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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Dingees -- Sundown to Midnight


The Dingees return with an album sprouting not too far down the branch from their previous one. Sundown to Midnight features more melding of punk and reggae with touches of dub and ska. It is noticeably darker than it's predecessor (hey, "Midnight" is in the title!) but continues that album's themes of street life and rebelling against social injustice. Pegleg's back-and-forth vocals with sax player, Dave Chevalier, continue to be a highlight, as the duo turn special attention to the hypocritical criticisms of the older generation toward the new. The mix of high energy and more slowed down, dub-influenced tracks is great. Not too many bands today have the ability to kick off an album with a high-energy rocker like "Rally-O"

only to effortlessly slow things down later with an atmospheric song like "Dark Hollywood," while not losing a minutiae of momentum.

The Dingees balance this back-and-forth brilliantly throughout Sundown to Midnight's 40-minute run. And alliteration almost always makes me magnificently merry.
A FINAL NOTE: Also, kudos to the band for the sunset cover artwork that slowly brightens then fades to night as one unfolds the CD Booklet. In the early 80's, when I often spent weekends with my grandparents in Morganza, I loved looking at the collector-worthy artwork on the Kleenex boxes my grandmother kept in the bathroom. Sundown to Midnight's booklet's time-changing city painting is an excellent facsimile of that art style.

1999 BEC Recordings
1. Rally-O 2:47
2. Can't Trust No Man 2:46
3. Votes And Violence 2:41
4. Radio Freedom 3:45
5. Leave The Kids Alone 1:39
6. Trial Tribulation 4:17
7. Chevy Maibu 2:54
8. Staff Sgt. Skreba 1:35
9. Dark Hollywood 5:40
10. San Francisco 3:14
11. New Route 3:36
12. Sundown To Midnight 2:04
13. You In My Heart 2:26

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dingees -- Armageddon Massive


The Dingees' Armageddon Massive is a fun and highly enjoyable melting pot of punk and reggae splashed with touches of ska and dub. Despite the fact that there are more bands today than ever, you just don't hear this sort of music anymore. Thank goodness this debut isn't The Dingees only album. The band's trademark rebel against the evil powers-vibe is already fully formed and in high gear off the bat, lending Armageddon Massive an energy and flow that is irresistible. So while much of the Dingees' work does have a sunny, California feeling, a more sinister thread often runs underneath. I am particularly partial to the darker tones of "Could Be Worse," and its heavy bass, trippy horns and keys.

1998 BEC Recordings
1. Ghetto Box Smash 2:50
2. Chaos/Control 2:40
3. Bullet Proof 2:47
4. Could Be Worse 3:55
5. Workin' Man's Blues 2:46
6. Rebel Youth 3:22
7. Betrayal 2:59
8. Dead Man 3:37
9. Carry on With the Countdown 3:15
10. Another Burnin' City 1:29
11. Escape to L.A. 8:15

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Devil Wears Prada -- Dead Throne


I rarely buy an album just because the cover looks awesome, but in the case of The Devil Wears Prada's Dead Throne, I made an exception. I'd heard a little of the band before, thought they sounded like generic screamo, and ignored them. Any band who can get Dan Seagrave to paint something that cool for them must have something going on, though, right?
After one listen, it sounds like The Devil Wears Prada have one thing down: chugga, chugga, breakdown, scream, chugga chugga, chugga, chugga, breakdown, scream, high-pitched, digitally-corrected chorus, breakdown, chugga, chugga, scream. Okay, that's more than one thing, but with only a cursory listen, that's all you'll hear. Multiple listens will show that this music is actually more complex than that description. It can basically be divided into two things: breakdowns and interesting parts. The interesting parts are mostly effects-laden guitar lead lines that pop up throughout the album. They're like the green-lit mist that floats around the darkness of the album cover. Another interesting element is the album's minimal keyboard work, but it's mostly used to flesh out the breakdowns, and just doesn't rear its head enough. When it does more than that, it brings the songs to a whole new level, especially the two that break formula completely. Coincidentally(?), these songs are both named after places: "Kansas" and Chicago."
"Kansas" is a huge-sounding instrumental, beginning with the aforementioned lead lines, eventually building to an epic conclusion.

"Chicago" includes only harsh vocals and is easily the most promising song of the album. It has no verse or chorus, just builds to a large moment and ends. It doesn't have any chugging or breakdowns--in fact, it's the only song on the album that doesn't. It's reminiscent of a cold Chicago night, and it's awesome. If The Devil Wears Prada name their next album's entire tracklist after places and fill it with songs like this, you'll be seeing a higher overall score from this reviewer.

I've just said the rest of the album doesn't sound like this song, though. Overall, The Devil Wears Prada do lean too heavily on breakdowns. As I stated in my review of their Zombie EP, if The Devil Wears Prada can learn to inject space and air into their music, they won't be forced to pad their tracks out with these breakdowns. Also, as I said in my Zombie EP review, I wish the singing vocalist would let his real voice shine through more. After some Youtube research, it's clear to me that it's a little lower than what you hear on their albums, but the guy can indeed carry a tune. He sounds just fine live, and I think he should try to capture that feel more on the band's recorded work. Speaking of live, here's a clip proving what I just said, and showing all the strengths of this album: high energy, tight performances, incredible drumming, genuine ferocity in the harsh vocals, and well-written melodies in the singing.

That's a heck of a lot of strengths, and the more one listens to Dead Throne, the more apparent they are. It's a grower in the best sense, and while The Devil Wears Prada may still be learning how to write a song, if they continue to grow, they might find themselves among the best. They have a lyricist with ambitions (his anti-idolatry songs, which comprise the bulk and theme of Dead Throne, are well-penned), and they sound hungry. I'm ready for more.

2011 Ferret/Roadrunner
1. Dead Throne 2:45
2. Untidaled 2:55
3. Mammoth 2:43
4. Vengeance 3:02
5. R.I.T. 2:49
6. My Questions 3:12
7. Kansas (instrumental) 3:36
8. Born to Lose 3:05
9. Forever Decay 3:25
10. Chicago 2:45
11. Constance (featuring Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying) 3:19
12. Pretenders 3:28
13. Holdfast 3:49

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Devil Wears Prada -- Zombie EP


The Devil Wears Prada are a sort of screamo-metal band. By that I mean they play heavy music with a bunch of breakdowns, have a screamer, and have a guy who sings high-pitched, computer-touched vocals. The band also has a keyboard player to add additional layers and texture to their sound. Zombie EP is a fun twenty minute blast of music focusing on a fictional zombie attack. The band bring in some great horror movie found sounds, fake news announcements, and film score quality synths to really give this EP some nice atmosphere. While there isn't a lot of singing, the hooks are pretty decent, and the lyrics are enjoyable. There's even a nice, subtle "over-consuming humans are the real zombies" line in track four, "Revive."

The band notes "ALL GLORY TO GOD (even songs of zombie chaos)" in the CD booklet, so there's a light "Christians outnumbered by the world" subtext to this EP as well. Speaking of CD booklet, the band went above and beyond. Most bands don't even include anything outside of lyrics in their booklets anymore, but The Devil Wears Prada showcase pictures of frightening landscapes, approaching zombies, and a fun, goofy group shot of themselves in zombie-killing gear.
Overall, Zombie EP is a short but good time.
If I may make some critical remarks:
It is great that the band recognizes the importance of texture and atmosphere. It is quite clear that they are passionate about making good music, and that they have the technical skill to create it. I hope in the future, The Devil Wears Prada can learn to incorporate more space and air into their music, which will make the texture and atmosphere stand out more, and give their sound a greater sense of dynamic. The Devil Wears Prada feature some great guitar and drum parts on this EP, and learning how to fill-out a song more will help them to eliminate some of the more generic breakdowns and chugging they have to do in between to keep a song running for more than three minutes (most of these on the Zombie EP top out at more than four because of the announcements and sounds between tracks). Finally, it's clear that the guitarist does not naturally sing as high as he does on this EP. There is an artificial, digitally enhanced quality about his vocals here that is a little grating, and sounds a little immature. It's clear, though, that he does have a handle on singing, and he has a great knack for melody. I think if he focused on making his vocals sound more natural and authentic, he will be a force to be reckoned with. At this point, The Devil Wears Prada have a ton of promise, and I'm excited to see where they go next.*

*my opinion here also reflects the full-length they released shortly after this, which I will review tomorrow, and which also showcases many of the same pros and cons*

 2010 Ferret
1. Escape 4:35
2. Anatomy 3:41
3. Outnumbered 4:36
4. Revive 4:53
5. Survivor 4:32

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Derek Webb -- I See Things Upside Down


Derek Webb’s I See Things Upside Down is a difficult album. It is difficult musically. It is difficult lyrically. It came out eight years ago, and I’m still stuck on it. Webb has released five albums since, and I haven’t been able to move on to them. I’ve been struggling to even write a review for it over the last few days, and as I’ve said, I’ve had eight years of preparation. I just don’t know what to say about it, so the only thing I can think to do is word puke. That’s right, verbiage vomit, the only way to describe something you are at a loss to describe. The only other option is to skip the album, but I can’t break my own rules. I have to review this.
Lyrically, I See Things Upside Down is a study in contrasts. She Must and Shall Go Free validated the church and the beginning of a walk, but I See Things Upside Down explores the twisted path that follows. How can someone be made new in Christ and yet continue to do horrible things; receive salvation and yet attempt to hand it back? Does that sound like a fun thing to think about? Well, get ready to think about it for fifty minutes and more.
The title of this album has several meanings. The most literal is seeing things incorrectly, thinking that the things that won’t fulfill us will. Then there’s the inverse of that, realizing that the least and weakest are the strongest, and the things we don't think we need are actually what will save us. What could be taken as an arrogant title, the proclamation that Webb sees things differently than everyone else, is actually self-deprecating, an admission that Webb does not do the things he knows he should. Most of I See Things Upside Down follows this tangent, but there are a few off topic tracks. “Better Than Wine” is close to worship, though it follows the girl or God model in a way. “We Come to You” is the weakest track, an in the box worship song (outside of the bass wobble in the background), that balloons to eight minutes with an extended ending obviously designed for church altar calls. It almost feels like Webb included the song to satisfy listeners looking for a clear message, but the journey of the rest of the songs comes to the same conclusion, only in a more thoughtful, difficult fashion.
Musically, it’s clear from the first few minutes of I See Things Upside Down that Derek Webb has been listening to a lot of Radiohead. The moody, atmospheric sound carries through much of the album, as Webb attempts to defy musical expectations. While this works to a degree, there is one definite criticism I can label against this album: it badly needs a shot in the arm. There just isn't enough energy here to sustain the entire fifty minutes. Webb can only float in the air so long before he comes back to Earth. A faster tempo or a little kick, anything in the vein of previous Webb songs like “Not the Land” would have sufficed. That's the only concrete criticism I can level against I See Things Upside Down as a whole. Then again, if Webb wants to not sound like himself, he has done that, and for much of the album, this more sophisticated, oblique sound works. Which leads back to the issue at hand: contradictions.
Not much of what Webb says on this album is easy to take. “I Repent” includes apologies for Webb living with his wife and children in “our suburb, where we’re safe and white.” On a personal level, I hate suburbs and think they are evil, but on the other hand, black or white, what is wrong with wanting to keep one’s family safe? Very few lines on this album are simple “preach it, brother” moments. It’s like Webb has candy in one hand and a paddle in the other, and he’s spinning in front of the listener like a freshly hit and angry piñata.
At first, I grew promptly fed up with Webb's work on this album. Why should I listen to someone who is going to keep poking me with a stick? Why not listen to something else? Re-listening to Webb’s early work with Caedmon's Call, and his first two albums for these reviews, I am reminded of his skill and importance to the musical landscape. In the past, I grew quickly irritated as Webb's work became more confrontational, but the more I force myself to listen, the more enjoyment I find. There are some really great songs here, and really, the only one I can’t take is “Ballad in Plain Red,” which sounds like one of those annoying songs from the 80’s and early 90’s where the music video is just a large montage of celebrities lip-synching to the song. Then again, it’s a song about excess, so maybe that’s the point? See, always difficult, this guy.
Anyway, there’s a lot to dig into here, and I’m not going to come to a firm conclusion about I See Things Upside Down anytime soon. I think that’s the point, though. This is a nebulous, ungrounded album, one that slips out of the listener’s grasp just as their fingers wrap around it. If anything, I See Things Upside Down has inspired me to finally dive back into Webb’s music, and to investigate his oeuvre of the last eight years.
So here is my rare if only ?/10 review. A firm score or opinion on I See Things Upside Down would be just as contradictory as the album itself.

2004 INO Records
1. I Want A Broken Heart 5:12
2. Better Than Wine 4:45
3. The Strong, The Tempted, & The Weak 5:53
4. Reputation 4:24
5. I Repent 4:29
6. Medication 4:58
7. We Come To You 8:07
8. T-Shirts (What We Should Be Known For) 4:33
9. Ballad In Plain Red 4:42
10. Nothing Is Ever Enough 5:46
11. Lover Part 2 5:48
12. What Is Not Love 5:05

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Derek Webb -- She Must and Shall Go Free


After a successful songwriting career with the band Caedmon's Call, Derek Webb ventures out alone with She Must and Shall Go Free. Webb states in the album's first track that he's "a dangerous crusader.," which could sound arrogant, but states immediately afterward, "because I need to tell the truth/So I'm turning over tables/within my own living room." Webb's "living room" in this case is the church itself, an organization Webb is critical of, but also loves and is a part of. This makes all the difference in the tone of She Must and Shall Go Free, as Webb never points a finger without pointing a couple back at himself.
She Must and Shall Go Free's music is in a similar vein to the folky, mostly acoustic rock Webb brought to Caedmon's Call's table. The album features some really powerful work, and only stumbles on a few folk-stomp/swamp-stomp numbers that don't quite fit ("Nothing (Without You)," "Crooked Deep Down"). I get the attempt to lighten the tone of the album, but I feel like uptempo songs more akin to the rest of the album's material would have worked better. Other than that, She Must and Shall Go Free is quite strong, particularly the title-track, a duet with Webb's wife, Sandra McCracken. McCracken pops up on several of She Must's songs, and she and Webb sound lovely together. Dan Haseltine and the rest of Jars of Clay also make some appearances and are nice fits for Webb's sound, as well.
Without a doubt, though, the album's most powerful track is "Wedding Dress," featuring Webb alone. It takes the "church as the bride" and book of Hosea themes of the album to a very personal, honest, and emotional place, and it pulls no punches.

Overall, She Must and Shall Go Free proves that Webb is just as potent solo as he is as part of an ensemble. It is the sound of a talented artist exploring a topic he is passionate about, and it is an unquestionable success.

2003 INO Records
1. Nobody Loves Me 4:22
2. She Must and Shall Go Free 3:46
3. Take To The World 4:04
4. Nothing (Without You) 2:51
5. Lover 4:35
6. Wedding Dress 5:22
7. Awake My Soul 4:18
8. Saint and Sinner 4:37
9. Beloved 6:42
10. Crooked Deep Down 3:30
11. The Church 6:45

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Depeche Mode -- Violator


When I was a preteen, my life was pretty simple. Feed my fish. Go to school. Build up to Saturday. Watch Doctor Who on PBS Saturday night.
I don't mean the new, orchestral score-blasted Doctor Who (no offense).
I mean the Moogy, scarfy one.
Anyway, one day I rode out to Baton Rouge with two of my older cousins, so that we could go to the fish store. My oldest cousin had the radio up really loud, and before I knew it, this song by some British band jacked my brain. A few days later, I saw their video, and my highly emotional preteen self decided that I did indeed "Enjoy The Silence."

The hypnotic guitar riff and vocal hook captured my mind, just as Doctor Who took me through the pin-pricked black-curtain stars.
"Enjoy the Silence," comes from Depeche Mode's Violator. I eventually picked it up, hoping for more songs of "Silence"'s caliber, but I was disappointed. I really wish that Violator had a more full sound. The songs are just too simple for my taste. One synthesizer and a drum machine just doesn't do it for me, even with the sometime addition of electronic sounds and skeletal guitar. I feel like even kitschy hit, "Personal Jesus," would be more than that if there was just a little more going on in the song. With a sound this basic, things get repetitive fast. Though Violator is only nine songs, 47-minutes long, it goes on for an eternity.
As it is, I'm thankful for the wonderful memories "Enjoy the Silence" gave me. They can keep the rest...
or so I thought. The more I've heard this album during my review re-listens, the more the songs have grown on me. I realize why, and it's something I only mentioned once above: Martin Gore's vocal hooks. They weasel their way into your head after a while, just like, for at least half of this album, Gore sounds to be weaseling his way into some girl's pants. On top of that, while I may not always admire Depeche Mode's approach, the band do know how to write a song. I can't give this less than a six. It wouldn't be fair. Now, I'm gonna go feed my fish. Where's my scarf?

1990 Sire/Reprise
1. World in My Eyes 4:26
2. Sweetest Perfection 4:43
3. Personal Jesus 4:56
4. Halo 4:30
5. Waiting for the Night 6:07
6. Enjoy the Silence 6:12
7. Policy of Truth 4:55
8. Blue Dress 5:41
9. Clean 5:28

Monday, July 16, 2012

Denison Mars -- Then Is the New Now


Solid rock album featuring strong vocals, good instrumental work, and excellent lead guitar lines. Then Is the New Now is a fine example of the early 00's ridiculous wealth of good Christian rock albums, but it could have benefited from beefier production and a little more musical variety. It's still good stuff, though, particularly the emotive rock of "You Feel Like," the psychedelic closer, "Ps148," and a very enjoyable cover of Real Life's "Send Me an Angel."

2002 Floodgate Records
1. What Life Has 3:37
2. You Feel Like 4:03
3. The Real Ones 4:01
4. This Is All the Time 3:14
5. This Must Be Love 4:15
6. Rescue Mission 3:48
7. Pow ! 2:57
8. Send Me an Angel (Real Life cover) 3:59
9. Keeping It Cool 4:17
10. PS148 13:51

Friday, July 13, 2012

Demon Hunter -- True Defiance


After two albums that didn't quite live up to their legacy, Demon Hunter return with their best work in seven years, True Defiance.
True Defiance features well-written songs, performed passionately and with skill. From the attitude and spirit of "Crucifix"'s garage-quality intro, it's clear that Demon Hunter are making a statement. And while I could nitpick that the drums are still a little too flatly produced for my taste (though Yogi Watts active playing is excellent), or that the instrumental, "Means to an End," is a little too simplistic for this talented band to include, or even that the two penultimate tracks are weaker than the rest of the album (despite the nice apathy/action juxtaposition they afford), True Defiance is overall a very solid effort. Standouts include the entire first half of the album. The band balance the heavy and the less heavy perfectly. Ryan Clark is back to passionately screaming and singing melodies that are excellent, and yet don't sound like they should be playing on your local pop station. The albums first ballad (of two), "Tomorrow Never Comes," is one of the best the band have ever recorded. It's full of emotion, a song for us closet-optimists everywhere.
This album, Demon Hunter's sixth, is about defiance, though. The band do a great job of combining the more overt Christianity of their last few albums with the deeper, more thought-provoking lyrical material of their earlier work. Also, they absolutely jam while doing so (and Patrick Judge's guitar solos are killer). True Defiance gives fans of Demon Hunter what they want, and it expands the band's sound just a bit more. The thrash of "My Destiny" is particularly satisfying.

If an album can make me headbang and have feelings at the same time, it is a winner in my book. For heavy music's sake, I hope Demon Hunter have at least another six in them.

2012 Solid State Records
1. Crucifix 3:44
2. God Forsaken 5:49
3. My Destiny 4:15
4. Wake 4:12
5. Tomorrow Never Comes 4:54
6. Someone to Hate 5:24
7. This I Know 4:04
8. Means to an End (Instrumental) 2:50
9. We Don't Care 3:37
10. Resistance 4:25
11. Dead Flowers 5:23

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Demon Hunter -- The World Is a Thorn


After an album that ventured a little too far into pop territory, metal vanguards, Demon Hunter, return with some of their heaviest work yet. But while The World Is a Thorn is enjoyable overall, it features a new set of problems that lower it to the same level as its predecessor, and put it below Demon Hunter's finest work.
Let me get the bad stuff out of the way. My biggest problem with this album is drum production. When Yogi Watts took the sticks from Jesse Sprinkle, the drumming lost some originality and sophistication, but gained some brutality. Of course, this only works if the drums sound like they're going to break down your door. The drum sound on The World Is a Thorn lacks punch. There are times where the drums simply sound like someone has pulled a sheet of loose-leaf tight and is plucking it with their fingers. This is not acceptable. The second issue with the album is passion. Demon Hunter's albums are usually full of emotion. When vocalist Ryan Clark says he "won't leave without a trace" on Summer of Darkness's "Play Dead," you can feel every word. For the most part, that passion doesn't exist on this album, especially in Clark's singing. The two ballads, "Driving Nails" and "Blood In the Tears" are absolutely rote. Demon Hunter are one of only a handful of metal bands who can actually build anticipation through an album for the arrival of a ballad. The World Is a Thorn's two do not meet expectations.
There, I got the bad stuff out of the way. There is still plenty to like about this release.
First, this is the most old school album Demon Hunter have done. It's apparent in the artwork and in every song. The anthemic 80's metal-style guitar riffs that kick off "Descending Upon Us" are a great example. The speed metal touches in the title track are another. Demon Hunter sound more grizzled than ever, and in this genre, at this point in history, that's a good thing. Second, this album is full of unconventional moments. The second track, "Lifewar," is completely unexpected--the band slamming one chord into the ground over and over beneath Clark's continuous growl for two straight minutes. "Lifewar" also spawned a pretty great video.

"This Is the Line" begins with a weird midnight harmony, and some surprising guitar work in the middle. The guitar solo is now a consistently deployed weapon in Demon Hunter's arsenal, and Patrick Judge's work in this department of The World Is a Thorn is applaudable.
Finally, The World Is a Thorn's greatest asset is several songs' relentless brutality. I've already mentioned the title track, but "Just Breathe," featuring a fire-spitting performance by Solution .45's Christian Älvestam, is the most ferocious song Demon Hunter have ever recorded. Even the keyboard is heavy. It's songs like this that put Demon Hunter ahead of the metal pack, even on their less than stellar albums.

2010 Solid State Records
1. Descending Upon Us 5:30
2. LifeWar 1:52
3. Collapsing (Featuring Björn "Speed" Strid of Soilwork) 3:38
4. This Is the Line 3:59
5. Driving Nails 4:06
6. The World Is a Thorn 2:35
7. Tie This Around Your Neck 3:29
8. Just Breathe (Featuring Christian Älvestam of Solution .45) 3:55
9. Shallow Water 3:44
10. Feel As Though You Could (Featuring Dave Peters of Throwdown) 3:53
11. Blood In the Tears 4:49

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Demon Hunter -- 45 Days (Original Soundtrack)


Minimalist soundtrack to Demon Hunter's spare and emotional black-and-white documentary. The first eight tracks are completely instrumental, composed only of piano, acoustic guitar, highly distorted electric guitar, and very faint electronic touches.
The last two tracks are new versions of two Storm the Gates of Hell (which this follows in Demon Hunter's chronology) tracks. The first, "Fading Away" features only Ryan Clark's vocals and an acoustic guitar. The second, "Carry Me Down," contains only Clark's voice, piano, and strings.
Overall, this soundtrack bears no resemblance to Demon Hunter's previous or following work. Open-minded fans of the band may find something to like in the harsh, yet bare and meditative landscapes. Without any landmarks, though, most others may feel stranded.

2008 Solid State
1. Closing In 2:21
2. Turn Loose the Hounds 4:08
3. Ours Alone 6:35
4. The Deep 2:00
5. Dust and Smoke 3:21
6. Purified In The Storm 7:03
7. The Scars We Don't See 2:48
8. Perseverance 7:23
9. Fading Away (Acoustic Version) 4:18
10. Carry Me Down (Piano Version) 4:35

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Demon Hunter -- Storm the Gates of Hell


Storm the Gates of Hell starts off more strongly than any other Demon Hunter album. The title-track is the heaviest opener they've ever done. "Lead Us Home" is excellently written, one of the most dynamic songs in Demon Hunter's catalog. "Sixteen" features a punishing guest spot by Living Sacrifice's Bruce Fitzhugh and an incredibly brutal, unique breakdown.
After this opening trio, it's obvious something is different about the band. Instead of using metaphors touching upon their Christian faith in subtle ways, Demon Hunter bring it right to the surface: it's in the lyrics, in the song titles, in the album title. While this is refreshing, it's also a little bit of a let down. The Christian stuff was always there for those of us who like to dig deeper, but it was intelligently fixed into the music. Now, that depth is gone.
The second difference, though, is more disappointing. I've mentioned Ryan Clark's skill at creating singable, yet not poppy melodies in my previous Demon Hunter reviews. Well, for the most part, that goes out the window on Storm the Gates of Hell: the melodies are often major key, and often poppy and more higher pitched than usual. While Clark's screams and the band's music on this album have at times never been heavier, the drums never more intense, they are juxtaposed with this new pop sheen. Perhaps it is a matter of personal taste, but I don't like that. I know Demon Hunter are always striving to do something different, and I commend them for that, but this time they tried something that falls out of my circle of enjoyment.
Then again, the brilliant parts are brilliant. "Fiction Kingdom" features a poppy chorus I could do without, but the rest of the song is excellent, and Clark's vocals in the bridge are, to this moment, still the most powerful performance he has ever recorded.

"This war is a page unwritten/but we know how it ends!"
So what we have here is a giant, delicious chocolate-chip cookie with some raisins sprinkled throughout. If you like raisins, you'll have nothing to complain about.

2007 Solid State Records
1. Storm the Gates of Hell 2:44
2. Lead Us Home 4:24
3. Sixteen (featuring Bruce Fitzhugh of Living Sacrifice) 5:18
4. Fading Away 4:12
5. Carry Me Down 4:32
6. A Thread of Light 3:35
7. I Am You 4:14
8. Incision 5:04
9. Thorns 4:06
10. Follow the Wolves 3:55
11. Fiction Kingdom 4:53
12. The Wrath of God 4:06

Monday, July 09, 2012

Demon Hunter -- The Triptych


The Triptych is a celebration of victory. If Summer of Darkness was a struggle to get up, The Triptych is about standing victorious on top of the mountain, urging on all comers. At the same time, it's a humble album. Vocalist, Ryan Clark, explores the ephemeral nature of his life and his need for God on "Deteriorate," praises the defenders of his nation on "The Soldier's Song," and attempts to come to grips with the wrong he has done on "One Thousand Apologies" and "The Tide Began to Rise."
The majority of the album has swagger, though, and at about this time, I needed it. I mentioned the nine-month, stress-induced migraine I was in the middle of during Summer of Darkness's release in my review of that album. Well, with The Triptych, Demon Hunter continued to parallel my life. In the fall of 2005, it was time to finally get away from the main causes of my stress, and to do so, I needed some attitude. I knew that if I was going to really get closure on that chapter in my life, I couldn't just run away. I was going to have to face those who had caused me so much pain head on. I was going to have to meet them face to face to sever the connection. So I did. I got this album in the mail that morning. It's contribution to my "stand my ground" attitude was pretty significant. This band's music meant a lot to me, so just in case you missed it
The Triptych is steady and unwavering. Musically, it's a bit more straightforward than Summer of Darkness--in fact, it may be the most straightforward of Demon Hunter's albums, but not to it's detriment. There is still enough variation and experimentation (check the way the double-bass pounding is mixed to the front during the chorus of "The Science of Lies.") to keep The Triptych's steamrolling nature exciting. There aren't quite as many standouts as Summer of Darkness (that album is perfect, so what are you going to do?), but every song on The Triptych fits together as part of one growling, devastating engine. The big news here is the departure of drummer, Jesse Sprinkle, and his replacement by Yogi Watts. Yogi's style is less subtle and sophisticated than Sprinkle's, but he does make up for it with face-blasting power. Yogi hits hard and constantly, his double-bass stomping feet moving just as quickly as his hands, and that style fits the more upbeat attitude of the album. Next to Summer of Darkness, The Triptych is easily Demon Hunter's most consistent work, with the most unified sound.
That sound is metal, exemplified by an excellent cover of Prong's "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck." Even the ballads, and there are only a few, rock pretty hard. The closer, "The Tide Began to Rise" brings in some surprising Beach Boy-esque melodies at the end, but in a Demon Hunter Fashion. Here and throughout The Triptych, Clark continues to sing melodies that are catchy and yet, not pop...I'm not sure this makes any sense untill you listen. Perhaps the opener, "Not I," sums up the album best of all.

The hunt is on, and nothing is going to stop it.

2005 Solid State Records
1. The Flame That Guides Us Home 0:29
2. Not I 4:14
3. Undying 4:18
4. Relentless Intolerance 4:02
5. Deteriorate 5:53
6. The Soldier's Song 5:24
7. Fire to My Soul 4:03
8. One Thousand Apologies 4:56
9. The Science of Lies" 4:09
10. Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck (Prong cover) 4:13
11. Ribcage 3:46
12. The Tide Began to Rise 5:35

Friday, July 06, 2012

Demon Hunter -- Summer of Darkness


Now that I've gotten that out of the way...
From November 2003 to somewhere in July of 2004, I had an almost endless migraine. That's nine months of migraine, or to simplify...that's just too much migraine. The causes were myriad: self-induced stress, stress brought on by others, but above everything, I just let some people get the best of me who had no right to do so. I needed an anthem or a rallying call, and in May of 2004, Demon Hunter offered one.
Summer of Darkness is about taking responsibility for your mistakes, while taking no crap from anyone. It's a declaration not to die or fade away, and it's a confession that without God's help, defying those things isn't possible.
This is one of those albums where the vocalist growls and screams, most often in the verse, and sings soaringly, most often during the chorus, but Demon Hunter aren't bound by those rules. Vocalist, Ryan Clark, uses whatever means necessary to get his emotions across. "I Play Dead," a make or break moment for the album thematically, defies any kind of formula.

Even the songs that follow the formula don't sound like your basic scream/sing band. Take the title track for instance. The chorus melody is easy to sing along to, but it isn't poppy, or traditional. It's awesome, and it's for grown ups (I don't mean grown-up in age, I mean grown-up in perspective). As much vitriol as Ryan Clark spews at his oppressors, he always owns up to the things he himself has done wrong.

Jesse Sprinkle returns to provide more truly memorable drumming. Ryan's brother, Don, and ex-Embodyment vocalist, Kris McCaddon, provide solid work on guitar, while Jon Dunn does the same on bass. All the pieces are lined up here for Demon Hunter. Their approach sounds fresh, and the band sounds hungry and genuine. Ryan seems emoting from experience. As good as most are, none of Demon Hunter's other albums sound this personal.
Demon Hunter also never had this much momentum or excitement surrounding them before. They made a personal appearance on Headbanger's Ball to promote the album and their new video for "Not Ready to Die." At the same time, "My Heartstrings Come Undone" landed on the Resident Evil 2 soundtrack. I can't speak for the film the song ended up supporting, by "My Heartstrings Come Undone" is phenomenal work, the best "ballad" the band have ever done by far.

"Heartstrings" is a love song to Ryan's wife amid all the chaos and turmoil of his life. It's powerful, personal, and epic, just like the album it's taken from. Eight years later, Summer of Darkness is still something I can draw strength from when my back is against the wall, and I need courage to fight. It became such a fixture in my life that I took it a bit for granted at first, but with hindsight I can see it's significance. Also, I can look at my arm.
POSTSCRIPT NOTE ONE WEEK LATER: If you purchase this album, and you should, do yourself a favor and pick up a physical copy. The gorgeous CD booklet features the band members performing an intense forest funeral in black and white, and these photos add to the album even more.

2004 Solid State
1. Not Ready to Die 5:03
2. The Awakening 4:13
3. Beheaded (featuring Mike Williams of The Agony Scene) 3:16
4. My Heartstrings Come Undone 4:35
5. Our Faces Fall Apart (featuring Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage and Blood Has Been Shed) 4:52
6. Less Than Nothing 2:59
7. Summer of Darkness 3:12
8. Beauty Through the Eyes of a Predator (featuring Brock Lindow of 36 Crazyfists) 5:34
9. Annihilate the Corrupt 4:10
10. I Play Dead 5:21
11. Everything Was White 3:54
12. Coffin Builder (featuring Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch and FM Static) 4:01
13. The Latest and the Last (The Wheels of Judgment Turn Slowly) 3:42

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Demon Hunter -- Demon Hunter


The Demon Hunter of today look quite different from the one that slowly emerged from the shadows in 2002. No one knew who they were, where the came from. All we had at the start of that year was a song on a Solid State Records compilation under their name, and a picture of obscured faces in the compilation booklet. The song was raw, but promising, building anticipation for whatever Demon Hunter was. Finally, near the end of the year, a Demon Hunter album was released. There's a haunting darkness at the heart of Demon's Hunter's self-titled debut that none of their following work contains. A statement by a spokesman for the band said that "Demon Hunter" as a band name was meant to be metaphysical--to describe the things we battle with on the inside--but looking at the horror-inspired song-titles ("Screams of the Undead," "I Have Seen Where it Grows," "Infected"), one can't be blamed for taking the moniker literally. The horror film imagery continues in the apocalyptic booklet artwork, and this bleeds right into the music. The opening howls and chains set the tone immediately, and movie quality strings ("My Throat is an Open Grave"), spooky organ ("Turn Your Back and Run"), and insect like noises ("The Gauntlet") continue it throughout.
This isn't Opeth, though the music is quite heavy. There are definite verses and choruses, and most of the choruses are sung, though the melodies aren't at all poppy, if that makes any sense. Also, the singing is manly, as screamo hadn't taken hold of popular interest yet. The harsh vocals go from growling to screams, to even some goth-style speaking at seldom moments.
That's all well and good, and would make for an impressive debut, but I've left out what elevates this album to classic status: Jesse Sprinkle's drumming. Sprinkle, who was revealed to be Demon Hunter's drummer shortly after the album was released, puts on a performance for the ages. His drumming is absolutely relentless, but for the vast majority of the album, he avoids the double-bass and smash the cymbals approach that saturates the scene today. Sprinkle sounds like an incredible session drummer who's never played metal being tasked to record a metal album, and in the process of recording, it sounds as if he's inventing a new style. Sprinkle brings every song to the next level, and at the end of the album, the apocalyptic "The Gauntlet," the band generously gives him the final two minutes to go absolutely bonkers. The song itself is a statement for what Demon Hunter used to be. It's one of their "ballads" in the sense that it contains no screaming, but unlike some of their more recent work, it sounds nothing like a ballad. "The Gauntlet" has the feeling of some type of dark inevitability, the guitar pattern repeating, the drums going more frenetic as the song progresses. The album lyrically deals with a lot of self-conflict, as promised, but "The Gauntlet" takes it to the darkest place Demon Hunter has ever been. "Not a hand, not a finger. This is my home, I'm dying here. I hide in the corner. That look on your face, I'm accustomed to it." And then the drums go nuts.

A FINAL NOTE ONE: The band eventually released a nicely intense video for "Infected," which revealed their identities.

A FINAL NOTE TWO: This album came out within a month of Metroid Prime, one of the greatest video games of all time, an epic and isolating journey. Demon Hunter's self-titled album could soundtrack that game perfectly. During Winter Break of '02, I would often mute the television and turn up the album while taking Samus Aran into the depths of Tallon IV. Here's a song I would blare, and a clip of Samus jumping over boiling magma and blasting things. Watch and mute the second one, and play the audio from the first. Viola. Perfection. That game ruled.

2002 Solid State Records
1. Screams of the Undead 4:34
2. I Have Seen Where it Grows 3:14
3. Infected 3:08
4. My Throat is an Open Grave 3:54
5. Through the Black 4:27
6. Turn Your Back and Run 3:48
7. And the Sky Went Red 0:29
8. As We Wept 3:42
9. A Broken Upper Hand 4:29
10. The Gauntlet 6:56

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Delirious? -- Glo


Sometime in the middle of college, my mother handed me her copy of Delirious?'s Glo. "See if you like this," she said. "I thought I would, but I can't understand anything they're saying." Delirious? are from England, and unlike my mother, I grew up on a steady diet of PBS-available British television. After so many hours of Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, 'Allo! 'Allo!, Black Adder, Mr. Bean, and anything else public television had to offer, I was officially a British citizen. Okay, maybe not, but I could easily understand what they were saying, and Delirious?'s vocals gave me no trouble. Unfortunately, I listened to Glo a couple of times and put it away. I found some of the opening tracks to be derivative of Radiohead's OK Computer, and thinking I had another Christian ripoff of a secular band in my hands, I dismissed Glo altogether. The lesson I've continued to learn all my life, though, is that it pays to be thorough.
Glo is not a ripoff of OK Computer, or any other album. It is a treat, a vast experiment of joyful sound from a band that was a stalwart in the industry. The end of track three, "God's Romance" takes a nod from Radiohead's "Airbag" for a brief moment, and the following track, "Investigate" channels a bit of "Paranoid Android" at the start. In an album that flows from one sound to the next, it's almost like a quick admirable homage to a band that's made such a mark, not only on the British Isles, but the world. It's a couple of minutes out of seventy-one. Delirious? also gives a nod to Achtung Baby-era U2 on "Everything" and the just released Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros at the start of "What Would I Have Done?"
In other words, Glo acts as a sort of tour of turn-of-the-century rock, all while worshiping God. It's quite a monumental achievement, only done in by it's colossal length. While musical complacency plagues certain Hillsong Worship albums (which often feature large chunks of ten-minute ballads that seem to go nowhere), Delirious?'s invention and exploration throughout Glo is restless. The use of raucous backup vocals, monk chanting, choirs, electronics, and celestial strings is always unexpected and well-planned--vital to the songs instead of just being unnecessary garnishment.

Glo never drags, it just features a few songs (the generic, poppy "Hang On To You" for instance) that are weaker than the others. Seventy-one minutes of perfect music is tough to achieve, and minus a few clunkers, Delirious?'s ambitious Glo comes close.

2000 Furious? Records
1. God You Are My God 3:45
2. Glo In The Dark, Pt. 1 2:45
3. God's Romance 6:58
4. Investigate 4:09
5. Glo In The Dark, Pt. 2 3:42
6. What Would I Have Done? 6:06
7. My Glorious 6:09
8. Everything 3:39
9. Hang On To You 4:20
10. Intimate Stranger 7:26
11. Awaken The Dawn 4:14
12. Glo In The Dark, Pt. 3 3:37
13. The Years Go By 3:50
14. Jesus' Blood 5:54
15. Glo In The Dark, Pt. 4 4:58

Monday, July 02, 2012

Deftones -- Diamond Eyes


Can Deftones be happy and still make great music? After years of personal turmoil, things finally came to a head for Deftones when bassist, Chi Cheng, got in a coma-inducing car accident. Whether it was the sudden realization that life should be appreciated, or the simple fact that the other four members lives seemed to be getting back on track at the same time, something within the band changed. The four remaining members picked up a fill-in bassist, Sergio Vega, and decided to forge ahead. The resulting positivity can be felt throughout Deftones' sixth full-length album, Diamond Eyes, but almost shockingly, not at a detriment to the quality of the music.
That dude from U2 once said, “Anger is simple. Any artist knows he can do it with a black brush. That’s what rock is at the moment. It’s an easy thing to do: painting in black. Joy is something else. It’s much harder to create because you are dealing with something much deeper and much more emotional."
Well on Diamond Eyes, Deftones make it look easy.
Diamond Eye's opening title track sets the tone for the album. The guitar is very deep and heavy in the verse, but Chino's vocals are melodic and building until the band reaches the soaring chorus. Chino's melodies have never been as beautiful as they are on this album. It's almost subtle how good he's gotten at writing them over the years, and he stuffs Diamond Eyes full of them.
Musically, Diamond Eyes offers a very balanced attack. To get mathematical, about half of the songs balance the heavy riffs with the more beautiful vocals and chorus melodies, another quarter are aggressive, heavier tracks, and the other quarter are laid back, gorgeous "ballads." Well, a ballad as done by Deftones.

As you can hear, that is a very good thing.
Chino Moreno's Diamond Eyes lyrics hearken back to his more fanciful White Pony-era work, except painted in a far brighter, more romantic shade. Maybe it's just the fact that the TV series Lost ended at the same time as Diamond Eyes' release, but I get a real Hawaiian-twilight vibe from this album if that makes any sense. There are numerous ocean references, and the last song title is a straight-up Lost quote, so I don't think I'm that far off the mark. Whatever the case, Diamond Eyes might not be Deftones most ambitious or powerful release, but it's definitely the most lovely.

2010 Reprise/Warner Bros.
1. Diamond Eyes 3:08
2. Royal 3:32
3. CMND/CTRL 2:25
4. You've Seen the Butcher 3:31
5. Beauty School 4:47
6. Prince 3:36
7. Rocket Skates 4:14
8. Sextape 4:01
9. Risk 3:38
10. 976–EVIL 4:32
11. This Place Is Death 3:48