Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Review: Era Vulgaris - What Stirs Within (2007)

Era Vulgaris [ MySpace ]
What Stirs Within
Open Your Ears / The End Records

Dublin, Ireland's Era Vulgaris  have been making themselves heard in their native land since forming in 2004. Slaying audiences with their support of notable bands such as Amon Amarth, Candlemass, Entombed, and fellow countrymen (and woman) Cruachan, the quartet was named one of the Top 100 Bands to Watch in 2007 by Rock Sound Magazine. Such distinction is due in part to their skillful musical execution, but a more significant reason for it lies in the band's ability to produce an interesting aural cocktail by fusing elements of technical thrash, prog, and Doom/Death. Having honed their style on the stages of Ireland, Era Vulgaris present themselves to the metal world with their debut album What Stirs Within, 8 tracks of intricate brutality sure to intrigue, if not please, most metal fans.

After a quote from the film Dune, the band gets down to business with the blistering lead-off track "Brittle". Blackish riffs and thrashy beats are blended together as frontman Chris Rob screeches the lyrics with gut-wrenching abandon. Chris is actually a multi-dimensional vocalist, howling one moment and crooning through a chorus the next. However, his primary style is to angrily spew forth the lyrics in a forceful, but understandable, rage. While it's nearly impossible to draw a comparison to Chris' style, on "Just Ask Yourself" he adopts a bit of a Mustaine/Anselmo manner that serves the song well. While the lead-off track flew at a frantic pace, the second track slows the pace and adds an element of groove that reaches back to the Bay Area days of yore. It's here too that Era Vulgaris offers a taste of their progressive tendencies, delivering a couple of meandering breakdowns featuring bass solos and wandering leads. Such diversions are fairly rare, but on "I Must Have Your Brain" the band experiments with an extended journey into the disjointed harmonics of progressive music. Not being much of a fan of such rambling, the distraction is thankfully short-lived and the core sound returned to. Constructing a bombproof foundation on which the rest of the band gyrates, drummer Chris Con is a versatile master of the kit. Having previous jazz and break beat experience, Con weaves a complex pattern of rhythms and time changes that keep the listener guessing while maintaining a linear ebb and flow. So it is with the entirety of What Stirs Within, as each track contains enough variety and emotion to keep the album feeling fresh over numerous listens. As enjoyable as all the tracks are, "Limb From Limb" stands apart from the others as my favorite for the very old school thrash riffs and occasional Gothic growls from Chris Rob. Dave Buttner's bass is also fairly prominent and serves to deepen the impact of the song. The album ends with the 11-minute instrumental "Imram", enveloping all of the various elements that comprise the style of Era Vulgaris.

While the production is a bit flat and the guitars are a little loose, the wealth of talent displayed on the album makes Era Vulgaris more than worthy of the praise they've thus far received from the international metal community.

Track Listing
1 Brittle 8:12
2 Just Ask Yourself 4:40
3 Mark It Zero 3:56
4 Limb From Limb 6:33
5 I Must Have Your Brain 5:32
6 Fate Draws A Curtain 7:06
7 Harmonic Discontent 8:05
8 Imram 11:15
Total Runtime 55:19

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review: Clyde - Blank Stares & Dialogue Reruns (2007)

Clyde [ Website | MySpace ]
Blank Stares & Dialogue Reruns

Clyde. As a band name, the moniker tends to evoke an expectation of shoe-gazing alt-rock, or at best some sort of parody band (Bigdumbface ring a bell with anyone?). Thankfully falling into neither of these categories, New York's Clyde is instead a fairly groovy modern rock band with many similarities to outfits such as Velvet Revolver, Alice In Chains, and to a lesser degree The Offspring. Formed in 2005, Clyde released an EP before booking a slew of gigs around the NYC region. After dealing with a revolving door of bass players, the band settled in to the studio to produce their debut full-length album Blank Stares & Dialogue Reruns.

Musically the band fits right in with those I've mentioned above. Groovy modern rock with downtuned riffs, conspicuous bass lines, understated rhythms, and coarse vocals is what Clyde delivers. Frontman Jody Dobson sings with a slight drawl and compares to what you'd get if you were to mesh Dexter Holland with Ozzy. At times I found his style to be reminiscent of Ozzy's cadence on early Black Sabbath releases. "Broken", the lead-off track, exhibits the band's style in its entirety. The song is mid-paced with fuzzy, chugging riffs and is heavy on the bass. The band strays from their formula a bit by including a somewhat spacey breakdown, but by & large they stick to their chosen recipe.

As the album develops, you can sense that Clyde have latched on to their blueprint and aren't about to deviate. Occasionally there will be an exception to the rule, such as the locomotive riffs and rumbling bass intro on "Never Wanted You". "Dead to the World" has a rare solo from Young Min Song, and a brief Hammond organ passage. Sean Carolan's bass is very distinctive throughout the album, giving the riffs a solid push and enhancing Jake Ninan's clean skinwork. Clyde's best original track is "I Go Alone". The main riff is not only infectious and memorable, but drives the song at a slightly faster pace than found elsewhere on the disc. The chorus has a very Stone Temple Pilots feel to it and the solo is a bit more expansive but still too brief. I mentioned this track was the best original on the disc, and I say that because the best overall track on the album is a cover of Bananarama's "Cruel Summer". Having come of age in the '80s, I can remember "Cruel Summer" being a staple on the airwaves and MTV back in the day and I still enjoy the decadent popiness of the tune. Clyde have turned that song into a blazing rock anthem that far outshines the original. From the opening buzzsaw riffs, the band blazes through the track while keeping true to the original melodies. It's also on this track that Jody starts to sound most like Dexter Holland, almost to the point where you'd think this was actually performed by The Offspring. This comparison carries into "What'd You Say?" and manages to provide a breath of fresh air to the slight stagnation found on the rest of the album - not to mention Young Min Song's best solo.

Blank Stares & Dialogue Reruns is a good album for modern rock fans who enjoy their music mid-paced and heavy. The problem with the album, other than its brevity, is the lack of variety. The band has chosen a course and sticks to it, resulting in the majority of the tracks being lost to indistinction. Where they change things up a bit, however, such as on the last two tracks and "I Go Alone", they deliver big.

Track Listing
1 Broken 3:31
2 Never Wanted You 2:55
3 Dead to the World 3:43
4 I Go Alone 3:43
5 Taken 4:30
6 Drowned 3:21
7 Cruel Summer 3:15
8 What'd You Say? 2:56
Total Runtime 27:54

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Review: ArthurKill - The Pain (2007)

ArthurKill [ MySpace ]
The Pain
On Top Records

ArthurKill is a heavy, melodic rock outfit hailing from Staten Island, New York. The Pain, their sophomore effort, is a collection of electronic-infused hard rock anthems and hook-laden power ballads ripe for radio airplay. The sonic tapestries woven by the proper mingling of layered synths and driving riffs on Arthurkill's heavier tunes ("On My Knees", in particular) has been a popular rock element to one degree or another since the late '90s due in part to bands like Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward. These influential bands have made their mark on these four guys from New York, given that their heaviest moments have a decidedly industrial distorted feel.

The Pain wastes no time getting started as "On My Knees" launches from the speakers. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, the band pounds the listener with pulsating riffs from Steve Mironovich and Mike Petillo. Frontman and founder Kenny Munson has a coarse vocal style well-suited to the gritty drive of the song. Because of the outright heaviness of this track, it rises as my choice for the best on the album. The next track, "Come Together", is of course Arthurkill's version of the oft-covered Beatles tune. While I can really only give the track "OK" marks, it does feature a tumultuous solo from Steve that shows clearly just how well he can play. The last "official" track of the album is "Rock Superstar", a cover of the semi-classic Cypress Hill song. I found this to definitely be the better of the two cover performances, given that this composition better suits ArthurKill's crunchy modern sound.

As heavy as the leadoff track and covers are, ArthurKill's strength lies with the band's ability to produce catchy, melodic rock ballads in the vein of bands like Shinedown. The majority of the songs on The Pain fit this formula, and beginning with the title track the listener is introduced to wistful guitar melodies, longingly soulful vocals, and a strumming bass that begs to be slow danced to. Kenny adeptly switches from his aggressive style on the heavier tracks to a heartfelt performance on the ballads that lends considerable feeling to the lyrics. Of these slower tunes, "Life Goes On" stands above the others due in part to a very catchy chorus and an almost mournful lead guitar from Steve. Somewhat heavier than the title track, this song is tailor-made to be a radio hit.

On occasion ArthurKill treads towards a sound that reminds me quite a bit of Limp Bizkit, particularly on "World Go Round" and "Can't Back Down". Not quite as over the top as LB, there is still a hardcorish vibe to the tracks. The album closes with a couple of hidden acoustic tracks, including a version of "Life Goes On", that give a glimpse into the band's past and shows how they have grown since getting their start in the mid-'90s. Overall, The Pain is a solid modern rock album that will appeal to fans of what's heard on the radio these days. While not very original, these guys do what they do quite well and should spark interest as their name gets out.

Track Listing
1 On My Knees 3:09
2 Come Together 2:46
3 The Pain 4:08
4 Life Goes On 4:12
5 Can't Back Down 3:22
6 Lil' Things 3:10
7 U N I 3:56
8 World Go Round 3:22
9 Frozen In Time 3:31
10 Rock Superstar 7:04
11 Annointing The Soul 3:16
12 Life Goes On [Acoustic] 3:09
Total Runtime 45:05

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