back to back. #newtunes

Counterparts / Private Room

Metal is going through an interesting revival where industrial soundscapes and death metal from the 1990’s and the metalcore renaissance of the early to mid 2000’s are soldering into abrasive sonic murals that bands like Code Orange, Turnstiles, and Knocked Loose are simultaneously resurrecting and reanimating into (even mainstream) popularity. The latter of those styles are worn on Counterparts’ sleeve like a badge of honor that tips hats to the Trustkill and Ferret Records roster that includes Terror, Poison the Well, and Misery Signals. Cultivating turn of the millenia melodic hardcore roots, Private Room is another bullet in the chamber that Counterparts have locked and loaded as some of their best work to date.

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Private Room EP – Out now on Pure Noise Records

It’s kind of funny to see the hyperbole in YouTube comments that read things like, “Lol, these throw away songs are other band’s best ones!” Lead singer, Brendan Murphy, foreshadowed this EP in a podcast with Tim Cayem, saying that at the time of You’re Not You Anymore’s release, they were negotiating a 7-inch release of these songs with Pure Noise Records (their current California based label) because he said these songs were good, but still warranted being benched from the final track listing on YNYA. This under seven minute affair packs enough punches that would hit as hard as an EP near double in length with melodically technical riffs, thickset bass tones, relentless percussion, and Brendan Murphy’s unforgiving vocal performance. Also, they wrote a song in a major key… that’s pretty neat.

 

Bon Iver / Blood Bank

If you’ve ever seen House M.D. you know that Hugh Laurie fits like a glove playing a narcissistic genius and that the show touts a high caliber soundtrack. On it, is re:stacks, one of Bon Iver’s most emotionally devastating and beautiful songs that ends his debut, For Emma Forever Ago in a melancholic lullaby about loss. Upon discovering this album, I was immediately hooked on its rainy day couch cushion vibes and organic production. To this day, I herald Bon Ever as one of my favorite folk acts for the way that Vernon’s deft song writing skills have an unparalleled ability to sing you to happiness in one breath and then tears in the next. One year later upon For Emma’s release came, Blood Bank. A step forward from its predecessor, Blood bank simultaneously finds Justin Vernon in rare form and sonically surveys new territory that would foreshadow his second record, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Electronic and auto-tune flourishes on Woods, Vernon’s hushed falsetto and the dobro parts on Beach Baby, the multilayered vocal and instrumental catharsis on the title track, and lush piano parts on Babys all coalesce into a musical kaleidoscope that wraps around you like a warm blanket in the middle of winter.

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Justin Vernon performing live.

 

fit for a king – dark skies // review

I remember the ominous droning interlude fading into a blaring siren that signaled impending chaos as the house lights shifted and the floor around us all circled in fury. As I jumped in the pit, I was realizing the excitement of getting to see Fit For a King open for August Burns Red a few years back. While I slipped on spilled beer over the hardwood floors of the venue and accidentally crashed into a kid in front of me, the band’s live performance of Slave to Nothing was otherwise ferocious.

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“I know these words won’t hold any weight, but please don’t turn away from me…” FFAK performing Skin & Bones on tour with In Heart’s Wake

Since then (2014), I’ve gotten to see FFAK live a few times, each show representing significant mile markers in sobriety, celebrations of friendship, and opportunities where I’ve seen the love of Jesus show up and be expressed through prayers lifted in the pit between sets. With the band’s new album released on Solid State Records, my excitement is spilling over in type form, hoping this review serves as a sampler for what the band represents, has become, and how they occupy an all -time favorite in my arsenal of metal.

As previously inferred, I hopped on board the FFAK train on Slave to Nothing. The record’s thematic ode to sobriety resonated with me at a time in life where I needed that encouragement, but it also helped that the songwriting was sharp and that it boasted so many banging riffs. Even though the production felt tame and the clean vocals were a bit underdeveloped, these were easily compensated by the band’s burgeoning strengths. When I was living in Winona, those same roommates brought me backwards in the timeline to the band’s genesis, Creation/Destruction – showcasing bone crushing guitar tones and every bit of promise. But, as they progressed to Slave to Nothing, it was by no means a step backwards, but that forward motion lacked a full measure of confidence when heel hit the pavement.

Their response was Deathgrip. The singles, Dead Memory and Cold Room, were high watermarks as they brought a musical palate that harkened back to their origins, showcased Will Putney’s signature tones, and even stepped into new territories of style, but if I’m honest, I had some reservations. Despite the impel of moments like Cold Room’s lead riff and the last breakdown in Pissed Off, I felt like Deathgrip was a compositional regression that traded the power of the whole for the curation of well executed parts put together in a 36-minute runaway freight train. Despite the critique, this album does have its well executed moments that are worth highlighting. These songs were enveloped well with gross sounding guitar and bass tones, the integration of electronic soundscapes and glitch editing in the breakdowns accented the sonic drubbing that these songs deliver, and the clean vocals sounded the best they ever have. All the aforementioned were glimmers and flashes in the pan that proved FFAK still had gusto. Deathgrip was like a favorite student unexpectedly underperforming to their natural abilities, so if it sounds like I am hard on this record, it’s because FFAK were and are capable of A list material.

Seeing this band live a few times during the touring cycle of Deathgrip still left me sore and winded every time as they crawled across the continent in between studio sessions. I had a lot of hope, because as they continued getting on stage they were only getting tighter, heavier, better balanced, and more confident, so I was excited to see how the effort in their off season would translate to their next record. Their first sampling was Tower of Pain. The rumbling tone and pacing of this song, the technical death metal influenced songwriting, infectious chorus, and even greater vocal improvement made this feel like a rabid beast foaming at the mouth waiting for its break off the chain. I had this thought that perhaps this record would be the tour de force I have been waiting for, because not only did their musicianship demonstrate maturity, but the proof in the pudding showed behind the scenes in the shrewd tactics in promotion of this album. Rather than letting a couple singles on a ten-track album do the manpower in the deep breath in before the record release, Solid State progressively released half this album in singles, letting streams on platforms like Spotify, bandcamp, and Apple Music generate the excitement amongst the fan base, and give a stylistic sampler of what would be FFAK’s fifth album, Dark Skies. In a world where traditional release cycles have been trojan horsed by the evolving landscape of music streaming and unfiltered accessibility of the internet, FFAK’s strategy worked to their advantage. Tower of Pain was one cog in a wheel that proved to be well oiled and juiced up in a lineup with other singles, The Price of Agony, Backbreaker, When Everything Means Nothing, and Oblivion.

If this reads like a long-winded exposition of background before the actual review, it’s because there’s a lot of landscape to survey before exploring this new territory. So, with that said, I’m stoked to write that Dark Skies is the calling card for this band’s collective ability across the board. They’ve truly captured the distinct personalities of their previous records and pulled them inwards, anchoring their identity as a band. Dark Skies boasts the best sound/production to date; their sharpest, most avant-garde songwriting; the most improved and compelling vocal performances; and their most thematically compelling record since, Slave to Nothing. In addition, the unreleased tracks that made their reveal upon release make the experience of Dark Skies, a rout of all killer, no filler.

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Dark Skies. Out on Solid State Records

I want to begin examining the details, by emphasizing the aforementioned point of songwriting on Dark Skies. As I said earlier, Tower of Pain harnesses an energy that feels like an echo of Deathgrip’s finer moments with Slave to Nothing’s composition and the flourishes of more technical minded influences (The Black Dahlia Murder meets Fit For an Autopsy). The Price of Agony has probably one of the catchiest riffs that is described by the band as the most mainstream they’ve stylistically ventured; Youth|Division takes a creative bend with interesting vocal editing in the introduction and then drifting left in a key change at the bridge; Shattered Glass is a crowbar, touting some of the heaviest stop/start rhythms, blast beats, and Ryan Kirby’s nastiest sounding vocals to date; The Debts of Life is a callback to Skin and Bones on Creation/Destruction that pedestals some of the best executed melody the band has offered and coalesces it into Oblivion. Oblivion is wholesale one of the most important moments for the band. The curtain closes with a song that lyrically chronicles the most honest reflections of their Christianity, ballasting the melodic and aggressive into an emotional portrait.

According to the band’s studio updates, the construction of Deathgrip’s structure was penultimate to aesthetic. During this recording cycle, choruses and song structures were autopsied, studied, and reanimated as a group, laying concrete foundations that give Dark Skies solid ground to build these songs on. Producer, Drew Fulk, has an impressive catalog of recently done records for bands that are catching second winds in their sails that include new records released from Emmure, Chelsea Grin, The Plot in You, and As I Lay Dying. The same energy harnessed through those bands latest albums translates to Dark Skies in the best way possible, as Fulk has played a heavy hand in realizing and bringing out Fit For a King’s aptitude.

Towards the beginning of this review, I touched on Slave to Nothing’s lyrical prowess. The thematic underpinnings of that record deeply resonated as a soundtrack to sobriety and they continue to be. Every time they play Slave to Nothing live, it feels like every bit of a war cry that it was three years ago when I scream along. The rest of FFAK’s discography has their moments of cogent lyricism, particularly on songs like Skin and Bones, Deathgrip’s title track, and Dead Memory, but even the band says Dark Skies pulls from the deepest inwards parts that personify the intimacy of their struggles, like on Tower of Pain…  I hear the whisper of death in my ear, hell awaits for those who still fear, twenty six years, being told I’m a slave, trading desire away. But, I think the most compelling moments belong to lines on Backbreaker that narrate Ryan Kirby’s struggle with anxiety… I can’t find the strength within myself, The weight of life has pushed me to a living hell,Endless misery, lack of sympathy, I don’t trust the voice inside of me (inside of me),I always put myself out there, But it always ends the same. Oblivion takes on some of the most spiritually vulnerable lyrics that narrate the forgiveness of God, centered around a fan story, and is the best way to close this record – with an abundance of heavy and heart…

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I’ve made my mistakes and I’m the only one to blame, Help me, I need to feel your grace, And I’ve been, waiting, waiting in the darkest place! 

I look into the sky, I’m crying out your name, I made my mistakes but you forgave me! You forgave me!

Bringing this to conclusion, FFAK is already a prominent band that are sizeable, influential, and Dark Skies has all the sparks that can make them torchbearers and a flagship collective for this scene going forward. Regardless of the band’s trajectory, the college kid in me will always feel that simultaneous spike in my pulse and heartstrings pulled when I play their records. Furthermore, I will always remember that Fit For A King are a band that propels me to be a participant in the scene as an ambassador of the Gospel.

 

Ø (Disambiguation) – Underoath: Music Review

Bio

Revered for being one of hardcore’s most esteemed figureheads that have influenced a new generation of bands, Tampa, Florida’s Underoath has left a musical legacy defined by innovative, progressive songwriting, combustible live performances, and a headstrong work ethic throughout the course of ten years and five iconic records for their time.

Background

I was introduced to Underoath very early in middle school on the coattails of bands like Demon Hunter, Norma Jean, and As I Lay Dying who foreran the Christian underground music scene in the mid to late 2000’s. Those of us at summer camp who were into the edgier side of Christian rock held these bands as royalty, but to be honest, I was never that into Underoath outside Define the Great Line. It wasn’t because I thought the band lacked talent or tenacity, but I craved a different flavor of heavy with bands like August Burns Red (and still do) or Impending Doom. When I put my phase of death metal and grindcore to rest during junior college, the sordidness of hardcore became palatable and a breath of fresh air from the blood caked chaos of the former. thUpon discovery that many, if not all, of the melodic hardcore bands I started listening to (e.g. Hundredth, Being As An Ocean, Capsize, Counterparts) list Underoath as a common denominator influence, I began to think that these guys must be on to something. In addition, many close friends in Winona and back home have been bragging about them for years beyond my camp counselors who had their posters hung on the walls of the canteen. I guess you could call my new found fascination with the band, “late,” because of their three year hiatus (which has recently ended), but hey, better late than never. If there’s anything I do know about Underoath, it’s that the band has endured a lot of internal turbulence that would have otherwise broken more inexperienced or less determined bands. They’ve been through it all between uneasy member departures, turnover, and creating music that has had lasting power in a scene underpinned by trends shifting through subgenres like ships in the night. Through it all, I can assume that their massive popularity is the result of staying true to their musical character, but a willingness to experiment through the course of five albums, and hearing all the frustration manifest on record lyrically and sonically.

Instrumentation/Songwriting

By the time they reached the end of their Lost in the Sound of Separation cycle in 2009, founding member, drummer, and mascot for Underoath, Aaron Gillespe, left because of tempestuous relationships with the rest of the band. Soldiering on with former Nora Jean drummer, Daniel Davison, Underoath released Disambiguation in 2010. My buddy Andrew first introduced me to this record last summer when I was home in the Twin Cities. This record hits me with a crowbar that their previous albums never seemed to quite kneecap me with (which isn’t to discredit the heaviness of the rest of their discography). Some say it’s the result of the absence of Gillespe’s pop influences, but either way, the circumstances of drug abuse rumors and the weariness of touring galvanized the sound of this record. It has a bark with eleven tracks of bite to go around. I don’t claim to be an expert on their discography Underoath_50outside of Define the Great Line, but in contrast to the former and select tracks I’ve heard from 2004’s, They’re Only Chasing Safety, Disambiguation musically slows down to third gear, leaving room for the band to unleash a kraken of down tuned savagery. As previously stated, Gillespie brought an accessible melodic element to record that is almost like a signature on songs like Writing On the Walls and A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black and White. Chamberlain takes over all vocal duties on Disambiguation, showcasing a stark stylistic difference that lends this album to be darker in subject matter and complimentary to its brute sonic palate that seamlessly comes to fruition on songs like Paper Lung.

Track Reviews

The album steps into the octagon, pulling no punches with, In Division. Giving the listener a tenacious litmus test of the impending nine other tracks, this song’s slow moving pace is supercharged with powerful instrumentation and Scott Chamberlain’s ravenous vocals. A Divine Eradication is the first song I listened to on this album and is easily the most blood caked track I’ve heard Underoath write. It’s a sludge drenched juggernaut that sets Underoath’s mission statement on fire and lets it burn all its listeners with an equally catchy and bludgeoning riff, some of the most ferocious vocals Chamberlain lays on this entire record, and a visceral lyrical narrative 20091009-125410-065205depicting hopelessness in addiction. Vacant Mouth comes out of the starting blocks looking in the rearview mirror of thrash metal as it blisters into a hailstorm of drums and guitars throughout this song. Paper Lung is the bulwark that silences any doubt about Chamberlain taking over all vocal work on this record. The song starts with easier going percussion and a thick melodic intro that builds up to another slow moving catharsis as Chamberlain sings his heart out to the tune of navigating waning faith. Though this album touts a firey aesthetic there are moments on Disambiguation like Driftwood and Reversal that manage to take a short breath at the surface before drowning all over again in its own ocean of musical and lyrical agony until the record crawls across the finish line with, In Completion.

Lyrical Content

Underoath was always asked about their spiritual stance through interviews and fan inquiries throughout their career. The band’s musical inclinations and Christian ideology juxtapose them, especially when you consider the brutal honesty reflected in their lyrics that spoke volumes to their personal turbulence. Many say they were spiritually backsliding when this album came out. Gillespie had left, rumors of Chamberlain’s cocaine addiction permeated the fan base, touring seemed to be catching up with them all emotionally, mentally, and physically, and from my perspective… they were trying to maintain an (almost) impossible reputation. Working in a recovery ministry has allowed me to see people navigating rock bottom. Often times, addictions and all consequent bitterness and strife in relationships result from the need to find a way to function. A way to get out of bed. In the case of Chamberlain… perhaps to keep up with expectations. People will do extreme and sometimes self-destructive things to keep with the demands of others. A group of young men trying to figure out God, life, each other, and self on the road with a lot of temptation surrounding them is bound to bring tribulation and struggle. I say this all as a way to bring perspective to Chamberlain’s life at the point of this record. Disambiguation spends 50 minutes looking into a pool of regrets and conflict with Chamberlain’s reflection in the water, and it’s above all else, honest.

Production

Captain of the helm at Glow In the Dark Studios in Atlanta, Matt Goldman, produced Disambiguation in lineage of other underground juggernauts like As Cities Burn and The Chariot. Side note, this guy produced Casting Crowns debut record…. talk about a diverse portfolio. I think that’s actually an impressive resume bullet, because Goldman fuels Disambiguation with rich, organic sounds that bring the boom on this record. The instrumentation is clean, yet organic, the vocals come through crisp, and the heavy atmosphere backdrops everything well.

Conclusion

I’m hopping on the bandwagon late, but as I said earlier, it’s never too late to do anything. Disambiguation is honestly a game changer for me, because I now have a deeper appreciation for what so many other bands I enjoy consider a strong derivative. Disambiguation is a crushing listen that is balanced between chaotic and catchy. I’m looking forward to what’s next for Underoath coming out of their hiatus with their original lineup and going back on tour. If it’s anything like this… bring it on.

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

Extremist

Recently, I’ve been listening to an album by American metal outfit, Demon Hunter – Seattle natives who put even more of a melodic spin on heavy music that already has plenty of teeth. Okay, Bryce we get it you like this kind of music. What’s new? Ryan Clark. Lead singer, graphic designer, and professed Christian… and he rocks an impressive Norse looking beard. He’s fronted the band since its inception in 2002. With the voice of a baritone Russian orthodox chorale, he commands an audience with bellowed out lows and an impressive guttural scream, but the most notable feat about Ryan is his ability as a lyricist. Demon Hunter’s records are thematically thought provoking, exploring topics such as drug addiction, depression, narcissism, the frailties of the human condition, social corruption, and religious themes all written from a Christian perspective. Their new album entitled Extremist is a ponderous narrative about living life, viewing the world through a particular lens, and thinking about all the emotional baggage that comes with it. As someone who is now in a leadership position of a campus ministry with a new perspective on life through Jesus, this has really been on my mind. I guess you could call this food for thought laced with a quick music review. I’ve never seen the value in being open and expressive about my faith. I was always afraid to be so because I was embarrassed of Jesus. In retrospect, I had this vision that those who were vocal about their faith were only there to beat you over the head with theology, win you over to their side by attrition, and then make you into a drone. I had my faith, kept it to myself, and led by example. There was part of the problem. I didn’t really know what it really meant to lead. I couldn’t be transparent and open with my own leaders about all the skeletons in my closet at that point in my life. To compensate, I became judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous, and thought I was pretty cool. I had no concept of what it meant to have Christ transform me. I couldn’t really feel it at all. I’m not very emotionally charged when it comes to my faith (although I am an emotional being), but the wider I made the gap between my church life and personal life, the more numb I grew to it all. Looking back, I know it was because I lived a double life and thought I could somehow outrun God. I have accepted that in my new leadership position, doing campus outreach, I will have to be more confident in being outwardly expressive about my faith. It’s part of the job description. And in all honesty, it’s scary. For me, it’s scary, because I have never felt this vulnerable or allowed myself to be open to scrutiny, which brings me back to Ryan Clark’s lyrical perspective on Extremist… I think the title is very fitting for this album – for one, its sonic blueprint reaches polarizing ends of the rock/metal spectrum. Secondly, all the themes discussed in the lyrics have to do with being unwavering in a place that doesn’t agree with you. Ryan Clark has said that’s inspired by the viewpoint that the band holds (as aforementioned, they are all Christians), and how those are perceived from the outside world. Clark mentions how that viewpoint has become very unpopular in today’s society, which I think is the crux for this whole conversation. I think when you put the dialogue into this lens, the title of Extremist becomes more appropriate. Looking back on my high school years, I considered anyone and everyone who had a voice in their faith to be an extremist. Many of the ones I knew used it as some kind of a weapon and that everyone was a target for evangelism without any discretion to cultivation of relationships an understanding another’s perspective. There was a small minority who used their voice to set themselves apart and be transparent. It hinged on being honest about their identity and their source of motivation. They were the ones who I secretly wanted to emulate, but they were still in a denominational camp that I wanted nothing to do with at the time. I wanted what they had… and when I began to surround myself with those people, I understood this whole concept of transformation. It’s not a gimmick or trend hopping phenomena, it’s a lifestyle change that changes your attitude.   I think that the audacity to be open about the essence of yourself, whether you’re a religious or not, is a remarkable thing. By doing so, we willingly put ourselves under the worlds microscope. At points, snap judgments will be made, things will be misunderstood, and our intentions may come across as disingenuous…   And that is okay.   I’m sure many feel like their viewpoints make them feel like an extremist in everyone else’s eyes, but sometimes we have to embrace the extremism in order to remain steadfast. I do not warrant being a radical at the expense of someone else’s suffering, but what I am saying is that on a personal level, I feel like in order to feel more confident in my faith, the label of extremist has to be somewhat embraced, rather than avoided. In fact, to be honest, it’s almost exhilarating. To me, extremist in this case is a pseudonym for resilient. I’m not saying that I am all of a sudden immune to feeling apprehension in broaching the topic of faith with people, but with this perspective, I have more comfort in understanding that the world will not always be welcome to it and it’s nothing to take personally. Jesus told his disciples in the book of John that if the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. I have always had a fear of somehow failing God, my ministry or myself, if someone is uninterested or hostile to the idea of Jesus, but with this kind of new found understanding, it’s taken the fear out of me and honestly has me psyched up to meet freshman, put together a men’s bible study, and be able to be honest in what we’re all about. Despite that I have less and less fear of failure, doesn’t mean it won’t happen… which is something to be discussed later.   For now, my advice to any and all is go out into the world knowing that people will disagree with you, but it should never dictate your essence or form your identity. Be confident in who you are and don’t let the fear of persecution drive you. Live and be real with others.