A Soundtrack For A Mid-Life Crisis

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of Linkin Park’s latest album The Hunting Party because I had mentioned the six-piece a few times in the run up to the album’s release and I felt I had nothing more to add. However, a close friend and keen Linkin Park fan asked for my thoughts and challenged me to listen to the album again. So here goes.

The frustrating thing about Linkin Park’s sixth studio album is that it is half of a decent album. Drawbar is an excellent instrumental that is rich in instrumentation and features the peculiar and schizophrenic guitar playing of Tom Morello. Morello’s performance is matched by Rob Bourdon, who shows great dynamical control over his drumming and demonstrates a musicality on par with the likes of Danny Carey, Neil Peart and Gavin Harrison.

Final Masquerade is equally brilliant, with a great mix of hard guitars and floating atmospherics beneath beautiful verse vocals from Chester Bennington. This juxtaposition between styles is reused within the closer, A Line In The Sand, but this time Mike Shinoda provides the solemn vocals between the sections of exploding riffs.

However, War, along with its introductory track, The Summoning, show the band at their weakest. The Summoning is a simple prelude, but as an instrumental piece it lacks the musical complexity or depth that is needed to compliment the build up of aural tension and, as such, it is very one dimensional and bland. Then War bursts into life, with an injection of high octane riffing and gritty vocals. Sadly, War doesn’t achieve the outcome it is looking for; the track is supposed to be a barrage of raw aggression, but Linkin park aren’t able to harness the rage into anything meaningful, a problem that Victimized suffered from their last album, Living Things. The lyrics are laughable (“war, destroy you, war, destroy you”), the aggression is misplaced and overbearing, and the track itself is void of any substance.

Despite this, Linkin Park do manage to create a decent metal song with Rebellion, which features the distinctive, manic guitar playing of Daron Malakian (System Of A Down and Scars On Broadway). Apart from the great introduction riff, Malakian’s main contribution to the song is to provide a sense of focus, resulting in a track that ties heavy guitars and electronics together better than Linkin Park have ever managed to do before.

The band come close to repeating this success with lead single Guilty All The Same. The three-part introduction transitions between guitars and synths well, which leads into a solid hard rock structure that is reminiscent of their Minutes To Midnight era. However, at 3:40 the track loses its way. Guest vocalist Rakim begins a rapping section that is far too long for the track, before Brad Delson provides a messy guitar solo that is drowned of any dynamics by an ocean of wah. Sadly Delson feels the need to repeat this style on War and to a lesser extent on Mark The Graves.

However, the main disappointment of this album is Bennington’s unusually weak vocals. His screams still remain a strong part of his repertoire, as demonstrated on Rebellion and Keys To The Kingdom, as does his gentle vocals found within the intro of Final Masquerade and throughout the dreamy verses of Mark The Graves. Unfortunately it is the vocals between these two extremes that suffer. Wastelands is a particularly weak track for him, as he chants a tired chorus melody that is almost identical to the one in Guilty All The Same. His vocal fragility is highlighted during the sparse bridge and is even more noticeable alongside the excellent vocals provided by Shinoda – a trend that repeats itself across the album; The Hunting Party lets Shinoda showcase his versatility with beautiful cleans, and a variety of different rapping styles, from the moody style present in the All For Nothing verses to the emotion-filled style of A Line In the Sand.

Ultimately The Hunting Party is an album where, despite the best efforts of Shinoda and Bourdon, the majority of songs fail to reach the desired revival of rock that the band had promised. With a stricter quality control and a more inspired performance by Bennington, this record would have been been saved from its fate to be a soundtrack for a mid-life crisis. As it is though, The Hunting Party has elements to attract fans of nu metal, hard rock and electronica, but unfortunately has neither the creativity nor the cohesiveness required for a repeat listen.

Overall: 5/10

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Papa Roach – A Guilty Pleasure?

As a massive fan of progressive music, Papa Roach’s comparatively simple songwriting and their sporadic use of emo, rap, hip hop and electronic influences within their alternative rock formula, really shouldn’t appeal to me. Yet here I am, beginning to write a blog that is intended to praise the success and longevity of the four piece from California.

After forming in 1993 during the members’ High School years and releasing four independent efforts (consisting of three EPs and a full length entitled Old Friends from Young Years), Papa Roach were eventually signed by DreamWorks and consequentially found mainstream success with the release of their second album Infest in 2000. This album, lead by the single Last Resort, identified with the exploding nu metal scene, but featured a sound closer to that of hip hop than most of their chart topping contemporaries at the time.

The follow up, Lovehatetragedy, was released in 2002, and whilst singles She Loves Me Not and Time And Time Again still chanelled their nu metal sound, the rest of the album featured a lot less rapping and marked the beginning of a transition towards alternative rock.

Despite having an affinity for nu metal, Papa Roach failed to excite me as much as the likes of Korn, Linkin Park and Deftones with their early releases. However, when their fourth album, Getting Away With Murder, completed their move away from rap and nu metal influences, the band firmly secured my attention. The new Papa Roach was very melodic, and saw vocalist Jacoby Shaddix and co. focus more on vocal hooks and stronger guitar work, resulting in an album which truly showcases their songwriting abilities. As the first album after the decline of nu metal, Getting Away With Murder planted the seeds to their long lifespan, as it showcased their adaptability away from their home genre.

Papa Roach further established themselves away from nu metal with their fifth record, The Paramour Sessions. This effort continued in the same vein as its predecessor, but was ultimately much darker musically and lyrically, resulting from the suicide of Papa Roach himself (Jacoby Shaddix’s step-grandfather) and from the recording process within the Paramour Mansion. Despite the heavy subject material, The Paramour Sessions was a solid album and their most diverse release to date.

However, the album that most stands out to me in their discography is their fifth major-label release Metamorphosis. Papa Roach evolved once more, pushing their sound into the hard rock world after a surprise support slot with Guns N’ Roses on their Chinese Democracy tour. The record was much heavier than previous efforts; the simple guitar work of old had been completely transformed and tracks like Change Or Die, Hollywood Whore and I Almost Told You That I Loved You were fierce and bold.

Their next two efforts Time For Annihilation (essentially an EP of new material padded out with live tracks) and The Connection once again featured a new sound. The hard/alternative rock model was still mostly in tact, but just as elements of hip hop invaded their early sound, the synths and electronic beats of today’s pop environment were being fully embraced by Papa Roach. This meant the guitars could no longer be as prominent, but the electronic elements still provided a decent foundation for Shaddix’s heart felt lyrics, whilst this new style allowed Papa Roach to reach out once more into the mainstream’s eye and show they were Still Swingin’.

The most incredible thing about Papa Roach is that they have not only survived two decades, but managed to maintain a position of relevance in a rapidly changing musical scene. They have achieved this by adapting their musical style, but never really altering their sound, which is why they remain part of only a handful of the original nu metal bands that haven’t succumb to the turbulent waters of rock. A new album, entitled F.E.A.R. (Face Everything and Rise) is expected in early 2015 and is bound to rejuvenate a band that (quite rightly) refuses to disappear.

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Velvet Revolver 2.0

Velvet Revolver is a band whose name you probably haven’t heard for a while. That is because a staggering six years have passed since Scott Weiland left the band, but finally, last week the band’s status, and more importantly their lack of singer, was addressed by bassist Duff McKagan. In a recent interview, when asked about the band’s future, McKagan stated he wouldn’t object to taking over the vocal duties himself, so in today’s blog I review a list of potential Weiland replacements.

Duff McKagan

McKagan’s side project Loaded has recently gained popularity, but the band actually formed back in 1999. Perhaps the reason for this increase in acclaim is the egotistical rebranding of the band to Duff McKagan’s Loaded, reflecting the fact that McKagan actually takes charge vocally. The obvious advantage for a McKagan fronted VR is that he is already a member. However, McKagan’s punk-based voice is vastly different from Weiland’s grunge-tinged wail and their back catalogue could prove tricky for McKagan to master.

Verdict: A poor choice, but the easiest one to make.

Chester Bennington

Bennington has already semi-successfully replaced Weiland in his original band Stone Temple Pilots (their first EP was half decent, but was confused in direction) and what’s to stop him taking the helm at VR HQ? Bennington is an extremely strong singer and incredibly versatile, however his recent live performances have shown a notable decrease in quality. It is also unlikely that Bennington would want to take Weiland’s place in both of his major bands.

Verdict: Unlikely

Corey Taylor

Corey Taylor has auditioned extensively with the band and it is rumoured several tracks were even recorded. This shows they definitely worked well together, but Taylor already has enough projects and collaborations to keep himself busy, so taking on a third major band would require a level of effort that even Steven Wilson would shy away from.

Verdict: Possible – as long as Slipknot is out of the way

Franky Perez

Perez is a long time friend and collaborator within the VR circle. He has played in Slash’s solo live band, recorded songs with VR’s rhythm guitarist Dave Kushner under the name DKFXP and has also formed the band Carnival of Dogs with VR drummer Matt Sorum. Not only is Perez a known quantity, but his voice also suits Velvet’s Revolver’s sound, which makes him a very likely option.

Verdict: Very Likely

Myles Kennedy

It’s no secret that Slash views Myles Kennedy as the new, less obnoxious, Axl Rose. Slash first collaborated with Kennedy on his first solo record, entitled Slash, before they embarked on a world tour together. For Slash’s second solo album, Apocalyptic Love, he dropped the revolving door of guest vocalists and instead opted to use only one singer: Kennedy. The pair work extremely well together, but would the duo be happy to transfer their musical relationship across into the world of VR?

Verdict: Likely

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Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun

In a recent interview Mastodon stated that during the writing sessions for their sixth studio effort, entitled Once More ‘Round The Sun, they had consciously cut down on any unnecessary riffs, and even notes, in an effort to streamline their songwriting. And it’s noticeable. It’s hard to believe that the same band who created the progressive masterpiece Crack The Skye, with all the twisting riffs and instrumental passages, could produce an album whose foundation is very much in hard rock.

The most notable mutation to their sound is the introduction of Brann Dailor as one of three main vocalists. In fact Dailor is responsible for the best vocal moments across the album, lending his vocals to the supremely infectious choruses of Ember City, The Motherload and High Road. However, Brent Hinds also provides some equally catchy moments during Once More ‘Round The Sun, Halloween and Chimes At Midnight, which is part of Mastodon’s transition away from harsh bellows and towards melodic, clean tones.

Although the vocals may be shifting, Mastodon’s riffing is still immediately recognisable. The Motherload begins with a grooving riff, whilst High Road takes inspiration from their Leviathan-era. The biggest nod back to their roots is the record’s closing track, Diamond In The Witch House, which is a sludgey affair, with Troy Sanders returning to his favored bellowing voice and the band finding the same gloomy atmosphere that permeates itself through debut album Remission.

Despite the band cutting out a lot of riffs, the finished product still features many instrumental passages that, in most cases, work their gradually towards a soaring guitar solo, courtesy of Hinds, most evident in album openers Tread Lightly and The Motherload. The instrumental highlight of the album has to be the two minute outro that concludes Halloween, with Hinds’ shredding overlaying the stop and go riff beneath.

On Once More ‘Round The Sun Dailor continues to show his virtuoso tendencies, with clever fills and intriguing beats scattered through the record. During The Motherload’s extended bridge section Dailor provides some great dynamical drumming, whilst he unleashes his full potential on the unusual thrash and djent inspired Chimes At Midnight.

Although the progressive nature of Mastodon has been reigned back on this effort, their experimental side does still come out to play. Asleep In The Deep is a trip through a dreamy musical soundscape, whose zenith is the bizarre (and quite ambitious) vocal permutations featured during the chorus, which will no doubt prove hard to perform live. Aunt Lisa begins with a hectic, Blood Mountain-style riff and manages to squeeze in humming synths, guitar oddities and vocal effects, before guest vocal group, The Coat Hangers, begin chanting something akin to The Ramones’ classic Blitzkrieg Bop refrain.

Whilst Once More ‘Round The Sun is definitely a departure from their progressive metal sound, there are still enough elements of traditional Mastodon for this record to sit happily alongside their other efforts. The success of this record was born from cutting down a track and analysing its strengths and weaknesses, which has helped the Atlanta quartet to balance their brutality with melody and has allowed them to showcase their genuine songwriting ability and musicianship.

Overall: 7/10

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