SHREDHEAD: LIVE UNHOLY

(LEGEND RECORDINGS; 2019)


Shredhead are an Israeli thrash metal band formed in 2009. They have three studio albums out and they are starting to find some mainstream success in America with their latest effort, LIVE UNHOLY. T
he album opens with a hell of a crash. Shredhead launches into the record’s title track; the guitar work is magnificent and the breaks are awesome. Aharon Ragoza’s vocals are all mid-fry screams. They fit really well until the bridge hits and the highs come in. The vocals are stellar, the break is filthy and, right about halfway through, they go into a Slayer inspired chug with guitar harmonies that sound evil as Hell. The tune transitions to “Overshadows,” which is a solid thrash song. The vocals are more lows through the track and the double bass that hits during the chorus is super fast and heavy. This one sounds awesome! It features killer drumwork from Roee Kahana, alongside a great groove. It’s just under three minutes long but, a lot happens in that three minutes. The last 60 seconds are a great, ominous chug. The third track, “King Maggot,” sounds a bit more old school punk and thrash inspired. But, I’m sensing a trend… it seems that the group is saving their best riffs and grooves for the choruses. All in all, “King Maggot” is another solid track: Good groove, great break and awesome guitar work; the solos are masterful! About three minutes in, it changes direction completely and hits a nasty feel at half time. “Burn Your Master” starts out with another wicked riff, probably my favorite on the record. As the number progresses, the inspiration would appear to be Black Metal. The melodic guitar sounds have a very old school Venom or Cradle Of Filth feel. Lyrically, the song is my favorite on the album and the delivery is exceptional. Sort of Children Of Bodom meets Cradle of Filth meets Lamb of God. The breakdown for this one is absolutely brutal! “Hope is a Mistake” follows, with some awesome guitar work on display. It opens with a really melodic harmony guitar riff… the best guitar work on the album is right here! Which is the perfect time to introduce the guys behind the sound, Razi Elbaz and Yotam Nagor.

SHREDHEAD (Yotam Nagor, Roee Kahana, Aharon Ragoza, Lee Lavy, Razi Elbaz) (photo credit: AVIHAI LEVY)

Unmarked” is more of the same: Great riffs, awesome vocals, kick-ass grooves. The drums shine on this one, with a great driving beat throughout that makes it feel like chaos. The track breaks about a minute and a half in and hits a great new groove while getting a bit more melodic. The phrasing on the vocals and the guitar break at two minutes in are the shining moments. From the two minute mark to about three-and-a-half minutes in, is the song’s best part, with an absolutely brutal breakdown and a massive guitar/drum monstrosity. “Create Hate” is extreme, high octane metal, with what feels like a Death Angel/Decapitated vibe. It’s short, but definitely gets the point across. The band (at this time, may I present bassist Lee Lavy) really shines on this one: It’s intricate while still maintaining a good, driving beat throughout. “Fuck The World” sounds exactly like you think it would. The song is aggressive, raw, hateful, and very well crafted. From 2:18 on, this is some of the best metal I have heard in years. “Skin the Wolf” doesn’t bring a whole lotta new to the table, but it’s still a VERY solid track. I’d say that 45 seconds in is where it really shines. There’s a killer melodic chorus and a bad-ass guitar break in the middle. While it is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album, the low screams are epic, nonetheless. “Zen” changes things up a bit leading into the final track. The number’s an instrumental that has an almost apocalyptic feel happening. It’s kinda like it’s the end of the world and you’re watching, helplessly, but… you’re gearing up to make your final stand anyway. And then, “The Rope” happens. It’s definitely a strong closer, immediately ripping into a filthy galloping groove and a Wayne Static-esque vocal. It’s a bit slower than the rest of the album, but in no way any less brutal. In fact, the slower groove makes the song one of the heaviest on the album. When the chorus comes in and the guitar harmonies, the thing really starts to catch you. “The Rope” leaves you wanting MUCH more. Three minutes in, a really ominous guitar solo comes in, conveying emotion rather than speed… I love it. What a great way to end an album! Shredhead are everything we need in metal.

The band won me over throughout the course of this album. They prove to be far beyond capable of keeping up with the heavyweights of the metal world. I can HIGHLY recommend checking this album out. It’s a super solid effort. My only critique would be that I would like to see them slow it down a bit more to show some contrast. But for what it is, I give it a 9/10.


CORROSION OF CONFORMITY: NO CROSS NO CROWN

(NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS; 2018)

NO CROSS NO CROWN is the first album from the “classic” lineup of CoC in nearly twenty years. AMERICA’S VOLUME DEALER was the last album we got from this lineup… way back in 2000! Pepper Keenan is back on vocals and it sounds… RIGHT. They come in with a psychedelic opener in “Novus Deus” and it moves along until… a sharp left into “The Luddite,” and then… there they are. Like they never missed a beat. Classic Corrosion sound; Pepper has some age in his voice now, but the fire is still there. Lyrically he’s better than ever. “The Luddite” ends and “Cast the First Stone” comes in and sounds like …VOLUME DEALER-era Corrosion. It’s everything you want: Aggression, groove, melody, and phenomenal guitar work. The drop in the middle moving into the solo is a great way to jar you awake and make you pay attention… super interesting! Pepper lets a demon scream out a few times on this track and it is AWESOME. In a time where the state of modern rock is… well, the way it is, it’s great to see an album come out sounding this way. A short instrumental titled “No Cross” leads into my favorite track on the album, “Wolf Named Crow.” This song is CoC in a nutshell. Groove heavy, Sabbath inspired riffing with Pepper laying down grimy vocals to tie it all together. The middle section goes into an almost jam band style movement before it comes back around into the main riff of the drums dropping out and guitars shining, and Pepper screaming “BEWARE THE WOLF NAMED CROW.” There’s not a skippable track on the album so far!

Little Man” is the weakest track on the album. I enjoyed it but, it just didn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the record. It’s the first skippable one. “Matre’s Diem” is a GORGEOUS instrumental. It’s a fingerpicking acoustic track that is just beautiful and conveys a ton of emotion. It fades out with a trippy effect right into one of the strongest grooves of the album, as “Forgive Me” is killer. Pepper’s best vocal work on the whole album, from melodic vocals to screams. Great riffs, solos everywhere, jam section: It checks all the boxes and has an AMAZING breakdown in the middle. The number is an instant playlist selection for me.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY (Pepper Keenan, Mike Dean, Woody Weatherman, Reed Mullin) (photo credit: DEAN KARR)

In my opinion, songs like “Nothing Left To Say” is where CoC make their best music. It’s got a “13 Angels” vibe. The slow, clean vocals into the harsh riff and gruff vocals make the song insanely easy to listen to. And to get lost in. Very close to my favorite on the album. Next up is a dark instrumental, with “Sacred Isolation,” which moves right into “Old Disaster” which, to me sounds… okay. It’s got a decent groove, but again, like “Little Man,” just feels a little weak. It does have an incredibly good solo section, so that does redeem it a bit. “ELM” comes next and this is my favorite riff on the album. Super solid work on this song on every front. When Pepper hits into the “Eternity is long gone” line in the bridge, it’s simply badass. Short, but awesome; you can’t deny the groove.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY (Reed Mullin, Woody Weatherman, Pepper Keenan, Mike Dean) (photo credit: DEAN KARR)

No Cross No Crown” is doom-y, with creepy vocal lines from Pepper to start it and a choir to back him up. There’s just a simple guitar accompaniment that changes about halfway through and has a reprieve, but gets darker from there. Wicked! It has almost an Opeth/Type-O Negative vibe. “A Quest To Believe (A Call To the Void)” sounds like it fell off the back end of the DELIVERANCE album. It kicks ass. The trippy guitar effects on the solo are amazing and Pepper’s vocals over top of the simple drumming and funky bass line just… again, check every box you’d want from Corrosion of Conformity. The tune is by far up to the high standards they have set over the years. A cover of Queen’s “Son And Daughter” closes the album out. And, just like the original, it’s dripping with a heavy Sabbath influence. It features the best drumming on the album. The thump from the drums keeps the track moving, and the riffage is stellar. Hell of a way to close an album out. Pepper’s vocals are filtered on this song, so it sounds even closer to classic Sabbath.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY (Pepper Keenan, Reed Mullin, Mike Dean, Woody Weatherman) (photo credit: DEAN KARR)

What a spectacular album! To my ears, there were only two songs that weren’t a mandatory listen for any CoC fan. Or any fan of badass, groovy, southern fried metal. Pepper cements his status as a rock god. Although his voice is aging, his songwriting skills are better and it sort of evens out in its own way and you can tell that bringing back the classic lineup makes a difference. Check it out. The instrumentals are awesome and the other tracks are a killer delve into what the old dogs can bring to modern rock and metal. Never count them out – they may surprise you.


LAMB OF GOD: ASHES OF THE WAKE FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

(EPIC RECORDS/LEGACY RECORDS/PROSTHETIC RECORDS; 2019)

What is there to say about Lamb of God’s third release, ASHES OF THE WAKE, that hasn’t already been said? By FAR one of the greatest metal albums of all time; COMPLETELY changed metal; nominated for a Grammy! See what I mean? What else can I say? This fifteenth anniversary edition (vinyl and digital only) has some demo tracks and an unused track that absolutely belongs on the album.

LAMB OF GOD (Randy Blythe, Mark Morton, John Campbell, Willie Adler, Chris Adler) (photo credit: MICK HUTSON/REDFERNS)

Lamb of God does what only they can do on that tune, “Another Nail For Your Coffin.” Absolute brutality with Randy (that’s Mister Blythe for the uninitiated) hitting pure aggression with his screams. Mark Morton shines with a blistering solo about three quarters of the way through. This track has everything you could ever want, melody, guitar solos, brutal screams, awesome lyrics. Why it was left off of the original release is a mystery.

The rest of the bonus material (side four of the double vinyl record) are demos of cuts from the original release. The first is “Laid To Rest.” It sounds almost the same; the lyrics are the same, just a little less production value, so you can REALLY hear Randy’s raw vocals. Sounds great… just shows you how talented this band really is! Next up is “Ashes of the Wake” that again, just shows how badass Lamb of God are: Tight, solid and brutal. Blyhte sounds absolutely awesome on the final cut, “Remorse Is For the Dead.” His presence here is palpable; you can feel it all the way through! The highs he hits about a minute in are just amazing, while the lows at two minutes in are just… evil. Randy is on fire.!

LAMB OF GOD (Chris Adler, Mark Morton, Willie Adler, Randy Blythe, John Campbell) (publicity photo)

ASHES OF THE WAKE is one of my favorite albums of all time and the addition of the extras is really cool. This is one album that should be in everyone’s library and playlists. It’s one of the best ever. Check it out!!


PHILIP H ANSELMO AND THE ILLEGALS: CHOOSING MENTAL ILLNESS AS A VIRTUE

(HOUSECORE RECORDS; 2018)

Our Mister Anselmo has been a busy guy over the past couple of years: 2016 saw the return of Superjoint Ritual, redubbed as Superjoint, with CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION; last year, Phil released SONGS OF DARKNESS AND DESPAIR, an EP recorded under the name “Bill and Phil” and featuring horror icon Bill Moseley; now, he’s back with the second album of crushing little ditties from the Illegals, CHOOSING MENTAL ILLNESS AS A VIRTUE. At the very least, he’s gotta get some type of reward for longest record titles by three different acts.

PILIP H ANSELMO AND THE ILLEGALS (Stephen Taylor, Mike DeLeon, Walter Howard, Phil Anselmo, Jose Gonzalez) (photo credit: JODY DORIGNAC)

This latest offering starts with a black hole of extreme metal that legitimately rocked my actual socks off. That opening salvo, “Little Fucking Heroes,” is a FAR step in a different direction, even for the Illegals. Extreme doesn’t even begin to cover it, there’s a lot of anger and rage here. I haven’t heard this type of rage from Phil Anselmo for a long time, and I have listened to him my entire life. Be ready, because it’s intense: Screeching vocals, insane drumming and guitar, and a not too-veiled message from Anselmo, with lyrics like “ANYONE/With a pair of eyes/Should be able to logically see it/For what it really is/Riding the coattails of infamy/(You) little fucking heroes.” That’s a 10/10 for the first track! The second track, “Utopian,” kind of lost me. It sounds like a bad black metal cover band for the first two minutes, and then it sounds like Phil again. The Illegals are making bold choices on this album, but some just don’t work. The high-scream vocals that Anselmo throws at you at the beginning (and periodically throughout the song) sound just plain bad. No real message to this one, just an attempt at something different that, honestly isn’t worth listening to. I respect the choice, just don’t like the outcome; give it a shot, may work for you, just didn’t for me. “Choosing Mental Illness As a Virtue” is one I have a soft spot for… I love it. It was the lead song off of the album, and I think it encompasses the Illegals’ wheelhouse. It does everything right: Brutal riffing that makes you feel like you are falling into the depths of hell, Phil Anselmo slowing down and making you feel like he is squaring up directly at you, and chaotic time signatures and vocals. Absolute chaos… but in a good way. Everything the Illegals should be is encapsulated in this one song. They are REALLY beginning to come into their own as a band and starting to separate themselves from all of Anselmo’s numerous side projects. “The Ignorant Point” has some filthy riffing in it, but nothing that makes it stand out on the album. Nothing new. Not bad, just not anything you haven’t heard up to this point on the album.

PILIP H ANSELMO AND THE ILLEGALS (Phil Anselmo) (photo credit: DANIN DRAHOS)

The Individual” is the best song on the album at this point. Absolutely crushing instrumental and the best vocals from Anselmo on this record. If you want vintage Anselmo, you won’t find him here. This is an all new dude, with a new message and a new style, but… somehow the same old Phil we all love. It’s an absolutely killer performance on this song, and kudos to him for being able to throw down vocals this heavy at his age. This song itself is killer, the last 60 seconds are absolute insanity! From here, the album begins to run together a bit. It’s hard to decipher where you are in it. Everything is just much of the same thing; I would have liked to hear a little bit more branching out rather than just the same style over and over again, closer to what they did in the first few tracks. “Finger Me,” with all jokes aside, features Anselmo throwing out a gravely “Walk through Fire” that is totally bad-ass. But, still no different from the last two or three songs. The riff at two minutes is filthy! Unfortunately, there has to be a turd in every punchbowl and, “Invalid Colubrine Frauds” is the one here. The tune is totally skippable. “Mixed Lunatic Results” puts a close on CHOOSING MENTAL ILLNESS… and, I honestly don’t know how you write things like this on guitar. These guitar tracks (by Mike DeLeon on lead, Stephen “Schteve” Taylor and Anselmo himself) are ridiculous… absolutely bonkers! I am a guitar player and I just don’t understand this level of intricacy. Stops, changes in the riffs and key changes, funky time signatures and palm mutes… it’s amazing! Phil delivers vocally, as well, making the closer everything you want in your extreme metal. And then all of a sudden, it changes. It plays you out of the hellhole you just stepped into. All in all, this record isn’t bad at all and worth a listen; I think Phil made some poor choices on some of the vocals, but I understand taking risks.


MARK MORTON: ANESTHETIC

(WPP RECORDS/SPINEFARM RECORDS; 2019)

Mark Morton (Lamb of God’s guitarist) has released his first solo album. Titled ANESTHETIC, it is far from something to make you fall asleep. This album truly has something for everyone. It has dark, grooving, fast paced metal, soft rock, vocal focused ballads and just about everything in between.

The record starts with “Cross Off,” an absolutely thumping track from Morton and Chester Bennington (Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots). The groove heavy track begins with a scream from Bennington reminiscent of HYBRID THEORY (Linkin Park’s first album) as the late singer delivers searing metal vocals throughout, leading into a breakdown that’s impossible not to move to. From “Cross Off,” the album storms into “Sworn Apart,” with Papa Roach vocalist Jacoby Shaddix delivering a solid performance. Once again, Morton offers a filthy groove. “Axis” features Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) and Slash’s favorite singer, Myles Kennedy. Lanegan sounds like he has been gargling gravel for five years. The track slows things down and forces you to listen. And, so, away we go again with “The Never,” featuring Testament’s Chuck Billy. The tune takes off like a rocket launch 2 inches from your head. More filthy grooves and barking vocals littered throughout this track force you to bang that head. The album slows down a bit from here, with tracks featuring Kennedy (“Save Defiance”) and Mark Morales from Sons of Texas (“Blur”). Both are solid efforts, with Morton and bassist Mike Inez delivering solid performances.

MARK MORTON (photo credit: TRAVIS SHINN)

The record moves on to “Back From the Dead,” a track with Buckcherry’s Josh Todd. A solid, hard punk/metal thing, this is the best vocal performance Todd has given in years. Another highlight is the hard left turn of “Reveal,” featuring Naeemah Z Maddox. This track really shows Morton’s ability with a guitar. He slows it down and delivers a soulful and sweet guitar solo that works seamlessly with Maddox’s vocals. The album moves on to a hard rock track featuring Morton on vocals. He does a really solid job putting the vocals down in “Imaginary Days.” Very surprising, indeed. And, on to the finish… My favorite track of the year so far is “The Truth Is Dead,” featuring Randy Blythe (Lamb Of God) and Alyssa White-Gluz (The Agonist, Arch Enemy). You can already guess what happens here. White-Gluz opens the track with a beautiful singing intro which breaks into Blythe hitting his signature growl. Lows, highs, everything you could want from Blythe. Alyssa comes in at the perfect time to deliver the chorus, with Blythe throwing some clean vocals behind her. They both show off their growls through the breakdown. The album finishes STRONG. You can definitely tell Morton put a lot of time into this and chose carefully who he wanted performing each track. It’s obvious this is a labor of love and respect for the music. ANESTHETIC is highly recommended, as I think the album is killer… absolutely worth a listen.


SUPERJOINT: CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION

(HOUSECORE RECORDS; 2016)

Superjoint (formerly Superjoint Ritual) is a hardcore/extreme metal/punk supergroup, formed in the early ‘90s by Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod, Crowbar) and Joe Fazzio. Their latest effort, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS OF APPLICATION, opens with what I can only describe as controlled chaos, in a way that only Anselmo and company can deliver. It’s a pretty relentless romp into dark themes and heavy grooves. There are some glimpses of their previous sound throughout, but all in all, this is a fresh sound with new ideas for the band.

SUPERJOINT (Kevin Bond, Jose Manuel Gonzalez, Phil Anselmo, Jimmy Bower, Stephen Taylor) (photo credit: DANIN DRAHOS)

The first half of the album is a sonic explosion, with Phil roaring nasty vocals in over-expertly crafted starts and stops in a way that exudes extreme deliberation, and you can tell that serious time was put in to writing the music. Despite the obvious age in his voice, Anselmo still has a vocal style unique to only himself. The opener, “Today and Tomorrow,” is a pretty good indication of what you’re getting into when you sit to listen to the album as a whole. “Burning the Blanket” is the gem of the first half, having extreme groove, and Phil screeching filthy highs over the latter half of the song.

The record really picks up during the second half, with “Clickbait,” which, in my opinion is the best song on the album and the best representation of the band’s new sound. The album closes up with “Receiving No Answer To the Knock,” which is a solid song and just goes to show you that although the record is over, Superjoint intends to kick your ass until the last second of it; the use of a dark, descending melody on guitar coupled with Anselmo’s best performance on the album let you know that they are not going anywhere anytime soon. Overall, CAUGHT UP IN THE GEARS… is an incredibly solid album and, if you have the time, you should really listen to the whole thing, as I think the totality of its eleven tunes plays better than any single track.


CLUTCH/SEVENDUST/TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN

(18 October, 2018; POP’S NIGHTCLUB, Sauget IL)

Needless to say, as soon as I heard that they were coming back to Pop’s, I was pumped to have the chance to see Sevendust again! Then, I found out that Clutch was going to headline. What!?! Clutch AND Sevendust on the same night? Hell, yes! I was definitely gonna be in that pit!

TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN (Tyler Bryant) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Opening the show was Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown from Nashville, Tennessee. Since their start in 2009, Bryant and the band have released several singles and EPs, including 2015’s THE WAYSIDE, as well as their first full length album, WILD CHILDREN, in 2013, and the recently released self-titled follow-up. Onstage, they definitely perform very well, feeding off the energy of the crowd; their influences, likewise, play a vital part in the Shakedown’s sound: Kinda like a mix of Blues riffs combined with a good, solid rock base that I strongly believe places them in a musical genre all their own! Their unique blend of musical styles and strong onstage presence has led to the band touring with and opening for such acts as Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, AC/DC, BB King and Jeff Beck and has garnered them an opening slot on several dates of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ NOT IN THIS LIFETIME tour, which wraps up on December 8 in Honolulu. If you do get the chance to see them live, you definitely shouldn’t miss it!

SEVENDUST (Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

The second act of the night, much anticipated by myself and all of their fans, was Sevendust from Atlanta. The band is a personal favorite and much of the crowd was cheering for them to come onstage. The group formed in 1994 and are currently promoting their 12th album, ALL I SEE IS WAR, which was released in May. They still deliver that unique Nu-Metal sound as only they can and always have from the first time I saw them live, promoting their very first album. The tradition continues with the latest release, highlighted by the hardcore vocals of Lajon Witherspoon, Morgan Rose’s blistering drum fills, and insane guitar riffs from Clint Lowery and John Connolly. The sound, the intensity and the level of professionalism definitely leaves you wanting more! The vibe you get seeing them perform live is just surreal! After a rocky start and multiple name changes, Sevendust has seen much success, with three consecutive RIAA gold certified albums, a Grammy nomination and millions of albums sold world-wide. Their fan base is huge and fiercely loyal. If you get the chance to attend one of their shows, you will soon see the love and respect people have for Sevendust, with the members of the band giving it all right back to their audience like I have never seen with any other live act! Much respect to the members of Sevendust for keeping excellent rock alive!

CLUTCH (Neil Fallon) (photo credit: DUSTIN GABEL)

Closing out the night was Clutch, touring in support of their just-released album, BOOK OF BAD DECISIONS. Since forming in 1991, Clutch have released 12 studio albums, as well as several rarities and live albums. As always, these guys have never failed to deliver a superb show. Even with a set weighted primarily with songs from the new record (11 of the 15 found on …BAD DECISIONS), the energy you feel by the second song is just unreal because the vocalist, Neil Fallon, is so pumped up, so quick to belt out that new material, interact with fans and dip into a back catalog filled with fan favorites. Fallon’s infectious energy keeps both old school Clutch fans and newer fans of the latest releases rocking hard. With 27 years on the front-lines of the metal scene, Clutch easily achieves their goal of rocking the venue down to the foundation!


A DYING PLANET: FACING THE INCURABLE

(CYNNORMAL LAB RECORDINGS; 2018)

Survival stories are the threads that we cling to when we are at our lowest. “If that person can overcome the things that should have destroyed them then, surely, I can overcome, too.” When we see or hear about someone who has overcome a devastating loss, a child who overcomes a withering illness or an unimaginable injury, we cheer, we cry tears of joy and triumph, we are moved to be… better. When a musician suffers such an injury and faces not only their own humanity but, the prospect of losing – not only their job, but the ability to create, to help or heal others through their music. Troy Tipton was on top of the indie-metal world, playing bass in Zero Hour, among others, when an injury and subsequent surgery left him unable to play. But, he overcame and, though he was unable to return to the bass, he truly found his voice. Literally. His family and band members say that Troy has always had a great voice; now, that voice has allowed him to create once more. FACING THE INCURABLE is Troy’s victory lap and it is not only catharsis for him, it is incredibly moving.

A DYING PLANET (Brian Hart, Troy and Jasun Tipton, Marco Bicca) (photo credit: BRIAN KIRKSEY)

Resist,” at 14 minutes sets the standard for what a great slice of heavy progressive rock should be. Troy wrote the lyrics and melodies and says the song is “is about the struggles I personally went through after having my left arm unsuccessfully operated on. I had been playing the bass guitar for twenty-five years before I was forced to hang it up. So many changes have occurred in my life since the day of my surgery. I am so grateful for the years of emotional support I’ve received from my twin brother, my father, and my wife. Paul Villarreall did an amazing vocal performance delivering the message.” And, Paul’s vocals are quite impressive, backed by heavy bass and drums while Troy’s brother, Jasun, supplies an ethereal guitar sound that still delivers some beefy riffage when needed, as well as keyboards that are atmospheric and definitely on-point for the musical style. A sobering piece of lyrical beauty, “Facing the Incurable” sends a shiver down the spine. Troy’s lyrics and vocals take center stage with several spoken word passages, delivering a message of hope to the millions facing debilitating, life-altering injuries or diseases. Jasun’s guitars coarse and weave over, under and through a stunningly effective slow groove with solid (dare I say, stellar?) underpinning from the rhythm section of bassist Brian Hart and drummer Marco Bicca. “Human Obsolescence,” about the fragile nature of our existence, features beautiful piano and a chiming guitar that powers the tune. Troy’s vocals are haunting and provocatively effective, coming off sounding a lot like Dennis DeYoung (if Dennis DeYoung were cool and not some clownish Vegas lounge singer), while Marco’s understated but powerful drumming and Brian’s nearly passive bass work play into the piece perfectly.

A DYING PLANET (Brian Hart, Jasun and Troy Tipton, Marco Bicca) (photo credit: BRIAN KIRKSEY)

Even though “Poisoning the Well” was written – with lyrics from Zero Hour’s Erik Rosvold – and the guitar parts (which are more percussive strokes rather than a series of notes, except for the solo) and vocals (also by Rosvold) were recorded several years ago, it fits perfectly within the theme and feel of the album. The drums and bass echo the brutal, heavy chords of the guitar making for a stark but striking piece of metal magic. “Missing” was the first song written and prompted in Troy a desire to try his hand at lyric writing, as well as singing them. Beautiful, fragile playing (including keys from guest Bill Jenkins of Enchant and Thought Chamber fame) gives way to a brittle vocal from Troy counterbalanced by a soaring performance by Luda Arno (Troy’s vocal coach) which, in turn, gives way to one of the most beautiful, evocative guitar solos you will ever hear. Is the number a cry of anguish to a love lost, a soul lost or a life lost? Hope amid the infinite struggle to merely be, to overcome any obstacle is the underlying, overwhelming theme of FACING THE INCURABLE; everything is summed up in this single, nearly nine-minute piece. The shortest track on the album, “Separation Anxiety,” is an instrumental that features Hart’s dexterous bass work and the supple, powerful drumming of Bicca with solid jabs of light from Jasun’s guitar interspersed with short, fleet-fingered runs. Though the tune is exceptionally good, amply displaying the instrumentalists’ abilities, it does come across as rather a second-thought add on to the basic concept of the album as a whole. Coming as it did, while I was facing uncertainties of my own (though, to be sure, nothing to the extent that Troy Tipton had experienced), this record is like a restorative balm to the soul; thank you for sharing it with us.


ABJECTION RITUAL: SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH

(MALIGNANT RECORDS; 2018)

I am the type of person that likes to thoroughly research any artist that I write about, mentioning each band member and any guest musician’s contribution to the particular recording up for review. Finding ANY information about Abjection Ritual is like collecting hen’s teeth. However, after much scouring of various online data bases, I was able to identify the man behind the sounds. Now, after some soul-searching, I have decided that if this gentleman has gone to such extremes to keep his identity a mystery, I won’t blow it for him here. Suffice to say, the man is genuinely disturbed… the kind of disturbed that all true geniuses seem to share. These are the men and women who create the most adventurous and thought-provoking music, movies, literature, art… each a statement on the world, its populace or, indeed, the inner machinations of the creator of said piece. So… with that out of the way, let’s take a look at SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH, the fourth overall release from Abjection Ritual and second for Malignant Records.

ABJECTION RITUAL (publicity photo)

Previous Abjection Ritual releases have tended toward a kind of synthesized industrial metal. SOUL OF RUIN… sees the now-duo moving in a more organic direction, introducing guitar, bass and a live drummer into the mix of industrial ambience and heavy electronics. “Lamentations” is the shortest piece on the album, a droning dirge of an introduction with haunting female… uh… well, “Lamentations” leads right into “Body of Filth.” Tribal drums, eardrum-piercing feedback and an assortment of other evil sounding instrumentation replaces the hypnotic droning of the intro. Screamed male vocals are introduced before the whole thing devolves into a hive of noise, buzzing toward an unresolved terminus. “Blood Mother” is a sinister, Dio-era Sabbath wall of doom and gloom highlighted by ridiculously heavy riffs and ponderous drums. The middle section – a stinging, horror movie soundtrack – features a female voice (Rennie Resmini) and odd sci-fi sound effects before returning to the ominous bass grind of the track’s central theme. Hoarse, sore-throat inducing vocals plead and exhort, delivering what I must assume is the desired queasy effect. Author Christopher Ropes delivers a spoken word intro to “Deathbed Conversion.” The best analogy I can come up with regarding this one is that it sounds like the gates of Hell opening, inviting in the soul of a dying man. The lyrics are virtually vomited out, either Satan or the tortured soul seeking redemption (or condemnation). I’m not too sure about the conversion, but if the next song, “Ruin,” is any indication, things did not go well. The tone is oddly brighter, with a synthesized orchestra (or, is that a chorus?) seemingly offering light to the aura, if not the soul, of the entire record. Even so, the track features some crushingly heavy guitar and two guttural voices manage to give the tune and even more chaotic sound than the first half of the record. A lone voice, almost plaintive, dominates the second half grind.

“Carnassial Passage” is a kind of throbbing fever dream that somehow brings to mind the classic Alice Cooper tune, “Unfinished Sweet.” That may have more to do with the song title and the creepy drills that keep intruding into the mix. I feel fairly certain that this one would probably give even the Cooper boys nightmares. And that, friends, is a high compliment to the damaged minds behind the tune. The album ends with the nine-minute-plus magnum opus, “Old Sins.” It’s a slow descent into madness with heavily fuzzed-out guitar and bass with screamed vocals before the painful squall of a guitar’s feedback jolts you awake like electroshock therapy gone horribly wrong. Oddly effective and provocative, the minimalist drums make the cut intensely claustrophobic, forcing the listener into an unwelcome introspective haze. And we’re just a little more than halfway in; a more traditional approach is introduced at about 5:15 in, with a somewhat standard chord progression from the bass and Fripp-like sonic sweeps of guitar. Seemingly just out of listening range is what sounds like a psychotherapy session taking place. Taken by itself, “Old Sins” is a most effective and utterly disturbing piece of music; taken as a solitary piece of a larger construct, it seems to be the final abandonment of all hope, the dissolution of the final thread of sanity. The emotional turmoil that the song elicits, the journey we are forced to embark upon is exactly the desired effect that Abjection Ritual was aiming for. All good music, literature, art has the ability to lead its audience down a path that will generate a certain visceral reaction from said audience; SOUL OF RUIN, BODY OF FILTH as a whole and, particularly, “Old Sins” by itself does exactly that. I was mentally drained from the experience and, just maybe, a different person for having had that experience. That is the kind of art that one rarely experiences nowadays.


JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS: GUILTY OF INNOCENCE

(MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS; 2017)

The music of Stratospheerius is a frenzied, brilliant amalgam of the Blues, Progressive Rock, Funk, improvisational Jazz, Classical and orchestral music, along with just about any other genre or sub-genre you can come up with. I’m not sure, but… there may also be a bit of the kitchen sink in there somewhere. Led by virtuoso violinist Joe Deninzon, a man sometimes referred to as “the Jimi Hendrix of the electric violin,” the quartet comes closest in spirit – if not in actual sonic delivery – to the early music (through, say, 1976’s ZOOT ALLURES) of Frank Zappa and his various groups. The resultant sound is a chaotic rush of genuine (and genius) eclecticism. There is certainly more than a little of something for everyone on the band’s fifth release, GUILTY OF INNOCENCE.

JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS (Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Lucianna Padmore, Jamie Bishop) (uncredited photo)

The record kicks off with “Behind the Curtain.” With lyrics like “Welcome to the circus/It’s your biggest nightmare/Wear the scarlet letter/Scrutinized forever” and “Put your mask on/And tuck your shirt in/Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” the song acts as a sort of catch-all warning against the behind-the-scenes machinations that fuel the music industry or intolerance or political correctness or… You get the point. With a heavy, pound-yer-face-in riff-a-rama approach, bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Lucianna Padmore lay down an exceptionally tight groove allowing Deninzon and guitarist Aurelien Budynek to go crazy with wicked dueling solos. As an opening salvo or as a stand alone piece of music, this one is a near-perfect shot across the bow of accepted norms. “Take Your Medicine” is a nasty little piece of work about “glass houses” and “casting the first stone.” It’s a bass heavy blast of funkiness with Joe’s violin filling in nicely for a full horn section. Guitar, violin and vocals add a rather hard rock urgency to the proceedings, with another dose of wild soloing, a feature that lends a certain Zappa-esque quality to this record. According to Mister Deninzon, the title track (“Guilty of Innocence,” for those with a short memory span) was “inspired by my 2012 stint in jury duty and deals with crime and punishment. I was presiding on a rape trial and the guy who I thought was guilty got off practically scot-free.” Padmore and Bishop lay down a modest Ska-influenced groove, while spastic violin leads and muscular metal riffs drive the tune. The violins and bass take on an almost operatic quality during the break and, just because I enjoy mentioning musical touch-points to give the reader a better idea of what to expect, the song’s chorus has a very Who-like feel, melodically speaking. Piling on to that musical heritage, let me say that if you’re a fan of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones or the previously mentioned Frank Zappa, you’re gonna love this one. “Face” is a sombre little ditty, sort of a slow burn piece with scathing lyrics about people (lovers, partners, friends, perfect strangers) who are more than willing to openly attack you just for the pure enjoyment: “These scars ain’t healing/It’s too late to make amends/I dodge the bullet/Your tongue flies across the room/Build up the callous/’Til I grow numb to the doom and gloom.” A very Hendrix-ian solo by Deninzon adds a certain psychedelic (or maybe it’s “psychotic”) mania to the number. The introduction to the frantic retelling of the Muse hit “Hysteria” features glass-shattering soprano Melanie Mitrano before a warbling high-register vocal from Joe takes over; the latter fits the surrounding chaos of the tune perfectly. There’s a certain “Flight of the Bumble Bee” quality to the always on-point violin work, highlighted by a massive solo, all backed impeccably by the metal leanings of Stratospheerius.

Affluenza” is another funky number with “ripped from the headlines” lyrics about people who believe themselves superior to “the little people” and, therefore, above the law because of that superior wealth and high standards of living. The song has a kind of Living Colour rock vibe happening, with lyrical barbs aplenty over sharp jabs of guitar and violin. Guest performer Rave Tesar adds an oddly appealing set of synthesizer “bloops,” giving the whole thing a cool late ‘70s funk sound. A hard(ish) rocking, progressive sort of pop-metal thing with Queen-like aspirations, “Parallel Reality” is choke full of breathy vocals, an absolutely killer rhythm (and a melody line to match) and, of course, the usual high-minded violin/guitar interplay that makes this band and this album essential listening. “Game of Chicken” starts out sounding like it coulda been an OVER-NITE SENSATION outtake, but then turns into sort of a Kansas prog-pop kinda thing. The playing and soloing remain top-notch and raise the piece out of what could have been a severe abyss of doldrums. The wholly (holy?) improvisational “Dream Diary Cadenza” is a muscular, solo violin freakout rife with flashes of Hendrixisms, Van Halenisms, Beckisms, Zappaisms and any other guitar genius ism that you could ever bring to mind. A brilliant workout from a master technician of his chosen craft. “Soul Food” is a nearly thirteen minute extravaganza with a veritable orchestra of guest artists: Melanie Mitrano, Rave Tesar, guitarists Alex Skolnick (!) and Randy McStine, violinist Eddie Venegas, violist (?) Earl Maneein and cellists Patrice Jackson and Leo Grinhaus. The piece is epic in every musical sense of the word and is, truly, a fitting end to a superb album. You owe it to yourself to obtain GUILTY OF INNOCENCE; you can do so by visiting CD Baby, Amazon or any of the other “usual places” and, naturally, at the group’s Bandcamp page.