Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Design the Skyline Debuts With "Nevaeh"

Design the Skyline debuts with ten new tracks... are they STILL the "worst band ever"?

I don't think I've ever Googled a band and found so much hate--then Victory Records signs Design the Skyline.

The experimental band from Corpus Christi, Texas, released a video earlier this year for their song "Surrounded by Silence" to a swarm of harsh criticism from metal fans and music bloggers all over. A columnist for a local indie newspaper The Portland Mercury even went so far as to ask the question, "Is Design the Skyline the 'worst band in the history of music'?" and followed it with, "[Their sound is] akin to the noise a litter of puppies would make if forcefully shoved through a wood chipper." Ouch!

The first song Design the Skyline unleashed onto the masses is not on their debut album Nevaeh, but I just had to watch the video for "Surrounded by Silence" to see what all the rage was about.

To even think about taking this song seriously, I had to listen to it without even making eye contact with the video. Design the Skyline has to be the most ridiculous looking band I've ever seen. The band members each had straight black emo hair (some with skunk stripes) covering at least one eye in a "the world is too cruel to look at" manner. The girly guys in their skinny jeans and neon colored accessories were just too painful to look at. However, the drummer was wearing a flannel shirt and had his long hair swinging all over as he pounded away. It was almost as if the band hired some random '90s grunge band drummer to stick out like a sore thumb. The band's look is beside the point, but it's definitely something Design the Skyline catches a lot of hell for.

The song in question begins with an electronic element, which the band uses heavily. Then the screaming vocals, pounding drums, and wailing guitars bring in a heavy metalcore flavor. It briefly sounds promising, then a whiny, melodic, Auto-Tuned chorus (well, it sounds like it's a chorus) kicks in. It's all downhill from there. The two vocalists begin to scream and growl on top of each other, and the electronics create what sounds like some bizarre techno metal remix. It's absolutely chaotic.

Now that I've seen and heard the worst possible thing that could come out of this band, it could get better--right?

"Crystal Swords Kill the Hordes" is the very metal sounding name of the album's opening track. It begins with beastly vocals that are surely not as whiny or screechy as the ones in "Surrounded by Silence." There is a heavy electronic element to the chorus, which is where the more melodic (but unfortunately pleading and whiny) vocals kick in. This stark contrast in vocals is due to Design the Skyline having two vocalists--Daniel "Dani Doom" Garza screams and wails as Eric Azure takes over on the lighter melodic choruses.

There is a small but interesting hip hop piece to "Crystal Swords Kill the Hordes." Every so often, one will notice something that sounds like record "scratching." The guitar and drum sounds get much better as the song progresses, and at the very end of this track, there is a fairly impressive guitar solo.

The lead single from Nevaeh is "Break Free From Your Life" which is quite different from the band's other attempt at a single. It begins with some feedback and heavy drums, then goes immediately into what almost sounds like 1990s pop-punk guitar riffs. When the vocals are added, Dani Doom and Azure alternate lyrics. The more melodic part of the chorus sounds like it has been Auto-Tuned, so this is sure to piss off a great deal of hard rock and heavy metal purists. Keyboards and electronic synthesizers can be great when used appropriately, but the Auto-Tune killed this track for me. This inspirational song about letting go of fear is upbeat, but it is far less heavy than many of the album's tracks.

Nevaeh includes two instrumentals--one of which is "Reverie." It starts off with a jazzy bassline and keyboard grove, but a slightly more "rock" vibe takes over in the middle when the heavier drumming is. There are also subtle electronic elements in the middle, and these elements become a lot more prominent as the song finishes. As the album's sixth track, "Reverie" is a huge change of pace from all the songs that come before it. The band's electronic programmers James "Keebler" Lemos (keyboards) Matt Ryan (also on guitar) really showed the diversity of their skills here.

One song that really did grab me is "Witch of the Woods." It is bombastic and traditionally metal sounding for the most part. The guitars and drums in the intro are loud and heavy, and so are the vocals! Even Eric Azure, who generally comes off as whiny to me, does a good job of shrieking in this song. I have to give him credit here for conveying the idea of a cackling old "Witch in the Woods." There are some electronic keyboard elements interspersed through out this song, but the great guitar-work courtesy of Matt Ryan and Julian "Reckless" Ibaniez is what stands out.

The album's final instrumental, title track "Nevaeh," wraps up the album. It is even further off the metal map than "Reverie." It's not bad though--I've just heard heavier music in massage parlors. Filled with the sound of an acoustic guitar and keyboards, it has a very relaxing, spa-like feel. Due to the frenzied energy that pours from this album, the band probably included this subdued song just so listeners could recover.

After listening to Design the Skyline's Nevaeh numerous times, I concede that they are probably not the "worst band ever," nor is their album the absolute worst ever. They and their album are certainly different and definitely not what I'm used to listening to for pleasure. There are a couple notable tracks that are worth revisiting such as "Witch in the Woods" and another hard rocker called "Under the Blood Driven Moon." Other than that, the coolest thing about this album is its cover with the bad ass bird of prey and the Pink Floyd-inspired prisms on it.

All jokes aside, I do admire this band for keeping on doing what they're doing and maintaining their diverse sound despite all the criticism. Design the Skyline is a very young band with all the time in the world to progress and find their best sound. This band has talent, but they are stuck in a place where the individual elements sound much better than the whole. As of right now, their debut Nevaeh just isn't something that will give them a wide appeal, but Design the Skyline may have the potential to gain some younger fans who could better relate to them and stand their musical chaos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nikki Sixx's wildly decadent life story continues to unfold on the latest Sixx A.M. album

Nearly four years after the release of The Heroin Diaries and its companion album The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, Nikki Sixx has penned a new book, and his band Sixx A.M. is back with an album to go along with it--This is Gonna Hurt.

Like the band's previous album, This is Gonna Hurt is autobiographical for the Sixx A.M./Motley Crue bassist, Nikki Sixx. It doesn't retell the same sordid story of his heroin-fuelled excess, however. This album doesn't stick to as much of a storyline as the last either, being more about life during recovery rather than a drug-induced spiral out of control.

The album opens with "This is Gonna Hurt", which is definitely well-suited. The title says it all. It plainly illustrates the point that Nikki's path to recovery will not be easy. In fact, it will prove to be painful.

Don't think this track is hopeless though. It is actually uplifting--a "call to arms" as the lyrics say--as it is more about reclaiming life in the face of addiction rather than feeling sorry about it. This fist-pumping hard rocker draws the audience into a new phase of Sixx's life, not to mention this new phase of Sixx A.M.'s life as a band.

The opening riffs that set off This is Gonna Hurt are as much Motley Crue as they are Avenged Sevenfold. This marriage of an enduring classic sound to the relevance of the modern rock world is present on this song and on the entire album.

I love the theatrics presented in the next track, the album's lead single, "Lies of the Beautiful People." The opening lines, "Well this ain't no sideshow / This is the great unknown / This is the poison we take / Yeah..." gets me all stirred up no matter how many times I hear them. When James Michael sings "Yeah..." in his higher register and trails off, it is dramatic and chilling. The heavy guitar riffs from DJ Ashba perfectly complement this song about external beauty being a facade for something more sinister.

Though hard rock prevails throughout This is Gonna Hurt, tucked in the middle of this new album are the laid back "Sure Feels Right" and the sweet, sincere ballad "Smile".

"Sure Feels Right" paints the picture of driving through L.A. and thinking about that special someone who makes you so happy. This relaxed song has very rhythmic verses, almost like James Michael is talking his way through them--especially when he sings about the highway numbers. The chorus, however, is much smoother, reminiscent of a radio-ready Bon Jovi-esque number from the last decade. This song is quite different from anything I have ever heard from Sixx A.M., but it still struck a nerve with this rocker because I first heard this song while driving to meet the very special someone I recently met.

While "Sure Feels Right" is romantic in it's own right, "Smile" is definitely the sweetest song from This is Gonna Hurt. On this track, DJ Ashba slows it down by playing an acoustic guitar, and James Michael sings intensely and emotionally. "Smile" describes a joyous relationship that one seems to wait an entire lifetime for. The lyric "What's an angel like you, ever do with a devil like me?" is a question that often surrounds the romance between a hard living rockstar and his beautiful blonde actress girlfriend or wife. I'm sure that is something Nikki Sixx has encountered more than once.

My favourite hard and heavy track from the album is "Deadlihood". Dark, muffled vocals slowly introduce this song which builds into a roaring rocker. These effects give it a bit of a Mudvayne or Breaking Benjamin quality, and I could definitely imagine hearing this song on modern hard rock radio. The chorus is unbelievably catchy, and it would make a great single.

Closer to the album's end, "Help is on the Way" gives off more of an alt rock vibe than a metal one, adding to This is Gonna Hurt's diversity. In the intro and verses, a slight distortion of the vocals and the infectious "Dooo oooh oooh oooh" that emanates from the background, reminding me of something by The Killers.

This track is one of the most obviously autobiographical for Nikki Sixx. His previous flirtation with death is referenced--"And when I hear the sirens coming / My tempature begins to drop / I'm so unaware / That my heart's about to stop," followed by his newly discovered vulnerability and a need for help.

Nikki Sixx may be the leader of this band, and his name certainly stands out to give them credibility, but each member of Sixx A.M. shares songwriting credits. This helps to make each of the songs from This is Gonna Hurt stand out and become unique memorable in some fashion. This band has largely made its mark by writing songs based on Nikki's life, but has done so without sounding like a broken record or coming off as some kind of a gimmick. The autobiographical songs actually accomplish the opposite--they make the songs very real, heartfelt, and sincere.

8 1/2 out of 10 stars

Eleven Seven Music/Sony Music Australia
Sixx A.M. Music