Music Review: Mushroomhead – Beautful Stories For Ugly Children

Picked this CD up at a show a while back & it’s pretty much resided in my car stereo ever since.  This is the 7th studio release by the Alternative metal act out of Cleveland, who are now sporting even creepier masks & continuing to utilize a subtle mixture of various music styles including Prog Metal, Industrial, EBM & Death Metal.  Mushroomhead have always been difficult to categorize, their sound varying from trance-like to orchestral to pummeling, oft times propelled by a heavy groove & deft use of keyboards and percussion.  Clean vocalist Jeffrey Nothing has a distinctive style unlike anyone else in Metal – sustained & powerful like a trained stage performer,  contrasting sharply with the darker, almost mechanized rhythm of the guitars.  Waylon’s growling vocals cover the most aggressive sections of the songs, but Nothing seems to be the featured voice of the two.

Opening tune ‘Come On’ is a nice anthem that the band released as a video, which was promptly banned from MTV due it’s violent content (it features Ultimate Fighters in a cage match, so go figure).  Other fav’s of mine are ‘Holes In The Void’ – which again showcases the Pink Floyd influences of the group, and the urban tribal rocker ‘Harvest The Garden’.  For a complete change of pace, I recommend ”Do I Know You?’ which concludes the disc, a nifty brooding piece with eerie childrens voices echoing in the background & emotionally tinged (albeit brief) lyrics.

And speaking of lyrics, the band’s trend towards more open anti-religious sentiment continues with the acidic ‘Inspiration’ which declares “You baptized me don’t you see?  I choose not to believe”.   I keep wondering if like Slipknot to whom they’re often compared, Mushroomhead will start utilizing pentagrams etc., which would seem out of place to me but then again the digi-pack to this release does in fact open to an inverted cross design.  Coincidence or foreboding, you decide.

Overall, Mushroomhead have done a great job of further defining their sound & image, and despite being categorized as an ‘underground’ act, they clearly perform and project anything but second rate talent.  Hopefully their fan base will continue to grow with this offering, so the rest of the world can appreciate what we in Ohio have known for quite some time; Mushroomhead is a creative, intense live act that can truly entertain.

Music Review: The New Czars – Doomsday Revolution [Samson Records]

After playing this CD entirely through more than a few times, I’ve decided that The New Czars are possibly the most difficult band to categorize I’ve ever reviewed; mixing elements of Hard Rock, Jazz Fusion, Psychedelic, Blues and Funk (yes, FUNK), The Czars remind me of the experimental acts of the 70’s (such as Todd Rundgren or King Crimson) with their unusual chord progressions, strange key signatures & guitarist/singer Greg Hampton’s muffled, swaying vocalizations. Fearlessly forging their unique sound like something arisen from the smoke ridden backroom of 1,000 highway saloons, The Czars get credit for artistic expression first – commercial viability second.

Joining Hampton in this endeavor are bassist Paul Ill and drummer David “Chilli” Moreno; collectively representing a musical resume that includes Alice Cooper, Lita Ford, Bootsy Collins, Buckethead, Reeves Gabrels, Bruce Dickinson, Puddle of Mudd, Courtney Love, Pink and more. To take this further, several songs also include the 6 string wizardry of the legendary Adrian Belew. With such pedigree, the Czars have taken years of hard earned chops & gone completely on safari with it. From driving intros that plummet headlong into squealing guitars & down-tuned harmonies (“Brush With The Devil”), to soul-laden fuzz tones (“Desperate”), echoing Pop riffs & Latin stylings (“Only Dreaming”) and even a few bizarre instrumentals thrown in for good measure (my favs being “Funky Detour” & the amusingly named “Crotch Critters”).

Clocking in at well over an hour (16 tracks), the musicianship & artistry being captured on this disc are undeniable. But honestly, this is probably too avantgarde for me – and I’m not a fan of Greg Hampton’s vocal style. This is definitely recommended however for the listener who appreciates the craftsmanship of Zappa or Beck while still insisting on the sophistication of a modern recording act.

Gentlemen, I give you The New Czars.

Music Review: Karnivool – Sound Awake

Got a goodie package in the mail awhile back & one of the gifts inside was the latest CD from Prog rockers Karnivool out of Perth, Australia. WOW, what a welcome feast for my eardrums!

Technically detailed, it features a multi-layered sound that I would personally describe as a mixture of Tool placed alongside the international flare of Cirque Du Soleil. One part hard rock, another part Alternative, yet often with an ambient New Age feel – I can honestly say I haven’t heard anything quite like it. Songs tend to be unpredictable, swelling, melodic and intricate – as if the band members challenged themselves to make music that was both textured and complicated. Instrumental tracks are varied with unusual sequences serving as clever explorations into tribal rhythm, pop sensibility and Enya-esque echoes.

Vocalist Ian Kenny has an absolutely amazing versatility, from softly articulated whispers to powerfully sustained wails, his unique tone lends carefully drawn sensitivity to each tune. Lead guitarist Andrew ‘Drew’ Goddard creates passages that defy easy explanation, hauntingly original & comprised of rhythmic variations that conjure images of a craftsman’s touch.

First single “Set Fire To The Hive” is a bit more driving than some of the accompanying tracks on the disc and features an interesting ‘buzzing’ guitar passage that was surprising in it’s deftness & delivery. Other songs such as ‘All I know’ and ‘Goliath’ are memorable & intriguing, like a palette of vibrant colors to be sampled but to me, the out and out favorite of the CD is the lengthier ‘New Day’. Perhaps the clearest example of this band’s potential, it’s a rising soundscape that starts out acoustically before gradually transforming into something almost orchestral before building again into a stirring sing-along.

I urge anyone who appreciates musicianship and originality to seek out the homepage or take a listen on Myspace as you will not be disappointed. But don’t blame me if the CD finds a permanent place in your car stereo.

Music Review: Bigelf – Cheating the Gallows [Custard]

bigelf-groupA while back I reviewed the Bigelf show here in Columbus, and as you may recall I really got into these guys.  Well I have in my hot little hands their latest disc entitled ‘Cheating the Gallows’ & I really recommend it.

Bigelf is a difficult band to describe.  Their sound varies from song to song, consistently evoking images of classic 70’s era rock n’ roll like that of Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, The Beatles and many others.  In fact, the astute listener can easily discern borrowed expressions in almost every song, not as any act of unimaginative plagerism but instead as carefully crafted homages to the influencing work.  For example, there is a fairly recognizable  guitar riff from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” in the song “Money, It’s Pure Evil”.  The subject matter alone is straightup Floyd, so the band knows you will see this for the tribute it is intended.  “Race With Time” likewise sounds like a lost track from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, mini-opus ‘Counting Sheep’ could be a reincarnated Yes song.

Where Bigelf really excels is utilizing multiple influences in a single work, melding them together with their own brand of tube amp distortion and Damon Fox’s versatile vocal stylings.  Not content to merely tap into musical phrases from those who came before, Bigelf employs these vintage rhythms like a chromatic palette from which they brush stroke their own unique aural visions with a deftness & understanding that transcends the individual musicians’ ages and era.  It is as if Roger Waters, John Lennon and Tony Iommi collaborated on a project and then passed it on for a younger generation to interpret.  An uncanny extension of a movement they are clearly too young to have witnessed more than peripherally, Bigelf embodies ideals that might have been considered forgotten, progressing a form of music that has too long remained stagnant & resting on it’s own laurels.

Classic rock lives and breathes in Bigelf, in a careful orchestration of older style & atmosphere overlayed with modern perspective.  Can something new be instantly nostalgic as well?  You tell me.  But give this band a listen & see if you’re not amazed that time travelers have brought us fresh offerings from the Age of Aquarius, conjured through the sonic rites of Millennial wizards.

David T. Chastain Re-releasing First Two Albums on CD

Blabbermouth.net – Good news!  The fretmaster from Cincinnati – David T. Chastain is FINALLY releasing his first two albums with the band Chastain on CD.  Yep, for the first time ever legally (nevermind those $60 bootlegs on Ebay) “Mystery of Illusion” (1985) & “Ruler of the Wasteland” (1986) will be available on pristine compact disc – including added bonus material not originally released on vinyl.  Click the link above to read the whole story, which includes a few words from Mr. Chastain himself regarding the releases.

To me, this is awesome!  David T. Chastain has, in my humble opinion, long been an under-rated guitar pyrotechnician with a massive back catalog of work (about 50 releases under various names & projects according to Wiki !!).  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him twice, once opening for Kiss & once in support of the disc “Live!  Wild and Truly Dimished!!” where he played alongside another ace stringslinger – Michael Harris (who’s body of work is also impressive in it’s own right).  That collaboration evolved into one of Chastain’s many side projects – Zanister.

If you’re a guitar afficionado, especially of the progressive metal or jazz variety, I strongly urge you to check out Chastain’s work in any of it’s various incarnations.  For me, I know I’ll be ordering “Ruler of the Wasteland” as the title song haunts my brain at 3am on the occasional quiet, sleepless night.  Would be nice to hear it in it’s entirety once again.

20th Anniversary of ‘Operation: Mindcrime’

Operation: MindcrimeMay 3rd was the 20th anniversary of argueably one of the greatest progressive metal albums ever released – Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime”.  Thanks to Blabbermouth.net, I found out that another site (Blistering.com) is posting a series of articles by band historian Christa Titus entitled “I Remember Now: The 20th Anniversary of Operation: Mindcrime”.

If you follow the link you can read the first two installments including an interview with guitarist Michael Wilton as he discusses not being pleased with the initial mix of the record. Can you imagine now, 20 years later & as legendary as the work has become, that Wilton was originally unhappy? Wild.

But to me, even more intriguing is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that I’m curious if they will bring up, that being how instrumental departed guitarist Chris DeGarmo was in the creation of this opus. He co-wrote roughly half the songs including “I Don’t Believe in Love” and mega-hit “Eyes of a Stranger”, and frankly – was sorely lacking in the “Mindcrime II” album that came out in 2006. I’ll be surprised if he gets his due credit.

Still, it’s a great album that I’ve had the luxury of seeing performed live on three occasions – the first being the epic tour where Queensryche opened for Metallica (who were promoting “And Justice For All”). That double bill was probably one of the 5 greatest shows I’ve ever seen and the tour shirt listing both bands is the crown jewel of my sizable t-shirt collection.

Music Review: Deadsea – Deadsea [Chrome Leaf]

Hailing from my hometown of Columbus, Ohio is the enigmatic and talented threesome known as Deadsea.  Difficult to pigeon-hole in a single genre, I settled on the word ‘Progressive’ although I could’ve just as easily gone with ‘Avantgarde’ or ‘Experimental’.  The self-titled disc has elements of Doom, Death, Thrash, Classical, Punk and even Jazz mixed into it’s multifarious tracklisting with songs ranging from ‘Assault’, which clocks in under two minutes, to the symphonic ‘Frozen Rivers’ which is well over 16! 

The band was founded by veteran musician/composer Adam Smith, who handles vocals & guitar while accompanied on bass by longtime associate J. Alex Conley and percussionist Jeremy Spears.  Their songs fuse together the band members varied influences and interests into cerebral mutations of impressive musicianship and emotional capriciousness, reminiscent of legendary forerunners Opeth, a sludgier Anathema or perhaps a more cleanly vocaled variant of Chuck Schuldiner’s pioneering Death.  

Upon reviewing the disc, my first thoughts concerned the difficulty in anticipating how the melodies would unfold.   The time changes are many and each song seems to consist of multiple hooks and/or movements such that a lesser band would’ve tried to churn them into individual (and more tedious) pieces.  Interestingly, Deadsea chooses to ignore status quo and produce more erratic yet technically sophisticated entries that weave an aural web that is both intriguing and complicated.  Smitty’s guitar work is admirable, at times crunchy and fast, other times more careful and emotive.  Vocally, he tends to follow the more difficult path of actually SINGING and proving his range rather than relying on throaty growls and indiscernable gibbering - not that there isn’t a little bit of that as well.  Lyrically he sings of common themes – mysticism, vengeance and death, but chooses his phrasing effectively and avoids unnecessary wordiness.  His colleagues in crime Conley & Spears play tightly and like Smith avoid repetition and cliche by challenging themselves with parts made intentionally more ambitious.

My favorite pieces are the aforementioned opus ‘Frozen Rivers’, which despite it’s length offers a wide range of rhythmic variation and textured instrumentation, as well as the thrashy ‘Coming Home’, the powerful ‘Killing Faith (Crying Death) and the haunting instrumental ‘The Morning Frost’.

For a ‘local’ act, this is first rate material presented professionally and as adeptly as anything out there.  After repeat plays, I still find something new to standout with each listen and myself more and more impressed by the effort.

You can hear them yourself on their myspace page or purchase the CD at the band’s official homepage www.deadsearising.com.

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Torman Maxt – The Problem of Pain Part I [Mars Hill]

The third album from Christian Progressive rockers Torman Maxt is the first of a two part concept piece entitled ‘The Problem of Pain Part I’. Part II is apparently already written and will be released sometime in 2008. Anyhow, despite their own admission as being progressive rock, this offering is not your run-of-the-mill ‘progressive’ cd. In fact – the term doesn’t truly bely the style or nature of the work at all. To me, their sound is more of an interesting mix of classic rock (such as admitted influences Rush, King’s X and possibly old Styx) with a dash of southern rock, some decent oldschool metal and even maybe a little electronic/ambient thrown in for good measure.

The disc is inspired by the book of the same name by C.S. Lewis and is a musical retelling of the story of Job from the Old Testament. Lewis is even quoted on the back of the cd case, in case there was any lingering doubt. However, the band’s approach is accessible whatever your religious orientation as they’re not preachy but instead focus on emotion and the well. . . spiritual. This is a thinking man’s band, make no mistake, and if you’re hoping to just ‘rock out’ – you’ll be missing their point entirely. Rather, you’d be better served to put on your headphones, relax in a chair and let the songs play.

Torman Maxt (and I can find nothing to explain what the name is about) consists of the brothers Massaro – Tony on guitar & vocals, Dominic on bass & keyboards and Vincent on drums. Musically, they’re a tight, incredibly talented trio owing much to Geddy Lee and co. while still striking out with a sound that’s really all their own, and somewhat difficult to describe.

Like the two earlier albums “Just Talking About the Universe. . .so far” & “The Foolishness of God”, “Problem of Pain part I” is broken down into segments that each tell a portion of the story. Chapter One (“Prologue”) starts off with the intriguing electronic/guitar jam instrumental “Overture”, which for all the world reminds me of ‘Come Sail Away’ by Styx – and I mean that as a good thing. Many layered guitar parts and a nice energy level make this one hard not to groove along with. Next is “Job’s Song” which also features some excellent riffs and has Tony channeling a nasally Geddy Lee. This one will haunt your mind after you’ve heard it a time or two, so be warned.
The next chapter (“Job’s First Test”) starts with “The Angel’s First Song”, a happy little ditty featuring a nice multi-vocal arrangement and some good acoustic work. Following that is my favorite song on the cd, “Satan’s First Song” (surprised?). Don’t let the slower intro fool you, this song gets to jamming and is probably the best showcase for how well the brothers play as a cohesive unit. There is also an unusual bridge in the middle with strange guitar echos and a sinister bassline.
Chapter 3 (“Job’s First Response”) starts off with “Job’s Initial Shock”, another one of my favorites – what can I say, I’m a sucker for the minor key stuff. Like ‘Satan’s First Song” before it, this has some really great fretwork as well as an infectious drum beat. Next, “Job’s Resolve” has a more 70’s classic rock sound and a pretty catchy chorus.
“Job’s Commitment” and the following chapter (“Job’s Second Test”), consisting of the songs “The Angel’s Second Song” & “Satan’s Second Song”, are intentionally remniscent of the earlier “Job’s Song”, “The Angel’s First Song” and “Satan’s First Song”. There are minor variations both musically and lyrically (different intros, or no creepy echoes as in “Satan’s Second Song”) but one does get a strong sense of deja vu’ that might be considered a drawback. It does, however underline the repetition of the second set of tests to which Job was subjected – a kind of “here we go again” in the story.
Chapter five (“Job’s Second Response”) begins with “Job’s Contemplation”, a nice albeit short, instrumental interlude. Then we have “Job’s Second Response”, wherein Job explains why he will not curse God’s name despite the challenges before him. This song starts out with a dual guitar intro but transitions midway into a softer acoustic piece which reminds me of early rock opera (and Tony’s voice reminds me of actor/songwriter Richard O’brien’s here, for some reason). “Job’s Wife” follows, a slower paced piece sung from the perspective of . . .you guessed it, Job’s wife as she questions her husband’s blind loyalty. Lastly is “A Great Silence”, a slow starting jammer that at first echoes influences by Jesus Christ Superstar and Alex Lifeson, then stops on a dime, morphing into a somber Vangelis-like electronic finale (excellently played by Dominic).

In fact, many of the songs seem to have two halves, and one can be misled by the tone in the first only to find something totally new in the second. This is so much the case that the entire disc bears repeat listenings to appreciate the subtle, complicated structure that has been crafted around well written and thoughtful lyrics.
I have to commend Torman Maxt for taking a different approach to a story where it would be easy to fall into cliche’. On the contrary, what is presented is a professionally produced journey into the testing of faith that defies easy categorization, or dismissal. Without wearing religion on their sleeves, the band takes their rock and roll message and makes it palatible for larger consumption. And they’re not hurting C.S. Lewis’ sales either – I just ordered the book off of Amazon!
I look forward to hearing part II. . .and you should too! But in the meantime, to hear a sample of Torman Maxt for yourself, I encourage you to go their homepage (www.tormanmaxt.com) or their myspace (myspace.com/tormanmaxt) and indulge.