Thursday, September 06, 2012

As I Lay Dying - Awakened Album Review

As I Lay Dying have been a staple of my metalcore playlists since discovering Beneath the Encasing of Ashes in college, late 2001. And since 2005, they've been a perennial favorite, once they became laser-focused on their cultivation of slick, aggressive, melody-infused, modern metalcore. From then to now we've seen them getting slightly more refined with each release, demonstrating an evolving maturity and the ability to hold off stagnation. From Shadows Are Security to An Ocean Between Us to The Powerless Rise As I Lay Dying grew stronger with each album, setting the bar for high-quality metalcore a bit further up each time. And when we were treated to 3 new tracks on the compilation album Decas, each of them pointed to their next full length, Awakened, being a further progression forward for the band. Listeners were given a small taste of Awakened a couple of weeks back with the track "Cauterize," which was a song that, uncharacteristically, took a few spins to sink in and catch on. Because of this, I began to feel a bit wary for Awakened.

With the full album finally in hand and numerous listens put in, that wariness was warranted. Before I get lambasted by As I Lay Dying fans everywhere, let me point out that this is a very solid album. If it was released by any other metalcore band, it could be a career-maker. However, we're talking about As I Lay Dying, one of the reigning kings of the metalcore realm, so the bar is set a bit higher for them. As mentioned previously, "Cauterize" turned out to be a very catchy track after multiple listens and it, in fact, turns out to be one of the catchiest songs on the album… which is the album's main problem.

Unlike past albums where there were at least 3 or 4 songs that stood head and shoulders above the rest (think "Confined" or "Nothing Left" or "Vacancy" for examples), Awakened almost completely lacks standout songs. Yes, this leads to a very level and consistent album, but it also treads dangerously close to "forgettable" territory as well. Knowing that this album was very quickly written and recorded, that may be what ultimately held the band back.

Let's be clear, however, that if you are an As I Lay Dying fan, you will definitely love this album, maybe just not as much as their other efforts. There are some classic AILD moments that will stand out, such as the breakdowns on "Defender," the always well done combination of melodic vocals mixed with aggressive instrumentation as seen on "A Greater Foundation," and "My Only Home," which is as close to a standard AILD song template as you'll find. There are great moments, for sure, which I don't want to go unmentioned, but that's really the expectation for As I Lay Dying, so when they aren't firing on all cylinders all of the time, it's noticeable.

Beyond the general feeling of being unmemorable, a few songs stand out as being particularly weak (again, by As I Lay Dying standards). "Resilience," being the 3rd track of the album right after 2 relatively great songs, is somewhat generic and feels a bit phoned in with some slightly forced cleans and a couple of repetitive sections. "Whispering Silence" sees the band being their most radio-rock-friendly. Outside of the interjection of some harsh vocals, this song is primed for radio play, which may come across to long time fans as a softening of the band. Lastly, "Overcome" takes a little bit too long to really get moving. The intro section could have been cut or beefed up a bit to make it a stronger start to the song.

As a whole, Awakened is still a very competent album, but it is a bit of a side-step for As I Lay Dying. I wouldn't say they've taken a step backwards, but they are shuffling their feet as they figure out how to keep stepping forward. Given time, this may grow on many, but it may also lead to a growing desire in fans for another new album sooner rather than later.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXVI

What's going on in my life will definitely influence what I listen to. When I'm depressed, I naturally gravitate towards doomy and gothic music. If I'm head-in-the-clouds happy, it's usually pop-punk or upbeat hardcore. Anger leads to deathcore. And so on… so with this eclectic mix of albums in front of you, I think it's safe to say I've been all over the place lately, both in music and life, but here's to hoping my scattershot listening habits at least net you a new album or two to check out!

Essence - The Defining Elements

At a very basic level, you can look at this album as an intro, an interlude, and 7 tracks of August Burns Red worship and you wouldn't be wrong. Not many metalcore bands trying their hand at the ABR style of metalcore do it very well. Essence, on the other hand, does. And that's all you need to know. If you want quality metalcore, here's an album for you.

Katabatic - Heavy Water

Any band that can bring to mind Isis in any way is going to get me to turn my ear their way. Katabatic evoke some Isis moments as they craft a mixture of atmospheric sludge with some post-rock leanings. The majority of these 7 tracks churn and ooze their way through your speakers, methodically pulsing and riffing as they move from beginning to end. At times it also almost feels like there's an upbeat undercurrent behind some of the band's riffs, but it is usually crushed under the weight of the band's thick wall of sound.

Landscapes - Life Gone Wrong

I really miss Modern Life Is War. They called it quits to soon. Luckily you can hear the echoes of their brand of hardcore in bands like Landscapes. This entire album is played at the mid-tempo, boiling-under-the-surface pace that MLIW was known for. You can also taste a bit of Defeater coming through from time to time. The emotional punch that this album packs into 30 minutes is stunning. Hardcore fanatics should not skip this album.

El-P - Cancer 4 Cure

This is a great year for experimental hip-hop with releases from both Aesop Rock and El-P. Unlike Rock's latest, which was laser focused on letting Rock's rhymes take center stage, Cancer 4 Cure is more so about big, booming beats and creative song structures. El-P still puts his flow on full display, but it isn't always the center focus, making many of the songs to be found extremely dynamic. Hip-hop fans, this is a can't miss album that you must check out.

Cypress Hill & Rusko - Cypress X Rusko

I really should hate this, and I'm sure most of you will actually hate this, but if you want some wobbly, brostepping hip-hop, you could do worse. The combo of pot-obsessed Cypress Hill and dubstep artist Rusko should have failed miserably, but if you find yourself looking for something that's banging to hammer through your headphones while hitting the gym, this should do. I'd actually be interested to see a full album collaboration between these two.

Scott Kelly - The Forgiven Ghost in Me

Kelly is known to most as being the voice of the legendary Neurosis, but he has a solo career that is just as dark, but not nearly as heavy. The Forgiven Ghost in Me is Kelly's third solo album, and it finds him continuing to craft haunting and depressing contemporary folk songs. These songs are sparse, desert-like affairs, but are so expertly put together that there is no way they won't elicit a sense of heartbreak and world-weariness inside of you.

Glass Cloud - The Royal Thousand

Here's a novel combination--post-hardcore, djent, and some prog metal. And, believe it or not, it actually appears to work! This album swings from moments that are more aggressive than Periphery's heaviest moments to post-hardcore passages that wouldn't sound out of place alongside something from Hands Like Houses. There's a bit more leaning on the heavier side of the spectrum, but the lighter moments are not simply there to give you a break--they're actually very well done and fit within the structures of the various songs.

Inborn Suffering - Regression to Nothingness

Death/doom metal is a tough genre to get into. You usually need lots of patience, have to have an appreciation for the genre's aesthetic, and you can't be scared away by wails, shrieks, and tempos slower than nearly any other genre. I don't often possess those traits, so it's a special death/doom album that can capture my attention. Inborn Suffering, despite most of their songs delving into 10+ minute territory, don't wear out their welcome. It's most likely due to their propensity to simply stretch and slow down the death/doom approach of band like Ghost Brigade orSwallow the Sun instead of falling into the trappings of adding in some funeral doom influences. Whatever it is, this is a spectacular death/doom metal album.

While She Sleeps - This Is the Six

This was a surprisingly release in that it made me fondly remember some of the things I loved about listening to bands like Trivium (before they turned into horrible Metallica wannabes), Unearth, Sanctity, and early As I Lay Dying--raspy vocals, full-on attacks on your eardrums, and a sense of genuine aggression. Whereas so many bands today seem to fake the metalcore approach (and you can hear the fakeness in most bands if you listen for it), this album feels aggressive with a purpose. The couple of instrumentals are really the only downside to an otherwise stellar metalcore album.

Polarization - Chasing the Light

The best way to describe this album is to say that this is very similar to what a combination of an instrumental version of TesseracT plus Dan Dankmeyer plus a bit of Paul Wardingham would sound like. If your tastes are anything like mine, simply mentioning those three names together should have you salivating. Chasing the Light is exactly what you'd expect when thinking of those names and the, by now, well-established djent template. It's 11 prime cuts of djent goodness!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Abel - Make It Right Album Review

In the past I've had a hard time when it comes to listening to Abel's music, mostly because of the extremely blatant and over-the-top Christian lyrics (see my comment in Decoy's review of The Honest Love). The underlying music was always a very competent emo/indie blend that's usually easy on the ears--inoffensive, measured dynamics, and just enough differentiation to stand slightly above background music. Those lyrics, though, were just too much to get past.

On Make It Right, Abel has matured greatly, shedding some of their tendencies to be simplistic songwriters and stick to overtly preachy lyrics. That's not to say they don't sometimes revert to some of these tendencies, but even from the outset when listening to "I'll Be Waiting" you know that this is a different band as they have a newly found edge to their music; there's a fury there that wasn't there before.

After the solid opening, "Fire Walk With Me" comes across as possibly one of the best songs on the album. Starting off with a chanted beginning, the song is able to capture the Christian beliefs of the band without being too cheesy, let's the band create a catchy indie emo vibe, and still introduces some southern flavor to the whole thing. If any song demonstrates how much this band has grown up, this is it.

In growing up, Abel also hearken back to the good ol' days of the early 00's emo scene where bands like Further Seems Forever, The Juliana Theory, and Jimmy Eat World reigned supreme. You can hear hints of each throughout the album at different points. Abel never directly rip off these stalwarts, but they are easily identified as influential components that guided the direction, whether blatant or not, of where Abel have traveled.

What keeps them from being mere clones is a combination of infusing their songs with an easy-going, southern, pop-rock component while also pulling in some minor, modern, post-hardcore tics. These tics mostly revolve around some of the more aggressive moments, like on the aforementioned opening track, or on "Fine Lines," or "Daughter," where they sometimes feel natural… but not completely in the band's wheelhouse quite yet. They add some much needed dynamics, but sometimes pull you away from the feel of the rest of the album.

It deserves mentioning one last time--these guys have definitely grown up, demonstrating that in some cases a band simply needs time to get to a point where they are confident, experienced, and mature enough to put forth a solid album. Abel are now a follow-up album away from cementing themselves as masters of this genre.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spot On Energy Misses the Mark

I've been battling a very open addiction to caffeine for more than a decade now. I've come to terms with my addiction and have established a somewhat stable routine. I only binge on caffeine to assist in medicating migraines when they pop up. Otherwise, I've been quite good about sticking to a few cups of coffee and a Diet Coke in a day. Every now and again, I'll crack open a Monster instead of a Diet Coke, but I think I've finally moved past the days of needing to ingest pots upon pots of coffee every day.

However, that's not to say I'm still not intrigued by the crazy caffeine related products that pop up from time to time. When I noticed that someone made a caffeine patch, I figured I had to at least give it a try, and I'm glad I did because it proved that patches, while a nice novelty, aren't going to replace your usual liquid consumption of caffeine.

I ordered a sampler pack from Spot On and in reading the label, I found there's only 20 mg of caffeine per patch, which is pretty minimal. To put things into perspective, your usual cup of coffee usually has in excess of 100 mg. Spot On suggests you apply two patches at once (getting you 40 mg of go-juice), so if you buy 20 patches, realize you're only really getting 10 servings. Also, if you want to replicate the amount of caffeine you get in a cup of coffee, you're going to have to put 5 or more of these patches on yourself.

I tried an application of two patches, both of which were square, not round (as you'd assume from the packaging). And... it didn't do much. I maybe got a little bit of a pick-me-up, but it was nothing like a good ol' cup of joe would get you. And when you want to take them off, they don't come off easily. The adhesive is quite... adhering! I made the mistake of putting one patch on the inside of my arm where it got applied over a few hairs, which are no longer on my arm but are still attached to the patch. So at least you know the patches won't accidentally fall off while you're wearing them! They also left some sticky residue on my arm, which is kind of gross, but it did eventually rub off.

So, really, at the end of the day these supposed magic caffeine energy patches aren't really worth the hassle, price, or effort to use. I'd suggest just sticking with coffee or your favorite diet soda instead of getting these things stuck on you. It's a great idea... I think... but the execution just isn't there.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXV

Want to know what the key to true happiness is? New music. So here's some stuff to check out. Go. Be happy.

Sinew - Pilots of a New Sky

Progressive alternative rock has been a genre with some stellar bands cropping up in the last few years, as well as seeing stalwarts releasing superb efforts of their own. Sinew, on their sophomore effort, channel some of the best there is in the genre. They would fit right at home between listening toPorcupine Tree, Karnivool, Oceansize, and Junius. And if you even think about questioning Sinew's prog cred, just listen to the 13+ minute epic "The Descent to the Heart of Mount Sadhana."

Oddland - The Treachery of Senses

I'm surprised that there haven't been more progressive metal bands that try to marry some of the currently trendy metal styles (ie: djent, tech-death, etc.) with more classically accepted prog metal stylings (read: sounding like Dream Theater). Oddland take a stab at doing the new meets old sound by planting themselves firmly in the traditional prog metal realm while adding some slightly mechanical, TesseracT-ish guitar tones, some Opeth-like melodic sections, and even the occasional Leprous-like non-metal musical diversion. But don't be fooled by the name-dropping of those bands; Oddland is still very much a traditional prog metal band… they're just trying to evolve the sound a bit, and it definitely works!

3 Pill Morning - Black Tie Love Affair

Radio-rock is not usually my forte. There are some decent bands in the genre, but it feels like for every 10 Years I find there are about a hundred versions of Shinedown I have to wade through. 3 Pill Morning are one of the few decent bands to rise above the usual radio-rock fare. They have 10 Years' pacing, the occasional Chevelle tonality, and the chorus creating ability of Thousand Foot Krutch. This leads to an instantly listenable album, even if it's been done before.

Headspace - I Am Anonymous

Headspace is probably best described as a proggy prog rock band with some heavy prog metal influences. Yeah, if you haven't guessed, the name of the game here is… prog. You've got lengthy tracks, solos, multiple movements within songs, hints of pretentiousness… it's all here. So if you enjoy bands likeDream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Ayreon, or Fates Warning you should feel right at home listening to I Am Anonymous. It'll satiate any prog lover's appetite.

Endevor - 296 Above Parallels

How do I classify this album? It's definitely leans in a post-hardcore direction, but it's also filled with some pretty meaty riffs throughout… not a song (other than the intro) clocks in under 5 minutes… there are pieces of sludge metal influence to be found… but there's also some Junius-esque prog rock elements. And then you have the well placed piano and keyboards throughout. It's like you tossed together Hands, TesseracT, Emarosa, Junius, andCaspian into a salad bowl, tossed heavily, and had it for dinner… the ingredients are very diverse, but the combination simply can't be beat.

Bend the Sky - Origins

Australia, you are simply the country for good music nowadays. Bend the Sky will wow you with their mastery of symphonic & progressive styled instrumental metal. The key to a good symphonic metal album (in my mind) is well placed, accentuating, appropriate keyboard usage while the key to progressive metal is fluid movements throughout songs and a strong sense of being able to create necessarily complicated soundscapes. Bend the Sky does both of these things supremely well. It's like you mixed Dream Theater, Katatonia, TesseracT, and Within Temptation together, but kept vocals out of the mix. It's lovely.

It's pretty much a given that we'll never get old Minus the Bear back. That doesn't mean their influence can't still be felt in other bands, such as Mutiny on the Bounty. Whereas MtB have changed their focus to hone in on catchy songwriting, MotB feel solely focused on showing how technical they can be in the math/indie/post-hardcore realm. This isn't a bad thing at all, but it can leave you exhausted at times as you try to digest everything the band is doing. Thankfully, they toss in a few breaks, allowing you to catch your breath for the next intricate salvo of guitar and bass noodlery.

Violet - The Brightside

I'll admit right away that at times Violet try to stretch themselves a little too far, but I'd rather see a band pushing themselves than playing it safe. OnThe Brightside you'll no doubt pick up some Dance Gavin Dance influences, most notably in the combination of the clean vocals (which are very Johnny Craig-lite) and harsh vocals (which are slightly better than Jon Mess). There are some musical flourishes that are very DGD-ish as well, but you also have some more standard post-hardcore approaches to be found. I think these guys can really take off if they iron out some of their vocal issues (both vocalists really try to stretch their ranges too far).

BT - If the Stars Are Eternal so Are You and I

With all of my recent infatuations with dubstep and related styles of electronic music, I've sometimes forgotten about some of the artists that originally got me into electronic music. BT was one of those artists. He's slowly evolved throughout his career from doing more straight forward trance to soundtracks to ambient. With this album I think BT is at his strongest, creating sprawling audible landscapes, texturing his ambient style with some glitch and mellow dubstep elements. He demonstrates here he knows how to craft fully realized compositions that completely utilize their run times (4 of the 7 tracks on this album are 11 minutes long or longer). Epic ambience has never been a term I thought I'd use until I heard this album.

Lorn - Ask the Dust

As soon as you flip this album on, you'll instantly feel way cooler than you actually are. It'll feel like the world is moving in slow motion while you smugly take everything in; you're above it all and you know it. This album feels custom-crafted for slo-mo cinematic scenes. There's a deep low end that anchors everything, while pieces of downtempo dubstep litter the IDM landscape created. There's even a faint trip-hop vibe to some songs. Just go listen to this already and bask in your newfound awesomeness.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Hero A Fake - The Future Again Album Review

You may or may not have complained about having to learn geometry in high school, wondering when you'd ever need to know what a rhombus was or when you'd use a logarithmically expanding curve. Since you may not have loved geometry, math, statistics, or any of those other classes you'll "probably never use," I'll keep it simple (something A Hero A Fake also did this time around… but I'll get to that shortly) and talk about a simple bell curve shape since A Hero A Fake's career trajectory, to this point, seems to fit it perfectly. So class, let's take a look at the figure below!

When Volatile presented A Hero A Fake to the metalcore world, it was pretty rough around the edges and there weren't a lot of fully realized, high-quality songs to be found. However, there was a lot of potential there that could be tapped, so on the figure above we see the band starting out around a 2 rating at the beginning of their career.

With Let Oceans Lie we saw exactly what A Hero A Fake was capable of. They tapped into their potential, creating some very solid, if slightly derivative, Between the Buried and Me styled progressive metalcore. The trajectory that the band was on from Volatile to Let Oceans Lie promised even greater things for the band in the future.

But then we have The Future Again… and with it gone are many of the progressive elements, replaced with breakdowns, underdeveloped songs, continued weak vocals, and a real lack of anything substantive. A Hero A Fake has regressed backwards to the level they were at when they first released Volatile which, if we extrapolate out further into their future, doesn't bode well for them.

Setting the graph above aside, it was quite a let down to sit through the extremely short 8 track album that is The Future Again. Even though it's classified as a full length, I'm hesitant to treat it as one. At under 28 minutes, it feels a lot more like a glorified EP to hold over fans until an actual release. It also feels like it was rushed out the door. I'm not sure if the band's intention was to purposely scale back their progressive metalcore tendencies to stick with a much more simple metalcore template, but they're definitely not flexing as many of their musical muscles as they had in the past, so when you listen to it alongside their other albums, it feels very, very lazy.

It should be noted, however, that this album is extremely polished and if you ignore the band's history, it's a relatively capable effort. But I just can't bring myself to look at this release divorced from the rest of the band's career, especially when they can still make a decent song that gives glimpses of where they could go, such as "Princess of the Sun," the album's closing track which, being the best of the album, leaves you begging for the band to give you more.

Let's collectively hope that A Hero A Fake isn't going to stick to this bell curve trajectory because it only foretells a horrible remainder to their career. Instead, I'll hold out hope that we're actually looking at a sine wave pattern, which would mean their next album should be back up to the level of Let Oceans Lie!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Halo Effect Book Review

The Halo Effect: ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive ManagersThe Halo Effect: ... and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers by Philip M. Rosenzweig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've always loathed business books and management books because they all usually set out with the goal of providing you with some magic formula that will make your management style or business transformational! Data tells us so! The thing is, just like any magical investing formula, if it actually worked EVERYONE would be using it and it wouldn't be some secret that has been a mystery up until the publication of said book and after publication everyone would be using it. There is no magic bullet, and I'm glad The Halo Effect illustrated that.

However, this common sense principle of "no magic bullet" was stretched pretty far throughout this book. The first half of the book is simply examples of contradictory feelings on companies dependent upon performance and then illustration after illustration of halos existing. This is all good and well, but the point is made pretty quickly and I felt there was a bit of padding here.

Categorizing the different issues with some of the past business books was actually the most interesting piece of the book and it was a small section towards the end. I would have loved a more thorough breakdown of past business books and how their "results" were tainted by the various styles of halos. Alas, what is there is at least engaging.

At the end of it all, this is a good counterbalance to the myriad of management books out there that make you think you can do one specific thing to be a better manager or create a better company, but I feel it left a lot of unexplored territory on the table.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

HavocNdeeD - Distoria Album Review

Last year I listened to nearly 1,000 albums that were released in 2011. This year, I'm on pace to hit that total again, if not significantly exceed it. When I sit back and actually think about those numbers, I realize that there is rarely an album that truly sticks with me. There's the occasional effort here and there that gets me to perk up and that might even get me to toss them on a year end list or something, but when I look at my musical catalog, there's probably only a group of 50-75 albums that I ever want to actively listen to. These albums stand out because they are either wonderfully unique or they exemplify the peak of a genre. One of those albums was the self titled effort from Innerpartysystem. It was something new and fresh at the time; I'd never heard an amalgamation of pop, electronics, new wave, and rock quite like that before and, frankly, haven't since. But then HavocNdeeD went and released Distoria…

I nearly skipped over this EP simply because of the band's horrendous name. It screamed late 90s or early 00s nu-metal and the album art wasn't doing them any favors to dispel that assumption. Luckily, as mentioned earlier, I am an insatiable monster that craves new music from every source and genre possible, so this eventually hit my headphones. Nearly instantly I knew I found something different, something that was going to make me keep coming back. "Breathing in Seconds" was the closest thing I'd heard to the amalgamation Innerpartysystem put forth years back. The pulsating undercurrent of industrialized beats stretched to their extreme, guided the methodical pace of the song, allowing the vocals to float above it all while a heartbroken piano line pulled at you… this song… it's moody as hell and you can't escape the grasp it will have on you.

But as quickly as HavocNdeeD hooked me, they almost lost me. "At Last," the second track on this EP, is the one oddball of the bunch. Instead of sticking with the moody electronics of the rest of the EP, they delve into a country and Americana influenced approach that, on its own actually isn't all that bad, but as a part of this EP comes across as something zooming in from way out there in left field.

From there, however, the EP gets back on course and continues to play with the combination of modern electronics, absolutely spot-on downtempo pacing, melancholic (almost nu-metal-ish crooning) vocal lines, utter coolness, and infusions of dubstep (not brostep, drop-heavy, Transformers-raping-each-other shit, mind you, but churning wub-wub bass lines and movements). After the first two tracks, which are easily the best and worst songs on the album, the trio seemingly goes through a growth and evolution of their unique sound.

"Vision" carries forward the themes and vibe of "Breathing in Seconds" but pulls back just a bit in intensity, which allows the new mix of "Headspin" to come through with full force when it follows. The pulsating bass lines are coupled with grimy, distorted, buzzingly huge electronic pushes that guide the vocals and show the first hints of the dubstep influence, an influence the band wields expertly.

"Waiting Game" lets the dubstep tendencies of the band fly free, being the most aggressive, cathartic, and booming track on the album. I'd be remiss to note that this could easily fit at home between efforts from Bassnectar or Flux Pavillion, but it's so well done that it doesn't feel like a contrived shoe-horning in of a currently popular sound.

Then you get the closer, "Where Do We Go," that puts together all of the individual pieces of what HavocNdeeD worked with on this EP. There's a further exploration of dubstep wobbling, haunting vocals, thick bass undercurrents, and methodical pacing. It's completely evident that this trio are a mature band that can expertly create a sound that is wholeheartedly unique, while uniquely utilizing pieces of genres that are already oversaturated well known.

If you've been waiting for the second coming of Innerpartysystem, here you have it, after a fashion. If you crave some serious electronic and dubstep flavored music, here you have it. And if you want a sure-fire inclusion for your year end EPs list, here you definitely have it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXIV

After my last article, which lacked the usual metalcore and hardcore entries, I wanted to make sure I touched on those genres and their closely related brethren because there are, despite what I may have insinuated in that article, some great bands and albums in those genres that seem to be sliding underneath everyone's radar. So here are some recent heavy picks that should keep your workout mix fresh!

Sky Came Burning - Patent Pending

I readily admit that some of the songs on this album are not very good (and with only 9 tracks, that's usually a bad sign), but some really tickle the nostalgia center of my brain. There are some definite bits of Killswitch Engage throughout, along with some hints of Static-X (mostly in the vocals) and early 2000's metalcore to be found. The album is a little rougher than most modern metalcore albums; there isn't that glossy sheen coating everything. This rawness helps the band feel more "real" than a lot of their contemporaries, even if they're not exploring any new territory.

Callejon - Blitzkreuz

I've been paying attention to Callejon for a few years, noting they had potential, but they never seemed to capitalize on it; they were always a bit just below average. On Blitzkreuz, however, they've finally pulled it all together to create a fun, electronic-tinged melodic metalcore album. Not quite as trendy as many current metalcore bands, Callejon put a lot of focus on melody and making songs that are catchy as opposed to making sure they stay within their genre's strict confines. Imagine It Dies Today mixed with a modern Bullet For My Valentine flair and toss in some hip-hop flow from time to time (I realize that sounds horrible, but it's only slightly awful).

From the Eyes of Servants - Change the World

If you don't pay close attention, it would be pretty easy to mistake Change the World for a new Comeback Kid album. The only things that are missing are a few big, catchy choruses. Beyond that, this is a solid hardcore effort that falls into the same vein of what you'd hear from Verse orThis Is Hell (earlier career). There's not a lot else to say other than this is very, very solid and plays to the genre perfectly.

Galaktik Cancer Squad - The Gathering

Just ignore the band name. Yeah, it's lame, but that shouldn't detract from enjoying a hefty compilation of the band's previous works into one nice package. The Gathering is 74 minutes of black metal tinged atmospheric sludge metal. Predominantly instrumental (there are a few harsh black metal vocals here and there), Galaktik Cancer Squad excel at creating epic, lengthy compositions that channel the spectrum of bands from Isis toWolves in the Throne Room. This effort comes at you with a full wall of sound and rarely lets up.

Guardians - The Alignment

Progressive metalcore is like candy to me, and The Alignment is a big ol' Snickers bar loaded with breakdowns, start/stop riffs, melody, and punishing drumming. Take some of the best parts of August Burns Red, Architects, Misery Signals, and After the Burial and you've got a good sense of what to expect from Guardians. There may only be nine tracks on this album, but all of them are executed perfectly, getting the most out of every moment.

I initially wrote these guys off after their debut, Earth Harvest. Their brand of deathcore with technical elements seemed sloppy and wasn't really all that compelling. On their sophomore effort, however, they've transformed into a deathcore band that has some stellar technical moments. Their riffs are precise, thick, and bludgeoning when they need to be. I'm still not a huge fan of their fairly standard and uninspiring deathcore vocals, but everything else about the band exemplifies what is needed to make a successful technical deathcore album.

Tigerscout - Home Less

Imagine a much more pissed-off version of La Dispute mixing it up with some early Thursday and maybe even a tinge of The Chariot, but also staying true to the traditional screamo aesthetic. There's a lot of musical craziness and abrasive passages swirled together into this 11 song EP (many tracks don't even break the 2 minute mark). There's no room for fat on this effort, and that's absolutely perfect.

Aviyn - Aviyn

If you hate the Rise Records sound, move along. If you find yourself sometimes drawn to it, then you could do a lot worse than Aviyn. Ever since the early 2000s, I've loved metalcore that fully utilizes the harsh/clean approach. Bands like From Autumn to Ashes and Beloved were two of my favorites. As time has progressed, we now have a newer take on the sound they started. You have bands like The Devil Wears Prada and The Air I Breathe and Of Mice & Men who have made the harsh/clean style of metalcore more aggressive, breakdown filled, and keyboard tinged. Some hate it, but I enjoy it. And it is this latter class of metalcore bands that Aviyn falls smack dab into the middle of. If those band names are appealing to you, then you shouldn't miss this album. Just don't get your hopes up for their Deftones cover… it's kind of lacking.

Choking on Illusions - Guide Me Home

I feel like there are less and less melodic hardcore bands around today. The scene has shifted to metalcore and deathcore or gleaming, shiny post-hardcore. Even melodic hardcore heavyweights The Ghost Inside went a bit soft on their last album. Choking on Illusions don't play that game. They're quite comfortable playing melodic hardcore that would feel right at home in the early to mid 2000s, often eschewing breakdowns in favor of more traditional hardcore elements. They do slip into a few metalcore tropes here and there, but it's pretty rare. Instead you'll hear influences ranging from Comeback Kid to No Trigger to Strike Anywhere.

Write This Down - Lost Weekend

When Decoy covered Write This Down's debut album, it was noted that the album was a bit all over the place, traversing many of the trendy genres of the time. On their sophomore album, this is still the case, but they've narrowed down their focus a bit. The majority of the songs on Lost Weekend have a southern rock/metal bend to them, but that doesn't stop the band from still treading into the realms of metalcore, pop-punk, and straight up alternative rock. You can hear bits of Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, He Is Legend, Chevelle, Anberlin, and Taking Back Sundaystrewn about this album, sometimes to good effect, other times not as much. Still, this is a compelling album simply from the standpoint that the band is not afraid to branch out and take chances on seemingly every song.

Enabler - All Hail the Void

There is no slowing down the pace of Enabler's hardcore/metal concoction. This is piss & vinegar infused, distorted, abrasive, crusty, metal-tinged hardcore. It's like the members of Enabler took the best parts of the bands they used to be in (ie: Harlots, Shai Hulud, Earth Crisis, Trap Them) and fused them all together into a rage-filled album intent on punishing you in all the right ways.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rick's Discoveries Volume XXIII

During the last month or so, I found myself listening to tons of metalcore and hardcore--much more than I usually do. Because of that, I think I took notice of bands that fell outside of those genres a bit more as they were a distinct change of pace from what was usually coming through my headphones. What that means is this batch of discoveries will be a bit more diverse than some others. Enjoy!

Aerodyne Flex - Transmissions

If you had Between the Buried and Me listen to a bit of Devin Townsend's heaviest efforts and mix in some Corellia, you'd get a close approximation of what Aerodyne Flex sounds like. There aren't as many odd flourishes as you'd get with a BTBAM album, but there are definitely a lot of time changes, as you'd hear with BTBAM. There's also a healthy interspersing of ambiance and atmospheric slow-downs to temper the intermittent breakdowns and sledgehammer riffing.

Hypomanie - Calm Down, You Weren't Set on Fire

Be still my beating heart! It's true, you have found a blackglaze band that actually has solid production values and focuses on the "glaze" instead of the "black." Yes, there are still some underlying bass rolls and distorted guitar movements, but it's all there to accentuate the post-rock leaning shoegaze that Hypomanie uses to tug at your heartstrings, instilling an overwhelming sense of melancholy and bittersweetness. Fans of Alcestwith an appreciation for post-rock will definitely be fans of Hypomanie.

69 Chambers - Torque

I'm a sucker for female fronted hard rock and metal, so it's no surprise that I liked 69 Chambers' Torque. There are easy comparisons to make to All Ends, Lacuna Coil, and your favorite radio-friendly post-grunge bands. The majority of Torque sees the band playing grungy hard rock with some alternative metal tinges here and there. All of the songs are pretty easy on the ears and smooth going down… but it is a little overlong. With 14 songs on the album and half of them clocking in over 4:30 each, you may find yourself getting worn out, but taken in small bits 69 Chambers give you some great female fronted hard rock.

Leander - Szividomar

Leander comes to us from Hungary, bringing with them a combination of modern groove metal and alternative metal. I hear bits and pieces of mid-career Machine Head throughout the album, but with a lot less suck than mid-career Machine Head. You shouldn't have a hard time banging your head and air-guitaring to Szividomar, but unless you know Hungarian you'll have a bit of a difficult time singing along!

Jairus - Streams Over Sad Parades

Jairus have been flying under the radar for over a decade, mostly because they don't release much in the way of new music. I've been a fan ever since I picked up The Need to Change the Mapmaker thinking it was a Junius album I'd never heard of. What's odd is that the two bands aren't so different from one another. Jairus takes the space rock approach into the post-hardcore realm, infusing some bits of well placed aggression that counterbalance the Hopesfall influenced space rock of the rest of the EP. Again, we're treated to only a morsel of Jairus' musical talents as there are only 3 songs and an interlude clocking in for a total of 13 minutes to be found here, but it's definitely worth it.

MaLLy & The Sundance Kid - The Last Great…

MaLLy has had a presence here in the Minneapolis hip-hop scene for a few years. Up until The Last Great… he's shown tons of potential, but hasn't quite been able to nail down an album that exploits that potential. Here, however, he's finally found his groove and puts forth a great conscientious hip-hop effort that sounds a bit like a mix of Childish Gambino (his slower numbers), Atmosphere (their newer efforts), and a bit of Aesop Rock. Add to this some guest spots from K. Raydio, Brother Ali, and Claire de Lune and you have a pretty rock solid hip-hop effort.

Anatomy of the Bear - Anatomy of the Bear

I'll get my biggest criticism of this album out of the way right now--this album is overlong. That being said, Anatomy of the Bear's self titled album weaves its way in and out of the various post-rock sub-genres, focusing predominantly on the ambient side of things. There are moments of Sigur Ros' beauty, God Is an Astronaut's pacing, and The American Dollar's ambience all over the place. If you're a post-rock fan, this will cover all of the bases for you, just make sure you have the endurance to make it through as it is a 70 minute journey.

The Chant - A Healing Place

On their third album, it looks like The Chant have perfected their form of gothic rock topped with hints of ambient, alternative rock, and progressive rock. Sharing a lot in common with Paradise Lost and Katatonia, The Chant focus on lengthy compositions that provide plenty of time for the listener to get lost in the dreary, downtrodden atmosphere the band creates. With only one song under 6 minutes in length, The Chant don't rush anything and, for them, it pays off immensely.

Fail Emotions - Speed of Light

Ever wish that Enter Shikari was more electronic and less post-hardcore? Or that you could hear an early version of I See Stars without the extreme dosage of suck? Then Fail Emotions are right up your alley. They're very electronics heavy and layer their post-hardcore/metalcore influences into the electronics. Usually it's the other way around, but not here. With this inversion of the usual in this genre, you'll no doubt find yourself more inclined to have some dancing tendencies instead of moshing/spin-kicking to the songs.

Gigawatt - Detritus

Please note right now, there's a healthy amount of Meshuggah worship on this album. If you can overlook this fact (which isn't really that big of a deal, unless you're burnt out on djent), you'll find a solid progressive metal album with some lengthy compositions. Besides the Meshuggahinfluence, you'll also hear a bit of Nemertines in some of the dissonant playing patterns and dirty guitar tones. The focus of this album is mostly on big, meaty riffs and less on technical wizardry, which works out quite well.