If you were into any form of alternative music during the early 2000s, there is a high chance that Atreyuwere a part of your adolescence. Whether it was rocking out to their infamous Bon Jovi cover, putting ‘Bleeding Mascara’ lyrics in your MSN name or listening to ‘The Theft’ when you were feeling blue, it’s true to say that the metalcore quintet hold a special place in many former-emo kids’ hearts. Over a year after they announced their return, Atreyu are back with Long Live (Spinefarm), an incredible fourteen track comeback album.
From the first track alone it is easy to hear exactly how excited Atreyu are to be back. ‘Long Live’ is full of energy from the get-go due to its fast-paced riffs and hard-hitting vocals. Alex Varkatzas is renowned for his unique vocal style and it is fantastic to hear that he has not strayed too far from his previous material. Despite sticking to their roots, Atreyu have been able to kick up the pace and create an album which will appeal to both old and new fans.
One of the best parts of this album is the guitar work. The guitar solo in ‘Live To Labor’ is particularly mosh-worthy, as well as the opening riff for ‘Heartbeats And Flatlines’. It is often hard for bands to convey their energy and enthusiasm through recorded music, however, Atreyu have managed to create music which is almost impossible to sit still for.
Long Live takes a darker turn for the forth track ‘Cut Off The Head’. The sinister-sounding opening merges well with Alex’s heavy vocals and it would not sound out of place in a horror movie. Despite being one of Atreyu’s heavier songs, the chorus is melodic and extremely catchy.
‘Brass Balls’ is a definite contender for the best song on the album due to its aggressive and dynamic nature and it is hard to ignore the rage-filled lyrics: “Lay yourself down on the tracks, be crucified by your own words. You’re no cross-bearer, you’re not a fucking martyr.” Atreyu are not afraid to speak their mind, and that is one of the main reasons that they have such a huge fanbase.
More often than when bands release comeback albums, it is apparent that they only care about the money or fifteen more minutes of fame. However, Atreyu have taken their time to carefully craft each song and to create an album which is as good as their previous material, if not better.
Sometimes we forget what it’s all about, particularly those of us who have delved often into the underbelly and extreme ends of metal. We become concerned with bands being “progressive” or having “depth” and “innovation”. We seek out those making tortured artistic statements; driving dark emotions into their work, or those who seek to push boundaries. Despite being the first to call others on it, we’re being too cool for school ourselves, and writing off bands who sit outside the self-constructed tick box boundaries of what a “good” band should do.
And then you see a show that brings it right back to the heart of what dragged us into this glorious, complicated but actually oh-so-simple melee of metal. You see damn-near every single person leaving drenched in sweat beaming from ear to ear, bro-hugging and congratulating the support band on the way out, clutching drum sticks, or set-lists or just reliving moments from the set just witnessed with their mates. THAT, despite how “cool” or “uncool” you think a band is or are, is the sign of a great gig.
Tonight’s show saw two bands play sets that belonged at a bigger (but not better) venue. Atreyuwere warming up for Reading Festival and brought an arena headline performance to a 400 cap venue, while the spirited and lively Shvpes, with their powerful metalcore, won over a whole bunch of people who hadn’t heard much of them before, but will definitely do so now; a young band on their way to a bright future with pounding Parkway Drive riffs, Rage Against The Machine grooves and big, as in Goliath-sized, choruses, all led by livewire frontman Griffin Dickinson. Not just ones to watch, ones to pick up on now.
And Atreyu well and truly proved me a dingbat for sidestepping them all these years. This is what metal is about – a band connecting with an audience that love the music the band are playing, with band and audience just having a great time. Colchester Arts Centre’s growing reputation as one of the best small venues to play at was only enhanced as a “small” gig felt like a huge one, with the rapturous reception one usually reserved for a major headliner at a sell-out marquee show.
Make no mistake, warm up show or no, Atreyu brought it, peppering a ‘best of’ set with new, as yet unheard, tracks from their upcoming Long Live (Spinefarm) album, tracks that were lapped up like old favourites. Personal highlights, beyond the joyous atmosphere that left no horn unraised, were the slamming ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ (never thought I’d see a moshpit like that to that song) and the pure rock-out jubilance of ‘Blow’.
The venue is a church and the congregation had come to worship, leaving invigorated and with happy souls.
It is testimony to how far our favourite Scandinavian Satan botherers, Ghost, have entered the heavy metal consciousness that that much of the internet chatter regarding their latest album of curiously hummable tunes – the enigmatically titled Meloria (Spinefarm) – is magnificently divisive. Meloria, apparently, is proof of another “masterpiece” or, by contrast, it’s proof that they are blowhards and charlatans of the highest order.
When did this happen? When did the release of a new album from a band seemingly force everyone into Camp A or Camp B- that bands are either geniuses of the highest order or they are all steaming piles of horse manure?
This curious one-upmanship of “my band is more amazing than yours” can only end in a depressing ever-decreasing circle of self righteous stupidity which also belie the facts – not every record released is a classic and not every record you don’t like emanated from the stable yard.
Whatever happened to having, as Geddy Lee once put it, an open mind and an open heart?
Having set this mindset firmly in place, Meloria can be righteously ticked off as a really good album; in parts, exceptionally so. This is the album where Ghost have consolidated the tricks and tropes that drew us into their strange vaudevillian universe to begin with and the album that will hold us there for some time more. It is a lot more focussed than its expansive predecessor, the often brilliant but occasionally uneven Infestissumam (Sonet/Loma Vista) and is much closer in tone and outlook to the band’s debut the brilliant and otherwordly Opus Eponymous (Rise Above).
Earlier this year, in what has now become part of the annual ritual underpinning the Ghost circus, the band replaced – for the second time- the band’s lead singer, Papa Emeritus II, with, yes, you’ve guessed it, Papa Emeritus III. His “younger brother”, apparently. Whether you give a monkeys about this sort of thing is very much a personal choice but the new vocals sound, well, like Ghost. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.
Aesthetically, Meliora (roughly translated from the Latin as the “search for betterment”) has many 1970s rock influences – there’s a dash of Black Sabbath here, a nod to AC/DC there and it’s all imbued with that occult-lite that they have become renowned for (and which tends to get up the nose of those who take this sort of thing very seriously indeed). Where Infestissumam decided to go on artistic flights of fancy, Meliora is a much more direct affair and one’s response to it will depend on whether one regards classic song structures and tunes a hindrance. This writer doesn’t.
As a consequence, Meloria sees Ghost honing all their tricks into one accessible and often infectious package. The Hammer horror stylised intro to the crunchy guitars of ‘Spirit’ sets the tone well – the drumming sounds uncannily like Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’ which may or may not be a compliment, depending on your world view. ‘From the Pittance to the Pit’ is a ridiculously hummable call and response tune that will be many people’s earworm for some months to come. ‘Cirice’, the lead off song for this album is an absolute corker of a riff with all the expected tropes firmly in place; the faux satanic undercurrents, the impending sense of doom, the inveterate twinkle in the eye.
Ghost, photo credit- Spinefarm Records
Elsewhere, the enigmatic string led instrumental of ‘Spoksonat’ and its companion piece, the love letter to Satan of ‘He Is’ are both highly evocative, properly entertaining and ever so slightly spooky, which one suspects was entirely the point.
‘Mummy Dust’ brings the tempo and the direct aggression up a notch or two and ‘Majesty’ will have Angus Young cocking an inquisitive ear in search of the culprit who nicked that riff from his mid 80s period. ‘Devil Church’ is a playful if lightweight instrumental interlude which presages the album’s two strongest cuts – the moody heavy ‘Absolution’ and ‘Deus in Absentia’.
‘Absolution’ could easily have cropped up on Opus Eponymous, it’s all eerie and plaintive piano but with a chorus bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. ‘Deus in Absentia’ sounds like the distillation of all the tricks and lessons of Ghost to date – big chorus, epically styled structure, choir, rolling piano. I suspect that a portion of Beelzebub’s kitchen sink is in there as well. It is completely ridiculous and completely absurd. You will, naturally, love it.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that Meliora is a massive step forward on an artistic level; it patently isn’t. However, it is absolutely a record that has plenty of vim, vigour and occasional flourishes of inspiration. Meloria will not convince the naysayers but will doubtless build the Ghost congregation and, for that alone, we can all praise Papa.
Meloria is an aural pantomime for Edgar Allan Poe fans. And yes, PR guy, you can quote me on that.
There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about The Poodles image that borders on hipster irony, and/or a touch of Steel Panther parody, though at the same time, it could just as well be a plain old “wacky” sense of humour. Either which way, the band have racked up ten Top 10 hits in their native Sweden, and swagger into album number six, Devil In The Details (Gain), on the back of a rising popularity that has continued to grow since their début Metal Will Stand Tall (Lionheart) in 2006.
While the album opens in the symphonic power rock vein of a less metal Kamelot with the dramatic ‘Before I Die’ and its bombastic chorus rising from a considered, dark verse, (‘Crack In The Wall’ has a similar feel), The Poodles true sound lies in a rockier, glammier sound, and sure enough ‘The Greatest’ is a hit single with a Bon Jovi meets 30 Seconds To Mars stamp all over it.
The Poodles are a Hard Rock band who are at home in the Power Metal market (indeed guitarist Pontus Norgren left to join Hammerfall), and, as such, aren’t afraid to incorporate a more epic bent to their music – ‘Need To Believe’ nods to Tony Martin era Black Sabbath – as well as some versatility ‘(What The Hell) Baby’ funks along (and actually has a chorus that it’s not unimaginable could have been written for Britney Spears). However, consistency is a bit of an issue, as is stamina as things dip towards the end, with final four ‘Stop’, ‘Creator and Breaker’ and ‘Borderline’ being bone fide plodders, while a ‘Life Without You’ is saved only by a great chorus that demands a fist up and a grin on the face all tacked onto a tepid toil.
While not the strongest release of the bands’ canon, there is no need to be negative, as there is plenty to appeal to their existing fans, plus those of acts like Europe and Stratovarius.
Producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi, Black Veil Brides, etc) recently spoke to Chris Jericho of Talk Is Jericho about his career, working with Metallica, Bon Jovi and Michael Buble, and his approaches on recording. Listen below.
From the outside looking in, it can be easy to judge people we don’t know. Take Danny Worsnop as a prime example… the last Asking Alexandria album From Death To Destiny (Sumerian) was widely seen as a step back at best, and tepid filler at worst (though hardly a commercial failure, nonetheless), so jumping ship to a more commercially viable band, the cynic would say, prolongs his stay in the limelight and at the top, and gives him a better chance of maintaining the Sunset Strip lifestyle. The cynic will be shot down in flames by joie de vivre of We Are Harlot (Roadrunner). ‘Blame It On The Love Of Rock n’ Roll’ as someone fairly successful once sang…
While first track ‘Dancing on Nails’ is decent and rocky enough, second track ‘DLT’ (Dirty Little Thing, not a defence of disgraced UK DJ Dave Lee Travis) is one helluva fuel injection turbo boost that prompts an face-splitting grin, as the guitars rock out and Worsnop belts out the chorus, and it all makes sense; whatever you perceive his motives to be, you can’t fake energy, you can’t fake fun and you can’t fake rock n’ fucking roll, and We Are Harlot has all three in spades.
I don’t know Worsnop, but any doubts I had are banished by the genuine, honest, uptempo and spirited rock n’ roll on display throughout.
From that moment on, the album flies by in a conveyor belt of Joe Perry-on-speed chord-bashing guitar liveliness and vocal exuberance. Worsnop brought the rock to AA at times, but here he’s set free and has never sounded better, and it must be said, it’s great to live in a world without breakdowns. He may not have the distinctiveness of an Axl or a Jon Bon Jovi but there is a touch of blues, a touch of pop and a bucketful of rock, and a nice gravelly tone to Worsnop’s voice, particularly on the bourbon-ballad ’I Tried’. ‘The One’ swaggers, ‘Flying Close To The Sun’ and ‘Never Turn Back’ have radio hit written all over them while ‘One More Night’ is head-on smash (hit) of Appetite For Destruction (Geffen) and The Wildhearts.
However, don’t think for a second this is a retro-by-numbers homage to The Legends Of Rock. Yes, you can hear Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses have had their influence in the sound, but this is a flying by the seat of its pants, gregarious, germane, gratifying, gratuitous and genuinely great album.
There is something special about bands that go against the grain and laugh in the face of convention. From the likes of Mr Bungle to modern day greats like Between The Buried & Me, some bands have gained huge acclaim for experimentation, from marrying a weird hybrid of styles and genres together to create something new, or perhaps for a groundbreaking mentality upon the tried and tested. Slovakians Tristana are keen to place themselves in this category; their own bio pointing towards images of the mysterious and revolutionary, even describing themselves as some love child of Sepultura and Bon Jovi; lofty claims that their music does nothing to back up.
On latest album Virtual Crime (Bakerteam Records), the conundrum is a tricky one. Initially it is hard to categorise as it does branch into different directions and sounds; but at its core, it simply feels generic. Founded on melodic death metal with power metal tendencies towards the anthemic with added touches of gothic tinged keys, nods to prog and even the occasional dubstep like electronica passage, rather than weaved into the mix all these extra elements they feel bolted on, made to stick out and grab attention, rather than bolster and support the rest of the cast.
Taking away these additional elements entirely and you’re left with an all too familiar branch of melodic death metal at its thinnest with patterns that are all too predictable, and an album that’s all too comfortable in tone and its production doesn’t give it any meat. Vocally it veers from cookie cutter harsh growls to a big but ultimately forgettable wail which could have been taken from a plethora of power metal hordes. The only vocal highlight is on ‘Jannie’s Dying’ where Peter Wilson shares duties with an unaccredited female vocalist who gives a stronger performance than their full-time frontman.
It’s very easy to offer bold claims that you are a forward thinking act but it is your music that needs to back it up, and Virtual Crime is a spectacular failure in this sense. An uninspiring, formulaic canvas with some cheap, brighter colours on top.
New York based (Vienna and London) Rob Decoup is streaming his new music video for “Roll”, here.
Decoup’s music comes from the surrealistic imagery of dreams weaved around his thoughts of the moral-sociological-political triumphs & struggles of his time. “When I turned 15 I got an electric guitar, but my folks didn’t know it needed an amp, so for a while I simply trained my ear and manipulated the sound with no amp!” – says Decoup. It’s all about invention and evolution—from his days of no-amp’d guitars to his now fully evolved razor-sharp sounds, adapting to survive is his key instinct. He holds a PhD in Political Science, which means he’s a natural communicator between cultures, between citizens of the world and those in power; Rob isn’t on a mission to make your body simply dance, he aspires to be a positive influence by shaping the world around him through music.
To compliment this colorful arrangement of storytelling on his upcoming debut album Rays of Sun, Decoup enlisted veteran producer Mike Plotnikoff (Aerosmith, Buckcherry) and assembled a sturdy cast of players to realize the rhythm of his songs. “Eric Friedman from Creed is on guitar, Marty O’Brien from Lita Ford’s band plays bass, Phil X who replaced Richie Sambora as touring guitarist for Bon Jovi lays down some nice leads and Dan Welby did the basic drum tracks.” says Decoup.
Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, Skid Row, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, Faith No More, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Bowling For Soup, Korn, Slipknot… who was it for you? Who was your Gateway band? Maybe the list I’ve given shows my age a bit, but it makes a point. For people to get to their Indian’s and Portal’s or even their Behemoth’s and Winterfylleth there needs to be something to guide them on their way and introduce them to the fold.
And just because we’ve (and I don’t mean Ghost Cult, per se) have decided there’s a “cool” line in the sand and the “mainstream” is above that line and therefore not worthy, or kvlt or true enough, doesn’t mean that it corresponds that there isn’t quality, valid, exciting and interesting music going on in the more commercial arena of our rock and metal world.
It also doesn’t mean there always is…
Perhaps Black Veil Brides IV (Lava/Universal Republic) is the wrong album to be having that discussion on, and perhaps that discussion should take place around Avenged Sevenfold, or more pertinently Mastodon, or Slipknot. Though what about non-Killswitch Engage “metalcore” and bands with slopey fringes and bits of emo? See, it’s OK to talk Mastodon, they were underground who got popular, and it’s OK to talk Slipknot, they’re allowed, but not Trivium. “We” have decided they’re not “real”. And we definitely can’t talk Black Veil Brides. They’re girlfriend metal. All image. Style over substance. All their fans are teenagers… I have a one word answer to that. Kiss. OK, all their fans may no longer be teenagers, but they were forty years ago. The biggest whores to image and commerciality are classic, timeless legends. Also, the more observant of you will have noticed the Motley Crue-dipped-in-tar look has quietly been banished to the back of the BVB wardrobe.
OK, context set, bullshit blustered, let’s address the album at hand. If you’ve consciously avoided Black Veil Brides, or never strayed onto rock radio or video stations, their sound is well established by now and there are no surprises in that respect. There are smatterings of more recent Disturbed and a load of metalcore-lite (but with the thrashy bits removed), all combined with Andy Biersack’s clean baritone that sounds slightly out of place, and, well, a little short of the presence you’d expect from a voice fronting one of rock’s big bands. He’s not even a David Draiman let alone an Axl Rose.
Where IV also falls down is that it doesn’t have the stand out track, the big anthem, that its predecessors had, as even best of the bunch, ‘Drag Me To The Grave’ falls short compared to the not-as-good-as-the-Poison-song-of-the-same-name ‘Fallen Angels’, or their best song, and genuine quality rock anthem ‘In The End’. Without that big single to hang the album on, we’re left with a bunch of samey songs that are perfectly decent in their own right, but don’t make you raise your fist and yell…
While it is worth noting that BVB may be a gateway band for the many and the millions, it’s also worth noting that this is not the album to pitch this particular argument on. When considering the context of “mainstream” rock/metal albums, this doesn’t have the songs of a Ten Thousand Fists (Disturbed – Reprise), the swagger of a Hail To The King (Avenged Sevenfold – Warners), the intelligence of a Once More ‘round The Sun (Mastodon – Reprise) or the depth and genius of The Black Parade (My Chemical Romance – Reprise). It’ll do well for them, of that I’m sure, but in the annals of time it won’t even be held up as the first, second or even third best, Black Veil Brides album to date, let alone achieve any status higher than that.
The 80s were a great time for metal. Maybe even the best. And there are plenty of bands that spend their entire careers reliving the glory of big hair, big riffs and epic choruses. Striker are one of these bands.
City of Gold (Napalm) is the Canadian group’s third album. While the retro scene is full of denim and leather types trying to recapture the magic, Striker have a certain energy about them that stops it all becoming too kitsch. What the four-piece lack in originality they make up for with energy and quality song writing; it’s all high-octane drumming and fret-busting solos, gang vocals and soaring sing-alongs. Guitarists Tim Brown and Chris Segger provide the heavy metal thunder – mixing classic Iron Maiden-esque riffs with a speed metal tempo, while Dan Cleary has an impressive set of pipes that could pass for Bruce Dickinson, Bon Jovi or Rob Halford depending on the song.
There’s generally three settings Striker come in: The galloping power metal epic with the likes of ‘Start Again,’ the big melodic stadium rockers such as ‘Bad Decisions,’ and the fast speed metal numbers in vein of ‘Underground’ or ‘Second Attack’. It’s completely unapologetic in its love of the 80s, but it’s entertaining enough that it doesn’t matter.
City of Gold doesn’t have an original moment in it. But it’s still an enjoyable ride. If 44 minutes of big riffs, fist-pumping choruses and 80s metal in general sounds like your thing, Striker will give you everything you need. Yes there’s plenty of cheese, but it’s all so catchy it’s hard not to get sucked in.