Monday, February 28, 2005

Review: The Underground Rebels - The EP (2004)

The Underground Rebels [ MySpace ]
The EP

While The EP is the first release from Las Vegas-based rockers The Underground Rebels, they are in fact a mature outfit with a couple of previous releases under their belts. Based in Vancouver, Canada, and known as The Loving Dead  (a horror-themed rock group), founding member Kurt Frohlich and Co. put out a couple of albums and won significant recognition in the Canadian rock scene. A move to Nevada and a name change results in the latest incarnation of the band, whose stripped down rock sound compares well with bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Semisonic.

Don't let my comparisons steer you away from The Underground Rebels, because they bring much more to the table. Where their overall sound is similar, there's a certain raw quality to their music (particularly with the guitar sound and vocals) that evokes memories of classic rock acts like Alice Cooper, pre-1990s Aerosmith, and L.A. Guns. For example, the guitar intro and riffs of "Why Ask Why" (my favorite track on The EP) are nostalgic, yet fresh, giving the song a bit of a garage rock feel while paying homage to that great rock 'n' roll sound of yesteryear. Frohlich, who is both singer and guitarist on this album, has portrayed Ace Frehley in a very successful KISS tribute band, the influence of which is not lost on his skills with the six-string. "Another Star" is the most contemporary sounding track on the disc, paced just above becoming a ballad and sporting a few atmospheric keyboard passages to go along with the riffs and noticeable bass lines. That raw guitar gets back up to speed on "Down Anymore" while Devlin Harkell's bass clearly thumps the time, which in fact steals the show a bit during a mid-song interlude.

Admittedly it took me a couple of listens to get what The Underground Rebels were all about. Once I scratched the surface and picked out their influences, letting Kurt's leads and hooks soak in and feeling Devlin's dancing bass, the uniqueness of this band became evident. The key to their style is embracing a classic rock sound, with a bit of punk attitude, while throwing in enough updated elements to give the modern rock scene something to stand up and take notice of. Since the release of The EP, guitarist Sean Koos (ex-Joan Jett) and drummer Todd Waetzig (ex-Blue Man Group - yes, that Blue Man Group) have joined the ranks of The Underground Rebels. I honestly can't wait to hear what these guys put out next.

Track Listing
1 History 3:37
2 Why Ask Why 3:29
3 Another Star 3:19
4 Down Anymore 2:52
5 Rewind 4:14

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Review: In Grey - Sulphur Tears (2003)

In Grey [ MySpace ]
Sulphur Tears

Sulphur Tears is the first full length album from In Grey, though the Swedes have released several EPs since their formation in 1992. Over the years, their sound has shifted from My Dying Bride-influenced doom to a more atmospheric, Goth oriented style. Sulphur Tears showcases that style well through the band's mature songwriting skills and musical ability.

What appealed to me most upon hearing the album for the first time was how In Grey created a sense of atmosphere and melody primarily through the use of guitars and Dennis Liljedahl's vocals. Keyboards are credited, but they are limited to a mournful piano passage that serves as the first track of the album. No matter, though, for as I said the band still manages to create a remarkable sense of atmosphere that is in many ways similar to Tuonela-era Amorphis. The vocals, often layered for added depth, are a significant part of In Grey's identity. Dennis has a voice that sounds a lot like both Pasi Koskinen (ex-Amorphis) and James Hetfield (Metallica), and he uses it throughout Sulphur Tears to great effect. Guitarists Niklas Alexsson and Daniel Cannerfelt work very well together to create a melodic wall of harmony with their twisting interplay and dual-guitar riffs. The leads are often subdued, and there is in fact only one "real" solo on the album, but they dance along the surface of the mix and lend an ethereal quality to the music.

While each song on Sulphur Tears is good, "As Passion Turns To Hate" stands out as my favorite. The music of In Grey is generally mid-paced with somber interludes, but this track is one of the faster on the album and has a simple yet driving main riff. Here Dennis sings at the lower end of his range, adding weight to the already beefy riffs and conspicuous bass lines. There is a very quiet interlude a little more than midway through the song, featuring Per Lindström's bass and a few complex beats from drummer Dennis Starkenberg, before the pace is livened up once again. The faster tempo of this track is appealing to me, as is the vocal performance from Dennis, but it's the very catchy melody that cements it as my favorite of the album. Other standout tracks are "Mask", with big doomy riffs and layered (and effected) vocals; "At The Edge", which is perhaps the closest to In Grey's early material and very Black Sabbath-inspired with trudging riffs and a mournful pace; and "A Sun That Never Sets", where Dennis expands his vocal style to include a deep Gothic baritone and harsh growls in addition to his usual delivery.

Sulphur Tears is, in my opinion, an atmospheric metal album (with heavy Gothic overtones) that can hold its own among the leaders of the genre. Since the release of this album, however, Dennis Liljedahl has departed the lineup and In Grey have gone on to release two more EPs (one of which will be reviewed here in the coming weeks). Still, it is definitely worth your time to check this band out if you are a fan of this style of music.

Track Listing
1 Intro 1:04
2 Sulphur Tears 4:48
3 Life Has Changed 3:54
4 At The Edge 4:51
5 As Passion Turns To Hate 4:52
6 I Amaze 3:39
7 Above 3:19
8 Mask 4:44
9 Instrumental 1:01
10 A Sun That Never Sets 8:20

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Review: Urinal Puck Ministries - Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube (2004)

Urinal Puck Ministries
Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube

Urinal Puck Ministries is a band name that should immediately tip you off to their style and sense of humor. Keeping that in mind, the music played by these 5 guys from Pennsylvania is quite an eclectic blend of punk, metal, and rock which reminds me a lot of bands like S.O.D. and Black Flag. What you get is a solidly entertaining mix of tongue-in-cheek lyrics, beefy guitar riffs, and angry melodies designed to get you off your ass and into the pit. If UPM stands for something, it's having a good time.

There are 14 songs on Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube, the band's debut release, but only one exceeds the 3-minute mark. Though this results in a less-than-30-minute listen, UPM spends the time wisely to get into your head with infectious rhythms, catchy choruses, and thrashy riffs that leave you salivating for more. The fifth track is probably the most memorable of the album, for all the previously stated reasons and more. Simply titled "Poop" (any marketing hotshot will tell you that bathroom humor always sells), the song starts off with a pretty raw riff that carries through the classic punk beat into the catchy - and how could it not be - chorus. Taken with the crude lyrics and toilet sound effects, the song is simply fun to listen to. "Mary Boy" comes in as my next favorite track, showcasing a tight guitar-driven pace and yet another catchy chorus.

It's the guitar work of Kingpin and Skeezer that really gives Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube life. From the very "Rock Lobster"-like opening riff on "My Reality" to the chunky, early-Metallica inspired riffs on "Personal Meat", these two guys can skillfully belt out the riffs and licks. I can only assume that Kingpin and Skeezer share the solo spotlight, since their press kit doesn't mention one over the other, so the credit has to go to both guys for some pretty nice leads and solos sprinkled throughout the disc. There's nothing overly fancy about their style, they both are simply blue-collar guitar players who dish out some ass-kickin' riffs.

In the vocal department, Skin fits the music perfectly. He was born to sing this style of music. At times sounding a bit like Henry Rollins (not the spoken word crap, though) and at others like Scott Lucas (Local H), Skin's gritty shouts evoke that sense of old school punk anger. And there is too that sense of punk anarchy here and there on Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube, such as the lyrical content of "Bow to the Ministry".

So who are UPM and who will want to listen to Twisted Tales From the Fallopian Tube? The answer is as broad as the influences heard in their music. If you just want some music that picks you off the floor and gets you to the pit, then this album is for you. Punk, metal, rock, it's all there. There have been other bands like Urinal Puck Ministries, but there's always room for a breath of fresh air.

Track Listing
1 Bow to the Ministry 2:30
2 My Reality 1:49
3 Mommy Can I Dance With the Devil 1:41
4 Slave to the Puck 3:21
5 Poop 2:17
6 Welcome to the Sewer 2:21
7 Mary Boy 2:23
8 Personal Meat 1:44
9 I Know Your Mother 2:24
10 Dismembered Member 2:17
11 Satans Hayride 2:13
12 Puppet 2:02
13 Clambake Spitshine 0:59
14 I'm Hungry 0:36

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Review: Wisdom - Wisdom (2004)

Wisdom [ Website | MySpace ]

Formed in the autumn of 2001 in Budapest, Hungary, the five members of Wisdom spent their first three years challenging themselves as songwriters and musicians to rise above the European power metal pack and create music that is inspired, memorable, and distinctive. To exhibit what they've achieved thus far, the band has released a 4-song, self-titled demo that testifies to the devotion and skills of the group. Heavily influenced by bands such as Helloween, Gamma Ray, Iron Maiden, and so many more of the traditional/power metal icons, Wisdom extracts key features of this popular genre and crafts them together in a fine example of heavy, melodic metal. At the core of Wisdom's sound is a massive twin-guitar assault from Gábor Kovács and Zsolt Galambos. Heavy, crunchy, beefy are adjectives that can only begin to describe the wall of sound these two axeslingers thrust from the speakers. As heavy as their riffs are, the melodies are definite and contagious.

The demo kicks things off with "Fate", and when I first listened to the disc I made the quick assumption that Wisdom could be categorized with bands such as Freedom Call, Fairyland, and Celesty. Apart from the demonic sound effects at the beginning, this track comes very close to being a typical Euro power metal song with soaring (somewhat sugary) vocals, anthemic choruses, plenty of familiar "happy" riffs, and frantic double-kick. The execution is superb, but for those of us who aren't particularly enthralled by this style it simply doesn't satisfy (though I'm sure fans of the aforementioned bands would disagree). The second track, however, provides a stark contrast to the style of "Fate" and really shows what Wisdom is made of. "King of Death" starts off with a thick theme riff that places their music in an altogether different category. The twin-guitar harmonies are clearly inspired by such NWOBHM greats as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but there is a heightened degree of heaviness that I find to be comparable to bands like Falconer. The remaining two songs are of a similar fashion, "Strain of Madness" featuring some killer '80s metal riffs, which does have the effect of leaving "Fate" to seem rather out of place. In addition to the riffs and harmonies, the solos dotted throughout the disc are adeptly performed and never disrupt the pace or feel of the songs. Too often a power metal "guitar hero" will unleash a wicked solo, only to have the song suffer because the timing was independent of the rest of the musicians or the placement was poorly planned. Such is definitely not the case here.

Along with the quality fretwork, a highlight of this demo is the vocal ability of frontman István Nachladal. Working primarily at the higher end of his range, his delivery is solid and he belts out the occasional falsetto expertly. There are awkward moments where his accent is overtly present, but the effect on the songs is slight. Something that caught my eye before even hearing what Wisdom was capable of is the superb cover art by Gyula Havancsak. Quite out of the ordinary for a demo, the packaging is very slick and professional.

As far as demos go this one stands among the best I've received, not just in terms of musicianship but for overall impact. From the artwork to the production to the songwriting, these guys have done a great job. I don't doubt that they'll be snatched up by a label sometime soon.

Track Listing
1 Fate 4:16
2 King of Death 4:01
3 Strain of Madness 4:13
4 Evil Disguise 4:22

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Monday, February 7, 2005

Review: In Vain - Unofficial EP (2004)

In Vain
Unofficial EP

I reviewed In Vain's debut Serenades of the Wretched more than a year ago (read the review here), and at the time I felt that these young Swedish musicians were poised to develop into quite an interesting modern rock outfit. Since their debut the band has recorded some new material, and though they haven't officially released another album, they sent me their new songs as an "unofficial EP". Back in 2003, I likened In Vain to bands such as Nickelback and Creed  due to their heavy, guitar-driven rock and the radio-friendly voice of Magnus Christiansson. What set them apart for me was the doom-influenced atmospheres created by six-stringers Patric Tindvall and Johan Hasselblom (the band originated as a doom metal group, after all), lending a more somber and somewhat menacing sound than one usually hears on the radio these days. I was pleased to hear on the new material that In Vain has continued with this as their core sound, creating some very interesting and engaging songs.

Subsequent to the release of the debut album, Johan left the band to join a pop group (what's that all about?) and I can certainly hear the impact on the new material. Patric is an outstanding guitar player, so he more than compensates for the loss of a second guitar sound. As on the debut, his riffs, leads, and solos are what gives the songs their life and creates the necessary atmosphere to fully affect the listener. I consider him to be one of those rare guitarists who can effectively translate emotion into sound, building the music in such a way that it can be felt as well as heard. Every song here stands on its own with Patric's unique riffs and melodies, but through all of it there is the distinctive In Vain sound that serves to combine the elements into a cohesive package.

One exception, though slight, that I had with the debut concerned the vocal capability of Magnus. He's a fine singer, for sure, but there were times when he seemed strained and uncomfortable. The new material proves that he's refined his voice considerably. Not once did I hear him fail in his attempts to hit or sustain a note. I still think he compares favorably with singers of the modern rock sound like Scott Stapp or Jerry Cantrell, which is a good thing since it fits In Vain's music perfectly. There is one moment, at the beginning of "Undone", where I swear he sounds just like Darius Rucker (Hootie & The Blowfish), but the moment is fleeting and the world quickly returns to normal.

As for the songs themselves, "Transfixed" is my favorite of the lot. Patric gets things started with a very atmospheric intro riff, quite similar to something Amorphis would produce (I love that sound, by the way) before launching into a chunky passage to really accelerate the tempo. This is one of the fastest songs, though its pace can by no means be considered furious. In Vain is a very mid-paced band, plying the waters of mellow heaviness to impart their sense of feeling. Patric peppers his expressive leads throughout this song, as is his style, keeping the music dancing under Magnus' vocals and never letting the music become pedestrian. "Hope for Remembrance" has another interestingly affected opening riff and a catchy chorus, while the guitar sound of "Frantic" is menacing and most conveys the early influences of the band. The ethereal riffs that I like so much reappear on "October 28th", the song which also has what think is Patric's best solo of the bunch. While I've said much already about Patric and Magnus, the rhythm section of drummer Daniel Karlsson and Robert Tindvall (Patric's brother) deserve mention for keeping excellent time and really giving the songs a solid foundation. Daniel's beat patterns are complex without becoming burdensome, and Robert tends to throw together some really intricate lines to add further depth to the sound.

The band has decided not to release their new material but have instead made the songs available on their website. If you're into some good, slightly somber, guitar-driven rock then I recommend giving In Vain a listen.

Track Listing
1 Lead Astray 5:09
2 Hope for Remembrance 5:30
3 Frantic 3:37
4 Transfixed 4:13
5 Undone 6:10
6 October 28th 4:04

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Review: The Lust I Seek - Serpent Scripts (2004)

The Lust I Seek [ Website | MySpace ]
Serpent Scripts

It was almost exactly a year ago that I reviewed The Lust I Seek's debut EP Where Shadows Grow Silent (read the review here). I was intrigued by the talent displayed by this young Finnish Doom band, but I felt their morose sound was a little too flat and the vocal skills of Juha Wuorinen lacking, particularly when singing in his clean style. At the time, the band was already looking ahead to their next demo and promised it to be a significant departure from Where Shadows Grow Silent. A year has passed and The Lust I Seek has delivered Serpent Scripts, a demo which lives up the the expectations set by the band.

The music of The Lust I Seek remains firmly entrenched in Doom metal, but their songwriting skills have matured such that the three songs on this EP surpass their previous album in melody and structure. One significant difference is the lack of keyboards. Unlike the debut album, the songs on Serpent Scripts do not rely on keyboards for atmosphere but are instead much more guitar driven, placing emphasis on memorable riffs and striking leads. Each track contains several riffs that are driving and heavy, enticing the listener to take notice and become immersed in the mood of the music. "Anno Pandemonia", my favorite track, has an intense groove about it while never losing that sense of oppressive gloom that the band strives to keep at the core of their sound. Another indication of the band's growth as songwriters is given by the frequent use of time changes. Each song is epic in length, leaving plenty of room for the band to shift gears. What sets The Lust I Seek apart from many others who experiment with complex structures is their ability to hold each passage until it fully develops and brings the listener in. Only then do they switch tempos, moving on to the next set of beats.

Having said all this, I still feel that the vocals need some attention. Wuorinen continues to belt out the lyrics in a style that alternates between clean, Death growls, and Blackish rasps. He's more than capable in the harsher styles, but his baritone remains out of place. Going for the heavily accented, Gothic style is fine but he seems to struggle at times which makes for an awkward listen. Perhaps keeping this style to a minimum, instead concentrating on the more extreme vocalizations, would sufficiently improve upon the issue.

Ultimately, Serpent Scripts marks a significant improvement for The Lust I Seek and indicates the band clearly has it within them to rise to the challenge of creating unique, listenable metal without losing sight of their core sound. New music is expected later this year, and I for one am excited to hear where they go next.

Track Listing
1 Beyond the Grace Divine
2 Crowned in Damnation
3 Anno Pandemonia

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