I never realized until now how deep Michigan is as a place for modern metal bands. I send my apologies and respect to anybody I overlooked or offended by not realizing how kick-ass the bands from The Great Lakes State truly are. FOR THE FALLEN DREAMS is the latest in a long line of bands carving their own path, but playing a style everyone can relate to. For Back Burner they had to overcome the loss of founder and chief songwriter Andrew Tkaczyk, which might have sunk another group. Not these guys however, as the proved they were up to the task at hand.
By the one minute mark of “Say What You Will” I already knew this record was going to be great. Jangle-filled guitars and soaring melodies give way to brutal metalcore madness. Straddling the line of college rock and modern metal, this band has definitely raised the bar over their previous two efforts. Versatile singer Dylan Richards has the ability to sing the sweetest, hooky chorus parts and then drop down to the gutter for all the growling and grunting you can handle. The a-b parts, heavy-not-heavy style carries out over the entire album the band is wise about where they inject melody and when to just let groovy parts ride out. They have overcome the loss of their former leader, done so easily and become better, more mature writers in the process. “Deep Down Inside” starts off with a harsh breakdown part, bring the sun up musically later on. “Complicate the Situation” is another bruiser that is just unrelenting and hard, until the slick along chorus comes in. There is some cool guitar stuff going on underneath done by Jim Hocking that just catches your earpiece and doesn’t let go. He is joined by Kalan Blehm who holds his end down and replaced Tkaczyk more than ably. “Only Unopened Arms” has “modern classic” written all over it. Tough and tender at the same time, its a song for dudes to mosh out to and their girlfriends to sing along to. Other standout tracks to take note of are “My Anthem-Like Symphony”, “Bottom Feeders” and “Fist Fight”. Even though there is a distinct formula at play here, I do like their musical sensibilities and their ability to milk with a riff that is working for all its worth. Pardon me now while I crank this album and do a one-man circle pit in my house.
I am probably the last guy you want reviewing this record. I’m almost forty years old, grew up on classic and progressive rock, obsessed over thrash metal and later cut my teeth playing in metal and hardcore influenced bands in New York City as an adult. But on the other hand I am a well rounded music fan and a big-time sucker for catchy pop songs in any style. Lucky for you fans of NRP I took a blood oath to do my best on these reviews and dammit that is what I am gonna do. I believe in trying to find the merit in music for people who might be fans, even of the genres I may not be into on the chance that I can help someone. So let’s have at it!
Having never heard of SLEEPING WITH SIRENS (extra points for cool name) I listened to the first tracks off the album while I did some research on who they were. At first I was like “Whoa! This chick has a beautiful voice!”. But it turns out lead singer Kellin Quinn is in fact a dude. A dude with epic pipes! He does have the pitch and tone of a teenage girl, I’m not even gonna lie. But on the plus side his choice of melodies and range are fantastic. I’d say quite comparable with Haley Williams of PARAMORE or whatever else the kids are listening to these days. Songs like “Do It Now Remember It Later” and “If You Can’t Hang” just ooze syrupy pop rock and punk with a hint of occasional metal underpinning sometimes. I can easily visualize entire clubs of scene kids with terrible emo hair swearing this is the best band, like evvvvv-eeeeer! Or more maturely put, music for the Justin Bieber set when they grow up in a few years. Do you see and death, crust or kvlt bands selling with his numbers? Right. You don’t. The band does have an aggro side and flexes it on occasion. Songs like “Four Corners and Two Sides” keep the melodic element intact, but have lots of screamo screaming, breakdowns and clackity-clack sounding triggered drums for the mosh dudes, if any happen to show up. “Tally It Up, Settle The Score” is the other rager on the album. These guys are quite good at what they do so really it’s hard to hate on them. Other good tracks on the album are “Fire” and “All My Heart” which are radio ready, future hits. After hearing them I will now go check them out on the All-Star Tour this summer. Since I feel all warm and fuzzy and stuff I’m gonna go find a unicorn to strangle to death to get over it.
DAMSELS comes to us out of the Providence Rhode Island scene and lays on their thick style of experimental jams on their new album Something Fancy. These are interesting times in metal for bands that aren’t scared to take chances with style and writing scope. Although fans and labels alike sometimes suffer from up-turned nose elitism, this is also a time when some of the most vibrant and exciting artists like THE DILINGER ESCAPE PLAN, EVERY TIME I DIE (whom DAMSELS borrow from heavily) and IWRESTLEDABEARONCE are carving out their own path to glory. Why some bands catch and some don’t we may never know, but it is important to know the difference between talent and calculated randomness. DAMSELS seems to fall into the former category.
Best described as a maelstrom of styles piled on each other that somehow still works, one thing that hits you right away is how heavy they are. After the intro track “Teddy Bear Bombs” just explodes in your ear piece. Jagged riffs, killer beats and insane slow breakdowns flavor the track. Vocalist Jonny annoys frequently with his nasally scream, but his guttural vocals are terrific. I wonder if he loves MR. BUNGLE too much to change it up a little more, but I suspect this guy is holding back a little too in terms of range. His comedic timing is also golden. Their drummer Eric is also terrific, as is bassist Scotty. These guys really stand out track after track. Careening through several stylistic changes in just a few minutes time this cut sets that standard the rest of the album lives up to. “We Put a Light In the Bathroom (Ladies Night)” is next and is right out of the ETID playbook of angular math rock. Still, the track is high in energy and full of chunk. Guitarist Tejay (TJ?) has a great style that is heavy, harsh and wild. “Give Me Back My Hat Roger Williams” is a funny tongue in cheek ripper that suffers from the verses with the double layered vocals. I’m not sure how they account for this live or if one of the other guys also sings, but the effect should be done away with. Other than that the track is strong and would be a great show opener or closer with its made for moshing beats and chords. Two other likely hits in the making are “Leper Lapdance” and “Danny Glover Banged Your Mother”. These guys have the requisite goods to go really far, but I fear they will be seen as a mere novelty band if they don’t reign themselves in a little more and pay attention to what the songs need. If they get teamed up with a great producer on their next album, watch out!
Detroit, Michigan death-core merchants LEGEND are back with new album and I must say it’s as good as expected. With this release they look to separate themselves from the already deep roster of Rise Records. These road dogs are relentless in their music and attitude and their legion of fans eat it up like breakfast. They have turned in a surprisingly mature record that sees them staying true to their roots, but at the same time mine their style a little deeper this time out.
“Diagnosis, Doom” opens the album like the soundtrack from a modern horror movie, all creepy and eerie. When the first riff kicks in it burns with the typical intensity and head nodding good stuff you expect. “Circle of Friends” is the proper first song and it rips with uptempo fervor that makes me wanna punch some one’s lights out. I see a lot of tough-guy deathcore bands who lack the musical backbone and chops to go with it and they should pay close attention to LEGEND. Taking a page out of THE ACACIA STRAIN’s book, the song goes through several shifts in mood and raises up the dynamic level dramatically. The next track “Shut Down” is equally aggressive with a tremendous main riff and stop/start rhythms sure to snap necks. Guitarist Aaron Bagby isn’t a one string, one note riffer like most deathcore axemen. He is a skilled player who adds all manner of intricate ear candy for the listener to grab on to. Dylan Shippey is powerhouse drummer and he is the glue that holds these songs and this band together. Bringing in an even more explosive tempo and another level of down-tuned guitars, “Parasite” just crushes big time. As on all the tracks here vocalist Chad Ruhlig shifts between a guttural growl and a hardcore yell. He does interesting pitch changes with his mouthpiece from song to song, giving each cut its own distinct flavor. One of his major strengths is you can always understand his lyrics no matter how hard he screams. “Parasite” also has the best breakdown on the album and even though the band doesn’t do it too often, the bass drop comes in at just the right time. All of the tracks have a degree of programming and sound effects running through them like a thread adding color, but not so much as to take away from the songs. That is the mistake many bands are making these days. You’d like to hear them change up the song styles a little more, but it’s hard to fault an album that sets a goal to kick teeth in and then does it with assassin like precision. Other notable tracks on the album are “Obey”, the single “Proven” and “Shadow Stalker”.
It takes a lot of balls to call your band Legend. I’m not sure they are there quite yet, but they are building an impressive resume with The Pale Horse.
What’s in a name? It’s an age old question and one that often applies to metal bands. Sometimes the best named bands suck and the reverse is also true at times. What makes a name cool and resonate with someone and still be appropriately metal may still be an x-factor, as yet undiscovered. THE SOULLESS have a cool name, are about to drop a new album and may seem relatively new to the game with one other album to their credit. However, this UK band was known as IGNOMINIOUS INCARCERATION just over two years ago. Alliteration aside (yes I am a writing nerd and a grammar ninja!) it doesn’t roll off the tongue or sound as grim and badass as THE SOULLESS. Now word comes down that Earache Records has been served with legal papers by another band in Ohio claiming to own that name. Who knows what that means for these guys going forward, but one thing is certain: their new album is a crusher!
There are a lot of people who will tell you metalcore has seen its day and we should stick a fork in it. Well you can say that about a lot of bands and sub-genres, but for the most part good music is still good music. THE SOULLESS play an unrelenting style of metalcore that owes as much to old-school ALL THAT REMAINS and UNEARTH as it does their countrymen in BRING ME THE HORIZON. Blowing the doors off with the opening track “Unaltered”, the track is a true killer. Chugging riffs, ferocious beats and raging vocals. Andy Wardle’s brutal delivery has the urgency of a Jamey Jasta and the gravel in the throat of a Vincent Bennett (THE ACACIA STRAIN). To his credit he leaves all the melody parts to the guitarists. His voice sits nicely in the pocket of chaos the band creates and I dig it. Second cut “The Path” opens with some dizzying riffage on the level of some of the newer techie-death bands, but then down shifts into a straight ahead thrash motif. This band is not afraid to mix it up musically, occasionally adding some blast beats and death-core breakdowns. Guitarists Steve Brown and Kristan Dawson do a nice job of intertwining their parts together. Bassist Chris Ball is solid, but doesn’t stand out much. “Earthbound” is another over the top track with some more strong playing by Dan Wilding behind the kit and a sick string-skipping lick in the verse. After a neat piano interlude called “13th Morning” comes “New Perspective” which might be the strongest track here. I’m certain I won’t be anywhere near a mosh pit for this song live unless I want my face kicked in. Holy crap! Other choices cuts are “Clones”, “Unite Us” and “Without Heart”.
Most of the record follows suit with similar sounding tracks of varying degrees and feels a little formulaic on repeated listens. On the plus side, it’s really heavy and a fun listen. Also, it is really short at about thirty minutes which seems to be the order of the day lately. Every band out there can learn a lesson from this which is keep it tight and to the point at all times!
Joining the ranks of modern hard rock bands are Stockholm Sweden natives CELLOUT. Musically speaking Stockholm is usually know for disco giants ABBA as well as the cradle of melodic thrash and death metal bands. I am also partial to DRAIN STH from my younger days because for my money you can’t beat a hot blonde drummer who also sings like and angel and looks like a…. oh where was I? Lost my place for a second. Sorry. So we’ve established that Stockholm has a rich musical history. Check! So CELLOUT (ugh that name) arrives on the scene and fits in with many top 40 (is that still around) type modern rock bands who have occasional hints of metal in their music. Not really my cup of tea, but I give everything that comes across my ears a fair listen so hear it goes.
Starting off with a pretty rocking riff and some harmonic jangle, “Dark Days” is a good introduction to the band. The singer Percy Mejhagen has a good vocal range and a decent handle on melodies. His higher register gets a little too nasal for my tastes, but his delivery is solid. Powerful even at times. He even does a bit of the old Phil Anselmo(!) pre-chorus deep whisper down and an occasional hardcore bark, but not a true growl. A band like this usually rises and falls on the talent of the front man so they are in good shape so far. The song is short and catchy, but doesn’t go to any challenging territory. Second song “All My Demons Inside” has another decent riff by Robert Monegrim and has a lot of pop-punk sensibilities not unlike HOOBASTANK and THE OFFSPRING on their edgy days. There is an attempt at a breakdown which is kinda cool with some neat double bass fills. Again, decent track, short, catchy and you get the idea where this is going.
Most of the album follows this pattern and repeats it well enough. “Flooded” is the albums’ lone power ballad in the best sense of the style. More potent singing from Percy and a nice a enough musical track that may excite some, but doesn’t do much for me personally. I do have to add that the production by Ulrich Wild (PANTERA/ THE DEFTONES/ STATIC-X/OTEP) is excellent and the record sounds arena rock big in all the right places. “Set Things Straight” opens with a cool metal riff with more double pedal work by drummer Martin Karlsson. However, another decent chorus is wrecked for me by the useless needle scratching that follows it. There are a few spots on the album where some questionable programming choices appear for no good reason. The funny part is that I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys get Warped Tour big in a few years. They definitely have above average energy and talent and fit right in with your DISTURBED’s, GODSMACK’s and THREE DAYS GRACE (had to look those guys up just to make the reference). “Breathe” is another decent song that would go over well live, as will the single “As I Fall”. If they are any kind of performers they will certainly attract some fans on these shores.
Coming back strong with their second full-length Texas based MEMPHIS MAY FIRE has delivered on their earlier promise with their new album The Hollow. Playing a blend of melodic metalcore among other influences they have a little something for fans of several different sub-genres of metal. They certainly are technical and heavy enough for the hardcore dudes and catchy enough for their girlfriends. In the end that is a lofty goal that many bands strive for, but few reach.
Opening with the “The Sinner” the band announces their intent to rock your package right off your crotch from the get go. After a few seconds of industrial ear candy the scorching guitars and drums kick in and just destroy. When the chorus kicks in Matty Mullins‘ splendid voice just soars over the chaos. The result is beautiful and chill inducing at the same time. The uptempo chug of the verses makes for a nice contrast to the half-time feel later on. There is also some interesting keyboards/programming going on through this track that give it an uncommon character for metalcore these days. Second track “The Unfaithful” starts off with the chorus up front (mental note: I’ve been listening to so much extreme death metal, I almost forgot bands still do this) and is almost jarringly saccharine pop. Pretty soon the song gets down to business and the verse is sick! Matty truly has a gift for his flick of the switch heavy/not heavy vocals and he is ably backed by jack of all trades lead guitarist/singer Kellen McGregor. Delving slightly into modern rock anthem territory at the end the song, it took me a few listens to really feel it. Third cut “The Victim” might be the best of the bunch here with all of their influences thrown together in this kitchen sink-type affair. Usually this approach only works for a chosen few, but these guys actually pull it off. Credit also goes to the production talents of Cameron Mizell (I SEE STARS, JAMIE’S ELSEWHERE) who manages to keep everything properly balanced in the mix and minds what I like to call “aural legibility”. On the fourth cut “The Abandoned” is another gem moment. The guitar work from both McGregor and Ryan Bentley is majestic and calls to mind the better work of THE HUMAN ABSTRACT. The drumming by Jake Garland on this track is also a standout and he is strong throughout. The song also has an excellent keyboard part that will remind you of WINDS OF PLAGUE or BORN OF OSIRIS.
At about the halfway point of the album it dawns on me that MMF is going for a concept album here based on song title structure and lyrics, but not so much connected musically. In fact the songs on the second half of the album start too sound repetitive in form. Aside from the almost-thrash moments of “The Commanded” most of the remaining songs followed suit like dominoes. There is no questioning their talents or inventiveness when it comes to putting a track together. They definitely avoid traps their peers do not like having too many breakdowns or falling into bass drop hell which I do appreciate. Still, there is no denying these guys will impress a lot of ears, light up a lot of stages and I feel like we will be hearing from them again in the future.