‘Rise Among Rivals’ by Rise Among Rivals

Transcendent Events always sets up great concerts featuring a stunning array of Baltimore-area bands. I had the pleasure of attending their Halloween event about three weeks ago, and more than a few bands turned my head. One of those acts was a new group called Rise Among Rivals, a hard rock band whose self-titled EP became available just this summer. Despite only recently emerging on the scene, it was evident that they are not suffering for a fan base, taking stage to an immediately ecstatic crowd. I quickly understood the rationale, as energy erupted off this foursome, delivering an emotional, yet precise, performance.

I did myself a favor and grabbed a copy of their singular release to get a better idea of what makes this band tick. What I found were six extremely catchy, well-played tracks; tightly executed rhythms, powerful bass presence, and passionate vocal phrasing. “Left Alone” is a particular favorite of mine, with whistling pipe organs laying the groundwork for David Gascon’s [vocals] emotive vocals to warble overtop, as though they’re passing through a cascading sheet of water, before the dual-guitar sledge of Gascon and Jim Poggi crash down upon us. Jamey McElroy’s immense basslines shake us from underneath, jutting upward with the heartbeat of Christopher Tepper’s percussion. There’s a computerized effect during the song, seemingly imitated by the guitars through slides and other fretboard pyrotechnics, which adds even more flair to an already enjoyable experience. This focus on the second track isn’t meant to diminish the others. I certainly want to address tracks like “Bliss,” with its delicious, bass-heavy launch from the starting gate, the use of both a traditional kit and electronic drum samples to widen the flavor palette, as well as the dynamic see-saw of soft and heavy sections. This last point draws the ear to the spacious verses as well as the explosive chorus, and emphasizes both that much more.

Lyrically, Rise Among Rivals largely focuses on relationships that have overstayed their welcome, along with a bit of self-reflection for good measure. While this is certainly not your soundtrack for a happy-go-lucky romantic comedy, there is a note of positivity throughout in the fact that the protagonist of this story is aware of the problems they face and are doing their best to get out of them (the only exception being “Bliss”). And, as I’ve already noted, Gascon is solidly expressive from start to finish, easily drawing the listener into this world to connect with the music.

Rise Among Rivals’ first release is tremendously enjoyable. They have garnered well-deserved attention through six songs that are powerful and catchy, and have shown themselves to be a heavyweight contender during their live shows. If they continue this trajectory, having already accumulated quite the following in less than six months, I would not be surprised to see them start to support national acts before much longer. I’ll definitely be paying close attention to what this foursome chooses to deliver in the future, because I have no doubt that it will be fantastic.

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‘It Was Metal’ by A Sound Of Thunder

In March 2017, several dozen sweaty nerds (myself included) crowded into a Virginia bar to watch a solid hour of heavy metal; by December the band we’d come to see were performing on stage in a Spanish stadium before thousands of people.  Needless to say, it’s been one hell of a year for A Sound Of Thunder.  What led to such a transformation of circumstance?  All it took was a great song and a well-timed revolution.  You see, following Catalunya’s controversial independence referendum, which saw Spanish police using violence against voters, the band released their song “Els Segadors (The Reapers)” to show support for the citizens.  This song, written a year prior as an homage to the Catalan heritage of the vocalist’s mother, was the band’s arrangement of the Catalan National Anthem, and has served as a rallying call for those who support independence of the Spanish region.  Not bad for a band who considered itself a local heavy metal act up to that point, eh?

But A Sound Of Thunder is no mere one trick pony; American or otherwise.  In June 2018, they released It Was Metal, an album brimming with melodic hypnotism, rhythmic ferocity, and more Blue Öyster Cult Easter eggs than you can imaginos.  You don’t have to be a flaming telepath to enjoy this album, though I’ll admit that if you don’t spend half an hour looking up the medicinal use of Irish skulls after listening to ”Charles II,” you’re missing an opportunity.  From the powerhouse opener, “Phantom Flight,” featuring Accept vocalist, Mark Tornillo; to the flux capacitor-equipped closer, “Fortress of the Future Race,” the band is firing on all cylinders.

This is undoubtedly the band’s fastest album, overall, which keeps the “Hail!”s coming and the fists pumping.  Yet, that doesn’t mean that the band has traded speed for its dynamics.  Perhaps the best example of this is the nearly ten minute track, “Obsidian & Gold,” featuring the wonderful keyboard work of Tony Carey (Zed Yago, ex-Rainbow).  For instance, there is a softer section of this song which pairs up the tender, loving vocals of Nina Osegueda over an understated, yet hauntingly creepy piano arrangement, which has the thrilling effect of drawing us in, while at the same time putting us on edge.  Then there are heavier, mid-tempo portions of the song that sweep us away into huge, swelling sing-alongs.  And once the guitar solo kicks in, it’s like a stampede of elephants, trampling all in its path.  And did I mention the wonderful keyboard work?  That was one sweet, sweet organ solo, Mr. Carey.

While I wholeheartedly loved the contributions of the guest musicians on this release, it is really the ever-increasing talent of the four staple members: Josh Schwartz, Chris Haren, Jesse Keen, and Nina Osegueda, that elevate this album to such a shining display of metal.  They have put out consistently solid releases since I first heard them six years ago, but I dare say this one takes the cake.  Yes, it has even topped my previous favorite from them; the 2013 album, Time’s Arrow.  And what’s more, is this one features a companion comic book anthology, turning each song into a short, several page, graphic adventure by legends of DC, Marvel, and Valiant Comics.  I highly recommend picking up both, as the comics breathe even more life into the auditory journey.  A Sound Of Thunder has really knocked it out of the park with this one.  It Was Metal is a triumph for the genre.

 

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CD Review: ‘The Crystal Ceiling’ by Bella D

Written by Danielle Boise

When I first started to listening to Bella D’s, who happens to be is a steampunk-infused symphonic rock songstress, debut LP, The Crystal Ceiling, due out on May 13, the first thing that came to mind was a vision that if Sarah Brightman had a baby with Emilie Autumn and the badass that is Lzzy Hale, that it would be Bella D. Her voice is one to be reckoned with –  it is fiery, fierce and full of inspiration.

What is so fascinating about The Crystal Ceiling is it is a conceptual album, which, let’s face it, doesn’t happen that much anymore. It’s a trend that I’m happy to see resurface. To have an entire album tell a story, any story, and allow us as the listener to take an active journey with the artist is fascinating, because you truly never know where you will end up by the time you reach the conclusion of the story. What wounds the songs will bring out in you while going along with the ride of the album? The idea of whether or not you will survive, what sacrifices you will make in the process of feeling the entire album from start to finish is an intriguing concept to me. That’s why I love them so much. It takes you out of your own reality, and places you somewhere else for an hour or so.  Another intriguing fact is that in conjunction with the release of the album on May 13, Bella D will also include the first installment of a comic book series that brings this conceptual album to a whole new realm by incorporating the musical story into a visual realm.

With The Crystal Ceiling we get to go on this intriguing journey, a mystical journey, where you may be thwarted at every turn. There is a sense of doom lurking around you at all times, which comes from Bella D’s love of dystopian novels and video games and translates very well into the creation of The Crystal Ceiling with a sense that the circumstance in which you find yourself in is beyond overwhelming, but you don’t give up. You battle your way through the layers of demons (real and imagined) in your life for your survival. Not just for your existence, but to keep your soul intact. In the process of fighting your way through this dominion, you realize that love, as grand as it is, it won’t necessarily save you in the way you think it will and YOU are your OWN White Knight and don’t need anyone else to save you, which is perfectly illuminated with the song “Save Me,” the lyric “my morbid curiosity drew me to you, but you left me alone in anguish and fear” is the perfect representation of this.

The Crystal Ceiling is a powerful 12-track album that starts off with the otherworldly “Breaking Free,” and when Bella D hits the note for “Free” all you can think is Damn!, because you realize you are listening to magic. “The Shatter Mirror” is truly reflective in nature. It makes you think about one’s mortality and lifespan in a different perspective. The concept of realizing the life you have always envisioned or may want is no longer an option, that it’s shattering around you, and in that moment you have a choice. You can choose to live in that moment of sorrow forever or you can collect the pieces and make something new out of it. “Battle On” is hauntingly sublime. “Invincible” is filled with turmoil and chaos, but empowering because of the unwillingness to give up, which really is the thesis statement that runs throughout the entire album and that survival is the only option. “Dio Solitario Della Notte” is heartbreaking gorgeous. It’s like going to the opera and listening to beauty and awe of being enraptured by a voice that is heavenly. “Starlight” is the conclusion of the album, filled with questioning, angst and a need for answers from the unknown.

This is an ambitious project, one that Bella D undertook and did it exceedingly well with grace, especially considering amidst the recording process, she found out that she was fighting for her life, literally, as she was diagnosed with BRCA positive aggressive Breast Cancer and had to undergo not only terrible rounds of chemo, but go the route that Angelina Jolie did by having a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries. The album took on a whole new meaning for her; it was her real life battle and struggle to live that you hear from the first note to the last. “I cannot live in fear,” sums up the album perfectly.

This is not a Disney fairy-tale, rather a Brother’s Grimm sort of yarn; so for fans of artists like, Sarah Brightman or Emilie Autumn or films like, The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival, The Crystal Ceiling is right up your alley. It infuses a sense of a defying nature of stubbornness by not giving in with the power and substance of life, even a hard life with hints of dramatic elements interlaced. It’s the perfect eargasm.