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Reviews 2002, part I

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The Blamed - Give Us Barabbas, Tooth & Nail Records

Well past Easter The Blamed comes up with Give Us Barabbas. More than a year ago I saw them live and the only impression that I got was that it was a lot of senseless noise with layers of screams. This recording gives me a different idea of the same band and this is also different from what I know from their punk rock days when they were one of the first bands on Tooth & Nail Records. Give Us Barabbas is, according to the bio, "a true post-punk triumph". This is sort of a mix of good old punk with sophisticated rock 'n roll. It definitely doesn't carry the simplicity of a lot of bands who are currently going back to the roots of rock 'n roll. The question is, however, whether that's to be applauded. I guess it depends on taste. What to one seems to be a high form of creativity might be pure frenzy to someone else. You can't argue one's taste. There's nothing poppy about this music nor does it feature any choruses that could have made it easier to swallow. It's raw stuff with various influences from punk, emo and hardcore but without the speediness that characterizes some of these sources. The recording is good and contains various good moments though I'm personally not impressed. Matter of taste.

Ganglion - Promo CD, Independent

This demo comes from a band that consists of members of Extol and Lengsel. But don't expect anything metal like the bands these guys are part of. The first track, Culmi-Nation, makes this crystal clear as you can hear heavy rock 'n roll music with aggressive vocals. Rock 'n roll is the keyword for this release as it's the chassis that carries the vehicle. It makes the music roll while hardcore, punk rock and even thrashy influences give it the "looks" this vehicle has. This is powerful music. The fast parts in Boundary Lines pump the adrenaline into your veins. As you may expect from these guys, the recording is solid and thus it gives a good demonstration of their abilities. If you like hard rock 'n roll this will appeal to you.

Various Artists - This Is Solid State Volume 3, Solid State Records

Through this compilation Solid State Records introduces old and new bands on their roster. Interestingly, the CD starts with a demo version of a new song from Project 86. This band is known for its releases through BEC Recordings. Musically they fit in well with their hardcore/rapcore music. The new song is in the vein of Drawing Black Lines, their second album. The other bands on this compilation are: Demon Hunter, Zao, Still Breathing, Underoath, Eso-Charis, Living Sacrifice, Stretch Arm Strong, Extol, Soul Embraced, Embodyment, Narcissus, Norma Jean, Blindside, Few Left Standing, Society's Finest & Soapbox. So, it's a whole lot of hardcore, metalcore and extreme metal that will please the extreme music fan without doubt. This disc is extra interesting not only because of Project 86 but also of a previously unreleased cut from Zao called Iscarus Complex (in the vein of their self titled album) and the bands that were added to the Solid State roster recently. Don't miss this one.

Slick Shoes - Slick Shoes, Tooth & Nail Records

The decayed look of the digi pack might suggest an album back from the day these guys were crawling around in their diapers. Contrary to this old look is the freshness and excitement Slick Shoes displays through their music. The fourth record from the band contains twelve poppy punk rock tunes that mix catchy song writing with energetic rock and harmonic vocals. This music breathes joy and excitement. Just like Wake Up Screaming, their previous effort, this album has things in common with MxPx. A song like Friday Night could as easily have been on an album from the famous Bremerton trio as it is on this one. But Slick Shoes is not a copycat band as they have enough different aspects to remain their own identity. With a production of Neill King (who also worked with Green Day) you can expect a good sounding album with only a few minor flaws. Some songs have hit potential such as Alone (the first single) and I Know. The enhanced part of the disc contains the video for Alone as well as some photos.

Rick Ray - Manipulated D.N.A., Neurosis Records

It has never happened to me before but this album was collecting dust waiting to be reviewed for months. But here it is after all! The first impression I got from the weird cover. You can see distorted faces and multiple eyed faces that make you wonder if you're squinting or if you can expect some psychedelic rock. The first song seems to give the last idea some credit with its schizophrenic guitars. Two separate guitars play different schemes, filled with numerous lead playing. It's not hard music in the sense that the guitars have no aggressive tones, the drums are a bit distant and the smoky singing sounds relaxed. So, the overall feel it that of laid back rock music that happens to be embedded in the seventies. The lead guitar playing is clearly blues influenced and blues is present on the rest of Manipulated D.N.A. as well. The first track also has a tiny bit of a jazz rock flavor. The album is a collection of songs as well as a collection of musical directions. Only Could This Be has a metal influence while progressive rock dominates all over. The use of clarinet in various songs adds a singular tone. The playing is good and the production, though not heavy, is well. As this is quite an uncommon release for me to review you act wisely to give it a serious listen when you're interested.

12 Stones - 12 Stones, Wind-Up Records

While I write this, the band is on a US tour with label mates Creed. So, who are the 12 Stones? Well, this is a modern rock band consisting of four young guys. With this self-titled product they present a debut that was produced by Jay Baumgardner (who has worked with Papa Roach, Coal Chamber and others). This resulted in a disc that sounds heavier than the average modern rock CD that I've come across. The occasional background screams also contributed to this. Vocalist Paul McCoy is often singing the blues with lyrics dealing with loneliness, rejection and frustration. Just check how often they use the word "away", like: "I see a lot of hate, pushing me away" (in Open Your Eyes). Musically there's definitely a blues influence too, mostly when it comes to solo guitar playing. For example, My Life has a neat, bluesy solo. Most songs follow the same pattern with clean guitar picking in the beginning and verses and heavy distorted guitars in the choruses. This becomes a bit predictable after a while. However, this disc is a very fine debut. Good playing and excellent quality, sound wise.

Fire Fly - Demo 2002, Independent

First of all, I'm not sure if this three song disc is available for purchase. But, anyway, I'm reviewing it! The follow-up to last year's Beauty For Ashes is a demo that can stand the quality test like its predecessor. So, how's the music like? Fire Fly is still about a variety of mellow and harder passages. It's atmospheric melodic rock. Beauty For Ashes had a couple of entire tranquil songs but none of the three on the demo are. The Alphabet Song might start mellow and friendly but distorted guitars embellish the hard parts that are here as well. Compared to Beauty For Ashes this one sounds a bit heavier and overall the three songs are a bit catchier. Is there more in store for us? I hope so. This is Fire Fly at its best to date!

Dr. Bigfoot - Through These Eyes, Independent

From Groningen, The Netherlands, comes Dr. Bigfoot. This demo EP contains four tracks. Blasphemy is a rapcore song where raps are combined with some attempts to scream in the choruses. Get Back starts as a ska song, turns into a punk rock tune and then into a rap infused rock song. And then the process starts all over again. Got an idea about the song structure? The third track is Blood, Sweat & Tears. This is a return to the raprock. Touch The Heart is a song with an up tempo chorus and mellower in-betweens. This CD sounds like it was recorded live in the sense that it doesn't sound polished. The quality could definitely be better but you will get an idea of this Dutch band. Nice demo but nothing outstanding.

Global Warning - EP, Independent

I think this is the third disc that I got from this band in one year. There are five songs on this EP and three of them were on the previous discs (Inside, Digital Black & Come In). The first track, Blurred World, is new. My previous complaint about the band was their lack of variety in a song. In this one they plunge into the solo after less than 90 seconds! A nice solo though. It wouldn't harm them if they picked up the tempo occasionally. The other new track is Completely New (what's in a name!). This song varies dark strumming parts with heavier passages. The vocal melodies are good. Global Warning has definitely made serious progress since the first EP came my way. This is raw melodic metal without pop tendencies nor with technical freaking. Pure metal?

Fewleftstanding - Wormwood, Takehold Records/Solid State Records

Wormwood was initially released by Takehold Records in 2001. But after the takeover by Solid State Records it was re-released this year. However, the copy I've got is the Takehold original sent to me by a regular supporter of Art For The Ears who thinks this band deserves more attention. Now I'm listening to it, the question becomes relevant: Does this band deserve more attention? Personally I think so as this record sounds better than what I had expected from it. So, how's Fewleftstanding actually like? Expect modern melodic hardcore without the traditional verse/chorus/verse structures. You'll rather hear a musical development in each song, switching from one riff to another to a third to a fourth, etcetera. Overall the songs are mid tempo with some faster parts. Basically what it comes down to is a mix of aggression and melody combined with hoarse screaming and thought provoking lyrics. Wormwood is a self-produced album with recording helps from Barry Poynter and Jason Magnusson. In its own genre this disc is a real tasty one that will appeal to the listener even after many hours of listening to it.

Cool Hand Luke - I Fought Against Myself, Independent

Cool Hand Luke is a three piece consisting of drummer Mark, guitarist Jason and bassist/vocalist Brandon. The first track is a tranquil yet vague song with piano, acoustic guitars, dark background sounds & chatting and church bells. Nice as background music. The second song, Destroying Transduction, proves this band's an emo rock band. The singing sounds a bit like Arjen from This Beautiful Mess but this music is different. Because of the guitars the heavier parts are heavier and overall they're not retrospective like TBM. Of course, besides piano you won't hear any keyboard or organ stuff. But this is not really a heavy album though. The playing is nice but the vocals become boring after a while. This is the kind of music you need to be in the mood for. Some songs fit best as background music, others are nice to listen to for some time. It's nice, not impressing. The disc is filled with almost 60 minutes and only ten songs so you know you can expect long tracks.

Morphia - Frozen Dust, Independent/Fear Dark

The first time I got acquainted with Morphia was through their gig as a support act for Mortification in the summer of 2001. I was impressed by their professional attitude and their beautifully shaped music. A few weeks later I bought their Unfulfilled Dreams album. Now the band presents their follow-up called Frozen Dust. Their music can be described as symphonic doom. You can hear heavy chugging guitar riffs and acoustic parts. This is all completed with subtle drum, bass, piano & keyboard playing. Interesting is the use of different kinds of vocals. At one point in The Sun, for example, you can hear three different vocal layers at the same time: the clean voice of guitarist Roger Koedoot, the growl of lead singer Jasper Pieterson and the shrieking sounds of keyboard player Peter van Tulder. Frozen Dust is the first record for Jasper. He has a deep, dry and dark grunt that fits this music perfectly. It's moody, atmospheric music with melancholic lyrics. Or even depressive lyrics like in Forced To Obey. Production wise the band made a leap forward resulting in a top notch product. Also the booklet was done with care. You can find various pictures that represent the lyrics in some way. If you like atmospheric doom metal, Frozen Dust is a must have.

P.O.D. - Satellite, Atlantic Records

Okay, I'm a bit late with this review. Already more than two million copies have been sold of this album while it's only six months out or so. Satellite is the follow-up to the platinum release The Fundamental Elements Of Southtown. Their music is mainly rapcore but it's sometimes melted together with some hardcore influences and new metal. Some of the songs have proved to have hit potential. The single Alive became a hit song in my country as well as in other countries around the globe. I'm sure there are more songs that'll do well on air. Not everything is heavy. Youth Of The Nation is a mellow track that sounds pretty cool if you like rap music. There are two cuts with reggae parts in it. There are also a few guest appearances including Christian Lindskog of Blindside whose screaming can be heard in Anything Right. This song features a string arrangement too. Of course, the production by Howard Benson is flawless. The album has variety. One warning though: Don't touch the booklet with sweaty fingers like I did or you might find each line of your fingerprint in white on the black ink. Cheap quality for such a huge release.

Sacred Life - Sacred Life,  Independent

This is the debut EP of pop punk band Sacred Life from Hattem, The Netherlands. It's been many years since I heard a Christian punk band from my native country. This band plays music in the vein of Slick Shoes and old MxPx. Sacred Life doesn't exist quite long and they still have a lot to learn but the songs are not bad at all. The quality of the recording is poor and the lead vocals are not convincing but the harmonic vocals do sound nice. What you can hear is a young band that's capable of more if they push a little harder. They seem to have the enthusiasm needed. There are six songs on the EP filling almost 18 minutes. Best cuts: 8051 Skate Park and My Job.

Fine China - You Make Me Hate Music, Tooth & Nail Records

Dreamy acoustic rock with modest vocals. That defines Fine China on their upcoming album You Make Me Hate Music. It's music in the vein of Starflyer 59 but not as nostalgic. Sometimes it reminds me of eighties rock bands like The Cure but Fine China is not at all dark. The basis of the music is the strumming of the guitar adorned by keyboards/organ while sometimes an electric guitar weeps along. And, of course, there is also assistance of bass and drums. It's not energetic and only occasionally it's a little bit heavier like in Don't Say Nothing. Overall the album sounds too monotone to keep your attention all 38 minutes. It's not bad. I mean, the quality is good, but my thoughts drift away too easily. For background music that's good but even then I can't say this disc makes me love music. If you like dreamy acoustic rock...

Twothirtyeight - Regulate The Chemicals, Tooth & Nail Records

Twothirtyeight is so far an unknown band to me. Regulate The Chemicals is their upcoming album on Tooth & Nail Records. It features emo rock music. It's a raw, yet sober music. You can hear two guitars in collision with each other while you hear clean vocals on top of it. The guitars vary from gentle strumming to heavy outbursts. There's a lot of melody. The vocals are sometimes joined by other voices for some harmonies, like in Songs Will Write The Chords. This song is also enhanced with some orchestrations, though not much. The emphasis is on the raw, pure rock sound. Regulate The Chemicals is good and even though it's not my favorite style people who are into this kind of music might have found a new name to look out for. Give it a try.

Betrayal - In Remembrance Of Me, Black & White Records

The previous album, Leaving Nevermore, marked the return of the early nineties metal band Betrayal that released two albums before breaking up. However, times had changed and so had Betrayal. The old fans who couldn't catch up with the developments were disappointed. Now the fourth Betrayal disc rotates in the player and while I notice that this one's heavier than Leaving Nevermore with less keyboards, it's equally clear that this still is music for open minded metal fans. The music is a combination of metal riffing with drum loops, keyboards and vague sounds. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. The first track has too abrupt changes which makes it sound like fragments put together. A better example is the next song where different segments fit together well. One of my favorite tracks is Dark Laden where old elements are mixed with new elements best. You can hear crunchy guitars with breakbeat rhythms. Leaving Nevermore sounded more like it was written mostly on keyboards, with guitars added later. On In Remembrance Of Me it seems songwriter Marcus Colon followed the opposite procedure. It's more metal but still for people who are open minded about it. It's hardly gothic. There are seven songs on the album filling only 30 minutes. Sometimes it's brilliant, sometimes it's weak. Interestingly this disc is only available on a donation basis through the renewed Betrayal website. The proceeds will be invested in the ongoing production of the album to place this project into the hands of non-believers for free.

Soul Embraced This Is My Blood, Solid State Records

The follow up to the album Soul Embraced released through Clenched Fist Records (For The Incomplete) contains thirteen death metal tunes. Soul Embraced is the band with two Living Sacrifice members (Lance Garvin & Rocky Gray) and singer Chad Moore. While Living Sacrifice meshes hardcore with metal, Soul Embraced will please the metal fans with intense death metal. While the record isn't as aggressive as the previous one, you can here excellently recorded metal. The first track, I Fade Away, makes me think of In Flames with the use of clearly discernable death growls as well as clean vocals. But the rest of the album has hardly any clean vocals. There's even more space for melody than on For The Incomplete but there's less space for fast parts. Only in the final song, Leech, speed becomes prevalent. This Is My Blood is another great piece from this band.

The Juliana Theory - Music From Another Room, Tooth & Nail Records

The latest EP from The Juliana Theory presents five different songs written throughout the career of the band. In fact, one of them was written before the band was started: Piano Song. This is the final track and as the title suggests it's a piano based song. It starts gently and while guitars join later, the piano stays there, humming along. There's a classic rock influence. This is a real beautiful song on the EP, lyrically encouraging an 'old friend'. The EP also contains newer tracks like This Is The End Of Your Life which was composed after the Emotion Is Dead album. Guitars are predominant on this one even though it starts tranquil. Near the end I can discern three different layers of guitars. Another song that I really like is Liability that would have fit on Emotion Is Dead perfectly. There are no flaws on the EP. Every single song is beautiful on its own. The recording is of good quality like you can expect from this band. The packaging is sober though. Music counts.

The Deadlines - Fashion Over Function, Tooth & Nail Records

While the previous album (Death And Life Of...) showcased a band incorporating horror elements in their music and appearance, on Fashion Over Function The Deadlines chose for a straight ahead rock 'n roll approach. They supposedly have rock star manners when singer Shaun Sundholm cries out: "I want a stalker...I want someone to follow me around. I want to get your love letters in the mail. I want to see you ending up in jail. I want to be on the cover of your magazines" (in I Want A Stalker). This rock star image they're portraying is with a big wink of the eyes. Musically all rock 'n roll clichés are dusted off. If it wasn't for the modern influences you would think you're back in the sixties. There's not as much variety on Fashion Over Function as on the previous album but the production is clearly improved. One big minus is that the CD is less than thirty minutes long. Music for people who want to relive the fun of the rock 'n roll years their parents grew up in.

.rod Laver - In A Perfect World, BEC Recordings

Rod Laver is a quartet that released various albums. In A Perfect World is their first album released through BEC Recordings. Their music is rapcore. The construction of their songs is simple: mellow music in the verses, heavy guitars in the choruses. When you listen to the opening track Janet you can discover a clear POD influence which is not remarkable these days. A Nirvana influence is clear in Doctor Zaius. Some of the songs sound much like each other which makes it hard to say which ones stick out. The CD ends with a ballad kind of track. It's basically acoustic guitar and organ with a breakbeat underneath it while vocalist Rudy Nielsen sings gently along. The quality of the recording is good but it misses that little extra to make me an enthusiast.

The Awakening - The Fourth Seal Of Zeen, Intervention Music

The Fourth Seal Of Zeen is the fourth album from The Awakening. Like on previous albums you can hear songs composed, created and produced by Ashton Nyte who's the sole member of this gothic rock band. While bands like Saviour Machine and Virgin Black are closely related to metal, The Awakening is closer to the origin of gothic rock music. The songs are a mixture of dark keyboards, some piano, and rhythm guitars. The singing of Ashton is often low and deep and reminds a bit of Peter Steele (Type O Negative). But The Awakening is not as hard as aforementioned bands. You could call this music depressive mood rock as that describes what it essentially is. Not that the lyrics are depressing but there's definitely a touch of loneliness, as well as other kinds of moods. It's dark music with dark, poetic lyrics and a dark booklet full of moody photographs. Isn't that the essence of gothic rock? Fact is that this album is interesting to check out for the fans of the mellower but darker kind of gothic. When you are in the mood...

   Various Artists - Brazilian Collection, Metal Mission

This compilation is an initiative of the Brazilian magazine Metal Mission. The CD contains thirteen entries from different kinds of metal bands. Even though I recognize some of the names presented here, I realize that most people outside of Brazil probably never heard of them. Therefore, this disc may be a good opportunity to get to know these Brazilian formations. But it's also important to realize that this is only a handful of the huge amount of bands that Brazil accommodates. Here's the list of bands on this compilation: Trino, The Joke, Dynasty, Resistance, Arcanjo, Empty Grave, Clemency, Skymetal, Moshab, Sacramento, Halleluyah, War Blade and Edson Boleti. Depending on your taste there are interesting tracks to find. The overall quality, sound wise, isn't as good as one might hope for but the lack of superiority in the sonic field is made up for with good songs. There are a few minor songs on the disc but most are interesting or even really cool. It's too much to mention what bands are to keep an eye on. If these bands get the chance to release something of satisfying quality most of them are great additions to the scene. Good initiative.

Global Warning - Promotional Release Remix, Independent

Global Warning is attracting attention again with a promotional release through which they hope to get some sort of record deal. Two of the three tracks were featured on the previous promo but they remixed them. Both songs sound close to the originals. The new song is called Inside and is in the same vein as the older tracks. You can hear heavy chugging metal riffs and raw vocals though they are clean. It's a nice song even though it becomes too monotone after a while. The sound quality is good.

Crushead - Explicit Content, Frozen Heart Music

The cover of this disc depicts a guy whose mouth is closed with grey tape. When I opened the box and took the CD out of it, I saw the same tape underneath it. But, do not fear, the band's not silenced for good because there are still sounds and vocals on the album. Crushead is a German quintet playing what might be described as rap 'n roll. They themselves describe it as crunch 'n roll. You can hear groovy rock music, often with rapping in the verses and singing in the choruses. Some of the riffs lean over to metal, like in Glorify. Most of this material is midtempo. There are a few lighter cuts like the beautiful Last Chapter Ending. The CD ends with a relaxed breakbeat remix of Reason To Jump. The Christian stance of Crushead becomes evident in most of the songs. Fortunately, the quality of this disc is pretty good which makes it an album that's pleasant to listen to: It rocks and has variety. Some stuff has a catchiness I like about this band. So, quite a pleasant surprise from Germany.

Kekal - The Painful Experience, THT Productions/Fear Dark/Clenchedfist Records

The Painful Experience is the third album from the Indonesian band Kekal. This black metal band was started in 1995 and with their previous releases they gathered a huge underground following. Though I had heard some of their music before, this album is the first full length to come across my path. On The Painful Experience the main part is black metal, with violent parts, combined with classic metal kind of riffs. The guitar playing is excellent with tight riffing and neatly played solos. Some solos sound hysterically, like the one just after the intro to After The Storm, but that also fits the agression of the music. The vocals are raspy, croaky but there are clean vocals as well. Songs like Mean Attraction and Crave For Solid Ground are good examples of their abilities. The album is not always as extreme. Especially near the end of the CD the variety becomes wider. The titletrack has a lot of beautiful melodies and though you can hear black metal type of vocals, the song's mainly a progressive kind of metal track. The Painful Experience also contains a real ambient track in the vein of Enya but it's only instrumental and has a dark atmosphere. Song wise Kekal delivered an excellent album that will appeal to more than only black metal fans. Sound wise the quality is good, but not excellent.

Torman Maxt - The Foolishness Of God, Mars Hill Records

Many years ago I was in a record store, exploring the stacks of metal albums when my eyes fell upon an album by Torman Maxt entitled Just Talking About The Universe... So Far. I remember being in doubt whether to buy that album or not. I listened to it. And when I had come to the decision to not buying it, doubt began creeping up in my heart. So, I started listening to it again. However, the decision was final in the end and without the album I went home, but still doubting whether I should have bought it or not. Now the new album of Torman Maxt turns up and I more and more realize why I was so full of hesitation. This is not the kind of music that you can listen to only once and make up your mind about. You need to listen to it time and time again and after a while it will either grow on you or fade away. Torman Maxt is a trio consisting of Tony, Dominic and Vincent Massaro. Their music can be described as progressive rock with metal influences. The Foolishness Of God is also an eclective album with heavier and softer passages, but all very melodic. This album seems to be a concept album too with the title being the overall theme. There are four chapters. The last chapter entitled Foolishness contains the more than ten minutes long titletrack that explains the idea behind the CD. Also, the cover depicting examples of human craft versus Gods sacrifice through Jesus exemplifies it. So, what do I think of the album? Well, it took at least ten times listening to it. At first I was in doubt but I have started liking it. There are some beautiful songs on this album and the quality of the recording is fine. It could have been a bit heavier to my taste though.

Various Artists - The Metal Rose Collection, Little Rose Productions

Little Rose Productions presents fourteen Finnish metalbands on this disc. Some of them have introduced themselves to the public through their own releases but most of them are only known to me name wise. Metal is the keyword for this compilation and you can hear it in different forms: death metal, melodic metal, power metal, nu metal, metalcore, black metal, thrash metal and rock 'n roll in the vein of The Hellacopters. There are talented bands on this compilation and the overall quality is good. Of all the new bands I heard, it's hard to say which ones stick out as this may vary with one's taste. Personally I'm interested in Worship Factory, Exlife, IX Syndicate, Icon Clan and Pulse. Other bands on this disc are Immortal Souls, Oratorio, Hallowed, Tinnitus, C-Force, V.I.P., Anchor, Destination, Catrabbits. I wish my country could present so many talented bands. I suggest we'll emigrate to Finland.

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