Dead Planet – Oceano: Music Review

Bio

Armed with a brutal sonic blueprint and rocked by multiple lineup changes in only a six year run, metal band, Oceano, has ridden the wave of deathcore towards the end of the 2000’s to present. Hailing from the Windy City, front man and vocalist Adam Young is the only surviving original member, hailed by over thirteen musicians phasing in and out of the band through three album cycles on Earache Records. Observed by many as the more brutal side to an already extreme subgenre of metal, Oceano bulrushes listeners with down tuned guitar domination and ferocious guttural vocals in a tenacious formula of extreme metal.

Oceano. Photo Credit: AltPress.com
Oceano. Photo Credit: AltPress.com

Background

When I first started exploring the more extreme sides to metal (as stated in previous reviews), Oceano was always a band that was a recommended listen, riding coattails of groups who built their name in deathcore such as Carnifex and Ion Dissonance. Oceano was brutal, just like many of the others in the scene. However, with most trending subgenres, deathcore became oversaturated and eventually lacked originality when the popularity died down. For me, Oceano was and is still caught in that rift. Though their music brings the boom, I have seen very little glimpses of material that comes from unique directions in their discography that aforementioned bands and pioneers like Despised Icon haven’t already gone in. With that said, I am willing to give artists a second listen for the sake of second chances. After releasing Incisions in 2013, which was arguably the band’s most progressive release yet, Oceano is back with a new guitar player and a fresh single to promote their upcoming album, Ascension, in March. Dead Planet.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

Dead Planet begins with a synthesized effect driven build up to a drum fill that cues Young’s vocals and a guitar assault. The riff transitions into the first breakdown of the song and eventually takes the drivers seat for pretty much the remainder of this track. The tempo of the riff riff slows down when that first breakdown ends, but by the time you reach the half way point of this track, brace for slow, churning tempos, crazy guttural vocals, and a side of breakdowns. The drum parts work well for the song, but doesn’t offer anything too fresh aside from blast beats and a warm drum cadence at the two minute mark. It took me a few listens to absorb the brutality and sort through the three and a half minutes of relentlessness, but it’s not that hard to understand Oceano’s mission statement… ceaseless brutality. Period. But, honestly, that’s kind of the fault in this track.

Album cover for Ascension - the upcoming album (2015. Photo credit: Twitter
Album cover for Ascension – the upcoming album (2015. Photo credit: Twitter

In high school, this music was appealing because I felt dangerous listening to something with intense novelty. I craved that perpetual insanity that went from start to finish and thought it lent more credibility to the term “metal.” When I began to further refine my tastes and mine the genre for more of what it had to offer, I found life in artistry that was more melodic, progressive, and experimental. Monochrome chug-metal like this doesn’t fulfill the thirst for my taste in heavy music like it did a few years ago (which was something well said by Youtube based music critic, Anthony Fantano aka The Needle Drop who touched on this when he reviewed the new Slipknot record late last year). My point is, when I listen to this track, I am reminded of why I eventually moved past metal like this. This kind of songwriting simply doesn’t have much to offer me anymore, other than a few moments of head banging here and there.

Lyrics

Metal runs the gamut of lyrical themes that often scare parents and wouldn’t be dinner table subject matter, though they can be strikingly introspective and constructive in a backwards way. I’m personally not one who finds a thrill in gore soaked imagery or violent narratives, however I think expressing anger in lyrics can be positive to a certain degree. Personally, I don’t need lurid maxims of anger and death to be satisfied with lyrics in metal. I like the ones that offer something for the audience to digest and think about. Dead Planet has more of an abstract tone that feels fantasy like, but doesn’t really offer anything. At best, I like that they don’t feel forced, plastic, or as if they’re trying too hard.

Production

If there is anything that I can still appreciate about this kind of metal it’s the fact that it sonically retains brutality with a refined production quality. The down tune of the guitar tone in this song is unapologetic. It’s low, churning, and makes me want to crank it to warp ten on a set of speakers. The drumming quality can feel drowned out at times when back dropped to the guitar and vocals, though the double bass never fails to let up throughout this song. Now about those vocals… If you want classic exhales guttural fries,

Oceano live with The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza. Photo credit: afropunk.com
Oceano live with The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza. Photo credit: afropunk.com

Adam Young joins the ranks of guys like Whitechapel’s front man Phil Bozeman who pulverize tracks like these. This kind of vocal style is a staple in this kind of metal. On this track, the vocals are loud, shamelessly unrepentant.

Conclusion

After listening to this song, comparing, and navigating their discography, I think Oceano has made little progress in songwriting or direction. To me, this style feels one dimensional in the grand scheme of metal and gives me the impression that this band is timid in taking a musical risk. I feel like this song could have been much better if the last two minutes was not bombarded by one massive open chord. Though the song boasts solid production, I just can’t get into this song in the same way I probably would have five years ago. For what it is… it sounds like deathcore. If that’s your style and in your taste, not only is that your opinion that you are allowed to, but you will probably get a kick out of this track.

Score: 72/100

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Sons Of the East – EP: Music Review

Bio

New to the scene, though experienced musicians and unique in their sound, Sons of the East are a singer/songwriter collective from Sydney, Australia. Despite a limited discography, the group have garnered critical acclaim for their sonic diversity and unexampled position in a scene that might be considered to be over saturated.

Sons Of the East. Photo Credit: imcmusic.net
Sons Of the East. Photo Credit: imcmusic.net

Background

Spotify is a beautiful thing. Why? Because you get to explore uncharted musical territory with the help of long, extended playlists, radio stations, and friends. On that right side bar, you can see what your friends are listening to while you are logged in. In the seven months of having Spotify, I have scouted lots of new music from seeing what my friends are listening to (this is how I ended up first listening to Volumes). Through back doors, friend’s profiles (yes, I admit to creeping) and related artists. I’ll be honest, the album cover initially drew me to this band without even listening to the music. I believe that album artwork is much like a first impression when someone first meets you. Science says that literally within a couple of seconds you decide whether you like someone or not. I feel like the same rule can be applied to music when you browse through albums and gaze at the covers. You make a snap judgment. When I got past the cover and began to sift through the songs on this self titled EP, I found myself enjoying this release.

Track Reviews

This EP starts off with Miramere – a catchy song with a medium tempo and a kick drum driving bounce. It’s a nice way to start out with a feel good track that makes you want to nod your head a little bit. The style of picking is pretty traditional for this kind of singer/songwriter and folk music, so there isn’t anything particularly fresh in this track that I haven’t heard from similar artists like Peter Bradley Adams.

EP cover. Photo Credit: realgonerocks.com
EP cover. Photo Credit: realgonerocks.com

Moving onto the next track takes this whole EP in a totally different direction that really gives a pulse and identity to this group. Come Away starts out with a simple chord progression with a tempo and aura reminiscent of artists like Gregory Alan Isakov (one of my all time favorites) that has a delicate piano line layered on top, a beautiful sounding harmonica, an accompanying banjo, and very soft Bob Dylan like vocals from Nic Johnston. Ending this record is California, another sunshine-y day anthem with a bouncing chord progression that stays in a higher key, along with an accompanying banjo. On the topic of instrumental diversity, this song actually has a didgeridoo in the chorus, which is something I had never heard a singer/songwriter group do up until this point.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

Sons Of the East has been praised for exploring the realm of folk music and integrating their own Australian culture into this EP. While I appreciate the novelty of certain instruments used, I don’t think this group incorporates anything groundbreaking that hasn’t been done by bands like Margaret and the Nuclear So and So’s. I think the singer/songwriter genre is a little oversaturated with recycled styles, hooks, and guitars. When someone or a group strives to reach farther to create a more comprehensive sound, then they have made at least a half decent effort in my book. Often times, I have seen some of the same influences come through in many artists in this genre that include legends like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Eric Clapton. Sons of the East are no exception. On Come Away and California, you can hear Nic Johnston channel his inner Bob Dylan with soft-spoken and denunciated vocals. In addition, I would consider Sons understudies of Mumford and Sons with the way hat throughout this EP you can hear a lot of harmonies from the other two members behind Johnston.

Sons Of the East. Photo credit: lostpicnic.net
Sons Of the East. Photo credit: lostpicnic.net

Lyrics

If I had to pick a genre of music armed with the most shrewd lyricism, it’s singer/songwriter. Themes range from introspective narratives, relationships, nature, love, and abstract storytelling. Sons Of the East stick to many of those traditional topics. Perhaps the strongest lyrics that paint a vivid picture of familial estrangement are on Hold On, with a simple, repeated chorus and striking verses. Come Away, as inferred from the title, tells a tale about young love that can feel relative when we think about those closest to us.

Production

Singer/songwriter is a genre that usually sounds better very uncut, unplugged, and minimal on cleanliness to preserve its authenticity behind the artist. It feels like such a nice change in pace when I hear a lot of grandiose production in pop, rock, hip-hop, and metal. It’s very fitting for this genre and this EP sounds well balanced between the guitar, piano, and banjo. I actually like how the harmonica takes the driver seat in songs like Come Away rather than it remaining on the same wavelength of all the other instruments. Even the didgeridoo in California is tastefully done. The way that this album is composed and packaged gives a very warm and calming vibe that is easy on the ears and ideal with a scenic view and a cup of coffee.

Conclusion

I am a sucker for good singer/songwriter music. It’s relaxing, peaceful, and often times is packed with nostalgic qualities that hit me with a crowbar when I listen to it. Sons Of the East join the ranks of artists who do that for me with a solid release. Though the incorporation of cultural instrumentals and a dual focus on folk music and singer songwriter qualities give dynamic, there isn’t anything new to digest. It has very good moments and has reply value. It will be interesting to see how this group of musicians expand the diversity of their music on later releases.

Score: 84/100

Bring Me the Horizon – Drown: Music Review

Bio

After over a decade of injecting the scene with a cutting edge brand of extreme metal since 2006, British rockers Bring Me the Horizon have climbed the totem pole after massive touring, internet buzz, and being musical chameleons. Originally starting out as a deathcore band (a moniker for the fusion of traditional death metal riffs, hardcore breakdowns, and growling vocals), BMTH clawed their way to the digital forefront of internet buzz and controversy with their image, music, and frontman, Oliver “Oli” Sykes. Evolving over their career, the band has transcended deathcore, exploring the territories of metalcore and progressive metal with their last two albums. Now, that 2014 has come to a close, BMTH once again reinvents their sound.

Bring Me the Horizon (2014). Photo Credit: HeavyBlogIsHeavy.com
Bring Me the Horizon (2014). Photo Credit: HeavyBlogIsHeavy.com

Background:

I used to despise this band. I know, harsh. I remember my junior year of high school when I was first getting into metal and this band was all the rage at the time. Their record, Suicide Season, was a lighting rod for polarizing feelings about the band’s style, image, and their fan base. While the music was “intense”, I wasn’t too big on it because it felt forced. While my opinion of that hasn’t necessarily changed, I can acknowledge the fact that this band was one of the figureheads of a subgenre. Oli’s antics for drug abuse and sheer debauchery didn’t help their case either. With all things I considered about their fan base (which was unreasonable) and Oli’s character, my opinion of this band was low. Album cycles came and went, singles flooded iTunes, and then Sempiternal dropped in 2013. Me being unreasonably cynical (in retrospect *spoiler) about this band, I ignored it, until one of my best friends from back home implored me to listen to this album.

Sempitneral (2011). Photo Credit: BE SURE TO FILL THIS IN
Sempitneral (2013). Photo Credit: car-memes.com

Eventually, I decided out of inkling curiosity to put the headphones in and finally give this band a chance… I was… actually surprised. That album actually did some genre bending. Elements of instrumental post rock, electronica, metalcore, and hardcore punk could be found in that album. Sempiternal was decorated with originality, is exploratory, and broke stereotypes that many, including myself, had with this band. With that said, I wouldn’t have considered myself a fan, so I let the album saturate. Oli also spent a month in rehab for Ketamine, which made him much more of a likable front man and allowed the band to write this album.Then the end of 2014 gave us this new single, Drown.

Instrumentation/Songwriting:

Considering this is a single, this section will provide all content otherwise covered in my track reviews (for future reference). Drown is another sonic departure from the previous album cycle and a jump over the Grand Canyon compared to their first records. With atmospheric like keyboards wrapped around the guitar, bass, and an organic sounding percussion section, this song’s style is in lineage of bands like A Day to Remember. With pop-punk like swagger and the ethereal DNA of post rock, this song offers dynamism and tasteful layers that don’t feel overbearing. For me, the drum work in this song helps give the verses build up and aid in the musical crescendo that leads into the chorus. It’s perhaps one of the strongest elements of this track and something I appreciate for this style of rock (which is usually something I see lacking in this sub genre of rock music). As previously stated, the keyboards give this song life. Along with guitar work reminiscent of This Will Destroy You, the keyboards gives the song depth and dimension. Vocals. There is no screaming in this song. Wait, what? A deathcore band at its roots not screaming? Believe it, people. For the first time in BMTH’s eleven year career as a band, this is the first song that features Oli singing through three minutes and forty one seconds.

Bring Me the Horizon Live. Photo Credit: BE SURE TO FILL THIS IN
Bring Me the Horizon Live.
Photo Credit: MCK Photography

After listening to Sempiternal, I caught a glimpse of Oli’s singing voice, which is naturally guttural, passionate, and suitable for the genre the band is in. On this track, Oli ranges from a gentle lullaby in the verses and the bridge to a seemingly tormented plea through his higher range of harsher melodies. Drown showcases Oli’s tremendous ability as a vocalist, especially when you contrast it against older work off Suicide Season, like Pray For Plagues. This potpourri of elements give Drown an emo lie vibe that could join the ranks of Senses Fail and The Used.

Lyrics:

In my opinion, Scene and Emo rock (mostly in the stages of the genre’s decline in the mid 2000’s, before its recent revival) have a tendency to be slaves to plastic and melodramatic lyrical content. Not true of the whole, but the moments where front men whine over the instrumentals irk me, because they push the boundary of anguish to a point where it’s not believable. Drown is an epistle soaked in desperation for understanding and absolution in a person’s life seemingly affected by depression. Depression can be a difficult subject to write about because of the condition’s intricacy and the fact that it affects people so differently. With that said, the lyrics actually paint a good picture of reaching rock bottom and pleading for a turning point. Not only that, but the chorus’ catchy melody is sure to incite sing-alongs live. Though the lyrics are not the most original or novel, they are relative and grasp a feeling that many have in that position.

Production:

With the instrumental depth of this song, there are a lot of elements to balance. Thankfully, this song’s dynamic layers don’t overpower one another – they actually compliment each other in a tactful manner that feels easy and accessible to listen to. For me, the way that the guitar reverb is captured, especially in the parts where the lines transition into the delicate pick in the verses and the bridge are highlights in the production. It gives this song much more of an aesthetic quality. I also liked that for such well complimented drum work, the kit sounds very organic.

Conclusion:

With a new album set to release this year, Bring Me the Horizon have set Drown at the tip of their spear to potentially shatter more musical boundaries. Though this song feels radio friendly and ultra accessible, strong instrumentals and using this as a contrast to their previous work give Drown novelty. Seeing it as a point of exploration for the band, this song is catchy, infectious, and has execution that makes this a good for a band like BMTH. While this song (nor listening to Sempitneral for that matter) does not make me an automatic fan of this band, I can appreciate the effort. I can say however, that my disdain for this group is no longer there after giving this band a chance.

Score: 88/100

Volumes – No Sleep: Music Review

Bio
Volumes are a Los Angeles based metal band that jumped on the early trend in the late 2000’s of what is now called Djent – terminology used to describe a certain picking style. The sound is borderline robotic, usually down tuned to the frequency that of a freight train, and is accompanied by immaculate production. With an EP released in 2010 and two full-length records, Volumes popularity for their live performances, use of two vocalists, and their experimentation has gained them notoriety in the underground.

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Volumes (2014)

Background
I caught word about Volumes my freshman year of college when I was still living at home. Buddies of mine who got me into metal that still lived near me were fans at the time. Because I was sticking to my guns with bands I was familiar with, I never really gave Volumes a chance. I hadn’t really heard this digital-groove-core stuff that this band kind of falls under, because I was still refining my taste. At this point, I was being exposed to the much angrier, frenetic side to extreme subgenres such as grindcore, traditional death metal, sludge, and black metal. Most of that was through old co-workers whom I spent on average of eight hours a day with, so my understanding of the genre began to evolve. When I left for Winona State and began to further explore the more melodic side of new school metal, I began to appreciate the kind of intensity and pinpoint precision modern metal can offer. I ended up catching Volumes live on tour in Minneapolis last March – which was actually my first time ever listening to them. They put on a good show, had fun on stage, and I even got to meet two members of the band. Even with that experience, I still didn’t take the chance to listen to them on my own until I went to Best Buy to pick up the new Memphis May Fire record and I made small talk with an employee. Fan to fan, he was talking up the new Volumes album along with a few new releases on the sales rack. Soon after that discussion, I was killing time on Spotify and I pulled up their new full-length record, No Sleep.

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No Sleep album cover

Track Reviews
The album comes out of the gate with The Mixture. With a good set of speakers and the bass cranked, this song’s down tuned, gated guitar tone and bass line hits you like a crowbar. The groove oriented, bouncy riffs and breakdowns set the bar for what to expect on this album. It’s a mosh pit harbinger and one of my favorites on the album for its pervasive intensity and novelty.
The first song I heard was Erased – a more dynamic track with clean vocals and a nu-metal/ hip hop like bounce to it. As it turns out, the clean singing is a newer element the band expanded on this record, with songs like this. The verses and the bridge were extremely catchy, but the way that they contrast against the screaming and breakdowns works well for this song.
Across the Bed follows suit with the melodic and atmospheric timbre showcased on Erased and instrumental interlude, Better Half. This song’s hard rock driven power chords and soaring background samples make this an accessible track. Expanding on the experimentation, the chorus offers a dyadic fusion of breakdowns and clean singing that actually retains its intensity quite well. I would even consider it one of my favorite moments on this album.
Pistol Play continues the tenacious formula of atmospheric breakdowns and prog. metal precision. The middle of the song boasts a catchy guitar riff that illuminates the vocal lines that was the more memorable moment in this song.

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Volumes, live.

Instrumentation/ Songwriting
Some of the courtesies of the more groove oriented progressive metal include low tunings; 7,8, or even 9 string guitars (yes, I am talking to you After the Burial); complementary and mechanic like drum work; and digital aged engineering.
Volumes stay true to all of these aspects and rely on them heavily seeing as how they are considered by some to be some of the pioneers in the Djent movement.
To some, this band may seem like a run-of-the-mill new generation prog metal outfit with a boring style. I can understand their perspective, but I think Volumes brings something unique to the table… diversity.
When I turn on this record, I hear a palate of influences. Gus Farias and Michael Barr are solid vocalists who do an excellent job of exchanging lines throughout this album. Their effectiveness and individual ranges remind me of the reasons why bands like Despised Icon chiseled a name for themselves in the underground (even though these are two very different bands). More than that, Farias and Barr are definite understudies of hip-hop in the way that they write lines that compliment the grooves.  As a fan of hip-hop, I enjoy hearing that kind of attention to detail. In addition, guitarist and bassist Diego Farias (brother of Gus) and Raad Soudani (bass) have good ears to the worlds of metal and experimental rock. Aside from Djent, genres like nu-metal from the 1990’s and early 2000’s and instrumental post rock (bands like Explosions In the Sky) are foundations for the songwriting on this record. I know nu-metal is not a popular genre amongst the majority of metal fans, but the product of all these different genres coming together is impressive.

Lyrics
Volumes has a lot going for them as a band, are exploding with talent, and aren’t afraid to experiment, but a majority of the lyrics on this record are abhorrent. It’s honestly a shame that the content reverts to immature themes like debauchery and revenge. All over this album, songs like Up All Night, 91367, and Across the Bed are festooned with corny, unfitting, and tasteless lyricism that takes away from the experience. My assumption is that this was done in the name of accessibility to a wider fan base. If I really wanted to hear to such lyrical immaturity, I would go listen to Attila. Now, songs like Erased have some decent lyrics that illustrate drug addiction, but I wished there was more consistency. The band’s previous album, Via, has lyrics that runs the gamut from political narratives, broken relationships, and even the meaning of life… they were pretty good. The lyrics on No Sleep feel like a total regression by comparison. I have to drown out the lyricism for most of the record to actually enjoy the instrumental craftsmanship.

Production
An achilles heel of modern metal is pushing the trend of hyper immaculate production to a fault. There have been records I have listened to that have been robbed of their substance, because the mix is so airtight. I like hearing the small nuances of instrumentation for the fact that it feels organic. Though Volumes certainly boasts clean production, their sound has come a long way. This record feels instrumentally robust and full for only having a guitar, bass, and drums. I can appreciate it when bands can generate a clean, refined, and polished sound that still retains its authenticity – Volumes did that on this record. Everything feels well balanced and sounds awesome in a decent pair of headphones or subs!

Conclusion
No Sleep boasts slamming sound, balanced instrumentals, and is armed with an amalgam of influences that make this record stand out… despite its lyrical pitfalls (The vocals do have good delivery to compensate). The replay value is high and I see big things happening for this band as they continue to mature and hone in on their unique brand of progressive metal.

Final Score: 82/100