Three One G
Release Date: November 27, 2015
Justin Pearson (The Locust, Retox, Head Wound City) has a history of dabbling in electronic music. Read his book How to Lose Friends and Irritate People for stories of his work with the Bloody Beetroots and Designer Drugs. Since then he’s done electronic work as All Leather and most recently collaborated with Luke Henshaw (of Penguin Studio) on the soundtrack to the movie Incompresa (which Pearson also acts in). Continuing with Henshaw on Planet B, this 7” is an audio assault in the form of two tracks of doom inspired angry electronic music.
The a-side “Join A Cult” features a buzzing sound that could either be a buzz saw or a swarm of bees as one of the main noise elements. Pearson’s yelling over the top is familiar, but the sci-fi movie soundtrack behind it as unexpected as you would expect from one of the most creative forces in punk rock. The title track “Wrong Utopia” has a whistle for its main melody. It’s dark and haunting until its abrupt end.
This two track 7” is a great introduction to another creative collaboration from Pearson (who this year has managed to put out new records with Retox and Head Wound City, toured with both bands and now started the new band Dead Cross with Dave Lombardo from Slayer). The only complaint I have with Wrong Utopia is that it’s too short. I’m looking forward to what’s to come from Pearson and Henshaw in the future.
Reviewed by Rob 1340
The Spider’s Lullabye (Deluxe Version)
Metal Blade Records
Release date: November 27, 2015
The world of heavy metal is full of larger than life personalities, and few cast a shadow over metal like King Diamond. The former Mercyful Fate frontman was at the forefront of the creation of death metal. His solo career, beginning in 1986 with the release of Fatal Portrait, has spawned a series of horror themed metal albums that have set the standards of musicianship and showmanship for the entire metal community. His live show is legendary, as is his vocal range, which begins at a throaty growl and climbs to a piercing falsetto. The Spider’s Lullabye, originally released in 1995, was a shift for King Diamond as it was the first album released on Metal Blade Records, and contained a new band, with the exception of Diamond and his long time lead guitarist Andy LaRocque. Metal Blade is ready to grace the metal community with a deluxe version of King Diamond’s sixth release, remastered by LaRocque and including four bonus tracks.
The Spider’s Lullabye was the first King Diamond album since Fatal Portrait to not be a concept album comprised of a single story. Instead, the listener is offered five songs that each contains their own terrifying tale, one alternate ending to the storyline that comprised the Them and Conspiracy albums (“Six Feet Under"), and finally four related songs that give the album its title. “From The Other Side” opens The Spider’s Lullabye with a huge sound, bringing into focus the production shift that came with the transition to Metal Blade. The track relates the plight of a narrator who is afraid he may not be able to return from an out of body experience. The guitar-heavy attack, a trademark since the band’s initial release, is augmented by an organ, providing a creepy overtone to the menacing metal. “The Poltergeist” uses organ to fill out its sound as well, telling of a ghost hunter who finds an entity in his home, and eventually embrace it as a welcome guest. Some form of keyboard is used on nearly every track, creating an ambience that will haunt listeners’ nightmares.
The title track begins a sequence about a man who seeks a medical cure to his crippling fear of spiders. Opening with a spinet, the song moves to a plodding Black Sabbath inspired riff, before moving into a threatening quasi-circus music vein. “Eastmann’s Cure” introduces the potential cure to his malady, and alternately brings to mind Iron Maiden and Uriah Heep, among others. This constant shifting keeps every song interesting. “Room 17” documents the cure processes with constant changes in tempo and feel that drive the emotion of the song. “The Morgue,” the end of the album proper and final song before bonus tracks, offers a doom laced take on power metal with some odd time signatures. Diamond’s unique vocal approach is used to create unsettling harmonies. The deluxe version closes with demo versions of “Moonlight,” “From the Other Side,” “The Spider’s Lullabye,” and “Dreams” performed entirely by the iconic frontman, with the exception of lead guitar, provided by LaRocque.
The Spider’s Lullabye was an important step in the evolution of King Diamond. While the production values increased with the band’s move from Roadrunner Records to Metal Blade, LaRocque’s remastering efforts have expanded the sound even further. In a side by side comparison one can hear that the drums have a tighter sound, and the bass drum, in particular, has an aggressive thump beyond the original mix. All instruments seem to have gained their own sonic space. The bonus tracks, while not release quality, are more than listenable, and give an interesting view into the vision King Diamond had for these songs before turning them over to his band. Many thanks to Metal Blade for giving this album the deluxe treatment, and giving fans a truly spectacular version of this gem.
Reviewed by Jim 1340
The Max Levine Ensemble
Release date: November 20, 2015
Pop punk is a fickle beast. The genre runs a broad spectrum from boring and derivative sound-a-likes through three-chord genius. The best bands give us a bit of both approaches, and Washington, DC’s The Max Levine Ensemble do just that on their first album in eight years, Backlash, Baby. Vocalist/guitarist David Combs formed the trio back in their high school days at the turn of the century, and they have developed a style that makes a nod toward familiar sounds, but remains unique. You may have heard plenty of pop punk, and while this fits snugly into that mold unless you’ve heard The Max Levine Ensemble you’ve never heard it like this.
Backlash, Baby opens with the title track, a strong number that falls somewhere between the brilliant power pop of The Pink Spiders and the punk rock attack of The Vandals. The band establishes a formula of rocked up pop songs right from the start. “My Valerian” takes us into Pixies territory with a bit of The Hold Steady style sing/speak lyrics. The rhythm section of Ben Epstein (bass/vocals) and Nick Popovich (drums) seem to be channeling David Lovering and Kim Deal. “Born At The Wrong Time” is melodic punk a la Blink 182, coupled with smart lyrics. “You Were A Fighter” takes a darker turn, sounding like the tense moments of The Bouncing Souls. While all of these songs can clearly use other well-established bands as reference points, they have a certain flair that ensures they remain a new creation.
The real surprise on this release comes on the final two tracks, “Going Home Part I” and “Going Home Part II.” The first track is a somber, clean electric guitar proto-folk track that reminds me of Kepi Ghoulie, while the final track brings back the joyous tone of the opening act, returning to the punk rock take on The Pink Spiders. The main riff is in the same vein as Weezer’s “If You’re Wondering,” and the transition from pensive introspection to feel good punk rock is seamless. In these two tracks, the band shows their depth as songwriters and performers.
The Max Levine Ensemble is an example of what a band can accomplish without bending to anyone else’s rules. The trio puts out albums at their own pace, and functions nearly entirely on a do it yourself ethic, just like many of the classic punk bands did in the early days of the genre. The difference is that Backlash, Baby shows just how far a band can go on their own in today’s musical and technological environment. Gone are the days when DIY albums sound inferior. Backlash, Baby is a smart, fun album full of great songs built on the foundation of classic, tried and true pop punk songs. I hope I don’t have to wait another eight years to hear what comes next.
Reviewed by Jim 1340
Devil You Know
They Bleed Red
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Take one part Fear Factory, one part All Shall Perish, and one part Killswitch Engage, mix them together vigorously and what you will end up with is metalcore ‘supergroup’ Devil You Know. Featuring the talents of Howard Jones (lead vocals), Francesco Artusato (guitar), John Sankey (drums) and Ryan Wombacher (bass guitar, vocals), this is a band that takes the formula that each of the aforementioned bands are known for and runs with it. Hard. There are very little surprises here, frankly if you are familiar with any of the previously mentioned acts then you know what you’re getting into here. It’s pretty straight forward metalcore, for better or worse.
They Bleed Red, the band’s second album, starts off solid enough, with the ferocious “Consume the Damned” which is nearly textbook metalcore. Vocalist Howard Jones is likely best known for his dry, raspy shout, but the man truly does possess a powerful and surprisingly melodic baritone when he actually decides to use it. When he flexes that particular muscle is when They Bleed Red transcends run of the mill mediocrity and achieves something great. “The Way We Die”, “Your Last Breath”, and “Break The Ties” are prime examples of this. Unfortunately those moments are weighed against tracks like “Stay of Execution”, “Shattered Silence” and “Master of None” which are generally loud, harsh, and unbridled in their ferocity. And that, of course, is the formula which made bands like Killswitch Engage popular. It’s a niche that all of these band members have filled in the past and there is no faulting them for it. But it’s a very limited field. There’s only so much you can do with metalcore. The one track that shines like a beacon is “Let The Pain Take Hold”. The band slows the tempo down a bit but loses nothing of their heaviness, and Jones’ vocals skills are superbly exhibited. The man can scream, sure, but he can also sing with consummate passion and technique. “Searching for the Sun” is another prime example of just what this band is capable of when they up the melody and turn down the rage.
Would I recommend this album? Well, that depends. Do you already like metalcore? Or any of the band members’ former bands? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll appreciate what Devil You Know has to offer. If you’re looking for complexity and the sort of album that pushes boundaries and defies genres then keep on looking. Here there be metalcore, albeit of a skillfully executed nature, but very little more than that is to be found.
Reviewed by: Farron1340
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Release date: November 13, 2015
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have never apologized for who they are as a band. While many have attacked them with claims of unoriginality, the band has never fought back. Let’s face it, this crew was releasing alt-rock that was an indie take on sounds from the 80s long before it was cool. You can’t blame a band for being ahead of the pack. In the case of Hell the band goes a step further, offering one original song and two covers to create a short EP that not only stays consistent with their body of work but is a fun listen.
Opening with the title track, Hell creates a sound somewhere between the alt-disco of the Bravery and late era Smiths, around the Strangeways, Here We Come release. The result is a jagged guitar riff that turns into quirky indie pop brilliance. Next up is a cover of Felt’s “Ballad Of the Band.” This laid back track grooves like Tom Petty jamming with the Lemonheads. Its clean guitar evokes the image of a young Johnny Marr. Finally, the jewel in the crown of Hell is a cover of James’ “Laid.” This song is a monster to begin with, and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart give it a polished take makes it even more listenable and fun than the original. The vocals provided by Jen Goma of A Sunny Day in Glasgow sit perfectly between the acoustic guitar panned hard to one side and a slightly dirty guitar sent entirely to the opposite side of the mix. The two guitars create an effect almost like a piano.
If you’re waiting for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart to blow you away with a new sound you’ve never heard before, their consistency should prove it’s going to be a long wait. Then again, we’re talking about a band who never made claims to being anything other than what they are. Hell is three songs of an established band doing what they do very well.
Reviewed by Jim 1340