American Opera

Small Victories

Spartan Records

Release Date: June 30, 2017

American Opera is the musical meandering of singer/songwriter John Bee. Small Victories is his/their/its debut.

Small Victories is a pretty refreshing album to be quite honest. So much of the singer/songwriter genre is either slow and whiny or just barebone representations of what could be great songs with some production and some more instrumentation. Bee avoids all the clichés by offering up a great slab of fully realized songs with thoughtful lyrics. The songs are acoustic-based but they feature a full band sound and some spectacular horn work that quickly separates him from the pack.

There are a number of cool moments here but, for me, none more so than the title track. It’s got a great bar swagger and Bee’s voice is surprisingly both gravely and aggressive- something not too many singer/songwriters have. His passionate vocal delivery is peppered with horns and colorful expletives and it hits me in all the right spots. You get used to his voice as the album goes on, but those initial moments take you aback.

“Monsters Among Men” is another standout moment for me. It’s got a midtempo drive that has a bit of a darker feel to it that is perfectly complimented by a contemplative, and gentle, vocal and a catchy as hell chorus. It’s a bit jangly in the most impressive way. The acapella “Dear Devil” brings some variety to the album, I just wish it were longer. Still though, it leads perfectly into the more traditional singer/songwriter fare of “Empty Cup.” Female vocalist Meeko makes a guest appearance duetting on “Sidewalks.” It’s another more traditional moment with picked guitars and reserved harmonica, but the duet nature makes it impossible not to enjoy. The two voices play perfectly together and the big “Whoas” towards the end of the song give it a really anthemic feel.

While it definitely has a more authentic flare, it’s not a stretch to think that if you enjoy bands like The Lumineers, Needtobreathe’s more recent work, or Mumford & Sons then you’ll find a lot to enjoy about Small Victories. There is something both familiar and refreshing about American Opera and I look forward to hearing more.


Reviewed by mark1340

#AmericanOpera #SpartanRecords #mark1340


Barb Wire Dolls

Rub My Mind

Motorhead Music

Release Date: July 28, 2017

Greece’s Barb Wire Dolls have been punking it up all over the world since 2010. Rub My Mind is their 3rd full length album and their sophomore release for Motorhead Music. They also have an EP and an additional album consisting of the EP songs. You may have heard their name from the almighty Lemmy’s love for their music, but they have no problem standing on their own two feet once they have your attention.

The band’s image is slightly deceptive when you hear Rub My Mind. While they certainly have a Punk-ish lyrical feel, this album has a more Rock and Roll edge to it than you might expect. It’s sort of a Punked up fifties style Rock and Roll mixed with some more straightforward tunes.

Rub My Mind kicks off right with “Back in the USSA.” It’s a catchy tune that has a surfer riff and a sing-a-long chorus. If it doesn’t move your feet, you may want to check your pulse. “Gold” is another highlight (and my personal favorite song) here, and one of the moments where the band gets the rowdiest. It’s big guitars, atmospheric lead work, and pounding rhythm section are undeniably powerful! The acoustic “Fire to Burn” and “Waiting to Be Lost” are cool moments as well, as they help shape the album dynamically. It would have been easy for them just to play “Back in the USSA” repeatedly with different lyrics, but they don’t. I particularly like “Waiting to Be Lost” because it moves at a better clip and the atmospheric guitar pieces (as well as how they interplay with the vocals) are fantastic. “If I Fall” is another favorite moment, starting out as a great straight ahead rocker and transitioning to a sort of pounding Pop Rocker with a giant swing.

Admittedly, I had been listening to this for a bit before Warped Tour came to town and I was very much on the fence about it. Having now seen the band live, I totally get it. So, I would suggest picking up the album at a show to get the full effect!


Reviewed by mark1340



Echoes From the Analog Asylum

Heaven & Hell Records

Until earlier this year I had never heard of Thunderstick. Just a few short months later, I can’t imagine not knowing who they were. With Hammer horror style imagery, female vocals, and some high energy tunes, this is certainly my kind of band! The band is most closely associated with the NWOBHM movement, which is largely due to drummer (and band namesake) Thunderstick’s role in Samson (and briefly in an early incarnation of Iron Maiden). Thunderstick, the band, has some heavy moments but mostly it’s just really excellent Rock N’ Roll. Echoes from the Analog Asylum was released in 2011 and is a comprehensive look at the band featuring detailed liner notes and the band’s Feel Like Rock N’ Roll, Beauty and the Beasts, and The Wave Tapes. The album also features some instrumentals and alternate versions at the end to round it all out.

Obviously, this album covers a lot of ground (and two vocalists) so, in a way, it’s hard to pick favorites. You have to have lived through this era of music to truly understand it as well. Things were so different back then, from recording to guitar tones to presentation. Everything here is certainly top notch for the time period but a few things still stand out above the rest. “Long Way to Go” is a spectacular tune that reminds me of everything good about the eighties Rock scene. With a funky bass line, sexy vocals, and some JGeils style guitar work it hits me just right. The reprise at the end of the album is awesome as well and takes the compilation out on a high note in sing-a-long style. The almost Boogie Woogie drive of “Feel Like Rock N’ Roll?” is like Foghat on steroids and it’s a fun ride! “Buried Alive” has that big anthemic, arena rock feel to it, but it’s production helps it keep a gritty Rock N’ Roll feel that, in hindsight, makes it feel like the real deal.

What I enjoy most about this is that, as a lover of eighties rock music, I can’t really name any other band that sounded, or sounds, like Thunderstick. Sure, there are some moments that remind you of their connection to the NWOBHM (“Afraid of the Dark,” “Heartbeat in the Night”) and some songs that remind you of what was happening in mainstream Rock and Roll at the time but even those songs have a unique feel to them. With a new album on the verge of release, please do yourself a favor and pick up this lost gem. You won’t be sorry.


Reviewed by mark1340




Unleash the Archers


Napalm Records

Release Date: June 2, 2017

Women in metal tend to fall within two categories: goth crooners and death shriekers, epitomized by Evanescence’s Amy Lee and Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz. There are exceptions of course, as evidenced by the stunning operatic performance of Epica’s Simone Simons, who herself could be considered the pinnacle of yet another category of female metal vocalist: symphonic opera, of which the metal genre abounds.  Brittney Slayes from Canadian based Unleash the Archers is a breed apart from all of that. Her vocals are powerful while retaining a degree of femininity, falling somewhere between the gothic songbirds and death metal ravens. What makes her particularly notable is the fact that her vocals evoke power metal’s raw power and range, which is decidedly scarce in the realm of female fronted metal. For whatever reason women are quite underrepresented in the power metal genre.

This is not all about Miss Slayes and her exemplary vocals however. This is about the band she fronts: Unleash the Archers and their fourth studio album, aptly titled Apex.  This album illustrates a significant maturation of the band and a distillation and honing of their sound. Unlike previous efforts which, while overall solid albums, contained some meandering themes and styles, Apex is a concept album (yet another thing power metal is renowned for) which follows the exploits of a being known as the Immortal who is summoned by a powerful sorceress for her own nefarious ends.  Take a listen to “Clense the Bloodlines” which details the main scenario behind the whole endeavor. Heavy metal and dark epic fantasy: two things, like peanut butter and chocolate, which are awesome apart and eminently good together.  Unlike the aforementioned confectionary delight however Apex won’t pack inches onto your waist. If anything you’ll burn calories from all the fist pumping and head banging.

Musically, lyrically, and thematically Apex is a tightly focused beam of modern power metal greatness.  Every single aspect here is on point, from Slayes’ powerful and emotive vocals, displaying a range hereto unknown, to the masterful shredding of guitarists Grant Truesdell and Andrew Kingsley. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Scott Buchanan and bassist Nikko Whitworth tie everything together with crisp percussion and a rumbling bottom end. The end result is a cohesive and exemplary album representing the greatness that the genre, and more specifically, talented musicians within said genre, can achieve.  The apex indeed.

Reviewed by: Farron 1340



#UnleashTheArchers #PowerMetal #NapalmRecords #Farron1340


Zero Days


Zero Days


Release Date: July 28, 2017

While Prong’s entire catalog is classic, these guys have been on fire since Ruining Lives. If you love modern heavy music than Prong is the mother flippin’ blueprint. While I have loved the last couple of albums this is, quite honestly, Prong’s crowning achievement. Zero Days is classic album that doesn’t miss a beat from start to finish. It’s perfect.

“However It May End” kicks off Zero Days with all of the power and disharmonic nature that you’d expect. The band are on eleven as they rip through this one. The title track continues the pummeling at breakneck speed as the band fly their fists in united rage against modern society. Then there is the classic Prong stomp of “Operation of the Moral Law” which exemplifies who these guys are in my opinion. Tommy Victor & co. lay waste to everything on this one with a heavy groove and a vocal and lyrical approach that remind you of the spectacular NYC hardcore scene. “Wasting of the Day” is another favorite, with a catchy riff and some dissonant vocals that offer something new when the band could have rested on their laurels.

“Divide and Conquer” is another damn perfect moment. With a melodic vocal and a great groove, the song explodes on the chorus offering ample evidence that this sound should be pumping out of giant sound systems so that tens of thousands can sing along. This is a song that you can really feel man, it reaches deep and connects.

I can’t get enough of this album. If you like heavy music and you don’t buy this and/or don’t love it the you simply don’t know good music. In the mid-nineties, I would never have thought that Prong would be at the top of their game in 2017, but here they are. Zero Days is the top of the heap for heavy music. I doubt anything else this year will be able to keep up, let alone top it. Don’t miss out on this one.

Reviewed by mark1340


 #Prong #ZeroDays #SPV #mark1340 #HeavyMetal