Thursday, June 30, 2016

RED "End Of Silence 10th Anniversary Edition"

 (c) 2006 Essential Records

(c) 2016 Essential Records

  1. Intro (End Of Silence)
  2. Breathe Into Me
  3. Let Go
  4. Already Over
  5. Lost
  6. Pieces
  7. Break Me Down
  8. Wasting Time
  9. Gave It All Away
  10. Hide
  11. Already Over Pt, 2
  12. Breathe Into Me (Remix Acoustica) *BONUS*
  13. Already Over (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  14. Lost (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  15. Hide (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  16. If I Break (NEW)
  17. Circles (Working Demo) (NEW)
Michael Barnes--Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano
Anthony Armstrong--Guitar, Backing Vocals
Randy Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano

Additional Musicians
Jason Rauch--Guitars
Andrew Hendrix--Drums
Bernie Herms--String Arrangements
Rob Graves--Programming, Additional Piano
Steve Brewster--Drums on "Pieces"
Various string performances by the Prague Philharmonic, Jim Grosjean, Kris Wilkinson, David Davidson, David Angell, Pam Sixfin, Mary Katherine Van Osdale, Matt Walker, and Anthony Lamarchina

I don't know if this is becoming a trend, or if I am just noticing something that has actually been going on for a while now, but it seems to me we are seeing more album re-releases than ever before.  Now, I'm not talking nostalgia reissues here...I'm talking albums that are only a few years old (ten, in this case), that are reissued with new material and with singles being pushed again.  And perhaps I notice it more than the average person, especially with bands like Red and Jumpsuit Apparatus, for example, as I pay far more attention to the Christian hard rock charts than most people.  Regardless, Red (or their label) has decided to re-release the band's 2006 debut album, End Of Silence in this 10th Anniversary Edition, featuring slightly altered artwork, two completely new tracks, four acoustic versions of previously released songs, and updated insert information.

Without completely re-reviewing the record, let it be stated that it was obvious from the original release of this record that Red had something special going on.  The symphonic rock/metal movement that was in full-swing in the Christian market by 2006, as numerous bands were flirting with adding violins, violas, cellos, and all sorts of string arrangements.  (In all fairness, Christian symphonic thrashers, Believer, were doing this extensively back in 1993 on their Dimensions record...).  But Red was different.  Red didn't just add strings to their music; they built the string sections into the songs themselves, creating truly atmospheric and symphonic rock songs while holding onto their alt metal edge.  With the addition of the extraordinarily powerful vocals of Barnes, Red burst out of the gate doing something that other, more veteran bands were aspiring to add to their sound.  The result was an amazingly popular debut record that features the 2007 and 2009 Christian Rock Songs of the Year in "Breathe Into Me" and "Lost", as well as "Break Me Down", which was nominated for the same award in 2008.  "Already Over", which I feel is the most powerful track on the album, also received significant airplay on both Christian rock and modern rock radio, as did "Let Go", while "Hide/Pieces" was released as an additional split-single, as well.

On this new version, we are treated to two new songs and four acoustic remixes.  "If I Break" is a dark, somber song, featuring a brooding string arrangement and Barnes haunting vocals.  The first third of the song is purely Barnes and various acoustic stringed instruments, but the band punches itself into the equation at about the 1:45 mark, bringing the song to full energy and life, mixing it perfectly into the rest of the original record.  "Circles", meanwhile, was a "working demo" for the original record, and is 7 minutes of orchestral alt metal at its finest.  I am not sure if there were ever supposed to be lyrics and vocals for this song, but I have to say that I love the song in this instrumental version, as the instruments are given a chance to really shine here, especially the solid drum work of Hendrix and some really nice string arrangements.  There is also a particularly strong guitar line that works its way into the track at about the 5:30 mark that charges the track with a new, angry life as it grinds across the surface of the cellos and violas that continue to saw away in the background.  Powerful stuff.

The acoustic remixes are really not overly surprising, but they are very well done, with "Already Over" and "Lost" being essentially the same songs with just vocals and strings as the electric guitars and drums are stripped away.  "Hide" has its arrangement changed a bit to incorporate some really nice acoustic rhythm guitar work, while "Breathe Into Me" showcases some excellent layered backing vocals that are not nearly as obvious in the fully electric version.  If nothing else, these tracks serve to really highlight Barnes' powerful tenor and the intricate work involved under the heavier elements of each song, and I think they are nice additions, if not essential ones.  

Also of note here is the band's decision to change the insert information.  There is a new, very brief biography of the band up to the point of signing their contract prior to the making of End Of Silence, as well as the inclusion of the lyrics for "If I Break", as well as some new writing info for the new tracks.  Most notable, however, is the change in the band's line-up reflected in the Anniversary Edition notes.  For those who may be new to the band, or for who possibly were unaware, Hendrix had left the band before the original release of this album, but he performed all of the drums except for on "Pieces".  Rauch, who wrote the majority of the music on this record, became a non-touring member in 2009, and has subsequently left the band.  (Whether an oversight or intentional, Rauch is not listed as performing ANY of the music on the reissue...)  The album has also been digitally remastered for this anniversary edition.

The packaging for the new version is now a slip-sleeve cardboard tri-fold package, rather than the jewel case offering of the first.  There are no new pictures added to the new layout, although the photo under the tray in the original release is now the face artwork of one of the new package's sleeves.  The color changes exemplified in the various versions of the cover art above are consistent throughout the new packaging.  My guess is this new packaging is simply cheaper.  The CDs themselves also look different, with the new disc a goldish color, as compared to the black and white of the original.  Not really big deals, although we all know I am a firm believer in the jewel case being the superior packaging form.  C'est la vie, I suppose...

So, is it worth it to pick up the new version?  I guess that depends.  Personally, I love the new version, as I think the two new songs are excellent additions that do add something to the original album, and the acoustic renditions are a nice touch, as well.  If you already have the 2006 version, and don't care about acoustic remixes, you can always just download the two new tracks and burn yourself a new copy of the record, I suppose.  If you have the band's other material, but had never gotten around to picking up this excellent record, then by all means you should do yourself a favor and pick up the definitive version of End Of Silence, which would definitely be the 10th Anniversary Edition.

If I had any real complaint, I wish the acoustic versions of the songs would have been placed at the end of the original record, with "Circles" and "If I Break" mixed into the original tracklisting, to help improve flow.  I think "If I Break" would've worked well right before "Already Over, Pt. 2", personally, and I think "Circles" could've fit behind just about any of the hardest songs here, although I know a lot of people don't like instrumentals interrupting the flow of a record.  

Rating:  An 8 in its previous form, I recommend cranking the new version up to 8.5, as I feel "Circles" and "If I Break" really add a significant element to the re-release.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ONE BAD PIG "Love You To Death"

(c) 2016 Porky's Demise Records

  1. Love You To Death
  2. What Does The Fool Say
  3. The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & The Pride of Life
  4. Get Your Hands Dirty (featuring Les Carlsen)
  5. Footwashin'
  6. Sunday Skool Rawk
  7. Teenage Royalty
  8. Heads Will Roll
  9. It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)
  10. Judgement Stick
  11. Straitjacket
  12. Ben Moors
  13. Red, White, or Blue (Colour Me)
  14. Tumbleweed
  15. OMG
Carey "Kosher" Womack--Lead Screamer
Paul Q-pek--Guitars, Vocals, Trumpet, Wails, Half an Accordian
Daniel Tucek--Bass, Vocals, Madolin, Other Half of Accordian
Lee Haley--Guitar, Vocals
Paul "PJ Bostic" Roraback--Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Its' been twenty-five LONG years, but seemingly out of nowhere, Christian punk pioneers, One Bad Pig, have returned to the sty with their latest offering, Love You To Death.  Founding members Womack and Q-pek, along with long-time member, Daniel Tucek, have recruited a couple of new swine this time around, with Roraback sitting in on drums for Philip Owens (who was unable to commit to the project for family reasons) and Lee Haley, whose addition gives the band dual guitar players for the first time in its recording history.  Despite the long layoff, the change in musical landscapes, and the independent nature of this Kickstarter-funded project, One Bad Pig has largely managed to recapture the magic of the past 30+ years, and definitely succeeded in recapturing the fun that was such an essential part of the Pig.

The album starts off with the title track, "Love You To Death", and almost immediately there is a noticeable rawness to the band's sound that captures the energy the band brings to their live shows.  There is no slick, polished production to be found here, but the mix is still solid and professional, with production tandem of Roraback and Q-pek tending the album's sound.  Kosher's vocals, punkish as they are, retain essentially the same tone and quality as on previous recordings, and the energy of the band is definitely still present.  It is interesting this time around to hear how the addition of Haley on guitar really adds to the fullness of the songs here, with this quality being obvious from the very opening track.  Starting off with a surf-rock riff, "Love You To Death" quickly (d)evolves into the high octane punk stylings the band is so well known for, especially as Roraback's machine-gun drums and Womack's razor-and-broken glass vocals come snarling across the rumbling bass line laid down by Tucek.  An excellent way to kick things off for me...

"What Does The Fool Say" is one of my favorite tracks on this new album, with it's question-and-response styled format really adding to the overall performance of a song that, lyrically, is an extension of early Pig favorites, "Let's Be Frank" and "Don't Be Fooled".  Interestingly, the gang chorus actually starts off each verse here, asking "What does the fool say?", before Kosher responds with lines such as, "There is no God, I've been left here all alone", or "There is no God, no omnipotent hand".  Instantly catchy and fun, both my 4 year old and my 9 year old have already figured out the timing to jump in on the "What does the fool say?" parts with near perfection.  Just a great, great song that reeks of Pig greatness from the past.

Anyone who knows the Pig knows that covers are one of the things they have always loved to do, and this album features their latest addition to their collection of cover tunes with "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life".  Originally performed by another classic Christian punk band, the 77's, the track is given new life and energy by One Bad Pig, with the rawness of the production again really adding to the punch of the track, and the Irish sing-along feel of the chorus adding to the fun, especially with the "hey, hey, hey's" mixed in.

The band shifts into a slightly more metal mode with "Get Your Hands Dirty" which features co-lead vocals from Les Carlsen of Christian metal legends, Bloodgood.  The interplay between Kosher and Carlsen works surprisingly well, as even I couldn't have predicted how these two starkly different vocal styles and tones would mesh.  The chorus is extremely simplistic, with just a simple multi-repeat of the title doing the job, but it is still effective nonetheless.  This song is a prime example of the two guitar approach really adding to the overall power of the song, as there is an excellent solo ripped off here while the rhythm guitars and bass continue to chug along in the background.  Definitely a top 5 song for me here.

"Footwashin'" returns to more purely Pig-styled punk territory, both musically and lyrically.  Perhaps that is because this is as pure as any of the songs here can get in regards to it being a classic Pig song, as the lyrics were handled by Kosher and the music was all Q-pek's.  Its this collaboration that I feel brings out the best in the band, especially when Kosher is able to add his twisted humorous take to the words while still pushing forward the lesson and message of the song.  No one but Kosher can pump out lyrics such as "Big feet, small feet, all feet stink/Feet are the grossest, don't you think?", while still telling the story of Jesus humbling Himself to wash the feet of even the lowliest of people that He encountered.  Prime Pig, to be sure.

"Sunday Skool Rawk" is a string of all the Sunday School/Bible School songs you learned as a child being set to a breakneck punk pace...and briefly, a Spanish cantina-styled interlude, complete with Spanish lyrics and Q-pek on trumpet!  Brings a smile to my face every single time.

"Teenage Royalty" is more fast and furious punk fun, with another classicly catchy chorus, particularly with the gang-shouted, "I'm the king of the World!".  Once again, a purely Pig song from start to finish, with Haley contributing to the lyrics here, which is nice to see.

The album takes a distinctly dark turn with the somber, heavy, and doomy, "Heads Will Roll".  Ripped straight from current events and newspaper headlines, the song deals with the martyring of Christians being beheaded, hung, or burned alive for their faith and beliefs.  Extremely powerful musically, and lyrically honest...even brutal...this track is an ominously beautiful, angrily hopeful song of people willing to die for what they believe in, but dying not as aggressors but as those who love what and Who they believe in.  Very obviously directed at Al Qaeda, ISIS and all those involved in the whole terroristic Islamic movement, "Heads Will Roll" is the one track on this album that really pushes the Pig into new, undiscovered territory...and it does it with great effect.  As dark as it is, "Heads..." is hands-down my favorite track on the record.

The band shifts back into fun-loving territory with "It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)", which, while not my favorite track, definitely brings a solid degree of levity back to the proceedings, as does the follow-up, seventeen-second burst of "Judgement Stick".  "Straitjacket" keeps things in impish fun mode, although there is a really cool musical section near the end that again finds the band expanding upon their typical musical styles.

"Ben Moors" is a song that was written for the song title's namesake.  Ben Moors is an Australian gentleman and Pig fan who contributed a large donation to the Kickstarter fund (I believe it was $1000) to have a song written about him.  Its humorous, to be sure, but really doesn't do anything to advance the album lyrically.  A fun little piece, and not a skipper by any means, but don't spend any time looking for much in the way of Biblical lessons in this song that is basically just a fun-loving musical autobiography of this superfan.

"Red. White, or Blue (Colour Me)" returns to the Irish pub-style of punk, which I think the band does extremely well on this album.  Again, a really catchy chorus, and the Pig-perfect partnership of Womack's lyrics and Q-pek's music produces another top five track for me.

"Tumbleweed" is an odd song here...not bad, just odd.  Very chunky, with a discordant sounding lead guitar weaving its way through the background, it is unlike anything I have heard the band try before, and I think it works to a large degree, but other than Kosher's vocals, it really doesn't feel like a Pig song to me.  

"OMG", which stands for "On a Mission from God" closes the album out with a flourish of heavier, more metal-edged guitars, some of the harshest screams from Kosher, and that solid, mid-tempo (for punk, anyway) pace that the Pig pulls off so well.  There is also an excellent guitar solo ripped off before the song's bridge, that is unlike pretty much any solo you have heard from the band in the past as there is a definite nod to the 80's metal scene in its execution.  An excellent way to go out swinging from this classic band.

The packaging is digipack, with full lyrics, thank you's, and Kickstarter credits (yes, I am in there) included in a 12 page booklet, along with some different shots of the band...and Ben Moors.There is also an explanation from the band as to why they have decided to return to the musical scene and about where they stand with their faith in today's world.  There is also a full-color picture of the band on the inside of the digipack sleeve, as well as band line-up information and production credits and another picture under the CD tray.

In so many ways, this album is the perfect bookend for the band's catalog, particularly if you go all the way back to the demo, A Christian Banned.  The evolution of the band from straight street punk to well-versed musicians with an ability to expand upon their repertoire is seemingly complete.  The new musicians slide seamlessly into the mix here, not only occupying space, but also making really nice contributions to the sound and the writing of the record.  Is it the end of the Pig?  As a fan, I certainly hope not, but if it is, I can honestly say that the band has gone out on a high note and that they have exited stage left doing things in a manner only One Bad Pig can seemingly do. Kosher told me in our recent interview, "here's a good rule of thumb when it comes to One Bad Pig: never say never!"

If you loved them in the past, I can't imagine you not loving them now.  And if you are new to the band, this is as good a place to start as anywhere in their catalog.  It is that good, especially for fans of fun, insightful, quirky punk.

Rating:  Pure crankable fun, as only the Pig can deliver!  Crank this up to 9 and enjoy it for what it is!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

ATTALUS "Into The Sea"

(c) 2015 Facedown Records

  1. The Ancient Mariner
  2. This Ship Is Going Down
  3. Sirens
  4. Desolate Isle
  5. Man, O Shipwreck
  6. Step Out
  7. Albatross
  8. The Breath Before The Plunge
  9. Into The Sea
  10. Coming Clean
  11. O The Depths
  12. Voices From The Shore
  13. Safe
  14. The Greater Tide
  15. Death Be Not Proud
  16. Message In A Bottle
Evan King--Guitar, Vocals, Bass, Additional Keys & Instruments
Seth Davey--Lead Vocals, Keys
Chris Sierra--Drums, Vocals
John Sierra--Guitars
John Amos--Bass on "Sirens"

Attalus is a difficult band to pin down, style-wise.  At various times, they can come across as something of a modern metal outfit, a post-hardcore band, a modern hard rock band, or something of a heavy progressive amalgam that defies true categorization.  I don't know if that is intentional, if it's just a little bit of all the members' personalities and styles being thrown into a musical blender, or an effort by a slightly disjointed band to try to come up with something at least semi-cohesive to call an album.  What I do know is that while it is fairly diverse...especially for an album from a Facedown Records is brooding, heavy, lyrically challenging...and a LOT to try to take in all in a single sitting.  Talk about using every second of a CD's recordable space, this album checks in at nearly 79 minutes, and 15 of the 16 tracks here are actual songs, not just intros, outros, or interludes of some sort.

Taking a quick glance at the artwork and the song titles will present the listener with an obvious nautical theme running throughout much of the record, and lyrically that same theme is used to great effect to present the band's straight-forward Christian message of struggle, perseverance, faith, and forgiveness in a fallen world.  

The band has seen recent chart success with the single "This Ship Is Going Down", a somewhat punkish rocker composed of multiple shifts in speed, tempo, and pattern...even styles...within a five minute song, with vocals seemingly ranging from shouted/barked to screamed to sung.  There are drums, guitars, bass, and then random keyboards thrown into the mix, all tossing and turning and churning in a sonic wave that never leaves the listener 100% sure of what they are partaking of, but still finding themselves liking nonetheless.   

"Sirens" does much the same thing, establishing a largely post-hardcore musical approach, which rips right along for the majority of the track before breaking down into a relatively spoken-word style interspersed with shouted responses...and then ramping back up the sonic attack of the guitars and drums.  "Desolate Isle" is a progressive...albeit very heavy and vocally aggressive...rocker that has the feeling of being tossed around at sea, while "Man, O Shipwreck" backs completely off, utilizing Davey's surprisingly strong singing voice and a piano to carry the weight of this ballad that melds into the alt rock stylings of "Step Out"...which in turn explodes back into the disjointed crush of "Albatross"....that then gives way to a jangly, jazz-infused, post-hardcore shouted "The Breath Before The Plunge"!  

And we're only half way through the record!

On and on the album goes in much the same way, throwing you this way then pulling you back the way you came, only to knock you in an entirely different direction once again.  I can only compare it to a feeling of  musical sea-sickness that washes over me at times as I work my way through the album.  I dare say the unprepared listener...which I was, for sure...could find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer scope and volume of music here.  And I'm not completely sure if that's a good thing or not.  

There is a lot of musical talent here, to be sure, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that all the members went to musical school somewhere, met in college, and formed a coffeehouse jam band that just happened to jam way HEAVIER than the usual goateed alt rock strummers one encounters in such coffeehouses.  And maybe its my age starting to catch up with my musical tastes and tolerances, but there is seriously such a mish-mash of styles and sounds going on here that I find myself having to shut it off, walk away, take a breather, maybe hit the gym to flush some angst out of my system, and then return to try to get through a few songs more.  My senses literally can't handle the all-overness of this album in a single sitting...or in fewer than four sittings, to be honest.  

Like the majority of Facedown's roster, this band leaves absolutely no question about where they stand from a lyrical standpoint, as their Christian faith is a huge part of what they do, even if they use nautical themes and various musical styles to get their messages across.  Can there be little doubt of the band's beliefs with lyrics such as "The Tide is coming, o man what wrecks are we becoming?  dive in the Sea of Grace before it changes face.  the sky is turning black -- a sign that Justice is at hand" ("This Ship Is Going Down"), or "follow the One before me, out of the ship into Grace, this is the way to Glory, there's no turning, no turning back no more, sink or swim -- don't care, just dive in" ("Into The Sea").   

It is important to note that this is a concept record of huge scope, utilizing nautical themes to tell the story of a man who sets sail on a voyage (the voyage of life) on a ship (which is the fallen, or "sinking" world), upon an Ocean/Sea, which the listener will discover is God.  I strongly recommend reading along with the lyrics sheet as the album unfolds to not only get a better grip on the story, but also to really absorb the power of the message being delivered here.

There are a few songs here that really stand alone well, with "This Ship Is Going Down", "Into The Sea", "Coming Clean", and "Safe", a flawlessly executed. largely instrumental piece, being the cream of the crop as far as I am concerned.  In fact, I have taken "Into The Sea" and "Coming Clean" and mixed them into a playlist that I use while doing work around the house or in the yard, as I really like these two tracks and they way they mix with a lot of the modern hard rock I find myself listening to these days.  I also really, really like "O The Depths", which is just a beautiful, emotionally piece of music that I returned to several times when I was first working through this record.

Amazingly performed in places with a musical skill not found in a lot of the hard music world, and poetically written, and just brutally dense, deep, and emotionally draining from a lyrical standpoint, Into The Sea is a huge project that leaves the listener feeling challenged and drained and almost washed-out if they manage to get through everything in one sitting.  I would have no clue how the band could perform this in a live setting, as I think it would exhaust all of their energy reserves just to get through the first ten or eleven songs...and they would still have five more to go!

Rating:  A concept record of immense proportion, Into The Sea is crankable from a talent and execution standpoint, I give this an 8, but I do so with a warning that the average human will not likely be able to swallow more than half of this record in a single sitting.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

7EVENTH TIME DOWN "#God Is On The Move"

(c) 2015 BEC Recordings

  1. God Is On The Move
  2. Hopes And Dreams
  3. I Still Believe
  4. Lean On
  5. Always
  6. Unbelievable
  7. Pray It Down
  8. Kingdoms
  9. Beautiful Life
  10. Revival
  11. Promises
Mikey Howard--Lead Vocals
Eric VanZant--Guitars
Cliff Williams--Bass
Austin Miller--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Scotty Wilbanks--Keys
Mike Payne--Guitars
Tony Lucido--Bass
Rob Venable--Programming
Anthony Porcheddu--Keys, Programming
Barry Weeks--Programming

Change is an inevitable thing in music, or so it seems.  This seems to be especially true in the hard rock world, where we regularly see bands experimenting with new sounds and styles, whether it is incorporating rap/hip-hop vocals (Anthrax was a pioneer here) or dub-step programming (KORN, Papa Roach), or steering their sound in a completely Nashville-styled modern country approach (Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, Bret Michaels, etc.).  The same holds true for the Christian hard rock market, although the trend for this niche tends to find bands sanding off their rough edges, polishing up their sound, and heading in a decidedly more pop...or at least AOR...direction in what can only be perceived as a grab for airplay and a wider fan base.  But I don't get that sense with 7TD.  Rather, I get the feeling that this is the direction that 7eventh Time Down has seemingly been steering their ship in with each successive release, and now, on their 4th effort (counting their Christmas release), the band seems to have found the sound they have been seeking.

Its hard to argue with success, especially when it is as substantial as the success that 7TD has found with #God Is On The Move, because the song has managed to reach the number one slot on Christian radio, and the album has charted Top 25 on the Christian Rock charts (#21) and the Top 20 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart (#16).  And, they have done it without changing their all.  The four members here were all on the band's debut album, Alive In You, in 2011, and Just Say Jesus, from 2013.  Scotty Wilbanks has moved from a full-time touring member to an "additional musician" on this record, but no one has left and no one has been added.  So, one can only draw the conclusion that this is where the band wanted to go with their sound, they executed their plan solidly, and now they are reaping the benefits of staying the course.

The production is top-notch, polished AOR-meets-CCM, with crisp guitars, strong lead vocals from Howard and excellent backing vocals, and a nice, tight rhythm section that is solid, if not flashy.  The previous Daughtry comparisons are still going to be made, especially if the more recent efforts from that band are used as the measuring stick, but comparisons to bands like Train and Jars Of Clay will also likely come into the discussion for #God Is On The Move, as well.  

If there is one weakness on this record it is that it does tend to bog down a bit in the middle, as several of the songs start to really sound alike tempo-wise.  The songs are still executed well and passionately performed, especially in the way that Howard delivers his vocals and with VanZant's hooky riffing on the guitar, but another uptempo number being wedged in somewhere between "Lean On" and "Unbelievable" would probably help to break up the logjam a bit.  That being said, the reworking of "Lean On" from the classic Christian hymn, "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" is pretty cool, although there is no way the little blue-haired lady in the pew in front of you is likely to recognize where this track gets much of its verbage.  

Stand-outs here are varied, depending upon what you are looking for from the band.  They still maintain their ability to rock, especially on the title track and the amped-up rocker "Pray It Down", which is a really nice kick-starter for the second half of the record.  In fact, "Pray It Down" is the track that fans of the first two albums are likely to point at and say..."there!  That's the band I knew so well!", as the guitars are punchy and the drums kick pretty hard throughout.

"Always"starts off presenting itself as almost a ballad, but it eventually kicks things up a notch to become a nice mid-tempo rocker that I envision being one of the high points of 7TD's live set.  I really like this song as it is one of the most passionate, powerful songs on the record and one that I find myself returning to with its story and message of redemption that it presents.

"Hopes And Dreams" is a highly polished mid-tempo rocker with a solid hook and an easily sung chorus that will also have many fans on their feet.  Despite coming off as much more of a country-rocker in its overall sound, "Revival" is a track that reminds me a LOT of "Road Of A Thousand Dreams" by Trixter from that band's Hear record, and I could actually imagine it garnering some country airplay, especially on Sunday gospel shows.
All in all, I think #God Is On The Move is a solid album and a very well put together record, even if it abandons some of what I liked about the band's earlier output...especially their second studio effort.  If you are looking to bang your head and pump your fists endlessly, then this is not the record for you by any means.  If you are looking for a more polished musical affair with impassioned, up-front Christian lyrics, and catchy, toe-tapping mid-to-uptempo rock, then I would imagine #God Is On The Move is exactly what you are looking for.  

Rating:  Definitely rock-worthy, I step this one back just a notch from their 2013 effort, slotting this one in at 6.5, with only the sameness of several tracks really hurting the overall rating of the record, as it is a truly solid effort and one I enjoy.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

ANOTHER LOST YEAR "Alien Architect"

(c) 2016 EMP Music

  1. Intro
  2. Wolves
  3. Bastard Sons
  4. Trigger Finger
  5. Best Is Yet To Come
  6. Run The Tank Out
  7. This Is Life
  8. He Took Beautiful Away
  9. Memories
  10. We All Die Alone
  11. On And On
  12. Holding On: Letting Go
Clinton Cunanan--Vocals, Guitars
Adam Hall--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jorge Sotomarino--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nathan Walker--Drums, Backing Vocals

Evolution is a process; it doesn't happen overnight.  Or at least it shouldn't.  Sure, sometimes bands "evolve" musically seemingly from album to album, but these "evolutions" are usually just massive shifts in musical style and philosophy, or outright genre jumping.  But these aren't the types of evolution that North Carolina-based rockers Another Lost Year have experienced over the past couple of years.  No, we are talking solid, honest-to-goodness musical growth that is a natural progression from what was already an above average band.  But where Alien Architect finds the band in 2016 is leaps and bounds beyond where they left us with their last full-length studio effort, Better Days, and their breakout radio hit, "War On The Inside".

Evolution for this band starts with a change in members, first and foremost.  Cunanan and Hall remain from the last album, but Sotomarino and Walker have climbed aboard the Another Lost Year train.  Also new for the band is Dave Ellefson's EMP Music Group label, as the Megadeth bassist obviously liked what he heard from the band and threw in with the lot.  The results of having a big name and a high quality studio behind the music is nothing short of amazing on this record as everything is bigger, bolder, thicker, and punchier in the recording this time around, giving additional bounce and life to each of these songs.

But in the end, it is the songs themselves that have evolved the most.  The songwriting here is nothing short of stellar, in my opinion.  At times deeply personal, introspective, angry, hopeful, and every possible combination of these and other emotions, the self-described "Freedom Rock" songs here have a life of their own, yet meld together flawlessly to create a nearly perfect musical landscape.  As good as "War On The Inside" was and is, songs like "Run The Tank Out", "Trigger Finger", and "He Took Beautiful Away" simply blow that hit single away.  From the first time I heard the lead single, "Wolves", I went on record and stated that it was going to take something MASSIVE to knock that song from the Best Song of 2016 position for me.  And wouldn't you know's Another Lost Year themselves that attempt to do just that!  How?  Where?  Hang on, I'm getting there. 

First off...the one lone weak spot for me.  The intro.  There is absolutely NO SECRET about my disdain for intros/outros, and nothing changes here.  So, that is a definite strike for any album when I have to auto-skip the very first track...but at least it is a separate track and not part of an actual song.  Okay, now that that is out of the way...

Lead single "Wolves" comes screaming out of the gate, setting the tone and attitude for the rockers on this album from the word "go".  Punchy rhythm guitars and thundering drums just crush from the start, drawing Cunanan's soulful vocals forward as he challenges the listener "I'm giving you one last chance to run like hell before I come"!  Hall's backing vocals are the perfect match for Cunanan's on the chorus harmonies as both men possess soaring tenors of great power and depth, and the song is just relentless in its catchiness and snares your attention with multiple hooks, both vocal and instrumental.  Months later, this is still the best song I have heard in 2016...

"Bastard Sons" picks up right where "Wolves" abruptly ends, with more chunky rhythm guitars and some nice, thick bass work, along with a blistering solo from Sotomarino that leads into the final bridge and chorus of the song.  Once again, Cunanan's voice soars through this track and easily glides over the backdrop of buzzsaw guitars, churning bass lines, and some catchy drum patterns.

"Trigger Finger" showcases an energy and urgency that is missing from so much of the modern hard rock scene today as everyone seemingly sounds the same now.  Not the case with this song, which has some nice tempo changes that really highlight Walker's skill behind the skins, and which give the guitars little windows which they can use to perform almost mini-breakdowns at the end of the choruses before ripping wide open once again.  There's some funky bass work here, also, that gives further life to this crunchy number that additionally sports some cool jack-hammer snare and a ringing fret run of a guitar solo.

"Best Is Yet To Come" is the first time the album even allows you to take even a slight breather, but don't imagine that we have backed off into ballad territory, for that is simply not the case.  The track starts off starkly with just Cunanan and an acoustic guitar, then Hall chimes in with his harmony vocals, giving the track a tease of balladry, but the guitars come ringing in shortly thereafter, bumping the energy forward without pushing the pedal down past mid-tempo, speed-wise.  It reminds me a lot of the track "Better Days" from their previous album, at least as far as style and tempo. 

"Run The Tank Out" is another piece of musical brilliance about youth, growing up, and making memories for a new generation.  Heck, by conjuring up lyrical images of Jack and Dianne (look it up if you need to, kids...) for THIS generation with lines such as "my hand between your legs and your arm around my neck" and "stars light the path so I know it's right, turn the headlights up and run the tank out tonight", this song could've been part of the sound track of MY youth growing up in the country with seemingly nothing to do on those long, hot summer nights.  The song incorporates just enough reverb on Cunanan's vocals to give them a ringing, haunting quality that further adds to the nostalgic essence of the track, and the rhythm is simple-yet-catchy as it drives you down that dusty country road of your soul.  Love this song and it is easily a top three track for me!   

I could go on and on about each and every song here, as there are no bad ones at all.  However, I feel that there is one song that still deserves extra-special mention, and that would be the hauntingly gorgeous "He Took Beautiful Away".  Surprising in its initial approach, the song starts off with just a simple drum and guitar line before a mournful slide guitar comes wailing in, along with some background handclaps, setting the stage for Cunanan to spin his web of heartache from a shattered relationship.  You can hear Cunanan's voice drip with ache and angst as he wrings each word of the chorus out in his rich tenor as the guitars moan perfectly in the background, adding their sorrow but not stealing anything from the lyrics.

"Memories" doesn't turn the heartache down much on the next track, but the band manages to start the slow climb from the emotional depths they pull the listener down to with "We All Die Alone", which, admittedly, doesn't sound like it's exactly shiny, happy music, either!  Make no mistake, however, "We All Die Alone" adds solid, hard-edged guitars back into the mix an the tempo takes a fairly sharp jump from "Memories", but not so much so that there is an obvious jolt in the flow of the record.  "On And On" is another nice rocker with a jangly guitar line under the verses, before "Holding On: Letting Go" rounds things out in fine fashion with a snappy drumbeat and some more catchy rhythm and bass guitar work bolstering Cunanan's top shelf vocals as they lead into a smoking guitar solo from Sotomarino.

It is a rare thing that I am so moved by an album that I am actually willing to repeatedly stream it, as I do NOT like to listen to audio streams, whether it is for reviewing a record or for personal consumption.  I want to be able to jump all over the place, skip forward, jump back, pause, re-start, shuffle, and do any other number of things to the music I listen to.  But with Alien Architect, I was more than content to be absorbed into the experience as it was being presented to me.  I can't even put an accurate number on how many times I sat through this album in its entirety.  Ten?  A dozen?  Twenty times?  Its possible.  But the amazing thing is that no matter how many times I played it, it still sounded fresh and it hooked me...sucked me in.  I felt like I was there, a part of the music, a member of an exclusive audience that was being treated to something extra special.  And, I guess in a way I was because I got the honor of hearing this expert piece of music days and weeks before the rest of the world, and all I can say is I feel sorry for those of you who have to wait.  This album is as close to musical perfection as I have encountered so far this year...and it really isn't all that much of a competition.

As 2016 slides into it's sixth month, it is without hesitation that I state that Alien Architect is the album of the year at the midpoint, and it is going to take something STUNNING to knock it from its place atop the heap.  It is truly that great.

Rating:  Crankworthy to the extreme.  Crank this to 9.5, with only the intro holding it back...and I almost wavered on that!