The ferret’s top-10 of post-grunge
Post-Grunge is one of those genres that seems to be ignored, relegated to the bottom of the pile where generic nickelback and breaking Benjamin clones reside. Emerging in the early to mid-90s, literally meaning “after grunge” it’s a genre that takes its cues from the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, taking the atmosphere and emotion prevalent in these bands and combining it with a more rock-style. Some view it as grunge going more mainstream, and whilst this isn’t necessarily wrong, it doesn’t show it in good light.
The genre can broadly be split into two sides, the more aggressive Chains inspired hard rock fusion which will no doubt be looked upon more favourably from the metal fans reading this, and the softer, more pop/rock inspired style, which for your convenience have been denoted with an asterisk. This is not a list of most popular, most successful or most influential artists in the genre – this is a list of my personal favourites.
Note: If anyone wonders where the review for #7 went, I had already reviewed it previous. Searching or clicking the link for it below will take you to it.
1) Stone Temple Pilots – No. 4
2) Goo Goo Dolls - Dizzy Up the Girl
3) Four Star Mary – Thrown to the Wolves
4) Bush – Razorblade Suitcase
5) Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
6) Maggot Brain – Second Chance
7) Cold – 13 ways to bleed on stage
8) Creed –Weathered *
9) Sponge – Wax Ecstatic
10) Matchbox 20 – Yourself or Someone Like You *
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
The ferret’s top-10 of post-grunge
No.1 - Stone Temple Pilots – No.4 – 5/5
Yes, my number one pick of the litter, the album that started it all, it really doesn’t get much better than the band that would spawn a new generation of grunge on the world, that ironically would gain more fame and last longer than the original. Splitting into both the melodic and more aggressive side of the genre, performing it to perfection, this is the point where it all began. Their earlier works showed this to be the direction they were heading, but this is the cherry on the top of their impressive discography, the diamond in the sea of gems, and any other analogy you wish to use.
The drums do more than build a framework, they’re often integral to the sound produced, working with the music in an interesting manner to add to the tone and atmosphere as required of them. The bass frequently takes the duties of rhythm guitar, playing as prominent a part as your likely to find, and adding to that thick grunge atmosphere for the rest of the band to work within. The guitars too, are more than simple chords, ranging from the soft acoustic tracks, to the electric rock-filled groove with more fills and mini-solos than you can shake a stick at. And the vocals, Scott Weiland (perhaps better known now as the vocalist for Velvet Revolver) fits perfectly, cleanly, drawing from personal experiences and adding his personal emotions to every track. From the cynical ‘No way out,’ harsh toned ‘Down’ or even to the simplistic but beautiful ‘Atlanta,’ - and these are some of the weaker tracks present. The variety of tones, high notes, low, desperate emotions, the cynical and amusing, airy or loud and in your face, it all combines to create one of the most diverse sounding albums around.
Even the lyrics seem carefully thought out, being both catchy, honest and even thought provoking, with lines like:
“I used to love you now I don't care
Now I turn around, you're everywhere
So you can chew me up and spit me out
You're just a little bitch I cared about” – Sex and Violence.
This is an album with no weak links. Despite its variety, it succeeds in being hard hitting every time. I first heard it over 5 years ago, and it still gets regular play. This is the best album from the best grunge/post-grunge band around. If you’re unsure if post-grunge is the genre for you, this is the album that will let you know.
Highlights: Heaven and Hot Rods, Sex and Violence, Glide
By T Bawden
No. 2 – Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up the Girl – 5/5
Approaching the number one spot is a band that could have easily topped it. In fact, when arranging the orders of these bands, it frequently did. Often criticised as another bad soft-rock band, rather than try to combat that they’ve revelled in it, and produced an album where deciding on the ‘best’ tracks becomes near impossible. Everything presented here shows a different side to the band, a different brand of emotion, a new tone or atmosphere, performed to perfection.
The guitars are anything but simple, producing relatively complex chord sequences riffs and solo’s, perfectly interspersed throughout the album so as to not detract from the emotional somersaults the vocalist produces. Often bordering on the progressive, with a constant ‘progression’ as each track explores the tones at their disposal, they work with the drums to produce an atmosphere thick and with a superb impact. This is a perfect display of a band where every member knows their instrument, and performs without overplaying, working cohesively to attain an end product.
The vocals too are no exception to this, often with an emotion only rivalled by that in ‘Bush’ but with a far greater diversity, from the depressive, frustrated and isolated tones in “Iris,” to the more upbeat and optimistic “January Friend,” and everywhere in between, the cleanly sung and powerful vocals are only enhanced by the lyrics. Thought provoking and inspirational lines such as “When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am” (Iris) combine with the atmosphere to amplify the effect of the track.
This is a band overlooked as simply another angsty post-grunge band, when the truth is that they have produced a mature outlook on life, and have perfectly executed the emotional tones required for each track. Simply phenomenal, it never gets old, the emotions are performed to perfection, and the instrumentation puts most competition to shame. If you hadn’t already figured it out, this album comes with a VERY high recommendation.
Highlights: Slide, Amigone, Iris
By T Bawden
No.3 - Four Star Mary – Thrown to the Wolves – 4.5/5
Along with Maggot Brain, this is another that breaks the mould for what to expect from this genre. Being catchy and ‘poppy’ like the softer alternatives, whilst retaining that rasped rock vocals, and a slight grunge drawl and upbeat melody, they embody a sort of balance between the two extremities within the genre. Swaying from side to side with the more aggressive “Never Mind” or slowing down for “Dark Sky,” never straying into that generic image of what post-grunge should sound like.
It is this unique aspect that leads a variety of tones, allowing it to stray from sounding too full of teenage angst, appealing to the side of me that enjoys slow and emotional tracks, with upbeat and interesting chorus lines to latch on to and draw you in. The guitars tend to have two layers to them, the clean chords, and a more distorted simple riff, which often successfully adds to the atmosphere. The drums spend most of their time creating a framework, though are heard fairly well, and lend a little variety to the sound created, doing more than just keeping a basic beat. The bass adds to this framework in a simplistic but effective manner for the rest of the band to build upon, along with creating a thick atmospheric tone during the more hard rock inspired passages. The vocals finish of the performance with a good range of tones, from the more aggressive to the despair filled.
The strength of this album lies in their ability to wield their instrument in an effective manner, and create a variety of emotional tones, filled with atmosphere, interesting riffs, and lyrics that are damn hard not to sing along to. When such a variety presents itself, naturally preferences will arise, but the simple fact is there is nothing weak on this album. Even the ‘weak’ tracks put most bands to shame. This is not one I expect most reading this to enjoy, but no question in my mind, this is one of the unsung gems of the post-grunge genre.
Highlights: Thrown the Wolves, Never Mind, Run
By T Bawden
No.5 - Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – 4.5/5
Perhaps slightly misleading, as whilst post-grunge is most certainly a strong influence on this album, this is a unique and eclectic assortment of styles, from the classical to the modern rock, making gratuitous use of violins and acoustic guitars, this is not a band to do things haphazardly. Everything from its tone, diversity, and length screams out in this album of epic proportions.
Kicking off with a blissful symphony comprised of largely a lead piano and violins, this gives a good indication of what can be expected in the tracks to come. The piano plays a minor role, however the violins are often utilised in a simple manner to great effect. The guitar riffs are consistently of a high standard, being delicate, aggressive, catchy, or chaotic as they frantically screech about creating a dissonant and frantic tone. The drums seamlessly transition between sections, providing a constant variety of beats to the piece at hand. And then the vocals, unique in tone perhaps best compared to that of the Creed vocalist, with a ‘screeching’ slant that could easily become frustrating to listen to, but incredibly never does. Soaring passages mixed with deeper grunge tones, the emotion is present, if perhaps not as prevalent as some of the others on the list.
All of these aspects combine coherently to form an epic sound, from the guitar solo’s, addictive riffs, and pounding drums, as you start listening to it every track appears phenomenal. And here lies my main problem, there is only so much brilliance an album can handle, and the tracks quickly begin to decline in quality. This is no short album, over two hours long it all becomes a bit much. The first side of this album is epic in proportions, diverse and filled with idea’s and varying tones. But the second doesn’t add too much to that, with a few notable exceptions. It’s not so much that it feels sub-par, dragging the album down, but simply that it plays like a B-side, a list of tracks that didn’t quite make it, that weren’t adding anything original to the mix.
Everything about this album is epic. Its diversity, its tone, the emotions backing it, even its length, but this is one that should be heard in two parts. As diverse and unusual as it is, keeping focus for two hours is a meaty task. The second CD shows a slightly lower standard to that of the first, but should still be appreciated. How well known this band is I have no idea. All I know is that this is one that fully deserves a place on this list.
Highlights: Tonight Tonight, Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, An Ode to No One, 1979
By T. Bawden
No.6 – Maggot Brain – Second Chance – 4/5
If you took some blues based classic rock values of solo theory and riff construction, slapped in a healthy dose of Hendrix brand ‘funk,’ and played it all the to the tone of Nirvana, this is probably the resulting sound you’d be left with. An unheard of gem in the post-grunge scene, and its unfortunate that if they were making music of this calibre just ten years earlier, we may be seeing some of their songs on guitar hero instead.
The first thing that hits you a southern groove that succeeds in being simple yet perfectly addictive, drumming standing loud and proud, and a chorus that will stay in your head for weeks. What makes this band just so incredible is the abilities of each of the members, it’s fully realised and utilised. The drumming is loud and clear, and superbly performed, with ample variety, often presenting unusual patterns and tones to work with. The bass is thick, and helps build on the framework, carrying the song during the twin guitar attacks. And the guitars, weaving in and out of each other, producing both memorable hard-rock riffs as well slower riffs complementing the ballads present, and refusing to let up for the solo’s - gargantuan behemoths to rival skynyrd’s ‘free bird’ or deep purples ‘black night,’ particularly in the track ‘invisible friend.’
Even the vocals deliver on a solid performance, if perhaps slightly overshadowed by the talent of his colleagues, he puts forth a classic rock, part rasped, part southern grunge drawl, and all the time retaining a sense of clarity, a sense of melody perfectly fitting for the unique sound they’ve created.
If there was one argument against this album, it would be the lack of diversity. Every instrument makes an impact, but there is little change in the overall tone or atmosphere of the album. There is ‘over the hill’ acting as the ballad track reminding me of the sort of sound aerosmith would have created, some discernibly slower tempo tracks, and a daring take on ‘Purple Haze’ that pays off in the end, but little else that really gives each track a sense of individuality or identity. This is a twist on the old post-grunge style I’ve not heard done before, and I don’t expect to hear it played at this calibre again for quite some time.
Highlights: Alabama, Invisible Friend, Like it This Way
By T. Bawden
No. 9 - Sponge – Wax Ecstatic - 4/5
Like the originators of the genre, they too adhere to both the more aggressive and the pop/rock orientated style. Both distinct, and well done, but unquestionably weaker where the more simplistic approach is taken, lacking something that really draws your attention.
The main strength this band possesses is their ability to write memorable riffs, and combine it with addictive chorus lines. The bass is thick, and the drumming loud and slow, to create the atmosphere. The guitars come largely into play for emphasis on specific moments, leading to a slow build up to the climax of each track. The vocals in that typical grunge drawl, adding to the tone whilst remaining clear enough to comprehend, the end tone produced on these more aggressive tracks is very much a more upbeat Alice in Chains.
It’s when the slower tracks kick in, the focus on the riffs dwindles and were left with a far more barren sound, relying on a sometimes thin atmosphere to sustain it. Utilising very basic guitar riffs, often combined with some other instrument, a piano, saxophone or wind instrument for example, these tracks aren’t terrible, simply lacking in that bite, that addictive quality that made the rest of the album so good. Certainly in ‘Death of a Drag Queen’ do they succeed in creating an atmospheric slow track, using subtle tones in the background to give an eerie style, and once again using the guitars to maximum effect in the chorus. In a similar manner, utilising acoustic guitars an emotional tone is prevalent in ‘velveteen,’ and in both cases the emotion feels forthright, and direct.
This album was build largely around a highly unusual concept, the death of a drag queen, and whilst some initial tracks seem to make light of the situation it quickly turns into a tragic tale, of the loneliness of the lifestyle, the emotions felt as they work in bars in Memphis (where the story is set), and particularly at the end, where we approach the end of the protagonist’s tale. This makes for an unusual album, filled with definite highlights and sub-par tracks, and is the major drawback to this album.
Highlights: Wax Ecstatic, Death of a Drag Queen, My Baby Said
By T. Bawden
No.10 – Matchbox 20 – Yourself or Someone Like You – 4/5
Largely acoustic and clean guitars means this falls squarely in the slow rock side of the genre. Avoiding the normal trap of sounding whiny and angsty, this is a far more mature take on the depressive side of love. The atmosphere produced is thin and delicate, done in a simple manner but the minimalist approach to their sound works in their favour to create a vision of raw emotion.
The guitars rely heavily on chords to provide a backing, but don’t mistake them for another case of a musician who can’t play his instrument. He won’t go down in history as a great guitar player, but he knows how to wield his instrument in an effective manner. With plenty of little fills here and there, and even the odd solo (“Long Day” for example) serving to keep the backing interesting, combined with a wide variety of chords he really breaks the mould of stereotypical 3-chord wonders.
The vocals however are easily the centrepiece, produced in such a way that he sounds clean, whilst retaining a touch of rasp, they’re both fairly unique and provide that sense of realism that makes the atmosphere all the more intense. Drawing from personal experiences, he sings about events personal to him, and it shows. This is a far cry from those cookie cutter bands they were pigeon-holed into, this is emotional, but also soulful and down to earth. And it’s with lyrics such as:
“Its sitting by the overcoat
The second shelf, the note she wrote
That I cant bring myself to throw away” – Long Day
You simply can’t help but be drawn in, poignant and blunt, what they lack in depth they more than make up for in their raw honesty. This is not the most original sound, nor are they the most technically able musicians. This is a rare case of soft rock that presents itself as believable, realistic and honest without sounding ansgty. There are no naïve love songs, or false ideals of grandeur like how love is often portrayed in films, this is a mature emotion, poetically delivered in music format.
Highlights: Long Day, Push, Busted
By T Bawden
Looking for more female fronted bands, particularly in the more extreme ends of the genre I came across this band, which whilst featuring prominent female vocal work doesn’t constitute a majority. Apprehensive would be the word as I approached this band with the dreaded ‘industrial’ label like the plague, hoping for this to be that time I was wrong about the genre.
As it turns out, they didn’t need even one minute of my time, listening to the first track to proudly display just how wonderfully industrial tones can work in death metal. The guitars keeping a solid deep riff going, whilst the drums prominently keep things running smoothly from there end, juxtaposed with an annoyingly catchy synth/keyboard riff that wouldn’t sound out of place in a trance track. In fact, combining two opposites is something they excel at, slowing down the pace for the female vocals, suddenly vanishing into a short violin interludes, before blasting back into the trance filled death riff. And that’s simply the first track in their repertoire.
They keyboards are done in two ways, the overt mannerisms where much of the industrial tones come from, and the soft keyboard backgrounds for the softer passages. Both succeed in doing very different aims, being slow and emotional (and rather unusual for death metal, it must be said) as well as being electronic and catchier than the riffs could be alone. The guitar riffs are often fairly simplistic, but when its required of them they overpower the keyboard in creating something memorable and distinct.
The drums work well, being heard but blending in, particularly with the keyboard work. The occasional ‘overuse’ of cymbals never feels as such, as the way they are done is short and blunt, working with the synth sound to add a sort of grinding crash to the sound produced. The bass too often plays a prominent role, in keeping things deep, so as not stray overly far into catchy-trance territory. This, combined with the growls ensures that every track stays well within the confines of the genre.
Despite all this, none of the aspects used feels particularly well done. The guitars whilst good aren’t brilliant, the drums subtle but rather simplistic, even the vocals, failing to really reach an emotional note, the growls not overly aggressive in tone, and the clean vocals rather predictable, and performed in a good, rather than excellent fashion. Instead it really is the composition, the way every aspect is seamlessly blended together in a unique and interesting manner that creates an album that has few definitive highs or lows.
This album has successfully produced tones that are quite simply unique, the riffs and chorus lines succeed in being catchy, the industrial influences tastefully dispersed with a plentiful prominence and the end result is a worthwhile one. Don’t go in expecting high-tempo aggressive affair, and you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Highlights: Hate, Deviate, Burn
By T. Bawden
Pink Punk – Zoo Politics – 4/5
The best genre to really place this in would be hip-hop, but the title doesn’t really fit. Instead it’s more of an experimental, politically themed spoken poetry, and I really do mean poetry. This isn’t generic in any way, it’s carefully thought out and are the most important thing in this album, which doesn’t happen very often.
There are other sounds used, electronic effects, synths, piano pieces, looped spoken pieces, effects on his voice, and the more conventional guitar and drums approach, but this is all done in a way to never draw focus, to provide a backing for the vocals. The vocals themselves are passionate but not sung, or even rapped. They are spoken, with his Irish accent coming through strong he speaks his mind, and don’t expect him to sugar coat anything.
Tackling issues from using overly thin models in advertising, how we live in a ‘pink’ world filled with happy pop bands (Britney Spears gets a mention) and bad TV (Jonathon Ross *also* gets a notable mention here) to avoid the harsh realities of the war that is being fought, the atrocities that are being committed around the world, with lines like “One world, homogenised under, one gun; America” pointing the satire in the state of, it must be said, America is his target.
The problem with this is the manner in which he puts forward his argument. He leaves no room for interpretation, he says opinion as though they were fact, drawing on negativities of his chosen topic, ignorant of any positive value it might have and before you can think of anything he’s already moved onto calling you an idiot. He drills all his points beyond what should be necessary, and somewhere between calling all religion bullshit and telling you which US presidents should have been shot it begins hard to listen to. In fact, the only point I think he failed to drill in enough was the line ‘I’m screaming with you, not at you.’
This is really well done poetry. His points are often valid, and intriguing, and the passion with which he puts them forward gives them impact, and it makes for interesting listening. But this is not an album you can leave in the background, it demands listening and comprehension, and requires you to be prepared to be offended.
Highlights: Yapolitical, Monkey TV, Do the Right Thing
By T. Bawden
Made out of babies – The ruiner – 4.5/5
And I’m out of time for all the bands that have been piling up, so watch me write three short reviews in the space of an hour!
Onto an album produced by Steve Albini (Noise Rock pioneer from ‘Big Black’) his influence can clearly be heard in the eclectic array of sounds produced by a band I hesitate to describe as a combination of post-hardcore and noise rock. This hesistation is due to the difficulty in truly describing what your hearing, bizarre vocal work, laid upon in an unusual manner, weird sounds and crashes and bashes and tones and electric effects, mixed together to form an odd coherency. It doesn’t sound overtly unmelodic as behind all these effects lies a prominent guitar work, and sold drum beats. Whilst they don’t add much in the way of creativity, they both serve rather well at keeping the song going, providing a base framework.
Which is where the vocals come in, with periods of screaming (and I really do mean screams, not lyrics here), whispers, hardcore rasps as well as soft singing all come together in a manner that sounds like pop singer Bjork has dropped some acid, seeing monsters in between periods of calm, screaming at the top of her lungs to ‘run away’. Her range is to be commended, perfectly fitting and abstract, sounding distant and cold, emotional, aggressive, scared, you name it she’s probably nailed it at some point on this album. Whilst perhaps not a ‘good’ singer by conventional standards, she’s not at all operatic, and sounds rather raw in the way its produced, but her variety more than makes up for any shortcomings, and packs the first punch in this album.
The second punch comes from when your more acquainted with the album, you’ve played it a couple of times, are used to the tones she can produce, and begin listening more intently to the lyrics, and its here you realise that its doesn’t just sound bizarre, but the lyrics are no different. Cryptic, but not too difficult to piece together, for example giving you preparation for a more aggressive section is her quietly muttering “If you believe in such things then start praying,” it re-ignites interest in an album I’d have trouble ever describing as ‘boring.’
This is truly bizarre, and a joy to listen to. Aggressive as your average hardcore, bombastic tones, dark atmospheres and slower emotional passages combine and interchange unpredictably, and seamlessly continuing the structure of the song set previously. I’m slightly disappointed only one picked this up when I fapped them before. It may not be metal, but it’s a damn sight better than a lot of metal I’ve heard of late.
Highlights: Cooker, The Major, How to Get Bigger
By T. Bawden
Contagious Orgasm – Spill Drop – 3.5/5
Ok, so an album I can see people either loving or loathing. To call this anything but unique would be a grave mistake, where most ambient tries to provide an atmosphere, this succeeds in doing so but at the cost of song structure. This doesn’t feel like technical music, as even that has a discernable beat pattern, instead were confronted with a serious of bizarre noises, used in a manner which is both disturbing and unpredictable.
I said before that the technical element in Afflicted lends a sense of tension and unpredictability. This may well be the modern equivalent, going from a quiet piece with clearly heard footsteps on a gravely path, you can hear the grinding of the boots as he paces back and forth, the sudden short screeching sounds before the boots begin to walk away. You hear a TV turn on in the distance, a quieter scurrying sound, a dripping in the background, weird beetle sounds, a modem-type sound in the background and so on.
And on top of all this is an eerie score almost an industrial black sound creating further tension, enhancing the atmosphere produced and creating a truly disturbing tone. This becomes more and more prevalent as the album progresses until the final climactic point, as though the severity of your situation is becoming more apparent.
This all essentially works to create a true horror film feel. The lack of any visual leaves you in the dark, relying on what you can hear, and the beauty of this method is everyone will interpret the sounds presented in a different manner, associate it with different things and come to different conclusions. It immerses you in a sense of realism that rarely occurs in music.
But there is one major drawback to this. It is really not easy to appreciate the level of work that has gone into this. It requires your undivided attention, your focus and concentration. If you simply have it on in the background, and lose concentration the tension and build-up its created will have been lost, and it won’t impact you in the same manner. Now, I like to think I can take pride in my ability to focus, but this took me a good number of tries to truly appreciate. It is this monumental flaw, combined with the fact that, without concentration this does just sound like a bizarre, unmelodious collection of weird sounds and noises, and quite frankly isn’t very interesting. It requires constant thought, and total immersion for it to be of much interest to the listener.
Once again I have stumbled upon an artist who has managed to create something bizarre and unique. If you think you have the capacity to devote your undivided attention to this piece for its 50 minute length, then this is most definitely worth your time.
Highlights: Melancholy Spiders, Harvest Song, Now YOU are in deep trouble
By T. Bawden
An album that’s quickly elevated its way to the top of list of albums to review, and one I came across when someone commented on the use of opera in metal. I was stumped as to many different bands, and so set out to explore as I knew there had to be some out there. Whilst I’m dubious as to whether it truly constitutes as metal, sounding more like a ‘Progressive Rock Opera’ to my ears, there is no question that this is nothing short of brilliant.
The brainchild of just two, one with a background in prog rock, the other a more classical background, both proficient composers and keyboard players the level of detail and thought that has gone into this masterpiece is unquestionable. Following the story of a man as he visits his past, the good times, the bad, the uplifting moments and the ones filled with sorrow, as he embarks and sets out on a life-changing voyage. The scope for variety in emotions this allows is immense, and the manner in which it is done gives it a theatrical presence, playing more like a work of musical theatre than anything else.
Often a band will have redundant members, those that contribute little to the sound. 6 piece bands and those of greater members tend to be the worst offenders, but somehow this bands entourage of more than 100 musicians is blended in such a way that any redundancy is far overshadowed by sheer numbers. They perform with the entire Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra (64 musicians, and a 32 piece choir) which are more than deserving of their praise. They aren’t used as an aside, just a bit of diversity, they are integral to the sound produced, the violin symphonies, choral chanting and the multitude of bassier wind instruments, combining to produce something truly magnificent – a true comparison to the likes of Vivaldi and mahler, the great classical composers, brought to light in a modern setting.
And in addition that is the work of the ex-riot drummer (NOT Jarzombek) who is more than proficient, a bassist that whilst simplistic in his patterns adds creatively to the music without dominating, and quite possibly an unsung living guitar legend, Marco Sfogli. Whilst he has few points to shine, shine he does, succeeding in being both quick and incredibly fluid in his legato and sweeping techniques, more than that he is able to play with incredible melody, creatively placing emphasis on the right notes. In fact, here’s an example from his solo work.
And even that doesn’t complete the line-up, as there are two lead vocalists with a hefty presence on this album. The first is a female vocalist, who performs with style, emotion with a good vocal range but perhaps feels lacking in this all-star performance, up amongst the best of the nightwish clones, and easily overshadowed by the male vocalist. This man absolutely dominates this album, not just “operatically influenced” but an opera singer, more akin to singing reworks of Madame Butterfly or Don Giovanni, he delivers a vocal master class time and time again.
Every component is worked such as a classical symphony, rarely will one element become overly prominent, instead all forming together for an atmosphere, a tone, piano bringing in a violins, which then allow a guitar to present itself on top, and then vocals throughout the depth present here is incredible. This album is simply phenomenally worked, a progressive rock musical theatre, a modern classical opera littered with emotional vocals, guitar solo’s and top notch orchestration that whilst not appealing to many, delivers on something nobody else can.
Highlights: Heroes…, Temporis, Desertanima, Immenso
By T. Bawden
Big Black – Songs About Fucking – 4/5
I welcome you to enter the mind of an insane man as he takes you on a journey through his thoughts. For many reading this I expect noise rock to be something of a foreign genre. It was one that never really gained much of a following, and given how it revolves around ‘melodic’ noise - using the term melodic lightly – it’s not hard to see why. The genre would later to go on to influence industrial music, but this album, the brainchild of noise rock legend Steve Albini with his trusted companion ‘Roland’ (the name he gave his drum machine), presents us with a raw assault of various noises that what it lacks in pure aggression, compensates in its abrasive and destructive tone.
The structure of the tracks here are best described as punk, with a distortion so thick that it more often comes off as a white noise tone. Everything is done with an electronic tone, a robotic and mechanical emotion, quick addictive riffs coming in thick over a tinny drum beat, whilst the punk attitude is left to the vocals in order to pick up the pieces, from the deeper sarcastic and sinister tones to aggressive yelling he may not be the best vocalist, but he does a damn good job at exemplifying the punk spirit.
At the core of this bands sound lies a cynical quality, sarcastic jokes that, after their debut, many didn’t understand. He was labelled sexist, racist, and was asked by the recording company to tone down the themes in his songs. Judging by the title, I think he made it apparent precisely how much notice he took of their request. With tracks seemingly promoting self-loathing (‘Tiny, king of the Jews’), about being a general bastard (‘Bad Penny’), and possibly the strangest of them, about being the King of Cats (‘Kitty Empire’), once you get past the abrasive tone you realise the lyrics aren’t your standard affair. They are nothing if not unique.
In fact, the only drawback here is that simply some tracks feel sub-par by comparison to the best here, ‘ergot’ repeating itself too long, ‘kitty empire’ with too quiet vocals to really comprehend what’s being said, and so on. The best here could stand up as a pinnacle for what the genre has to offer, and its unfortunate they couldn’t all match up to this high standard.
Noise rock is one of those bizarre genres that never took off; it was not palatable to enough people that it ever got much publicity, especially in the more extreme forms. A well known artist for comparison could be considered the earlier works of ‘Sonic Youth.’ This makes them look normal. This takes it to a new level of insanity, loud, abrasive, where sonic youth used soft female vocals to give it all a twist, here you’re presented with a heavier distortion, a harder hitting sound bombarding you whilst you’re getting screamed at. This is loud, abrasive, aggressive, unusual, and completely addictive.
Highlights: Bad Penny, L Dopa, Columbian Necktie
Green Carnation – A Blessing in Disguise (2003) – 5/5
This is a band I seriously considered getting someone else to review, for fear of sounding like an annoying fapping fan, but as you may have guessed, I re considered. This is a band I thought I had already reviewed (so imagine my dismay when I realised they were missing), and is quite possibly my favourite prog/rock band. And yes, I considered mammoths such as ayreon and king crimson in that statement, just to give you an idea of the level of quality to be expected here. Whilst not a poorly known band in the right circles, outside of these circles they aren’t mentioned nearly enough, and certainly deserve more attention, at least in my eyes.
This album, quite frankly, does absolutely nothing wrong. The guitars display addictive riff after riff, adding melodic solo’s where needed, displaying their prowess time and time again whilst at no point feeling the remotest bit ‘showy.’ Everything fits to the atmosphere of the track perfectly. The bass whilst a bit quiet, also clearly plays a prominent role in the sound created, the drums adding further variety to this in order to create a creative playground not dissimilar to the manner in which agalloch succeed in this, in how they subtly create an atmosphere, a playground within which they can explore at their leisure.
And then the vocals are superb. What they lack perhaps in a unique tone, they more than make up for in the manner in which they are done. The range in his voice, the deeper and depressive tones, the emotion in every note, from the catchy chorus lines to the more aggressive side of their sound, everything is done with a certain finesse that places him on a pedestal above many others.
But all this, for all its splendour is not enough to promote it to that ‘perfect’ status required; whilst everything is done well, nothing thus far discussed has been done too differently, or indeed better than others. Where they excel most is not in their individual talents, but rather the songs composition. They have taken a very literal meaning of what it means to be a progressive artist, each song physically progresses, the manner in which it ends may be vastly different from how it ends. Frequently there are interchanges between styles, progressing from perhaps a softer note into a more aggressive tone, and it is these gradual transitions that lend a sense of change, a passage of time. It feels as though it fully explores the subject matter in a number of its aspects, unrestricted from a single point of view the song meanders through depression, anger, despair, understanding and a number of other tones, retaining a sense of familiarity whilst being diverse enough to demand your attention.
I must apologise if all this sounds like I’m praising them too highly, but this most certainly fits my description of perfection. Each track presents something new in a diverse, catchy and addictive bundle, filled with emotional twists and catchy chorus lines this simply must be heard by every fan of the genre.
Highlights: Lullaby in Winter, Two Seconds in Life, As Life Flows By.
Green Carnation – Light of Day, Day of Darkness (2001) – 4/5
So how does one improve on their last effort? Well, I suppose improve isn’t the right term, but consisting of one track over an hour in length it’s certainly different. Is it an album? Is it a single? The answer to this question is rather pointless, as in either case, its awesome.
Taking everything that was great about their album that would follow, this exemplifies everything that makes them great in a single track. This is the very definition of epic, as it tells a story with a distinct start, middle and end, comparing this to any other album is like comparing ‘The hobbit’ to ‘Lord of the Rings’. Debateable which is the better, but unquestionably the latter excels in its depth, its detail, as every conceivable plot diversifies, converges and explodes to produce a legendary tale.
But unfortunately its format, whilst its major strength, is also it main weakness. Without a break this rarely gets played in full, a requirement in order to fully appreciate everything that is done here. This is an album in a single track, aggressive, depressive and emotional providing catchy sequences, great solo passages and displays every member at their best.
This single track is possibly the most carefully constructed and thought out track I can think of. Once again progressing in the more literal sense, it tells a story capable of completely immersing you in their fiction world. If you have the time, close your eyes and listen as this monolithic piece performs its magic, and transports you into their world, if only for an hour. If you simply don’t have the time to do this, your best bet would to reach for something else.
Green Carnation – Acoustic Verses (2006) – 4.5/5
So they’ve done their more conventional style, they went epic on us, here they present us with, yet again, a piece that is if anything more different from anything previous. As the name suggests, this an album constructed using acoustic guitars over electric, but they don’t use this as an excuse to overuse chords. Instead, were left with just as addictive chorus lines as before, creativity oozing as they perform. There can be no question that this is a far more slower paced and emotional album, but this suits me quite nicely. The addition of violin’s at the right time, keyboards cleverly crafted into the background, the faint echo of the drums, everything is done in a manner to create a subtle atmosphere that can easily creep up on you.
All this, if anything, just furthers the effect the vocals have, in his ability to twist and snarl in ‘high tide waves,’ the solemn approach in ‘the burden is mine…alone,’ and the number of different tones he adopts as the album progresses. In fact there is only one real criticism that can be made, and that is that as a consequence of the softer and more melodic tone, the diversity is not quite as prevalent as before. Whilst the tracks still progress and change in tone, it isn’t as distinct and forthright as in ‘A Blessing in Disguise.’ This results in a sound that at times, begins to stagnate. Some of the tracks are not short in length, and there are times I wonder if its length was necessary, whether it couldn’t have done without a verse, or something else to try and vary the sound. Though they perform on this front far better than most, it simply doesn’t live up to what I know them to be capable of.
Rarely does an acoustic album reach me that matches up to their best. This album proves me further the wealth of talent at this bands disposal, the instrument being used as a creative match for the electric guitar, rather than as a gimmick or easy way to produce an original sound. This is welcome addition to their already impressive back catalogue, and is ample justification for my faith in their abilities.
Highlights: Sweet Leaf, Alone, High Tide Waves
By T. Bawden
Eucharist - A Velvet Creation - 4/5
Melodeath is an unfortunate sub-genre. Most of us here know it as a collective of watered-down bands playing something that resembles traditional heavy metal with some sugary NWOBHM-style leads and weak harsh vocals flung in, with the majority of the blame for the dumbing-down of the genre being heaped upon later At The Gates. What most people don't know is that once upon a time, before At The Gates decided to sell out and create one of the most horrifyingly overrated and boring albums in metal, is that melodic death metal was actually pretty cool. The "melodic" bit was still there, but unlike the majority of the In Flames/Arch Enemy/Dark Tranquility wannabes, the "death metal" was also there. Eucharist's 1993 debut album, "A Velvet Creation" is a great example of such.
Eucharist sound very crispy, thanks to the very raw, almost black metal, production on this album. Drums, vocals, and guitars are comparable to pocky sticks: not too large or thick, but crunchy, but with that really satisfying crispy snap when you break it in two. The bass, unfortunately, seems to be a bit under-represented here. You can hear it, but only if you strain yourself a bit. The drumming has a loud, sharp tone, louder than the guitars but somehow avoids drowning it out.
Eucharist's playing style here is similar to At The Gates circa "The Red in the Sky is Ours", although their approach is far less complex and layered. The guitar-work tends to come in two varieties, the palm-muted variety and the tremolo-picked variety, the latter of which is responsible for some pretty crazy lead-guitar work. The former has a mid paced traditional heavy metal feel, usually used to take up the space between tremolo picked sections. While this may seem to imply that they're boring riffs, they're there more to space out and provide a contrast for the tremolo bits. Usually, they help to build up tension and "prepare" the listener for the incoming leads, and are fine riffs in and of themselves. And boy, these guys really know how to write tremolo picked leads. Those melodies are basically the star of the show, and weave around the listener, suddenly stopping, picking up speed, and sometimes even have a neo-classical feel now and then, similar to Sentenced's "North From Here". "My Bleeding Tears" almost sounds like a mix of the fore-mentioned Sentenced album and "The Red In The Sky is Ours". On songs like "Floating" and "Greeting Immortality", the tremolo picking is done with a thrash style of direction, although it never sacrifices fluidity for brutality.
Another star of the show here is the bass, which provides all sorts of nice little counter-melodies to the guitars, but unfortunately, as stated previously, the production pushes it under the radar. If you can hear it, you'll discover a force that compliments the guitars nearly perfectly, almost like in a tech-death record, with all the right bass licks going off with pin-point accuracy at the exact right moments, making the whole musical meal juicier than usual. The drumming, like the first At The Gates album, has a very excited feel, like Bill Ward, but if he played death metal. He combines double-bass with mid-paced death metal drumming, expertly switching up tempos, using heavy loads of double-bass to accent tremolo picked riffs or build up tension, all the time while throwing in various little "drum-licks". He might come off as your generic melodeath drummer at first, but give it a few more listens and he'll be making any major name Gothenbourg metal drummer seem like a talentless hack compared to himself. See the title track for a great example of his drumming prowess. Finally, there are the vocals, which are less of death "growls" and more of howls at the higher bit of the mid-range. In fact, sometimes the vocalist sounds like Daniel Corchado of The Chasm, especially on the first track. The passion and power he puts into his performance is evident in how savage the vocals sound at times. On any track, there is a genuine feel that he's basically blowing his throat open, with his thick and throat tone.
The album is not perfect though. There are two slightly disappointing tracks. "The Religion of the Blood-Red Velvet" is very restrained compared to the rest of the album, relying mostly on slow-paced power-chords and some pretty meh leads linked to the riffs. It's not a terrible track, but it pales in comparison to the rest of the album. The title track, while it does have its share of the insane melodies this band is known for, also has one really annoying guitar lead at the beginning that almost reaches Dragonforce levels of annoyingness at times. While I personally got used to it after a while, others may have a hard time getting around it. Fortunately, these two small screw-ups pale in comparison to songs like the seven-minute "Floating", with its beautiful solos, "My Bleeding Tears" with its increasingly epic feel and some of the best leads in the whole of metal, and the straight-at-your-neck aggression of "Into the Cosmic Sphere".
Fans of both old-school death metal and melodic death metal in general should do themselves a favour. Delete/sell/burn all your shitty In Flames/At The Gates/Arch Enemy/Amon Amarth/Dark Tranquility albums and give this monster a go. This is a huge change of pace from the melodeath most people know, but it harkens back to a time when "melodic" and "death metal" were one rather than marketing terms used to appeal to teenage kids who still probably think that the fore-mentioned melodeath bands are the pinnacle of death metal.
Highlights: My Bleeding Tears, Floating, Into The Cosmic Sphere, Once my Eye moved Mountains
Afflicted – Prodigal Sun – 4.5/5
Alright, this one has been on my “to-do” list for far too long. Before I started my project on women of metal in fact. I listened to it, forgot about it, wrote my project, remembered it, forgot about it again, was reminded about it once more by Julian Chan and here I am. This is one that I’m not sure why its taken so long, its hardly a bad album. Actually, it’s a bloody good one, and one any fan of - particularly Old School - Death Metal needs to have in their collection.
Now, describing their sound is not exactly the easiest thing to do. Certainly the main body is that old school crunchy death metal tone, with a decent helping of technical metal, though it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of modern Tech bands get bogged down in sounding more technical than before; not here. Its fluid, seamless, and used in a way to make them sound unique rather than another avenue to prove just how quickly they can wank that guitar.
But more than that are the variety of subtle influences that make themselves known, the very Egyptian toned introduction, the almost jazzy toned interludes in ‘Rising to the Sun,’ the blues/rock sounding riffs in ‘Tidings from the Blue Sphere,” the quick, almost hardcore punkish outbursts in ‘The empty word,’ or the apocalyptic doom-filled atmosphere in ‘The Doomwatchers Perdiction,’ it all serves to create an album that is damn near impossible to predict. It adds an element of uncertainty, as it can change in tone and atmosphere at any moment, creating a tension that is not easy to find.
The drumming is complex and well performed, as is a must in any technical metal, and the vocals with a mid-ranged growl feel punchy and almost hardcore in the way they are presented, serve well at assisting the frequently chaotic atmosphere created. The guitars – the bass making a notable contribution, which I like to hear – whilst not masters of any particular style, are incredibly adept at a large array of tones, and are the driving force behind the chaotic atmosphere that is so critical, and that for me is far more important than simply how fast someone can sweep or tap.
The production holds this album back only slightly, not matching current standards but detracting little from the sound. Everything can be heard, if perhaps not as crisp as I would like. This is not an album for everybody. Tech metal is not the easiest of genre’s to enjoy, the lack of a regular structure and frequent shifts in tempo and styles will no doubt be off-putting to many, regardless how well done they are. This album, however, is more than worth your time, even if to simply discover what forgotten gems there are that you may have missed.
Highlights: Harbouring the Soul, Astray, Rising to the Sun
By T. Bawden
Cyclamen – Dreamers [EP] – 4/5
So I should begin perhaps by explaining why I’m not uploading this one. Its pretty simple really, firstly, this is not a big band, buying the album would not go to some record label because indeed, he doesn’t have one. This is the work of one man and his guitar working part-time to pay for his rent whilst he works on his music. Quite frankly, the quicker we can get this guy working full-time on this project, the happier I’ll be. The second reason, is that the entire thing can be heard for free on his myspace site. Like it? It costs £2.50 to buy it. This isn’t a huge amount of money.
Ok, so what do they sound like? Well I guess not comparing them to sikth would be a big mistake, but he has succeeded in taking their sound and straddling either side of it, going both into a technical overdrive as well as softer emotional side to the sound, and both are done pretty damn well. His abilities at guitar are up there amongst the better in the genre, both in style, and his balance between melody and technicality. The vocals feel rather monotonous, but rarely draw too much focus, and considering the entire thing was written using a drum machine, it sounds impressive on that front.
If the technical approach isn’t your thing, skip down to ‘forgotten sky’ and you’ll see this isn’t a one-note-wonder we have on our hands here. We have an interesting and creative musician who still needs to get himself known, but is one that I’m gonna damn well keep an eye on.
Highlight: Never Ending Dream
By. T. Bawden
Greezminh – Maturity – 3.5/5
The debut from an artist best described as an experimental electro/hardcore sound, this is nothing if not unusual. Not your standard electro affair, with more emphasis on tone and atmosphere than on a catchy beat, overlayed with a loud drum machine that actually works pretty well, I was expecting this to get fairly old in a short space of time, yet somehow it didn’t.
The song structure is more rock in style, having defined ‘verse riffs’ which constantly progress as the song’s meander. Often fairly short in length (in fact, so is the album, at only 35 mins) this works to their advantage and keeping things sounding fresh. The drums here aren’t so much used as a base layer as they are for adding another layer. If the drums are consistent, then the electronic sounds will probably be changing before too long, and visa versa. This goes much of the way in differentiating between the more melodic and slower paced sections, with either little or no drums, and a more aggressive tone where the drums stand loud and proud, dominating the track and creating a hard hitting tone.
Vocals are almost non-existant, occurring a total of three times during the course of the album. Once as a short sentence spoken in a female voice in French, again as a slow deep growl, sounding rather akin to a grindcore vocalist growling bubbles through his milkshake, and a third spoken line, this time in English, saying “This is the life we choose, the life we lead, and in this life there is but one guarantee; None of us shall see hell." Implemented rather well, but to call their appearance rare would be an understatement.
The electronic sounds are without a doubt the main focus here doing two jobs; supplying a background atmosphere, mimicking piano and violin sounds, as well as providing an interesting riff. In fact, the tones created are better than I expected, lending a more diverse range of emotions from the depressive classical feel in “Selina’s Claws” to the more frantic “Necrophagia Princess.”
But despite this, it isn’t enough. There are a limited number of truly original sounds that can be produced with a limited repertoire. Many of the songs, whilst good, sound fairly similar to those that came before it. Something else needs to be present, another layer, another way of producing a new tone, something which this piece is desperately in need of. This is an interesting debut, and one that shows promise but simply needs work.
Highlights: Abyssal Massacre, Selina’s Claws, Necrophagia Princess
By T. Bawden
The Wildhearts - The Wildhearts - 5/5
As has been my mission since forming our merry group of musical misfits, I have endeavored to inform - anyone who will listen - of bands that have fallen under the radar or been sadly overlooked in our never ending quest for the perfect soundtrack to our lives. The Wildhearts are one band that I've championed before and by God here comes the hype machine again!!!
This group has been toiling away since the late '80's, making some of the best damn rock records known to man, but outside of some well deserved recognition in England and the European mainland, they remain relatively unknown on a worldwide scale. This is quite unfortunate because this is THE band that should be the template of what rock radio should sound like.
And what is their sound? Well, they have been called punk rock, hard rock, pop metal, and many other things. Basically, they are unslottable, and this does my heart wonders in these times of genre and sub-genre overkill. If I was to venture to describe their sound, I would only be able to do it metaphorically. The Wildhearts sound like The Beatles and Cheap Trick chained to the hood of a super charged V-8 pick-up, piloted by Joe Strummer, with Lemmy in the shotgun seat, Hanoi Rocks playing in the flat bed, crashing into Metallica's tour bus!! Yeah, that's about right.
Infectious sky scraping choruses, riffs piled on high, and solid jobs in both the songwriting and production departments characterize each and every 'hearts platter, main man Ginger upholding a standard of quality in spite of much strife and upheaval within the organization. This is a band that survives like post apocalyptic cockroaches, no matter of obstruction getting in the way of building what has become one of the strongest discographies in the modern rock world.
2007's self titled album upholds everything that has made The Wildhearts such an interesting venture. Each and every characteristic is on full flare display, balls hanging out, tongue wagging, brash and berating. A triumph of perseverance, consummate talent, and die hard will, this album is a must hear(as every album before it) and will please any discerning music fan to no end. Brilliant.
For God's sake, buy this bands albums please!!!! I implore you, make The Wildhearts the millionaire superstars they deserve to be.
Recommended - The Sweetest Song, The Revolution Will Be Televised.
By J. Costigan
Rich vs Roach – 4/5
Rich vs. Roach, God vs God, both jazz drummers pairing up for an epic battle of the titans, combat between two of the greatest drummers to have ever graced the earth – irrespective of genre – this should be every drummers wet dream. On one hand, the more aggressive Buddy Rich, an example of which can be found here and on the other Max Roach, the brilliant and unconventional drummer who plays with a soft passion for the instrument, found here, if there are still drummers reading this and haven’t reached for the download link, now would be a good time.
So now the question becomes, how does it fare for those not obsessed with the drums? The short answer is pretty damn well. It seems that they realised that an album with just drums would quickly develop into a case of over the top technical and brilliant drumming, such that only other drummers could enjoy it. Instead, great piano, saxophone and trumpet lines can be heard throughout. Though don’t get me wrong, this isn’t so much a jazz album with a good helping of drum solo’s, this is a collection of drum solo’s with a healthy dollop of jazz.
But even the drums themselves are done brilliantly. Diverse like you wouldn’t have believed, soft, aggressive, bombarding you with tones, clever use of hi-hats and cymbals, most albums go without the creativity these guys have squashed into each individual track, and what makes this all the more impressive is the degree to which they were all improvised. Featuring multiple versions of the same track, they do battle, Rich blasting out of the left speaker with all out fury, and Roach out of the right, using his creativity to counter it, quick and upbeat transitioning into the slower softer side where Roach excels, continued again by Rich back into the intense style he more commonly adopts this reaches me as all out warfare, each man trying to outwit, outsmart and outplay the other.
This is an album that even 40 years since its release has sparked debate over the greater of the two. After repeated listening, contemplation of each of the musicians and their other works, I realised the answer to this question becomes simply a matter of opinion. What is however fact, is that they should both be remembered as legends in their own right.
Highlights: Sing,Sing,Sing (alternate version), Figure Eights, Limehouse Blues
P.S. If anyone’s wondering, I prefer Buddy Rich :p
By T. Bawden
BIG CARL'S BIG TOP 5 BIG MID-NINTIES AMERICAN PUNK #3
So, slam-dunking in at number 3 is the dirty, scummy, group of punks Rancid. I'll take this opportunity to say that this and the following 2 album's ranking shouldn't be taken too seriously. I would have no qualms with anyone ranking my top 3 differently, as I feel they all have the same amount of quality. All I'm doing is ranking them based on personal preference. So, without wasting anymore time, let's begin.
As with a lot of the Punk I (used) to listen to, the feel and energy is far more important than the technicality or musical prowess that the band shows. This album has unity, spunk, party and rebellion by the bucketload. The album is full of absolute classic punk, with tracks like Nihilism, Radio, Salvation, International Cover-up to name just a few that WILL bring a smile to your face and get you singing at the top of your lungs.
The vocal protagonist on this album is Tim Armstrong, also of Operation Ivy, Transplants and, er, Tim Armstrong. You'll find it hard to mistake his vocals, they're raspy, crappy and downright excellent ( an oxymoron - let me finish). It's his vocals that add just one distinctive feature to Rancid's sound, they sound like the kid who dresses a bit different, the one who seemingly didn't have any talent but went ahead and sung anyway. That's what this band is about - spirit. Lars Frederikson also lends his hand for vocals fairly frequently, and does a fine job, with similar effect. Matt Freeman, the masterbasser (I'll come to this) also lends his vocals on a couple of songs. All 3 guys have the same underlying vocal style (raspy, dirty whines), but add their own spin, which really prolongs the album across it's 23-track(!) length.
Musically, the guitars are pretty peripheral. A few nice, bluesy twangs and screetches here and there, but they only serve to retain a kind of fuzz and general tone to each song. The real musicianship is in the form of bass player Matt Freeman. The production is tuned excellently to get the best out of everything, especially the Ska/Reggae-inspired basslines. These basslines really add a huge sense of depth to the tracks, they flutter around all kinds of scales and grumble along under the fuzz of the guitars, and man, could this guy play. It's a shame there's no proper bass solo on this album (if you somehow can't get enough of the creative basslines already on show), but on other albums such as ...And Out Come The wolves and Rancid 2000 there are some quite brilliant solos.
All in all, the lyrical tales of life on the streets, not giving a shit, fucking authority and generally being a menace to society are enchanting and inspiring. The musicianship of the bass is fantastic, and the vocal work just sum up this album perfectly - grubby, filthy and bloody good. Get this.
By C. Bidwell
Riot - Army of One - 2/5
Born to lose. The underdog of all underdogs. Perennial underachievers. Riot are all of these things, and yet, they are considered hugely influential and even revered! What?
Riot(more accurately Mark Reale) has persevered through line-up instability, commercial indifference, lack of North American presence, and even death to become one of the longest lasting American metal bands on record. A true "institution". Yet, they are rarely talked about outside of circles in the know. Huh?
From their early beginnings, Riot were one of the premiere "true' metal bands, a burning light in a sea of pablum. From Reale's blistering riff and solo work, to Guy Speranza's "rock God" shriek, this was a band that had it together, and early. Speranza's loss(left the band on his spouses behest, to become an exterminator(!!!), later to succumb to cancer, thought to be the result of his continual proximity to pesticides. R.I.P. 09 November 2003) was a heavy blow dealt to the band. But they trucked on behind the soaring vocals of another huge talent, Rhett Forrester((R.I.P. Sep. 22nd 1956 - Jan. 22nd 1994, shot to death). Forging another couple of now classic albums, the band's poor fortunes led to a break up. This was thought to be the end of the band by all parties, fans included.
Mark Reale's never-say-die attitude was to come to the fore yet again however, as Riot reformed, this time as a clean burning speed metal band with the release of "Thundersteel". With Tony Moore vocalizing this new beast, the band enjoyed a moderate renaissance which was to last for another album, but as has always seemed to be the way for Reale and his beleaguered outfit( namely ally,drum master Bobby Jarzombek who added some stability to the line-up), this phase was not to be. It is at this juncture that the band released a live opus(Riot in Japan Live !!) chronicling this period. It is of special note because said live album included the touring band of Mike Flyntz on guitar and Pete Perez on bass, who would form the most solid and lasting core of the band in the future.
In 1994, the newest and most enduring incarnation of the band began, as Riot was reborn as a full blown power metal band. This was also the year that vocalist Mike DiMeo was introduced as frontman. This was the line-up(along with Perez and Flyntz) that persisted right up until the album at hand, Army of One(excepting a constant musical chairs at drums). Actually recorded in '03, this album was not released until '06, after DiMeo was out!!!!
Anyway, this line-up released some of Riot's strongest material over the years, and any review of "Army of One" has to be measured against this material, as it bears very little resemblance to what came before(save Reale's guitar mastery). With the exception of the rote and banal "Through the Storm" from '02, these are high standards to attain. I consider "The Brethren of the Long House" and "Sons of Society" to be near perfect examples of Power metal at it's best, with the rest of the albums from this period not being far off. And I have to say, this album is a fair disappointment. Perhaps it was the then current instability within the band that affected the outcome, but this is easily one of my least favorite Riot releases. It is much closer to the aforementioned "Through the Storm" in tone and delivery, than say, the majestic strains of "... Long House". Filled with AOR-ish type fodder, it contains none of the aggression or pop of Riot's shinier moments. Outside of the speedy and classic power of the opening title track, the Dokken-esque melodic cruncher "Blinded", and double bass driven "The Mystic", the rest of the album sounds like an unfortunate collection of songs written for the bands wives/girlfriends. Apart from the already mentioned cuts, it plays out something like this: AOR, mid pace rock, speedy AOR, ballad, funky thump, blues ballad, ballad, instrumental, AOR, and a close out with a live cover of the excellent "Road Racin'" from the band's debut. All I can say is "for shame!!". Quality has been sacrificed and subjugated for "accessibility" and reliving old glories.
As stilted as many old school rockers attempts at staying alive, this album is not one that will get much if any replay in this household. Decent production, sterling playing, and a scant three or four good tunes hardly warrant repeat visitation. I'm sure fans of traditional metal/hair will find something to enjoy here, because ultimately, that's what "Army of One" sounds like. A hair band trying to survive in unfriendly times. I am sure that some metalheads are going to hear this album first, and not bother to move deeper into the catalog because of it. That's a shame, cause Riot's catalog if rife with untold magnificence.
This is certainly not the type of effort that will pull Riot from it's obscurity, and it does nothing for their sterling reputation of quality either.
Recommended Tracks: Army of One, The Mystic
By J. Costigan