Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Publik Parking - Pavlov's Dog (2009)

Publik Parking [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Pavlov's Dog
Revolution Music Records

Flint, Michigan's Publik Parking is one of the hardest working bands in the state, if not all of the Midwest. Formed in 2003, the female-fronted metal outfit has gigged relentlessly, released 3 EPs, 3 videos, a handful of live CDs, and has consistently ranked high on MySpace indie metal charts. Recently they signed with Revolution Music Records, a local Saginaw-based label, to release their full-length debut Pavlov's Dog. Publik Parking's sound is fed by a number of influential wellsprings, from Lacuna Coil to Korn to Godsmack, lending Pavlov's Dog a definite uniqueness without sacrificing accessibility.

The album kicks off with the Lacuna Coil-ish "Breakdown", one of the more up-tempo songs on Pavlov's Dog. The vocal ebb and flow between frontwoman Monica and guitarist/husband Neiko is the primary reason for the comparison to the Italian Gothic metallers, with Neiko's crunchy guitar tone lending somewhat of a Nu-metal aftertaste to the track. Monica's style is a little hard to pin down, which is great for the band but tough for reviewers. She shares some similarities with Christina Scabbia, but at times there are hints of Shirley Manson and Gwen Stefani in her delivery, while on tracks like "Lose Control" and "Something" she belts out a harsh, aggressive performance. The bottom line, though, is that Monica's vocals are sexy, intimidating, or disarming as the mood of the music warrants.

Neiko's six-string style meshes well with his axe-wielding counterpart Tucker. Overall, the riffs on Pavlov's Dog are of the downtuned, chugging variety with liberal doses of distorted leads. Neiko's solos aren't spectacular, but they are well-executed and feel integral to the songs and not tossed in as an afterthought like so many modern metal bands are inclined to do. "Something" is a track that offers an interesting diversion from the usual guitar work, featuring processed leads to go along with Tucker's grinding riffs and a somewhat tribal beat from drummer Erik. By far my favorite track for guitar melody is "Loathe", with some gritty riffs and plucky leads. Tim's bass, which is predominantly used to drag the album's riffs to grungy depths, stands just a tad apart from the guitars on this track and adds yet another dimension to Publik Parking's sound.

Most of the songs on Pavlov's Dog are mid-tempo tracks, relying more on Monica's sensual voice than a scorching pace to draw in the listener. While "Reason" and the aforementioned "Breakdown" pick up the tempo a bit, the band more often ventures in the opposite direction with a fair number of powered ballads. "Everyday" is a song that wouldn't be at all out of place on alt-rock radio, while "Almost Over" is a duet that builds up to a groovy climax. The album contains two bonus songs that are slightly different versions of the same ballad, which really doesn't add a lot to the disc as a whole.

Pavlov's Dog is a solid, if somewhat safe, debut from a very determined band. I think they'd benefit greatly from occasionally ratcheting up the tempo and the guitar presence, but their style nevertheless has wide appeal and should satisfy fans of female-fronted alternative metal.

Track Listing
3Lose Control
8Almost Over

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Wyldsky - Wyldsky (2009)

Wyldsky [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]

Take it or leave it, the hard rock of the mid to late 1980s made one helluva lasting impression. While bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Def Leppard  are soldiering on and still selling out venues, their rock/metal hybrid remains a source of inspiration for many newly formed outfits - although the spandex has thankfully been abandoned. Enter California's Wyldsky, formed in 2006 by guitarist Tyler Nelson and rounded out by drummer Michael Lesniak, bassist Steve Evans, and keyboardist Chris Turbis. The band's self-titled debut is an amalgamation of classic hard rock and '80s Hair Metal influences held together by superb songwriting and exceptional musicianship.

Let's face it, Wyldsky is built around Nelson's mastery of the six-string and so each song features extensive soloing and varied riffing. Even so, this is not your run-of-the-mill virtuosic wankery we've all come to expect from the Jeff Scott Sotos and Joe Satrianis of the world. The other members of Wyldsky are excellent artists in their own rights, having found significant success on the jazz and blues circuits. So while you're going to get a lot of guitar, you'll be pleased to hear plenty of bass, complex beats, and classy keyboard passages. Nelson delivers big in the vocal department as well, sounding a bit like Taime Down (Faster Pussycat) and Jeff Keith (Tesla). Gritty, a bit sleazy, but absolutely spot on for Wyldsky's style of rock.

Wyldsky kicks off with "Next World", one of the more up-tempo tracks on the album. Evans' undulating bass lines during the very melodic gang choruses are highlights, as is Nelson's spiffy soloing. The album is a well-balanced, alternating blend of rockers and powerful ballads that serve to keep the overall mood flowing without risking stagnation. The mesmerizing "Holding On" follows "Next World" with a slightly slower tempo and a significantly mellower vibe - definitely one of those "chilling out" sort of tracks. Nelson experiments with some very interesting guitar tones, making this song one of the more memorable on the album. He also experiments vocally, adopting a deeper, more soulful voice on the bluesy "Dog Daze". Nelson's sweeping, forceful solo dominates the second half of "Rendezvous", which is sure to please fans of down-to-earth guitar wizardry, while Wyldsky channels a bit of Aerosmith on the '70s-styled rocker "My Baby". "Wild Honey", another scorcher, opens with a vintage Van Halen-esque intro while maintaining a sleazy, Bulletboys vibe throughout.

Wyldsky's debut encompasses all there is to love about '80s hard rock. The songs are well-written, catchy, enjoyable and memorable. The musicianship is first-rate all around and the production is robust. What's not to like? Well, if you're not at all a fan of this style of hard rock, then probably all of it. But if, like me, you find this style of music perfect for cracking open a cold one and dusting off some memories of the "glory days", then by all means get your hands on this album.

Track Listing
1 Next World 4:40
2 Holding On 4:51
3 Dog Daze 5:11
4 Rendezvous 6:59
5 My Baby 3:46
6 Comin' On 5:48
7 Wild Honey 4:53
8 Nightmare And A Dream 5:13
9 Where You Belong 4:59
10 Goodbye Good Riddance 4:42
Total Runtime 51:02

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: Ground of Ruin - Cloaked In Doctrine (2008)

Ground of Ruin [ MySpace | Facebook ]
Cloaked In Doctrine

The guys of Ireland's Ground Of Ruin have been fairly busy since they've been together, releasing three demos and a promo single. Each release has further refined their sound as they seek not only to improve their songwriting and musicianship, but also to set themselves apart from the bevy of bands that relentlessly toil in the underground world of Heavy Metal. Cloaked In Doctrine, Ground Of Ruin's latest demo, finds the band working in the realm of Scandinavian Death/Thrash that was highly innovative in the late 1990's and early on in the new millennium. By no means, however, should the band be considered "retro" or a throwback outfit. Ground Of Ruin instead lends a modern perspective to the sound of early At The Gates and Amon Amarth, yet stops short of falling victim to the current Melodeath trend.

Cloaked In Doctrine opens with a rather eerie atmospheric intro that, while not far from ordinary, works well to establish a sinister mood. The title track then bursts forth with some fairly unremarkable Black Metal, replete with blasting double-bass from Francis Moran and numbingly repetitive riffs from Rob Chanders and Dom Brennan. Soon enough, though, the band introduces their particular styling through some interesting harmonized leads as well as a number of varying tempos. Frontman Dave Hynes primarily uses a mid-range, Blackened shriek to hurl the lyrics but, as the demo progresses, he varies his delivery to incorporate a deeper, Death Metal growl as well as some higher pitched wails. "Burning The Olive Branch", my favorite song on this short album, opens with some nice harmonized leads and a strong overall melody. Chanders and Brennan spend the majority of the track embarked upon differing, yet parallel, paths that provide a lot of interesting twists, though they frequently join together for some complex riffing. On those occasions, Moran compliments his blast beats and double-bass with a bit of hi-hat, lending the track a bit of a Death 'n' Roll quality. Cloaked In Doctrine wraps up with the intense "Beneath Contempt", featuring plenty of punishingly raw buzzsaw riffs and a number of Thrashy breaks. Notice that I did not say breakdowns. Ground Of Ruin thankfully doesn't resort to watering down their sound with anything closely resembling the *core sub-genres that all the kiddies fancy. Instead, the final track features a brief atmospheric passage that leads into a very strong solo, at which point Derek Gibson's bass emerges from the depths of the mix to provide a healthy bit of groove before once again returning to lurk beneath the surface.

Ultimately, Ground Of Ruin still has some distance to cover before unleashing a sound that sets the genre on it's side. Nevertheless, Cloaked In Doctrine is a strong example of high quality Death/Thrash in the old Scandinavian style that will certainly appeal to genre fans. Don't miss this one.

Track Listing
1 Upon the 13th Hour 2:35
2 Cloaked In Doctrine 7:10
3 Burning The Olive Branch 5:52
4 Beneath Contempt 7:12
Total Runtime 22:49

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review: Pÿlon - Doom (2009)

Pÿlon [ Website | MySpace ]
Quam Libet Records

Monumental. If I had to pick one word to describe Doom, the third full-length from Switzerland's Doom Metal duo known as Pÿlon, that's the one I'd choose. Matt Brand (guitar, vocals) and Jan Thomas (bass, flute) teamed up with no less than 5 drummers and 3 guest guitarists to create a work of epic Doom Metal that rivals classic releases from St. Vitus, Candlemass, and Count Raven.

The album's first track, the lumbering "Renovatio", encompasses the essence of what Pÿlon is all about. With the help of some truly sorrowful solos from Sandro Keuson (Trinity) and some fine, progressively-styled drum work courtesy of Martin Roth (Crown of Glory), the song enshrouds the listener in feelings of despair and anguish as Brand's forlorn vocals seem to come from beyond the veil of Death. Brand and Thomas are motivated by exploring the theme of death, in particular death as a result of absolute despondency, and the meaning of what lies beyond it. They've ably reflected this theme in their lyrics and in the overall gloomy mood their music invokes. One of the aspects of Doom that impresses me most is how consistent the album is even though each song incorporates enough variation to be clearly distinguishable from its neighbors. In theory, the prominent use of the ecclesiastical organ on "Ho Theos Erchestai" should clash with the Viking Metal vocals and raw guitar tone of "Psych-Icon", but in reality the ever-present undercurrent of despair weaves all of the unique threads together in one masterful tapestry of depression.

A major factor in the cohesive quality of Doom is the vocal performance of Matt Brand. He's not one to overpower the instrumentation with his voice, and instead falls into step with what is happening musically. Oftentimes his cleanly sung, slightly monotone style is processed to sound as if he's haunting the listener from beyond, which heightens the effect of the music. He occasionally deviates from the norm, however, with "Ho Theos Erchestrai" finding him sounding a bit like Ozzy did on "Mr. Crowley". "Beneath, Beyond" features a monastic delivery style, while the Death Metal growls of Pÿlon's previous work creeps in again on "DeadLove".

Brand's crushing, mournful riffs are also a key to Doom's success. Augmented by some rather impressive soloing and lead work from other guitarists of the Swiss Christian metal scene, he joins with Thomas' bass to consistently belt out slow to mid-paced despondency. While always lurking just beneath the surface, Thomas emerges with a strong lead on "In The Shade" as Brand goes a little retro with his riffs. This track also finds Thomas introducing his skills on the flute, lending an extremely sorrowful quality to the song that resurfaces on "Beneath, Beyond".

Two of the songs that do tend to stand apart from the rest, though they are in no way out of place, are "Dream A Dream" and "An Angel Tale". The former, with its plodding, belligerent riffs, sounds like something out of a David Lynch film but remains no less heavy than any of the other tracks on Doom. "An Angel Tale" is the most Gothically styled track on the album, with highly atmospheric keys coupled with acoustic leads and crunchy up-tempo riffs lending a bit of a late period Sentenced sound to the song.

Despite the Christian overtones in the lyrics and in the very professional packaging, Pÿlon has released what is unarguably going to be one of the best Doom Metal albums of 2009. Fans of heavy, atmospheric, mesmerizing Doom Metal absolutely must add Doom to their collection post haste.

Track Listing
3Ho Theos Erchestai7:10
4In The Shade6:27
5Beneath, Beyond5:44
6Dream A Dream6:12
7De Rerum Sanctarum Una2:16
9Hors Des Sentiers Battus6:23
10Age Of Despair1:49
11An Angel Tale6:27
13The Void Thereafter1:20
Total Runtime1:17:23

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: RuinGloria - I'm Pretty Sure My ExGirlfriend is a Vampire (2008)

RuinGloria [ MySpace ]
I'm Pretty Sure My ExGirlfriend is a Vampire
Superhappy Records

I recently received I'm Pretty Sure My ExGirlfriend Is A Vampire, the new CD single from Australia's RuinGloria, and had to think long and hard about posting a review here on Harvest Moon Music. Heavy Metal is listed on the promo sheet as one of the band's stylistic influences, but that's about all that is Metal about this release. However, after a lot of thought and repeated spins of the CD, I concluded that there just might be something here that extremely open-minded Metal fans would be interested in.

RuinGloria has apparently been burning up the Sydney club scene as well as causing quite a stir amongst the MySpace crowd. Their brand of shoegazing alt-rock is highly infectious, I'll give them that. Fronted by Adam Hollywood, RuinGloria combines poppy dance rhythms with electronica and admirable riffs to create a sound that they term "rocking pop". Hollywood's vocals are textbook emo, just whiny enough to make the girls swoon, though there are brief moments where he leverages a somewhat harsh scream for effect. The title track opens with a decent bass riff from Chris Wall, which melds into some strong alt-rock riffs from Matt Rud and Dean Jagger (who serves double duty on the keyboards). The track moves along at a quick pace, contains a couple of slightly aggressive breakdowns, and a number of those aforementioned screams from Hollywood. The sex-fueld "Highway 69 What A Drive" is the most metallic song on the disc and as such is the track I'd recommend to those open-minded metalheads. The song begins with a rather punishing series of beats from drummer Timmy V that are nicely in sync with the downtuned riffs. Overall there's a slight Avenged Sevenfold vibe going on with this track, though Hollywood's vocals are just too emo to really mesh with the menace of the music. The final track on the CD, "The Duke Remix", finds Jagger's electronic elements in the forefront, giving the song plenty of potential in the club scene. Capped by a catchy chorus, I wouldn't be surprised if this is an instant favorite with the MySpace groupies.

Obviously, I'm Pretty Sure My ExGirlfriend Is A Vampire has little to nothing to do with Heavy Metal. The emo alt-rock on offer here is certainly a bit edgier than than one typically encounters, though, which is why I think the most open-minded Metal aficionados might have an interest in at least giving RuinGloria a listen.

Track Listing
1I'm Pretty Sure My ExGirlfriend Is A Vampire3:39
2Highway 69 What A Drive4:53
3The Duke Remix4:45
Total Runtime13:17

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Review: Foreshadow - Nations of Failure (2008)

Foreshadow MySpace ]
Nations of Failure

As metal fans, we sometimes place an awful amount of pressure on emerging bands. Many fans believe that it is no longer enough for a band to be "good", and oftentimes withhold praise unless a band creates an album that is not only "good" but is in some way innovative and exceptional. Because of this, many new bands seek to stretch the boundaries of their chosen style to create a sound that is both groundbreaking and accessible. This is a fine balancing act, indeed, with the band ending up sounding schizophrenic and directionless should they fall short of their goal. With those high expectations in mind, Tampa, Florida's agro-metal outfit Foreshadow put together their debut album Nations of Failure.

Foreshadow's anti-establishment lyrics are buoyed by a sound that is a potent hybrid of Lamb Of God, Slayer, Korn, and a dash of Black Flag. A blend of influences such as these is bound to be volatile, potentially harming the band more than the listener. The first couple of tracks on Nations of Failure teeter on that edge, as the bands tries to fling a number of progressive elements against the wall underneath frontman Steve Coolis' hardcore shouts. There's a lot going on, with some fairly complex time changes and searing guitar runs, which can leave an unsuspecting listener somewhat dazed. "Problem, Reaction, Solution", with its montage of anti-terrorism-related sound bytes and martial riffs, provides a steadying hand as the album veers away from the experimentation and crashes head-first into some highly aggressive tracks. Guitarist Aaron Robinson and bassist Maggot team up to create a very Doomy vibe on "My Crisis", which wound up being one of my favorite songs on the album. The riffs are both sinister and melodic, and Coolis compliments his usual raspy shouts and wails with some clean spoken-word lines that remind me just a bit of Henry Rollins. While the nu-metal tendencies are not entirely absent, the song does feature what I think is Robinson's most interesting solo of the album.

Robinson doesn't stick with melody for long, however, dishing out some furious tremolo riffs on the next three tracks. While the riffs are fairly unremarkable, Richard Hudson takes the opportunity to bash the hell out of his kit with some thunderous double-kick and punishing blast beats. "Anunnaki" finds Maggot's bass joining Robinson's swirling, Black Metal riffs, which for me is a welcome combination. Robinson's solos here and on "Freedom From Fascism" are quite melodic, almost to the point of being anthemic. Tempering the highly aggressive stance of Nations of Failure is the final track, "End Of Innocence", which is a rather classy acoustic instrumental piece punctuated by what sounds like a playground being obliterated by a bomb blast of some sort. Read into that what you will, but overall the track serves as a decent "cooling off period" after more than 30 minutes of blistering anger.

Obviously, with Nations of Failure Foreshadow is trying to set the metal community on its side with an album of spliced styles. They've definitely created an intriguing collection of songs, but there's just not enough here to really blow me away. The album is certainly perched upon that fine line between schizophrenia and innovation, but only precariously so. That being said, I suspect that Foreshadow's next album will be firing on all cylinders - so keep an eye on these guys.

Track Listing
1The Earth Dillema3:50
2Police State Paradise2:59
3Problem, Reaction, Solution3:48
4My Crisis4:46
5MK Ultra3:55
6TRANCEformation Of America2:32
7Obstruction Of Justice4:15
9Freedom From Fascism6:02
10End Of Innocence4:36
Total Runtime40:27

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Arcanum - Life is Too Short to be Serious (2009)

Arcanum [ Website | MySpace ]
Life is Too Short to be Serious

Every once in a while I receive an album that is somewhat tough to review. Tough, because it's likable but just doesn't have that extra something to get me excited yet isn't bad enough to warrant a poor rating. Life Is Too Short To Be Serious, the third self-released album from the Swiss band Arcanum, is one of those troublesome CDs. The band is a pretty straightforward Heavy Metal outfit, though the commanding presence of frontwoman Gabriella Vary adds a noteworthy element. Given their configuration and style, I really expected this album (which from this point forward I will refer to as LITSTBS) to blow me away, or at the very least to make a marked impression.

While it's obvious that LITSTBS didn't dazzle me with brilliance, the album does in fact contain a number of interesting moments that could be expanded upon on future releases to create much more of an impact. As I said, Arcanum's sound is fairly paint-by-the-numbers Heavy Metal. Their guitar-driven style is openly influenced by the NWOBHM movement, though there are elements of more contemporary European Power Metal scattered throughout the album. Axeman Sile proves that he knows his way around his instrument, whether by spawning some very nice melodic riffs on "Not The One" or laying down some serious crunch on "The Reaper". As solid as he is with the groove and rhythm, solos and unfettered leads are distinctly absent from nearly all of the songs. The exceptions are "Deep Shadows", "Dark Moor", and "Gimme Love" where guest guitarist Andy Dormann (Charing Cross) takes over the lead role and adds a bit of fire to the tracks with some admirable solos and an increased use of atmospheric moments. LITSTBS would have been a much stronger album had the lead guitar role been more defined throughout, but having Dormann guest indicates to me that Arcanum are aware of this and are taking steps to enhance their six-string impact.

An aspect of Arcanum's sound that needs little improvement is the rhythm battery of Hägar on drums and Mato on the bass. Most likely due to production woes, Mato's contributions on the four-string are rarely evident. The atmospheric beginning of "Deep Shadows" is one of the few instances where the bass is quite audible, though, giving Mato a brief turn in the spotlight. Hägar's work, on the other hand, is the cornerstone of Arcanum's sound. He's not flashy like Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), nor is he inhumanly aggressive like Dave Lombardo (Slayer), but he's rock solid behind the kit with pummeling double-kick and a copious use of crash.

I've held off discussing Gabi's vocals till last because, in all honesty, this is where Arcanum struggles most. She possesses a powerful voice, to be sure, but on LITSTBS she doesn't display as much control as has come to be expected from Heavy Metal singers. At times Gabi comes off as being somewhat pensive, her voice becoming a bit thin, while at others (the power ballad "Deep Shadows", in particular) her delivery is much more confident and even has a slight bit of a Stevie Nicks shade to it. The leadoff track, "Together Alone", features some very aggressive vocals that, though powerful and lyrically appropriate, don't fit the band's overall sound particularly well. Ultimately, should Gabi shore up her vocals a bit I am confident that Arcanum will experience a sharp increase in attention.

Is this review a long, drawn out way of declaring Life Is Too Short To Be Serious to be a so-so album? Yes, I suppose it is. Arcanum writes some good music, and executes it well much of the time, but they lack punch where they need it most - lead guitar and vocals. They do have talent at these positions, but it remains raw, tentative, and unperfected. Improve these two areas and the band as a whole improves tenfold. As for their latest album, I recommend that fans of traditional Heavy Metal keep an eye on Arcanum to see how they progress. I'm sure their best is yet to come.

Track Listing
1 Together Alone 4:19
2 Not The One 3:36
3 No Way Out 3:39
4 Deep Shadows 3:29
5 You're Dead! 5:28
6 Dark Moor 2:22
7 The Reaper 3:07
8 Living Hate 3:43
9 Gimme Love 2:44
10 Struggle Myself 3:58
11 Caledonia 3:37
12 Shadows And Tears 3:55
Total Runtime 44:01

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review: Enoch - Angel of Perdition (2007)

Enoch [ MySpace ]
Angel of Perdition

Angel of Perdition is the debut demo from southern Italy's Enoch. Taking their cue from bands like Celestial Season and early Anathema, this Black Metal sextet offers up a somber slab of symphonic anguish on each of the demo's six tracks. The production is actually quite decent for a demo, which helps bring forth many of the subtleties so key to this style of music that otherwise might have gone unheard in the mix.

The "Intro" and "Outro" tracks are pretty standard fare, serving as brief instrumental pieces that bookend the core of the demo with atmosphere. As you'd expect, keyboards play a significant role throughout the demo and Misan (the man behind the keys) plies his trade well. Whether delivering somber string passages, haunting intros, or creating feelings of anxious dread, the synth elements are at the forefront of Enoch's sound. As conspicuous as the keys are, guitarists Dan and Giu deliver an equal portion of aggressive riffs. "Silence Embraced" stands out for some fairly elaborate solos and a few shrill licks that are as pleasing to the ear as a dentist's drill. "The Poem of Emptyness" and "Pray" both have plenty of tremolo picking, though the latter song also features some extremely groove-oriented riffs thanks to help from bassist Dom. Frontman Rain can be considered a vocal jack of all trades, dishing out everything from nearly inaudible whispers on "Silence Embraced" to raptor-like shrieks on "The Poem of Emptyness", though he primarily sticks with a mix of straightforward deathish growls and blackened rasps.

Despite being a first recording, Angel of Perdition is an interesting album of symphonic Black Metal that touches all of the bases and meets the expectations of the style. Enoch still has plenty of room for improvement, but they display a knack for creating quality songs that hold to the genre but also have the potential to reach out across stylistic boundaries ("Pray" is the prime example of this). As of this review, the band is in the studio recording a follow-up to Angel of Perdition, so fans of symphonic Black Metal should keep their fingers on Enoch's pulse.

Track Listing
1 Intro 0:58
2 Silence Embraced 7:52
3 The Poem of Emptyness 4:53
4 Anima Dream 1:41
5 Pray 4:34
6 Outro 1:10
Total Runtime 21:08

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Review: OnceOver - Red Right Returning (2008)

OnceOver [ Website | MySpace ]
Red Right Returning
Caged Bird Records

Oftentimes, success comes only after suffering adversity and, in rare cases, tragedy. The guys of Toledo, Ohio's OnceOver certainly have had their share of setbacks and heartache. The band has dealt with unexpected line-up changes, and while most bands face similar challenges over the course of their existence, most do not have to endure the untimely death of close friends. This loss inspired drummer Steve Dwyer to essentially rewrite much of the songs the band had already prepared for Red Right Returning, their fourth album, as a sort of therapeutic exercise. While OnceOver's core alt-metal sound remains mostly the same as on previous releases, Red Right Returning features an increased use of aggressive vocals to compliment the moody melodies and introspective lyrics.

In addition to his work behind the kit, Steve inherited the vocal duties when OnceOver's previous singer departed. As intricate as the music is, Steve infuses each song with honest emotion - be it anger, anguish, optimism, or a sense of nostalgia. The band had experimented with harsh vocals in the past, but Steve's shouts are much more authentic and effective than those of the previous vocalist. While the lead-off track "The Broken Glass" is fairly formulaic harsh/clean screamo, Steve manages to balance the two vocal styles rather effectively during the course of the album. "Ashes" is an excellent example of the angered vocals sticking mostly to the background, Steve instead channeling a bit of Richard Patrick (Filter) on the majority of the verses. In fact, there are a number of elements on Red Right Returning that invoke comparisons to OnceOver's fellow Ohioans Filter, albeit during the latter outfit's more atmospheric moments. For instance, beginning with "Maze Of Masses" and continuing on nearly every track thereafter, OnceOver incorporates significant sampling and effects. They do it tastefully, for the most part, lending the album an even more pronounced contemplative mood.

All on Red Right Returning is not wistful and harmonious, however. Guitarist Paul Dwyer and Colin De Saint crank up the aggression on "Mugsy" with come chugging riffs and occasional breakdowns. The loping, bottom-tuned riffs on "The Broken Glass" provide an angry start to the album, but Paul and Colin are at their best when constructing melodic leads and subdued rhythms. The aforementioned "Ashes" stands as a solid example of their quieter, yet no less powerful, work. "Against The Wind", with some highly memorable riffs and Steve's alt-rock vocals, has OnceOver sounding like an edgier Boys Like Girls or Fall Out Boy and surely has the potential to be a hit on alternative radio. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the band's admirable cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes". OnceOver doesn't stray much from the original, but they've done a fine job of lending the song an updated and relevant sound.

While it has its harder moments, Red Right Returning is not going to win over many metal fans. Having more in common with Bullet For My Valentine and Taking Back Sunday than the bands that usually appear on this site, OnceOver will nevertheless appeal to heavy music fans that enjoy a bit of melodic reflectivity now and again. Since I enjoyed this release, consider me one of those metalheads.

Track Listing
1The Broken Glass4:24
4Against The Wind4:36
5Maze Of Masses6:47
6Glow Of The Sun5:14
8Sails Still Burning (We'll Meet Again)4:06
9The Undertow4:39
10Blinding Stars5:54
11In Your Eyes5:25
12Trust In Treason5:26
13Sleeptime Masquerade (Our Last Goodbye)12:50
Total Runtime1:12:05

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Review: Luna Mortis - The Absence (2009)

Luna Mortis [ MySpace ]
The Absence

Luna Mortis (formerly known as The Ottoman Empire) is a female-fronted melodic thrash outfit from Madison, Wisconsin. On The Absence, their Century Media debut, the band exhibits many similarities to Montreal-based label mates The Agonist. The fetching Mary Zimmer mixes both harsh and clean vocals much like Alissa White-Gluz does, though hers are well balanced while White-Gluz opts for the harsher style more often than not. Musically Luna Mortis is more on the technical/progressive side of thrash than The Agonist, who incorporate considerable *core elements into their sound, though both bands feature very precise guitar work. The Canadians "made the scene" a couple of years ago, which leaves Luna Mortis to play catch-up while embracing a sound that has been heard before. Does The Absence contain enough fresh material to overtake contemporary albums?

Not really. Even so, the guitar mastery of Brian Koenig and Cory Scheider is undeniable. The Absence is rife with swirling, technical riffs (particularly on "Reformation"), and each song features a number of caustic solos. "Ruin" features some interesting pinch harmonics, but overall Koenig and Scheider don't provide anything that is particularly innovative. Drummer Erik Madsen also performs his duties with precision and excellence, particularly with the blast beats on "Reformation", but his rhythm partner Jacob Bare is barely discernible (no pun intended). That certainly has more to do with production than anything else, but it would have been nice to hear a little more bottom end now and then.

Zimmer's vocals are, naturally, a mixed bag. Although not operatic in the vein of Tarja Turunen (Nightwish), her clean vocals are significantly stronger than her aggressive growls and snarls. This is most evident on the power ballad "This Departure" during which she sticks almost exclusively to her clean style and gives her best, most convincing performance of the album. She's a little shaky on "Ruin", invoking a bit too much vibrato, but she nails the European Power Metal inspired "Forever More" - once again sticking almost entirely with clean vox. It's not that her harsh vocal style is bad, per se, only less convincing than when she sings cleanly.

Ultimately, The Absence is in fact a decent album. Genre fans will undoubtedly eat this one up, but after a couple of spins the staying power begins to fade and a sense of monotony creeps in. However, pitted against The Agonsit - frontwomen aside - I would take Luna Mortis' crisp, technical style any day. They just need to deliver something fresh and memorable on their next album.

Track Listing
1 Ash 4:41
2 Ruin 4:02
3 Reformation 3:17
4 This Departure 5:10
5 The Absence 4:13
6 Forever More 3:39
7 Never Give In 6:24
8 Phantoms 3:56
9 Last Defiance 4:26
10 Embrace The End 6:22
Total Runtime 46:10

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