A lot of stuff on Frontiers Records wants to sound like Ronnie James Dio and doesn’t, especially since his death in 2010. In particular, Jørn Lande is constantly labelled “The New Dio” by fans and critics despite never really sounding like him at all. Even all of Dio’s original solo bandmates got their geriatric asses up long enough to form Last in Line, releasing a lame album last month. It all comes off as bogus. Frontiers might think these artists are all paying homage, but really they’re a gratuitous attempt to capitalize on the absence of a metal luminary.
Lords of the Black is not one of those bands. They’re a pitch perfect replication of Dio, with mammoth riffs, catchy choruses, and a perfect balance of fast and mid-tempo sections. Singer Ronnie Romero is probably the best Ronnie James rip-off in the business. A cover of the Dio-sung Rainbow classic “Lady of the Lake” was probably added to the album for comparison’s sake: the world’s greatest vocal forensic scientists could spend decades trying to uncover how Romero managed to steal Dio’s vocal cords and implant them into his own throat.
One’s the illusion of mimicry wears off, the tracks start blending together and many tracks go on far past the six minute mark. Unlike Dio, Lords of the Black has no idea how to make an awesomely absurd metal ballad, forcing them to all-out rock for the full hour run-time. It wears thin quickly, but in short one or two track spurts, they keep the blood pumping and your devil horns growing.
According to Australian Kate Russell herself, this is barbecue music. She’s not real popular. She’s not a soft singer either. She does sing country and it is pretty powerful, powerful enough to make your speakers pop. There are three slow songs on this album, but they still feel like, at any moment, Axl Rose is going to enter stage right and knock out the audience with Russell in a duet that will live on forever, hidden as a secret track on some anti-social kid’s internet radio blog.
It is shockingly hard to find a lot of decent information on Russell, probably due to that sciency Kate Russell from UK using her terribly generic name. But she does have a website. How about the music?
As far as I can tell she wrote all of the lyrics and probably the melodies, but it looks like some old dude at the studio did all of the instrumentation. It “looks” like it is just the one dude, but there was probably more than one.
Instrumentation is great. Clean and sharp twangy guitars, usually in flaky pie crust layers, envelope most of the tracks with a dotting of overdriven hard country rock guitar solos. Consistent back beat drumming, and I mean consistent snare every upbeat, on every track except two of the slow ones. Bass seems country enough, following the hooks and kick.
Kate Russell writes some good lyrics and tunes and one can be excited to hear her future albums as well as enjoy listening to her recent album, Give Your Love To Me.
Preview to the entire album on her website.
Willie Nelson – Summertime. Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin
One can never go wrong putting on Willie Nelson. His voice is good and smooth like a reliable old bottle of bourbon at a crumby dive bar with four regulars, two of which work the kitchen. What? You’ve never had that experience?
On this release are classics like, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Love is Here to Stay,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me, and others. Duets with Cyndi Lauper and Sheryl Crow offer fuzzy surprises that make the little girl inside giddily bounce about while sipping espresso lattes.
Instrumentation is classy soft swing with standup bass and stuff.
Do you like Willie Nelson? Do you like Gershwin? Do you like music? Are you American? Give this album a shot. At least it is something to unwind to, or giddily bounce about to. You might have a favorite dance night album.
Empire State – Rocket Science
I wanted to do a full write up on this album. It unfortunately officially released in the UK in 2015, but it released in the US in 2016, rather, isn’t fully released, so I stuck it in a country trio. To be fair, it has a faint blues rock feel to it so it could fit here.
All of Empire State’s earlier incarnations were slick dressed rock and roll acts.
Look at this picture of Steve!
Anyway, the music is extreme. Pulsating rhythms and hard as diamonds guitar riffs and hooks played by every instrument. Andy Morris is inspiring on vocals. Confidence drips off of every part of this album, especially the out of tune guitar in the intro to “Law of the Gun,” which I think is suffering from cheap digital delay.
Guitars are shredding over all Rocket Science in a good way. High energy rock and roll. Lyrics are anti-establishment. Some tracks sound like a ho-down.
If you need something probably no one you know has heard because it is obscure and good, get Empire State’s Rocket Science.
Each nation and people group has its own power metal. Indonesia has great stuff. Stardust Revolution mixes thrash with electronic metal and a heavy dose of swollen adenoids to give it a folky feel.
Huge variety of sound here, ladies and adolescents. An orchestral interlude fortunately adds to the atmosphere in the first track and one of my favorite intros is on “In Your Hand,” featuring AM radio sound panning into a bleeding synth lead. There is some sort of weird sub-Asian ballad for the title track with what one can presume to be one of the males in the band singing in a falsetto clear enough to make a mid 18th century Italian boy jealous.
Ridwan sings in his horrific and spine chilling screech over the whole album but it blends with the other vocals into synergy during the choruses, which feel like bar tunes or sea shanties.
Ever present is a love of modern and a keen understanding of the time tested. A good example, track six might be your new favorite A-Pop song.
One must give the whole album a listen due to the massive gamut of genres and influences visited.
It is very fun to listen to the castrato voice on track four with Ridwan, but you will have to email the band for a hard copy of this knucklebuster.
Amon Amarth wages an endless crusade against everything that sucks. Constantly touring and grinding out those catchy riffs, they’re as mainstream as extreme metal gets. Albums like Versus the World and Twilight of the Thunder Gods are the apex of melodic death, with bleeding guitars of tunefully wanton destruction.
Now, after decades of sticking to their guns, the band says they’re switching things up. They’re making a concept album about vikings.
For those of you not in the loop, literally all of Amon Amarth’s songs are about vikings. Being vikings, praising vikings, killing other vikings, you name it, they’ve already wrote forty songs about it.
Then it hit me once I put Jomsviking on. Concept album is another term for taking crappy risks that won’t pay off.
Thankfully, the risks are all slight changes in vocal presentation, mostly involving random spoken monologues. “Wanderer” ends with a voice-over wrenched straight from the Grinch cartoon. The diatribe at the beginning of “Vengeance Is My Name” sounds like GWAR-style self-parody. Even worse is a much bigger change: the awful vibrato-inflected female vocals in “A Dream That Cannot Be”. This woman sounds better suited for back-up vocals on a jock jam compilation that comes with your paid six month subscription to Entertainment Weekly.
Slight vocal missteps aside, Amon Amarth remains Amon Amarth. This is their best set in almost a decade, and even though there are no stand out tracks, I still felt like I was on a grand quest to desecrate my foes’ lands, smite them all, and collect their skulls in offering to Odin. Once Amon Amarth and I pass through the gates of Asgard’s golden hall, we will drink and toast to this album, shrugging off the stupid female vocals with a laugh and boasting about all the muscular melodies.
Ryan Olson and Channy Leaneagh are Poliça. Their new album, United Crushers, is a metabolizing, dense, nutrient shake of synth pop, piercing prose, and a deep space interstellar atmosphere. Olson, the mixer, does a killer job on everything he touches here, which is everything on the album. Leaneagh, presumably the lyricist and singer, elegantly weaves alliterate words in unbridled and ceaseless motion. Unfolding like a hip hop album played at half speed, the content is challenging and pointed.
The music poetically matches the lyrics so closely, one can daydream about the collaboration process. United Crushers is a fourty-three and a half minute fusillade of cinematic aural piercing shells.
To go in depth into this album is to toss a few handfuls of sand into a sieve from the Witwatersrand Basin. Much like mining with the lights out, the darkness of tone and mood is so rich and delicious, a hungry ear could subsist for months. Each and every track poses giant questions and remits action and energy as the listener is catapulted out from one quarry under earth and into the next without any notice.
Go and listen now. Soundcloud has a sample for the chickens, but this is a must have from 2016.
More stuff from the past few weeks that deserves no more than a brief paragraph.
Wizard Girl – Voodoo Jazz
This German jazz ensemble is very, very concerned with rhythm. In fact, with all the rock sounds the drums and guitars are letting off, it comes off more as a slapped-together tribute to ’70s psych-prog/Krautrock than a bonafide jazz recording. Everything goes at once, with flute and sax and guitar constantly wailing around, but they almost always play around the drums. Eventually, they settle into repeated lines, not really discernible melodies. They’re more like quick little blurps that usually either mimic the drum pattern or bookend it. One notable exception: track four is driven by some trippy reversed guitar part that recalls some pretty heavy psych.
Accidente – Pulso
Way too clean for my taste, although the female vocalist helps bring out the melodies over normie punk din. Think anything ever released by Epitaph Records if the Puffy AmiYumi chicks were singing over it in Spanish. Maybe these punks have a lot to say about politics and junk, but all I really hear is slightly above average generic pop-junk.
Spazz – Sweatin’ 3: Skatin’, Satan and Katin
Reissue of Spazz’s posthumous collection of compilation and split 7” material. It’s sad to think that Spazz’s special chapter in power violence history came to an end over fifteen years ago, but we’ll always have huge compilations with sixty plus songs to remind us how great their thrashin’s and bashin’s truly were. As usual, the playing is tight enough to be impressive and wild enough to make you mosh your living room to pieces. I’ve always been a fan of the cookie monster vocalist guy, but the other two are pretty good. While things tend to grow monotonous near the end, a couple iffy live tracks being the biggest culprits, the goofy “Gummo Love Theme” manages to save the day with fun for everyone.
Atrament – Eternal Downfall
Sucky Swedish death metal becomes listenable thanks to crust punk and black metal influences throughout. Unfortunately, Atrament can’t totally mask the Swedish death metal sound, so it’s still sucky.
Iggy is 68. I think he is depressed because people still do not know who he is. So he made a cool album with Josh Homme.
The best song on the album is “Sunday,” followed by the best song on the album, “Vulture.” “Sunday” is the best song on the album because it is an anti-corporate America stab against the working life. The content is basically, “I am not doing anything because it’s Sunday,” as if a corporate stiff would not have any other time to themselves other than Sunday afternoon. “Vulture” is the best song because it sounds like Iggy Pop singing and playing a song while he writes it, reminiscent of earlier times.
Iggy still has a great voice and the musical and lyrical content shows that there are still people alive and kicking from the time when music was respected as art for being full of rationalized mental attitude and a whole lot less commercial. “I don’t want any of this information,” say the lyrics from the final track, “Paraguay,” a song about leaving fake society for a real one.
Breaking news: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden/Audioslave fame has taken early NWOBHM band Diamond Head hostage in his underground has-been lair. He tricked the band into a forced recording session with the promise of something called grunge money.
Grunge money is a proper noun, meaning that sounding like shitty bands from the ’90s is somehow going to make you money in 2016. Songs like “Set My Soul on Fire”, “See You Rise”, and “Blood on My Hands” are all grunge-riff relics, complete with new singer Rasmus Bom Anderson imitating Cornell throughout. Stockholm syndrome at its worst.
The band eventually figured out that much bamboozling was going on. After recording ten crummy tracks, they bound and gagged Cornell long enough to record “Shout at the Devil”, an ode to Diamond Head’s three good songs from the NWOBHM era. Cornell, an esteemed necromancer, managed to call upon a horde of grunge zombies, flannel coat wearing fleshbags of men. They ate Diamond Head right as they finished mixing their one enjoyable creation.
So yeah, I’m going to change the headline: Diamond Head are effin’ dead.
Is music really underground if it reflects popular tastes of twenty years prior? Post-grunge only kinda-sorta died anyway, as most of the Foo Fighters and the Offsprings continue to have high-charting albums every few years. Here’s a brash and heavy-handed generalization for everyone: I’d say underground music is defined as experimental stuff that totally goes against all popular tastes from the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll to now. I’m leaving a big gaping hole where all that adored artsy-fartsy “modern classical music” sits, but whatever. All I mean is, anyone who thinks ska-punk or post-grunge is underground music is only fooling themselves.
I’m guessing Basement probably doesn’t think about stuff like that, but honestly, this would have been commercially viable twenty years ago. The cover screams ’90s hipness, and with a single word band name like Basement, it’s clear that these guys would need a time machine to make any money.
So they play poppy grunge music. It’s very polished and clean, and they only use screechy tones in a couple songs. If you like this, you’ll also probably like those Better Than Ezra and Semisonic CDs that are collecting dust at the thrift store. Basement’s a little louder than them, but not enough for me.
Prog-metal: No slice of cake. Often it takes an extremely talented and practiced person to make something even remotely interesting. Giants of progressive music are far and few between when reflected against a sea of untalented corporate pop clones and show boats. What makes progressive music difficult to play? It is the absence of set expectations. Like dropping a suburbanite future US bureaucrat into the middle of a soccer game, the simple idea of scoring a goal with your feet in the form of delivering a message through the medium of music can be a monument of human achievement; a soliloquy of action. In the wake of Keith Emerson’s apparent suicide due to a failing ability to produce musicianship in a country that demands perfection, progressive music can show us the freedom and the heavy-heartedness it brings.
conXious released a new self-titled prog-metal album out of Austria on February 29th. It has been over a decade since Never Before/Never Again, and the new album sticks to no rules other than play music and sing. Each track features a gamut of sounds, Alexander Ghezzo’s songwriting is consistent throughout, and the mastering is just enough to keep it organic. Ghezzo’s guitar is shredtasty (like shredtastic, but less fantastic and more tasty), drums are strict metal, and the bass follows the kick.
My personal favorite part, the vocals, are proof that you do not need to smoke a pack of Marlboros a day like Nat King Cole to record an international release. You apparently only need a close pin over your nose (an exercise in breath control, by the way.) Every track features post-adolescent basement power metal inspired and vibrato heavy vox from Michael G Reiter. However, the only track I personally found boring was a rerecording of a track off an earlier album, “Portrait of a Lover” which has some grunty stuff and uncomfortably long “high” notes near the top of Reiter’s register.
However, however, the very next track, “Apparently” makes up for it by being over seven minutes of emotionally charged song writing and minimal grunts. Starting on a traditional grandpa’s guitar and leaping from soundscape to soundscape, this piece uneventfully ends on my least favorite musical cop-out, a fade out, but permissively considering the content of the song. It is as if Reiter, or Ghezzo, the writer, is saying, “my life is continuing on, I will not stop just for you.” This is not a song, it is an epic.
Ghezzo was clearly excited to write music for this album. The remainder of the album refuses to limit itself to any single sound. There are a few re-recordings but that does not distract from the flow. It becomes almost operatic.
If you struggle with your voice, songwriting, or just need to unwind, go to their self-titled website and purchase their self-titled album and let your conscious explore the sounds of conXious.