POSTED DURING OCTOBER 2011:
AS YOU DROWN – Rat King
[Metal Blade Records] – Verdict: 7.5/10
To be expected, Rat King is brutal and explosive in nearly every way (without expanding the formula, that is). If you’re in need of something energetic and pissed off, then look no further than the new AS YOU DROWN record. Can you feel the ground shifting beneath your feet? The charge is coming right at you.
> Recommended Tracks: “You Should Be Paranoid”, “Your Loyal Betrayer”, “Bleeding Structure”
CHARRED WALLS OF THE DAMNED – Cold Winds On Timeless Days
[Metal Blade Records] – Verdict: 8/10
Those DIO-like vocals and instrumental leadership have returned with Cold Winds. It’s hard not to find something to like from CHARRED WALLS OF THE DAMNED, whether you’re a fan of metal or not. These guys have skills in writing music that can be God-like and Hell-like. As with their other releases, Cold Winds has a lot of different sounds to offer the listener. If exploration is your thing, then dive right into this one without hesitation.
> Recommended Tracks: “Ashes Falling Upon Us”, “Cold Winds”, “Forever Marching On”, “Guiding Me”
COBRA SKULLS – Agitations
[Fat Wreck Chords] – Verdict: 8.5/10
This punk trio is well known in their scene for good reason. Their latest release, Agitations, brings more fuel to that fire you feel when blasting a COBRA SKULLS record. Like a good punk record, this collection is catchy, fast, memorable, full of angst, piss, and everything else you look for from a good time. Right from the start with “Six Degrees”, Agitations is a blast. Punk fans who do not know of COBRA SKULLS should be ashamed.
> Recommended Tracks: “Iron Lung”, “The Mess”, “All Drive”, “The Mockery”
REACTIONS – Under My Skin
[Independent] – Verdict: 5.5/10
For someone who grew up on alternative rock and its variants, I find it less and less enjoyable with every passing year. Now, this could be just because of the bands popular in the scene right now, but whatever the case, it’s been hard to find good ones lately. REACTIONS are a step above average, but didn’t blow me away. In fact, I was little irritated by the similarities I heard (especially during “Bones”, which kept reminding me of a MEST song). The vocal work and instrumental arrangements seem a bit on the flat side also, which didn’t help their case. This isn’t a bad release, but I wouldn’t count it as a good release either. Maybe the band will find better footwork on their next record.
> Recommended Tracks: “The Ghost of Me”
9 LEFT DEAD – The Wrong Things
[Dirtbag/ILG] – Verdict: 6/10
Here’s another rock band to support my disappointment in this scene. 9 LEFT DEAD are like a cross between NICKELBACK and FRAMING HANLEY. The similarities will either frustrate the listener or give them just enough reason to hear The Wrong Things in its entirety. Mostly, 9 LEFT DEAD suffer from these imitations, though. They point out who they want to emulate without actually doing it well enough to leave a lasting impression.
> Recommended Tracks: “Freak in Me”, “Nothing Left To Lose”, “People Are Strange”
>WTF Moment: The stupid rapping found during “Bad Girl”
LA DISPUTE – Wildlife
[No Sleep Records] – Verdict: 9/10
I feel ashamed for waiting so long to checking out this album. LA DISPUTE have a killer hardcore style going on here. It seems highly experimental and demo-like, which sounds awesome. Wildlife is like a trip at times; it can be weird, ferocious, sweet, crazed, and more. LA DISPUTE have really created a masterpiece here with all the different sounds and emotions of Wildlife.
> Recommended Tracks: “a Departure”, “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues”, “a Letter”, “Safer in the Forest/Love Song for Poor Michigan”
LIFE AS A GHOST – Drifter
[Eulogy Recordings] – Verdict: 8/10
Featuring past members of DR. ACULA, WE CAME AS ROMANS, and several others, LIFE AS A GHOST play a self-labeled “progressive hardcore”. I do agree with this, though Drifter also has some heavy screamo and metal influences as well; perhaps “metalcore” would have been a better label. Anyway, Drifter is pretty energetic and enjoyable. There’s a lot of fuel here for the listener to get off from, and the mix of several different vocal styles is a plus in my book. LIFE AS A GHOST may not be overly original, but fans of this music style will love Drifter. There’s a fair amount going on here, keeping the interest levels up.
> Recommended Tracks: “Droege”, “The Drifter”, “Speaker”, “Dreamer”
SLEEPER/AGENT – Celabrasion
[MOM+POP] – Verdict: 8.5/10
Taking a look at the band’s influences will give you an idea of you can expect from SLEEPER/AGENT. Like a mix of MGMT, CAGE THE ELEPHANT, THE PIXIES, FOXY SHAZAM, and more, SLEEPER/AGENT were born to provide a good time. Celabrasion strikes me as one of those underground phenomenons. Sporting a highly enjoyable sound, this group instantly sucks you in with its beats. This is a very fun record.
> Recommended Tracks: “Get It Daddy”, “Love Blood”, “Bottomed Out”, “Be My Monster”
BRIGHTER THAN A THOUSAND SUNS – Survival Machines
[Tragic Hero Records] – Verdict: 7.5/10
BRIGHTER THAN A THOUSAND SUNS have an appealing formula going for them. The mix of haunting cleans and frantic shrieks for vocal styles is a great mix; and the instrumental set up of soaring metal also works wonders. Ultimately, Survival Machines has a pretty unique and intriguing sound. The only real issue is that the songs weren’t too memorable in the sense that they would stick with you. Still, this is very interesting debut from a band we’ll have to keep a close eye on.
> Recommended Tracks: “Walls Made of Glass”, “The Inheritance”, “Sitting on a Time Bomb in Free Fall”
WHITE WILLOW – Terminal Twilight
[The Laser’s Edge] – Verdict: 6/10
About five years in the making, Terminal Twilight is one of those expansive and beautiful sounding prop rock albums that don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve from mass audiences. It might be because this is a genre that requires patience from the listener. However, if you have some to spare, WHITE WILLOW would prove worthy of it. Terminal Twilight will take you on journeys if you’re ready for it. Just prepare yourself for some slow moments along the way.
> Recommended Tracks: “Floor 67”, “Snowswept”
THE SLAM – Hit It!
[Scarlet Records] – Verdict: 6.5/10
Hit It! has that dirty rock appeal often labeled “Southern”. When checking out some of the band’s influences, it’s easy to find connections. THE SLAM make not of KISS, AC/DC, ROLLING STONES, LED ZEPPELIN, and other famous acts. While Hit It! is not quite up to that kind of caliber, there are some good tunes to be heard here. Personally, I found the “slower” stuff the best, though the last few tracks are all pretty top notch.
> Recommended Tracks: “Hooked On Rock N Roll”, “Little Angel”, “Tears In the Rain”, “Wild Ride”, “90-50-91-Love”
STREETZ ON FIRE – The Repetition of Nightlife
[Independent] – Verdict: 8/10
What is weird about STREETZ ON FIRE is that it formed from two key members of the great punk rock band, AVERMAN. Now that group has parted ways, making this rap side project David and Zach’s main priority. Despite how sad it is that AVERMAN is done, STREETZ ON FIRE do a pretty good job for rap. I usually hate this scene/genre, so it’s impressive that they kept my attention with The Repetition of Nightlife. There are several styles to be heard here, and each is satisfying. If I liked this album, then fans of this kind of music will probably love it. This is pretty catchy stuff.
> Recommended Tracks: “Hello Jersey”, “Sexy By 6”
HUMAN SCULPTURE – Our World / Torn Down
[Unsigned] – Verdict: 7/10
HUMAN SCULTPURE are death metal at heart. They haven’t been around long at all (only a year), so they can be forgiven for not having an expansive sound yet. Still, their formula is solid; you can expect some really brutal material on Our World / Torn Down. If this is your sort of thing, then chances are HUMAN SCULPTURE will appeal to you. They have speed and aggression down, that’s for sure.
> Recommended Tracks: “The Wait”, “A Heart”
EVILE – Five Serpent’s Teeth
[Earache Records] – Verdict: 7/10
Sporting that classic metal sound on the forefront, EVILE are one of those bands that will mostly appeal to older metalheads in all honesty. Five Serpent’s Teeth has that rock and roll instrumental structure, while it’s mainly in the vocals and themes that metal comes into play. You can expect some groovy and crunchy guitar work, exceptional drum beats, and soaring/powerful vocals (without being high pitched).
> Recommended Tracks: “Xaraya”, “Origin of Oblivion”, “Descent Into Madness”
GRANKAPO – The Truth
[Hellxis Records] – Verdict: 7/10
GRANKAPO play pretty standard fair hardcore. However, a lot of the greatest in the genre keep to this simple formula, so it’s hard to make it negative. Still, The Truth doesn’t really get your blood pumping. It’s enjoyable enough as background music, but it rarely gets you truly drawn in and interested. All in all, this album is a decent hardcore disc.
> Recommended Tracks: “We Want Justice”, “Life of Survival”, “Fuck You”
WARBRINGER – Worlds Torn Asunder
[Century Media Records] – Verdict: 7/10
WARBRINGER have that metal style to them that I find very enjoyable if I’m not paying close attention. Words Torn Asunder does a good job as background music when you’re playing Call of Duty or some other FPS game. It works well as battle music, in other words. It’s grind worthy, destruction suiting, and violently fun.
> Recommended Tracks: “Wake Up…Destroy!”, “Savagery”, “Echoes from the Void”
DEAD IN THE DIRT – Fear
[Southern Lord Recordings] – Verdict: 8/10
Fierce, fast, aggressive, angry…DEAD IN THE DIRT is all this and more. Fear may run under 12 minutes total, but it’s a crazy ride. Any fan of grindcore, thrash, or deathmetal should take a listen to this one. DEAD IN THE DIRT are out of their minds.
> Recommended Tracks: “Disease”, “Sever the Tie”
SORT BY TITLE – Independent Process
[Unsigned] – Verdict: 8/10
This five track EP may not hint at much as far as exploration, but it does show that SORT BY TITLE have a pretty intense and satisfying sound. With frantic screaming vocal work and grinding guitars, Independent Process never lets up. With good energy, furious assaults, and willingness to bring in a helping hand (i.e. the female vocalist during track one), SORT BY TITLE could become something really cool in the coming year.
TRANSIT – Listen & Forgive
[Rise Records] – Verdict: 10/10
Always impressive, TRANSIT have returned better than ever…again. Listen & Forgive is as near as perfection as bands can get. This record proves once again that TRANSIT are masters and true musicians. Every track here is gold. To no surprise, they’ve done it again. Bow to the kings of indie rock.
THE STORY CHANGES – This Is Your Moment
[I Am Shark] – Verdict: 8/10
This four track 7” has that raw punk rock sound that easily gets people rocking out. “Tidal Wave” is an instant success and perfect example of this. The band also shows their softer side with “How Long”, their more experimental side with “Worlds Collide”, and their ability to do a good cover with “Breed”.
DEREK SHERINIAN – Oceana
[Major Label] – Verdict: 6/10
The list of albums this guy has played on is long. DEREK SHERINIAN has been part of ALICE COOPER, KISS, ALICE IN CHAINS, and other famous acts. Oceana is one of his solo projects as a rock keyboardist. If this sort of psychedelic funk is your thing, then chances are you’re already a big fan of this musician. The younger audiences, on the other hand, will probably dislike this one.
CLOSE ONLY COUNTS – The View From Down Here
[Midwestern Decline] – Verdict: 7/10
The View From Down Here can be a bit of a mix at times. On the positive side, I enjoy acoustic material a lot, and I like how there’s a punk rock edge to the lyrics of this EP. However, the vocal work sometimes sounds off. It’s not often, but there are several moments that could have been cleaned up better. The recordings also sound like they were done in a home studio. This is fine, but at times the sound barrier cracks a little. Overall, this was a good introduction to CLOSE ONLY COUNTS for me. I’d be curious to see how these guys progress.
KIROS – Outlaws and Prodigals
[ANGR] – Verdict: 9/10
This EP may only be three tracks, but it’s damn good. “Outlaws and Prodigals” is catchy without being one of those overly upbeat rock tracks, “Desperation Calls” brings to mind old favorites ABANDON KANSAS, and the acoustic version of “Outlaws and Prodigals” is beautiful sounding. This EP is 10 minutes you’ll want to play again and again. KIROS are most certainly a band to keep a close eye on.
DANGEROUS! – Teenage Rampage
[Epitaph Records] – Verdict: 7/10
Like a cross between THE PINK SPIDERS and MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE, DANGEROUS! play a breed of fast and frantic punk rock. Teenage Rampage is pretty fun and energetic, but it does sound pretty much the same from start to finish. Next time, the band should explore those rock ‘n roll sounds further. More variations in speed and vocal work would make a big difference.
BROADWAY CALLS – Toxic Kids EP
[SideOneDummy] – Verdict: 8.5/10
BROADWAY CALLS play great punk rock, and Toxic Kids is no exception. This six track EP is highly catchy and memorable. Expect yourself to be returning to this one often while we await the band’s next full length eagerly.
ACRES OF LIONS – Collections
[Cordova Bay Records] – Verdict: 8.5/10
Collections shows a band combining melodic rock, indie, and mature punk to create a sound somewhat similar to recent RISE AGAINST material mixed with BAYSIDE and JACKS MANNEQUIN. If that sounds interesting, that’s because it is. The vocal and instrumental work is quite beautiful and thoroughly impressive. ACRES OF LIONS are unknown at the moment, but it won’t stay that way if they continue down this road.
INTO IT. OVER IT. – Proper
[No Sleep Records] – Verdict: 8.5/10
Evan Weiss is a master songwriter, as he’s proven again and again. His latest collection, Proper, is fueled by indie and punk rock tracks like “Embracing Facts” and “An Evening With Ramsey Beyer”. These twelve tracks make for an excellent vinyl that is highly enjoyable and recommended.
THIS TIME NEXT YEAR – Drop Out of Life
[Equal Vision Records] – Verdict: 8.5/10
The fact that Chad Gilbert of NEW FOUND GLORY recorded this album with THIS TIME NEXT YEAR shows greatly. Drop Out of Life is much more pop punk (like NFG) on this record, whereas Road Maps had a raw edge to it. Some people may be upset with how damn similar both bands now sound, but these songs still make for a highly enjoyable and fun record.
NEW FOUND GLORY – Radiosurgery [Deluxe Edition]
[Epitaph Records] – Verdict: 8.5/10
Like a mix of Catalyst and Coming Home, Radiosurgery returns to the much more upbeat sound of earlier NFG records while still having a slight mature polish to it. Like with any album from these guys, Radiosurgery is quite enjoyable and good enough for multiple replays. Definitely make sure to give “Drill It In My Brain” and “I’m Not the One” a listen.
> The Bonus Tracks: If you buy the deluxe edition of this album, you’ll be rewarded for four additional tracks. “Separate Beds” was kind of flat sounding, but “Over Again” had a fun tempo to it. “Sadness” also has a faster beat to it, but doesn’t really jump out at you as you might expect. Lastly, you have a cover of “Blitzkreig Bop” (and if you don’t know the original, then you don’t know much about music history). The NEW FOUND GLORY rendition of this song almost makes buying the deluxe edition worth it alone. As a whole, 2 out of 4 of the songs come out as worthy additions.
CHUCK RAGAN – Covering Ground
[SideOneDummy] – Verdict: 9/10
Covering Ground actually reminded me a bit of TRANSIBERIAN ORCHESTRA’s Christmas material (mostly due to the Chuck Ragan’s deep voice). Putting that note aside, this new collection is just as impressive as we could all have expected. The instrumental work is both simple and complex, relying heavily on acoustics (which I personally love). Vocally, Ragan’s voice is gold. Covering Ground is another masterpiece from the songwriter.
SAMIAM – Trips
[Hopeless Records] – Verdict: 7/10
Trips has some hits along the way, but is ultimately weighed down by tracks that can be described as “filler”. Some of their punk rock is really enjoyable, while another chunk of it fails to impress. With some more work, SAMIAM might be able to turn heads; I just don’t think Trips will do it for most.
TASTERS – Reckless ‘Til the End
[Nuclear Blast Records] – Verdict: 8/10
TASTERS brought THE PLOT IN YOU to mind for me. Reckless ‘Til the End is backed by a lot of energy and ferocity, so if that kind of brutal metal is your thing, then look no further. The performances are up there, as is the production value, so you can expect a good time from this band and release.
THIS IS A STANDOFF – Be Delighted
[Fun Time Records] – Verdict: 8/10
(Punk Rock) Composed of energetic and catchy tunes, Be Delighted is quite an enjoyable five track EP outing from THIS IS A STANDOFF. Each song feels very much alive and worth hearing. A full length is anticipated upon hearing this one. Give it a few spins; it may not branch out much, but it is continually fun to play.
> Recommended Track: “Head in the Sand” feels like something old school PENNYWISE would have written; very cool.
THIS, MY VENDETTA – Lineage
[Unsigned] – Verdict: 5.5/10
(Metalcore) With a nice dose of hardcore and metal signature sounds, THIS, MY VENDETTA offers some mosh worthy moments, despite never truly feeling “explosive” as one might expect. At times, the band goes the extra mile and attempts some exploration, but ultimately fail in being successful. Unfortunately, Lineage tends to fall flat. However, the second part of this EP is definitely much better than the first. With some tightening in their sound and more forward energy in their recordings, these guys could be onto something down the road.
> Recommended Track: “The Giving Tree” is a pretty big sounding track with several different faces to show.
REQUIEM FOR THE DEAD – Always and Forever
[Unsigned] – Verdict: 8.5/10
(Rock/Experimental/Screamo) Despite having too much going on at times, REQUIEM FOR THE DEAD has created an impressive album with Always and Forever. With a lot of different styles explored, you won’t find things tiresome or boring. The vocal work also has range; whether it’s singing or screaming, it sounds damn good. Instrumentally, the band attempts a handful of different genres through the span of this record. For the most part, they’re successful. Even with its short comings, Always and Forever manages to keep things balanced out at “very good job”. The good easily outweighs the bad.
> Recommended Track: “The Death Note of Shipwrecks” is the first track to bring in the darker, heavier side of the band. As a result, it becomes a staple reminder of the band’s range.
BRIDGE AND TUNNEL – Rebuilding Year
[No Idea Records] – Verdict: 8.5/10
(Indie Punk) As to be expected from this label, No Idea has found another winner with BRIDGE AND TUNNEL. Their brand of indie punk can be heard by others in this underground league, BUT it is still awesome. Like a mix of BALANCE AND COMPOSURE and TRANSIT, Rebuilding Year shows anger, vulnerability, honesty, frustration, and more. This array of emotion explored makes for a more heartfelt and relatable record. Mark these guys down as “ones to watch”.
>Recommended Track: “As Twelve Deer Run” has a blend of melody and crazed frenzy that just sounds damn good. This is a very interesting sounding song.
LORD OF WAR – Celestial Pestilence
[Unsigned] – Verdict: 6/10
(Gutter Metal) LORD OF WAR possesses a sound that is reminiscent of monsters fighting over a slab of meat. You can rarely understand the lyrics, and the vocal work sounds like a series of grunts and barks the majority of the time. It’s the kind of metal that bores me fairly quickly. Celestial Pestilence falls into this category. Fans of JOB FOR A COWBOY and BLACK DAHLIA MURDER will probably find something to like here with its thumping double bass and brutality, but I’ll personally pass. I will say this, however: LORD OF WAR do show signs of expansion that could take them places if further explored and incorporated into their normal “destroy everything” formula.
> Recommended Track: “Bury Your Living” is a good interlude that successfully builds suspense and anticipation for assault.