Grip it

This is the fifth and final part of this weeks series of blogs, where I am reviewing five of the most prominent new songs in rock and metal. If you have missed any of the last four please check them out below.

For the final blog I thought I’d take the chance to introduce a (reasonably) new band called Volto! who released their debut effort ‘Incitare’ on Monday. The reason Volto! are so prominent is because they are a side project of Tool drummer Danny Carey, alongside bassist Lance Morrison and guitarist John Ziegler.

‘Grip it’ was the first track to be released from ‘Incitare’, which is very typical of the album; taking a direction somewhere between progressive rock and jazz fusion. Volto! are a completely instrumental band and with such a busy track it would be hard to find a place where vocals actually added to the song.

The first two minutes of the song rotate around several guitar riffs backed by Danny Carey’s impressive drum patterns. Then the riffs break away, allowing each band member to show off their abilities, starting with a guitar solo that flows into a keyboard section before a very clever drum solo. However, unlike many of their instrumental contemporaries, the solo sections work well within the frame of the song, keeping the listener interested and carrying the track forward.

As a group they have been around for quite along time, although this is their first actual release which showcases just how mature their writing is. The song ‘Grip it’ has been around for at least four years though, since Danny Carey and Brann Dailor (Mastodon drummer) performed a version of it together in 2009. The years of waiting has resulted in ‘Incitare’ being a great listen and bordering on being a prog/jazz masterpiece. I really hope they continue to release new material and become more than just a side project, because their music definitely deserves it.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog. Please like, comment and subscribe! Next week a sense of normality will resume!

We Are

This is the fourth installment of a five part blog this week, where I am reviewing five of the biggest new songs in rock and metal. If you have missed the last three please check them out beneath.

Karnivool are an Australian progressive metal band, whose sound is most similar to a hybrid of Tool and Tesseract (just imagine that!) Their third album ‘Asymmetry’ was apparently released last Friday, but doesn’t appear to be available in the UK until August 5th (I’m not sure about anywhere else.) Nevertheless, ‘We Are’ is the first song to be released from the album and is a refinement of the sound present on their last album ‘Sound Awake’.

The interplay between bass and guitar is still present, taking inspiration from the djent sound, but stripping it back to a more relaxed state. In the past, some of their songs have become lost in their own epic ambitions, but none of that is present on ‘We Are’, instead the music seems more focused, almost like it knows exactly where it needs to go and actually reaches that goal. This is all the more impressive considering Karnivool are still growing into their prog-boots from their almost nu metal origins on the first album ‘Themata’.

Ian Kenny’s vocals are very distinct, with his Australian accent ever present as they soar above the complex rhythms. Just like Tool’s Maynard Kennan, he uses his voice as an instrument, understanding the power balance between both rhythm and melody. In fact just about everything about Karnivool reminds me of a slightly more accessible Tool and seeing as the latter band have been inactive for several years (waiting for Kennan to stop making wine), they are taking their chance to step into the progressive metal elite.

Along side Dream Theater this could be the biggest progressive release of the year. Now I’ve just got to wait for my copy of ‘Asymmetry’ to arrive.

Recommended Karnivool:

  1. ‘Set Fire to the Hive’ from ‘Sound Awake’
  2. ‘Goliath’ from ‘Sound Awake’
  3. ‘Themata’ from ‘Themata’

Supersoaker

This is the third of five blogs this week, which are reviewing some of the most prominent new songs from rock and metal. If you missed Tuesday’s review of Placebo’s ‘Too Many Friends’ or yesterday’s look at Avenged Sevenfold’s ‘Hail to the King’, please check them out below.

Maybe it’s the summer. Or maybe it’s just a good mood. But I found myself loving, really, honestly loving the new Kings of Leon single. To be fair I have never really given them enough time in the past for them to grow on me. A few views of music videos stochastically flicked across a TV channel isn’t really enough to get a true flavour for a band.

So when the new single ‘Supersoaker’ debuted last week I gave it my undivided attention. The song starts with a lightly overdriven chord sequence, before the bass and drums join, soon followed by the vocal melody played on guitar. I’m so used to the bass being low in the mix that I was taken back at how every twang of Michael Jared Followill’s four string is audible and floats effortless across the song.

Then there are the vocals. Caleb Followill’s vocals are stunning; they are very Thom Yorke-esque (you will have to have several repeat listens to understand the words) but with added grit and delivered with raw power and emotion. Although the same melody and chords are played for the majority of the song, for some reason, it doesn’t get boring, even after your twentieth listen.

‘Supersoaker’ is taken from the upcoming sixth release ‘Mechanical Bull’, which in a very loose sense is reminiscent of the early albums and will undoubtedly be the hit of the summer. If you’re not ready for a day in the sun after listening to this song, then I’m afraid you never will be.

As I have mentioned, I have never been a fan of Kings of Leon through ignorance more than an actual dislike of the music, so when ‘Mechanical Bull’ is released on September 24th I will take it into proper consideration and you should too!

Recommended Kings of Leon:

  1. ‘Radioactive’ from ‘Come Around Sundown’
  2. ‘Cold Desert’ from ‘Only By The Night’
  3. ‘On Call’ from ‘Because of the Times’

Hail To The King

This is the second of five short blogs this week reviewing the most prominent new songs from the world of rock and metal. Please check out yesterday’s blog where I reviewed Placebo’s ‘Too Many Friends’ if you missed it.

Today I will be reviewing the title track off the upcoming Avenged Sevenfold album ‘Hail To The King’, which is the sixth attempt from the Orange County rockers and the first without any writing credits from ex-drummer The Rev, who died in 2009.

As normal Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates’ guitar playing is fantastic; the guitar leads are clear and crisp and the chords are thick and punchy. ‘Hail To The King’ kicks off with a building guitar hook which extends beyond a minute before exploding into the verse. In a recent interview they stated how they were going for “a Sabbath/Zeppelin feel” and that is immediately obvious with the classic rock inspired intro lead. Synyster Gates’ guitar solos are normally incredible and this one doesn’t disappoint either. Although he has slightly reigned back (presumably to keep with the classic rock/metal theme), the end result is that the solo is well thought out and is definitely not just an opportunity to show off.

In this song M. Shadows’ vocals are completely clean (a trend he has been working towards since 2003’s ‘Waking the Fallen’) and most noticeably the vocals aren’t overlapped. M. Shadows explained that it’s “about one person, one voice… just me and a microphone trying to make it as gritty and as powerful as possible.” The other noticeable thing is how mature his voice now sounds, like a modern day Halford or Dio (just a lot lower down on the register).

But what about new drummer Arin Llejay? If Avenged Sevenfold are happy to have him on board, then we should be too. ‘Hail To The King’ isn’t the most drum-technical of songs, but his sound seems to complement the band and I am looking forward to hearing his contributions to the album as a whole.

Overall, ‘Hail To The King’ is a very good song. It shows progress, moving on from 2010’s somewhat disappointing ‘Nightmare’ and has reignited my love for the band. This album could be the one to launch them into the very select group of bands representing the pinnacle of metal. Although, by today’s standards, I’m not sure many would identify this as metal.

Recommended Avenged Sevenfold:

  1. ‘Chapter Four’ from ‘Waking The Fallen’
  2. ‘A Little Piece of Heaven’ from ‘Avenged Sevenfold’
  3. ‘Beast and the Harlot’ from ‘City of Evil’

Too Many Friends

The summer has arrived and with it so has a whole heap of new music. So in an attempt to expose you to this new music, I will be trying something different. Everyday this week I will write a short blog reviewing one of the most prominent new songs in the rock and metal universe.

First up is the new single from Placebo called ‘Too Many Friends’. The song is the first to be released from their seventh album ‘Loud Like Love’, due September 16th and tackles the issue of social media in society. ‘Too Many Friends’ is typical Placebo; flamboyant lyrics, memorable choruses and their characteristic sombre outlook.

The song isn’t flawless though. Take the first few lines of lyrics:

“My computer thinks I’m gay, I threw that piece of junk away, on the Champs-Elysees, as I was walking home. This is my last communique, down the superhighway, all that I have left to say, in a single tome.”

As a fan of the band I am used to the excessive rhyming, unique bombast and the almost charming strangeness. However, I can’t imagine stumbling across this song as a first time listener to Placebo and thinking “Wow.” After I have cringed to ‘My computer thinks I’m gay,” I would have concluded it was a pretty solid rock song. But that’s the problem, it’s just pretty solid and nothing on top. Whilst I am happy with typical Placebo, newer listeners probably won’t be.

‘Loud Like Love’ will most likely carry off from where 2009’s ‘Battle For The Sun’ ended. That album marked a change in the band; the themes of sexualised angst, drugs and depression were mostly eradicated, instead replaced by ideas of relationships and a new found optimism. To many this change was a disappointment, but you have to remember Molko is now 40, a far cry from ‘Nancy Boy’ and can you really blame him for ditching the angst?

Recommended Placebo:

  1. ‘Taste in Men’ from ‘Black Market Music’
  2. ‘Meds’ from ‘Meds’
  3. ‘Pure Morning’ from ‘Without You I’m Nothing’

Spotify – Disgusting Thief or Admirable Music Promoter?

Ever since their inception in the mid nineties and their boom after the turn of the millennium, music streaming services have caused wide debate between fans, entrepreneurs and the musicians themselves. The debate, in essence, revolves around whether or not the artist gets a good deal by allowing their music to be streamed by services such as Spotify or Lastfm.

Spotify have hit the rock headlines through the tweets of Atoms For Peace (and Radiohead) front-man Thom Yorke and fellow band member and producer Nigel Godrich. In protest to the perceived bad deal they and other bands are getting, they have removed the Atoms For Peace debut album ‘Amok’ from the streaming service (well worth checking out – as mentioned at the bottom).

Nigel Godrich argues that “new recorded music needs funding”, which has deeper consequences for new artists. The amount of money the new music would generate on these sites would not be able to cover all the recording expenses associated with creating a professional studio album in the twenty-first century.

Naturally there is a play-off; the loss of money from sales weighing itself against the added promotion received from being on the site. In the modern world where rock music isn’t privileged to mainstream radio attention and combined with the fact that record stores are dwindling, artists have turned the majority of their attention towards the internet. Recently, Swedish metal band In Flames highlighted the importance of a powerful online presence: “the Instagrams, the Facebooks, the Twitters – it’s hard to do all these things”.

Therefore is it only right that Spotify can underpay artists for streaming new music, when every last drip of online ‘real estate’ is so precious in the current market? After all, their service provides free promotion and zero maintenance required from the band, freeing up time to focus on other means of marketting. In this sense, Godrich admitted that Spotify was perfect for promoting and earning money off a back catalogue of music. What could be simpler than letting Spotify deal with your past, whilst you focus on the present and your future?

Whilst Spotify might appear to have the upper hand, Godrich was keen to show how the artists can grab the power back. He argues that if “all new music producers [are] bold and vote with their feet, they have no power without new music.” Although his argument makes sense, such an elaborate and widespread boycott of streaming services would be almost impossible to pull-off. Perhaps this is why Thom Yorke added that although only one album has been removed they are “standing up for [their] fellow musicians”.

This might seem like a drop in the ocean, but if the protest works and other bands follow suit, this could be a turning point in the modern online music scene. Whilst streaming services, like Spotify, are clearly trying to squeeze all the money possible out of the artists, they do this because they, too, are a business and they hold a massive percentage of the available online promotion. Just think how easy it is to stumble haphazardly across new music on these services and you can see why they can afford to take the margins they do. It is always a shame if new artists are being stifled by other corporations, but just remember opportunities for new bands are much greater than in the past due to the extensive promotion offered from all manner of social networks, web pages and online music streaming and selling services.

Thieves? No. Business Hats? Most definitely.

This Week’s Recommended Listening:

  1. Atoms For Peace – ‘Dropped’
  2. Atoms For Peace – ‘Default’
  3. In Flames – ‘Come Clarity’
  4. In Flames – ‘Sleepless Again’

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

I don’t personally care for most award ceremonies. This is especially true for music awards, which often fail to celebrate a genre’s best musical talent. However, a new award ceremony which started last year and on September 3rd will turn two years old, I do care for. The awards in question are the Progressive Music Awards run by Prog Magazine. This year’s event has seven categories which can be voted for by the fans and a further five will be decided internally.

Like most music awards, there is a category for the newcomers, called the Limelight award. The nominees include the one man band Cosmograf, the epic Distorted Harmony and the gritty Thumpermonkey amongst others. However, I give my vote to The Elijah. I bought their album ‘I Loved I Hated I Destroyed I Created’ last year and was immediately blown away. Their music is a cross between post-rock and progressive, using two vocalists: one singer, one shouter. Shouter? Don’t you mean screamer? No, they use a shouter to juxtapose the clean orchestral parts perfectly, letting a stream of pure emotion burst out across the bleak soundscapes. On the surface The Elijah’s unique brand of post-rock is abrasive and hard to digest, but multiple listens and an open mind will reveal the beautiful layers of love and heartbreak beneath.

The live event category sees many heavy weights of the genre go face-to-face with their best performances of the past year. These include legends Steve Hackett and Marillion, left-field Devin Townsend and the always quirky Kraftwerk. Whilst I can’t objectively judge all these events, I will choose the event which I so nearly bought tickets for (unfortunately I forgot) and am now deeply regretting missing the occasion. That is the Opeth tour with support from Anathema, which are the band that made Weather Systems; my favourite album of 2012 (and also 2013!)

The next award is for the best breakthrough artist. Whilst I would argue The Elijah should probably be in this section, they are not, but there are several bands which I am considering to vote for. Riverside, who are dubbed the polish Porcupine Tree, released the album ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (try making it into an acronym), which reintroduced them to the prog scene after their slightly disappointing last album. Big Big Train channel Genesis and King Crimson with their latest sprawling double volume entitled ‘English Electric’. However the band that gets my vote is actually the Von Hertzen Brothers. Need an explanation? Just check out their song ‘Insomniac’. It even has a cowbell!

The reason I didn’t vote for Riverside in the previous section was because they deserve it more in the this section for the best anthem. ‘Celebrity Touch’ is a bone crusher of a song from the same album as mentioned above. Other nominees included the fabulous song ‘Frozen North’ from Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) and Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) and the powerful ‘Golden Arrows’ by Humanfly.

Album of the year comes down to two nominations for me: Steven Wilson’s first proper band effort ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)’ and the new maturity shown on TesseracT’s ‘Altered State’. Steven Wilson’s third solo album didn’t quite meet the expectations I had after two masterpieces in ‘Insurgentes’ and ‘Grace for Drowning’. Naturally with Wilson’s superb song writing, it meant the album was amazing, yet the middle of the album seemed to get lost in its own grand visions. This leaves the monolithic ‘Altered State’, with sensuous horn sections and well crafted djent riffs to take the victory.

The Grand Design category is an easy decision. Rush might as well already have the award in the post for the iconic 2112. A true prog rock classic.

The last award which can be voted for is the artist of the year. The full list of Nominees are Muse, The Pineapple Thief, Steven Wilson, Katatonia, Steve Hackett, The Enid, The Flower Kings, Rush, Marillion and TesseracT. This has surely got to be the hardest choice out of all the categories. After much deliberating I decided to give my vote to Rush, who not only released ‘Clockwork Angels’, but finally got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with modest and heartfelt speeches from Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, who were outdone with the bizarre and infamous ‘blah blah blah’ episode from Alex Lifeson. This is well worth a watch!

The other awards, which will be decided by Prog Magazine are Prog God, Virtuoso, Visionary, Guiding Light and Life Achievement. Whoever ends up being chosen will fully deserve it and with so many brilliant prog bands, both new and old, being nominated, the outlook for progressive music looks very exiting indeed. Check out Prog Magazine’s website for the full list of nominees and a chance to vote in the awards.

This Week’s Recommended Listening:

  • ‘I Loved’ by The Elijah
  • ‘Liberation’ by Devin Townsend Project
  • ‘Insomniac’ by Von Hertzen Brothers
  • ‘Of Reality – Eclipse’ by TesseracT
  • ‘East Coast Racer’ by Big Big Train

P.S. I apologise for the longer-than-normal wait between blogs.