Live Review: Australian Pink Floyd

Kangaroos, boars, lasers, and good ol’ fashioned Pink Floyd. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Pink Floyd is one of those bands destined for imitation. You name it, Porcupine Tree, Airbag, Circus Maximus, Radiohead, pretty much any band using extensive, spacey keyboards possess some kind of influence from Gilmour, Waters, Wright, and Mason. Out of this mess comes the dime-a-dozen cover band.  Yet, like Black Sabbath, such a classic sound is hard enough to imitate, let alone replicate. You can say my expectations for a Pink Floyd cover band are astronomical.  Sure, St. Louis has El Monstero, who are a extremely respectable band in their own right. I have yet to see them — ironic since they played here over the weekend — so I cannot express judgment just yet.

However, Australian Pink Floyd are the real deal.  They have it all, from Floyd’s iconic circle production screen, to the laser show, to backup singers, to the overall stage presence of their inspiration.  Shit, even Gilmour himself invited them to perform for his 50th birthday event.  2013 brought Aussie Floyd’s extensive reach into Real Floyd’s back catalog.  2015 brought soundscapes, hits, everything you’d want from a cover band, a cathartic experience with overwhelming visuals.

Led Zeppelin 2 kicked off the evening. Now, I’m unfamiliar with St. Charles’ family arena, but lord was the sound horrendous at first.  Imitator Plant’s voice — or ear monitor. Insert vocal excuse here — seemed to dissipate at times, leaving the poor singer to reach through his already limited register.  Think of “Immigrant Song.” You know those opening wails? Now, think “Immigrant Song” performed in its original key, but with actual Robert Plant’s aged vocal chords.  Not good. Not good at all.

Thankfully, imitation Bonzo held the performance together with a rousing rendition — and, might I say pummeling expression — of “Moby Dick,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Stairway to Heaven.” It also helped that, as the performance moved forward, the sound guy came out of his smoke stupor and equalized the freakin’ master.  As a result, Plant finally heard himself, Page overcame his hangover, and JPJ, well, JPJ stayed the same.  Calm and collected, just like his source material.  Good set overall, so-so performance.  Unfortunately, that’s to be expected from an opener.

Aussie Pink Floyd gets an entire point for starting their set on time. I’d say it only took the roadies fifteen minutes to sound check and finalize.  Fifteen minutes! In the wide, wide world of Rock n’ Roll, that’s unheard of.  So, kudos just for that, Aussies.

That’s enough blabbering.

“In The Flesh,” gets me every time. I know it’s coming, but that opening chord always comes out of nowhere…Bang!  Instantly, Australian Pink Floyd’s performance felt tighter than their previous stop in St. Louis.  Sound wise, everything clicked, the bass audible — shocking, right? — the guitars ear splitting, the vocals synchronized beautifully, the keys completely Wright-esque.  Unfortunately, Colin Wilson, albeit a fantastic bassist, still could not quite nail Water’s nasal delivery, but that’s just nitpicking on account of a reviewer looking for negativity in the wee hours of the night.

Also, as the band moved from “Learn to Fly,” to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part I-IV,” it was obvious the show was hit-centric.  And you know me, I’m all about those hits! Pink Floyd produced their strongest material between Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall, but much of Aussie’s setlist could benefit from the oddball track here and there to please the Floydians and hipsters like myself.  Shit, trade “Learn To Fly,” for “Dogs,” and I wouldn’t have said anything. Or, “Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” that would’ve made the evening. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself now.

Okay, Dark Side, you win. The band’s most rousing moments — aside from the beautiful “Shine On…” — came from Floyd’s transcendental production, that thing classic radio has spammed for what feels like a century.  All I have to say is “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Wow. The girls, Lorelei McBroom, Emily Lynn, and Lara Smiles graced through their make or break moments with confidence, grace, and absolute awe.  I don’t think a single arm in that establishment was without goosebumps. Meanwhile, “Time,” complete with syncopated lasers, brought Pink Floyd’s psychedelic stage presence to the forefront, and demonstrated guitarist Steve Mack’s prowess.

Solo of the night belonged to David Fowler’s rendition of Gilmour’s most famous composition in “Comfortably Numb,” but there’s something about Mack’s atmospheric style that just sounds larger. It’s as if Mack understands Gilmour’s “less is more” attitude, focusing on precision and emotion over absolute chaos and technicality. “Time[‘s]” solo takes time — bad pun, sorry — and build, which wouldn’t work if played in Fowler’s more straightforward technique.  Fowler, you had the whole place after “Comfortably Numb” — including myself — so don’t be offended when I say Steve Mack better understands Gilmour’s playing style.

Australian Pink Floyd brought the sounds and sights of their inspiration to St. Louis on Tuesday, August 4. Although their set could benefit from, let’s say “Echoes,” the band’s performance far outweighed its lack of setlist creativity. Take away Led Zeppelin 2’s rough start and it’s easy to say Aussie Floyd put on one hell of a show.  Oh, and did I mention…

Lasers?

RATING:  4.75/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/music/australian-pink-floyds-roger-waters-on-the-future-of-musician-holograms-6593574. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.

Live Review: Earth, Wind and Fire/Chicago Heart and Soul Tour 2015

St. Louis got plenty of soul, heart, and shattered ear drums from Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago’s August 31 performance at the Maryland Heights Hollywood Casino Amphitheater.

There’s a feeling, a goal, all music listeners, or might I say appreciators, reach for when listening to a musical performance.  Some go for a good time of easy listening, others to get drunk and lose themselves to whatever debauchery that might unfold. I go to concerts — and listen to music in general — for the off chance that the performer will either:

1.  Give me goosebumps.

2.  Force me to jump up and actually participate.  *Those that know me know this is more important.

Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago’s Heart and Soul Tour stop in St. Louis achieved both of these goals. EWF, in particular, brought the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater to its feet.  And, when your audience’s bed time average is 9:00, that’s saying something.  Jokes aside, since this was a co-headliner tour, I’m going to split this review into two sections.  Like hell if I’m going to bring them out together; that was a disaster in itself.

Yikes, spoiler alert!

Earth, Wind & Fire

From the get go, Ralph Johnson, Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and company brought out everything Earth, Wind & Fire were — and are currently — known for.  People came to dance.  And dance they did, grooving to hits and so on and so forth.  I could go on and on with a track by track review, but why do that when I can analyze the technical nonsense? You know, the performance itself!

Stage wise, there was a lot going on: stage screens, psychedelic/Egyptian graphics, horns, multiple drum kits.  When overused, such an abundance of showmanship threatens disenchantment; however, the flash never took away from the tracks, only heightened them.  For instance, “Reasons” commanded full attention to Bailey’s soul crushing falsetto.  With just the right touch of atmospheric stars on the jumbotrons, his high reaches — because, let’s face it, that’s what we were all waiting for — burst through with maximum impact.  Beautiful, simply beautiful.  Remember what I said about goosebumps?

Each member brought energy to the table, contrary to the following act, but we’ll get to that in a moment.  As soon as “In The Stone[‘s]” horns throttled the venue’s speakers, a spotlight shone on the silver tree that is Verdine White.  Nothing, not Chicago, not even Earth and Wind could bring attention away from Earth’s rumble.  Did I just make that up?  Either way, Verdine is one of the more underrated bassists out there.  Sure, he’s not the most versatile or virtuostic soloist, but hits “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” and most definitely, “Fantasy” would sound like Eagle’s outtakes without White’s defining groove.  There was enough synchronized spinning, dancing, horn blares, harmonies, and sequins to please even the dullest eye.  Shit, that was probably me.

Fun.  That’s how I will define Earth, Wind & Fire’s set.  By the time “Let’s Groove” thumped along, the whole amphitheater was on its feet.  I haven’t seen that much excitement at that venue since…well, Iron Maiden.  Okay, gotta move on!

Chicago

And then…there was Chicago. I enjoy the occasional “25 or 6 to 4,” whatever the hell that means, and “Saturday In the Park” every once in a while.  However, I can only get enough of the horn gimmick before I start to roll my eyes.  And Lord, did Chicago jam their horns down the audience’s throat. Damn, and they played their “inspiration” love songs? Double damn!  Trombonist, James Pankow was pretty freakin’ awesome, though.  I mean, who doesn’t want to see a trombonist center stage, ripping away like a lead guitarist? If any of EWF’s energy translated into Chicago’s set, Pankow delivered through his sways, fist pumps, and general fun loving stage presence. Chicago sat comfortably in their hit catalog, performing a wide array of balladry and face slapping rock anthems, while firmly holding a more intimate, less showy atmosphere.  In this regard, the band brought full attention to their music, creating room for improvisation and complexity to their already complex repertoire.  They even displayed a heavier sound, courtesy of guitarist Keith Howland.

Yet, it is in this heavier sound that I was left wondering if Chicago’s creative drive reached a crossroads.  I hate to single out anyone, but Keith Howland’s shreddery and abrasiveness made absolutely no musical sense whatsoever.  Why? Why noodle away to “You’re the Inspiration” like it’s — expletive coming! — a Van Halen fuck track? “Inspiration” is for lovemaking, not beer, cigarettes, and hotels.  Is that a song? Not to mention Howland’s sound level ascended with each track.  By the time Chicago monster, “25 or 6 to 4” started, the guitar sound reached painful levels, ultimately detracting from the overall sound because, instead of dancing, the audience members were holding their ears.  Let me put it this way.  Chicago and EWF both appeared on stage to close out the night with their most famous hits.  I could hear two things:

1. Horns

2. Howland’s Goddamn guitar

This is inexcusable when there’s 20+ performers on stage. Overall, Chicago’s strategy originally adopted a “calm before the storm” approach.  Yet, guitar led Chicago — yeah, kind of an oxymoron — brought too much storm on an already flooded audience.

Verdict

It’s pretty crazy that I can say the loudest concert I’ve been to is Chicago.  Either way, solid performances from all involved.  Although Earth, Wind & Fire commanded the evening, Chicago provided enough musical exploration — kudos, drum and percussion soloists! — to keep the audience’s interest peeked for the encore.  Hell, I’ll admit it.  The horns were pretty cool afterall.

Okay, I can’t help asking again.  Who shreds to Chicago songs? I’m making this a written rule.  Unless it’s “25 or 6 to 4” you just don’t shred to Chicago songs.

EARTH, WIND & FIRE RATING: 5/5

CHICAGO RATING: 2.5/5

OVERALL:  3.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://banksartscentre.com/event/chicago-the-band-earth-wind-fire/.  All rights, content, and properties of body image 1 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/earth-wind-fire-liverpool-arena-7214417.  All rights, content, and properties of body image 2 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://music.newcity.com/2011/08/23/old-days-the-band-chicago-returns-to-ravinia-properly-matured/. I have, in no way, used said images 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.

symphonyxwithoutsingle

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.

Live Review: Steely Dan – Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour 2015

Steely Dan brought their trademark groove to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, complete with an impressive setlist and phenomenal backing cast.

I don’t know how many times I had to explain jazz fusion this week. It’s simple:  jazz fused with other genres, usually rock, or metal.  You’d be surprised with the scope of bands utilizing such a musical approach, sometimes subtly, other times throwing the in-itself mega genre right at listener’s faces.  Steely Dan, minus “Reelin’ in the Years” (more on that, in a minute) falls into the latter category, but don’t let that alter your perception just yet.  What separates Steely Dan and their ensemble of horns, guitars, singers, and cute, little, trumpet keyboards from bands like prog juggernaut, King Crimson, is groove.  These guys had it.  These guys still have it. And, boy, let me tell you, St. Louis felt Steely Dan’s groove on Wednesday, July 27.

I’ll admit it, I was a little on edge going into this venue.  Hollywood Casino Amphitheater — locally termed “shitty parking, shitty odors, shitty bugs,” among the locals — has reputedly poor sound production.  This was evident through Elvis Costello’s set.  Just look at his setup.

WP_20150722_001

As a neutral Costello listener already, the aging hipster-Dylan failed to catch my attention.  Musically, the band explored many interesting topics and instrumentals, but between the sound quality and generally poor vocal performance, there was an air of discomfort surrounding the venue.  And not the, “The people here are going crazy,” kind of discomfort.  Yikes, did I mention the sound was bad? I know it’s an honor to follow a musical inspiration, but Costello and The Imposters fell victim to the dreaded opening sound guy, complete with inaudible guitars, overzealous vocal volume.  And let’s be honest here, that was a mistake in itself.  Such a talented and respected musician deserves more. Reviews From the Other Side, unfortunately, can not justify the hype.

That’s enough complaining.  Steely Dan practically jumped on the stage, and given both their age and the venue’s reputation, it was hard not to be inherently impressed.  The lights were unimpressive, but who attends a jazz fusion show for the effects and fireworks?  No, this is a musically complex outfit.  As pretentious as this sounds, to understand Steely Dan, listeners need to focus on the intricacies, crescendos, and transitions of Fagen and Becker’s expansive back catalog.  Steely Dan is, in no way, a “smoke a joint, drink a twelve pack, and go crazy” kind of band.  As Becker would probably put it, they’re a “glass of wine and have makeup sex” kind of experience. Lights and effects would detract from that experience.  So, how’s that for practical argument?

I’m getting the scowl, better move on.

Steely Dan opened with two seminal numbers, “Black Cow,” and evening highlight, “Aja.”  Immediately, the amphitheater adopted a nightclub atmosphere, the horns and general setup somewhat resembling a big band rig, Fagen sulking to the right, Becker smoothing away to the left.  Smooth.  If the band could be summed in one word, it would be smooth.  “Black Cow,” with its  groovy rhythm and heavy accents, moved the audience, not exactly pulling limbs from seats, but making heads sway involuntarily.  When attention is brought on a performance with such minimal provocation, it’s a magical feeling to witness.

Then, the opening melody of “Aja” struck the audience’s nerve.  Goosebumps all around.  The instrumental following Fagen’s suspenseful verse-chorus was the highlight of the night, assaulting listeners with images of China and uncertainty. When stripped to its core, the driving force behind Fagen’s key-trumpet and Becker’s guitar is their newfound drummer’s graceful attack.  Becker himself labeled him as “The best drummer of his generation.” And besides Young Guy, I couldn’t, for the love of God, remember the guy’s name.  However, the drum solo interludes — you know, the parts where everything goes crazy for a mint — were absolutely jawdropping, not to mention the lighting guy realized he had to wake up.  All around, the instrumental highlighted each member’s repertoire.  I could spend this whole piece discussing “Aja,” but that wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the band’s set.

Transitions. I’ll always think of Steely Dan as the masters of transition.  See what I did there?  The jazz genre explores multiple avenues and various emotions throughout its millions of creations.  To make these sections, improvisations, and mood shifts work, transitions must flow seamlessly, without risking disillusionment from the listener.  Awkwardness is a jazz piece’s downfall.  Pretty much all of Aja, “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Black Friday,” “Babylon Sisters,” hell, their whole damn setlist employed perfectly executed transitions.  Even the band’s setlist moved between tracks flawlessly. When taking in the scope of Steely Dan’s 19 performances — don’t forget the improvisations — it’s hard not to fall asleep.  Yet, musicianship and transition kept the audience’s interest.  Because they’re smooth, damnit!

My only complaint is Donald Fagen’s voice.  Again, perhaps a mixing or health issue — you have to take a vocalist’s excuse with a grain of salt — but Fagen commonly adopted the vocalist, pull-away-during high-notes-to-feign-passion, trope throughout his performances.  Sure, age is a bitch and touring wears out the vocal chords.  However, amplifying the band’s background singers to mask Fagen’s struggles served as more of a distraction than if the guy actually attempted some of his more difficult lines. Either way, the overall, instrumental performance far outweighed Fagen’s minor, vocal wear and tear.  You get off this time, Fagen!

Believe me, that sounded cooler out loud.

Steely Dan proved once again the impact and importance of the jazz fusion movement during their Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour stop in St. Louis.  The parking, bugs, and strange odors were worth it after all.  Great show, through and through.

RATING: 4.5/5

Disclaimer:  All rights, property, and content of the header image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://thekey.xpn.org/2015/02/12/steely-dan-elvis-costello-playing-susquehanna-bank-center-august-3rd/.  All rights, property, and content of body image 2 belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.daytoncitypaper.com/dukes-of-september/. 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: Of Monsters and Men – Beneath The Skin

Beneath the Skin takes an anthemic approach to Of Monsters and Men’s familiar output of modern folk rock. However, the album fizzles out before it has any room to take hold.

For a land known for doom-impending volcanoes, harsh winters, and rotten fish, Iceland sure has a lot to say.  I can always tell when an Icelandic artist hits the airwaves.  No, it’s not the accent — which, I still can’t quite grasp.  It’s not even Icelandic pop’s knack for weirdness, like Bjork’s army of bell wielding children.

Credit:  Jack Cullen

Credit: Jack Cullen

Nothing like some bells and ash to kick off the day.

And then there’s the Island’s folk scene.  Of Monsters And Men, along with England’s surprise hit, Mumford And Sons, helped bring folk rock back to the mainstream, taking advantage of floor drums, “ooh, ahs,” and other cliches hyped by the industry.  Thank God they never reached Fun. extravagance.  What separates the outfit, however, is their unique atmosphere.  Of Monsters and Men just sounds…different.  In a good way, mind you. I don’t know if it’s some subconscious, predisposed knowledge of their culture, but I can feel Iceland in their music.  Natural, alien, Icelandic landscapes.  And that’s coming from an American keyboard warrior with limited knowledge of the music’s cultural background. My Head Is An Animal emitted that feeling; Beneath the Skin, especially in its early tracks, emits that feeling.  I only wish that catharsis continued throughout the LP’s 48 minute running time.

48 minutes.  Such a running time leaves little excuse for blandness.  So, what happened? Similar to other 2015 folk rock releases, Beneath the Skin suffers from sophomoric identity crisis.  The album’s style lies between straightforward, anthemic folk rock and derivative, “haven’t I heard this before?” pop rock. Victims of this identity crisis are, “Hunger,” “Wolves Without Teeth,” “Empire,” pretty much the LP’s entire midsection. After an explosive introduction, the former two tracks never reach beyond their simplicity, while “Empire” grabs pacing by the throat and chokes the life out of it.  I’ve never said it once, but I’ll say it now.  The middle section of an LP is paramount to its success.  By the third song, I didn’t know if I was listening to a folk or pop record.  That’s a problem. The line between genres lacks the seamlessness of a band comfortable with their sound.  “Wolves Without Teeth,” for example, is a straight forward pop tune, relying heavily on a shallow chorus and modern folk tropes to get its point across.

Sure, Of Monsters and Men always took a listener friendly approach to songwriting.  But, whereas “Crystals” and “Human” are atmospheric and easy listening, the album’s midsection feels uninspired, lifeless, almost too safe.  Although accessibility isn’t fair criticism for such a pop oriented sound, I can’t help but feel disappointed in Of Monsters and Men’s approach to experimentation.  As is common in the dreaded sophomore record, the songwriters have found their comfort zone and dwell within it.  This time, more ballads, more acoustic tracks, more general…meh. Again, the natural feeling expressed in My Head Is An Animal is replaced by familiarity, lacking that boundary-stretching, yet listenable folk sensibility I was searching for.  .

However, when the album hits, it hits fucking hard.  “Human,” I think I already talked about this track, but I’m all about repetition, thrusts the listener through a variety of musical colors, with heart jerking acoustic sections and haunting melodies. This kind of track is why I even listen to this damn outfit.  Of Monsters and Men is all about sound height, that climactic explosion of poppy folk sweetness.  And, if you know anything about Reviews From the Other Side, we’re all about those goosebump moments.  “Thousand Eyes” even throws in a post-rock-esque build.  This sudden moment of experimentation, followed by tearjerker, “I Of The Storm,” added some much needed dynamics to the staleness of the album’s midsection.  Ragnar þórhallsson — I cheated and used Google. Like hell if I’m going to find that letter. You know which one — stepped up for this album.  “Human” utilizes his youthful, but emotional timbre, mixing well with the overarching melody and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s delicate croon.  The band’s debut seemed unsure of what to do with their male vocalist.  However, Ragnar seals his position in Beneath The Skin and develops himself as something more than a sidekick.

As is commonplace in modern studio records, Beneath the Skin opens and ends strongly, but is burdened by uninspired and inconsistent songwriting.  No, you won’t find another “Little Talks” track on this LP, if that means anything to you.  Those looking for background pop may look no further.  Those flipping for the next genre defining folk record better flip on. It’s as simple as that.

RATING:  3/5

Disclaimer:  All properties, content, and rights of the featured image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://www.06live.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/of-monsters-and-men-752×315.jpg.  All properties, content, and rights of body image belong to its owner.  Image found at http://jackcullen.blogspot.com/2012/02/for-whom-bell-tolls-bjork-and-alexander.html.

The Fall of the Album

Analyzing the music industry is a lot like analyzing a cat.  You think you understand its movements, coordination, communication, but you end up realizing it’s all manipulation for its own personal gain.  Music is a breathing entity, and like normal “entities,” it needs some cash to stay afloat.  Bare bones, that’s basic business. So, what garners cash more than riding trends in the music industry? Behold the radio single, the masterpiece and libation of studio production.  With a single marketable track, musicians possess, and possessed, the ability to forsake consistent quality.  Sure, classic artists such as Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles released single promotions.  Those artists, however, also released Master of Reality, Dark Side of the Moon, and Revolver. What timeless album has Ke$ha produced? Think about it.  We can’t blame it all on the radio single, however.  Unfortunately, as modern artists take advantage of the digital marketplace, the album has become an afterthought, more of a token of gratitude than a fleshed out experience.

The digital music marketplace is a wonder.  Radiohead, with their innovative record In Rainbows, was one of the first albums to exploit this venture, adopting a “pay what you can” strategy.  According to Music Ally, the album was number one in the United Kingdom and the United States in its first three months.  And this was when you didn’t even have to pay for the damn thing.  Now, if you download an album for free, record companies shit their pants and sue you for everything you own.  Everything!  To contest torrenting, Spotify, Pandora, and other streaming services started their print in the digital world, providing an additional avenue for artists.  Album streams have transcended expectations, but sales? That’s a different story. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly moved over 300,000 copies in its first week.  Yet, it was streamed over 9 million times. So, yes, To Pimp a Butterfly sold well for a modern, popular album, but its streaming numbers prove that the popular marketplace desires “entertainment” at little to no price. Albums are just too expensive to make and nobody wants to pay for them.

Hence the live production.  It’s well known that rock and metal outfits bring in more from touring and merchandise sales than album sales.  Take it from Jim Root, guitarist of Slipknot, one of the highest selling metal bands of the decade.  Oh wait, it’s past the nineties.  Highest selling metal outfit two decades ago, how does that sound? The band has sold over five million records, but when it’s all said and done, they brought in pocket change compared to the industry’s golden age(s).  Production, label, marketing, distribution, and retail costs all contribute to an album’s lowered value.  Not to mention less popular outfits.  If you’re below a sellout headliner, try for a charting single or get used to bars because, if Metal Sucks has anything to say about it, you’re shit out of luck. So, in this regard, the album has become nothing more than a tour promotion.  Useful in the right context, yes.  Inspired? Depends on how much the artist cares about his or her “art.”  Damn, I tried to stay objective.

Here we are, the beloved commentary on musical quality. Let’s face it, music isn’t what it was during the 60’s through the 90’s.  As I said, radio singles were more of a marketing strategy to boost album sales.  Albums were the norm; albums were the desire of the popular market.  How many of you have that old family member who boasts about his or her extensive record collection? Personally, I envy them. Back then, when attention spans — i.e. boredom — were at an all time high, albums were cool, man.  Besides the recent Indie and hip hop movements, timelessness is nonexistent, replaced by the iPod shuffle.  Before, musical quality was paramount to an artist’s success. The radio single brought in sales, but bands had to wow listeners because their consumers had to buy their entire output. Thanks, internets! Why waste time and money on a consistent record when you can make millions off one track? If I’m a pop musician or executive looking for cash, I know the route I’d take.

As the music business evolves, more nails are driven into the album’s coffin.  This dramatic metaphor can be attributed to the digital market, production cost, and radio single.  However, to those grinding away in the production dungeon to create that groundbreaking album, I salute you!

Disclaimer:  All rights, content, and properties of the featured image belongs to Adam Fagen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/2119323310. I have, in no way, used said image for profit.