Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard

1275055340_500-4[1]

There are few bands that can do what Genesis did in their early days. They gave the 1970s a masterful piece of crafty songwriting and witty musicality in the form of incredible works art such as Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. They had very worthy solo artists like Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. And, they were served as a valuable piece of progressive rock. Now, to move ahead 30 to 40 years later, and modern progressive rock is back underground. However, that doesn’t mean anything. A new prog rock group was planting its roots to the ground in preparation to continue the lyrical expertice and other similar characteristics sprouting from Genesis. Come the year 2009, and after building up experience from their last few albums, Big Big Train has finally struck a rich sounding album that has worthy Genesis influences, The Underfall Yard, a new exciting entry for prog rock.

What makes The Underfall Yard so brilliant? Well, for one part, it is the way Big Big Train captures songwriting and musicality in a way almost mirrored to that of Genesis. Like them, Big Big Train and their vocalist, Dave Longdon, don’t seem to connect very well with the sexual energy contained in most mainstream albums. Instead, they also rely upon 19th and 20th century tales of England to decorate their music. From train conductors, flooding foundations, to Victorian engineers, the lyrics are epic, interesting, exciting, and act in similar methods to Peter Gabriel’s songwriting style in a positive, modern reinforcement. Not only are the lyrics ace, so are Longdon’s Gabriel-esque vocals. They represent an incredible resurrection of the original Genesis frontman. This is very difficult to beat. Finally, something else that is Genesis-inspired in The Underfall Yard is the musical structures. Take for example, songs like The Underfall Yard, Victorian Brickwork, and Evening Star sound very similar to famous early Genesis works such as Supper’s Ready, Watcher of the Skies, The Cinema Show, The Fountain of Salmacis, and Time Table. But that isn’t all of the pie to The Underfall Yard.

Big Big Train also tries to make themselves sound unique at the same time. The result is a profound, modern rendition of a prog rock journey that stretches well over an hour. By the way, it is a good hour. Examples include the classically-fused instrumental motifs expressed my guest musicians, such as Rich Evans, Dave Desmond, Jon Foyle, Nick Stones, and Jon Fruscott. At the same time, The Underfall Yard hasn’t lost a necessary rock attitude that still gives the band credibility towards their own music. In fact, the balance between these two impression is controlled mostly in a positive manner. This is cheers to ex-Spock’s Beard Nick D’Virgilio, Andy Poole, and Gregory Spawton, who have began to figure out the good way to creatively hold and express progressive rock. In a way, this also represents how unique Big Big Train is.

All in all, The Underfall Yard was a mostly positive result of past prog rock influences, daring modern pursuits, a plethora of musical talent, and the creative songwriting prowess. They built upon themselves in their previous albums, gained inspiration from a former prog rock titan, and executed a truly complex album as a result. Not just complex, but also noteworthy. Perhaps, the members of Genesis might be proud of these guys.

4.1/5

blessthefall – Hollow Bodies

Blessthefall-Hollow-Bodies

There aren’t many bands left from the crossover period in which post hardcore and metalcore had its disgusting child labeled as “scenecore” or “risecore”. Blessthefall is one of them, and like all bands have made quite a few changes from their opening years with renown vocalist Craig Mabbitt. His Last Walk and Witness were different in a way that Blessthefall took to a less angsty post-hardcore approach, befriending the brand of metalcore that has been made so popular today by their cohorts on the high end of the genre. What Blessthefall has done so well to sustain their success lies within the skill of each member to create an original sound that has become so rare. Hollow Bodies builds itself distinctively on Awakening, and gives listeners the best they can expect from a band caught up in the middle of such a horrible time period for metalcore.

The backbone of any good metalcore group today is a supporting cast that, instead of rallying behind a talented lead guitarist, takes control and does not let the rhythm overpower nor be overpowered by the lead. This is what Blessthefall has done so well in their newest record, and having a guy who can put together songs that sound like his band and not his genre is a huge booster. Vocalists Beau Bokan and Jared Warth have always had some sort of a medium for lead vocals, some songs being a majority of screaming and others with Bokan alone at the helm. Hollow Bodies continues this trend but this time Bokan has a certain tact to his voice that he hadn’t found in Witness and was learning in Awakening. One of the two songs that Bokan has to himself, “See You on the Outside”, happens to be the standout track on the record with a chaotic rock element about it and a fun song structure. Warth’s screams are very talented, but in his genre he is more disposable than a good singer so relief pitching from Jesse Barnett and Jake Luhrs make for a refreshing taste in the later half of the album.

So at the end of Hollow Bodies the question remains, where do they go from here? The answer is nowhere. This is just about the most they can do at this point, seeing as they haven’t made drastic sound changes like some others within the genre who do so to either attract a different fanbase, abandon the semi-mainstream for mainstream, or to play what they had always wanted to as kids. Blessthefall, it seems, is content at the peak of its own genre, where their subjects will stumble upon themselves in struggle to maintain a consistent sound like Blessthefall has done so well. Because no matter how hard they try, the rest cannot combine riffs and the chug/chord formula and make it sound good like BTF has.

Suggested songs: See You on the Outside, Youngbloods, The Sound of Starting Over

4.1/5

1. Exodus
2. You Wear A Crown But You’re No King
3. Hollow Bodies
4. Deja Vu
5. Buried In These Walls
6. See You On The Outside
7. Youngbloods (feat. Jesse Barnett)
8. Standing On The Ashes
9. Carry On (feat. Jake Luhrs)
10. The Sound Of Starting Over
11. Open Water (feat. LIGHTS)

Asking Alexandria – From Death to Destiny

From_Death_to_Destiny

When bands like Motley Crue and Guns N Roses were writing their music in the 80s, I don’t believe they envisioned rock n roll to turn to what it has now. Popular “rock n roll” (metalcore) is a land desolate of talent where the well done riff has taken safe refuge under the swift, cruel tyranny of boring breakdowns and tactless chord progressions in attempt to make a hook.  The riff is often mistaken for the treacherous half-riff, which is excused from the claws of scrutiny by teens who think their spinoff post hardcore is better than the metalcore when it is in fact barely different at all. The rock of old is forced to accept what they’ve created which, as usual, is not what was envisioned. From Death to Destiny is the brainchild of a band at the very tip of the metalcore food chain, where judgement is recklessly and relentlessly given. No worse than it’s predecessor, but no better than exactly what was expected from a band who has made their genre so incredibly popular.

Danny Worsnop has gladly taken advantage of millions of mindless fans who have fed his habits and then complain about their “hero” drinking his life away. Stand Up and Scream was woefully the beginning of the metalcore disease, and Reckless and Relentless was Worsnop’s high claims of “moderation” in his alcohol consumption proving to be a miserable failure just as much as his music.  The one upside to his band’s dreary discography is his own singing. No longer a whining scenie weenie, Worsnop has progressively taken to the grit of a real singer to couple with screams that have deteriorated with time. His singing is not always enjoyable on the album, but it is moreso than before because it gives Asking Alexandria more of the sound of a real rock band as they have so aspired to be. They still, however, are having trouble cutting the cord with the dreaded “chug-and-chord” formula completely. Where they do succeed in making complete riffs, they fall into a metal band’s failure of recycling these riffs throughout the album.

From Death to Destiny is a continuation of it’s preceding album only with better singing and over saturation of radio-friendly choruses. They still have yet to embrace full creativity and after a terrible album and terribly boring album (respectively), the musically inclined that even have an element of patience are now losing their own. The album will probably sell very well to the 12-17 age group and be a hit on the billboard, but a failure in the eyes of originality and true musicianship.

2.2/5

1. Don’t Pray For Me

2. Killing You

3. The Death Of Me

4. Run Free

5. Break Down The Walls

6. Poison

7. Believe

8. Creature

9. White Line Fever

10. Moving On

11. The Road

12. Until The End

13. The Death Of Me (Rock Mix)

Phinehas – The Last Word is Yours to Speak

136501

When in a sub category of an semi-mainstream genre, it’s hard to get recognition even if you are a band with significant talent. Such is the case of California based christian metal band Phinehas. The term “metal” is used loosely, because they surely do not reflect direct influence from groups like Soilwork, nor do they associate with the catastrophies of scenecore like Asking Alexandria. Phinehas rides the thin line between straightforward metal and metalcore. They’ve been around for a while, and after their debut full length,Thegodmachine caught eyes and a momentum-inducing extended play ironically titled The Bridge Between, they hit just as hard as the first effort with The Last Word Is Yours To Speak.

Opening track couplet “Throes-Fleshkiller” fills the listener with adrenaline and serves as strong face level advertisement, with video support included. Each song showcases influence from the few and far between metal/metalcore cohorts of the deceased Haste the Day, August Burns Red, the renounced As I Lay Dying, with riff leads and breakdown rhythms that are mostly beneficial for live power. But for as much of a metal groundwork they showcase with satisfying riffs and some well-placed breakdowns, they construct soothing melodies in forms of verse, chorus, harmony, and full songs worth of ambient beauty (“De El Quatro”, “Dyson Sphere”). The musicianship of Phinehas is an effective combination of fantastic production and a variety of musical influences. They live up the clear vibe of positive christian metal that bands that are so rare to hear actually done well. Lyrics of unending hope and awe in their god are placed within the music and not too odd a contrast of brutality-purity, as neither trait makes themselves disgustingly evident.

Phinehas unfortunately plays into the hands of critics with a certain, though not complete lack of originality. The evident influence from aforementioned metal/metalcore bands is great and sometimes too overbearing yet subtle enough to keep the entire record enjoyable. Perhaps just a bit left in the shadow of those bands, but steadily progressing out into the sun of enlightenment and the next excellent record.

4.2/5

01. Throes
02. Fleshkiller
03. The Deepest Of Graves
04. Blood On My Knuckles
05. Twisted
06. De El Quatro
07. Out Of The Dust
08. The Blessing And The Curse
09. Dyson Sphere
10. Manipulator’s Wire
11. Salting The Mine
12. From A Burning Sun
13. WWII

Karnivool – Asymmetry

Image

Despite their relative obscurity, mostly due to the fact that they’re from Australia and not one of the more visible musical hotbeds in Europe or North America, Karnivool have steadily been gaining traction in the international music scene for over a decade now. Their appeal finally reached critical mass after the release of their sophomore album Sound Awake in 2009 which showcased the bad performing a distinctive brand of layered, progressive-leaning alternative rock that was simultaneously challenging and catchy. Naturally, the sudden popularity encountered by the band has been followed up with breathless anticipation for the follow-up to Sound Awake. The band has somehow managed to deliver on its promise, but not in the way its fans are probably expecting.

For starters, Asymmetry finds Karnivool placing far less emphasis on hooks than it has in the past. Vocalist Ian Kenny remains as melodic as ever, but his vocals on Asymmetry brood melancholically for the most part rather than striving for immediate sing-along-ability. In place of the often-huge choruses and refrains of the past is a more textural sensibility. Even more so than before, Kenny’s vocals are the focus of the music, and while this is often a means to write pop-songs, Karnivool subverts this sensibility through Kenny using his voice and melodies to direct the mood of the songs and counterpoint the instrumentation rather than simply hogging attention from the platform provided by the instruments.

Karnivool’s aversion to overt hooks is even more pronounced in the guitars on the album. The guitars on this album exist solely to provide texture whenever possible, aggression wherever required, and propulsive force whenever absolutely necessary, but make no mistake, this is not a guitar-centric album. If anything, the album’s main propulsive force comes from drummer Steve Judd’s often tribal yet markedly subtle work on percussion, and bassist John Stockman’s thick bass tone and basslines. All of the musicians, Kenny included, work together to create a canvas of sound that you can lose yourself and discover wrinkles and little flourishes in without getting snagged on hooks. This is both admirable, because it’s obvious that this aesthetic is intentional, and annoying, because who doesn’t love hooks?

However, lest you think that Karnivool have gone and made an anti-pop record, there are still some gorgeous vocal hooks to be found, particularly on We Are, Aeons and Eidolon. These songs are easily the most earworm inducing songs on display and are as catchy as anything found on Karnivool’s earlier albums. But here too, in true Karnivool fashion, the band refrains from writing straightforward pop songs. We Are mixes things up with a poly-rhythmic middle section straight out of the Meshuggah playbook, while Aeons and Eidolon are epic in scope and the way they utilize the loud-soft dynamic. Rather than having the aggressive sections colliding with the quiet sections, the songs build slowly in dramatic intensity from the quiet portions to the loud portions before the distorted guitars ebb away once more and repeat the process.

This mature and organic use of dynamics is found throughout Asymmetry and lodges Karnivool firmly in the progressive-rock camp. The shifting dynamics within songs constantly twist and turn them in unexpected directions and are a huge part of what makes Asymmetry such an engaging album. Similar to the afore-mentioned Aeons, Sky Machines and Alpha Omega are also epics, building in tension and urgency before releasing cathartically in waves of distorted guitars, which manage to keep things interesting enough that you probably wouldn’t realize the songs are over 7 minutes long. AM War and The Refusal flip the dynamism script through the use of dissonance and chaos that coalesces and crystallizes into quiet melody before devolving once again into dissonance.

This use of dissonance and polyrhythmic abrasiveness had previously been flirted with on Karnivool’s debut Themata, but had largely been sanded down on Sound Awake. However, on Asymmetry it makes a somewhat triumphant and mature return. The afore-mentioned AM War finds the guitar and vocal melody dissonantly accentuating each other in eerie ways, while harsh vocals (a rarity for Karnivool), guitars and drums collide with and bounce off each other in a chaotic manner on The Refusal. The dissonant blows of the instrumental bumper cars on The Last Few are considerably softened by Kenny’s voice floating serenely, yet somehow dissonantly, over the churning music.

While not all of Karnivool’s ideas are equally good, they fearlessly swing for the fences by constantly trying different things. Thankfully however, the band uses a light touch with this experimentation and blend disparate elements rather than hammering you over the head with them. This light touch is seen on elements such as the robotic vocals on Nachash and the glockenspiel that haunts Eidolon. There’s also a noticeably heavier influence of electronica in Karnivool’s new sound, with two ambient electronica pieces, in Aum and the title-track, as well as dominating the intro to Amusia, and plenty of ambient electronica flourishes on the quieter sections of most of the songs. On several occasions, such as the title-track and on Nachash, the experimentation comes of as somewhat superfluous and unnecessary. The robotic vocoder-esque vocals on Nachash aren’t bad at all, but they would have been much more meaningful and provided more variety had the song been placed later in the album rather than as early as it is. And even without the roboticism, the song would have still been just as good.

While it’s preferable not to compare an album to its predecessors, that’s a difficult thing to do with Asymmetry. Comparison is inevitable because of how good Sound Awake was and how much hype and expectation Asymmetry has to live up to. However, throughout Asymmetry, Karnivool veers away from convention and expectation, and the result is a mixed but thoroughly engaging product that stacks up nicely to its predecessor. While it’s definitely not as immediate and as accessible as Sound Awake, it proves to be every bit as rewarding, if not more so, on repeated listens. While Asymmetry may not make much of a first impression, its replay value is nearly unparalleled and it is a fine addition to Karnivool’s discography.

Rating: 4.2 / 5

Tracklist:

  1. Aum
  2. Nachash
  3. A.M. War
  4. We Are
  5. The Refusal
  6. Aeons
  7. Asymmetry
  8. Eidolon
  9. Sky Machine
  10. Amusia
  11. The Last Few
  12. Float
  13. Alpha Omega
  14. Om

Pearl Jam Album News

imagesSeminal alternative rock band Pearl Jam have announced plans to release their tenth studio album Lightning Bolt on October 15. Lightning Bolt will be the band’s first effort since 2009’s Backspacer. The band has also released an audio-only video for the album’s first single “Mind Your Manners” which we have provided a link to at the bottom of the article. To support the album, Pearl Jam is commencing a U.S. tour starting in Pittsburgh on October 11.

“Mind Your Manners”;