’s next project. NOT RECOMMENDED

Alice in Chains – Rainer Fog

Rainer Fog is now Alice in Chains’ third album during the William Duvall era of the band. It’s crazy to think about how a decade ago, replacing AIC’s late great frontman Layne Staley seemed preposterous, but this current incarnation really grew into it quickly. With Rainer Fog, the sixth LP overall from the Grunge legends, Alice continue to do justice to their legacy by making lively Hard Rock songs that feel modern and exciting – see the driving title cut or the dissonant stomp of opener “The One You Know” for further proof. It might not be a perfect record – I have trouble vibing with the bloated Sabbathian cut “Drone”, for instance – but neither was Facelift if we’re keeping it all the way real. Seriously, it wasn’t! So I don’t care how much you love their early ‘90s material – the point is, for Alice in Chains to continue to make quality music like this over thirty years into their career, it makes them….one of VERY few grunge bands to do so. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?

Blue October – I Hope You’re Happy

Bun B – Return of the Trill

Eminem – Kamikaze

Nothing – Dance on the Blacktop

Trippie Redd – Life’s a Trip

DON’T LIKE:

The Amity Affliction – Misery

Black Tusk – T.C.B.T.

Excision – Apex

Matoma – One in a Million

Plain White T’s – Parallel Universe

YG – Stay Dangerous

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Benjamin’s “Ember”: Five Singles Deep

What’s up everyone!

As we approach our first Friday The 13th of 2018 (the other one’s coming in July), we’re also gearing up for one of this year’s biggest Blockbuster Butt Rock releases, Breaking Benjamin’s sixth studio album Ember. Don’t worry Shinedown, I’ll get to you too. Well, maybe.

The band’s first release in nearly three years will feature 12 songs, 38 minutes of material, and as we stand today, FIVE pre-album singles. FIVE. So, in other words, if we exclude the 30-second intro track “Lyra” and the 90-second closer “ Vega”, we’ve already heard half the album. Seriously, what happened to MYSTERY in album releases? As a fan, getting flooded with pre-album singles like this is sorta like when you’re on a first date with a girl and she starts talking about her ideal wedding and what she wants to name her kids.

Either way, since I’m planning on giving Ember the full “review” treatment on my YouTube channel, I figured I’d share my thoughts on the five singles we’ve already heard. Seems like there’s a ton of anticipation for this record amongst the HARD RAWWK crowd, so “Butt Rock” jokes aside, I’m gonna give it a legitimate chance.

“Feed the Wolf”

Way back in early January, “Feed the Wolf” was the first taste of Ember that really whipped Breaking Benjamin fans into a frenzy. And for good reason, I may add. The opening riff to this track circles around for a few measures before landing on a searing dissonant note that gives it a certain ugly aggression that’s not often found in this style of music. There’s also this song’s dynamic chorus, where frontman Benjamin Burnley (who is newly 40, by the way), showcases his impressive range by effortlessly stretching his voice from a pseudo-falsetto to an edgy roar in the blink of an eye.

My only complaint is that as I listen to this, I get the sense that if the tempo was like 30 BPM faster, it would be way sicker. But maybe that’s me not being able to get out of my Metalhead mindset. Which, by the way, is why so many Metal fans struggle to enjoy this style of music. But all in all, this is an excellent straightforward Hard Rock song and a prime choice for a first teaser.

“Red Cold River”

While second single “Red Cold River” has plenty of good things going for it – a main groove with a noted metallic edge and a legitimately good music video, for starters – given that it comes RIGHT after “Feed the Wolf” in the tracklist, I can’t help but worry that this album is gonna suffocate me with angst. This song in particularly is just overflowing with emotional distress and you can’t really tell why. It’s being oversold, if you will. To be fair, part of it might be due to the fact that Burnley’s repeated screams of “Run!” kind of sound like “Roar!”, which always makes me chuckle and takes me out of the game a bit. But it’s over-the-top songs like “Red Cold River” that make me struggle to take this genre seriously. It’s too much.

“Psycho”

You know what, I’ll forgive this song’s super boring opening riff and its equally awkward transition into the main groove. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks. But with “Psycho” we get an ultra-melodic chorus that makes up for everything. It’s got a nice subtle use of lead guitars, an appropriately dramatic vocal line, a little shout out to the album title…what more could you want, right? I also love how much love the bass guitar gets on this track – it helps offset the processed guitar tones and generally over-produced feel that this band can’t seem to shake.

Also, going back to my point on “Feed the Wolf”, I’m once again getting the itch to speed this motherfucker up during the verses. That bottom-heavy main riff would sound so killer at more of a breakneck Thrash tempo, wouldn’t it? And how about that double bass in the final chorus?? Why can’t we see more of that in this song?? But I realize I’m a broken record at this point. I’m like if that SNL “More Cowbell” skit were a Metalhead in a Carcass t-shirt.

“Blood”

“Blood” may boast one of the better Breaking Benjamin grooves of this decade – tailor-made for the live environment or maybe one of those tackling montages on the NFL Network – but the rest of it is fairly forgettable. Typical verses that are basically a “subdued” version of the main groove, typical chord progression in the chorus, typical barely-noticeable bridge transition….the band’s kinda on autopilot with this one.

This is where I start to worry about my enjoyment of Ember as a whole. Because within those five unreleased tracks, all the band would need to derail the whole album would be 3 or 4 pieces of filler that knock off the “Blood” formula. That’s how you bore your audience. So while “Blood” isn’t a bad song but any means, I truly hope that there is some slightly more adventurous music in this LP’s other half.

“Save Yourself”

I really wish Breaking Benjamin and bands of their ilk would get together and a have little pow wow where they collectively BAN certain words and phrases from being used in this genre of music. Seriously. This chorus uses “save yourself” and “nothing left” within five seconds of each other. Can you get more cliché than that? Needless to say, I echo the sentiments I had regarding “Blood”. This album’s gonna have to be rounded out by unreleased songs like “The Dark of You” or “Tourniquet” or “Torn In Two”, otherwise we’re just looking at your standard Hard Rock release. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Ember is available everywhere this Friday, April 13th.

June 2017 Album Round Up!

Wow, we’re halfway through 2017?! It feels like just yesterday that I was at a Virginia Tech New Year’s party making tasteless school shooter jokes.

What a crazy year 2017 is so far. I’ve probably been the busiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Psychology says that busier people are happier, but I think the jury’s still out on that! I wouldn’t have it any other way though. The older I get, the more the whole “free time” thing starts to feel toxic to me. We’ve got such finite time to do everything we wanna do, so unless I’m hanging out with friends I always have to be working on something. Even if it’s re-listening to the first three Carcass records for the billionth time trying to rank how much I like them.

By the way, if reading this Round Up just isn’t enough for you, and you need more Panny in your life, you should definitely check out my guest appearance on the Surreal Resolution podcast, where I participated in….well, a June 2017 Album Round Up! (ya boy starts rambling at the 01:24:00 mark).

For real though, this was a fantastic month for new music! If you’re a Metalhead, there was Goatwhore, Dying Fetus, and Iced Earth. If you’re a Hip-Hop head, there was 2 Chainz and Vince Staples. If you like Pop music, Lorde dropped a gem. Pop-Punkers got some new music from All Time Low, indie folk got some Portugal the Man….we’re all sitting pretty right now. So thank you, music industry. You don’t always let me down.

 

 Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

 Having skipped over these Pop-Punkers’ last couple outings, I decided to pop my head back in and check out Last Young Renegade, their seventh album. And while it’s a pretty lightweight, run-of-the-mill Pop-Punk-but-mostly-Pop affair, there are a few exceptional standouts that make it worthwhile, like the hungover rockstar identity crisis of “Life of the Party”, or the Tegan and Sara collab “Ground Control”, one of my favorite songs of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS – Young Thug

 He may be one of the most polarizing figures in Hip-Hop right now, but regardless of how you feel about him, you can’t deny that Young Thug has been fun to watch. BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is the eccentric cross-dressing MC’s much-discussed “singing album”. Although the cover art is ominously reminiscent of Lil’ Wayne’s disastrous “rock album” Rebirth, BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS is actually awesome! I was shocked that I liked it, but Thugger’s playful experimentation and impressive sense of melody carry these tunes effortlessly. Cut out a few filler tracks, and this would’ve been one of my favorite albums of the year. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED 

Incorruptible – Iced Earth

 On their twelfth studio album, Jon Schaffer and Co. are still churning out quality classic-leaning Metal with an extra Thrashy kick to it. This record can get downright ferocious (“Seven Headed Whore”), but the band can bring it down for some powerful melodic moments as well (“The Veil”). Definitely give this a listen if you’re on the hunt for vintage-sounding Metal with heavier, more modern production. RECOMMENDED

 Wrong One to Fuck With – Dying Fetus

 The first release in five years from these Death Metal titans is as relentless and crushing as the genre gets. My favorite thing about Dying Fetus is how they balance different shades of aggression – this record is super noodl-y and tech-y in spots (check the middle of a song like “Seething with Disdain”, for instance), but it’s also got a ‘90s Death Metal stomp at times (“Panic Amongst the Herd”), it’s got slam parts, and perhaps my favorite Dying Fetus signature, the Hardcore-influenced mosh riffs. One of my favorite Metal albums of the year so far. Here is a full review. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 Evolve – Imagine Dragons

 Though an improvement on 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors (which I found to be an uninspired dud), Imagine Dragon’s third record still leaves a lot to desired. The choruses are repetitive, the singles (“Believer” and “Thunder”) are unbearably corny, and even though this LP was supposedly born out of a period of emotional turmoil for frontman Dan Reynolds, the heartache doesn’t translate into something I can connect with. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

 Pretty Girls Like Trap Music – 2 Chainz

 “I got a bank account/got anotha bank account/got anotha bank account,” boasts 2 Chainz in the single greatest line of his career. Kidding aside, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is the unexpected artistic peak of this man’s career. It takes everything the Trap genre strives for – banging beats, swaggering flows, hard-hitting hooks, and a rugged, hyper-masculine aesthetic – and rolls it into one record. I’ve never been a 2 Chainz fan, but he sold me with this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Heart Break – Lady Antebellum

 Every month I try to give a couple Country records a chance in the hopes that I’ll be pleasantly surprised. A couple Mondays ago I was mowing my lawn and needed a soundtrack, so I picked this one. To my delight, I enjoyed a lot of what I heard. It’s definitely cut from the same cloth as a lot of the Pop-Country that I’ve been bashing for years, but the male-female vocal interplay adds a little extra, and I’ve found myself hypocritically enjoying simple, hook-heavy cuts like “The Stars” and “Heart Break”. RECOMMENDED

 Return of the Don – Kool G Rap

 At nearly fifty years old, Kool G Rap proves once again on Return of the Don that he is one of the most vicious MCs to ever touch a mic. Though not as narrative-driven as some of his classic ‘90s output like Live and Let Die or Roots of Evil, G Rap still brings his signature brand of ultra-violent technical rhyming over some the of the best beats of his career courtesy of MoSS, who produced the entire thing. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Hydrograd – Stone Sour

 So frontman Corey Taylor went ON AND ON AND ON in the press about this being a big departure for Stone Sour in that it’s a “straight ahead rock and roll album”. He’s kind of right – parts of this album really fulfill that promise, and others are an awkward mish-mash of Rock and Metal elements. But despite that, and the fact that the track list takes a nosedive in quality towards the end, Hydrograd has enough highs – the anthemic title track, the moody mid-tempo number “The Witness Trees”, the lovely steel-guitar tinged ballad “St. Marie” – to outweigh its lows. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

 Boomiverse – Big Boi

 Even though Big Boi is one of my favorite MCs of all time (a while back I TALKED ABOUT how important his first solo album Sir Lucious Left Foot is to me), I had a tough time getting into this one. I got soured early on it by a cringeworthy Adam Levine appearance on “Mic Jack” (for God’s sake, keep this man AWAY from Hip-Hop!) and the album’s lack of strong hooks only gets more apparent from there. Big Boi’s rapping is still on point – great at times, on tracks like “Order of Operations” – but I don’t find any of the songs sticking with me. NOT RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Vengeful Ascension – Goatwhore

Woodstock – Portugal. The Man

Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 – Calvin Harris

Unparalleled Universe – Origin

Big Fish Theory – Vince Staples

Melodrama – Lorde

DON’T LIKE:

Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey

Wolves – Rise Against

Witness – Katy Perry

Grateful – DJ Khaled

 

Stone Sour’s “Hydrograd”: Four Singles Deep

As dictated by the cycle of Corey Taylor – a.k.a. the Great Big Mouth – a new Stone Sour album is upon us.

Step 1: Put out a Slipknot album

Step 2: Write a book

Step 3: Get in a Childish Pissing Match with Another Rockstar Ego in the Press

Step 4: Put out a Stone Sour Album

Step 5: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Since Mr. Taylor has just recently completed step 3, it’s only fitting that Stone Sour’s sixth album Hydrograd (I’m counting House of Gold & Bones as two separate albums) is dropping this Friday.

And it’s really Stone Sour 2.0 now; Taylor’s Slipknot cohort Jim Root is out, new shredder Christian Martucci is in (he first appeared on Stone Sour’s recent covers EPs Meanwhile in Burbank and Straight Outta Burbank), and apparently the band are reinventing themselves this time around.

Taylor has been hyping this up endlessly (as he does with every single fucking note of music he releases) as a “Rock ‘n’ roll” album of sorts. He has described it in the press as being “tight”, “fast”, “rocking”, “melodic”, “crushing”, and a myriad of other useless adjectives (that last one is especially suspect). But in all seriousness, I was really glad to hear about the band’s change of pace on this LP, ‘cause I think another go ‘round of their Hard Rock/Alt-Metal hybrid would’ve been overkill.

With three days to go, we’re currently four singles deep into Hydrograd’s fifteen-song tracklist. Let’s see how it stacks up so far!

Taipei Person/Allah Tea

Get it??? “Type A Personality”??? Pretty clever eh??? All kidding aside, this is an awesome song. It fuses a chunky Metallica heaviness with a bit of fun ‘80s sleaze. On one hand, the breakdown right after the two-minute mark is pure Ride the Lightning-era ‘Tallica, while carefree lyrics like “running out of road but I’m still doing 75” feel like something off of Appetite for Destruction. When Corey Taylor said in the press that Hydrograd “has everything you want in a rock album”, I can only assume he was talking about “Taipei Person/Allah Tea”.

Song #3

Contrary to what its hipster title might imply, “Song #3” is Stone Sour at their poppiest and most radio friendly. This tune essentially consists of one giant chorus (equipped with layers of guitars and vocal harmonies) and a series of placeholders, whether it’s the super bland palm-muted verses, the anti-climastic guitar solo, or…well, I’ve pretty much covered the whole song. It’s a bit sappy for my taste – it reminds me of a less dynamic “Say You’ll Haunt Me” (Corey Taylor’s love letter to his wife on Stone Sour’s third LP Audio Secrecy). And it leans way too hard on its chorus to carry over four minutes of music.

Fabuless

Yet another cheeky song title. Since its debut back in April, I have spent as much time enjoying this track as I have being confused by it. ‘Cause it sounds like Stone Sour aren’t sure what kind of band they wanna be as they rapidly shift gears from chugging Metal riffs to a Hard Rock chorus to a Groove Metal/Nu Metalish post-chorus (“it’s all downhill from here!”). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy all of this song’s individual components, and Taylor’s seething anti-celebrity lyrics remind me of his hilarious, angry tirades as an author. I should mention Christian Martucci’s ripping guitar solo is a high point as well. This is a very strong single!

Mercy

Without question the weakest link of the bunch, “Mercy” is as unmemorable as they come. Part of me wonders if my distaste for this song is just a product of the band’s uninspired live rendition – and maybe the official recording will do it justice – but that’s pretty doubtful. I especially can’t get over that dud of a lyric in the chorus: “going nowhere, now I’m here”. It just rubs me wrong. That, and in the live video when cameraman fails to pan over to Christian Martucci during his solo? A major pet peeve of mine. We’ll see how this one fares in the context of the full record though.

Hydrograd is out Friday, June 30th on Roadrunner Records. You can catch a full, in-depth review on my YouTube channel the following week!

 

 

Sum 41 – 13 Voices Album Review

For the first time in over half a decade, the music industry’s increasingly cluttered calendar of every possible thing imaginable includes brand new music from Sum 41, the Canadian five-piece responsible for ubiquitous punk-y radio smashes like “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” in the early 2000s. However, the tunes responsible for this band’s rise to fame – as massive as they may have been and continue to be – feel obsolete and nearly irrelevant here; not only is planet Earth a different place in 2016 than it was back then, but the band are too. Now entering their late 30s, maturation and growth are only natural, and 13 Voices, their sixth full length, is a far cry from the snot-nosed Pop-Punk Sum 41 shelled out a decade and a half ago.

It won’t necessarily be a surprise to anyone has heard their last LP – 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder, which found the band harnessing a roaring metallic edge – but casual listeners may find themselves a bit shell-shocked. 13 Voices often embraces influences that drift away from Pop Punk and towards the Hard Rock and Metal end of the spectrum. Take “Breaking the Chain” for instance, which features a blistering bridge section with chunky, chugging guitars that break into sugary harmonies – it’s straight out of the Bullet for My Valentine playbook. Or there’s the snarling riffage in the “God Save Us All” bridge – something that could’ve easily been plucked from Zakk Wylde’s unreleased Black Label Society recordings. These short dips into more aggressive territory add a sober earnestness to these otherwise hooky tracks.

Another commendable feature of 13 Voices is the band’s meticulous layering and experimentation with different instruments. The exceptional title track, for instance, finds clean and distorted guitars working side-by-side during the second verse, and later adds a taste of acoustic guitars to the mix. In the aforementioned “Breaking the Chain”, a string section is cleverly used as the main counterpart to frontman Deryck Whibley’s vocals. On the anthemic “There Will Be Blood”, a few subtle piano notes pop into….

Click here to read the full review.

Volbeat’s “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie”: Three Singles Deep

Is Volbeat going to be Rock’s next arena act? It’s a conversation that needs to be had. If Five Finger Death Punch can do it, I don’t see why Volbeat couldn’t. In addition to having toured with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold Anthrax, and FFDP themselves, they’re coming off two straight highly acclaimed, exciting Hard Rock records. Both 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven and 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies struck an impeccable balance between credibility and commercially viability.

Over 3 years since it came out, I still can’t get enough of Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. It’s got infinite energy and endless hooks, and isn’t quite sure whether it wants to be a Rock or Metal record, which affords it considerable breathing room. Active Rock radio listeners eat it up, metalheads (particularly old-school ones) can vibe with it, and the occasional mainstream listener gets pulled in as well. I may be reaching a bit, but it all feels Foo Fighters-esque. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the peak of Volbeat’s upward trajectory.

Of course, whether this momentum continues is dependent on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, the band’s sixth album set to drop this Friday, June 3rd. Currently, all we have to go on is three pre-release singles. So how is Volbeat’s highly anticipated new LP looking thus far?

The Devil’s Bleeding Crown: I already discussed this one when it dropped in early April. It’s the first single and opening track on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, and it keeps things basic: basic hooks, basic riffs, and predictable structure. It’s solid Rock and Roll through and through, just safe. Michael Poulsen’s voice is as powerful as ever, and this single’s Active Rock radio success is imminent, but I’m getting nothing new out of it. And I could definitely do without that horribly cheesy clapping section.

The Bliss: Self-replication in music is an interesting phenomenon. Is “ripping yourself off” against the rules? Considering the careers of AC/DC, Motorhead, and Slayer, I suppose not. So it shouldn’t matter that certain parts of “The Bliss” earn the song its “Lola Montez 2.0” moniker. The blatant similarities to “Lola Montez” did irk me at first, but the more I’ve listened, the less bothersome it becomes. “The Bliss” is distinct enough from its predecessor, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a love song of sorts, bursting with positivity and sugar-sweet vocal harmonies. The thumping banjo-centric bridge is an adventurous yet appropriate breather. All in all, the track works. Not to say Volbeat hasn’t “done this before”, but at least it’s less bland than “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown”. Oh, and an alternate version titled “For Evigt” is also available. Check that one out too.

Seal the Deal: My favorite of these 3 singles. Its lead riff is fairly standard sleaze-rock, emitting copious party vibes. The energy never lets up, even as the bridge section slows the tempo momentarily. The chorus is fittingly hook-y, including a well-calculated key change for the song’s final moments. Rob Caggiano serves up a ripping solo as well. Again, not reinventing the wheel, but “Seal the Deal” executes so damn well.

If all thirteen tracks on the LP resemble what we’ve heard thus far, then redundancy is going to be a weighty issue on Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie. This 3-track sampling suggests we’ll be in for something enjoyable, but nothing special. While we’d all prefer special, enjoyable is not the end of the world. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

February 2016 Album Round Up!

We’re just over two months into 2016, and we’ve already – somewhat surprisingly – been blessed with a ton of exciting releases in the midst of typically low-key winter months. When this calendar year is in the books, will we be looking back at January and February as the peak of 2016? Pretty unlikely. But I still feel like I’ve had a fairly reliable, steady stream of high-profile albums to look forward to (some delivered, some did not). And yes, Kanye dropped. But I’m fucking determined to go as long as I possibly can without hearing it. Not for lack of interest either. Just ‘cause. Anyway, here’s a quick recap of nine albums NOT named The Life of Pablo that I spent some time with this past month. Looking forward to what March has in store!

Khalifa – Wiz Khalifa

In the first project of his I’ve enjoyed since 2011’s smash hit Rolling Papers, Wiz dropped some…well, smoking and drinking music. The production and hooks are significantly more effective – to my ears, at least – than O.N.I.F.C. and Blacc Hollywood (save those two albums’ singles). If you’re looking for great lyricism, steer clear, but I definitely found myself coming back to this record quite a bit for some day drinking and pregaming, especially two exceptional, Kush & OJ-style tracks, “Zoney” and “Elevated”. RECOMMENDED

For All Kings – Anthrax

Welcome back Anthrax! About ten listens in, I’ve evaluated For All Kings as “dangerously close” to the Thrash mastery of 2011’s Worship Music. The difference is really just a filler track or two. But the middle chunk of this record is some of the best Anthrax music I’ve ever laid ears on. Joey Belladonna gets the MVP. My full review is available here. YouTube review here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Day One – From Ashes to New

This studio debut from Lancaster, PA outfit From Ashes to New made me want to vomit. They’re like an even more cheesed-up version of Twenty One Pilots meets Crown the Empire. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it just made me cringe. This guy Matt Brandyberry sounds like an even more melodramatic Mike Shinoda when he utters (well, raps) the words: “I lay awake and look at the ceiling and wonder why/I’m so afraid to face all these feelings and want to die”. And that dubstep-y breakdown? Fuck outta here wit dat. Not to mention the clean vocalist sounds fucking IDENTICAL to the guy on Escape the Fate’s self-titled album. I mean, is Day One heavy and appropriately angsty? Passionate even? Sure. And it’ll dominate with the Hot Topic crowd. But holy fuck is it not for me. NOT RECOMMENDED

Sittin’ Heavy – Monster Truck

Simply put, this band’s sophomore effort is the best fucking throwback hard rock record I’ve heard since perhaps Kyng’s Burn the Serum. It’s all there: it’s energetic, passionate, and wholeheartedly convincing. Fans of ‘70s and early ‘80s Rock should check it out immediately! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

This one certainly hurt. Macklemore is someone I really root for, if not always for his talent but for his passion, honesty, humility, and sometimes ruthless self-awareness. The Language of My World is phenomenal, The Heist is a near-classic, but Mess, his second with Ryan Lewis, is a huge disappointment. Save a few shining moments (“Light Tunnels”, “Kevin”, and the must-listen “Need of Know”) this thing is all over the place in a BAD way this time. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

I Like it When You Sleep – The 1975

Ok, LP number two for these guys, who seem utterly ubiquitous at the moment. I am absolutely in love with the tracks “This Must Be My Dream” and “Somebody Else”. On the latter, those snare drums with the 80s-style reverb are borderline euphoric. While we’re on the topic of the 80s, the standout “She’s American” could’ve squeezed right into an early Huey Lewis and the News disc. But we didn’t need 17 frickin’ songs here. “UGH!” kind of drags in the wake of hit single “Love Me”, and are BOTH “If I Believe You” and “Please Be Naked” necessary when the title track brings all the dynamics this album needs? Still, at a bare minimum this is a wonderful soundtrack to a night drive in the city. Though I tend to think it offers a whole lot more. And yes, I do think Matt Healy eerily resembles Patrick Stump at times. But we’ll agree to disagree. RECOMMENDED

Victorious – Wolfmother

Ugh. This record has one of the strangest dichotomies in any track listing I’ve ever encountered. The first 5 songs are excellent and on par with some of the best moments on Wolfmother’s debut, and the second 5 songs are pure throwaway filler garbage. “Uneven” is an understatement. My full review is available here. NOT RECOMMENDED

X (No Absolutes) – Prong

Album number 11 for Prong – but their 10th of original material – wastes no time with opener “Ultimate Authority”, some excellent Crossover Thrash which would be right at home on a classic like Cleansing (although I know mentioning that record is understandably played out). I love the dissonant yet super-catchy riff in “Without Words” (and, for that matter, “Soul Sickness”) X (No Absolutes) has an impeccable combination of melody and heaviness that all these scream/sing Metalcore bands can only dream about. It stays completely true to the Prong aesthetic, and it’s a set that is sure to devastate in the live environment. I have yet to catch these legends live, so I’m hoping to get the chance on the cycle for X. RECOMMENDED

Dead Dawn – Entombed A.D.

Dead Dawn (Deicide anybody?) is the second album from Entombed 2.0 since the legendary band’s legal battles and break up. One of Entombed’s distinct qualities is how much more groove-oriented they are than the majority of Death Metal, showcased in the title track, and they’re not afraid to get downright melodic, like in that song’s bridge, which sounds like something Arch Enemy would do.There’s nothing in these ten tracks that’ll blow your mind, but there’s some certainly some heavy-ass (surprisingly fun) metal! I’m especially a fan of “Down to Mars to Ride” and the dynamic “Hubris Fall” And it’s still really not THAT far off from Left Hand Path, so there’s that. RECOMMENDED

 

 

Wolfmother – Victorious Review

The official edited version of this review is available here.

If imitation is truly a form of flattery, each new Wolfmother record marks another occasion for 70s Rock icons like Jimmy Page, Roger Daltrey, and Tony Iommi to sit back with pride and soak up their own legacies. For over a decade, the Australian trio’s calling card has been an uncompromisingly retro delivery of Hard Rock in the vein of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and several more of the genre’s key pioneers. Critically speaking, Wolfmother’s blatantly derivative nature has been a double-edged sword, although when the quality is as unmistakable as their eponymous 2006 debut – a high-water mark the band has unfortunately yet to match – it becomes difficult to take aim at Wolfmother simply because “it’s been done before”.

Album number four for the Aussies, the Brendan O’Brien-produced Victorious, is anything but a stylistic departure. Very little of its lean 36 minutes of 70s-tinged Hard Rock will contain any surprises. What is truly puzzling, however, is the LP’s incredibly odd chronological duality – its first half stands toe-to-toe with the best moments in the band’s catalogue, and its second half is astronomically bland and uninspired.

“The Love That You Give” and the title cut are perhaps the most effective opening one-two punch on a Wolfmother album to date. The former is explosive yet concise as Andrew Stockdale effortlessly channels an early-70s Ozzy Osbourne. The latter is simply larger than life, with an irresistible guitar riff and an appropriately triumphant chorus. The keyboard-laced “Baroness” is another gem, calling to mind the less spacey moments in Blue Oyster Cult’s catalogue.

The band’s crunchy Rock assault is dialed back for the folky ballad “Pretty Peggy”, a tune that’s as anthemic as it is hopelessly romantic. Its slight resemblance to Alternative contemporaries like Mumford & Sons may turn a few heads, but it’s still firmly rooted in the “Going to California” tradition more than anything else. Closing out the first half of Victorious is “City Lights”, a smooth yet upbeat showcase of exuberant Rock and Roll. Stockdale’s vocal harmonies in the chorus are particularly airtight, and producer Brendan O’Brien’s bright, vibrant mix allows the tasteful bass lines to coexist harmoniously with the razor-sharp guitars.

Then, remarkably, as if this superb handful of songs exhausted all of Stockdale’s songwriting chops, Victorious takes a nose dive into its dreadful second half. In terms of memorability, inventiveness, charisma, or any semblance of a dynamic moment, these five tracks offer close to nothing. Promises were made on the album’s outstanding first half that simply couldn’t be kept. The shift is immediately noticeable on “The Simple Life”, which is a satisfying but forgettable affair, redeemed only by a colorful harmonized guitar solo that breaks up the monotony. After the catchy but similarly underwhelming “Best of a Bad Situation”, the LP’s diminished momentum plummets with the utterly lazy “Gypsy Caravan”, which contains the most unimaginative, transparently recycled guitar riff that’s likely to appear on a Rock album in 2016. “Happy Face”, another sludgy Black Sabbath attempt, drones on directionless for its first two and a half torturous minutes, and by the time it picks up its pace – both in terms of tempo and attitude – it’s too little, too late. “Eye of the Beholder” closes the record out with an energetic stomp but another drab, throwaway chorus; at this point, the boisterous swagger of “The Love That You Give” and the title track are barely visible in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps Wolfmother’s revolving door of musicians is its Achilles heel – frontman Andrew Stockdale is essentially a one-man band in the studio, writing and performing everything on Victorious save the drums and occasional keyboards. When it comes to crafting an entire album’s worth of standout Rock music, Stockdale has a hugely demanding task in front of him with each new batch of songs. All things considered, .500 is a commendable batting average, although the record’s two sharply juxtaposed halves are certainly strange. That the track list was knowingly arranged in this fashion is doubtful, but the yin and yang on Victorious is fascinating nevertheless – how even a shining display of excellence like the front half of this record can have a looming shadow not too far behind.

Score: 3/5