Sunday, January 14, 2007

Review: The Handful - Second Hand Smoke (2006)

The Handful [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]
Second Hand Smoke

Hailing from New Jersey, The Handful  is the duo of singer-guitarist Mark Duda and jack-of-all-instruments Jason Mischel. Dripping with influences from bands such as Deep Purple, Bad Company, and Molly Hatchet, their sophomore album Second Hand Smoke snuggles in nicely with the works of those aforementioned bands.

The bands blue collar sound is enhanced by a strong vocal performance from Mark, who sounds like a cross between Ian Gillen (Deep Purple), Danny Joe Brown (Molly Hatchet), and at times even Neil Young. Mark's voice is the primary reason the music of The Handful is so familiar and accessible, though his guitar sound is a huge factor as well. That full, deep, slightly Southern style so prevalent in the late '70s and early '80s (and continued on through to today by those classic bands) is in full force on Second Hand Smoke. While fans who can't get enough of this style will hungrily devour each track on the album, the fact remains that the strong point of this release is its familiarity - which results in "fresh" and "innovative" being words that cannot be used to describe it.

Consistency runs through all 14 tracks, but unfortunately this makes it hard for any one track to stand above the others. "Come Out and Play" comes the closest to being considered on its own merits, as it is quite possibly the "anthem" of the album. Mark's riffs and leads have plenty of high octane behind them, while the bass lines from Jason are sufficiently prominent and elaborate. Definitely a classic-in-the-making Southern rock track, it is the right choice to lead off Second Hand Smoke. Another track I found to be an above-average listen is the instrumental "Sasquatch". A Native American melody is enhanced by Mark's skillful fretwork and some meaty keys and intricate bass from Jason. "Golddigger" also contains some nice, melodic leads that stick in my mind. While the tempo on the album never reaches a thundering pace, the band does slow it down for "Disbelievin'" and "Unreal". While the former is somewhat of a power ballad (here Mark could pass for Neil Young if you didn't know better), "Unreal" is a ballad in the true sense of the word.

Second Hand Smoke is a good album of classic hard rock, but it achieves little more than that. Fans will certainly enjoy this album, while those looking for something a little more creative and novel will have to look elsewhere.

Track Listing
1 Come Out and Play 2:29
2 Drowning 2:43
3 Blood Red 4:01
4 Sasquatch 3:03
5 Golddigger 2:44
6 Feet to the Flame 3:04
7 Disbelievin' 4:06
8 Cut n' Run 2:16
9 Cold Winter 3:15
10 I Ain't Seen the Light 3:00
11 Unreal 4:38
12 Three Sheets 3:42
13 Sweet Yesterday 2:18
14 Dead To Me 3:09
Total Runtime 44:28

Purchase Second Hand Smoke from these fine e-Tailers:


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Review: Kamala - Peto (2006)

Kamala [ Website | MySpace | Facebook ]

This little gem of a demo was quite an interesting find for me. I've always been a huge supporter of women in heavy metal, and feel they make some of the most significant contributions to the genre. So when I stumbled upon Kamala, a very new all-girl metal outfit from Finland, I just had to learn more. Founded in 2005 as a foursome, they released their debut demo Peto in June of the following year. While bands such as Kittie may come to mind when thinking of a comparison point, and musically that would be an accurate association, Kamala differs significantly in the vocal department. Frontwoman Karita sings cleanly, though quite aggressively, and the lyrics are entirely in Finnish.

Of the three tracks on Peto (which translates to "beast"), the lead-off song "Akana" is the best of the bunch. All three are actually quite alike, but the band is at their best as the demo gets started. Besides angrily belting out the lyrics, Karita lays down some chunky riffs that are, with the help of bassist Emilia, truly bottom-heavy. Behind the kit, Päivi is a wild woman and drives the pace relentlessly. The tone on "Akana" is angry, fast, and in your face. This carries over to the other two tracks and makes for a good, yet too quick, listen.

The word Kamala means "awful" in Finnish, but nothing could be further from the truth when describing these talented girls. The only thing that would keep them from success in America is the language barrier, but any fan who truly appreciates solid metal will still enjoy the music of Kamala. I certainly do.

Track Listing
1 Akana 3:10
2 Taistelu 3:02
3 Petolintu 3:24
Total Runtime 9:36

Search eBay for Peto:

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Review: Ever Since - Between Heaven and Hell (2007)

Ever Since [ MySpace ]
Between Heaven and Hell

Alright, it's been a year since my last review. What happened? I don't know. Can't say. But when I received a promo pack from Quam Libet Records containing the full-length debut from Ever Since, an unknown band from Switzerland, I sat up and took notice. My inspiration was back. This album forced me off my ass and got the creative juices flowing once more. Is Between Heaven and Hell a masterpiece? Not quite, but it is fresh enough, and good enough, to be very close.

So what makes this album from an unheard-of Swiss band so good? The key, which I have already mentioned, is that it's "fresh". Groundbreaking it is not, but there is enough experimentation and cross-genre formulations to make cliché musical elements come alive in a very interesting way. Simply put, Ever Since is a Dark Metal band. You'll find Goth, Death, Dark Wave, and even traditional metal fragments blended together to create an album full of exciting songs. Even tossing aside the ineffective intro and the short instrumental horrorscape "Meeting in the Deep", Between Heaven and Hell still offers up 10 tracks that do not disappoint.

Key to the success of the album are the often subtle, sometimes not so subtle, atmospheric passages skillfully delivered by keyboardist Jean-Philippe Lana. At times you have have to listen attentively to pick them up, such as during the guitar solos on "Opposite Angle", while at other times they drive the song more so than the guitars. This interplay between heavy, chunky riffs and Gothic piano/synth moments is done masterfully and is a major reason why I scored Between Heaven and Hell so high. Another interplay which equals that of the guitars/keyboards is the mix of vocal styles permeating the album. Primary vocal duties are handled by Ludivine whose sultry, melancholy style is somewhat similar to Lotta Höglin (Beseech). Her expression accentuates the dark mood of the music perfectly, and is complimented by the harsh vocals of guitarist Stéphane. Ranging between enunciated growls, a deep Gothic bass (not unlike Erik Molarin from Beseech), and occasional rasps, Stéphane provides an excellent contrast to Ludivine's clean vocals. Jean-Philippe also lends clean vocals on occasion and takes the lead on "Something of You".

The first true song on the album, "Vae Soli", perhaps bests illustrates the intricate sonic compound that is the music of Ever Since. A primarily electro-Goth beat drives the tune, with the full range of clean and harsh vocals from Ludivine and Stéphane, while the guitars lend not only a heavy Gothic feel but also dish out a traditional metal vibe with some spindly solos and leads. The title track could be found on a recent Beseech release, with Stéphane's distinctive baritone, distorted whispers from Jean-Philippe, and a driving double-bass from Cédric Monnet.

Finding a favorite on Between Heaven and Hell is difficult because I enjoy almost every track equally. In fact, even the electro-Goth instrumental "Treason" is a pleasing listen. If you're a fan of any form of dark, melodic metal you will enjoy this album.

Track Listing
1 The Elected 0:37
2 Vae Soli 3:61
3 Something of You 3:33
4 Between Heaven and Hell 3:37
5 Lost in My Thoughts 3:29
6 A Shadow Behind the Mirror of My Mind 4:17
7 Meeting in the Deep 2:13
8 La Petite Mort 4:52
9 Treason 2:29
10 Opposite Angle 3:30
11 Opposite Angle Part II 4:14
12 I'm Just the Only One 5:21

Search eBay for Between Heaven and Hell: