Top Five: Shows of 2017

I went to a shit ton of shows last year.  Because I’m a soon-to-be-graduated graduate student with teaching and course pressure, I unfortunately lacked the drive and, well, simple energy to write out reviews.  The passion just wasn’t there.  I got…myself to feed, damnit!  Now it’s back. So, sorry, but not sorry.

Okay, time for a more coherent lead.  I attended and indulged mostly metal shows last year with the exception of Loufest (a trust fund Coachella clone) a couple indie rock/electronic shows, a post-punk show — speaking of which, we probably should’ve warned Ian McCulloch of notorious, trash smelling St. Louis summers — and started off 2018 with the radical punk extravaganza, Propogandhi.  Fuck the border!

Have a taste of my experiences and enjoy your vicarious skimming because here is a list of my top five shows (in no specific order). Oh, and disclaimer — I guess — I’m employing full bias, because people apparently care about that shit.

Gojira

These guys tour.  A lot.  I saw them twice last year, once at Indianapolis’ Egyptian Room with Opeth and the Devin Townsend Project, the second at Pops, supported by Code Orange (meh) and Torche (cool stoner dudes).  Unfortunately, I was unable to jump into the Indy pit.  Not to mention I was the only person headbanging.  That was just a generally unfortunate experience (I’ll get into why during the Devin Townsend Project fanboysturbation).  The Pops show, on the other hand…Let’s just say my ankle still pops and I still find sticky shit in random places.  Yeah, Pops is gross, but perfect for an explosive metal atmosphere.  Wall of Death, circle pit, St. Louis had it going!  What a show.  What an experience.   Also, the post-Code Orange karate was kept to a minimum.  St. Louis metalheads, I salute you.

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Find me this shirt in an XXL.  I need it.  Also, go to a Havok show.

Gorguts

This was my first show at Fubar STL and it certainly won’t be the last.  The beer is cheap, the stage close and intimate, if a little sticky (apparently that’s a trend in St. Louis). If you attend a Fubar show, pay the ten bucks for parking in the lot across the street. The, um, guard(?) is a super nice and friendly guy who knows St. Louis, in and out, and will get you woke.  Back on topic.  The pit was brutal.  And I’ve been in a Slayer pit.  At 270 plus, I was thrown around like MDMA at an EDM festival.  +1,000 points for the analogy/acronym/alliteration combo.  Gorguts played an extensive set, including cuts from The Erosion of Sanity, the avant garde bomb, Obscura, before closing with a full rendition of the 30+ minute epic, Pleiades Dust.  Just…holy shit.  Luc Lemay is so fucking cool.  I’m just going to leave it at that.

Amon Amarth

What do you get when you mix viking-themed melodeath, booze, drinking horns, and…Colombia, Missouri?  Closure.  Wait…wha??  I look at this show as a kind of personal redemption.  My first experience with the bearded Swedes occurred during a particularly hectic semester of graduate school.  At some point, right before “Guardians of Asgard,” I decided to leave early to finish an essay.  Yeah.  The things I will do for an opportunity-spare Masters degree.  Life decision rant aside, let me just say that Amon Amarth live performances are the definition of tastefully excessive showmanship, complete with smoke, giant phallic hammers (yep, went there), fireworks, topping it all off with a horned-helmet drum platform design (pun intended).  Definitely one of the best live metal acts out there.  Raise your horns!

By the way, the Viking horned helmet is a myth.  Jus’ sayin.

 

Devin Townsend Project

As previously stated, I saw DTP twice last year.  I’m gonna rant a little on The Egyptian Room real quick.  To those who scheduled stage times, please start future shows at the scheduled time.  I drove five hours, almost got stuck overnight on the highway due to a horrendous semi/car wreck (yeah, I know, super inconvenienced. My condolences to those involved in the wreck), and showed up at the scheduled DTP showtime.  And, of course, I missed almost the entire show because DTP started almost an hour early.  So yeah, fuck that place.

Ahem, DTP at the Ready Room? Hell yeah.  If Amon Amarth are the masters of tasteful excess, Devin Townsend holds the PhD.  Fuck, I really need to tone down the academic puns.  If I were to summarize the show in two songs, I’d have to say, “Deadhead” and “March of the Poozers.”  “Deadhead” put the crowd into a meditative, emotional trance, while “March of the Poozers” brought out laughter and smiles; that, my friends, is all you need to know.  At one point you will cry, the next roll your eyes as the  comedian/metalhead/singer/guitar virtuoso moves through his extensive, non-genre specific discography.  What else can you expect from the guy who shat in Steve Vai’s guitar case? I guess you could call him…

*puts on glasses

**pauses

…a shit show.

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Explosions in the Sky

There’s something about this band’s sound that stands out from the typical quiet intro –> loud climax postrock standard.  No lyrics.  Completely instrumental.  That’s pretty typical, is it not? But, unlike, let’s say Mogwai or Canadian anarchists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor — who have their groundbreaking postrock foundations, don’t get me wrong — Explosions in the Sky is somewhat accessible.  And by accessible, I mean instantaneously engaging.  I’m not discrediting Godspeed, but ya gotta be in a specific, fuck the world mood to listen to them, ya know?

During their St. Louis stop at the Pageant, Explosions in the Sky thrust listeners through waves of emotive passages, accented and emoted through an impressive light show and charismatic-but-silent stage presence.  Okay, you know what? Stop here.  Go to Youtube.  Type in “Your Hand In Mine.” Now, imagine that shit being played in a concert hall, while you enjoy a couple drinks.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Return of the Gangsta, Thanksta…The Gorge, Seven)Suns and Cleric (Live Review)

After an extended break due to graduate school, teaching and writing academic things (woo!), I have decided to return to the game…of unpaid, thankless blogging.  Such competition.  Much fun.  Okay, bad meme and misconstrued references aside, I’m glad to be back.  These past couple years have been filled with concerts and various musical adventures, so strap in! It’s going to be…a ride.

Skateboarder

Because apparently we’re about to go punk.  And that means skateboarding images! Because I’m one of those “damn millennials.”

I’m going to call these past couple years, at least from my super relevant perspective, the United States era of sludgy, grimy and depressing as shit doom, funeral doom, and stoner metal.  Pallbearer, Bell Witch (Mirror Reaper is album of the decade, change my mind), Mastodon, Sleep (new tour!) and all those masturbatory Black Sabbath startups…each have pulled, or continue to pull, the boundaries of metaldom back to its slow, riff driven blues and stoner roots.  Specifically, in St. Louis, there is an interesting development of punk attitude and grungy, working class, almost Birmingham-esque live trend, providing a widening space for road warriors Weedeater, Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, Black Label Society and, most recently, Pallbearer.  Because, when the levee breaks…

Okay, so, in this scene, where does the jazz, the technicality, the Djent! belong?  Apparently in the St. Louis, Cherokee coffee house, Foam.

“What a transition!” — Nobody

I had the pleasure of attending the Cleric headlining tour, opened by tech metallers, The Gorge, and string quartet, Seven) Suns, at the Foam coffee house in St. Louis.  That’s right,  a coffee house.  Metal and hipsters.  Fuck yeah!  The venue is intimate — I couldn’t think of a better word for small — and run by some fabulous baristas/bartenders.  I only wish I got their names.  Poor journalism on my part, but oh well.  What’s important is the beers were cheap, the coffee hot, and the atmosphere warm, inviting.  Perfect for some twisted, weird ass metal.

Disclaimer: A major label needs to sign The Gorge.  Seriously.  If some Nuclear Blast intern is looking for some mobility, here’s a tip: put The Gorge on the executive’s table and drop that fucking mic in your new office space.

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Did I mention this was at a coffee house? Look at that face…

I’ve been following The Gorge for about a year now.  I saw them open for Weedeater back in, I believe, August 2017.  I’m too lazy to look so just take my word for it.  The Gorge adds some melody to the djenty meshuggah framework, all the while maintaining a jazz-conscious feel for groove.  Their live performance is cathartic, culminated in politically-driven and emotionally jarring lyrics.  I mean, their album art for Thousand Year Fire is a drawing of the Cahokia Mounds!  How else to bring attention to the voices of a colonized and destroyed culture than through some djenty, emotionally jarring metal? So, in a postcolonial perspective, besides the album being written and performed by a juxtaposed personality of bearded and clean cut white dudes, The Gorge brings some cultural and political significance to the table.  Told ya I’ve been in academia for a hot minute.  Don’t be surprised when I go there, metal bros.

String quartet, Seven)Suns, added discomfort to this cathartic atmosphere.  One of my biggest complaints regarding the venue is the layout.  There is no “stage,” but who can blame em? It’s a coffee house. However, it’s kinda hard to see the performers, especially when the audience, including myself, are mostly around or over six feet tall.

A toast for the short folks and those who would rather sit at the bar! 

String quartet, Seven)Suns has worked with Dillinger Escape Plan, and have an energetic live presence, breaking dissonant and melodic runs with passionate grunts that do not feel out of place or forced.  Each string could be heard, and I’m not gonna lie, I have a soft spot for the cello.  Its sound is just too damn beautiful for its own good.  If I were to describe Seven)Suns’ stage presence, it would be creepy.  Beautifully unsettling.  A nice transition from The Gorge’s brutality into Cleric’s…I don’t even know.

I’m not gonna lie, I only started listening to Cleric earlier in the day.  I heard their name cast around in internet forums of the most obscure and pretentious sort, but, as usual, I cast them into a general, maybe later part of my brain.  But, Fuck, was I blown away.  As soon as Larry Kawartowitz set up his fucking obnoxiously large china symbol, I knew the room was in for an experience.  Drum lord, Lars Ulrich, would faint at the sight of that behemoth.

I can hardly describe Cleric’s sound.  A little Gorguts here; a little Frank Zappa there.  And a large helping of general holy shittery that is just Cleric.  Keyboardist, vocalist, second base, guitarist — pretty much everythingist — Nick Schellenberger took full advantage of the space.  His dual microphone rig and passionate stage presence brought even the sound guy (mustachio’d, dressed, roller bladed, and fuzzy hat guy, you the best) to the front, headbanging and bouncing.  This band is tight, folks.  Think of a metaphor for tight and Cleric will shatter it with two synchronized doom chords.  The bass (Daniel Kennedy) and lead/rhythm guitarist (Matt Hollenberg) were synched perfectly with the drums, casting aside count downs in favor of good ol’ fashioned, felt nonverbal communication.  And, punctuating the evening, Cleric played an extremely emotive rendition of, I believe, “The Treme,” a nine minute piece transitioning from technical what the fuckery to an existential sense of doom.  Incredible work from everyone involved.

Again, this venue creates and maintains community.  The openers, the staff, the small, but passionate crowd, were caught in Cleric’s strange, chaotic apocalypse.  Check out their groundbreaking underground album, Regressions sometime for a general feel before the record goes out of print.  Also, make a trip to Foam if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Next week:  Weedeater (Round Two)

Final Verdict:  I’m done assessing shit.  Just take what you want from the review.  The venue was accommodating.  The show was kick ass.  

 

 

 

 

Review: Ghost – Meliora

Tobias Forge — ahem, Papa Emeritus III — and his band of ghouls continue their metal deception and push humanity further and further into darkness with their third LP, Meliora.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and appreciate that album art…

Done? Okay, let’s go!

Ghost’s evolution is one of the more interesting stories in the music scene.  These guys hit the market hard, pumping out “Satanic” heavy rock with a little gimmick attached.  Whether the band’s anonymity or music has more weight in their popularity is up to the listener.  Either way, the showmanship would ultimately falter at some point, but Ghost keeps coming back with hard hitting, catchy, fun material.  I will even go as far to say they will be the next big thing in rock, even with the whole Satan nonsense.

The key to this success is their listener friendly approach to metal.  I say “listener friendly” because melody, harmony, and 70’s style vocals are not exactly by-the-books metal fashion.  Their debut, Opus Eponymous, boasted the band’s heavier side, while still holding onto Blue Oyster Cult-isms like “Ritual” and “Elizabeth.”  Then, their sophomore performance, Infestissumam, added symphonic, poppy elements for wider appeal.  It worked.  And, their fan base grew.  You and I both know metal bands who broaden their sound are not exactly “praised” in the metal community.  Yet, as I said, it worked. Ghost’s 2015 release, Meliora, combines these styles into their strongest effort yet, a complete, fun, consistent compilation of Satanic pop metal.  If that’s not an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

We open with Spirit,” an anthem that does well to introduce the style and overarching concept of the band.  I’ve noticed, throughout Ghost’s discography, a Nietzschen concept of Godlessness, not purely Satanic as critics are so quick to point out.  Of course, their message and lyrical landscapes are overwhelmingly Satanic, but within all the showy, creepiness lies a conceptual progression.  Ghost’s overarching message lays a path, progressing past Opus[‘] prophetic doom and Infestissuman[‘s] anti-Christ possession. “Spirit,” describes the world without God, utilizing choirs and symphonic elements to really drive that point home.  You won’t find any hope in this record, but by God — pun intended — will you feel pleasurably overwhelmed.

Although mostly guitar driven — check out “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” for riffage gold — the instrumentals take an early step back in favor of melodious, almost poppy verses and choruses.  Album single, “Cirice,” which is (not surprising) the album highlight, has goose bumps written all over it.  Stylistically complex, the track moves from a Sabbath-esque riff to a gorgeous chorus reflecting on the inner passion of humanity.  As usual, Papa’s vocals are hopeful, yet sinister and contribute to the unpredictable instrumentation:

Now there is nothing between us
From now our merge is eternal
Can’t you see that you’re lost?
Can’t you see that you’re lost without me?

-Ghost, Meliora, “Cirice”

The record then reaches poppy heights in the Abba ode, “He Is.”  Yes, you read that right.  Abba ode. This is probably the only love song to Satan in existence. If not for the lyrics, this track could very well stand in the U.S. charts as an allusion to the ol’ 70’s Swedish pop movement.  It’s hard not to appreciate the risk the band took with this track.  I mean, let’s face it, metalheads aren’t exactly known for accepting pop anthems from their idols.

Don’t confuse ambition with dumbed down songwriting, however, because Meliora does not lack for heaviness.  “Majesty,” “Absolution,” and “From the Pinnacle to the Pit,” each feature enough driving riffs and general badassery to make even the most skeptical headbanger nod their head.  What separates Meliora’s songwriting from the band’s preceding performances is consistent variety.  Each track can stand on its own, but meld together to give the album a distinct identity.

Meliora is the product of an experienced outfit.  From the mature experimentation to the surprisingly catchy songwriting, Ghost continues their dominance over the metal industry.  I think it’s safe to say this is an Album of the Year contender.

RATING:  4.75/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, properties, and content of the header image belongs to its owner.  Image found at http://fotonin.com/data_images/out/10/833027-immortal-wallpaper.jpg.  I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Review: Symphony X – Underworld

With their latest LP, Underworld, Symphony X taps into their neoclassical roots to create one of the more entertaining listens of 2015.

Yep, I’m doing a 180 here. When a band does what they do best, it’s hard not to appreciate their effort.  Because, let’s face it, Symphony X lays it all down on their latest studio album, combining past and present influence into one of their more consistent records.

Now, before you get all “Make up your damn mind!” on me, know that this is a record burdened by familiarity, pushing more of an Iconoclast sound over, say, their coined The Divine Wings of Tragedy’s Gregorian, neoclassical epic approach. However, where Iconoclast felt pointlessly heavy, Underworld amplifies that heaviness, all the while grounding listeners with the complex, beautiful, and might I say “cleaner” songwriting of their past.  There’s reason to Romeo, Allen, Pinnella, and Rullo’s style again. This is a testament to Romeo’s obsession with Christian mythology.  Look at it this way, when a prog metal album’s concept is loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, how can you not make the material heavy as shit?

“Underworld,” with its punchy, galloping chorus, accented by Russel Allen’s binary vocal style, complements this sound realization, reminiscent to Paradise Lost’s symphonic numbers.   Now, with that in mind, you won’t get anything new on this album.  That’s where this album suffers most.  Underworld feels more like a continuation of Symphony X’s newfound appreciation for metaldom, rather than a musical progression.  At this point, you must ask:  What else do these guys have to prove?  They rode Dream Theater’s wake, producing an organic combination of power, prog, and neoclassical metal, then darkened the progressive genre further, incorporating harsher vocals, blast beats, and heavier riffs.   And, hell, the blast beats in “Underworld” will most definitely take the casual prog listener out of the equation. But, to say Underworld is uninspired is an insult to the band’s legacy and meticulous effort to separate itself from dreaded Dream Theater imitation.

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Credit: Blabbermouth

Does the album feel Nuclear Blast-esque?  Metal heads will understand that statement.  The LP, as feared, suffers from the band’s overwhelming metal obsession,  “Without You,” condemned as more of a sellout, derivative “Paradise Lost” clone, contains some of Russell Allen’s most passionate vocals.  So, power prog Symphony X fans listen up.  The clean voice has returned! That’s enough to give Underworld a star in itself.

“Without You,” brings back the band’s classical influence to the forefront, replacing complexity with good ol’ fashioned emotional songwriting.  Same with “To Hell and Back.” The track’s introduction adds atmosphere to the LP, then leads to guitar, vocal, and rhythm excellence, courtesy to each band member’s famous precision.  Again, “To Hell and Back,” is more of a listenable track — oh God, not melody! Melody doesn’t belong in metal! — but the band was known for melody, never brutality. “Swan Song,” continues this trek into melodic territory, alluding to “The Accolade.”  Atmospheric, complex, melodic, beautiful, heavy in an ideological sense, rather than in a “smash your face” sense. That’s something I thought I would never hear after Iconoclast.

*On a side note, has anyone ever wondered how chaotic it is when someone asks for Michael in the band?

Meanwhile, Romeo, with his blistering fretboard control, continues to wow listeners in tracks like “Nevermore” and “Charon.” Now, I’m on the fence with these two tracks.  Remember that little “Nevermore” single review that Reviews From the Other Side composed a month or so ago?  Obviously, Symphony X wanted to continue their “guitar first” philosophy, sacrificing chorus and general appeal in the process.  This leads to disenchantment from the source material.  I appreciate a kick ass guitar performance, but when everything around that guitar performance is, well, for lack of a better word, boring, then it’s easy to forget said tracks. Disenchantment and boredom is the bane to progressive metal. Even as a fan, I can admit that. Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnella tend to noodle, it’s a known fact!  “Nevermore” is a studio single, for crying out loud! For an album that promises a collage of influences, “Nevermore” fails in that the track sounds like nothing more than a Iconoclast bonus track.  That’s what is so frustrating with this album.  It tries to move past the heaviness of Paradise Lost and Iconoclast, but for every melodic, neoclassical passage, there’s ten overwhelming, “What the fuck? Should I bang my head or air guitar?” metal wanks.

It’s in these metal passages, however, that the band’s rhythm section pulls through. Michael Romeo and Russell Allen are awesome! Who in metaldom doesn’t know that? Pinnella is a little too Rudess for me, but does his part nonetheless.  Hell, the guy even has a couple credits to his name, so kudos, good key meister. In previous recordings — especially their rendition of The Odyssey — Jason Rullo’s drums came across as flat, even mediocre at times, but Underworld brings the best out of our little mountain mover.  It’s an understatement to say Rullo was made for explosive passages, complemented by Michael Lepond’s, as-always, moving rumble.

Symphony X, with their 11th studio album, Underworld, force listeners to gaze into the looking glass of their discography, exploring their descent from neoclassical, power prog to straight forward, kick ass metal. Fans, indulge. Casual listeners, think of this album as a focused, greatest hits record.

Credit:  Skullsnbones

Credit: Skullsnbones

P.S. That album art…

Ugh.

RATING:  4/5

All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at https://fanart.tv/artist/b669c53e-5a1f-4adc-80be-755e64e8115e/symphony-x/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image one belongs to its owner. Image found at http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/symphony-xs-michael-romeo-says-underworld-album-has-a-little-bit-of-everything/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image two belongs to its owner. Image found http://skullsnbones.com/symphony-x-is-releasing-underworld-in-july/.  I have, in no way, used said images for profit.

Monday Shuffle: Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane

Welcome to the Monday Shuffle.  Every Monday I’m going to, as hockey profit Gordon Bombay once said, “change it up” by reviewing a random album on my iPod.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “How can this asshole be objective about an album he enjoys listening to?”  If you know anything about me, my iPod is littered with everything under the sun: good, bad, brilliant, terrible.  I don’t have a filter.  To put it this in perspective, I didn’t delete a couple, sappy Nickelback songs until recently.  I’m kidding.  Or, am I? (dramatic crescendo). To sum up this nonsense, my opinions alter with multiple listens.  An enjoyable first listen can easily turn into an ear scraping second listen.  Doesn’t matter. So, since I enjoyed my little iPod experiment so much the first time, here we go.  The first entry in Reviews From the Other Sides’ Monday Shuffle, and a fitting return from a slight, month(ish) hiatus:

Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane

Pain of Salvation had a sonicly successful career.  Key word, had.  Golden voice Daniel Gildenlow, shirtless Johan Hallgren, brother Kristoffer Gildenlow, dramatic Frederick Hermansson, and holy poly rhythms, Johan Langell, served a delicious cocktail of genre innovating prog metal.  Redundant labeling aside, everything was there, the pretentiousness, the complex rhythms, the noodling guitars.  Then, haircuts and alternative rock happened.  Thanks Metallica! Because, isn’t every mistake in metal Metallica’s fault? YouTube sure as hell thinks so.  And who’s going to argue with YouTube?

Some bands just choose to strip their sound to its roots, sometimes enlightening, while most times leaving listeners like myself saying, “Really? Edgy? How is generic garage rock, especially in this day and age, edgy?”  Pain of Salvation unfortunately became Golden Gildenlow’s side project, leaving their quintessential album, Remedy Lane behind as an unfortunate memoir. And boy is it a hell of a memoir.

So, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Why the fuck is this guy talking smack about Salvation’s later releases? What does their current direction have anything to do with anything?”  The songwriting, ladies and gentlemen.  I don’t know if it’s the departure of Johan and Frederick or lack of inspiration, but Remedy Lane is everything Road Salt I,Road Salt II, even acoustic record, Falling Home, isn’t.  The album, unfortunately, stands as the beginning of the band’s musical descent, and aside from behemoth concept-heavy LP, Be, and a handful of pop/alternative rock tracks, there seems to be nothing left in Gildenlow’s creative tank. And that’s worth mentioning, as both a fan and reviewer of Pain of Salvation.  That’s it.  I’m off my soap box.  Now, for a look back at the Pain of Salvation we all know and love.  Let’s go!

From the opening drama of “Two Beginnings,” to the heartrending, introspective conclusion of “Beyond the Pale,” Pain of Salvation successfully combined the theatrics of The Perfect Element and the foreshadowing experimentation later found on Be to create a sound all their own in Remedy Lane.  This is an album you can feel, experience, and tilt your head to in appreciation.  Unlike Be and The Perfect Element, however, Remedy Lane’s tracks stand both alone and together, never falling victim to the complexity of their overarching concept.  This can be seen as an insult regarding Remedy Lane’s comprehensive product.  Yet, balance is key here.  The songwriting stands on its own two legs, all the while sounding like nothing the band previously performed.  The music is so diverse, its cohesive.  And that’s why Daniel Gildenlow and company are classified as progressive metal — insert shades and cigarette.

There’s metal; there’s folk; there’s noodling polyrhythms; there’s even a couple pop-centric numbers in “This Heart of Mine (I Pledge),” and “Two Loves.”  Yet, when dealing with this particular genre, one must ask: does every element come together for a complete experience? Besides the album’s oddball, electronic title track, my answer is an overwhelming, heartstopping, world changing…yes!

Oh, and did I mention these guys know how to fucking play?  My God of holy drums and guitars! There’s enough musical complexity, time shifts, key changes, vocal wails in “Fandango” alone to make Yes look like a side show.  But again, the band treads on the realms of  indulgence, tapping the third circle just enough to make Cerberus salivate.  Ha, get that one?  But then, the album spins into melodic tracks like, “A Trace of Blood,” and “Undertow,” with tearjerker lyrics and a more atmospheric approach to structure and overall feeling.  These tracks are where I really “got” Daniel Gildenlow’s psyche, where emotion — think, the bridge in “Undertow” or Gildenlow’s climactic high note in “A Trace of Blood” — has a moment to peak its head without fear of being bludgeoned to death by technicality.  Sure, Johan’s solos and brother Gildenlow’s hypnotic bass grooves peak interest in the album’s more progressive numbers, not to mention one of the more tighter, non-sleep inducing epics in “Beyond the Pale,” but its Daniel’s diverse vocal performance that lifts Remedy Lane to heartrending beauty.  Great work, through and through.

Pain of Salvation’s quintessential 2002 LP, Remedy Lane, is an emotional record full of progressive rock/metal sensibilities.  Fans of Opeth and Dream Theater have probably already eaten this up, but for the more inexperienced prog listener out there in the prog omniverse with all their prog shit, this ranks high on the proggiest prog of all time.  And that’s why Reviews From the Other Side rates Remedy Lane a 4.75.

RATING: 4.75/5

All rights, properties, and content of the featured image belong to its owner, DeekshaKhanna137. Image found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manfest_2011_-_Pain_of_Salvation_-_H_-_06.jpg.  All rights, properties, and content of body image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.metal-archives.com/reviews/Pain_of_Salvation/Remedy_Lane/1653/.

Review: Muse – Drones

Drones is the byproduct of a pop/prog band that takes itself too seriously. I love it.

One must tread lightly when dealing with a band like Muse.  On one hand, there’s the fans.  Think, Radiohead fans, but take away a few years, and add belief that Matt Bellamy is Freddy Mercury’s second coming.  Yeah, we’re talking X Files devotion here, man.  On the other hand, the general opinion of the band lies on a “hate em’ or love em'” basis, leaving little room for objective criticism.  If such a thing even exists.  I don’t blame listeners, though.  Muse is too prog for the pop fan, too song-oriented for the general prog head.  There really isn’t a middle ground, but for eye rollers and coffee slammers like myself.

Muse is a band of taste, dabbling in prog excess without garnering too much of the pompousness required for a full blown member of the genre.  Yes, Bellamy’s lyrics are pretentious and ofttimes cheesy.  The concepts are often overblown and preachy.  Yet, when stripped down, Muse explores multiple musical avenues, a unique blend of electronica, jazz, rock, and even metal. Not to mention Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations brought progressive rock back into the mainstream. That alone is respectable.  Drones doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but continues Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard, and Christopher Wolstenholme’s statement on the state of progressive rock.

Straight off, the album goes into Depeche Mode territory with opener, “Dead Inside.”  Cringeworthy song title aside, the track does well as an introduction to the band’s bombastic sound.  Drum machines.  Drum machines everywhere! “Dead Inside” is as genetically close to a classic Muse song than any other track on the record.  The track bleeps and bloops in a weird intro before hitting the listener with emotion.  Muse emotion, that is.  I say that because there’s a level of drama only Muse can create, and it is in this emotional crescendo, that listeners are divided. The lyrics, themselves, are suspect.  Behind Bellamy’s still impressive falsetto, “Dead Inside,” brings out a healthy dose of Muse drama, spouting:

Your lips feel warm to the touch/You can bring me back to life/On the outside you’re ablaze and alive/But you’re dead inside.

Muse, “Dead Inside,” Drones (2015)

Overseeing the album is a convoluted concept of prog’s finest subject: individualism.  As in the past, I try to focus on the music and lyrics alone, so concept falls low on my critical repertoire.  However, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the lack of originality in Bellamy’s lyrics.  They observe topics with the most shallow of executions, exploiting cliche after cliche as if wishing to frustrate the listener.  In this regard, the juvenile lyrics take away from the music.  Coming from a guy that places lyrics behind music, that’s saying a lot.

Luckily, the music is strong enough to mask the overdone concept. As listeners reach the album’s midsection, the music becomes abrasive, adopting elements of hard rock, even metal. “The Handler,” for instance, grabs this musical progression by the balls.  Muse tackled heaviness in previous albums in tracks like, “Knights of Cydonia,” and “Stockholm Syndrome,” but Drones brings their heavier spectrum to the forefront.  And I’ll admit, I like this new direction.  For the first time, Muse’s album feels tied together, bringing in multiple markets, but still holding on to their trademark sound.  Each influence comes through in album epic, “The Globalist,” the main highlight of the album, a track exploding with melody and aggression.  This track is the pinnacle of Muse’s experimentation, while, “Revolt,” and, “Mercy,” tap into accessible, Queen-esque waters.  If anything, Drones is an accessible progressive rock album, which — I must say — shows songwriting maturity.

At the head of this aggressive direction is Matt Bellamy’s guitar.  Neoclassical, earpleasing shreddery.  Although the album’s tracks fail to reach, “Stockholm Syndrome,” intensity, Bellamy still throws down memorable riffs in heavier tracks like, “Psycho,” and “Defector.” Besides lead guitar, each instrument plays for atmosphere over technical brilliance. That’s okay. My only complaint, musicianship-wise, is the absence of natural drum sounds. I get that the band strives for more of an electronic feel, but the drums, at times, make the songs feel…synthetic.  Perhaps intentional, perhaps an aesthetic choice.  Maybe it’s a production issue.  Either way, Dominic Howard’s kit sounds lifeless and that’s a problem.

Overall, Muse’s seventh studio album, Drones, overcomes its shoddy concept and stale rhythm section with an accessible, but heavy approach to the progressive genre.

RATING:  3.75/5

Disclaimer: All properties, rights, and content of the featured image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://preorder.muse.mu/. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Local Lookout Review: Corner Kings (STL) – Chosen Few

Credit:  Corner Kings

Credit: Corner Kings

Local music acts.  You know, those guys that go out there and bust their ass every night for a shitty gig, all for the hope that one day they’ll get noticed. St. Louis corrals these musicians, from rock groups trying to get to the sticky floors of Pops Nightclub, to hip hop groups/MCs walking the Loop in search of someone to listen.  While I sit behind this keyboard, writing for some blog, a local act fails because nobody listened.  I don’t know if it’s a stigma generated by the hip hop industry, but mix tapes are generally viewed as give or take. A lot of take.  Some are too Nas, others sickeningly Soulja Boy-esque nonsense stinking of overproduction.  Yet, as a reviewer, I need to listen.  When it comes to reviews, I can’t help but feel conflicted.   There’s validity in just the “act” of sending out a mix tape or EP for exposure.  Every track is a piece of livelihood.  That kind of vulnerability can only be respected.  Here’s to you, local artists.  Let’s go!

Corner Kings, a hip hop group from St. Louis, recently handed me their EP, Chosen Few.  And, production and consistency aside, I’m actually quite impressed.  The group consists of four personalities, Chief Capo, Krash, Ty3rdEye, and Easy $tackin to create a complete hip hop experience. A psychedelic, somewhat old school, introspective atmosphere surrounds the tracks, complete with Jekyll/Hyde-style lyrics caught between spiritual subject matter and street lifestyle.  Let’s say Corner Kings possesses the duality of Outkast with flavors of Nas — yes, I know I just dogged groups sounding like Nas, but what’s a Reviews From the Other Side review without a good dose hypocrisy?  Anyways, you’ll get your chill tunes; you’ll get your hardened street tunes; you’ll get your Andre 3000-esque philosophical commentary, and that’s what makes Corner Kings an interesting group.  Not groundbreaking, but enjoyable nontheless.  And that’s what music’s about, son!

Since I’m more of a cerebral guy — surprising, isn’t it? — “Building Visions,” courtesy of Ty3rd Eye’s acid-laden flow, stood out to me.  Lyrically, the track deals with spiritual enlightenment.  Ty3rd Eye succeeds in his use of wordplay, how he calmly eases the listener into a trance.  Hence the hook:

Stay true to the game and don’t fuck with them lanes/finessing my brain and creating my lane.

Ty3rd Eye, Building Visions,” Chosen Few (2015)

How can you not kick back to lyrics like that?  Corner Kings succeeds with their lyrical maturity.  The MCs all have something to say, and as the EP moves, their styles evolve.  Krash, with his natural talent, comes out of the gate with purpose on “Act 1,” while Easy $tackin and Chief Capo play off each other seamlessly in “3 Kings.”  I wish I could say that for every track.  Going back to “Act 1,” Chief Capo introduces himself in poor fashion.  This is not a dig on his talent — because, hell “3 Kings” testifies to his skill — but a question for the musical decision making. After interrupting Krash’s smooth, social commentary, Capo spins the track’s lyrics towards pussy, pistols, and other personal hype.  I can only think of A.Z. when I hear Capo’s vocals, with his distinct, energetic, overpowering tone. He serves better as a track opener, you know, someone to get the listener going before delving into the deeper shit.  Capo is the group’s energy.  Use that energy to move the album, guys!  I mean, he spits the album’s best lines in “Taj Mahal”:

Ain’t no common ground around us/Can’t get comfy/Ain’t no comfort when you come from nothin’/Nothin’ comin’/We the second comin’ comin’.

Chief Capo, “Taj Mahal,” Chosen Few (2015)

I see why they muted the track during those bars.

Unfortunately, the EP’s production brings down its value.  I’m all about vocal layers, but when the vocals become muddled and distracted due to these layers, the songs ultimately feel contrived.  With some stronger production values — i.e. less vocal layers — the EP would feel more coherent, taking some of the load off the performers’ shoulders.  Oh, and a little immersion helps when you’re trying to get on the map. Also, compression.  There are tracks, such as “Taj Mahal,” that suffer outright from production.  An album, whether an EP or LP, needs to sound cohesive.  The volume, the sustain, the EQ, everything needs to sound whole.  Corner Kings fails in that regard.

With their debut EP, Chosen Few, Corner Kings seeps into the hip hop market with their distinct, lyrical flow.  Stay tuned for more local reviews.

P.S. Album art, Chosen Few needs it.  At least something more reflective and less derivative than the current cover.

RATING: 3/5

Disclaimer:  All properties, content, and rights of the featured image belong to the artist. Image found on https://soundcloud.com/cornerkingsradio/sets/corner-kings-chosen-few. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.