Papa Roach – F.E.A.R.

Just as Aristotle once said “one swallow does not a summer make“, likewise a good title does not an album make. F.E.A.R. (Face Everything And Rise) is Papa Roach’s eighth studio album and despite the powerful connotations of the record’s title, there is very little to rejoice within.

Papa Roach have continually evolved over time, not necessarily to fulfill their artistic desires, but to maintain their relevance in an increasingly unstable musical environment. Beginning as a nu metal band, they quickly shed their feathers to fit in with the new wave of emotionally-charged alternative rock, which permeated the mid-2000s after the demise of their former genre. Towards the latter part of the decade they once again transformed, placing their music well within the resurgence of hard rock, before 2012’s The Connection propelled the band towards the often hit-and-miss trend of electronic rock.

From the opening seconds of the new album it was clear to see what direction the band chose to take. Once again Papa Roach continue to tiptoe between electronic thrills and the safety of conventional rock music; afraid to take the leap completely into electronica, which has ultimately left the four-piece in musical limbo.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the record is the suppressive production, which has taken all the life out of the distorted guitars and made Jacoby Shaddix’s vocals fall limply across the over-polished musical backdrop. This is a genuine shame as there is potential littered across the record. Despite Broken As Me stealing the haunting two-note juxtaposition that made Rob Zombie’s Dragula the go-to rock party tune, it is actually a decent track, but it’s crunching guitar riff is barely given a chance to shine. Similarly, Falling Apart has all the right ingredients for a killer Papa Roch song: a great riff, a catchy chorus and a powerful message, yet it struggles to break away from its robotic execution and heavily processed vocals.

However, there are moments which are successful. Unsurprisingly it’s the beat-driven rap track, Gravity, that makes the biggest impact on the record. The song embraces their electronic temptations and returns to their roots with honest, if somewhat cliche, rapped verses, separated by memorable choruses. The only negative aspect is the appearance of Maria Brink, who gives an over-zealous performance akin to an amateur pantomime show. The other two stand-out tracks are Warriors and Face Everything And Rise, which similarly accept the electronic label. The former cleverly interweaves synth pulses and a bulldozer guitar sound into a less predictable song structure, whilst the latter is a high-octane thriller, showing what can be achieved if Papa Roach submerge themselves into the electronic genre.

Elsewhere the album fails to excite. Skeletons and Devil are completely anonymous and follow the tired format of slow verses and vaguely recognisable choruses; the very definition of filler. Add this to the pair of tepid ballad-esque tracks (Love Me Till It Hurts and Never Have To Say Goodbye) that saturate the middle of the album, and F.E.A.R. doesn’t leave you with much to look back on and enjoy after a complete listen.

It is clear to see that Papa Roach need to chose which direction they are taking the band. Currently their music is neither here-nor-there, staggering between a synth-driven sound that is producing their best moments and an overused alternative rock format that is dragging them down. Surely it’s about time they face electronica and rise.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

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Three is a Magic Number – Part Two

Last week I began to look at some of the best album trilogies in the world of rock. My three examples last week were Marilyn Manson’s infamous triptych, David Bowie’s experimental and kraut rock-tinged Berlin trilogy and finally a classic prog inspired trio of albums: one from Steven Wilson’s solo act, one from Mikael Akerfeldt’s Opeth and a combined effort from their avant garde side project, Storm Corrosion. This week I have chosen three more trilogies to explore, each with their own unique intricacies.

The Cure

Although some will argue that The Cure’s trilogy should consist of Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography, which are linked together by the gothic nature of Robert Smith’s music, Smith himself sees their album trilogy being made up of Pornography, Disintegration and Bloodflowers instead. Although the individual parts are separated by three albums and then two albums respectively, they share a link in musical styling that Smith considers to be the defining characteristic of what The Cure stands for.

Pornography is without doubt The Cure’s darkest album, fueled by Smith’s depression and heavy drug use, the record uncovers eerie thoughts expressed through moody textures. However, the album’s successors featured a much lighter style of music, best characterised under the new wave umbrella. Despite this, seven years later The Cure released Disintegrate, which was a continuation of Pornography‘s gothic feel, but this time around the music had drone-tendencies and featured heavy synth usage. It would then be an eleven year gap before The Cure returned once again to their trademark sombre tone. Bloodflowers was an unexpected, yet much needed release after its predecessor Wild Mood Swings failed to make an impact with its unfocused sound. Together the three albums showcase the best moments of The Cure’s career and in 2002 the trilogy was performed live in Berlin and documented with a DVD release.

Mastodon

Although intended as a tetralogy, Mastodon’s classical element inspired series is probably better considered as a trilogy. The tetralogy consists of Remission (Fire), Leviathan (Water), Blood Mountain (Earth) and Crack the Skye (Air/Aether), however the first record is only loosely connected to the element of fire and has no narrative connecting the individual tracks. The other three, however, tell a detailed tale based around the element in question, with Leviathan retelling Moby Dick, Blood Mountain describing a hellish climb of a monster-infested mountain and Crack the Skye mixing astral travel and divination with Russian history in a multi-layered, mind-bending narrative.

Musically the three albums are connected too. Remission is purely sludge metal, but the other three show an evolution of this sound into a fully-fledged progressive metal style by the time that Crack the Skye was released. This evolution in musicianship and songwriting technique helps to link the albums together beyond the element theme and together the records characterise the true nature of progressive music – a desire to evolve and expand musical horizons, whilst challenging your own musical abilities.

Angels & Airwaves

The final band on this list, Angels & Airwaves, released a trilogy that covers different mediums. After the online release of their third album Love, band leader Tom DeLonge announced a second part to the album, which was released the following year, and an accompanying film which would tell the story of the concept woven into the two part album. Although the music failed to live up to the brilliant debut We Don’t Need To Whisper and its ambitious follow-up I-Empire, the grand vision for the project, inspired by the strong concept, was a commendable idea and a refreshing stance to take in the modern age of music, where commercialism is often favoured over creativity.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

Three is a Magic Number – Part One

Last week I reviewed Marilyn Manson’s latest release The Pale Emperor and since then I have had Manson’s whole discography on repeat, unable to listen to any other artists. Manson’s best work to date has undoubtedly been the trio of albums Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood, which together form his “Triptych”. Listening back to these influential albums made me think about other examples of album trilogies that are exemplary in their own right – so in this two part series I want to explore some of the greatest trios from the oceans of rock.

David Bowie

The man who inspired the shift towards a glam-rock image for Marilyn Manson’s second album in the Triptych, Mechanical Animals, also has a trilogy of his own. Known as the ‘Berlin Trilogy’, the three albums in this collection were all recorded in Berlin and fully embrace Bowie’s avant-garde style that was threatening to break through for years.

The trilogy begins with Low, which has contributions from Brian Eno (most notably the Warszawa theme), and begins with his traditional blend of pop and rock before expanding out into experimental space rock and instrumental sections. Its successor, “Heroes”, continued on with the sound developed on Low and features contributions from both Eno and Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame). However “Heroes” is generally positive in tone, a stark contrast to the negative space woven throughout its predecessor. The final album Lodger once again evolves in style and is much tighter in composition, whilst still maintaining a sense of experimentation, with exotic sounds similar to those found on parts of “Heroes”.

As a whole the Berlin Trilogy forms an eclectic mix of music, with numerous themes and concepts running through the albums. Despite this the trilogy manages to keep a sense of cohesion, partly due to Brian Eno’s contributions, but mainly because of its avant-garde, experimental nature and a leaning towards a krautrock sound that became more subtle with each album.

Steven Wilson/Mikael Akerfeldt

Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and Akerfeldt (Opeth) have been long-time collaborators, which began when Wilson produced Opeth’s Blackwater Park in 2001. Nearly a decade later the pair began a project together, entitled Storm Corrosion, which successfully explored extremely avant-garde music, utilising sparse arrangements and moody atmospheres. Their six track self-titled effort (with a 47-min running length) acted as a conclusion to a trilogy which began with Opeth and Steven Wilson both releasing albums with a fortnight of each other eight months earlier.

Those records were Heritage and Grace for Drowning respectively, which were both inspired by 70s progressive rock. Heritage was ambitious and recreated classic prog sounds, whilst Grace for Drowning incorporated jazz and orchestral arrangements, along with a few drone and electronic moments into the progressive rock format. Although I believe each of the three records have weaker tracks, together they form a formidable trio and are one of the greatest success stories of modern progressive music, along with Jordan Rudess’ beard.

Look out for the second and final installment next Monday.

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

“I don’t know if I can open up; been open too much” is a remarkably honest statement from a man who once outwardly branded himself as the God of F***. Whilst Manson may still weave intellectual offerings of Greek mythology and German folklore into his metaphoric lyricism, The Pale Emperor is easily his most open and revealing record to date.

The quote above is the opening gambit from the originally planned title track, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, which focuses in on the central theme of the record; characterising himself and his demons within the image of Mephistopheles. It all sounds ludicrously narcissistic, but it makes for a much more cohesive record lyrically, in addition to providing Manson with a new creative muse to distort and abuse.

This creative edge is mirrored in turn by the addition of movie and game soundtrack composer Tyler Bates, who integrates his cinematic sensibilities within the dark core of Manson’s thoughts, resulting in the most successful new partnership since Tim Sköld jumped on board for the highly industrial and indulgent Golden Age of Grotesque in 2003.

This rediscovered inspiration manifests itself in dark soundscapes, rather than the release of pent up aggression that Manson utilised in his former years, which has resulted in a very unique album. For instance Third Day of a Seven Day Binge is inspired by drone and paints a bleak portrait of the titular binge through the use of loose guitar chords and a moaning hum that camouflages well into the sombre backdrop, whilst Odds of Even is sparse and haunting. A similar eerie feeling permeates Birds of Hell Awaiting as sinister keys and a shuffling bass line takes this track to dark and scary places. Its no surprise then that Manson’s twisted persona can adapt this negative space into the catchiest track on the record. Come to think of it, the refrain “this is your death’s desire” might just be the most successful Manson moment in over ten years.

Elsewhere, this record takes an ambitious detour into blues; integrating bass shuffles, dangling chords and a dash of dissonance to break up the desolate vibe presented in many of The Pale Emperor‘s ten tracks. Killing Strangers perfectly encompasses this feel and even offers up some delightful blues licks and a solo to finish. The only other Manson album to feature solos was 2007’s Eat Me, Drink Me, which although it shares a deviation from the normal Manson formula, it fails to deliver the dark, menacing vibe that The Pale Emperor achieves so well.

Whilst Manson and Bates have clearly worked to reinvent Manson’s musical positioning, they have also stayed true to his stock musical themes. His ‘clankety-clank’ tom march drumming (provided by Gil Sharone) is littered across the record, shown most notably in The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles and Slave Only Dreams to be King. The latter of those two tracks is the meanest on the record and sees Manson roaring, spitting and wailing his way through the five minute number, which musically is a modern reinvention of his Antichrist Superstar days. In a similar vein Cupid Carries a Gun and Deep Six channels Holy Wood-era Manson, with twanging guitar overlaying a regimented drum beat, before exploding into thunderous energy.

The least successful song on the record is The Devil Beneath My Feet, which is a medium-paced and inconspicuous track that reminds of many of the forgettable latter cuts on 2009’s The High End of Low. Nevertheless The Pale Emperor shines as the jewel of Manson’s post-millennial work and is a blueprint for how to make an album that is menacing, without having to scare the parents of the MTV generation.

Overall: 8/10

Thank you for reading. Join the RockAtlantic mailing list by clicking on follow and as always press like if you enjoyed this blog and let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

– James

*Image from Wikipedia – “Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor”