Tuesday, August 11, 2015

VIA "Sanitize This"

(c) 2015 Pavement Music

  1. Why Do You Play God?
  2. Uncle Sam
  3. The Color Snow
  4. Shroommates
  5. Red Room
  6. Closets
  7. ...To Those Of You With A Guilty Conscience
  8. Come Find Me
J--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Evo--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Sam--Bass, Backing Vocals

VIA is a relatively new band, having only been formed in Minnesota in 2013, yet they have already garnered themselves a decent internet following and a record deal.  Having never heard anything from these guys, I had no idea what to expect, although I was fairly sure we would be treated to some Octane-friendly modern hard rock.  

Not really.

To my ears, VIA has far more in common with one of my favorite 90's hard alternative bands, LIVE, than with anything currently garnering airplay.  J's vocals have the same edge that LIVE frontman Ed Kowalczyk used to such great effect, especially on that band's first three or four albums, and the off-kilter rhythms, fuzzed-up guitars and overall tone only serve to add to this comparison.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the band incorporates a few songs from Throwing Copper or Secret Samhadi into their set, in fact.

Things start off rather aggressively with the first two tracks, which are both hard rockers with an alternative bent to them.  While neither "Why Do You Play God?" nor "Uncle Sam" are overly memorable, they both showcase a tight band, especially in the rhythm section of Ben and Sam, and a penchant for discordant guitars.

"The Color Snow" is probably the most interesting track here, with it's bizarre stop-start rhythms and the previously mentioned phrasing and vocal stylings that are so reminiscent of LIVE for me.  "Shroommates" is another solid, yet odd, song, even briefly injecting a humorous circus march into the mix, to help move the song forward.  But, that odd twist aside, there is nothing particularly memorable about the song.

"Red Room" is just so repetitive and lacking in any kind of solo, breakdown, or unique instrumentation, that it resembles audio oatmeal to me:  bland, grey, and tasteless.  Sure the band picks up the pace a bit for the last half of the track, and there is an angry edge to J's vocals here, but it's just not moving for me at all.

"Closets" steps things back up a bit, and finds J in full-on Kowalczyk mode as far as his phrasing and snarl goes, and it works very well here.  If forced to pick, I think that "Closets" would probably be my favorite song here.  A rather dark song, there are some interesting lyrical phrasings and turns that catch your attention, as well as a musical urgency not found on several other tracks.  

"...To Those Of You With A Guilty Conscience" is another fairly color-by-numbers 90's alt-rock number that doesn't find the band taking any musical chances.

"Come Find Me" closes things out on something of a high note, as the band alters their approach slightly, utilizing quieter guitars, more sparse musical segments, and some big, thundering drums to let the song develop its own identity.  Couple with J's typically angst-ridden, emotive vocals, and things start looking up for VIA at precisely the same time the album comes to an end.

Every time I played this record, both prior to and during my writing of the review, I felt like I was back in my college apartment, trying to get my homework done, while the college radio station chewed away at my ears with all the angst-ridden alt rock and grunge of the time.  VIA really does have that 90's sound down pat, no question.  Whether that is their intent or not may be a different story, as there really isn't much of a market for that style of music now.  And maybe that's okay.  Maybe VIA is just being who they are and playing what they love.  If that's the case, that's great, and I applaud them for their desire to play what they love and to wear their influences on their musical sleeves.  Now, they just need to inject their OWN personality into the mix, and maybe they will have something more than a nostalgia trip in store for their listening base.  As it stands, I feel like the band is playing things too safely for rock n roll, if you know what I mean.  It is clear these guys have musical talent, but it feels like they are just trying so hard to make an impression that as a result the music suffers at times from a generic lack of personality.  Given more time and experience...and experimentation with styles and sounds...perhaps VIA will find a niche in the current hard rock/alternative market.  Here's hoping for better things in the future from this young, upstart act.

I believe this is to be a digital-only release, at least initially, and will be available through Pavement Entertainment on August 21, 2015.

Rating:  Rock this at 5.5

LOVEWAR "Soak Your Brain"

(c) 1993 Word Music

  1. Soak Your Brain
  2. Golden Rule
  3. Take Me
  4. Welling Up
  5. Space And Time
  6. You Win
  7. Keep Your Hands Off My Stuff
  8. In The Sea
  9. Just The Same
  10. You Are Not Alone
Tim Bushong--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Greg Purlee--Drums, Backing Vocals
Rick Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals

Every now and then, I like to go back and review something considerably older.  There are a couple of reasons.  The first is to see how the music has held up over the years; to see if I still enjoy...or despise...something now as much as I did when I first started listening to it.  Secondly, of course, since this is a review site, I like to expose the readers to as much music as possible, so they can make their own decisions about a band or album.

2015 marks the 22nd anniversary of the release of Soak Your Brain from Indiana-based rockers, Lovewar.  I remember buying this album when it first came out and not really knowing what to make of it.  I was really starting to get into thrash and speed metal at the time, and Lovewar is...well, definitely NOT thrash or speed metal.  As a result, I traded my cassette (remember those?) off, only to re-acquire it just a couple of years later, this time on CD.  Soak Your Brain is one re-acquisition I am definitely glad I made, as I have enjoyed this album considerably for twenty-plus years now.

It's funny to me now, because I remember Lovewar was labeled as the Christian answer to Pearl Jam or Nirvana, as grunge was dominating everything by the time this album was being pushed by their label, and it seems like EVERY band was supposed to be the "answer" to this grunge thing that was taking over the music industry.  Thing is...Lovewar sounds NOTHING like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, or any of those bands.  Not even remotely!  

Lovewar is a three piece melodic hard rock band very much in the vein of Extreme, with hints of Mr,. Big, King's X, Galactic Cowboys, and eventual label-mates, Guardian, thrown into the mix.  Tight vocal harmonies, big, guitar hooks, intricate bass rhythms, and strong song crafting are the key elements of this band, with catchy melodies sticking in your head for days and insightful lyrics requiring a degree of thought not necessary for "mosquito/libido" ramblings from Seattle's favorite sons.

The album starts off with the funky title-track, "Soak Your Brain", and immediately the Extreme comparisons should become obvious.  Slightly dischordant guitars and thumping drums kick the track off before the funky bass line bumps its way in and gets the song off to a bouncing start.  Bushong's mid-tenor vocals are perfectly complimented by the harmonizing of Purlee and Armstrong on the catchy chorus, which also gives the band a bit of the Fire And Love-era Guardian feel I mentioned, as well.  The same can be said of "Golden Rule" which incorporates several sparse musical moments during the verses with some subtle effects used on Bushong's vocals, before ramping the energy up into the chorus.  "Take Me" again finds the band mining similar territory, spinning off a bouncy, fun track with a throbbing bass line, strong harmonies, and simple yet catchy guitars.

"Welling Up" slows things down a bit, although we still don't hit what I would consider to be ballad territory.  No, "Welling Up" is more in a bluesy vein than true balladry, but it is still a solid track that really shows the musical scope of the band.  One thing that strikes me here is how similar the harmony vocals sound to Enuff Z'Nuff when that band is on top of their game.  Really good stuff working on this song.

"Space and Time" and "You Win" both pick the pace back up with solid rockers, and "Keep Your Hands Off My Stuff" may be my favorite track of the album, with a funky bass line, some of the edgier guitars on the album, and very reminiscent of the type of music Extreme released on Pornograffitti a few years earlier.  Having been a fan of that album when it came out, I was very happy to hear this song...and this entire album, to be honest.

"In The Sea" starts off with a slow, plodding guitar riff, but it is mere trickery, as again, this is not a ballad at all and is more of the same upper-mid-tempo music that Mr. Big and Extreme were using to such good effect.  This is the longest song on the album, surpassing the six minute mark, which is odd to me as it never feels like it drags although it does have an EXCELLENT, extended guitar solo from Bushong running from about 2:32 until 3:28 or so.  There is also a slight Middle Eastern influence to the last ten or fifteen seconds of the solo, which is pretty cool buried in the middle of this song.  Good, good stuff here.

"Just The Same" is probably the hardest hitting song on the record, at least as far as the intro guitar riffs go, but it still never hits "metal" territory, and has a pretty jangly guitar line throughout the verse sections.  The album closes with "You Are Not Alone", yet another rocker featuring a really nice guitar solo, more of those killer harmonies, and funkified bass work.

Produced by brothers John and Dino Elefante of Kansas fame, the sound is bright and polished, but not a sugar-coated as some other Elefante material, which is a very good thing here as the music is interesting and unique and doesn't get glossed over.  The album packaging is a relatively simple 8 page booklet with full lyrics, thank you's, credits, and a single band picture.

Due to the uniqueness of the style...face it, there weren't a lot of bands doing the hard rock/funk fusion that Extreme, and to an extent Kings X and Galactic Cowboys did...and the excellent musicianship of these three men, Lovewar's Soak Your Brain is an album that I still turn to on a fairly regular basis.  To these ears, the album and style don't come across as dated because it is unique enough that it was never overdone or overplayed, so it sounds fresh every time I spin it.  Personally, I would say that Lovewar was every bit as talented as their counterparts, both musically and vocally.  I think the Christian label may have hurt them as far as marketing goes, but even then, there is no chapter-and-verse Biblical quoting going on here, just strong, positive, uplifting lyrics about human relationships and social ideas.  

Long out of print, this album can generally be found for under $5.00 on eBay, Amazon, and other on-line sources, so reach out and grab this great piece of music.  I am confident you will enjoy what you hear.

Rating:  This one holds up well over the years, and remains crankable.  25 years later, Soak Your Brain is still a solid 7.5 in my book.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

THE SPACEBITCH "You Should Have Been In My Shoes Yesterday"

(c) 2001 Independent Release

  1. Life Ain't Funny
  2. So Messed Up
  3. God Damn
  4. Little Psychopath
  5. Nothing Makes Sense
  6. What's The News
  7. I Know The Score
  8. Here Today, Gone To Hell
  9. E.G.O. Mind
  10. Damage
  11. Never Ever Be Like Me
  12. Last Resort
Jackie--Bass and Backing Vocals
Stophe--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Crille--Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals, Percussion, Piano

Every now and then when doing a review site such as Glitter2Gutter, something is sent to you that you have no idea about.  You have no idea about who the band is.  You have no idea how the CD was sent to you.  You have no idea about why the band thinks they are, in fact.  Perth, Australia's Spacebitch is one such band, on ALL accounts.  I have never heard of them, I cannot find any information about the band (even the website has been taken down), I have no idea why or how the CD was sent to me...14 years after it was released...and I have no clue why these guys recorded a CD.  Simply put, this is NOT very good stuff at all and the only reason I am reviewing it is because...well...because I want to prevent anyone from seriously hurting themselves by seeking out this record and playing it.

You Should Have Been In My Shoes Yesterday is garage sleaze punk in its purest, most raucous form.  The disc starts off with a parental warning, which is mildly humorous...and then it goes straight downhill.  Played as loudly and as fast as possible, this CD is made up of 12 songs that COMBINED clock in at less than 27 minutes, with half the disc's songs coming in at 2:04 or less.  The "epic" here, "Never Ever Be Like Me" is the real clock-burner, checking in at 3:39, while "Nothing Makes Sense" spins the hands 3 times as well.  Otherwise, the band keeps most of this noise mercifully short, which I guess I can thank them for.

Hoon's vocals are gritty and more spit out than anything; he never approaches anything resembling singing, which is just as well as most of the lyrics are so mind-numbingly repetitive and inane that being able to understand them all might make my head explode.  The drums are equally repetitive and simple, and the rhythm and bass lines are pretty much just up-and-down grinding of the instruments' respective strings, albeit at a fast pace.  The lead guitars aren't horrible, I suppose, and actually show a bit of promise musically if Stophe could manage to break away from this trainwreck of a band and end up in a good rock act of some type.  Again, considering this showed up out of the blue some 14 years after its release, maybe he has managed to find a solid band...or managed to find full-time work in the sanitation industry...who knows.  

Song-wise, there is really very little I can say here.  I guess the piano is an interesting addition to "Nothing Makes Sense", although even that is little more than in-tune-and-tempo banging on the keys.  Other than that, there is virtually no variance in pace, tempo, style, or sound between any of these "songs".

Let's see...positives, positives, positives...  Well, I guess the production isn't terrible and someone with at least some skill recorded this as it doesn't sound like it was recorded on a boombox or in a basement.  Apparently the guys all showed up with instruments.  Someone knew how to turn the power on.  So, yeah...there you go...

I am sure these guys' friends think they were the best unsigned band in Australian history, and there is likely a punk aficionado that will absolutely love this record.  For me however, I can categorically state I will never...EVER...put this in my CD player or computer again and thank the Divine intervention that gave me the wisdom of not ripping this to my iTunes so that I didn't have to waste the time removing it.

By the way, I had to work WAY TOO HARD to get the "album cover" (its computer printed and folded in half...nothing inside) put up, as even my scanner didn't want to touch the thing and there are ZERO images that I could find on-line.  Also, it was STUCK inside the plastic sleeve, so  I ended up taking a picture with my phone (sorry about the flash) and emailing it to myself.  That's how much I care about YOU never buying this by accident!

Rating:  Just turn it off.  I'll give them...or whomever sent this to me...a 1 for the time and effort. 

DAMN DICE "The Great Unknown"

(c) 2015 Independent Release

  1. Power
  2. What Now?
  3. Driven
  4. Down
  5. The Way To Go
  6. Caught In The Ride
  7. Words
  8. Bang Your Head
  9. No Fear
  10. Take The Fight
  11. Rock (Like You Mean It)
  12. Home
Alex--Lead Vocals

Damn Dice return with their first full-length album, The Great Unknown, after having gone nearly three years since the release of their debut EP, Wild N Ready in 2013.  The line-up for this London-based band remains intact, although their sound is beefed up a bit, given a heavier, more bottom-ended thump, and grittier production.  The songs themselves are more aggressive, feeling somewhat akin to heavier Skid Row in their approach, although the vocals are NOTHING like those delivered by Sebastian Bach.  In fact, at times, Alex sounds more like Nitro's Jim Gillette than he does anyone, singing in something of a forced falsetto for about 1/3 of the record, although he never approaches glass-shattering range with his screams.  In fact, it is these moments that actually cause me to mark this album down a bit because the vocals are almost too much to take in spots.  Maybe it's a London thing, as the Darkness is another great example of a band that I would really love to get into, but the vocals just destroy the band.  Here it isn't quite as bad because the other 2/3 of the time, Alex uses a solid, controlled, and relatively strong mid-range tenor that suits both him and the rest of the music very well.  My one hope for the band is that they stick with this style of vocals for their next album and leave the falsetto behind.  

Musically, the band is very tight on this record, with solid, aggressive riffing and confident, if not flashy, solo work from Wallis on guitars.  A perfect example is the excellent solo on one of the best tracks here, "Down", which finds him really delivering on a solid 80's-inspired run, but the mix keeps it from being so out-front that it doesn't detract from the rest of the song.  The bass, as previously mentioned, is definitely a solid part of the mix on all of the tracks here, and the drumming is creative, especially for this style of music, keeping the band on a solid tempo at all times.  I really don't have much in the way of complaints about this band musically, as all are competent musicians that handle their roles well.  

Standout tracks are hard to pick, because there is so much good stuff here, and even the iffy moments don't really sink all the way to the bottom to "bad" territory.  As I stated above, I think "Down" is a very good song, and a prime example of the songwriting and musicianship of the band.  "The Way To Go" is another really good, hard driving song with solid guitar work, nice backing vocals, and only a few spots where Alex breaks into that annoying falsetto.  "Take The Fight" really grabs my attention because of the great use of the gang-shouted vocals contrasting with Alex's falsetto...which actually works on this song and doesn't grate on my eardrums for some reason.  "Bang Your Head" is the fastest track here and is just blistering hard rock n roll with sharp drums, some aggressive bass work, and really nice guitar work, all intermixed with some gang-shouted vocals.  Again, a bit too much falsetto from Alex, but yet again I manage to overlook that on this number.  Album opener, "Power" is a nice, hard rocking track as well, and "Rock (Like You Mean It)" is just a flat-out ball-busting number that lays waste to pretty much everything else on this album...or a LOT of albums of this style to come out in the last few years.  I LOVE this song and have moved it onto one of my gym mixes as it has a great tempo, a thumping bass and drum line, gang shouted backing vocals, NO falsetto voices, and excellent guitar work.  In fact, as I look back on this last section, it is safe to say that Damn Dice is at their absolute best when they are grinding though their heavier, punchier material, not trying to be anything that they are not, and just smacking you in the mouth with aggressive hard rock.  That being said, "Words" is a GREAT power ballad, and album closer, "Home" is also a kick-ass track that finds the band effortlessly moving from softer, acoustic based balladry to electrified, crunchy rocker, all within the same track.  Alex also really gets a chance to showcase his more emotive side vocally, which is a good thing.  

As you may have noted if you paid close attention, the best stuff, by and large, for me is at the end of the album, with the opener and a couple of middle tracks comprising the really good stuff here.  I don't know if that was by design, but it reminds me of the approach a lot of rock bands took back when vinyl ruled the day...front loading with a great song on Side A, finishing Side A with a solid rocker, then starting Side B with another good track before closing out with two or sometimes three really solid songs, and burying the other, lesser tracks, somewhere in the middle of each side.  If this CD was put onto vinyl and the A/B split was between tracks 5 and 6, this would be an almost perfect example of an album layout, in my opinion.

If I had any complaints, other than the falsetto in spots, I would say the album is two or three songs too long. To remedy that, one of two things could be done.  The tracks from the EP could have been left off, but you would lose three of the best songs here, as "Down", "Bang Your Head" and "Take The Fight" are carryovers.  If I HAD to drop one of these, it would be "Down", but that's a tough call. The other option would be to drop "What Now?" and "Driven" which are the only two so-so songs for me.  Don't mistake this for me saying they suck or anything, because that is not my point.  They just aren't all that memorable for me at all and lack the real hook that keeps a song in your head for long periods of time.

My only other complaint is this band LOVES their intros.  Sound effects preface several of these songs and waste the listener's time as these intros really don't add anything but length to the tracks.  Sure, they allow for some separation between all the up-tempo numbers here, but they are unnecessary in my opinion.  Of course, anyone who regularly reads this site knows of my disdain for intros and outros, so this minor gripe shouldn't shock anyone.

Overall, Damn Dice have a winner on their hands with The Great Unknown, which comes out on August 24. Hit the band's website at www.damndice.com to pre-order the record, snag the previous EP and other merch, and to check out a few of the tracks from this album.  For my money, Damn Dice is one of the truly good hard rock bands coming out of the European scene, which is saying quite a bit considering the talent they are competing with.  

Rating:  Definitely a CRANKFEST here!  Easily an 8.5!

Monday, August 3, 2015

TAD MOROSE "St. Demonius"

(c)2015 Despotz Records
  1. Bow To The Reaper's Blade
  2. Forlorn
  3. Where Ignorance Reigns
  4. Remain
  5. Black Fire
  6. Day Of Reckoning
  7. The Shadows Play
  8. Darkness Prevail
  9. Fear Subside
  10. Dream Of Memories
  11. The World Is Growing Old
  12. Your Own Demise
Ronny Hemlin--Vocals
Christer "Krunt" Andersson--Guitars
Kenneth Jonsson--Guitars
Tommi Karppanen--Bass
Peter Moren--Drums

A band of Swedish metalheads, Tad Morose, is a band that I have always heard OF, but have never heard until this album.  I'm not really sure why I never looked into them, but their latest album, St. Demonius, which will be out in late August, will definitely having me seeking out some of their catalog material.

I've often heard the band compared to Iced Earth, which I can hear a bit, as Hemlin does have a Barlow/Owens quality to his vocals, although he doesn't sound like either man, at least in the clone sense.  And, much like Iced Earth, there is a speed element at play on many of these tracks, and the powerful drumming is reminiscent of IE as well.  But the comparisons end there, at least for me, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Tad Morose has more tempo change within songs than is typically found in most Iced Earth songs.  Take for example the opening track, "Bow To The Reaper's Blade".  Within this one song we have multiple time changes as the band comes out full-speed ahead, with blistering double kick work going on and some fret-melting rhythm guitars as well, but even before we hit the minute mark on the track, the pace slows WAY down to a plodding pace, allowing Hemlin's vocals to powerfully soar across the chorus, only to find the track kick-starting itself in identical fashion to how it initially started.  It's never speed-for-speed's-sake here, although that doesn't mean the songs lack in speed, power, or heft in any way.  "Black Fire" would never be mistaken for a speed metal track by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a power and diversity in the song that reinforces the creativity behind this band.  Perhaps this is a by-product of several members coming from other European power metal bands and bringing their own individual style and sound with them, then pouring it into the smelting pot so that a different type of power metal can be poured out.  "Day Of Reckoning" is another track that utilizes slower, yet crushingly powerful chords in an almost doomy fashion, without ever becoming bogged down in the sludge of too much down-tuning in the guitars or mind-numbingly slow riffing. 

Secondly, the lead guitar work is more interesting overall in Tad Morose, at least on this record (which I have also been told is one of their heaviest).  I like what Iced Earth does, and there is no denying that Jon Schaeffer is a MONSTER on rhythm guitars, but I have to admit to feeling that, at times, the leads lack a lot of creativity, and serve more as a way to get from chorus to chorus so that the pure aggression of Schaeffer can rear its metallic head.  Not so with Tad Morose.  Each of the tracks on St. Demonius has a carefully crafted guitar lead that sears through the middle, along with some scorching outro work as well.   Look, I'm not taking anything away from IE here, as I love that band for what they do, as they do it better than pretty much everyone:  they rip your face off with speed and aggression in the rhythm guitars, while whatever power-screamer they have incorporated into the band chews away at what is left of your eardrums.  And I love it!  But with Tad Morose, you get a similar ability to charge through a metallic storm, such as in the scorching "The Shadows Play", but a bit more musicality is put on display AROUND the bursts of break-neck speed shredding.  

One nice thing here is that none of these songs comes across as bloated...often labelled as "epic" by people who really want to say, "this song is way too long!".  With the shortest track clocking in at 3:08 and the longest topping out at 5:03, the majority are in that comfortable 4 to 4:30 range, giving the songs time to develop and strengthen before they turn into unwanted house guests that simply won't leave!  Also, there are no wasted "intro" or "outro" tracks, which typically bore me to tears, so Tad Morose gets a kudo for that (can you get a single "kudo" or does it have to be "kudos"?)

There are several stand-out cuts here, with a handful of them being mentioned already.  "Darkness Prevail" features some of the most interesting drum work on an album filled to the brim with top notch skin work.  "Fear Subside" is another faster track, although full foot-on-the-floor speed isn't truly utilized here as the band throttles back ever so slightly from the previously mentioned "The Shadows Play".  Astute metal fans are likely going to point to "The World Is Growing Old" as having a "...And Justice For All" Metallica feel to the guitars, and they would be right in making that assertion, but this is a whole different animal once you get into the track, and Hemlin's power metal vocals lay waste to what remain's of Hetfield's voice at this point.  

The production is top notch here, which I was a bit worried about being on such a small, unknown label as Despotz Records.  The mix is very clear, and there is excellent separation between the guitars so that you can hear what each is doing and they don't muddle the sound of the other.  The drum work here is excellent, and the bass lines, which I have previously neglected to mention, are big, thick, and powerful.  My guess is that it takes a pretty good sound engineer to keep the power of the bass chords from drowning out the vocals in a live setting.

My review copy is a digital download, so I cannot make any statement about the packaging of the album.  I have no idea if lyrics are included, but I can assure you that Hemlin's vocals are easy to understand and the lyrics are not hard to decipher in any way.

Again, I want to state that this is my first exposure to this band, but it will not be the last, based solely on St. Demonius.  I am that impressed.  And, again, I want to reiterate that I am NOT suggesting that Tad Morose replace Iced Earth atop the speed/power metal heap in your individual collection...but you definitely need to clear some space next to IE if you keep all the good stuff on the same shelf!!

Rating:  Very much a crankable record...spin the knob to 8 here!