Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Say Like the French Say - This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things Album Review

If I know the people in a band, especially if the is pretty good, I like to try to get them any promotion I can, but I usually refrain from doing full-on album reviews in order to maintain some sense of objectivity. With this review, which was for a friend's band, I had assigned it to another one of Decoy Music's staff to review but the guy flaked and I wanted to get something done up for these guys so I broke one of my rules and reviewed it myself. So if you think that's tossing my objectivity out the door from the get-go, that's fine, but I tried to be as level-headed as possible and, to this day, I still find myself listening to this album every now and again. You can take that for what it's worth. This was originally published on July 13, 2010.

If you’re an indie band and you hail from Minneapolis, MN, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to have a little bit of Motion City Soundtrack in your music. They’ve had such an impact on the Minnesota indie music scene that it’s hard not to feel the influence they have over the current musical landscape. Thankfully, their influence is just that—an influence. Everyone has their influences—good bands use them to shape and craft their own sound while crappy bands just rip them off. Thankfully, Say Like the French Say only use their influences as springboards for new musical endeavors instead of ripping them off outright.

Throughout This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, the band’s debut album, you’ll hear nods to the aforementioned Motion City Soundtrack, but you’ll also find post-hardcore leanings and mellow, introspective moments throughout. You’ll notice the Motion City Soundtrack comparison most from the vocals and the occasional song structure, but from there the band ventures out into their own musical territory, synthesizing the Minneapolis indie rock sound with what sounds like a healthy dose of Brand New, mid-90s emo, and post-hardcore.

The thick wall of sound approach the band takes on tracks such as “Honestly Honest” and “Cosmonaut” makes them sound huge, almost like a post-hardcore version of early career Jimmy Eat World, a more indie oriented version of Hum, or a male fronted Holy Roman Empire. These large, building moments are when the band are at their best. Beyond the powerful sound they create, the atmosphere of these songs is also quite tangible, having a constrained and controlled mix of anger and angst under the surface.

However, when the band dabble a little too much into a more streamlined indie rock sound, they start to falter a bit. There isn’t the same sense of emotion in songs like “Call the Guards” when compared to the rest of the album. That’s not to say the less post-hardcore oriented tracks aren’t good, but they don’t have quite the same weight. It's almost as if they wanted some "safe" moments on the album to pepper the core of their focus.

Barring the slight misstep noted above, this is a potential-drenched debut album. There are not nearly enough bands trying to recapture the sounds of Jawbox or Sunny Day Real Estate, but Say Like the French Say are doing their damndest to bring that sound back, melding it with the Minneapolis indie rock sound and healthy overtones of post-hardcore.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gory Dismemberment? That's OK, as Long as You Hide the Boobs

This past week I finished watching The Pacific, the "sequel" to Band of Brothers, both of which are amazing looks at the events of World War II. Most of the criticism of The Pacific said that it was a little more disjointed and less emotionally invested in its characters than Band of Brothers, which I agree with to a point, but the campaign in the Pacific theater seemed much more disjointed and darker than the battle raging in Europe. I loved it just as much as Band of Brothers and would wholeheartedly recommend both if you haven't seen them.

As I was going into my Netflix account to rate The Pacific, I glanced through the member reviews to see what others thought and ended up scratching my head as I read through many of them. A few of the reviews shared the same sentiments I mentioned above, but the overwhelming negative criticism of the mini-series was that there were a couple of scenes where we *gasp* see some boobs. Yes, there are 2-3 scenes where the relationships of our characters and their intimate moments are explored. In truth, there's probably a full total of 5 minutes of nudity in the entire 7-ish hours of the mini-series.

It was so odd to read reviews railing against the series, saying not to watch it, because there were a few scenes of female nudity (nothing overtly explicit even and most of the time things were obscured). It seems like such an odd criticism of a series that has a body count in the hundreds. The action is visceral with no punches pulled. Limbs are violently lost, men scream in their bloody death throes, bodies are utterly dismantled, and you are party to more than a few intense, prolonged, physical, hand-to-hand struggles as a life is slowly extinguished. These are all brutal, harrowing scenes of violence and death, some that will churn your stomach... yet so many people were up in arms over a nipple or two.

To this day, I have trouble understanding this odd disconnect in our culture. Violence, no matter how cringe-worthy, is no big deal, but as soon as you have one nipple on screen or even think about portraying an intimate moment, people want to turn their head or complain or make sure to protect their children from such filth. It's just so weird. Maybe it's the American fetish with violence. Maybe we're all to desensitized. Maybe there's something inherently nefarious about nipples that I don't realize. But if you ask me right now, I think too many people have their priorities mixed up when it comes to what is viewed as more damaging. I know I don't have kids yet, but I somehow imagine that when I do that if I have to pick between allowing my kids to watch brutal violence or a couple expressing their love, I'm going to let love take precedence.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Fond Farewell to a Furry Family Member

Today the pseudo-mom of Stitch, our cat, moved on to the kitty afterlife (one hopefully filled with catnip, scratching posts, and fluffy pillows in the sunlight to lie on). Looking back, it's hard to imagine 13 years of having Mystique as a member of the family have come and gone already. It doesn't seem like all that long ago Stitch was a baby kitten chilling with Mystique (as you can see below) when I still lived with my parents. Since Stitch was rescued from near certain death as an outdoor cat, he didn't have his actual mom to take care of him, but Mystique was always happy (well, maybe not always) to hang with him and be that kinda-sorta-mommy-cat he needed.

Mystique napping with Stitch when he was a kitten

After I moved away from my parents' house, whenever I would come back home to visit, one of the things I most looked forward to was knowing Mystique would sleep with me at night. I love sleeping with pets... it's oddly comforting, and when I'd visit I would stay on the couch with Karma, my parents' dog, sleeping next to me, and Mystique would either lie on top of me or in the crook of my knee. It was quite the packed couch, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm sure my parents thought I was a little nuts for not sleeping in one of the guest room beds, but staying on the couch guaranteed me some quality resting time with the pets.

It's tough getting attached to pets. Everyone who is a pet person says they're just like a member of the family. I've always tried to brush that statement off, trying to listen to the logic that they're "just pets", but I've spent many loving moments, days, and years with each of mine and my family's pets to know logic is simply wrong in this case. There were so many moments that it's hard not to think of them as little, furry additions to the family. Days where I would want nothing to do with the outside world, couldn't talk to anyone (or didn't want to), and was just down for no particular reason, I would (and still do) always feel 100% comfortable sitting with Stitch or Pooh or Tori, nothing being said, just them being with me and I with them, an unspoken comfort shared between us.

There were a lot of days after college, as I was living with my parents, adjusting to the real world and suffering through the post-college doldrums, that I needed unspoken moments of comfort from Mystique and the other family pets. Even though I've not lived with my parents in years and I haven't been able to visit as much as I used to, I still find myself struggling to accept Mystique's passing in part because I fight change with every fiber of my being, partially because death simply sucks, and partially because I hate the thought of her not being at home the next time I visit, which really bums me the heck out. She was a sweet pet, a very much loved family member, and I will cherish the memories and times we shared. Farewell, Mystique...

Mystique tolerating Stitch's hyper kitten tendencies

The two at rest in their favorite chair

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Are the Fallen - Tear the World Down Album Review

I really thought that We Are the Fallen would have taken off a lot more than they have. They're definitely geared towards radio play and they use a formula that has succeeded for so many other bands (namely Evanescence), but I guess they just never completely caught on. Not that I'm truly disappointed by that, though, since I was pretty unimpressed by the lackluster effort put forth by We Are the Fallen, but it was odd to see the band fall flat and now with Evanescence returning, writing pretty much the same songs as We Are the Fallen, they're capturing listeners. Maybe it's just a name recognition thing... I'm not sure. Anyways, this was originally published back on June 30, 2010.

Knowing that this group was a female fronted band that had members of Evanescence, Living Sacrifice, and Soul Embraced, I definitely had a pre-conceived notion of what this album would sound like—a bit of a heavier version of Evanescence. This was true on a few songs, but for the most part this band essentially is Evanescence.

It is going to be impossible to get through this review without comparing We Are the Fallen’s lead vocalist, Carly Smithson, to Evanescence’s Amy Lee so let’s tackle that right now. Does Carly sound extremely similar to Amy? Yes. Are the two nearly interchangeable. Yes. Is Carly better than Amy? Sort of. Carly seems to have a bit of a fuller voice, but her range is extremely similar to Amy’s and you could easily have her sing any Evanescence song and think it was Amy belting out the vocals. The only moment where you get any real differentiation is on the ballad “Sleep Well, My Angel” where Carly is able to put on a performance style that differs from most of Amy’s work. Unfortunately, this leads to some major issues for both Carly and the band, most notably that We Are the Fallen and Carly do not have their own identity.

Ben Moody and the rest of the band lay down a very familiar base of radio friendly hard rock with some “metal” tinges here and there. Songs like “Burn” and “Through Hell” have some edgy guitar tones that make the band feel somewhat heavy, but the bulk of the tracks are crafted in such a way that the band doesn’t have to take any risks. Using the standard hard rock template and pushing Carly’s vocals to the forefront gives nearly every song a radio-rock appeal which, as you would guess, also means the album is quite boring and formulaic. The focus is definitely on Carly at all times, so the rest of the band doesn’t necessarily need to do much more than lay down a nice background for her, but by doing so the dynamics are just not that dynamic.

Since the female-fronted hard rock band formula has seemingly run its course, it’s interesting that We Are the Fallen are sticking so stringently to a formula that feels quite dated. Not only did Evanescence wear out this sound, but so too did Lacuna Coil, In This Moment, Flyleaf, and Within Temptation. Each of these bands, as well as We Are the Fallen, suffer from a case of not being able to break out of a formula that is worn out and no longer popular.

We Are the Fallen should see some radio airplay and will appeal to many mainstream rock listeners, but they’re doing absolutely nothing new and what they are doing is a decent rehash of a dated sound at best, a boring retread of unpopular ideas at worst. Even with low expectations, Tear the World Down will struggle to meet them, which is unfortunate considering that We Are the Fallen had an opportunity to shake things up and take risks, but they simply chose not to.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick's Discoveries Volume VIII

My tolerance for bands in popular genres putting out ok, listenable, decent albums is starting to wane. I used to eat up any band that did a moderately decent job at playing in a genre that I liked, but I’ve recently found myself getting bored by bands having the same old, no-deviation approaches that have been used for years upon years. Because of this you’ll probably see that this article contains more of a leaning towards bands that are in more “complicated” genres or are at least attempting to push boundaries a bit. I promise I’m not turning into a jaded, pretentious music snob, but if it seems like it from the contents of this article, I can understand that criticism.

HierosonicConsciousness, Fame, God, Money, Power

When I first heard Pornos and Razorblades back in 2005 there was something unique that stood out about Hiersonic, but I couldn’t quite pick out what it was. 4 years later with Kymatica I not only found a top 10 album, but I pinpointed what Hiersonic does so well—they take the modern rock sound of the early ‘00s, give it a slightly new coat of paint, and add a bit of edge and variety to the tracks to create something that feels new even though their sound is firmly rooted in the groundwork previously laid by bands such as Incubus, Silverchair, A Perfect Circle, and their peers. When comparing Hierosonic to each of those individually, you may not see any similarities, but the approach, aesthetic, and feel is that of those stalwarts of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.


Consisting of members of Intronaut and National Sunday Law, these guys have experience in the musical world, and it shows. You can definitely hear some influences of both of those bands in Graviton, but the more overriding comparison would be to the lighter Godflesh fare or early Jesu. There’s some tracks that tread down a noisy path, but many others also meander into progressive soundscape territory. There are some distinct post-metal elements that bring to mind Isis and Baroness at times as well, so what you’re hearing on Massless is a very diverse set of tracks. At times the album loses a bit of momentum, but for the most part it is a solid post-metal offering all the way through.


As I mentioned in my last article, progressive metal bands are often trying to shoehorn other genres into their progressive approach to set themselves apart. Again, with Leprous, we have another band that shows that if you play progressive metal well, and I mean really well, you can set yourself apart without gimmicks. Throughout Bilateral you’ll no doubt hear comparisons to bands such as Riverside, Opus Dai, Devin Townsend, and Between the Buried and Me (their progressive side, not their metalcore side). Leprous, throughout this album, sounds to me like what Devin Townsend would sound like if he could ever reign himself in when constructing a progressive album. Yes, Leprous still have the occasional lengthy track, but it all feels purposeful instead of meandering and self-indulgent. The entirety of Bilateral feels like it was constructed with a purpose and that is an essential for any prog album.

40 Watt SunThe Inside Room

This album should come with a warning label reminding you not to listen to it if you are in any way happy as it will instantly shatter your soul and crush any positivity you have. I’d classify 40 Watt Sun as doom metal, but qualify the statement by also saying that this treads a lot towards the melancholic shoegaze-y doom metal that’s recently become popular and not the more plodding, crushing doom metal you may be thinking of. I feel like The Inside Room combines the moodiness of early Katatonia with the heart-breaking feeling of Alcest and then mixes it into the template established by Warning. If you need an album to cry to, if you need a soundtrack to a depressing day, or if you simply want to sit and contemplate your mortality and the fate that we all share, this will be your go-to album. Remember, you’ve been warned that this release will absolutely crush you.

Hail Mary MallonAre You Gonna Eat That?

First, this is a Rhymesayers release, so of course I’m going to check it out. Second, it’s a new group that includes Aesop Rock which also means it was bound to get my attention. Finally, it’s Rock teaming up with Rob Sonic and DJ Big Whiz so there’s the ex-Def Jux connection as well. I expected something crazy-cool, but what I got was something I’ve heard before. Truth be told this feels a heck of a lot like a solo Aesop Rock effort. The beats feel like his, he performs a solid majority of the lyrics, and Sonic manages to fit into the spaces he’s given perfectly (even though he doesn’t push the beats too far out of Rock’s usual range). With my expectations being reset, I found I easily enjoyed this as much as any of Rock’s other projects, which is to say I loved it. I’m not sure how much appeal this will have outside of already existing fans of Rock and abstract hip-hop, but if you’re even remotely interested in either this will be a hit for you.

WolverineCommunication Lost

I don’t really know the best way to accurately describe what you can expect from Wolverine. They definitely fall into the progressive rock/metal genre, similar to Porcupine Tree or Pain of Salvation, but they’re much more subdued than either of those bands, almost taking on some similar traits to Radiohead or a very depressive Interpol. Even though the songs are very slow-moving and depressively composed, this isn’t at all doom-y as you’d expect, somewhat akin to a less aggressive Katatonia. Being that this album is very prog oriented, it may test your patience over the course of the 70+ minutes it runs, but fans of the genre will enjoy every one of those minutes.

Dan DankmeyerArcologies Origin


Dan is a busy guy. He’s released two albums this year after 4 (yes, 4!) from last year. In his bio he states that he tries to release an “album” every 3 months or so. That’s pretty ambitious and could easily lead to stagnation of content and burnout, but if you’re a progressive metal or djent fan, you’ll enjoy every moment of both of these albums. Playing in a style very similar to Vildhjarta (the instrumental tracks) or Periphery, Dankmeyer adds his own touch to the djent mix, tossing in some soloing and riffing that wouldn’t appear out of place on a Darkest Hour or August Burns Red album. Keep your eye on this guy as he could take off at any moment.

SubrosaNo Help for the Mighty Ones

When I heard this band described as an all girl doom metal band, my brain translated that as “gimmicky, subpar, knockoff doom band.” When I listened to Subrosa, however, I was confronted with a healthy mix of Neurosis, Kylesa, folk, Otep Shamaya styled vocals, PJ Harvey, and the bleakness of Across Tundras. If that combination has you at all interested, trust me, you’ll find yourself entranced by the droning, sludgy, textured approach to doom metal that Subrosa take. The last thing in the world that this album is is a gimmick.

Boys No GoodNever Felt Better

Every summer needs at least one truly great pop-punk effort and this year’s is Never Felt Better from Boys No Good. Now this is the classically styled pop-punk in the vein of The Wonder Years, Lifetime, The Movielife, and early career New Found Glory, not the crap that you hear called pop-punk at Warped Tour and on Pandora. It’s easy to see how Boys No Good excel at this sound as they have previous members of Casey Jones and Kids Like Us populating the band. Much like A Wilhelm Scream re-energized the genre when they came onto the scene, I think Boys No Good can do the same thing. They know how to create heartfelt, catchy, and authentic sounding pop-punk, which is exactly what we need with metalcore and auto-tune bands overcrowding the punk and hardcore scene.

Jardin de la CroixOcean Cosmonauts

This album falls smack dab in the middle of the instrumental math rock genre, but with some post-rock leanings for good measure. Hailing from Madrid, this Spanish band will be for fans of other instrumental artists, such as Buckethead, Toundra, Caspian, or This Will Destroy You. The focus of this album is obviously on the individual instruments and the sections that focus on the noodling and playing of each member (especially the guitars), but each song is relatively well composed and has an ebb and flow to it that often isn’t found in many wanktastic bands. This is probably where the post-rock influence helps; it grounds the songs and lets the show-off moments fit into the loose post-rock template utilized.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'm Done Painting... For Now...

When we bought our house at the end of last year, we knew there were some things we'd have to do in order to get the house to feel like our home. The basement wasn't finished completely, the deck needed to have some updates made, and we had to paint... a lot. The entire house (yes, every room in the ENTIRE structure) had not had a single coat of paint put up. Everything was still white as could be which, while nice from a blank slate perspective, didn't leave the house having a lot of character. So once we got moved in we started in on painting.

The first rooms we tackled were my office, our loft, and our master bedroom. None of them were overly difficult as they were pretty standard rooms, but it got a bit more difficult when we moved to doing the dining room with its wood borders, bay window, crown molding, and built-in cabinets. I then went a in a little easier direction and finished up the remaining two bedrooms which left just our great room and kitchen. The great room was a definite no go because of the 20+ foot ceilings and walls and sheer amount of wall space to cover. We'd have to hire that out. But the kitchen was still doable... but the most daunting because of all of the finicky trim work, maneuvering around cabinets, and working in more awkward areas. But I wanted to get it done, so last week that's just what I did. Below are some photos of the "before" followed by photos of the "after". Please ignore the masking tape and junk everywhere and just soak in the new hunger-inducing color!  I'm so glad it's done...

The desk area and left side of kitchen

The main part of the kitchen

The informal dining area and door to the deck

The view from the kitchen towards the great room

The hallway from the informal dining to actual dining room
So that's what everything looked like before I got out my paint brush, rollers, blankets, ladder, and other fun painting tools. I ended up having to put two solid coats on to make sure everything was colored correctly. There's still a tad bit of touch up left to do, but I think the color change came out amazing and I love the color and the feeling it adds to the room. It's like we have a whole new kitchen!

Kristi's new desk area and the hallway

The left side of the kitchen

The main part of the kitchen

The informal dining area and door to the deck

The view towards the great room

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sevendust - Cold Day Memory Album Review

I've been a fan of Sevendust since their first album, but over the course of their career there have definitely been some low lights. I usually continued to listen to them despite their mediocrity simply because I enjoy what the band puts out. Period. But when they put out stellar albums, it's an amazing experience. Home, for example, is easily one of the best nu-metal albums to grace the much maligned genre. Cold Day Memory was another of Sevendust's shining moments and it was great to see the band back in top form. This was originally published on May 26, 2010.

Eight studio albums into their career, Sevendust are showing no signs of slowing down. Almost like clockwork, every two years or so you can expect a new Sevendust album to grace shelves, but this hasn’t always worked to the band’s advantage. After their fourth album, Seasons, the band’s downward decline in quality set in pretty fast. Some would say they were already on the decline at that time, but there was a definite change in quality between the band’s first four albums and subsequent three albums released before Cold Day Memory. The period of time during which Sevendust were at their creative low was also the time that guitarist/vocalist Clint Lowery was not a part of the band. He has now returned and, as you might expect, the band shows a nice uptick in quality from what they created on Next, Alpha, and Chapter VII.

Cold Day Memory is, in effect, a natural progression for the band from their work on Seasons. In fact, the best way to view this album would be to imagine that Sevendust went on a hiatus from 2004 to 2009, with the albums that were released during that time being put out by a different band altogether. Sevendust is now back to melding catchy hard rock with a radio friendly sheen together with stomping, aggressive nu-metal rock. The band’s first single, “Unraveling,” is a perfect addition to the band’s already wide repertoire of radio hits. It avoids being cliché and delving into butt-rock contrivances (like so many bands looking for radio appeal are known to do), yet it is a song you wouldn’t mind singing along with or listening to when other people might be in your presence, unlike most guilty pleasure radio hits.

Even though this album feels a lot closer to the band’s early career material than their recent works, don’t expect a return of some of the pummeling riffs and outright aggression found on portions of Home or their self-titled debut. That ship has sailed, but that’s not to say there aren’t some heavy moments to be found on here. “Karma” has Lajon Witherspoon using some screams, sparingly, alongside some thundering guitar lines. The majority of the song, as is the case with most of the more aggressive songs on this album, still has a significant amount of melody and an accessible nature.

This accessibility should not be equated to selling out or simply “going soft”. The band has always had that mass appeal sound going for them, but as opposed to the time while Lowery was out of the band, the accessible nature of the songs feels natural and fluid. There are a number of songs on this album that are infectious and will stand out upon an initial listening. During their last three albums, however, you’d be hard pressed to find a single song that would stick with you or stand out even after multiple listens. Everything felt slightly less interesting. Now, however, you have tracks like “Confessions (Without Faith)”, “Unraveling”, and “Last Breath” that are true standouts. Witherspoon has always had great vocals and can belt out a sing-a-long chorus with the best of them, but the last few albums lacked the quality hooks and supporting instrumentation to make his vocals really pop and grab you.

Sevendust, with Cold Day Memory, have shown us that it’s not always possible to replace a band member and continue on at the same level of quality. While Lowery was missing, Sevendust were a below average imitation of themselves. With him back, they’re now operating at full strength and are showing it. This is the Sevendust album we’ve all been pining for over the last six years.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise Album Review

As I continue trekking through the music writings I've put together over the last few years, I've revisited a lot of albums I had temporarily forgotten about (some for good reason, others not). With this release from As I Lay Dying, I don't have a need to revisit it as it is still in constant rotation in my workout playlists. As I Lay Dying are heard usually at least once while I'm out running or lifting in the weight room. In the last half decade, they've been the go-to metalcore band and have consistently set the standard for the genre. I love seeing trend-setters continuing to evolve and mature the genre they're a part of, and As I Lay Dying do this perfectly. 

As I Lay Dying have had a very successful career thus far, finding themselves consistently among the top ranks of metalcore acts. When the band turned the corner between Frail Words Collapse and Shadows Are Security, embracing melody and integrating it into their musical repertoire, the band truly found their identity, but not to the disappointment of some fans. Despite the few disappointments from fans that didn't want to see the band evolve, Shadows Are Security was the album that ushered the band to the forefront of the metalcore genre and for good reason—it was one of the few albums that married melodic catchiness with pummeling metalcore aggression, creating a refined template that all too many bands would copy in years to come. The follow up to this groundbreaking album, An Ocean Between Us, saw the band continuing their interlacing of melody and metalcore, but doing it with more precision and a stronger sense of direction. The album as a whole felt more cohesive instead of a collection of really great songs, which was really the only drawback to Shadows Are Security. Most listeners, including myself, viewed An Ocean Between Us as a incremental step forward for the band. Now, three years later, As I Lay Dying have taken what appears to be another small step forward along with a shuffling sideways.

The Powerless Rise has been highly anticipated by many for quite some time now, no doubt in part because not many bands have been able to pull off the melodic metalcore sound so effortlessly and naturally as As I Lay Dying. After an initial listen, you’ll know that the band hasn’t lost a step, but there are a few key differences between The Powerless Rise and their past two albums that will stand out. These differences are not detractions from the album, but they do separate it, if only slightly, from what the band has done before.

Most noticeable is the lack of focus on big, booming choruses filled with hooks. Whereas songs like “The Darkest Nights,” “Confined,” “Nothing Left,” and “The Sound of Truth” had choruses that were deliberately written with a hook in mind, there aren’t any blatant hook-laden choruses other than perhaps in “Anodyne Sea”. Yes, there are still melodic choruses, but they feel slightly more integrated into the songs they are a part of instead of being the sole focus of a song with the verses simply serving as filler. Take “Anodyne Sea” as an example. It does have a very infectious and melodic chorus, but instead of just being the portion of the song you can sing along to, it works as a transition between the heavier portions of the song which are equally as compelling. It starts off fast, balls-out, and in your face, but naturally transitions into the chorus before (not quite as naturally) getting back to beating you apart. And whereas past songs with melodic passages were softer in general, “Anodyne Sea,” at the near three minute mark scrapes your face off with a razor sharp breakdown before hitting the chorus again for a full on melodic/aggressive interplay between the vocals and guitars.

Other songs using prominent melodic vocal passages, such as “Parallels,” “Anger and Apathy,” and “Upside Down Kingdom” all use them as natural portions of the songs and, barring “Anger and Apathy,” have extremely heavy offsetting passages. The synthesis of the melodic and the aggressive portions of As I Lay Dying’s songwriting is as close to complete on this album as it ever has been.

While mentioning the topic of As I Lay Dying’s aggressive songwriting, it is also very evident that the band went for a much more overall aggressive approach. The majority of the songs on The Powerless Rise have a darker, harsher tone when delving into the heavier passages. This tonal shift makes it so that the songs on this album would feel out of place if they were to appear on Shadows Are Security, but they would not be as out of place on An Ocean Between Us, which is where you can hear the genesis of this shift starting. Tim Lambesis’ vocals are now deeper, with heartier growls. Nick Hipa’s leads are more angular and menacing than in the past, but also explore melody more effectively this time around. Even Jordan Mancino’s drum work feels beefier than ever before. The band as a whole has come together to explore darker territory, which works stunningly and overcomes the lack of killer chorus hooks mentioned previously.

The Powerless Rise does not push any boundaries, but by continuing to play a style they are already the leader of, As I Lay Dying show they are, and plan to remain, the reigning kings of melodic metalcore. There is no drop-off in quality in comparison to their last release, they’ve trimmed the fat, they’ve gone darker, and they’ve proven they can continue to grow, even if only incrementally. It’s going to be a long year with bands trying to measure up to the gold standard set by this album, and I anticipate few, if any, metalcore bands matching the quality of The Powerless Rise.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Demon Hunter - The World Is a Thorn Album Review

I discovered Demon Hunter way back in my college years and was instantly attached to them. Their combination of the then burgeoning metalcore sound with a nu-metal slant bridged two of the genres I was heavily listening to (a bit too much nu-metal and not enough metalcore). The first 3 albums of Demon Hunter's career are still interspersed in my playlists today. After those 3, however, things got spotty. Thankfully, this album has a couple of tracks that continue to hold up over time. It also has some extremely weak songs, but at least I can come back to this album and find myself enjoying listening to it. This was originally published on April 14, 2010.

It’s hard to imagine that this is Demon Hunter’s fifth studio album. It doesn’t seem like it’s really been 8 years, does it? Toss in a couple of live releases in that same time frame and you’ll see that Demon Hunter have been quite the busy group, but through it all the band has managed to keep a relatively consistent core sound. Their mix of nu-metal, metalcore, soaring melodies, addictive hooks, and heavy riffs has created a number of memorable songs… that is until they put out Storm the Gates of Hell, which was easily the band’s weakest effort. They had softened up too much, dumbed themselves down, and lost most of the edge they previously had. On The World Is a Thorn, however, the band has managed to recapture some of their older aggression and heaviness, and in the process didn’t forget about keeping things catchy.

Let’s be frank right off the bat; this album has problems. It’s definitely better than Storm the Gates of Hell, but it is still weaker than the band’s first three albums for a couple of key reasons—pacing and songwriting. The order of the songs on the album is odd, to say the least. “Descending Upon Us” is a great start to the album and establishes the return to their earlier career form, but then you have the oddly placed sub-two minute “Lifewar” as the second track. This song is easily the worst that the band has ever written and is completely pointless. It should have been a b-side, if not left on the cutting room floor completely. Then you have “Collapsing”, the band’s first single which leads into “This Is the Line”, another weak track that drags before you get to “Driving Nails”, a ballad. From that point on the pacing is much better, but the first chunk of the album is all over the place.

The other issue I mentioned was the songwriting. With this album, both Don Clark and Ethan Luck (the band’s guitarists) left to pursue other endeavors so it was obvious there would be a change, but the change came in a way that was unexpected. The band still “sounds” like Demon Hunter; there was no deviation from their "sound" and you’ll recognize the band instantly, but there are moments in some songs where, despite the return to a heavier approach, they don't appear quite as sharp. It’s not obvious, but if you listen to any of the songs on this album interspersed with tracks from their self titled album or Summer of Darkness you’ll hear some differences.

Beyond those issues, this is actually a pretty solid melodic metal album. “Collapsing” is probably one of the best singles the band has put out—it’s melodic, it’s catchy (trust me, you’ll have it stuck in your head for days), it has a nice contribution from Bjorn Strid of Soilwork, and, quite simply, it rocks. “Driving Nails” is one of the band’s better ballads containing a nicely layered sound. And that's without even mentioning the second half of the album.

Starting with “The World Is a Thorn”, Demon Hunter throws down five heavy tracks (a couple which rarely utilize any melody) showing that the band still has the ability to play aggressive music. “Just Breathe”, featuring guest vocals from Christian Alvestam (Miseration, Scar Symmetry), may be the most outright aggressive track the band has written. It is four minutes of punching you in the face and slamming into your ears the fury that the band so desperately lacked on Storm the Gates of Hell.

Ultimately, The World Is a Thorn is an album full of peaks and valleys. There are some truly bad songs to be found (“Lifewar” and “This Is the Line” for example), but then you have some of the highest quality stuff the band has put out in some time (such as “Collapsing” and “Just Breathe”). Considering that Demon Hunter has lasted for 8+ years and 5+ albums, I’m confident that we’ll be hearing even more from them in the future, and if they can harness the best moments of this album while cutting out the crap, then we could have a career defining album. For now, though, at least we know the band is back on the right track.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

My Only Moment of Solitude

I am an admittedly ADHD person. I simply cannot sit still or slow down; it's always moving at 100 miles an hour and making sure I do as much as I can in every hour and minute of the day. When I run, I have to listen to music to catch up on what's new while I GPS map my route and track my pace against previous runs. When I work I have Google Reader open in a browser window so if a report or something I'm working on takes more than 30 seconds to run, I can fill that time with reading up on articles I want to scan through. When I read books, I don't just read, I have to have music going so I can multi-task. Walking the dog I listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Even now I can't just write a blog post, I have to have open in another tab while I babysit application installs on a computer I'm putting together for my dad. I simply can't slow down or do only one thing at a time.

Well, that is until the last couple of months. I've been making a strong effort to bike places when I can. If something is within about 8 miles of home and I have the time, I'll opt to hop on my bike and go instead of driving. Part of this is because I feel like I've let myself get too out of shape this summer. Another part of me feels bad I haven't used my bike as much as I thought I would. And another part, which was unexpected, enjoys the quiet time it affords me.

Initially I thought biking would be simply a necessity for keeping me in shape, offsetting the lack of running I've done this summer and wanted to figure out a way to listen to music or do something while I'm biking, but on the wife's insistence, I don't wear headphones when biking. What this means is that when I'm biking, I'm not multitasking at all. It's just me, my bike, and getting to where I'm going.

This singular focus I've found gives me some time during the day to give my brain a break. It's not being forced to decipher multiple inputs, keep track of a bunch of activities, and keep me somehow entertained. I have a half hour or so of simple, relaxing, thoughtless time as soon as I hop on my bike and even though I may be physically tired after a bike ride, mentally I feel refreshed and ready to tackle my ADHD lifestyle again.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do when winter gets here, but for the time being, I'm enjoying actually having some quiet time to myself every now and again. It's not something I ever thought I needed or wanted, but turns out maybe I do (I'm still on the fence...).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Katatonia - Night Is the New Day Album Review

Even today, over a year and a half after I got my hands on this album, I still listen to it an unhealthy amount. Rarely does an album have such a strong effect on me or cause such an emotional attachment, yet Katatonia pressed all of the right buttons on Night Is the New Day. I stand behind my original statement that this was the best album of 2009 and I may even venture to go a bit further now, putting it as one of the top 10 albums of the last decade. That's right, I said it. Dispute it if you want! This was originally published on January 22, 2010.

In the 18 years that Katatonia have been in existence, they have undergone quite the transformation over their 8 studio albums, starting with 1993’s Dance of December Souls and leading up to their latest, Night Is the New Day. They started their career playing doomy death metal that, at times, seemed to plod along a little too slowly and didn’t really portray what the band would eventually turn into. However, mid-career the band suddenly found their formula. With 2001’s Last Fair Deal Gone Done Katatonia created a gothic metal masterpiece. Keeping the mood of their doom metal approach and infusing it with alternative and gothic metal put the band in a unique position where they could create undeniably listenable compositions, but compositions that were nonetheless some of the most heart-wrenchingly melancholic pieces of music you could listen to. Over the course of Katatonia’s next three albums, they took this magic formula and continually refined it, leading to what can be seen as the band’s crowning achievement--Night Is the New Day.

The album starts off with the oppressively heavy “Forsaker”, a track in which the band are able to attack you with thundering riffs, yet pull at your heart strings with Jonas Renkse’s otherworldly melodic vocals. Throughout the album he is able to fuse each note he sings with an air of hope slightly tinged by loss. It should not be taken as a slight to the rest of the band, but Katatonia would not be the band that they are without Renkse’s unique, haunting, and utterly beautiful vocals. But back to the song at hand, “Forsaker,” beyond showcasing Renkse, is also the culmination of Katatonia’s trademark sound. The song swings from gigantic riffs to downplayed, contemplative passages, to a combination of the two… all the while transitioning between these different elements smoothly and elegantly.

The second track, “The Longest Year,” builds on the dynamics of “Forsaker” to become the second strongest song on the album. It starts with a slow, timid, nearly hopeful passage complete with a nicely understated built up atmosphere, only to be interrupted by the explosively strong riffs of Anders Nystrom and Fredrik Norman. Combining the power of the established riffs with the song's early atmospherics, the song almost feels like it builds a mood of hope, culminating in a final plea of the chorus, before fading out with no answer.

“The Longest Year” isn’t the only song that seems to play with this “hopeful” sound, and as you may have noticed "hope" seems to be a running theme when discussing this album. Throughout this album, you will get an eerie feeling of hope fomenting underneath each song. As is the case with each Katatonia release, however, the ultimate feeling left with the listener is of a subtle expression of the beauty found in depression. On Night Is the New Day, Katatonia has found that final element that they needed to add into their already potent mix in order to take the next step needed for adding even more weight to their sound.

There are still moments of overwhelming and unfettered dread and doom, such as on the tracks “The Promise of Deceit” and “Liberation”, with each being a cry to the abyss and a call to oblivion. However, that sense of dread is so tastefully complemented by an underlying theme of dashed hope and unfulfilled wanting on nearly every other track on this album. Songs such as “Inheritance” and “Idle Blood” highlight perfectly the manner in which Katatonia craft emotionally challenging songs that appeal to both your sense of hope and your fear of unfulfillment.

Because of the new ways in which Katatonia are able to touch listeners, emotionally and audibly, this album, as mentioned before, is the shining jewel of their discography. The grandiosity of the album’s overwhelming themes of hope, and its subsequent loss, drive it into the upper echelon of doomy, depressive, gothic metal. It is because of this that I have no problem saying that Night Is the New Day was, hands down, the best album to come out of 2009.