CD review: “Extinction(s)” by Unearth

Metalcore Massachusetts act Unearth reach lucky number seven with its newest release, Extinction(s). The four year gap between Watchers of Rule and Exinction(s) has not dulled the band’s penchant for breakdowns and hardcore growls. The riffs are particularly pounding on “Dust” and Survivalist.” The former is an aggressive track showcases Unearth’s ability to meld the melodic guitar conventions of Swedish death metal with the dynamic brutality of American metalcore. Drummer Nick Pierce drives this track with relentless double bass and crushing groove. The latter track “Survivalist” shifts from breakdown to mid-tempo that will certainly incite multiple mosh pits at the band’s show. However, this track is rather generic especially since Unearth are capable of better songwriting. “The Hunt Begins” wades in to sludge metal waters with its thick guitars and slow tempo. Album closer “One With The Sun” is a fast paced affair with notable guitar work. However, the naff breakdown underwhelms an otherwise strong track. The droning choir provides a haunting effect that almost compensates for the song’s midsection.

Extinction(s) is a heavy record, but also a generic record. We have heard the riffs and breakdowns on hundreds of records. Unearth can write good music, but it seems the band dialed it in on half the tracks. This record has some strong points like “Dust” and “Sidewinder” but very little on Extinction(s) grabs the listener. Unearth need not reinvent the wheel, but on this record the band tried to keep things too simple. The album’s production is very sharp providing a thick wall of sound.

Unearth fans may like Extinction(s) if they need their fix of Unearth after a four year wait. People new to heavier metal should check it out, just know this is not Unearth at its best. Unearth still stand head and shoulders above its peers, which is why this release is a slight disappointment. The band is not going extinct, but needs to utilize its full capabilities to avoid endangerment.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page for news and tour dates:

https://www.facebook.com/unearthofficial/

Dillinger Escape Plan Hit the Variety Playhouse on their Farewell Tour

The Dillinger Escape Plan played at the Variety Playhouse on Friday, November 11th, touring in support of their final album, Dissociation. The Variety Playhouse is a beautiful WWII-era Art Deco movie theater cum music venue featuring a large balcony.  The Variety Playhouse just completed a top-to-bottom renovation after its recent purchase by Agon, which also owns the Georgia Theatre in Athens. After twenty years and eight albums, The Dillinger Escape Plan is breaking up amicably to pursue different projects. Their final album, Dissociation, continues their recent trend towards moodier, more cinematic music. Dissociation may be slow and evocative in places, but Dillinger Escape Plan still treads the line between order and madness. You hear more of Greg Puciato’s range as a vocalist. I’ve seen Dillinger several times at the Masquerade, and it was nice to see them at the Variety Playhouse with it’s larger stage and better lightshow. Cult Leader, from Salt Lake City, Utah, Carbomb, from New York, and O’Brother from Atlanta, are joining them on tour.  This tour of performances will finish up its American leg in Burlington, VT on November 17; Huntington, NY on November 18; and Hartford, CT on November 19, and then three shows in Canada, and then it’s off to Europe.

Cult Leader opened the night up. Three of the four members of Cult Leader played together as Gaza, a highly-respected grindcore band which itself dates back to 2006. Cult Leader released their first EP in 2014 on Deathwish records, and followed it up with a full length, Lightless Walk, and another EP, Useless Animal, both in 2015. They opened the night up strong, and I felt a lot of charisma coming off the front line of the band. The crowd was largely receptive. No one I talked to had seen them before, but enjoyed their set.

Carbomb played second, after their very impressive massive drum kit was assembled (two  snares, two kick drums, four toms, and twelve cymbals!) It was worth it, because their drummer is incredible. The whole band was very tight, frequently stopping a blistering mosh breakdown on a dime. Carbomb formed out of two other bands, Neck and Spooge, who were sharing a rehearsal space in New York. Their sound is distinctly New York Hardcore, but with a progressive slant on it. It’s a great angle.  The crowd loved it and the first mosh pit of the night made its appearance.

O’Brother, the penultimate act of the night, are very talented, if not a departure from the tone of the rest of the lineup. They remind me of Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, but spacier. Some of their material is heavy, but nothing as screamy or bludgeoning as Carbomb or Dillinger Escape Plan. Nevertheless, the band threw themselves into their performance, and the singer was charming. Their band features a baritone guitar player (this instrument is halfway between the bass and the guitar) which thickens their sound considerably. Their arrangements were lush, but still allowed for some extended improvisation. O’Brother formed in Atlanta in 2006. They just released their third studio album, Endless Light, this year.

Before our headliner came out, the security guards warned me that they’d heard about them, and about how crazy their shows can get. If things got too bad up front, I wouldn’t be allowed to shoot for the full three songs I typically get. Dillinger is known for breathing fire, leaping from rigging twenty feet into the air into the audience and other antics. Fortunately, things didn’t completely devolve until after my photography was complete. The Dillinger Escape Plan took the stage, launching into Limerent Death, the first single from their latest album. They sprinkled in a number of their classic hits, like “One of us is the Killer” and “Sunshine the Werewolf” (A personal favorite!) Dillinger was formed in 1997 and went through some lineup changes in the early years. The man anchored at the center is guitarist Ben Weinman. Weinman is an intense performer, hurling himself and his guitar around the stage and into the crowd. No one in this band is a slouch on stage.  But Weinman is in all places at all times. The band played a full set followed by a 3 song encore ending with “43% Burnt”, from their debut EP, released 17 years ago.  

I met fans that drove five hours to see this show. These fans were 3 when Dillinger’s first EP came out. Most bands with this long of a history hit a rut, get a sound and run with it for their careers. Dillinger has never been afraid to reinvent themselves over and over.

CD Review: “Trust No One” by Devildriver

Devildriver stays on the beaten path with its seventh record, Trust No One. The band get straight to business with “Testimony of Truth” which features nice guitar work from new guitarist Neil Tiemann. The double bass drumming propels this track. “Into the Night Sky” opens with a sludgy riff but stays on cruise control for the remainder of the track. There is a nice electronic ambient sample in the middle of the song that breaks the monotony though. The band adds a little Euro-metal influence on “This Deception.” The guitars are vaguely reminiscent of melodic death metal but the band reverts to its signature groove sound. It is another example of the band refusing to deviate from its comfort zone. This reluctance is prevalent on the record, as the band has the potential to hit metal gold but play it safe. The lead single “Daybreak” has a great chorus riff but it is mired on standard metalcore conventions. It is still one of the better songs on Trust No One and serves as an excellent lead single.

While Devildriver plays it safe on this record, it is understandable as the band has two new members in the fold, the aforementioned Neil Tiemann on guitar and Austin D’Amond on drums. It takes time to grow accustomed to new members and Trust No One is a feeling out record. They are both accomplished musicians and play Devildriver’s brand of metal well. Still, we only hear glimpses of what could be. The band could pull off a decent thrash or melodic death metal track but it does not for whatever reason. There is the possibility that the band takes it up a notch on its next record, but only time will tell.

Trust No One is a Devildriver record. Fans of the band will like it and the group’s detractors will not. There are some cool breakdowns and guitar leads sprinkled on the record, but nothing outstanding. Still, Devildriver soldiers on with 13 years and seven records under its belt. The band’s formula works for it and no point in changing it now.

For news and tour dates check out the band’s website:

http://www.devildriver.com/

CD Review: ‘No One Can Save You From Yourself’ by Walls of Jericho

An eight year absence has not dulled Walls of Jericho’s aggression. The stalwarts of American metalcore return with its fifth record, No One Can Save You From Yourself. Frontwoman Candace Kucsulain’s guttural vocals grab your attention on the colossal “Illusion of Safety.” The track is pure hardcore stomp with blocky riffs and pounding drums. The thrashing title track is notable for its blunt, yet empowering lyrics. Candace advocates the importance of self-improvement and that only you can help yourself. The urgency of the music complements the lyrics as the world will not wait on you to get it together. The chugging riffs on “Forever Militant” drive the song forward as Candace belts out that she is walking proud despite the scars she wears. This is just a heavy slab of hardcore that makes one stand tall and dignified. The bouncy “Fight the Good Fight” gets the blood pumping and a music video was filmed for it. It is one of the more accessible tracks on No One and will become a fan favorite. The album’s initial single “Relentless” is good summary of the track. It is a maniacal, fast paced song that jumps from thrash to breakdown and back again. Once again, the lyrics center around persistence and courage in the hour of darkness. You believe Candace when she yells “without struggle there is no strength!”

No One Can Save You From Yourself is metalcore done right. A common mistake bands in this subgenre make is playing too intricately or too simple. Metalcore bands are often criticized for attempting to play Swedish death metal and sounding watered down. On the other hand, some bands just play dumbed down hardcore. On No One, Walls of Jericho know when to play it straight and when to get technical. The songs are not dumbed down for the sake of heaviness nor does the band overdo the musical complexity. This makes the album a strong listen from start to finish.

The wait was worth it. No One Can Save You From Yourself only solidifies Walls of Jericho status as one America’s best metal bands. Fans of the band will appreciate the positive lyrics and no-nonsense riffs. Walls of Jericho struck gold and are once again ready to unleash relentless metal on the world. Keep fighting the good fight.

For news and tour dates, check out the band’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WallsofJericho

CD Review: ‘Buried in Violence’ by Product of Hate

Product of Hate bring the brutal groove on its debut album Buried in Violence. The band’s mix of death metal, thrash and hardcore will surely draw unfair comparisons to Lamb of God. However, the Wisconsin quintet has a sound completely distinct from its Virginian peers. The band’s music is no-nonsense metal that gives the listener little breathing room. The first track “Kill.You.Now” opens with a whirlwind riff before the drums smack you to the ground and bash your head in. There is a strong Haunted influence with the band’s modern take on thrash metal. The riffs are complex yet dynamic while frontman Adam Gilley barks like a madman. Things do not relent for most of the record. “Annihilation” has a hardcore groove sprinkled with speed metal riffing that makes for a maniacal contrast. The visceral “Blood Coated Concrete” would make Kerry King and Gary Holt nod their heads in sinister approval. The aggressive percussion and galloping riffs drive this track like a platoon charging towards the enemy. The only time the band shows a modicum of mercy is on the haunting instrumental “Vindicare.” The eerie bassline provides the perfect backdrop for the classical guitar lines which gradually build to a hellish peak before fading out.

Legendary metal guitarist James Murphy produced Buried in Violence. Murphy’s career spans roughly three decades and he has played in Death, Obituary and Testament. Murphy brings his knowledge on all things brutal on this record. The album is somewhat stripped down, but not minimalist. The mix is just right with punchy drums and a sharp guitar sound. It is the perfect sound for the record as it captures the band’s seriousness and no-frills style of playing.

Well, Product of Hate has certainly made its mark with a strong debut album. I can safely say this band is America’s answer to The Haunted and that is not an insult at all. The band does a fine job melding the complexity of thrash with the dynamics of hardcore, something many American metal bands struggle with. Buried in Violence is modern thrash done right and it is refreshing to hear a metal band not emulating metal bands from 1985. Product of Hate bring the violence and the mosh on this one.

For news and tour dates, check out the band’s website: http://www.therockfather.com/productofhate

CD Review: ‘Wolves of War’ by Burn Halo

It is hard to make extreme music with commercial appeal. Fans of extreme metal will cry “sellout,” while casual music listeners may find the music too hard. Still, when it a band pulls it off right, the results are rewarding. Burn Halo’s new record Wolves of War is somewhat successful in making heavy commercial music. The title track is equal parts metalcore and radio rock. The band does a good job meshing Swedish death metal styled riffs with clean vocals. The soft/hard ballad “Out of Faith” is a dynamic rock track with a shredding guitar lead. “Dying Without You” mixes hardcore grooves with classical guitar passages, while “Novocaine” has small elements of electronica. There is no solid direction on the record, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, Burn Halo runs the risk of alienating fans for being too soft or casual rock listeners for being too heavy. The band faces the same problem as All That Remains, who have faced backlash for releasing more commercial records.

Wolves of War is a solid hard rock record, but not groundbreaking. The album does not stand out in a genre oversaturated with bands attempting to sound heavy but mainstream. There is an obvious mood of restraint on this record, as the band knows it can play complex, heavier music. Still, Wolves of War has several good tracks that fans will enjoy. Ultimately, this record will not put Burn Halo in the same league as Avenged Sevenfold or Five Finger Death Punch. The wolves may have to fight a few more battles until then.

Visit the band’s Facebook page for news and upcoming tour dates: https://www.facebook.com/burnhalo

CD Review: ‘Transparency’ by Straight Line Stitch

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Remember the first time you discovered your favorite band? That elation you felt as you listened to the music, a previously unexplored soundscape? That’s a special feeling, and one I decided I’d attempt to recapture. You see, I received a request to review Straight Line Stitch’s new EP, Transparency (due out June 30), and while I’ve heard of the band, I wouldn’t be able to identify any of their songs I may have heard. I thought this was a great opportunity to go into a review of a well-established band with no preconceptions, archiving my thoughts unadulterated by any previous notion of what the band should or shouldn’t sound like. What makes this even more fitting, I have found, is that most of the touring group are newcomers from after the band released its last full-length album The Fight Of Our Lives in 2011 (ignoring the 2014 self-titled EP, as it doesn’t seem to be easily found). Therefore, my review is not tainted by expectations of the band as it existed in the past, but rather by what lay before us at the present.

A friend of mine once wrote a song called “Not Easily Impressed” and later told me, “That song describes you perfectly.” It’s true that I don’t like everything I hear. Really, who does? But this EP, it’s doing something right. Alexis Brown, vocalist and front woman for Straight Line Stitch, has impressed this poor soul! How a voice can transverse from sheer brutality to stunning, silky beauty is a feat that defies the mind. As I listen to the song “Out Of Body” all I can envision is an angelic figure floating through a collapsing, crumbling building, the rapid fire riffs cascading over the voice as it passes unharmed through the tumbling rubble. Okay, so that’s a little esoteric, but the way Alexis’ voice cuts through the intense music the band has written is beautiful. Period.

Their first single, “Dark Matter,” is available for request on the radio and the video for the song “Human Bondage” has premiered on Revolver Magazine’s website. You can also hear the band on the Civil Unrest tour, currently in progress.

There are only three official members of this band at the moment: Alexis Brown on vocals, Darren McClelland on bass, and Jason White on guitar. I am as in the dark as you are as to who recorded what for Transparency, but I approve! The release manages to be ominous, but contains slivers of hope shimmering in its recesses. For proof, take a look at “Face Of God,” certainly one of the heavier tracks on the EP but gushing with positivity. Meanwhile, the percussion is solid and precise and the guitars are heavy, but dynamic. No solos, sadly, but its combination of groove and melody make for an excellent metalcore release.

I think what really struck me about this release is the lyrical content. There seems to be some serious introspection occurring. A coming to terms with who, what, and where you are in this moment. Lines like “I know exactly where I’m at and I’m not looking back…” from the tune “Wilderness” are sung in such a way that…you know, it’s as if you can hear a newfound clarity and joy in Alexis’ voice.  I don’t know what she’s been through or how the band’s evolution has arrived at this point, but I get this sense of a great, bright horizon shining in the distance. I believe, with Transparency under its belt, Straight Line Stitch is ready to face a new day.


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CD Review: ‘Time and Trauma’ by 36 Crazyfists

Alaska outfit 36 Crazyfists never broke from the mold during the New Wave of American Heavy Metal in the 2000s. The band enjoyed some popularity, but failed to garner the critical or commercial success of its contemporaries like Killswitch Engage or Trivium. Now that the metalcore craze has subsided, the band returns after a 5 year absence with a new record, Time and Trauma. The band’s seventh disc offers little in terms of musicality or heaviness. It is by the numbers metalcore with a tinge of nu-metal. The opening track “Vanish (We All Disappear)” is mired by Brock Lindow’s strained vocals. The song itself sounds dated, like a cut one would hear on a horror soundtrack from 2002. The crunching “Sorrow Sings” has some sharp-sweeping riffs and tolerable vocals. Again, it is nothing one has not heard before, but it is solid nu-metal. The title track is conventional, with droning opening riffs reminiscent of Deftones or Skinlab. The track has a somber groove and is accessible enough for satellite radio. The hard hitting “Also Am I” reminds me of Nothingface musically, but vocally, Lindow sounds like Jello Biafra somewhat. This is one of the heavier tracks on Time and Trauma and will get the pit going at the band’s shows.

Time and Trauma was tracked at guitarist Steve Holt’s home studio. The production is quite good and no instrument overshadows the other. The sound is thick, giving the album a nostalgic feel of the nu-metal albums of yesteryear. The “been there, done that feeling” is very present on this record. I suppose 36 Crazyfists are trying to bring back the nu-metal and metalcore sound of 2002. If so the band is on the right track.

Time and Trauma is not a traumatic experience at all. It is just that the album came out in the wrong decade. Had this record come out between 1999-2003 it may have gone gold or even platinum. However, 36 Crazyfists are about 13 years too late. Fans of the band will probably buy it since it is the band’s first disc since 2010. However, metal heads are not missing anything if they skip it. Still, if one harkens for the good old days of nu-metal and metalcore, Time and Trauma is for you.

Visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/36crazyfists

CD Review: ‘At War With Reality’ by At The Gates

In 1995, Swedish death metal band At The Gates released Slaughter of the Soul. Today the album is lauded as pioneering the melodic death metal sound alongside Carcass’s Heartwork. The band broke up in 1996 as the Bjorler Brothers formed the thrash metal outfit, The Haunted. At The Gates then reformed in 2007, and since then have toured and played at several high profile metal festivals. The group was initially reluctant to release a new record, but finally decided to and here we are with At War With Reality.

The record picks up where the band left off with Slaughter. “Death and the Labyrinth” is no frills, straight ahead death metal. The classical melody the group is known are present here, but subtler than on earlier releases. Musical complexity takes a backseat to jugular ripping riffs and speed. The title track stands out for its melancholy riffs and dynamic structure. The exigency of the leads and chord progressions evoke a gloomy feel on this track. The eerie “Heroes and Tombs” opens with a haunting clean riff and then crashes in to a stream of slow riffs. There is a hardcore feel to this song without sacrificing the gothic tone overall. Things speed up again on the brilliant “Conspiracy of the Blind.” The thrashing assault and baroque instrumentation instantly makes one think “Oh yeah, this is At the Gates!” Drummer Adrian Erlandsson signs on this track with hard pounding drumming. The group gets its Morbid Angel on with “The Book of Sand (The Abomination)” as guitarists Anders Bjorler and Martin Larsson throwing out some unorthodox riffs that would make Trey Azagthoth smile.

Vocalist Tomas Lindberg trademark screeches are in full effect here, with an unnerving soft spoken verse at the end. The grandiose “Head of the Hydra” features some epic galloping riffs glittered with some twisted guitar fills.

At The Gates does not disappoint with this record. The songwriting is tight and the musicianship second to none. It is the At The Gates metalheads have come to love, complete with classical influences and Slayer worship. At War With Reality shows how the band was ahead of its time 20 years ago. There are so many death metal and metalcore bands that have emulated this group’s sound, but of course there is nothing like the real thing. At The Gates shows us how it is done on this record.

Find out more at the official website: http://atthegates.se/

CD Review: ‘Watchers of Rule’ by Unearth

In 2014, we saw the demise of several bands that comprised the New Wave of American Heavy Metal. Bleeding Through, Chimaira, God Forbid and Shadows Fall were at the top of the heap over the past decade. However, musical differences, line-up changes and waning popularity caused these bands to call it quits. One band that continues to forge along is Unearth, who have only gotten heavier in the past few years. The group’s newest album, Watchers of Rule, is the heaviest record the Massachusetts quintet has released.

The band’s new drummer, Nick Pierce, brings a more technical element to the band. On Watchers, the group shows a more progressive edge on tracks like “The Swarm” and “From the Tombs of Five Below.” Both tracks have a technical death metal edge, but retain the breakdowns and hardcore vocals Unearth is known for. Therefore, old school fans can rest assured it is the Unearth they know. However, the downside is that this band has the tools to play more than metalcore or deathcore. There is a sense of hesitancy on this record. Unearth stays confined to the metalcore genre, but knows it can play heavier. Take for instance “Trail to Fire” which shows a strong Gothenburg influence, but is mired in breakdowns. There is nothing wrong with breakdowns, however they should not be used as a go to in every song. Still, Watchers has several great tracks like the vicious “To The Ground” and majestic “Guards of Contagion.”

Unearth is all business on Watchers of Rule, and look to capture the metalcore throne. The group is poised to succeed as much of its competition has fallen by the wayside. Unearth could rule the American metal scene as well, if it expands beyond kingdom.

Visit Unearth’s Facebook page here.