Thursday, June 26, 2014

Luminoth delivers a unique blend of rock sounds from 'other worlds'

Working with Brian Vodinh of 10 Years, progressive rockers Luminoth present a broad spectrum of sound on their latest release Other Worlds & Allegories. This is their third album since forming in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2005. 

As soon as Other Worlds & Allegories takes off, Luminoth has this phenomenal ability to use contrasting musical themes and abrupt changes, all while also creating a seamless blend of rock. This band can easily go from an ethereal groove to hard and heavy at a second's notice, but it totally works for them.

Opener "77-78" begins with more of a prog rock flow, but as it moves along, it becomes more of a straightforward contemporary rock song. During the potentially anthemic chorus, it starts to remind me of Foo Fighters. An energetic track, "77-78" kicks off Other Worlds & Allegories perfectly.

"The Beam" has monotone vocals to start, but it soon becomes much more dynamic. This track is much more aggressive than the opener, and it features what is probably John Springer's heaviest bass playing. A laid back guitar solo from Jason Henry seems to break up the aggression and add even more contrast.

Adding to their diverse sound, "The Beam" is followed by the much tamer "Innocence." It is reminiscent of later Beatles works, with its artsy layers and bright guitar tones--still having a heaviness to it. For whatever reason, around the 4:40 mark, singer Adam Henry takes on a whole new sound. He has this moment where is sounds a lot like Def Leppard's Joe Elliott. (Yes, the bands are completely unrelated, but I just happen to notice these things.) Henry shows a lot of versatility on this record. He can go from relaxed to aggressive, and in the case of the song "G.T.F.O.," downright maniacal.

These songs are great, but "Paralysis" has got to be my favorite. It is absolutely a solid modern hard rock song, and Luminoth would be missing a grand opportunity if they didn't choose this one to be single sometime in the future. It boasts a great riff and a memorable chorus, but it also retains many of the band's trademark experimental and prog qualities--wrapped up in a shiny little package familiar to mainstream rock fans.

While each song from Other Worlds & Allegories is one of a kind, they all have a large and complex sound that is littered with detail. Luminoth has even recruited a new guitarist, Chad Grennor of Annandale, to re-create this heavily layered sound for live audiences.

The catchier songs--"77-78" "A Feigned Serpent," and "Paralysis" will draw fans in on first listen, but overall, this album is more intellectual and expressive than hook-ish. With its diverse sounds and blend of contemporary and progressive rock styles, I recommend Luminoth's Other Worlds & Allegories to rockers who are looking for something artistic and intelligent, yet completely accessible.

7 out of 10 stars

Independent Release

Monday, June 09, 2014

'New Southern' rockers may be young, but they already have plenty to rage about

Formed in 2008 when most of the band members were still in middle school, Oklahoma's Anti-Mortem are finally releasing their debut album--New Southern. While most of the band members are only about 21 years old now, they have the talent and perspective of bands twice their age. They were even able to recruit producer Bob Marlette, who is best known for working with rock legends Alice Cooper (Brutal Planet, Dragontown) and Rob Zombie (Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor).

New Southern's opener, "Words of Wisdom", sets the stage for this band and album's rebellious nature. Anti-Mortem are not afraid to speak their mind about today's social and political climates and their disdain of a strict religious upbringing. The title track "New Southern" follows, and this attitude continues. Singer Larado Romo's vocals are full of this attitude, and he seems very much inspired by the brash style of Alice Cooper and the snarling of Dave Mustaine. "New Southern" seems very much to be a celebration of Anti-Mortem's Southern U.S. heritage--without being all redneck and 'Murica about it.

The single, "100% Pure American Rage", perfectly describes this band. The opening riffs from co-lead guitarists Nevada Romo and Zain Smith are incredible, and the rhythms from bassist Corey Henderson and drummer Levi Dickerson are super heavy and make a lasting impression. I heard another single of sorts the band released nearly a year before New Southern was out, which was the track "Stagnant Water." I thought THAT was one of the best things to happen in rock and roll in awhile. I was so wrong--"100% Pure American Rage" and many of the other songs completely outdid it.

The songs from New Southern have a consistent sound, that to describe it as "great", would be an understatement. There are a couple that break this pattern, however. "Black Heartbeat", which isn't really a ballad, is the album's slowest track. It's one of my favourites, if not my absolute favourite. It is the only song with hints of romance, albeit a failed one. It's not quite the typical song about woman troubles that you generally hear from the band's contemporaries on rock radio. It's darker and much more intense, but I could easily hear this song as Anti-Mortem's next single.

The uncharacteristically slow song is immediately followed by the ultra heavy and thrash-oriented song, "I Get Along with the Devil". The lyrics in this one have an intriguing concept with the line, "I get along with the devil, but I hate that motherfucker". The riffs on this one are big and bold, and I can really hear a Zakk Wylde influence here. This can also be heard, even more overtly, in the song "Wake Up". Certain nuances in either Romo's or Smith's playing just scream Zakk. "Wake Up" is one of the more political tracks from New Southern. With lyrics like "We gave you your power, and we can take it away" and "Give us a reason not to riot in the streets / Give us a voice and set your people free", Anti-Mortem reminds us in a bold and empowering way of the startling truth that in a democratic society we can vote out the leaders who disappoint us--even if it takes a lot of work and balls.

From beginning to end, New Southern is strong, powerful, and soulful. The ending tracks "Truck Stop Special" and "Jonesboro" really show off Larado Romo's emotional authenticity and strength as a vocalist.

The dirty, gritty, blues-based metal influence on New Southern is undeniable. Anti-Mortem displays several generations of musical inspiration--Black Sabbath, Pantera, Black Label Society, and Hellyeah, just to name a few. This young band has a lot of rage fuelling its musical fire--which is passionate, intelligent, and very sincere. Anti-Mortem does not present your typical whiny teenage angst. New Southern is something much more serious and exceedingly meaningful.

8 1/2 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Anti-Mortem Website

Zakk Wylde digs his unique mix of rockers and ballads deep from the 'Catacombs'

After spending some time on the acoustic cover album, The Song Remains Not the Same (2011), and live album, Unblackened (2013), Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society has released their first full studio album of original material since 2010's Order of the Black.

Opening a new chapter in their career with new drummer Chad Szeliga (ex-Breaking Benjamin/Scott Stapp), the band continues into the musical direction of Order of the Black while creating a whole new selection of songs for fans to enjoy. In typical Zakk Fashion, Catacombs of the Black Vatican is filled with explosive hard rock tracks and soulful acoustic ballads.

Catacombs begins with the hard and heavy "Fields of Unforgiveness". It's exactly the kind of song you'd expect from Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society. With its memorable chorus of, "So you think that it's over / So you think that it's done", this track is a great way to kick off the album.

"Fields of Unforgiveness" is followed by the band's latest hit "My Dying Time". It's a bit slower than the opener, but it's darker and heavier too. Zakk's solo is fantastic as usual, and this track was a great choice for the album's lead single. "My Dying Time" certainly picks up where Order of the Black left off.

The hard rockers make up the bulk of Catacombs of the Black Vatican. "Heart of Darkness", "Damn the Flood", and "Beyond the Down" particularly stick out. "Heart of Darkness" has quite a contemporary sound, and I could easily hear it as the next radio single. "Beyond the Down", while it is a shorter track, the riffs are no less impressive. They really highlight bassist John "JD" DeServio's skills. "Damn the Flood" might just be my favorite--with its high energy and driving rhythm. All of these tracks have the phenomenal solos you can always count on Zakk to deliver.

Catacombs isn't short on ballads either. "Angel of Mercy" is the first one that appears on the album. Any fan of the band could tell you that Zakk's vocals on Black Label ballads generally have a certain quality. On this track, however, the vocals didn't initially scream Zakk. I thought it was a guest musician or other band member at first. Nonetheless, I love the string arrangement that complements the guitar, and it makes a beautiful song even more beautiful.

The final track on the standard version of Catacombs of the Black Vatican is also a ballad. "Shades of Gray" is very soulful, with the signature Zakk vocals. It is mostly acoustic with a '50s malt shop rock feel. The guitar solo is electric, however.

The deluxe "Black Edition" has two bonus tracks, "Blind Man" and "Hell and Fire". "Blind Man" is a decent upbeat acoustic track, with some electric mixed in, but the ballad "Hell and Fire" really made an impression. It is romantic and emotional with lyrics like "For you I'd walk through Hell and fire" and, compared to the others from Catacombs of the Black Vatican, it really stands up to the band's previous ballads. This song should have been promoted to a normal album track and not be seen as the afterthought that bonus tracks often are.

New drummer Chad Szeliga proves to be an excellent addition to the band on Catacombs of the Black Vatican. His playing especially stands out on the track "Empty Promises". Szeliga is not the only new member of Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society. Last year, the band amicably parted ways with longtime touring guitarist Nick "Evil Twin" Catanese. Dario Lorina (of Lizzy Borden) has been added to the lineup to play for the band's live performances. Catanese was known for his ability to keep up with Zakk Wylde's incredible talent, and fans are eager to see if Lorina can do the same.

Catacombs of the Black Vatican is the perfect counterpart to Order of the Black and the band's previous albums. Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society have an unmistakable and unparalleled sound that remains consistent despite recent lineup changes.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Bullet Proof AU
Official Black Label Society Website

American band combines distinct sounds from the other side of the Atlantic

Slough Feg might just be one of the most interesting and prolific bands you've never heard of before. That's certainly the case for me. With their ninth studio album Digital Resistance, Slough Feg continues into their New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound with some Irish folk thrown in that ranges from blatantly obvious to pleasantly surprising and subtle.

Digital Resistance begins with the very folky "Analogue Avengers/Bertrand Russell's Sex Den". This track brings to mind the "Stonehenge" scene with the dancing dwarves from This is Spinal Tap. While it certainly isn't a metal song by any means, it is good and still has a certain heavy quality to it. The rest of Digital Resistance is undeniably metal, so this song is more like a lead-in. Vocalist/guitarist and only original Slough Feg member Mike Scalzi's singing is really emotive, and the lyrics such as "lust turns to avarice / overthrown by cowardice" seem to be elegant and, at times, intellectual. The rhythm in which they are sung stay true to the old timey ballad.

Title track, "Digital Resistance", follows, and it is NWOBHM to the core. With its Thin Lizzy/Iron Maiden feel, I could honestly be led to believe Slough Feg was some obscure older metal band I'd just never heard of before. "Magic Hooligan" is also especially Iron Maiden-esque after the Irish folk-inspired intro riffs. On this song, Scalzi sounds like the perfect combination of Paul DiAnno and Bruce Dickinson. He's got the attitude and rough edge of Paul with the strength and theatricality of Bruce. Like "Hooligan," Digital Resistance's lead single "Laser Enforcer" has a classic NWOBHM sound. The guitar work from Scalzi and Angelo Tringali is crisp and clear, and the way they work together is reminiscent of the Tipton/Downing or Murray/Smith power duos. Steve Harris would even be proud of Adrian Maestas' galloping bass line. When it was time to create an authentic early '80s metal sound, Slough Feg definitely looked to the right guys for inspiration.

"Habeas Corpsus" leans more toward the folk side of things with its lyrics and overall sound, but it still has a rock edge to it. It has a great electric guitar solo on top of the acoustic guitar that is present throughout the song. Strangely enough, this song reminds me of something you'd hear from Australian alt rockers Midnight Oil.

While some songs from Digital Resistance lead either in the folk or metal direction, final tracks "Curriculum Vitae," "The Luddite," and "Warrior's Dusk" all seem to nicely balance the two sounds.

The lyrical theme of Digital Resistance first presents itself in the album's title. While not a concept album, the songs pretty much stick to the topic of going back to basics and revolting against technology. Even though Slough Feg seems to be moving more and more into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal direction, the lyrical tradition of vivid storytelling is keeping the folk sound alive and well.

As a NWOBHM worshiper, I enjoyed Slough Feg's Digital Resistance. I do wish the songs had been a bit catchier, as the lyrics were definitely "smarter" than your average Def Leppard, Saxon, or even Maiden. The band's authenticity and uniqueness made up for it though. Digital Resistance is likely to appeal to fans of the metal classics, especially those looking for something a bit different that often borders on the cultural and intellectual.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Slough Feg Website

Versatile guitarist goes full on metal for latest album

Being best known for his work with both pop artists Madonna and Adam Lambert as well as the industrial band Prong kind of makes Monte Pittman an anomaly within the metal world. With his third solo album, The Power of Three, however, there is little room left to wonder whether or not his true talent and roots lie on the heavier side of things.

The Power of Three's opening track and lead single, "Dark Horse", begins with acoustic guitar riff, but it still has this dark intensity to it. It soon goes into the rapid-fire heavy metal sound that will remain throughout the album. "Dark Horse" has sort of a Black Label Society quality to it, and I can almost picture Zakk Wylde jamming to this song, especially when the title comes up in the chorus. The rhythm in which the verse’s lyrics are sung is what really makes this song catchy and memorable. The vocals themselves aren't bad, but they're nothing spectacular either.

While the vocals lack some of the power and intensity that one would expect from such a heavy metal record, Monte Pittman's guitar godliness certainly makes up for it. The phenomenal solos from "Grand Illusion" and "Away From Here" honestly have me believing that Monte Pittman could be the Randy Rhoads of modern metal. His playing style is fast-paced, yet totally precise. Oddly enough, Monte actually took piano lessons from Randy's mother, Delores.

There are more great modern metal and contemporary hard rock riffs than you can count on The Power of Three. The bass rhythms from Max Whipple are always driving, and Kane Richotte's drumming is absolutely explosive, particularly on "Before the Mourning Son". Each song on The Power of Three is heavy, fast, and loud. No ballads here. The closest thing would be the ever so slightly slower song "End of the World". It's that one song that many albums have, that isn't the heaviest or the loudest, but for whatever reason it just sticks--and by God, you like it. It's certainly one of my favorites, and it seems the most current and "radio ready" than anything else on the album.

There is an undeniable thrash metal influence on The Power of Three. "Blood Hungry Thirst" is a great example with its Slayer-esque riffs. An early Metallica feel is especially present on the last two tracks "Missing" and "All is Fair in Love and War". The songs have a certain groove to them as well. Guitarist Alex Skolnick of Testament is a special guest on part of the 13-minute finale, "All is Fair in Love and War", as is Six Feet Under/ex-Cannibal Corpse vocalist Chris Barnes. His guttural death metal voice adds even more to this already heavy and rich album. This heaviness should not come as a surprise either, as Flemming Rasmussen--who is known for producing Metallica's Master of Puppets--produced The Power of Three.

Monte Pittman's The Power of Three makes 2014 look promising so far, at least musically. Pittman's guitar playing and songwriting talents are matched by few, and his reverence for the thrash and groove metal artists that came before him is apparent. His ability to respect the classics while still doing his own unique, relevant thing is commendable. This makes for a fantastic album in The Power of Three, which is likely to appeal to fans of high-quality music in multiple subgenres of hard rock and heavy metal.

8 out of 10 stars

Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Monte Pittman Website