Skindred – Volume

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If you’re already a member of the Newport Helicopter Crew, you’ll probably know all of this, but if you’re new to Skindred, then let me take a minute to give you some background.

Back in the mid-90s, popular music genres were much broader than they are today. Music labels were still confident in their ultimate power over distribution and exposure, and alternative bands had to have their own unique sound to stand out and grab the attention of A&R reps. In a dark, grimy, beer-soaked corner between metal, indie, dance & pop lived a group of bands that resisted all attempts at pigeon holing. Every band was an eclectic mix of influences and all were as different from each other as they were from the mainstream.

Alongside the likes of SenserPop Will Eat ItselfCollapsed LungJesus JonesNed’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine was a four-piece Welsh juggernaut called Dub War. Mixing metal, ragga and punk with dub and hip hop, the band put out two landmark albums via Earache Records before splitting up in 1999 due to disputes with the label, and from the ashes (well – Benji) of Dub War rose the mighty Skindred.

Featuring a more driven, heavier and ultimately far more successful sound, Skindred’s first album – Bablyon (Bieler Bros./Lava) – was a critical and (eventually) commercial success having featured on a myriad of charts (twice #1 on the Billboard reggae albums chart!) by its 3rd release. Whilst remaining similar in tone and content to Dub War, there was more subtle focus of guitar riffing in both the writing and the (clearly superior) production. The second album – Roots Rock Riot (Bieler Bros.) – signalled a move away from the old Dub War approach, establishing the distinct Skindred sound (which I shall call Skank Metal) in its own right and delivering the band squarely into the arms of the metal fraternity. From then through to 2011’s Union Black (BMG), fans have been treated to massive downtuned riffs, shoutalong breaks, roughneck vocals and sub bass drops as the band have motored through headline academy-level tours and 50k+ festival crowds. Last year’s Kill The Power (BMG) throttled back somewhat with a mellower and more varied sound.

Volume (Napalm) is Skindred’s sixth studio album, following hard on the heels of the last release (only one year between releases rather than the usual two or more), and seems in many ways to have come full circle. From the outset with ‘Under Attack’ there is a distinct and nostalgic return to the Dub War vibe. ‘Volume’ and ‘Hit The Ground’ are sublime fusions of old War and new ‘Dred. ‘Shut Ya Mouth’ is sure to be a moshpit favourite – it’s going to sound monstrous live – and ‘The Healing’ is a swaggering singalong with a euphoric chorus and some random sampling for an outro. ‘Sound the Siren’ has set-opener written all over it, ‘Saying It Now’ returns squarely to Dub War ‘Million Dollar Love’ territory, whilst ‘Straight Jacket’ is possibly the perfect song to show the uninitiated what Skindred is all about, ‘No Justice’ is a punky skankathon, ‘Stand Up’s Slash-esque rolling riff displays some classic rock chops and the show is closed with the near-ballad of ‘Three Words’.

In an age of bands that sometime seem shameless in their adherence to the confines of their parent (sub)genres, Skindred are an inspiration. There’s still no-one sounding remotely like them. Long may they continue.

 

8.0/10

 

PHILIP PAGE

Crossfaith – Xeno

Crossfaith Xeno album cover 2015

Confession time. Up until two days ago when my editor sent me this assignment I had never heard of Crossfaith. So yeah, for a band that has been kicking since 2006 and consistently on tour it took me until their fourth LP Xeno (Razor & Tie) to acknowledge their existence. I am the definition of timeliness.

Anyways, during my lunch break I browsed the web out of boredom and realized that Crossfaith’s sound has been described as renown for combining metalcore and electronic dance music. Naturally when reading that combination of genres the first thing that comes to mind is “I’ve died and gone to hell.” Immediate visions of laptopcore bands like The Browning and Blood on the Dance Floor flooded the brain. Fuck me.

But don’t knock it till you try it, or at least that’s what the girl as the grocery store seems to always tell me. Look at the bright side, Crossfaith is from Osaka, Japan and the land of the rising son has fostered plenty of eclectic and talented metal bands such as X-Japan, Dir en Grey, and Maximum the Hormone. Just press play.

You only get one chance to make a first impression and Crossfaith for the most part hits the mark. Instead of the Hot Topic goth dance party I was dreading the music on Xeno was actually listenable. Multifarious to a fault, but still listenable. Pretty good, actually. However if you are looking for some dance party action then check out ‘Wildfire’ (featuring Skindred’s Benji Webbe) and it’s unholy matrimony of EDM and Reggae. And I can say with no shame that I blasted it out loud in my car.

Crossfaith band 2015

That being said the tunes here are more in line with Slipknot, mid-career Soilwork and even some Linkin Park for good measure. Frontman Kenta “Ken” Koie leans more on his singing voice on this effort and it helps elevate songs like ‘Raise Your Voice,’ ‘Devil’s Party’ and the excellent title track to radio rock anthem status. In addition to Koie’s strong performance, much attention should also be paid to drummer Tatsuya Amano’s frantic bursts of aggression and producer Josh Wilbur’s (Avenged Sevenfold, Lamb of God) masterful work behind the studio board.

The one moment on Xeno that lost me was power ballad ‘Tears Fall.’ It’s an excellent showcase for Koie’s pipes and it does feature a tuneful solo from guitarist Kazuki Takemura, but it’s way too sappy to fully take seriously. So much so that you could sell it for parts to Bullet for My Valentine. While that gamble doesn’t pay off, Crossfaith pick up the pace again with ‘Paint it Black’ and the drumming showcase that is ‘Vanguard.’ But before the album comes to a close these Osaka natives get a another chance to play with dynamics and texture on ‘Calm the Store’ a melodic track that is much more in line with the aforementioned Linkin Park or Dead Letter Circus.

I feel slightly less hesitant about the melding of electronics and metalcore. Slightly. You done good, Crossfaith.

8.0/10

HANSEL LOPEZ

Into The Future– Nate Bergman of Lionize

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To Lionize means to celebrate. And Maryland’s funky, reggae-infused hard rockers Lionize are celebrating their tenth year with their first jaunt into Europe, a new album, and a new label. Vocalist/Guitarist Nate Bergman sounds like a very happy man because life is pretty good at the moment.

 

For one, despite rarely being off the road in the US, this is the band’s first UK tour. “It’s been amazing, the first few shows were just awesome. I think we’re starting to like it a little bit better than the States; the audiences are incredible, people are very receptive and the press has been very good. Right off the bat people understand our band a little bit better here.” So what can people expect from a Lionize show? “I think our live show is exciting; it’s fast, it’s upbeat and you can expect to hear a different set every night. You’re gonna get a lot of classic rock flavours and get a little bit of Jazz and Dub-reggae and funk thrown in there as well.”

 

It’s a potent mix that garnered the band a dedicated following. Their new album, Jetpack Soundtrack, is their fifth effort and sounds like a band heading for the big time. “I would say by leaps and bounds this is our best record. I think the previous efforts were really good, but I think this is our most concise and focused point. Jetpack Soundtrack describes our approach, trying to take it somewhere new, somewhere fresh, into the future. It’s fast, and it sounds cool.” Anyone who’s followed the band over the years will note the reggae & funk influences aren’t as apparent on the new record as in the early days, continuing the band’s transition into a purer hard rock outfit. “I think through the evolution of the music we have figured out how to internalize the reggae sound more. It wasn’t a conscious effort, it just happened. The reggae is less overt; it’s still very much there in a lot of the rhythm and texture stuff that we’re doing, but it’s so ingrained in who we are now that I don’t feel that ‘this has to be the rock part, and this has to be the reggae part,’ it’s just all there.”

Produced by Clutch’s drummer John-Paul Gaster and Machine (who worked on Clutch’s Blast Tyrant & Earth Rocker), the band decided to mix up how they approached an album. It was very focused on preproduction, very focused on arrangements beforehand and trimming all the fat, and making the parts individually as big and as exciting as they can be On previous records we’ve rehearsed the songs really well, arranged them to a certain point and then gone in and recorded it live, and this one was a very layered, very calculated effort. After working with producer J.Robbins for their previous album (Superszar and the Vulture), the strength of Machine’s CV made them take a new direction. “We wanted to do something different, we wanted to do something fresh for us. I think a big part of that was how Earth Rocker sounded, I think that was a big influence on how we wanted to make the next record. I’ve been listening to Clutch for about 15/16 years, and it’s certainly one of the best. There’s not one track on it that’s bad or that’s close to boring. It’s a classic rock album.”

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The effort seems to have paid off. Finally breaking out of the US, Lionize’s profile is bigger than it’s ever been. “I think this is the most exposure we’ve ever gotten, I don’t think we ever thought it was gonna be this great, especially here in the UK, people seem to be really taking to it. And I think a great deal of this is down to the way Weathermaker releases records. I think we’re touring a little bit harder, we’re playing a little bit better, and the album is great.“ Fortune hasn’t quite followed their increased fame yet, however. “We still live a very humble existence and we’ve very happy to do so to be able to play music.”

The band’s new label, Weathermaker, was set up by Clutch, and features a roster of bands with close ties to the Maryland rockers. “Weathermaker is hands down one of the best labels going and definitely by far the best label we’ve ever worked with. It’s run with the musician’s interest always in mind, there’s never an instance where it’s Us vs. Them, everyone on the label wants to be associated with each other and it’s all of us together. It’s a label with more of a Mowtown vibe.”

 

It’s clear that Lionize have a very close relationship with Rock legends Clutch; as well as touring together many times, Clutch’s guitarist Tim Sult has played on several of their records, their new album was produced by drummer JP and was released through the band’s own Weathermaker label. What’s the secret to such a close relationship? “I think it comes from a common interest in just wanting to make good music. We definitely have our own identity and have our own thing, but we look up to these guys immensely. I mean they’re hands down in my opinion the best rock band on the planet.”

 

Everybody in the band is an immense talent. When you’re a younger band and you’ve got access to that kind of musical knowledge and talent you should do everything you can to absorb it. And I feel like we’ve ingratiated ourselves in that way, it’s a teacher/student sort of relationship.” But the Clutch ties go beyond being label mates and studio buddies. “My dad used to own a fish market and I think that was Neil’s [Fallon, Clutch vocalist] first job. Along with being a fish monger, he was also a doing a fair bit of baby sitting in the store and also still probably kind of feels like he’s babysitting. There is an element of being socially close and the way that Weathermaker and their tours are run means it is a family business.”

 

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Obviously such close association means that Fallon & Co. often come up in conversations with Lionize, but Nate doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “I don’t think we really get tired of it, because we’re being associated with something that’s pretty great. People that know Lionize know that we’re our own entity, people that are Clutch fans know that Clutch is its own thing separately. Did Bad Company get tired of the Led Zeppelin associations?”

 

The Lionize celebration looks set to continue. The band just released a split with Clutch for Record Store Day, more international touring and then back into the studio for the next record. Come join the party.

 

Lionize on Facebook

 

DAN SWINHOE