Monday, September 24, 2007

Throwdown :: Venom and Tears

Artist :: Throwdown

Album :: Venom & Tears
Label :: Trustkill

In a Word :: Driven

Play This Cut First :: Venom and Tears

This could be the shortest review I've ever written.

On Venom & Tears, Throwdown follows the Pantera riff-writing bluebook to a T. No mind-melting Dimebag solos. But, if you didn't know better, you'd swear you were listening to Pantera. Phil Anselmo could even sue Throwdown vocalist, Dave Peter, for stylistic infringement.

Because Venom & Tears sounds so much like a Pantera album, Throwdown is sure to get bagged on for it. Not here, though. I loved Pantera. As a guitar player myself, Dimebag Darrell was a hero to me. That someone is willing to so unabashedly come in and pick up the pieces of what Pantera left behind is way cool with me.

If we can't have Pantera back, them I'll willingly embrace Throwdown, and what they've become, with open arms.

Now Playing :: Holy Roller

Best Cuts on the Album :: Venom & Tears, SCUM, and Holy Roller

The Bottom Line :: Horns up on this one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Adema :: Kill The Headlights

Artist :: Adema
Album :: Kill the Headlights
Label :: Immortal

Play this cut first :: Brand New Thing (featured below)

Ah, nu metal: the music industry's whipping boy. Sure, it's predictable that the pioneers like Korn and Deftones would still be thriving, selling good numbers, pulling good-size crowds. Most first-tier bands do. (Pearl Jam, anyone?). It's those second-generation bands that have their work cut out for them. And, to be honest, the music graveyard is full of more than its share of second-tier nu-metal bands.

Enter Adema. Originally breaking onto the scene in 2001, they were initially known for their vocalist, Mark Chavez, being Jonathan Davis's younger half-brother. Now, in 2007, Kill the Headlights is their fourth album...with a third singer: Bobby Reeves.

And this time, I think they've got it right.

Bobby Reeves's voice isn't going to make him the next American Idol, (and I don't think he minds). Sure, he can carry a tune. It's the other things that he does, however, that make him the perfect vocalist for Adema. Bobby has a knack for writing great vocal melodies. I'm talking about those melodies that aren't predictable at all, but are still very memorable. Lyrically, he pulls his weight as well. Sings become stories (e.g., "Open Til Midnight"). And for a band like Adema that has always been cautious to write material that is song-oriented, rather than just a collection of riffs strung together, Reeves style works perfectly.

That's not to say they've given up on those big crunchy detuned riffs that nu-metal is known for. The first single, "Cold and Jaded", as well as the title track, "Kill the Headlights" are loaded with them. We're talking big fierce ones, too. But there is a greater sense of balance across the board. They show tremendous range and growth on Kill the Headlights. It has taken them four albums, but they show they can really use every trick in the playbook. Some might say their the captains of a sunken ship, but this is a great album nonetheless.

Basically, Kill the Headlights is a great collection of songs. Will they win a Grammy? Probably not. But they should sell more copies of this record than they likely will. And that's a shame. In age when the industry is built on the "get a hit or get out" mentality, it is rare that some bands really get the opportunity to grow into their potential. Adema is doing that. And I hope there is still enough audience left to appreciate this solid rock album.

Best cuts on the album :: Brand New Thing, Kill the Headlights, Cold and Jaded, Open Til Midnight

The Bottom Line :: This could be the sleeper rock album of 2007. With great songs that get the blood flowing, yet you can still sing along to, there's no reason not to listen to it over and over again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Between the Buried and Me :: Colors

Between the Buried and Me: ColorsArtist :: Between the Buried and Me
Album :: Colors
Label :: Victory Records

In a word :: Landmark

Play this Cut first :: Ants of the Sky

Before we get started, I want you to go to your calendar, find September 18th, and make two notes:

1. Pick up Between the Buried and Me's new CD, Colors.
2. Bring a clothes pin.

The reasons for the first should become very clear. The second is because, on September 18th, when this album drops, there will be a definite odor in the air. It will be the unmistakable scent of pants being shat from coast to coast. Because that's what this album is going to do to people.

Lets go back about 20 years. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Exodus, and Testament were pushing the limits of rock, creating a genre that later became known as thrash metal. In 1986, Metallica dropped Master of Puppets and clearly defined themselves as the trendsetter in the genre. Years later, between 1990 and 1992 a barrage of brilliant albums came from the genre, including Metallica, Rust in Peace, The Sound of White Noise, Seasons in the Abyss, The Ritual, Vulgar Display of Power, and more. I believe, however, that it was Master of Puppets that set those wheels in motion.

Between the Buried and Me: Band PhotoOkay, here we are in 2007. For several years a number of bands such as Shadows Fall and Lamb of God (to name a couple) have been working to build an extreme metal scene that relies on musicianship, harmonies, melodies, and arrangements for power, just as much as it relies on bombastic speed and grindcore riffs.

Between the Buried and Me has certainly been a major player in the scene since their debut in 2003. Colors, however, clearly serves as the landmark album in the genre thus far. I mean, it's not even close.

The depth and range of talent on Colors is staggering. From the Queen-esque intro of "Foam Born (a ) The Backtrack" to the immediate power grindage that follows in "(b ) The Decade of the Statues". It's a tremendous shift in gears that almost gets lost in the wash of rapid fire snare pounding and cymbal wash. It's almost a baptism by fire that purifies the listener and opens the soul for the musical genius that follows.

Yes, I said genius.

Albums like this don't happen by accident. They are coolly planned and arranged. They are the product of a vision to breaks down the barriers of a genre and bring to fruition the potential that has been shown by all of the bands who have built in on their backs.

Colors is a Dark Side of the Moon. It is a Master of Puppets.

At times, Between the Buried and Me sound like Dream Theater. At times, they sound like Coldplay. And at times they sound like Cannibal Corpse. The challenge naturally, then, is to blend all of those elements together in a way that doesn't sound forced, and retains their own sense of identity. For good measure, songs transition into jazz jams, polka breaks, Latin boogies, and more. Not only has this not been tried before, but the coherence of the effort carries established themes through these transitions much the way a classical composer might. All the while we are never more than couple steps away from pure extreme metal aggression that is the staple of the genre.

And for all it accomplishes, Colors doesn't sound so much like an album that was designed to one up other powerhouses of field. It sounds like the product of five immensely talented musicians who pushed each other and demanded the best from each other. And to borrow a phrase from the sports world, they didn't leave anything on the court.

When I listen to Colors I think, "How can they, or anybody else ever top this?" And that is a great thought. It's the same thought that took the brilliance of Master of Puppets and used it as a catalyst to bring about the true golden years of thrash. I get chills thinking (or maybe just hoping) that this album could be the beginning of something much, much bigger.

If nothing else, Colors brings a new level of respect to a genre that hasn't ever really gotten much of that. And it does it in a way that doesn't sell out the hardcore supporters who have been extolling the legitimate merits of extreme metal for years.

Best Cuts on the Album :: Ants of the Sky, White Walls, Sun of Nothing

The Bottom Line :: Make sure your stereo gear is working and you have a good clothes pin (maybe even a spare), because on September 18th, extreme metal as you know it will change forever.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Warriors :: A Genuine Sense of Outrage

Artist :: The Warriors
Album :: Genuine Sense of Outrage
Label :: Victory

Play this cut first :: Price of Punishment

In a word :: Pure Rock Fury

Back it up a few decades to Motorhead. They were the first band that really unified the rock crowd, appealing to rockers, metalheads, punkers, and the hardcore crowd alike. How did they do it? By combining great riffs, power chord mashing, ugly vocals, and upbeat tempos. And they did all of it right in your fukking face. It was that epitome of angst with a mass appeal. The measure of their of success never came in platinum records; it came in the recognition that every loud rock band on the planet owes a debt to Motorhead.

Moving forward.

In 1995 when I first fell hard for Victory Records, it was because of the combination of brute force and brilliance from one of their flagship bands: Earth Crisis. For me, they will always be the true hardcore heart of "the Victory sound". Over the years there have been a few bands I feel could carry that torch again (i.e., Scars of Tomorrow, Between the Buried and Me, and Waterdown).

Now there's another: The Warriors.

There is a reason I started this review with Motorhead. The Warriors have a lot in common with Motorhead. That healthy aggression. That honesty in their angst. That Genuine Sense of Outrage. There is a passion in this music that blows down the doors of rock subgenres and appeals to all of them. And the stamp of approval doesn't just come from me, no. It comes from none other than Mr. Motorhead himself, Lemmy Kilmister, as he provides guest vocals on "the Price of Punishment".

With, Genuine Sense of Outrage, their third studio album (and first for Victory), they give Victory Records another band to hang their hat on - a band the brings the heartfelt passion to every riff. Indeed, The Warriors are the type of band you go see when you want to get it all out: screaming along, slamming in the pit, jumping off the stage. At the end of the night, all the stress of the world is left in the puddles of sweat the line venue floors from coast to coast.

Now Playing :: Destroying Cenodoxus

A Genuine Sense Sense of Outrage is more than just album. It is a snapshot of rock in time. It is an album that could only be built on the shoulders of giants such as Motorhead, Earth Crisis, and Sick of it All. It is the progression of rock that cuts through bullshit and hits you right in the fukkin' mouth. And you love it, because its been too long since someone came along and woke you up like this.

Best cuts on the album :: "The Price of Punishment", "Genuine Sense of Outrage", and "Destroying Cenodoxus"

The bottom line :: This usually the part where I give a final thumbs up or thumbs down. you should already know that by now. It don't matter if your favorite bans is Six Feet Under or Three Days Grace, The Warriors bring you A Genuine Sense of Outrage - an album so honest and so raw that you have no choice but to love it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A. Gene Punckbowee :: Radio Magnolia

Artist :: A. Gene Punckbowee
Album :: Radio Magnolia
Label :: Great Uncle Punk Tunes

Play This Cut First :: No Release

In a Word :: Laboratory-tested

Before we get to the music, there is something important you need to know about this CD.

During the last 20 years, concert promoters have been pulling superstar acts together for any number of great causes: feeding starving children in Africa; helping farmers get through tough years; creating a greater awareness of global warming; and so on. All of those causes are noble, but they primarily work because of the popular artists involved. Would they be playing for charity if they weren't asked to? Would they take the initiative to do it just because it is the right thing to do?

A. Gene Punckbowee does.

You may have never have heard his name before. He doesn't care. You may never have heard one of his songs before. He doesn't care about that either. What he does care about is using his abilities as a musician to, among other things, help raise money for the St. Hope Foundation's AIDS Food Pantry in Conroe, Texas.

Says, Punckbowee, himself living with HIV, "Medicine for treatment isn't cheap. For some people, they get stuck with a choice of buying medicine or buying food. That's not a choice anyone should ever have to make."

Why should you care? Because long after Kanye West and The Killers are no longer celebrities, you, me, and people like A. Gene Punckbowee are going to keep on using our talents and dollars to help people who need help, because it's always the right thing to do.

So what does it sound like? Sorta like Johnny Cash meets Iggy Pop at a Kraftwerk concert.

Intrigued? You should be.

Picture electronic beats quirping and bubbling under guitars dripping in phaser and flange effects. Knobs being twiddled, switched being thrown. And Punckbowee's deep voice with a hint of Texas drawl coming in reverb-drenches layers over the top.

Production, you say? Gloriously lo-fi like the underground is supposed to be. You can hear tape compression and sweet hiss on some of these tracks. It used to be that record crackle was the sound of authenticity. In the lo-fi rockscape Punckbowee puts down, it's about wonderfully processed sounds that unsettle your bearings and take you for a ride (tied up in the trunk with duct tape across your mouth sometimes).

The truth is that while bands like The White Stripes get applauded for their spit-shined "garage" sound, cats like A. Gene Punckbowee are the real deal, cutting real albums in real garages. Cuts like "Refuse To Go" with its vertigo-inducing rotopuker synth bass, or the electro-influenced "You Leave Me Cold" don't just bend preconceived notion about genres; they smash them to friggin' pieces. And when you are done, you'll want to thank him for it.

And all for a good cause.

Who you knew something so good for your spirit could be so good for you ears as well?

Best Cuts on the Album :: Radio Magnolia, No Release, Refuse To Go, and You Leave Me Cold

The Bottom Line :: For $10 you can get a copy of Radio Magnolia. All $10 of every disc goes right to the St. Hope Foundation's AIDS Food Pantry - none of this after recouping the expenses of the album stuff. A. Gene Punckbowee put in months of writing and recording to help. All you need to do is whip out your plastic, buy a copy, help a good cause, and spend an hour or so in the underground. Everybody wins.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Samatha James :: Rise

Artist :: Samantha James
Album :: Rise
Label :: Om Records

Play this cut first :: Living Without You

In a word :: Captivating

Okay, it's been a long time since an artist came along with a sound so pure and direct that it cannot be overlooked. Om Records' artist, Samantha James, shows on her debut album, Rise, that she could very well be the voice of electronic music for years to come. Quite frankly, this album is so good it's stunning.

Initial comparisons to Sade are obvious. She has that same smoke in her voice. I'm trying hard not to call it sexy; so I'll call it sultry. Fans of Aya and Lisa Shaw should also find Samantha James to be to their liking.

Sade is certainly an influence. I would say that Morcheeba and Massive Attack even get in there sometimes. As a result, it's not a run-of-the-mill vocal house album by any means. Rise runs the gamut from dancefloor fillers, to think pieces, to bedroom music. It's not something that is easy to do. And frankly, I don't think I've heard it done this well since Madonna hit the scene. Does that mean Samantha James will be the next Madonna? Probably not; the music industry landscape is a very different place these days. If this were 1983, however, well ... maybe.

Standout tracks include "Rise", which is featured below. What is most striking is the simplicity of the arrangement. It puts all of the focus on the vocals, where it belongs. And Samantha James carries it. "Living Without You" has a decidedly electro feel that is clearly aimed at the dance floor. "Send It Out To The Universe" is another traditional house cut that brings out the soul flavor that put house on the map before acid house emerged.

Along the way, however, are interesting bossa nova tinted tracks like "Enchanted Life" and "I Found You". While these tracks aren't my favorite on the album, they serve a purpose in showing the amazing range of Samantha James. In fact, these are the cuts the allow her to avoid being pigeon-holed as just another house singer. When you hear these cuts, you wonder what the next album will bring.

What I'm having a hard time getting to is this: you'll find a lot of hardcore aggressive music on this blog. I consider myself a rocker first. Sometimes, however, an artist comes along whose music is so powerful that it cannot be denied. I adore Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Beethoven, and Stevie Ray Vaughan because there is something in their work that completely transcends genres. It is the power of music that knows no boundaries. It is the power of musicians to be in touch with some sort if eternal and universal musical element that goes beyond cognition and completely penetrates the human soul, filling it with the spirit of music - that spirit that made us fans of music in the first place. Samantha James's Rise is that type of album.

Best cuts on the album :: Rise, Living Without You, Send It Out To The Universe, Right Now

The bottom line :: This is an album of life. It is an album of endless summer nights dancing on balconies with the buzz of a few drinks spinning in your head. It is an album of cruising the coast with the top down. It is the aural equivalent of the northern lights painting the sky wonderful shades of magnificence. It is an album that touches the core of the human soul and makes you wish that this moment, this very moment, would never end. Yeah, it's that kind of album. And it doesn't come around very often.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Devin Townsend :: Ziltoid The Omniscient

Ziltoid The OmniscientArtist :: Devin Townsend
Album :: Ziltoid the Omniscient
Label :: InsideOut Music

Play this cut first :: By Your Command

In a word :: Brilliant

I was first introduced to Devin Townsend when he did the vocals in Steve Vai's Sex & Religion CD. It was evident from the point that he had something different going in upstairs. I mean, Steve Vai is sort of known as an alien among musicians. That he chose Devin should've been a sign. Since then, Devin's band Strapping Young Lad has had a very devout following in the underground for bringing together powerful riffs that will, turn on your lightbulb and smash it all at the same.

But with Ziltoid the Omniscient he really outdoes himself.

This album is like The Muppets meet Paradise Lost at a Carcass concert. Before we get to the comedic storyline, it is worth saying that this album would be a metal masterpiece of musicianship without the gimmicky, yet effective story line that goes with it. Yet, this is why we love Devin Townsend, because he can be wonderfully creative, yet technically fierce as a musician.

Okay, the story line.

(Lifted from Wikipedia)

The story begins with Ziltoid arriving at Planet Earth and demanding the ultimate cup of coffee (ZTO). When he is disappointed by the cup they give him, he attacks Earth with his army and his secret weapon - his guitar playing. Ziltoid wishes to impress the humans enough to hand over their finest coffee so he can go back in time and present himself throughout the Universe as the ultimate guitar player. (By Your Command and Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!). Captain Spectacular of the humans devises a plan to escape by exposing Ziltoid as a nerd and then jumping into hyperdrive towards Nebulowenine (Solar Winds and Hyperdrive). Devin Townsend

Ziltoid follows and is presented a beautiful vision and is momentarily stunned, baffled and has a 'Ziltoidian epiphany'. He snaps out of the haze and becomes angry, retreating to Flagggdathgraths Universal Arcade, where one can pay to destroy a virtual planet. He summons the 6th dimensional Planet Smasher to help him destroy his chosen planet. (N9 and Planet Smasher).

Herman the 6th dimensional Planet Smasher rejects Ziltoid so he visits the Omnidimensional Creator to find out the true nature of his reality (Omnidimensional Creator), and he sees his whole life before him. Finally he is told that he is only a mere puppet in a show (Color Your World and The Greys). The album ends on the bombshell that this is all a daydream being had by someone working in a coffee shop who is awoken by his boss and given the customers' orders including a Tall Latte (Tall Latte).

While major record labels are decrying the Internet as the devil and calling their customers thieves, artists like Devin Townsend are embracing the medium, creating Ziltoid videos (like the one above) to reach out to the online crowd, mix it up a little, and hope they buy the disc. And, really, you TOTALLY should. This is the stuff that keeps music evolving while Britney Spears is breaking down for Barbra Walters.

Best cuts on the album :: By your Command, Planet Smasher, Solar Winds

The Bottom Line :: Bizarre? Sure. But that weirdness is splendidly wrapped in a rock opera that moves as a rock opera should, with dynamic ups and down, and even narration. It's not like The Wall, nor does it aim to be - something we're all a little better off because of. Nonetheless. It's brilliant. If you are in a listening rut, or really appreciate genius in the bizarre, you must own Ziltoid the Omniscient.