Listen to the album here.
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, more well known as Lorde, is a vocalist born and raised in New Zealand that gathered an incredible amount of attention back in 2013 for her debut LP, Pure Heroine. With such hits as “Royals” and “Tennis Court,” she became a worldwide phenomenon in no time, and it’s not hard to see why. At such a young age, the girl has a serious set of pipes, and her music, especially for something that was constantly played on the radio, was pretty darn unique and tasteful. It’s been almost four years since Pure Heroine came out, though, and it seemed that Lorde had sort of disappeared. She provided a few updates in between, speaking about how different Melodrama was going to be from her debut, but other than that, there weren't really any details. Then in March, she announced the LP and dropped “Green Light” as a promotional single. In an interview with the New York Times in May, Lorde described this LP as an exploration of loneliness, which got me even more excited to listen.
I’ve always respected Lorde, especially knowing that she’s a few months younger than me and has an incredible voice, but I didn’t really love anything she put out until I heard “Green Light.” That song is something really special. Lorde certainly makes it clear that she is going for a much more artsy style. She released “Perfect Places” shortly afterwards, but I decided to wait to hear the entire LP before checking out the song, so now that it’s out, I have some more to say.
Lorde was not joking when she said she would be exploring the concept of loneliness. There are lyrics on tracks like “Sober” about suffocating under it, and how her hips are missing someone else’s hips. That’s one of many lyrics alluding to a breakup during the writing of this LP. This is even showcased on “Green Light” by lines like, “Thought you said that you would always be in love, but you're not in love, no more” and “Oh honey, I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go.” Lyrics in this vein continue throughout the LP, such as on songs like “The Louvre” (with a title like that, it has to be in some way about her previous relationship), and “Liability,” but in the interview posted above, it is obvious that this isn’t what Lorde wants the LP to be known for. It’s less of a breakup LP, and more an LP about the comforts and discomforts of loneliness, with her breakup playing as a large inspiration. During the second part of “Sober” (full title “Sober (Melodrama),” making it the title track), we see how Lorde has sickened of fame in lines like “All the glamour, and the trauma, and the fucking melodrama” and on “Liability,” on top of all the breakup allusions, she talks about the fake people in her life with lines like “The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy 'til all of the tricks don't work anymore and then they are bored of me.” I’m not one for lyrics unless I really like them, but in this case, I fucking love them. We get a huge insight into what Lorde has been going through since Pure Heroine, showing us that even the girl who released one of the most popular songs of the decade so far has troubles with depression and loneliness. We see her trying to avoid her problems on “Supercut,” singing lyrics like “In my head, I do everything right.” With depression comes problematic behavior, and Lorde is not afraid to show that in her lyrics.
On top of that, Lorde continues to prove the brilliance of her voice. This is something I’ve been aware of since her debut, but it's the way she presents herself as a hopeless, melancholic woman that makes you want to sing along. I knew this was going to be the case after hearing the verses on “Green Light,” but I am really happy to say that it gets better. On “Hard Feelings/Loveless, ” when she begins singing about a “loveless generation” and spells out the word “loveless,” her delivery is so somber it seriously breaks my heart. The introductory lyrics on “Writer in the Dark” have the same effect on me as she apologizes for not being “good like you.” The backing vocals only add more to this depressing atmosphere, especially on “Sober II (Melodrama)” as they chant “We told you this is melodrama” in a high pitched, emotive register.
The instrumental aspect of this LP is varied. On tracks like “Green Light” and “Supercut,” it is obvious that, despite their very melancholic lyrics, they are made for the masses to enjoy, with a very sweet, catchy beat that goes along nicely with Lorde’s voice. The poppier songs have beats that pair up with the lyrics in a way that, while still vulnerable, are much more “covered” than the less commercial songs. In a sense, I guess you can say that Lorde seems to be singing about her issues to an inattentive audience on the poppier tracks, but on the more “serious” tracks, Lorde is expressing herself to an audience she knows will actually hear her out on her loneliness and depression, be it over a breakup or something else. Regardless, all the instrumentals on this LP are well-suited to their respective track’s lyrical content, cementing the introverted direction of the LP.
I wanted to write a separate paragraph devoted to the final track on this LP, the aforementioned second single “Perfect Places.” This song is such a fantastic way to end this LP because the song is so much more hopeless than I could have imagined. It has the poppier tone for radio appeal, and the lyrics are definitely more obscure, but they add up to a truly gut-wrenching conclusion. The song starts off with Lorde trying to break her life of depression and solitude, unable to stand her loneliness, but toward the end of the song, she starts accepting that this is how life is going to be and that those perfect places won't be found. So she begins a cycle if drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sex, singing lines like “Meet somebody, take 'em home, let's kiss and then take off our clothes, it's just another graceless night.” What really gets to me are the final lyrics of the song and the LP, where Lorde pretty much justifies the self-destructive behavior she got herself in by singing “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?” It's as if she’s completely given up on the idea of healing, so she comforts herself with the notion that a “perfect place” doesn’t actually exist. It is such a beautiful, tragic way to end Melodrama.
I would expect an album like this from an experienced performer like Bjork, but here we have a twenty year old woman from New Zealand who, on her second full length release, transformed from a respectable musician to an artist I adore. Even the songs that are meant to be enjoyed simply for their catchiness offer something so much more than meets the ear, and the album amounts to a beautiful overview of Lorde’s emotional ordeal. Melodrama is as harrowing as it is sublime, and I think the fact that it present an easy resolution just makes the entire experience that much more powerful. This is an LP that I think anyone can really love, whether they’re a casual fan or an experienced listener in search of more.
Hear/download the track (free) on Bandcamp
Like and follow on Facebook
Destination Dimension is a brand-spankin’-new metallic outfit from Coventry, Connecticut. They are so new that the only thing their Bandcamp website consists of is one track, titled “Future Cougar,” and it is four minutes of groovy bliss. Production wise, it’s unlike most unsigned/local band recordings you hear: the sound is crisp, and the level and tonal relationship between the instruments is near perfect. Don’t be alarmed, though, as this isn’t overproduced deathcore studio magic. The drums sound like drums, the guitars sound like guitars, and the vocals sound beautifully human.
The guitar work reminds me a lot of Dance Gavin Dance or Save Us From The Archon in the sense that they have that same fluid, fast, and technically aggressive melodies. In general, the riffs are tasty and make you want to dance…directly into someone’s face. There are also moments in the track where the guitars break into simple chord sections that are beautiful and emulate what we expect to hear from an emo song. I also would like to note that the bass tone is deliciously gainy without sacrificing tonality.
The drumming is perfect relative to everything else going on in the track. Not too flashy or overdone, very appropriate for what the band is trying to get at musically, and while remaining in line with the rest of the instruments, the drums add incredible color. Just like the guitars, the accents and groove-specific hits feel very natural--but at the same time, the drumming is extremely busy between the shells and feet. As a bonus, that snare tone is AWESOME.
The vocals are the most interesting part of the track, or at least the most original aspect of DD’s sound. The first singer on the track has an impressive and unique delivery, bouncing between screams and monotonal singing. Shortly after, a second voice appears, and it’s straight out of a modern day screamo record, which really sets the band apart from your conventional “metal sound” and establishes the music as their own.
Overall, this track gives the listener sonic blue balls, because you and I now just cannot WAIT for whatever release this track will be on (hopefully a full-length). As a group of local CT musicians, Destination Dimension really is something new, and something I didn’t know we needed. Godspeed.
I don’t know who you are, but ’68 is the rock project that consists of Michael McClellan on drums and metalcore icon Josh Scogin (ex-The Chariot, ex-Norma Jean) on guitar and vocals. Since forming, the group has put out an EP entitled Midnight in 2013, and their debut LP In Humor and Sadness a year after. Since then, the band has been doing excessive touring, performing with bands such as August Burns Red, Every Time I Die, and The Fall of Troy. They’re a band that, if their studio work hasn’t really stuck with you, I’d absolutely suggest checking out live because they are nothing short of improvisatory geniuses. It’s obvious that they love what they’re doing as they perform, and it made me a bigger fan of theirs than I already was. Now, in 2017, we get their long-awaited sophomore LP Two Parts Viper.
First track “Eventually We All Win” gets the point across. The duo trades much of the hardcore sound of their debut for more experimental sounds, including vocal effects and tons of noise. This leads perfectly into “Whether Terrified or Unafraid,” which pushes this idea further while incorporating a much more rock ’n roll sound. They always had this classic rock ’n roll influence, but on this LP, it has pretty much become their blueprint. Everything else that they put in the music is an added influence. It’s obvious that the group has been incorporating much of the improvisation they’ve been doing live into their music. Tracks like “This Life is Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” feature progressions that just sound like product of a jam session they really liked, so they made it into a song. There’s no problem with that, as it is one of the most fun tracks on the LP. The LP has moments that sound very melancholic, as well. Tracks like “Without Any Words (Only Laughing or Crying)” and “No Montage” have really mellow, downbeat verses that break into noisy, anguished choruses, with Scogin screaming lines like “Long, long way down, long, long way to go!” at the top of his lungs. There’s also some more melancholic tracks that have very heavy noise sections, such as “No Apologies,” where after every line of spoken word Scogin does, there’s this heavy, crushed-sounding burst of drum and guitar noisr.
This goes into the last four tracks of the LP, which get pretty damn bleak as they go along. “The Workers Are Few,”, for example, is almost entirely Scogin singing at a very low tone about how a little hell is “overdue” and how he may never see some person ever again, while the instrumental goes on a heavy crash course through rock music. Next up is “Life Has Its Design,” which is probably one of the most normal tracks on the LP, although it is still pretty damn clippy and noisy. Normal for ’68 pretty much means what's normal for an artist like Merzbow. Next is “Death is a Lottery,”, which is one of the most “epic” sounding tracks on this LP, with a super grand chorus section and Scogin singing lyrics like “Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong / Death is quick, but it can last so long.” I could feel the hairs on my arms standing on end while I was listening to this track. It's just very powerful. That said, nothing can prepare for the closer, “What More Can I Say.” This track starts off with a much more melancholic approach as seen on previous tracks like “No Montage,” with Josh singing about how he believes in someone but doesn’t know how much he can believe in himself. Through this, we get some tape manipulation that gives the song a noisier approach, with Josh singing louder and louder to a point where you can hear his voice cracking, and he moves into Chariot territory just before the instrumental turns down and he sings out “At least in my dreams, I still believe we can,” as the song and LP coming to a grand conclusion of synths, trumpets, and a progression that just got me very, very teary-eyed. My only nitpick is that it should have lasted a little longer,because it kind of just ends, which I don’t think does justice to the passion and emotion of the song.
I won’t say this LP is perfect. I would like to see ’68 do more with the rock n roll oriented tracks, and it could’ve used a more fulfilling ending. That said, there isn’t a bad song on this LP. As blasphemous as it is to say this, I think Two Parts Viper is my favorite thing with Scogin’s name on it. I absolutely love The Chariot and hold them in super high regard, but I feel with Two Parts Viper, Scogin has truly reached a whole new level with his skills as an artist. Michael McClellan’s percussion only enhances the experience. If you want what will probably be the best in experimental rock this year, don’t miss out on this LP.
- Alex Brown.
Halsey is without a doubt a staple of the new age of emo pop music alongside Melanie Martinez. Badlands, her first LP, struck gold, making quite the impact and expanding the fanbase she had already acquired with the release of her Room 93 EP. Earlier this year, Halsey announced that she would be releasing her second studio LP on Friday, June 2nd, titled Hopeless Fountain Kingdom and soon after premiered her first single, “Now or Never.” Two more singles later, “Strangers” and “Eyes Closed,” the record is finally here. Had Halsey peaked with Badlands or is she still going strong with her second, 16 track record?
The album includes some skits, and even starts with one, titled “The Prologue.” Unfortunately, they are definitely the most lackluster parts of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. It was almost surprising that she even felt the need to include them by the way she tells stories with her more interlude-ish tracks. Once you get done with “The Prologue” though, you’re greeted by “100 Letters” which is a Halsey track from the intimate beat and lyrical themes. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom does play in quite a special way if you listen front to back, and you can tell from the transition to “Eyes Closed.” The track makes you wonder who hurt Halsey as it’s about having sex with someone but imagining someone else. That’s always been the mystery behind Halsey’s music: is she writing about someone, or just writing universal breakup songs? Whatever the case, “Eyes Closed” is the first track that shows off Halsey’s range, which resembles that of Brendon Urie (Panic! At The Disco.) She hits high notes with ease and it’s amazing how well they blend with the beat. “Eyes Closed” is definitely one of the catchiest tunes on the record because of the chorus. “Heaven in Hiding” is one of my personal favorite tracks on the record. It packs emotion into a three minute story that unfolds precisely. I really enjoy the parts of Halsey’s music where the vocals almost fade back and you can hear light ambient noise before she picks back up for the chorus, as it provides room for her imagery to settle. “Alone” is a pretty well put together track, however I could see myself skipping over it when listening to the record. The beat is surprisingly off-putting, which is weird for a Halsey track. The album redeems itself with the next single, “Now or Never, ” which I fell in love with upon my first listen. It paints the picture of a sunset on a warm summer night, a sense of love and happiness that flows from her voice like an ocean wave.
“Sorry” is one of the softest tracks on the record, where she is basically saying how she treats people like shit and apologizes for it. The soft tone of a piano in the background almost makes it seem like an Adele track. That being said, it’s a good thing as it shows that she can pull of different sounds as well, expanding her audience. “Good Mourning” is another skit, but it sets the stage for the second half of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. “Lie” is another one of my personal favorite tracks on the record as it features rapper Quavo. Quavo has never had a bad feature but him and Halsey together on a track show chemistry. Auto tune is present in “Lie” but it works wonders. Halsey sets a softer scene for the emotionally packed verse Quavo drops. “Walls Could Talk” has almost the same weird beat featuring an orchestra at first like “Alone” except it works much better, pulling more weight. It really seems to fit inside Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. I have one problem with “Walls Could Talk” though and it’s that the track tops in at a mere minute and forty two second which is really short for such a banger, especially after “Lie.”
“Bad At Love” gives off serious Badlands vibes, which is awesome, because most of Hopeless Fountain Kingdom takes a different direction. Talking about relationships and issues and playing with feelings is what Halsey does best and it’s never a bad time when she sings about it. “Don’t Play” is another weaker track, but it’s not bad either, just not necessarily “great” by any means. Highlighted by the “white like parmesan” line, you can tell that the song just seems lackluster in comparison to its predecessors on the record. Picking back up, “Strangers,” which features Lauren Jauregui (Fifth Harmony), is another throwback track to Badlands. The amount of melody that is present in Lauren’s voice really elevates the track, and the fact that it’s about LGBT relationships and that both Lauren and Halsey are bisexual makes the track that much more interesting. Both “Angel of Fire” and “Devil In Me” work wonderfully back to back, as the whole “angel/devil” things plays out really well. “Devil In Me” really opens up the last track “Hopeless” that features Cashmere Cat really well, and if Halsey is really good at anything, it's closing out her records. “Hopeless” is definitely another example of that.
Truth be told, it’ll probably be another two years or so until we see another record from Halsey and I’m 100% okay with that. Hopeless Fountain Kingdom will more than hold me over as it’s a perfect addition to Halsey’s discography. I can definitely see this record popping up in my shuffle for quite some time until the vinyl winds up on my doorstep.
- Dakota G
T-Pain & Lil Wayne - T-Wayne
I never took the notion of T-Wayne seriously, even back when its constituents were at the top of their games. Shout-outs and references to the project always came across as an elaborate in-joke between T-Pain and Lil Wayne, a pie-in-the-sky intersection of two of the biggest and flashiest careers in ’00s pop music that was as much a no-brainer as it was unlikely. An album of “Got Money”-styled club bangers was fun to imagine, but then life happened: the appeal of autotune vanished seemingly overnight, leaving T-Pain’s career out to dry while Wayne’s collapsed in a thunderclap of medical complications, legal battles, and prison. The records Wayne released in the years-long build toward The Carter V have been disposable at best, and T-Pain is fast becoming a legacy act. Wayne is still haranguing YMCMB for Carter V and T-Pain is...around, but T-Wayne seemed to have been relegated to wistful memory, a dream we had in 2008 that would never come true.
Except it was made, and it’s here, streaming exclusively on Soundcloud. In a series of tweets as excited as they were exciting, T-Pain announced and released all eight tracks of T-Wayne to the music streaming service. To no one’s surprise, it sounds exactly like an album of Lil Wayne and T-Pain collabs, capturing both artists in their prime, Weezy’s rubbery croak meshing with Pain’s assured tenor as they trade verses over glossy pre-trap club beats, oozing charisma and (retroactively nostalgic) fun. “He Rap He Sang” starts the record off with an understated bang as Pain and Wayne subvert expectations from the jump: the track sees Pain rapping and Weezy sangin’, the former spitting fire and the latter inhabiting his crooner persona to an almost hilarious degree. “Listen to Me” plays with its Oompah Loompah sample (cribbed from the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder) and turns out a banger. The two carry on with the role reversal, Wayne soaking up all the autotune from Pain’s voice on a blissfully incomprehensible verse that sees him slur, moan, croak, rasp, and warble in true Carter III fashion, presenting a more animated Wayne than we’ve seen in the eight years since. “DAMN DAMN DAMN” might be the laziest song on the record with a chorus of “she was like damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, / ’cause I hit her with the wham, wham, wham, wham, wham,” but it’s also the sultriest, with T-Pain finally reverting to his usual hyper-smooth R&B showmanship around the halfway mark. It’s not exactly a song meant to be listened to, but it adds dimension to the record, and the way the two seem to be grinning knowingly through the entire thing makes it worth revisiting.
“Waist of a Wasp” throws it back with a scratchy soul sample and a simple boom-bap rhythm, over which Pain showcases a different kind of smooth. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s the rappa turnt sanga, but his appropriately old-school delivery, heavy on the rhythmicality and internal rhyme, is a hard nudge reminding us that Pain deserves a lot more credit as a performer. Wayne, not to be outshined, slithers in with an understated verse to match Pain’s beat-for-beat, and their autotuned a capella toward the end is lovably chintzy in that way only these two can pull off. “Oh Yeah” slaps with the sparsest beat and shortest runtime, a minute of hi-hat and suggestive, echoed-out samples. Pain minces no words as he goes in on an aggressively sexual verse, but the track is over just as he catches his tempo. No worries: “Breathe” comes off as a direct spiritual successor and could probably have been folded into “Oh Yeah” with a Weeknd-style transition, building into a yet another bass-heavy stomper of skittering hi-hat and what sounds like a sample of Katy Perry’s voice threaded into the mix.
Interestingly, “Snap Ya Fingers” isn’t a cover and has no dancefloor ambitions whatsoever: it’s a T-Pain ballad through-and-through, with a couple bars of Wayne sporting that husky lover’s-rasp he’s so adept at when called to guest on an R&B track. Although it would have probably made a lucrative single, it feels the least like a T-Wayne effort, which is to say it feels kind of impersonal. This is where both sets of hitmaker instincts overwhelm the fun of the T-Wayne project, but it’s a sore spot “Heavy Chevy” is quick to help us forget. Booty-quakes incoming: T-Wayne catches its tempo and rides it for all its worth, trading braggadocious verses back and forth across a set-up of throbbing bass, stuttering snare, and Pain and Weezy’s ongoing conversation about their love of Chevrolet. “Heavy Chevy” probably features the only acceptable use of Weezy’s phlegmy caterwaul that isn’t “Young moolah, baby!” from the halcyon days before “Rebirth,” and ends the album on a loose and infectious note.
It hasn’t been long enough, and not enough has changed, for T-Wayne to take on a retro vibe or for nostalgia to eclipse its more questionable moments, but it’s real value is in its reminder that, at one point, these guys were on top of the world. If T-Wayne had come out when it was intended to, what would the game look like now? How would the careers of its makers have changed? There are too many factors at play to say with any accuracy, but some things are clear: T-Wayne is harmless and fluffy and fun as hell, a time capsule from 2009 that won’t shake up the rap game but will more than satisfy the urge for something new and old.
- Brian L.
Hollow is a new metalcore band rising up in St. Louis with their debut album, Home Is Not Where The Heart Is on June 9th. Drummer Chris Richey was gracious enough to let us get some ears on with the new record before its official release. Strap in, this review is gonna be almost as chaotic as the record.
Dropping in with adrenaline-pumping tracks like “Coward King,” “The American Dream,” and “Disconnect,” Hollow let us know they want to start on a high note. These songs are immediately comparable to earlier Miss May I, which is baller for anyone that knows good metalcore when they hear it. Vocals are almost identical to those of Levi Benton, but the instrumentals absolutely demolish anything that Miss May I has ever produced. Halfway through “Coward King,” you’re greeted with some polish, well-placed clean vocals that blend perfectly with the atmosphere the band sets. At this point, it’s clear this record is gonna be a load of fun if it keeps up this way. “Anomaly” is the only single the band has released for this album, and it absolutely crushes with speed vocals and bass drops, making this a highlight of HINWTHI. The bass drops almost feel weird at first, but they’re overall successful. Not many bands I’ve ever heard have been able to pull off the electronic metalcore sound apart from earlier Palisades. “Too Far Gone” is a softer, easier listen, which is always welcome with this side of metalcore. You can tell from the lyrical content that the band was aiming for a more emotional hitter. But Hollow doesn’t believe in bullshit, as they toss you back into the crazy, circle-pitting sound of “Delta F508” immediately after “Too Far Gone.” This song really showcases both vocalists’ range. The cleans are especially dynamic in a way most bands miss, adding depth to the chorus, but are brought down by some repetitive placement.
Overall, “Delta F508” starts the second half of HINWTHI strong and you can see the work the guys put into this record. You can almost feel the sweat dripping off their foreheads recording this highlight of new age metalcore. “No Offense” starts out with a weird acoustic guitar lick before jumping into the electric guitar, but that opening almost fools you into thinking you’re in for a country track. Thankfully, that is not the case, as “No Offense” has the heaviest beatdown-styled breakdowns on the record. I can see the knockouts in the pit from here. The acoustic come back toward the end of the track, but at this point, it’s pretty cool. Hollow doesn’t give a fuck: they are here to make some noise and break some faces. “Tonguespeak” is a mostly instrumental track, although there are some cleans in the latter half. Personally, I think if you’re listening to metal for the vocals, you’re doing it wrong.
“The Wicked” and “AlphaOmega” are both well-placed tracks that I could see totally ripping live, although I feel as if “AlphaOmega” is definitely the most generic track you’ll find on the album. It feels lyrically shallow, and while not a bad song by any means, it’s just not a banger like the rest of the album. As a side note, “alpha” and “omega” are a bit overused. The album redeems itself with outro track “Null,” probably one of the better outro tracks we’ve seen this year, right next to Lorna Shore’s “Flesh Coffin” closing the album of the same name.
Hollow is making moves and have potential to rise up. Buy this album and support the guys so they can afford to keep going and get the recognition they deserve. If you’re living in St. Louis and you weren’t planning on going to their album release show on June 9th, you’re truthfully fucking up. Get with the movement. Hollow is coming for the world, hard.
- Dakota G.
Prison - N.G.R.I.
Buy on Bandcamp
Thank you Prison for letting us review the EP early!
From the ashes of Dark Sermon emerge Prison. Johnny Crowder had been teasing the project for a while, and its small but growing fan base has been teeming with anticipation. When the day finally came, they announced the debut EP, N.G.R.I., and released single “The Knife and the Dying Dream.” The track crushes listeners with the twisted narrative of a man on the brink. Guitars come together in an inescapable groove and throw listeners into a tailspin. What is most surprising about the song is the presence of Crowder’s layered cleans that keep the song emotionally grounded. The song immediately shows promise and seemed to unanimously ease everyone’s mind following the end of Dark Sermon.
“Dead Meat” kicks the EP off with slow chug riffs and an eerie high end similiar to Sworn In’s The Death Card that will surely provoke pits. The anguish Crowder exudes leaves it mark, and it's lines like “I’ve been trying to look myself in the mirror and say, that it's okay / but I don’t trust this tongue of mine.” The theme of mental illness really shows itself with the inclusion of two clips bookending the track. I won’t say much, but one is of a lawyer discussing the insanity plea. “Losing My Mind” comes in violent and chaotic, frequently changing mood in tandem with its lyrical dilemma of trying to hold onto sanity and hiding that battle from others. It goes from frantic non-chord tones to minimal instrumentation and layered vocals, keeping the listener on his or her toes. With a rather unceremonious end, “The Knife and the Dying Dream” come in with that hair raising tone.
For such a dark EP, I’m almost uncomfortable calling “Wear Your Skin” fun, but it really is. It’s packed with bouncy riffs, string bends, and Crowder elongating his esses into a hiss (“Oh come on, you gotta let me wear your ssssskin”), seemingly having fun with his delivery. It's really one of the easiest songs to relate to in terms of subject matter, although it doesn’t quite sit right between “The Knife…” and “Our Father.” Speaking of which, “Our Father” is my favorite song on the EP with an ethereal atmosphere, a wavering backtrack, and the spiritually-devastating line, “You keep twisting the scripture so human beings aren’t to blame.” It’s undeniably the heaviest song on N.G.R.I. with the unexpected breakdown that plays with silence and another choice line: “God isn’t the problem, it's people like you.” Since the band isn’t planning on touring until they’re comfortable and ready, I guess I’ll have to imagine what being in the pit is like indefinitely. Lastly, “Rape Me” has floated on YouTube for a while and has made a lot of people uncomfortable. Isn’t that the point? The title, repeated over and over, is abrasive and assaultive on its own. It continues down this path of disgust as Crowder utilizes an ever-widening vocal range, culminating in this cathartic line: “Was it something I was wearing at the time / So tell me again how I was begging for it with my eyes.” Crowder delivers some of his rawest vocals as the song picks up and he delves into the consequences, keeping things vague but no less unsettling. Although the EP ends on a fade, it lingers long afterwards.
As a first official release, this is solid. N.G.R.I. feels rather refined, and Prison seem to know how to craft their intended aura, for the most part. Crowder does the heavy lifting on that front, but you can’t overlook the musicians behind him. Their bassist is prominent with commanding grooves, a slew of effects in the guitars that make it so dynamic. With that being said, it's not a perfect EP despite how much I enjoy it and am willing to overlook some issues with flow, one of the things I prize in my music. I’d rather have a cohesive EP or album than a collection of singles. But none of these minor gripes should deter you from listening. Prison are hitting the ground running, and I wouldn’t be surprised if things start picking for them soon after the scene has had some time to digest N.G.R.I.
- Alex B.
Incendiary - Thousand Mile Stare
Listen and buy on Bandcamp
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Incendiary have firmly established themselves as a leader in contemporary hardcore within the past few years, specifically with their 2013 LP, Cost of Living. Their modern take on the metallic hardcore style pioneered in the 1990’s by bands such as Strife and Snapcase has proven to resonate with hardcore lovers the world over. Listen to the thoughtful lyrics and loud, crushing riffs on songs such as “Zeitgeist” and “Force of Neglect” off their aforementioned Cost of Living LP, and you’ll know just what makes this band so special to so many. It’s not difficult to understand why Cost of Living’s follow-up, Thousand Mile Stare, was so anticipated within the hardcore community, and thankfully, the album lives up to the hype one-hundred percent.
The record’s opener, “Still Burning,” forgoes the long intro that led into Cost of Living’s “Zeitgeist,” as vocalist Brendan Garone’s vocals cut through the mix almost immediately, indicating that Incendiary aren’t going to beat around the bush: they’re angry, and they want you to be angry too. Tracks such as “No Purity and “Front Toward Enemy” attack the injustices present in American society. Lines such as “oppression’s common theme / the silent finally scream” and “no purity / just inequality” are sure to become crowd-favorites for pile-ons at future shows. The album isn’t wholly political, however. “Still Burning,” for example, is much more introspective in nature, with relatively simple yet thought-provoking lines such as “hearing voices in your head / and a tightness in your chest / a chip on your shoulder / and a smile hid the rest” keeping the band from being too one-dimensional lyrically.
While lyrically much stronger than a lot of hardcore records, the real meat and potatoes of this record are its riffs. While the band has always sported a notable metal influence on previous releases, guitarists Rob Nobile and Brian Audley have definitely turned said influence up a notch, with “The Product Is You” and “Hanging From The Family Tree” sporting riffs bordering on the dissonant metalcore of Eighteen Visions or thrashy Hatebreed. The album beats your ass for the entire ten tracks and it’s clear that these songs were written with the pit in mind: the fight riff at the end of “Hanging From The Family Tree” will incite even those standing to the side to move.
Unfortunately, the album isn’t perfect. While all of the tracks undoubtedly bang, they all sound a little samey, and save for the stronger metal influence, aren’t much of a switch up from the band’s previous material. The production, handled by renowned metal/hardcore producer Will Putney, is just a little too clean, especially compared to Cost of Living’s raw sound, which amplified that record’s angry and rebellious music. While ultimately minor faults, it makes for a record that isn’t quite as impactful as past releases. However, these faults are just that - minor - and I’m sure some, if not most, will be more than content to simply look them over.
In all, Thousand Mile Stare has just about all you could want from a hardcore record in 2017: thoughtful and relatable lyrics, riffs aplenty, and punishing breakdowns. While Incendiary don’t exceed expectations, they certainly match them, and I doubt that anyone would be disappointed with that. A must listen for all fans of hardcore.
For a few months, Johnny Crowder of Dark Sermon had been posting teasers of a new project. It was never clear whether or not this was a side project or if he was leaving Dark Sermon. On May 3rd, he took to Facebook and wrote that Dark Sermon was no more. They had fulfilled their record contracts, rotten luck, and members out right retiring from touring. We here at Metal Lifestyle were fans of their work and let loose with them during last summer’s Coffin Dragger Tour. In that same statement, Crowder announced his new band Prison with an EP, N.G.R.I., set to release on June 9th and the single “The Knife and the Dying Dream.”
We’re fortunate to interview the band and talk about the single, the EP, and more.
Probably a good place to start: how are people reacting to the single?
Luckily, the response has been better than I was anticipating. I was nervous, largely because Prison is so different from Dark Sermon, and I didn’t want to put off people who have been following me since 2008. To my surprise, nearly everyone has accepted it with open arms, and they’ve been treating it like a breath of fresh air.
The single has these eerie guitar tones, powerful bass groove and brings the heat around its chorus. I want to call it nu metal, but I’m hesitant to call it that, or anything that binary. Where do you do think the single, and the EP, fall genre-wise?
You are allowed to call it nu metal haha. We are definitely shooting for a more dated vibe than most bands right now. I’m very happy that people are comparing us to bands like Spineshank, Chevelle, Korn, FLAW, and Deftones. It’s hard to put out anything acutely heavy in 2017 without being pigeonholed into a genre that can limit your scope and reach as an artist. We are cool with alternative metal, nu metal, rock, any of that. It seems like people are really picking up what we’re putting down, and I’m so thankful for that.
Expanding on the previous question, where do you pull inspiration from musically? There seems to be a number of styles that come come together here.
A majority of what we jam together is older stuff like Coal Chamber, Korn, Slipknot, Adema, bloodsimple, Mudvayne, Ill Nino, and other bands from the 90’s and the 2000’s. We just wanted to put a semi-modern spin on the music we grew up listening to, and that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time you’ve done clean vocals. Was this a conscious step or just what felt natural, especially since it's so prominent compared to before?
So, it is the first time I’ve done cleans on a record. I’ve been working on my singing voice for years, but I’ve never found an appropriate outlet for it in heavy music. Dark Sermon was never one of those bands that would be able to incorporate that tastefully (at least, it hadn’t become that just yet), so I kept it in the holster. I am not the type of guy that wants to force something to work just because I want it, so I waited for the right time. With Prison, I feel like the cleans sit very naturally in the mix, and don’t feel like pop or Hot Topic cleans. I think they’re dark and emotional and minor, and that’s exactly what the song called for in my eyes.
The song tackles suicide and has a bit of a religious edge to it, but what’s really surprising is how genuine it feels. Did the narrative and theme come from any particular place?
Definitely. And I’m glad it came across as genuine, because it is. Every word I write for this band is taken from personal experience. Anyone who has followed me through the years know I’m not fronting when I talk about suicide, faith, sobriety, abuse, mental illness, or anything in that realm. These are all things that I’ve lived through and I’m determined to use my platform to speak about these things through music and let people know that they’re not alone.
About a year ago, you uploaded a demo of another song, “Rape Me.” It sounds incredibly cathartic, maybe more than “The Knife...” Are these two songs indicative of the places N.G.R.I. will take listeners?
N.G.R.I. is unsettlingly dark, but there’s a tiny glimmer of hope underneath it all. “Rape Me” is the closing track on the record, and we reworked it to breathe new life into the piece. If you’re planning on listening to the album, understand that it is going to stir you and heal you in ways you aren’t familiar with. But that’s exactly what we’re going for. Not all of the songs are quite as dismal, but they certainly all have a signature edge to them.
Glancing at the tracklist, just about every title stands out in some way. But the title of the EP is perplexing. The art certainly adds weight, with the letters carved into the arm, but what does N.G.R.I. stand for and mean in the broad context of the EP?
“N.G.R.I.” stands for Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. It’s a legal term for the insanity defense. When someone commits a heinous crime, but their lawyer can prove they were not in their right mind when the crime was committed, they can be acquitted. There are two audio clips in the first track that explain this better than I can. The implications of the title are too far-reaching to delve into here, but I can promise that if you read through the lyrics while you listen to the record, something will click for you.
Is there something on the EP that you are particularly excited to share?
It’s the audio clip, believe it or not. It says more than I could ever say.
On Facebook, it's seems like you guys will be playing your local area Florida. Are there any plans to tour after the EP drops? Who would you like to hit the road with?
We are playing the long game right now. When I was younger, I would throw caution to the wind and just hit the road immediately. But we’re trying to be smarter about everything and take it slow and steady. You know, treat it like a game of chess rather than a race.
Obviously we would love to tour with some old-school bands that we look up to, but we have a lot of good friends who are active in the modern scene that we’d love to tour with. The Last Ten Seconds of Life, The Acacia Strain, Knocked Loose, Kublai Khan, Darke Complex, and Sworn In are just a few of them.
Lastly, I’m always curious about what people are listening to. What's currently on your playlist?
Other than the bands I’ve already named, I’ve been really into Red, Three Days Grace, Seether, 67, Ingrid Michaelson, No Zodiac, TesseracT, and the new Bethel Music album, “Starlight.”
You can find N.G.R.I. on their bandcamp, releasing on June 9th
The singing is out of tune, but look: Uneven Structure consists of a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, a guitarist, a guitarist (that’s right, three of them), and lastly, a vocalist. After its six-year gestation and in the face of its carefully refined craft, this grievance with Mathieu Romarin’s voice (one sixth of the music!) that has popped up in reviews of La Partition is really just a distraction from more valuable analysis. It’s true that six year have wrought some changes, the most salient one being that Romarin has altered his vocals, tipping the ratio in favor of his out-of-tune singing for a good two-thirds of the album; it could even be argued that La Partition’s production draws attention to this change by layering his vocals almost to excess, but to focus on this is to miss the forest for the trees. If none of the five other musicians in Uneven Structure objected to Romarin’s singing in six years, there’s a good chance they were okay with it. Perhaps it’s even a conscious change, one with cross-genre precedent in Ghoulgotha’s out-of-tune lead guitar: a messy component meant to shake things up in an otherwise staid, rigid genre.
That’s half an argument. There may be intention, but to what end? And does it succeed?
2011’s Februus is an album about spiritual awakening that sidesteps both religious subtext and New Age bullshittery. La Partition looks to explore similar ground from a different angle, beginning with its title, which is a French cognate for “partition,” the action of dividing or the state of being divided. In tandem with the cover depiction of a figure falling into (or emerging from) a glowing membrane, my impression was that the album would explore birth. Perhaps the womb is the titular partition separating us not only from one another, but also from our spiritual natures. Bubbles in the art, together with the waves decorating the inner panels of the digipak and the album’s “swimmy” production, seem to add credence to that line of thought, bringing together the amniotic fluid of the womb and the “primordial soup” of the early ocean - but the tracklist seems to tell a different, and altogether more mundane, story. I don’t put much stock in song titles, but the way the album is so carefully divided into three sections of three, separated by the interludes “Groomed and Resting” and “Greeted and Dining,” is too ripe for analysis to pass over.
So let’s start at the start. The first trio of songs is “Alkaline Throat,” “Brazen Tongue,” and “Crystal Teeth,” which visually plot a course from the inside out, as if something - the music, the listener, the unnamed figure on the cover - is being cast out or expelled. “Alkaline Throat” sees the band displaying restraint in some areas and refinement in others: it may trade the mystery and grandeur of Februus’s “Awaken” for punchy immediacy, but repeated listens reveal the elaborate layering that was key to Februus’s enduring appeal. In the past, it could be difficult to tell Uneven Structure’s three guitarists apart, but their roles are better defined on La Partition. Generally, two syncopate until one breaks into more adventurous riffing, while the third guitar cranks out ambient effects, utilizing what must be really cumbersome pedal boards. Romarin flexes his newfound range from the get-go, ripping some growls as the song draws to its end, where they feel deserved. With two minutes over the opener, “Brazen Tongue” deepens the ambience and rhythmic complexity, throwing in some showy stop-start patterns over which Romarin’s vocals get a chance to soar. The song rolls through muted ambience and polyrhythmic metal with aplomb, crescendoing into “Crystal Teeth,” where the bassy production provides a lush, rounded tone as the band indulges some Tool-isms. As the song stacks spacey riffs and Romarin’s subdued melodies, it’s easy to detect the influence of Deftones’s Koi No Yokan, a strand of La Partition’s DNA that will mutate a little later on.
The song ends on a dark note and moves into “Groomed and Resting,” thirty-nine seconds of intensifying static and...noises. Whatever’s going on, it provides a suitably uncertain resolution to “Crystal Teeth” and transitions us into the middle portion of La Partition. As “Brazen Tongue” does for “Alkaline Tongue,” “Incube,” “Succube,” and “Funamble” build on one another, elaborating on motifs or taking established quirks in unexpected directions. “Incube,” also released ahead of La Partition, layers ghostly moans, tick-tocking riffs, and cyclical drumming into a witchy slow-burner that seems to shift tone every bar. It even flirts with a major key around the three minute mark, until some wicked growls and droning chords shut it down, only to be robbed of a climax themselves by the even eerier “Succube.” This song uses all the same pieces as “Incube” to more urgent effect, turning the ominous riff at 2:34 into a groove that harkens back to Februus’s heavier moments. The track ends with a plea - “What more do you want from me?” - that sets the stage for “Funambule,” the album’s heaviest song and a preview of what’s to come. Credit Uneven Structure’s songwriting that the change of tone doesn’t feel sudden or arbitrary in the least, as the album has been ratcheting up the tension since “Crystal Teeth.” All those bursts of aggression along the way begin to pay off, and what the song sacrifices in dynamics, it more than makes up for in riffs and the full use of Romarin’s improved growls.
“Greeted and Dining” stretches to nearly two minutes of threatening formlessness before “The Bait” drops in. I’d be lying if I said the gloomy instrumentation doesn’t ache of Katatonia (filtered through djent, of course), and it’s of comparable length and tone to much of what’s found on last year’s The Fall of Hearts, but there’s more drama in Uneven Structure’s treatment, and more Deftones. In fact, the song builds tension almost exactly like “Tempest,” thrusting riffs to the front, retracting them for swirling melodic interludes, and then circling back to explore ever-more-menacing variations on the same riffs. Romarin grows increasingly assertive, and following an abstract solo (or solo-like part; it hardly registered on my first couple of listens), the song drops into a lurch, and Romarin’s sinister chanting ushers the song toward a climax of screams and sirening riffs. Somewhere in here is a transition to “Our Embrace,” but it’s so seamless that their partitioning seems totally arbitrary (hmmm!). Much of the song is given over to pensive guitar noodling and Romarin’s musings on “emotional cacophony,” a fitting summary of album’s mood as we enter its penultimate moments, and it’s not long before “Embrace” plunges back into the monolithic riffing and endless layering that Uneven Structure do best. The song crests on a double-bass run and frantic guitar churning that, with a bit of digital smearing, deposits us straight into the maelstrom of “Your Scent.” The intensity hasn’t let up since the “The Bait” got heavy, and not even the ambient build at the two-minute mark can quite defuse things - if anything, drummer Arnaud Verrier’s strikes along the rim of his snare sound like the ticking of a clock with very little time left, an anxiety that goes without resolution: “Your Scent” grows and grows, and then, like “Crystal Teeth” and “Incube” before, misses its climax and dissolves into the sound of bubbles.
Whether we’re surfacing, sinking, or drowning is up to the listener, but whatever your impression, it’s impossible not to exhale in relief when it’s over. Count it as a win for Uneven Structure, who, like any band worth their salt, set out to craft a different experience from what they gave us six years ago. Februus permitted, even encouraged, relief with a second disc devoted to extended ambient compositions, a place to drift after the heights of the main album. Februus provided spiritual catharsis. La Partition seems hellbent on fostering the opposite. This is an album of turmoil and upheaval. Romarin may sing more, but he strains on the high notes, and his pitchiness cause tension. There’s less ambience and more confrontation, and when the instruments sync up, it’s to pound off-time. Birth may be a thematic throughline, but tied to it are the implicit prerequisites of love and sex, for which Uneven Structure spare little optimism: the interludes draw attention to the fussiness of romance as another needless partition between ourselves and our self-actualization. The tracklist invokes incubi and succubi, spiritual leeches that prey on the amorous, and even suggests that the traditionally romantic symbols of another’s “scent” and “embrace” are no more than “bait.”
La Partition feels like a reflection of the brutish uncertainty of life as its creators have lived it, charged with a dourness that clarifies the further you immerse yourself in the album. Lucky, then, that Partition is immersive in every way, from its intricate songwriting to its obfuscatory production to its enigmatic lyricism and (I’ve held off on using French this long, but here goes) much of the same je ne se quois that made Februus such a pleasure. My instinct is that La Partition won’t rise to the same level of acclaim as its predecessor in my personal rankings or in wider critical regard, even among fans - but as far as follow-ups to instant genre classics go, this is more ...And Justice For All than Divine Intervention.