Friday, November 14, 2014

Going 'Inside' Annandale's latest release

Knoxville rockers Annandale, fronted by husband and wife team Chad and Ashley Grennor, have released their second EP, On the Inside. It is the follow up to 2013's Moving Forward, which was produced in Butler, New Jersey by Sevendust's Clint Lowery at Architekt Studios. On the Inside, however, was produced in the band's hometown at Lakeside Studios by local award-winning music producer Travis Wyrick.

Since the release of Moving Forward, Annandale has rounded out their permanent lineup with lead guitarist Zack Burnette and bassist Jody Jordan. Two session drummers played on On the Inside, Andy Campbell and Chris Robbins. They now also have new drummer, Dave Rush, who did not play on the album but is a permanent addition to the band.

On the Inside begins with its lead single "Perfect Disaster." It is a hard and heavy rocker with some killer guitar riffs. The vocals are a duet between Ashley and Chad, and  Ashley's vocals very bright and theatrical, particularly on this track. It also features great lyrics about about being with someone who is "perfectly imperfect," but you wouldn't have it any other way.

"Ugly" is another hard rocker with fast, heavy riffs. On this one, Ashley's singing is prominent in the verses, and Chad's are in the chorus. He sings the lyrics, "Because if I'm gonna be beautiful, I can't be afraid to let it get ugly" so powerfully. "Ugly" is my absolute favorite on On the Inside, and I know it has the potential to be a hit single. As a matter of fact, it is going to be Annandale's next single!

"Half Past Halfway" is a ballad, but it is still quite edgy, as Chad sings it with such conviction and soul. Ashley, not being left out of this one, sings backing vocals in the chorus. "Half Past Halfway" has thoughtful lyrics about not wanting to push someone away. It is followed by "Wake Up," which has some electronic effects in the intro, but it quickly turns into a guitar-oriented rocker. I really enjoy the distorted "Wake up, wake up" that Ashley sings in the chorus. It also has a great guitar solo at the end.

On the Inside's final track is "Unbecoming." It is slow in the beginning, and contains a pronounced bass line courtesy of Jody Jordan. The chorus on this one is solid, and Ashley's and Chad's voices blend together so well. It is dramatic and emotional with its lyrics about a relationship being strong and unbreakable after going through an ordeal. "Unbecoming" is not your typical hard and heavy song with the soaring riffs and the like, but it certainly packs a punch.

Annandale's On the Inside boasts an overall great sound, and some heavy riffs courtesy of lead guitarist Zack Burnette which are well complemented by Chad Grennor's rhythm guitar. Ashley's and Chad's voices intertwine beautifully, but at the same time you can sense tension as they sing deep lyrics alluding to a tumultuous relationship. I really like this aspect of Annandale's lyrics and sound. With Chad and Ashley being husband and wife, I'm sure this can be therapeutic for them at times.

Annadale is a band that is gaining momentum and headed in the right direction with On the Inside. They have certainly topped their previous album Moving Forward, which was in itself a fantastic album. I am excited to hear whatever comes next, as I'm sure it will be outstanding.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Independent Release

Audrey Horne continue their retro rock journey with latest offering

After honing in on their sound with 2013's Youngblood, Norwegian band Audrey Horne has released a new album in the same vintage vein, Pure Heavy. While guitarist Ice Dale has his roots with the black metal band Enslaved and guitarist Thomas Tofthagen has played in the doom metal band Sahg, the members of Audrey Horne have come together to create a completely different sound with a classic rock and New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) origin.

Pure Heavy introduces itself with the track "Wolf in My Heart". The guitar riffs, the rhythm, and even frontman Toschie's vocals really sound inspired by The Who. Underlying heavier rock riffs give this song some metal overtones.

The lead single from Pure Heavy, "Out of the City", will instantly remind listeners of Thin Lizzy. It has a defined '70s rock feel, and the bass line screams Phil Lynott. This sound comes quite organically from Audrey Horne. It doesn't sound at all like they're trying too hard to sound like Thin Lizzy. This song about leaving town--something a lot of us dream of someday doing--has a sing-along chorus of, "Oh I know, oh I know, oh I know, we're getting out of the city!" "Out of the City" is accompanied by a fun video, in which Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth makes an appearance. It also has puppets, because what's more metal than puppets?

"Into the Wild" seems to have a ton of Mötley Crüe influence--Espen Lien's drumming and cowbell, the guitar riffs, and the rhythm. The vocals, however, are a bit more on the Van Halen/David Lee Roth end of things. If you like the Crüe's "Live Wire", you'll love this song.

The rest of the songs from Pure Heavy fit into what I like to call a "NWOBHM-meets-KISS" sound. "Holy Roller" exemplifies this. It has some great heavy riffs, and it is catchy, especially when "Holy roller!" is sung in the chorus. It also has this subtle pinball or alarm type sound that is in the background. It's one of those things that will kind of catch you off guard when you're listening to the song and driving or something. "Holy Roller" is one of tracks that stand out on the album for sure.

"Volcano Girl" goes along with this sound, and I absolutely love Kjetil Greve's heavy bass playing on this one. It has a driving rhythm and a great NWOBHM style guitar solo. The "wooooaaaah" in the backing vocals is a lot of fun. "High and Dry" (no relation to the Def Leppard song) has some great Iron Maiden-esque guitar riffs, and it also goes along with the NWOBHM trend.

Pure Heavy ends with the track "Boy Wonder". It fits with the classic metal style, but it is a bit darker, weighty, and looming.

Audrey Horne's Pure Heavy is fantastic all around. It has several stand-out tracks, particularly the ones at the top of the album.

I thoroughly enjoyed last year's Youngblood, and Audrey Horne has stayed with me ever since. While I still think the individual songs from Youngblood stuck with me more and grabbed me a bit sooner than this batch did, I find that these songs really grow on you after a few listens. For anyone who is into '70s and '80s-era classic rock and metal, Audrey Horne is a band you should be watching, and Pure Heavy is a must have for your album collection.

7 out of 10 stars

Napalm Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Audrey Horne Website

English rockers put a unique spin on doom metal

Birmingham's Alunah calls their sound doom psychedelic. According to their Facebook page, they are influenced by "Black Sabbath, nature, myth, and magic." With their third release Awakening the Forest, this description is spot on. The feminine vocals of singer/guitarist Soph Day also set Alunah's sound apart from most other doom metal bands.

Awakening the Forest rouses with "Bricket Wood Coven". The intro riffs are fuzzy, distorted, and filled with feedback. The bass is super thick, and the slow flow of the song fits well with the repeated lyric "there was a lady..." that starts each verse. The guitar solo is nice and bluesy, but at 8:39, the song kind of drags. The overall sound is great, however, and you can really hear the Sabbath inspiration. "Bricket Wood Coven" tells the story of a village in England known for some early Wiccan activity that was instrumental in advancing Wicca as a modern religion.

The album's title track, "Awakening the Forest", has a similar sound, but it seems less draggy. It is quite memorable when the title is sung in the chorus, and the lyrics fit with the nature and mythical themes the band adheres to. "Scourge and the Kiss" is also very doom-oriented, and it has features what is Dan Burchmore's thickest and heaviest bass lines on Awakening the Forest." "The Mask of Heme" is a bit slower, and Soph's vocals more melodic.

"Heavy Bough" is Awakening the Forest's lead single, and it breaks away from the typical doom psychedelic mold. It has some fantastic classic metal guitar riffs that stand out among the doom metal riffs. The catchy, almost upbeat chorus of, "sitting on the mossy stone / carving hearts into the bone," is sexy and oozing with attitude. This is my favourite track from the album. I would call it "doom metal plus."

Bonus track "The Summerland" is slow and melodic. It is dark, but doesn't have that doom metal thickness for most of the song. It does get heavy toward the end, and I was highly impressed by the guitar solo in the middle.

Don't let the fact that Awakening the Forest only has six tracks fool you. This is not an EP. With the average song being eight minutes long, it is certainly a full-length studio album. While the album does have some moments where the songs feel long and drawn out, Alunah's overall sound makes up for it. I am certainly a fan of Soph Day's vocal style and no-nonsense approach. She and her guitar counterpart, Dave Day, complement each other well to create Alunah's unique psychedelic doom metal sound.

6 1/2 out of 10 stars

Napalm Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Alunah Website

A new band and a new sound rise from the ashes of As I Lay Dying

Wovenwar may be a new band, but its members are certainly not newcomers to the metal scene. They are the band made up of the former members of As I Lay Dying, which is on an indefinite hiatus. Shane Blay of the metalcore band Oh, Sleeper has taken on vocal duties, but Wovenwar, with their self-titled debut album, is anything but metalcore. This new band has much more straightforward approach to metal, and their sound will definitely be more appealing to a wider audience.

Wovenwar begins with "Foreword", an electronic intro that is heavy on the keyboard and drums. It is an instrumental with some muffled, indecipherable vocals at the end. "Foreward" isn't too indicative of the sound that is to come from the rest of the album, but I could imagine it playing as the band takes the stage for a live show.

"Foreword" goes straight into the hard hitting "All Rise", which is Wovenwar's debut single. This track has great intro riffs from guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso. It has a driving, militant rhythm, and the chorus of "You have the chance to rise again" is memorable and powerful.

Wovenwar is filled with many more heavy rockers. "Death to Rights" is very heavy, especially with Josh Gilbert's bass and Jordan Mancino's drumming. It has a killer guitar solo, albiet a short one. It has a classic metal feel to it. "Moving Up" is another stand-out track. It has a catchy melody right from the start, and it has the potential to be a hit single. It has this cool underlying "chugging" riff, and the lyrics, "The version of our time / the way I kept you down / and how moving on is moving up" really stick with you. "Sight of Shore" is another good modern metal track with great lyrics about being consumed by the desire for vengeance. "Matter of Time," with its Slayer-inspired intro riffs is an intense song with an aggressive rhythm.

A few songs break this pattern, however. "Father/Son" slows things down. It is mostly acoustic, with a prominent steady beat. Shane Blay's vocals are ultra melodic on this one. It is atmospheric and has some electronic effects, building up to a heaviness toward the end. "Father/Son" is totally different from any of the other tracks, almost like an alt rock crossover. Similarly, "Prophets" features an acoustic intro and melodic vocals, but it later becomes much more forceful. The lyrical theme of "It's always the loudest who voice only their ignorance" is resonant and thought-provoking. "Prophets" also leads into the slow, percussive instrumental finale, "Onward".

Wovenwar is a solid effort from this new, yet veteran, band. Fans of As I Lay Dying and Oh, Sleeper will love the heavy and explosive riffs, but they may have mixed feelings on the tamed vocals. I find Shane Blay's vocals to be enjoyable and feel like they make Wovenwar more accessible to classic metal and the more conventional hard rock fans. The single "All Rise" certainly has me hooked, and I look forward to seeing Wovenwar do big things and become a name just as well know as its predecessor.

7 out of 10 stars

Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Wovenwar Website

Texas rockers combine metal, electronics, and much more for major label debut

San Antonio hard rock band Nothing More has four other albums and eleven years under their belt, but they are finally gaining major attention with their fifth album, the self-titled Nothing More. They have recently played several festival dates in the United States, and their single "This is the Time (Ballast)" has grown into something huge on rock radio. The band's sound is hard to define, but one can surely describe the components that come together and create something that is special.

The first few tracks from Nothing More fall into the hard-rock-meets-electronic category. "Ocean Floor" is the ethereal intro into the album's lead single "This is the Time (Ballast)." The first time I heard it--which was on the SiriusXM satellite radio channel Octane--the vocal effects somehow reminded of the Batman villain Bane. "Ocean Floor" is to be played seamlessly with "This is the Time (Ballast)". When the song hits, it is bombastic metal. The lyrics, about lettings go of a negative past because it holds us back, are cathartic. I enjoyed Jonny Hawkins' vocals on this one. They're distorted at times, but his higher range is impressive, even though he does not fit the mold of the classic metal singer.

"Christ Copyright" is another heavy rocker, just not as ethereal. The bass and drums are weighty on this one. As a matter of fact, vocalist Johnny Hawkins plays his own drum kit in addition to the band's formal drummer. This adds a lot of the heaviness to Nothing More's style. The lyrics and the title "Christ Copyright" alludes to the idea that the religious right wing tries to have a monopoly on Christianity, and morals in general. I like the sentiment. In the same vein, "Mr. MTV" offers a scathing criticism of the youth of today and their popular culture, including commercialism, fakeness, gratuitous sex, and drugs. It is also critical of technology, particular the "i" stuff. I find this rather ironic, because without technology, the band wouldn't be able to have the unique sound that they do. The intro to "Mr. MTV" is great. It is a take on Sting's infamous vocals on the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing". The lyrics "Empty Me, empty nation, empty us of inspiration," is clever, as "empty" is the "MT" of MTV.

While the electronic accented hard rock is present throughout Nothing More, there are other songs that add contrast.

"First Punch" is definitely different from the album's previous track, with its punky alt rock feel. I enjoy the driving rhythm of it. "Here's to the Heartache" is a contemporary hard rocker. It is my favorite along with "This is the Time (Ballast)" and I could see it being another hit single for the band. It is catchy and memorable, and it has empowering lyrics about how the bad parts of our past lead us to where we are today.

"Jenny", which boasts an acoustic intro, has emotional lyrics about a troubled drug-addicted girl who put her family, particularly her mother, through hell. "Jenny" has subtle electronic effects and great vocals. This song starts out mild, but it totally rocks out in the chorus. If you've ever had a loved one who struggled with addiction or mental illness, this one will hit you right in the feels. "God Went North" is another emotional one. It features an electronic intro with distorted vocals. It is about a mother dying in a hospital, and she wants to live long enough to see her son marry. The music swells as emotions build.

Nothing More contains two instrumentals of sorts. "Gyre" is a heavily acoustic song, and the only words are from an old recording of Buddhist/comparative religious author Alan Watts. Nothing More's Facebook page lists scholars and philosophers like Watts, Carl Jung, and Eckhart Tolle as influences--rather than a bunch of musicians--so this may not be shocking once you learn a little more about the band. The album's finale "Pyre" is similar. It is longer, with ten minutes of ambient ocean waves and wind sound, and is accompanied by Alan Watts' "The Nature of Consciousness" speech.

Nothing More is certainly diverse, and their sound is hard to nail down. I could almost call them prog rock or experimental, but their songs seem to have a lot more of a definite direction than a lot of prog or experimental stuff. The songs also lack the virtuosic solos that one would find in prog metal and metal in general. If you're strictly looking for solos, Nothing More probably isn't for you. But if you're looking for unique and exciting hard rock, you'll be excited by this band. "This is the Time (Ballast)" got me interested right off the bat, and I was glad to hear more. I will be seeing Nothing more in October, and I am anxious to see how this uncommon band's sound translates to the live stage.

7.5 out of 10 stars

Eleven Seven Music
Official Nothing More Website

Fozzy's 'War' is one of inspiration, musical diversity

The Chris Jericho-fronted band Fozzy has released their sixth studio album, Do You Wanna Start a War. It comes on the heels of 2012's Sin and Bones. Do You Wanna Start a War is the band's fourth album of (almost) exclusively original material, and it is solid evidence that Fozzy is carving out their place in the hard rock world. They are diverse and adaptable, but when you hear Fozzy, you know it's them.

Produced by the band's lead guitarist, Rich "The Duke" Ward, Do You Wanna Start a War kicks off with the title track. It gets the listener excited right from the start, and it is enthusiastic and motivational with the catchy backing vocals of, "Do it right now!". "Do You Wanna Start a War" is certainly a hard rocker with great guitar riffs from The Duke and Billy Grey, and it is a great way to begin the album.

Keeping with the same enthusiasm and inspiration, "Tonight" is an emphatic track with an '80s pop metal feel. It even features guest vocals from Michael Starr of Steel Panther, and it has fun lyrics about throwing caution to the wind and having a great time, no matter what anybody else does or thinks.

"Unstoppable" has an empowering message about seeking success and relentless in the mission. It features singer Christie Cook on vocals. Chris Jericho complements her well, but Christie is definitely the one who shines here. "Unstoppable" is a heavy, yet positive, song, and it also happens to feature a phenomenal guitar solo from The Duke.

Fozzy really mixes it up, however, with the track "Lights Go Out", which also happens to be the lead single from Do You Wanna Start a War. It features many electronic elements, and the beginning is kind of "dancy." But it is also heavy, like in a Powerman 5000 sort of way. By the second half of the first verse, "Lights Go Out" becomes all out guitar-heavy metal. The lyrics are sexy, and the beat is pulsating. It's a song that really grows on you, and it is growing popular as well--it will be the theme song to this year's WWE SummerSlam event.

"One Crazed Anarchist" is another song the band has been promoting as a single of sorts. It's very heavy--with the death metal-inspired chant of "One crazed anarchist! One crazed anarchist!"--and it has some of the electronic production, but certainly not light "Light's Go Out." It boasts what is possibly the best guitar riff on the whole album, and it fits very well with the war theme of the title track.

"S.O.S." may be the most surprising song on Do You Wanna Start a War. While the band was known for doing covers of Judas Priest and Scorpions songs early in their career, it's hard to imagine Fozzy covering Abba. Fozzy's "S.O.S." is a keyboard-laden hard rocker, with a Styx-esque theatricality to it. This sad, dark song works very well getting a rock 'n' roll "upgrade."

"No Good Way" captures the Fozzy sound best of all and is my overall favourite. The chorus is catchy and memorable, the riffs explosive, and lyrics are absolutely fantastic. The "take what you want" line really stands out. The band should really consider releasing this song as a single, as this song would definitely be a hit on modern rock radio.

Do You Wanna Start a War's final track "Witchery," with its heaviness and driving rhythms from drummer Frank Fontsere and bassist Paul DiLeo, is another favourite as well. It is reminiscent of the band's All That Remains days. This one has a great guitar solo in the middle, and Paul's bass solo at the end is very strong.

Fozzy's Do You Wanna Start a War contains one great song after another. Each of the songs are unique and memorable in their own way, but they all have that distinctly recognizable Fozzy sound with the heavy riffs and melodic choruses. There is not a low moment or skip-worthy song on the whole album, and it goes above and beyond their last album Sin and Bones, which I thought would be nearly impossible. With Do You Wanna Start a War, Fozzy rose to the challenge and keep on proving they are destined for rock supremacy.

9 out of 10 stars

Century Media Records
Official Fozzy Website