Killswitch Engage – Atonement Album Review

Another album review! It feels so good to be back doing these, I can’t even tell ya. This week I’m digging into the brand new Killswitch Engage album Atonement, the band’s first for Metal Blade records, third since the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach, and eighth overall.

Based on this record’s singles, one of which I reviewed here, I gotta say, I was a little nervous. Atonement follows two SUPERB Leach-fronted albums (2013’s Disarm the Descent and 2016’s Incarnate), and I was anxious to see if the band could keep the momentum going and score a little hat trick here.

Full review below. Thanks so much for watching!

SLAMMING New Exhumed Single “Ravenous Cadavers”: Listen Here

Wow, here’s something to jolt you awake this Tuesday morning!

Extreme Metal veterans Exhumed have just announced album number nine – it’s called Horror and it drops October 4th via Relapse Records.

If this first single is any indication of the full 15-track release, we’re really in for a treat. “Ravenous Cadavers” turns its attention much more towards the Thrash-on-steroids, Carcass-influenced part of the band’s sound, rather than the Grind side of things. Frontman Matt Harvey’s voice sounds as brutal as ever. Check it out here and let me know if you love it as much as I do:

Care Package is Way Better Than Drake’s REAL Albums

This past Friday, Aubrey Drake Graham dropped the clumsily titled Care Package, a collection of old b-sides, rarities, and unofficial singles that nobody asked for but everyone’s listening to. It’s set to debut at number one on the Billboard Charts this week.

Being the retrospective project that it is, Care Package reminds us of several things we might have forgotten. It reminds us that “Johnny Football” was once a thing (see: “Draft Day”). It reminds us that J. Cole once apologized for saying “retarded” in jest (see: “Jodeci Freestyle”). But here’s the one big fat reminder that Care Package serves up: Drake can’t make albums like he makes songs.

As a loose collection, the Care Package track-list arguably flows better than Drake’s last three albums (or FOUR, if God forbid you wanna separate Scorpion into two). It’s more lyrically proficient than Nothing Was the Same, it’s less narcissistic than Scorpion, and as for Views…well, there’s certainly less Dancehall pandering.

I love the lyrical toughness of tracks like “Dreams Money Can Buy”. I love the introspection of “4PM in Calabasas”. I love the biting bitterness of “How Bout Now”. I love hearing Drake trade bars with J. Cole on “Jodeci Freestyle” and Rick Ross on “Free Spirit”, and find myself wishing his real albums were more feature-friendly.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a wholesale endorsement of this project. Some cuts, like the plodding “My Side”, are flat-out terrible. And there are more than a couple of reminders on Care Package  that no matter what era we’re talking about, Singing Drizzy is never as good as Rapping Drizzy. Ever.

I’m merely pointing out the glaring contrast between the invigorated Drake on these b-sides who’s just, to quote his lyrics, “do(ing) it just to do it like it’s nothing”, and the tiresome insular self-obsession of Drake’s last few LPs. This guy has so much raw talent, but when he goes to put an ALBUM together, it’s like he’s trying too hard. Don’t believe me? It took him branding something a mixtape (If You’re Reading This) for it to garner deserved critical acclaim.

We’ll forever remember Drake for his great songs, of which there are many. If only he’d stop overthinking his albums, maybe we’ll have a chance to remember him for those too.

Killswitch Engage – Unleashed Track Review

What’s up guys! Brand new track review for ya today!

So as of this week, Massachusetts Metalcore veterans Killswitch Engage have officially announced album number eight (and album number three since original vocalist Jesse Leach rejoined the band). It’s titled Atonement (yes, like the killer Immolation album from two years ago), and it’s coming later this summer! The LP will feature guest appearances from Testament frontman Chuck Billy (which I’m especially curious to hear!), and none other than former KSE singer Howard Jones.

And on Tuesday, Killswitch kicked off the rollout for Atonement by unveiling its lead single and opening track, “Unleashed”. Being the longtime Killswitch listener that I am, I couldn’t resist chiming in, offering my thoughts on the song, and making more jokes at the expense of the band’s awful 2009 self-titled record, which happens to turn ten years old this Sunday.

Atonement will drop August 16th via Metal Blade Records. In other words, in 51 days. Mark your calendars and look out for my full review! In the meantime, here are my thoughts on “Unleashed”:

 

Top 15 Favorite Songs: Q2 2019

Hey guys! Another quarter of a year has (almost) passed us by. If I were running a Fortune 500 company, I might refer to it as a “fiscal quarter”, but I’m writing a relatively anonymous music blog, so something about the word “fiscal” just doesn’t feel appropriate….

But it’s a quarter of the year nonetheless! And with each quarter of a year that inches me closer and closer to my impending doom, I celebrate on my YouTube channel with a list of my Top 15 Favorite Songs of the past few months. These lists deliberately exclude Metal, as it’s all about shining a light on the broad spectrum of tunes that have been soundtracking my life.

And I’m not sure i’ve ever been more proud of one of these lists. This fucking group of songs (which I spent a surprising amount of time narrowing down) has it all: EDM, Pop, Indie Rock, Hip-Hop, R & B, Instrumental music – you name it, it’s here.

Be sure to check out the accompanying Spotify playlist – complete with 10 additional honorable mentions – here. Full video below. Thanks for watching!

The Most Underrated Cannibal Corpse Song!

So the other day I’m in my car raging to Cannibal Corpse’s murderous 1994 classic The Bleeding, as I often do.

And I’m ripping through songs like the maniacal “Pulverized”, and of course, the ultra-violent “Fucked With a Knife”, and thinking nothing of this LP that I’ve heard a hundred times before. And then, all of a sudden, track five stops me dead in my tracks.

“Oh my God,” I said to myself (100 percent out loud, mind you). “How did I never notice the genius of this song??”

That song is “Return to Flesh”, and despite being an oft-forgotten deep cut surrounded by iconic Cannibal Corpse moments, is one of the band’s finest hours.

For starters, it demonstrates one of the great ironies of the early ’90s Floridian Death Metal movement: for a genre that’s known for upping the ante on Metal’s aggression by playing faster, it’s the excessively SLOW musical passages where the style’s “brutality” truly blossoms. Listen to this track’s lumbering intro riff, sauntering onto the speakers like an axe murderer who can’t be bothered to flee the scene.

And note how, after this sluggish intro riff, thr song effortlessly turns on a dime, launching into a breakneck sixteenth note feel, and then quickly transitioning to a catchy mid-tempo groove that would make Pantera jealous.

“Return to Flesh” is also one of drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz’s most impressive performances, as he navigates the constant feel changes and stop-start rhythms with masterful precision. And I love the creative guitar harmonies, which sound appropriately disgusting and disease-riddled. It’s truly a Death Metal masterclass.

Classic records like The Bleeding are the gift that keeps on giving. I live for unexpectedly joyous moments of (re)discovery like this. “Return to Flesh” just might be the best song on this whole LP, and I can’t believe I let that fact go unnoticed for so long.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Every Metalhead Needs to Hear This Rap Song!

So I was having a moment yesterday. It had been a long time since I had heard Death Grips’ Bottomless Pit, and I forgot just how damn amazing it was. Now over three years after its release, I still can’t wrap my head around how such a cacophonous, overindulgent, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink musical approach can be so fucking CATCHY! It truly baffles me.

And for some reason I kept thinking about my metalhead friends. How they always ridicule me for my devout Hip-Hop fandom and fail to see the IMMENSE overlap between the two genres (something I’ve spoken about many times on my YouTube channel, and even made this Spotify playlist years ago to prove my point). And then it dawned on me: how have I never recommended Death Grips??

I’m sure Death Grips fanatics can point to any number of Metalhead-friendly cuts in the experimental Hip-Hop group’s catalogue, but there’s no better place to start than the ferocious Bottomless Pit opener “Giving Bad People Good Ideas”. For God’s sake, it kicks the album off with a fucking blast beat! Between the pulverizing industrial drums, MC Ride’s Chuck-D-on-steroids vocals, and the frantic guitar loops, there’s so much for a Metal fan to dig into here. Check it out below if you haven’t heard it!

January 2018 Album Round Up!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday everyone! One of my favorite days of the entire year…

Not because of the game itself, mind you – but because Football finally fucking ends.

I didn’t like the sport when I was eight years old and refusing to drink the peewee football Kool-Aid, and I like it even less now as a grown man who has literally lost touch with friends because I won’t play fantasy football. So once this game comes and goes, it’ll be nice to not have to hear about Tom Brady for the next six months. That being said, I AM looking forward to JT’s halftime performance!

In other news, I just hit 500 subscribers on my YouTube channel which I’m incredibly psyched about! If you’re one of those 500 people, thank you so much! It means the world to me to have your support. And wait ‘til you see what I have in store for the channel this year! I have never been more inspired or motivated.

Music-wise, I’d say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. Hip-Hop seems to be lagging behind a bit (I’m looking at YOU, Migos), but we’ve still got 11 months for it to catch up. And I’m sure it will. Looking at my ever-expanding “2018 Album Releases” spreadsheet on my desktop, I see zero reason why this year can’t be something special.

Ok, rant over. Here’s everything I’ve been listening to since my New Year’s hangover finally subsided:

Camila – Camila Cabello

 Since she turned Fifth Harmony into Fourth Harmony in 2016 by exiting the group to pursue her solo career, Camila Cabello has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory to superstardom. And her chart-topping debut not only confirms her commercial might, but also hints at some genuine artistic potential. The acoustic-driven “Real Friends” is a thoughtful meditation on fame and the superficial relationships that spring from it. By contrast, “In the Dark” explores the dynamics of celebrity romance, and how public figures often struggle to open up in their private lives. Then there’s the rousing dancehall number “She Loves Control”, which brings with it a production assist from Skrillex. And of course, singles “Havana” and “Never Be the Same” are already bonafide hits, and my prediction is that at least two more smashes from this track list will followI was pleasantly surprised by this LP and was really glad I gave it a chance. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Catharsis – Machine Head

 Likely to be one of the most heavily debated Metal records of the entire year, Machine Head’s divisive ninth record is definitely messy. Listening to Catharsis, you’ll get a barrage of questionable lyrics, more than your fair share of guitar riffs that fall flat, and you’ll endure some head-scratching stylistic “adventures”. But Catharsis also reminded me of one of the most important principles I live by as a music fan: NEVER make a snap judgment on anything. ‘Cause once I lived with this album for a few days, I came to find that there was a lot to enjoy on it too, from the anthemic title track to the menacing “Heavy Lies the Crown” to the succinct but powerful “Kaleidoscope”. And I decided that – by a thin margin, mind you – the positives outweigh the negatives with this one. Here is a full review. RECOMMENDED

Dark Horse – Devin Dawson

If I had to pick an album of the month, here it is. Country artist Devin Dawson’s debut release immediately impresses with in its delicate balance of Country and Pop on songs like “I Can’t Trust Myself” and the Hot 100 hit “All On Me”. But Dawson also works in rock music (“Prison”), heartland sounds (“Placebo”), and Alternative singer-songwriter-isms (“Symptoms”) into these twang-y arrangements. My favorite thing about the LP, however, is Dawson’s ability to put together super relatable concept-driven lyrics: see his unique break-up song angle on “Secondhand Hurt”, his colorful depiction of a bitter ex on “War Paint”, or the passionate– if socially apathetic – lover who narrates “I Don’t Care Who Sees”. Definitely an artist to watch! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mania – Fall Out Boy

 Despite the rest of the world leading me to believe this would be the worst thing I would ever hear, Fall Out Boy’s polarizing seventh LP really isn’t that bad. Sure, the opening track and lead single “Young and Menace” is a dud – a clunky, ill-advised EDM attempt. And yes, “Sunshine Riptide” could’ve done without that forced collaboration with Nigerian Reggae artist Burna Boy. But amongst these underwhelming ditties are standouts like “Bishops Knife Trick”, the stadium-ready ballad that closes the album out, as well as the high-energy, ultra-quotable “Last of the Real Ones”, and even the Tropical House experiment that is “Hold Me Tight or Don’t”. So while I wouldn’t necessarily hold this album in high esteem, it’s not an absolute TRAGEDY either – it’s more or less just somewhere in the middle. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Vale – Black Veil Brides

Almost eight years ago now, I checked out Black Veil Brides’ super-hyped debut album We Stitch These Wounds and quickly wrote it off as – at best – Bullet For My Valentine-lite. Then, the band got bigger and bigger and bigger. They notched three straight top ten albums, they were getting booked on major tours supporting the likes of Avenged Sevenfold, Motley Crue, and Slash, and they had apparently changed their sound into something a bit more “Rock-oriented”. So, with album number five here, I decided to give them a chance. And, I regret it. The lyrics – consisting of lines like “shout it from the tallest building”, the usage of the dreaded “fade away” cliche in a handful of songs, and worst of all, a steady stream of filler “woah oh’s” the other 20 percent of the time – are horribly corny. And the music? It’s nothing to write home about. The band oversaturate every song with Avenged Sevenfold-lite guitar harmonies, make every chorus excessively dramatic, and bring only one genuinely heavy riff on the whole LP (“My Vow”). Glad I satisfied my curiosity I suppose, but I’ll pass. Here is a full review. NOT RECOMMENDED

Grimmest Hits – Black Label Society

Yikes. Maybe it’s me….it could very well be me. After all, a lot about my tastes has changed since the last record I dove into from the Zakk Wylde-fronted hard rockers (2010’s Order of the Black). But, man. I found Grimmest Hits to be excruciatingly boring. And ironically, doesn’t BLS have a song called “Bored to Tears” in their back catalogue? Well, they understand how I feel then. The recycled riffs don’t excite me, the vocals often sound uninspired (see verse one of “The Betrayal”), and the muddy mix doesn’t help matters either. Sounds like Zakk and the boys need to tweak their formula the next time around. Or maybe Zakk should just make Book of Shadows III instead. NOT RECOMMENDED

P2 – Dave East

With his acute sense of Golden Age lyricism, strong emphasis on narrative-focused rhymes, and gritty authenticity, Harlem MC Dave East has been one of the up-and-comers in Hip-Hop that I’ve most been rooting for these past couple years. Unfortunately, last year’s PARANOIA: A TRUE STORY project left me slightly disappointed with its lack of focus and a bit of filler. But the good news? P2 is East in tip-top form. Whether he’s paying homage to his inspirations on “What Made Me”, or holding his own in a toe-to-toe bar fest with Lloyd Banks on “Violent”, or telling blood-soaked hood tales in late-90s Nas fashion on “I Found Keisha”, the dude impresses me every step of the way. This is the first great Hip-Hop release I’ve heard in 2018 thus far. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No Cross No Crown – Corrosion of Conformity

 Take notes, Black Label Society. This is some sludgy, southern-tinged Hard Rock that manages to be dirty, mean, and melodic all at the same time. Reunited with classic-era frontman Pepper Keenan, the band rip through groovy Sabbath-isms like “Luddite” and stomping rockers like “Forgive Me” with remarkable ease. And the moody title cut was also a highlight for me – it added a different flavor to this track list. While it may run a shade too long and not quite match up with early C.o.C. gems like 1994’s Deliverance, No Cross No Crown definitely does the trick. RECOMMENDED

A FEW MORE:

LIKE:

Avatar Country – Avatar

Infernal Overdrive – White Wizzard

Ephorize – CupcakKe

Collateral – Phillip Phillips

King Chop 2 – Young Chop

Life of a Dark Rose – Lil’ Skies

Common Ground – Above and Beyond

DON’T LIKE:

Wrong Creatures – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Sign of the Dragonhead – Leaves Eyes

Underworld – Tonight Alive

For My Fans – Fetty Wap

Defy – Of Mice & Men

Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue – Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals

Culture II – Migos

 

 

Machine Head’s “Catharsis”: Four Singles Deep

Guys, Machine Head are about to be polarizing again. I couldn’t be more excited.

Since the much-maligned Nu Metal detours that nearly destroyed this band’s career in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Machine Head’s last fifteen years have been nothing but smooth sailing, both critically and commercially – 2003’s Through the Ashes of Empires was the ferocious comeback record that brought them back from the dead, 2007’s The Blackening was labeled a modern Thrash “masterpiece” by well, several pretty important people (e.g. James fucking Hetfield), and 2011’s Unto the Locust and 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds were also pretty much unilaterally well received. Well, the buck stops here. Enter the Bay Area titans’ ninth LP, Catharsis.

 It’s not even out yet and everyone’s already up in arms. For God’s sake, Blabbermouth reviewed the record and gave it a 5.5/10. I haven’t read the actual review (because I prefer to read, you know, WRITING…not whatever those hacks on that site try to pass off as music criticism), but on a site that gives everything a 9.5, a 5.5. is like a 0.

So far, the general public has only been made privy to four of the album’s fifteen tracks, and personally, I think the debate is just getting started. Based on what I’m hearing, I still think Catharsis has a chance to be good. I really do. Machine Head are clearly taking some risks, but that’s not inherently a bad thing. It’s too early to tell whether all of this vitriol is justified.

I’m just excited as hell to review this album – I can tell that it’s gonna create a big fissure in the group’s fanbase, and that whole process of watching everybody fight it out and figuring out what side you fall on…well, it doesn’t get any more fun than that. Look out for the full review coming soon to my YouTube channel!

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the four pre-album singles, in the order they were released:

Beyond the Pale

Released back in mid-November, “Beyond the Pale” was the public’s first taste of Catharsis, and it was immediately greeted with a tidal wave of negativity, particularly regarding the main riff’s striking similarity to the Strapping Young Lad classic, “Love?”. Personally, the whole plagiarism thing actually didn’t phase me – what did bother me was how quickly the riff gets watered down by such incessant repetition (after all, it’s used for the verses AND the chorus). And sadly, that riff is the only memorable aspect of this otherwise underwhelming single. The pre-chorus is sluggish, the dual harmonic guitar solo could’ve been recycled from any of the band’s last four records, and lyrics like “I found my heroes/the freaks and zeroes” are a turn-off as well. Though far from a disaster, “Beyond the Pale” was not a good first look.

Catharsis

Despite feeling like the Internet is constantly looking over my shoulder and shaming me for it, I have been enjoying the fuck out of the title track. Not only is it far and away the best of these four singles, it’s an excellent Machine Head song period. With an inspired vocal performance from Robb Flynn (who seesaws between the heavy and melodic like the seasoned veteran he is), an infectious verse riff, a rousing breakdown, and a future staple for live sing-a-longs (“can you feel my Catharsis?”), this one is a home run. And to be quite frank, for all the talk about Machine Head changing their sound, “Catharsis” does very little to tamper with the band’s formula. This is classic Machine Head. Everyone who says otherwise is buggin’.

Bastards

So “Bastards”, which I recently used to make a larger point about music and politics, might be the most “different” track of Machine Head’s entire career. The divisive anti-Trump lyrics aside, the way this song begins by layering spoken-word vocals, folky acoustic guitars and finger-tapped electric guitars is undeniably unique. And to complicate things further, the tune is based around one of the poppiest chord progressions in all of music – so if it occasionally feels like a Pop song, that’s because it was written like one.

I had no idea how to feel about this little ditty for a solid week, but after about 25 fucking listens, I’ve finally decided that I like it. Sure, I could definitely do without the “no no no no” bridge, and I could do without the good guy/bad guy liberalisms, but the messages that this track ultimately sends – messages of love, inclusivity and optimism in the face of this nation’s uncertain future – are something I can get behind 100 percent. And, let’s be honest, when Flynn sings “don’t let the bastards grind ya down”, I can’t help smile as I think of Lemmy from Motorhead grunting that same refrain on the band’s classic Iron Fist album.

Kaleidoscope

Is the cringe-inducing “get your middle fingers in the air refrain” a tough pill to swallow? Sure. Is the hand clapping that goes along with it even worse? Definitely. But in between the cracks, “Kaleidoscope” does manage to squeeze in some trademark Machine Head riffing – the rhythm guitars bring a walloping Thrash/Groove Metal mixture and even throw in some of their signature “alarm clock” harmonics in the bridge for good measure. I also enjoy how Flynn and Co. are not afraid to add a little grandeur to the song in the form of some tastefully placed key and string parts. Though it’s not without its low points, overall “Kaleidoscope” comes out on top for me.