Divides - Brokentooth
Female-fronted metal acts shouldn't be newsworthy anymore, but the publicist for Divides felt the need to alert me to the presence of singer CJ Marie when rolling out Divides' debut album Brokenttooth. Of more interest to me is the band's origins in Alaska. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, Divides migrated south from the 49th state for the greater range of opportunities and possible attention they could garner outside of their home state. Good move, y'all, good move, indeed.
Brokentooth proves Divides capable of producing a tremendous range of styles, from the very radio-friendly softer drums and keyboards-led "Sails and Anchor" to the Heart-like crooning over harder guitars of "Echoes Fade" to the almost death metal-heavy "Siren" shouting, screaming, guitar-god riffage and attack-dog drums. Joining CJ Marie on her southward journey from Alaska, guitarist Bryan Calhoun, bassist Joe Jackson and drummer Corey Rainey somehow found Paul Anderson who adds another guitar and some back-up vocals. an absolute necessity for the heavy metal tunes on this collection. Just as Divides crosses genres at will, not all Brokentooth's tunes can be easily categorized either. "Alpenglow" spends a significant portion of its 3:45 softer and slower than most of the songs before bursting forth with straight-up heavy metal, for example.
Since the days when Doro Pesch fronted Warlock and Joan Jett and Lita Ford cranked out Runaways tunes, female-fronted hard rock/heavy metal acts get attention for the fact of the women being there. While the statistics continue to show women as minority participants, it should no longer surprise anyone that they can grind out moshable and melodic guitar-heavy music. Divides proves no different. CJ Marie only adds to the sound, bringing a fresh sound and really driving the sounds the others produce. Each and every one of these tunes would be far different if the lead voice was Charles Marie. That would be very unfortunate, as we are lucky to have Brokentooth and the terrific songs Divides will continue to bring us. Let's all hope Divides remains a name and not an action.
HotLunch - Slappy Sunday EP
Conceived in a haze of cannabis, bell-bottoms, long hair and pork chop side-burns Hot Lunch produces hard rock that bleeds tie-dye and acid-fueled psychedelic light shows. Hot Lunch's Slappy Sunday EP is the ultimate party album for a room full of people who think they know their rock history. The five tracks on Slappy Sunday EP contain enough traces of different acid/psychedelic rock, early heavy metal and post-Beatles British rock a classic rock fan will lose themselves for hours digging out the different hints and influences included.
The second time I started this review, my initial assessment described this collection as "what The Doobie Brothers would sound like if they wanted to share the stage with Black Sabbath and steal Steppenwolf fans." A few more listens and that assessment lacks depth and nuance by significant orders of magnitude. In four listens I found traces of The Who, The Doobie Brothers, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and a ton more. A guitar riff here, a vocal there, this bass line and that drum solo, each second recalls a different artist from the days and years after Woodstock, when music turned darker and the term "heavy metal" became a thing.
Starting with the title track, "Sunday Slappy" is a stupid name for a song that really rocks. Vocals come out somewhat Gene Simmons-ish, while the guitars and bass recall a more Steppenwolf vibe. Loud and fast, the only reason this would get picked up as a classic rock poseur is the length; at 2:37, it's about 4 minutes too short for a true classic rock song. The same can be said of the next two tracks - not enough of a good thing, and really lacking in the rambling jams that made the rock of yesteryear so mesmerizingly awesome. Also, DJs love tunes like "Free Bird" or "Stairway to Heaven" because they can go out for a cigarette during the incredibly long tunes. "Expectations" has some identifiable sounds, but I'm blanking on exactly who I'm hearing. There's definitely some Who in there, but there's so much more, maybe some Bachman Turner Overdrive. It's an engaging tune that, like the preceding song, really needs more space to stretch out and let the guitarist and bassist go nuts jamming and riffing. "China Banks" totally sounds like The Doobie Brothers' "China Grove" played a bit faster. About 2/3 of the way into the song, the sound gets more "acid-y" and again limits itself to under three minutes.
"Pot of Gold" finds band members Eric Shea, Aaron Nudelman, Rob Alper, and Charlie Karr giving themselves more room to stretch out and get all psychedelic. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, there's enough room to develop the guitar riffs and cut loose with the most Who sound yet, while "Living the Nightmare" pays undeniable homage to early Alice Cooper, among others. These San Francisco-based musicians do nothing to hide their roots, and thank God for that. This album is a breath of fresh air, even if that air is hazy with burned pot and patchouli, and a true treat for anyone who has spent at least 10 minutes listening to a Classic Rock station in the past year. Now, if they can resurrect the Fu Manchu they'd be heroes to many.
DeadstarAssembly - Blame It On The Devil
I have spent more than a little time bemoaning the state of metal vocals these days, being that it seems the majority of bands look for vocalists who sound more like somebody moving a desk in the room above you than an actual singer. I call it "growler metal" because that's the major characteristic I can hear. Deadstar Assembly, has a growler vocalist, but instead of being an incoherent mess, Dearborn is way closer to Dickie Barrett of Mighty Mighty Bosstones than Lamb of God or Lacuna Coil. Best "growler metal" I've heard in a bloody long time.
Hailing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Deadstar Assembly's Blame it on the Devil brings everything that's great about heavy metal to the party - killer guitars, a drummer with about thirty-eleven different speeds, a bassist with the chops to keep up with everyone else, and a vocalist who is definitely metal, but also communicates the lyrics as passionately as anyone, without resorting to the soaring falsetto of hair metal or the classical notes of Bruce Dickinson. There's also the electro-digital hints that keep the sound as fresh as the smell of burnt rubber on pavement. It's not exactly unique, but it's close and it's the next best thing: high quality and listenable repeatedly. This is a fun album if you're a metal fan.
"Blame it on the Devil," the title track brings the heavy early and often, while "Overdose" begins with definite flavors of AC/DC'c "Thunderstruck" before settling into the signature melodic crunching and growling that saturates this record.
Mystical/horror imagery permeates this record, reflecting not only the usual tropes of metal since Black Sabbath chose the name Black Sabbath, Vincent Furnier decided to name himself after the witch Alice Cooper, and the PMRC decided to do its best to freak out over "dangerous" lyrics. From the album/opening track name, through "into the Light," "Will Not Die," "Dirtier Than Sin" to the final track, "Devil's Reprise" this album is a veritable playlist of everything Bible Belt-types hate.
Deadstar Assembly displays serious musical chops, from DreGGs's guitar licks, to drummer Kriz D.K.'s percussive mastery, and the rhythms provided by The Dro and Mubo on bass and keyboards respectively. DSA fails to help reverse the sad decline of the guitar solo, keeping their style closer to Godsmack and Papa Roach at their heavy best than Skid Row and Iron Maiden. This shouldn't detract from the enjoyment of the record, but I'd sure love to see more bands let their players soar some during the tunes.
Deadstar Assembly's Blame it On The Devil cranks and could easily find space in literally any metal fan's collection.
Lost in Cyco City
In response to the question no one anywhere ever asked, "What would it sound like if Avril Lavigne joined hed(pe)?" comes Sumo Cyco and their debut album Lost in Cyco City, a blistering and vicious assault as awesome as anything released by Powerman 5000, hed(pe), or Limp Bizkit at their fiercest and most productive. Sever's vocals make music already mind-numbingly awesome sublimely awesomer.
The Avril Lavigne comparison comes easy and early. Sever's vocals sound remarkably similar, but Sumo Cyco crunches harder and longer than anything Lavigne has produced in ages. Some of the Lavigne attitude shows up, but very little of Lavigne's relationship tropes appear. A significant amount of boasting and aggression do show up in tunes like "Fighter" and "Like a Killer," but the level of violence in Sumo Cyco's lyrical content puts anything in Lavigne's library to shame. Despite the inherent threats in "You won't survive it/Let's start a riot!/Cry cry cry cry Murder/Cry cry cry cry Murder" the tunes come across as ridiculously anthemic with catchy hooks and lyrics that stick in your skull long after the album's ended.
Leaving the comparison behind, a look at Sumo Cyco's Lost in Cyco City on its own merits still leaves me in awe. I am in love with this album, from the vocals of former pop star Skye Sweetnam (now Sever) to the power drumming of Andy Joseph (aka The Wolf), the driving bass of Ken Corke (Thor) and the melodic supporting rhythm guitar work by Matt Drake (MD). Not one song in this album lets up, and the only time to catch a breath is between tracks.
Lyrics like "Condition is dire/like a guillotine wire./All my desire/Come on fuel my fire" don't always make a ton of sense beyond their poetic sound (guillotines have ropes, whereas garrotes depend on wire for their impact, and "garroting wire" fits the space, but I guess more people know guillotine than know garrote.) It must be remembered, however, that the line "I pack a chainsaw/and skin your ass raw" from "Break Stuff" by Limp Bizkit makes about as little sense and that tune was one of their biggest hits.
Before founding Sumo Cyco as an effort to gain more control of her career and move to a more rock/punk/metal sound Sever recorded two pop albums of a style and quality to earn her a spot as opening act for a Britney Spears tour. Personally, I'm a much bigger fan of her current sound with its reliance on strings and drums, high-quality production values and very little reliance on digital wizardry and synthesizer. Given the probable trajectory of a pop career, the move to punk and metal assures Sever/Sweetnam a longer career, more independence and more artistic integrity.
Given the quality of Lost in Cyco City, I can only hope that career, independence and integrity continues, pushing Sever to keep punching out singles and albums. We'll all benefit, and maybe Britney Spears will take some advice and do the same - it would certainly be better entertainment than watching her shave her head.
The Grape and the Grain
At Home EP
For those who didn't read my previous review on The Grape and the Grain's self-titled full length debut album [editor, please make any part of the preceding a clickable link to the referenced review], it's probably time you did so, then come back for this. All four songs on this EP are acoustic versions of "The Hudson," "Burnt By The Sun," "The Devil and the DEA," and "If God is Love" from that disc.
While the tunes are definitely recognizable as acoustic versions of their electrifried dopplegangers, the different pace and mellower vibe give these tunes an entirely different feel. "The Devil and the DEA," an story-song about a DEA raid changes tone remarkably. The original version's urgency felt frenetic, like a video soudtrack for an episode of COPS, playes in real time; whereas the acoustic version's speed flows like a pot-hazy memory. More than unplugged versions of the tunes, these re-tooled tracks achieve a radically different feel.
The original disc rocked loud, hard and in your face. Compared to the rush-hour grip of the original "Burnt By The Sun" and "If God Is Love" their At Home counterparts enjoy a Sunday drive through wine country. This comparison pre-supposes a lack of hatred for your commute, of course. As an electrified track, "The Hudson" doesn't quite have the same in-your-face pace of the other tracks covered here, thus its acoustic twin becomes really mellow and bluesy.
These four unexpected sonic gems add a new flavor to the band as well as their original tunes. The At Home EP should win some more fans for a band that needs to break big. This acoustic rendering of tunes sheds light on why acoustic versions exist in a way other "unplugged" collections fail.____________________________________________________________________________
Two Albums, One Concept, All Metal
Periphery - Juggernaut Alpha/Juggernaut Omega
Conceived of as a two-disc concept album, Periphery's Juggernaut Alpha and Juggernaut Omega cover a tremendous amount of ground musically, lyrically and temprally. Temporally, the seventeen songs of these two albums clock in at nearly and hour and a half. Musically, Periphery demonstrates tremendous range musically, ranging from quiet electronic passages to the heaviest of hardcore thrash. My only quibble with the albums (besides the decision to sell them as two separate albums instead of one pricey double-album) is the lack of "connective tissue" sounds or dialogue that would make the story more clear. It worked spectacularly well for Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime, and Alice Cooper's recent Along Came a Spider incorporated several, making an album that could have simply been another batch of Alice Cooper shock-rock tunes became a story of murder and redemption. Juggernauts Alpha and Omega, like One-Eyed Doll's Witches really could have used a bit of this.
Enough criticism. Periphery's spectacular range emerges within the first two tracks; from the quiet opening of "A Black Minute" (a feature of recent concept albums, it seems) and strong melodic metal to the screaming thrash of "MK Ultra" (a reference to the hopefully defunct CIA program aimed at developing and perfecting mind-control through drugs and other means.) Deeper tracks reveal influences such as Linkin Park and their contepmoraries, as the sound veers between melody and thrash with such force as to demand the strictest attention if the story is to be sussed out; bring your ritalin, as much as I enjoyed the experience, I could not really drag much of a story out of the songs. Between the album art and some of the snatches of lyrics I could latch onto, it seems to be a sci-fi tale incorporating some psychological exploration of the self. The press release announcing the albums says that Alpha focuses on backstory and character development, while Omega "focuses on some pretty serious and gut-wrenching events[.]"
Despite my difficulty in grasping the concept part of this, I found much to appeciate and enjoy in these two albums. Where "Alpha" and "22 Faces" display the band's debt to Linkin Park and Papa Roach, the instrumental "Four Lights" demonstrates that Slayer is also among Periphery's muses. The set's least thrashing song -"Priestess"- includes classical/Santana-inspired guitar and earnest singing; easily the most radio-friendly tune of the seventeen. Almost every guitar solo on the records is more classical than classic. Obviously a result of the guitarist's training, and it gifts the tunes a rather unique sound. I'm much more used to the Yngwie Malmstein/Randy Rhodes/George Lynch school of guitar solos, and I generally find classical guitar to be very somnolescent, but in this environment the sound fits the mood quite well (not to mention the excessive rhythm guitar and bass pretty much preclude most notions of sleep.)
Periphery's full spectrum of sound comes from a full six full-time members, including three (3!) guitarists, the requisite bass and drums, and a vocalist who apparently does both the crooning and the screaming. Guitarists Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen and Mark Holcomb deliver the sonic punch, however Mansoor seems to be the lead, having been a Guitar World cover boy. Bassist Adam Getgood and drummer Matt Halpern have also appeared on the covers of Bass Player and Modern Drummer respectively. Vocalist Spencer Sotelo rounds out the group with his incredible range. Obviously, the members bring exceptional skills to the enterprise, showing that more than garage band enthusiasm helped to shape Juggernaut's two discs of metal. Juggernaut Alpha and Omega may be this year's ultimate metal album, bringing together so many influences, sounds, and moods in such a dense collection that no one who loves metal can afford to ignore these albums.