Sunday, October 28, 2012

Breed 77 - Under The Skin

Breed 77
Under The Skin
Independent Release

Despite releasing some highly regarded albums over the last eight years, and achieving some success on the charts, Gibraltar/U.K. based outfit Breed 77 is still considered a fairly underground act outside of the U.K. And that’s a real shame, because when it comes to mixing traditional flamenco influences into an alternative metal template, Breed 77 have a sound that’s really quite interesting, and totally unique. But while the band has yet to achieve success on a global level, it isn’t for a lack of trying, with the five piece act (Comprising of lead vocalist Paul Isola, guitarists/backing vocalists Danny Felice and Pedro Caparros L√≥pez, bassist Stuart Cavilla and drummer/percussionist Andre Joyzi) maintaining a busy tour schedule and continuing to release something new for their fans.
In the lead up to the release of their fifth full-length effort ‘The Evil Inside’ (Which was due towards the tail end of this year, but pushed back to 2013 after signing with Global Music/Demolition Records in August), Breed 77 have put together an exclusive E.P. for diehard fans who signed up for the band’s pledge campaign.
Entitled ‘Under The Skin’, Breed 77’s latest E.P. release brings together a collection of old, new and a couple of covers, all of which are delivered in acoustic form, but with the band’s unique flamenco style giving the songs that truly special twist on the familiar.
The band opens up their latest E.P. in a somewhat energetic manner with ‘Remember That Day’ (Which originally appeared on 2006’s ‘In My Blood (En Mi Sangre)’). Even with the use of acoustic guitars in favour of electrics, the edgy vibe of the song is remarkably maintained through Isola’s powerful vocals, the duel guitar playing and flamenco tones and the subtle percussive undertones.
‘Low’ is an exclusive preview of what fans can expect from ‘The Evil Inside’, and it’s a track that will no doubt impress. With the band’s traditional influences taking a backseat, shades of Alice In Chains can be clearly heard within the slow paced number, while the equally downbeat track ‘The River’ (From 2004’s ‘Cultura’) loses none of its power and emotion in its new format.
If there’s one song on the E.P. that I don’t think quite translates as well as I had hoped in an acoustic remake it would be ‘One More Time’ (From 2009’s ‘Insects’). Although far from a complete disaster (Musically, the band sound great), Isola seems to struggle a little with the lower key notes, and overall sound a little too bare within the song.
‘Missing Me’ is an interesting inclusion here as it only appeared on the earMusic/iTunes re-release of ‘Insects’, but nonetheless a worthy addition to the track listing, while the fantastic ‘La Ultima Hora’ (From ‘Cultura’) is every bit as impressive as its original electric counterpart.
Finishing up the E.P. is a couple of covers, with the first being the band’s rendition of Faith No More’s ‘Last Cup Of Sorrow’ (From 1997’s ‘Album Of The Year’), which is a faithful and rather enjoyable rendition. The second cover is Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘No More Tears’ (From his 1991 album of the same name), which by any terms is an ambitious move, but surprisingly well done.
Although it falls short of generating anywhere near as much excitement as a brand new full-length album of originals, ‘Under The Skin’ is a rewarding release that fans will enjoy immensely, and the perfect way to tide over those who have been waiting patiently since 2009 for something new from the band.

For more information on Breed 77, check out - http://www.breed77.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 15, 2012

It Bites - Map Of The Past

It Bites
Map Of The Past
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

When U.K. based progressive rock/pop rock outfit It Bites marked their return to the music scene with ‘The Tall Ships’ after a nineteen year break, few were expecting too much from the veteran act. After all, the band were hardly what you would call a household name outside their native U.K., and vocalist/guitarist/principal songwriter Francis Dunnery had long parted ways with the group to focus on his successful solo career. But to almost everyone’s surprise, ‘The Tall Ships’ (Released in 2008 on Inside Out Music) proved that It Bites were a band that could once again reinvent themselves (Much like they did so many times before), and that Arena/Frost* vocalist/guitarist John Mitchell was more than capable of filling in the role vacated by Dunnery some twenty-two years ago.
Four years on, and three live releases later (2010’s ‘This Is Japan’, 2010 ‘Deutche Live!’ and 2011’s D.V.D./C.D. package ‘It Happened One Night’), and It Bites (Who now comprise of Mitchell, bassist/backing vocalist Lee Pomeroy, keyboardist/backing vocals John Beck and drummer/backing vocals Bob Dalton) are back with their long awaited second comeback/fifth release ‘Map Of The Past’. And again, It Bites continue to impress in a major way.
The opening track ‘Man In The Photograph’ brings to the fore the theme that runs throughout the album (A personal insight into the emotions conveyed through the eyes of an older generation of Brits as the U.K. enters a new century), and takes the listener on a trip through time with its various war-time radio samples, rich keyboard tones, military drums and Mitchell’s husky/emotive Peter Gabriel-like vocal delivery. The song is not quite what you would expect for an opener to the album, but definitely a worthy choice nonetheless.
‘Wallflower’ brings the band’s sound into the present with plenty of classic sounding Hammond keyboards, dramatic strings and some subtle progressive guitar riffs. Melodies wise, Mitchell tones back the harmonies a bit compared to anything from ‘The Tall Ships’, but keeps things catchy enough to make the song stand out for all the right reasons.
The title track ‘Map Of The Past’ veers a little more towards the band’s more accessible and pop/rock sound, but features enough progressive elements and melody to stay on the path to win listeners over, while the slower paced ballad ‘Clocks’ brings to mind Ray Wilson era Genesis, but with a twist with the addition of fairground sounds in its latter half.
The up-tempo ‘Flag’ is a good song, but definitely not a favourite with the overabundance of keyboards over guitars in the mix (Which inevitably gives the song a bit of an ‘80’s pop/rock sound), but the band do redeem themselves with the hard hitting and dramatic ‘The Big Machine’ and the simple melodic charm of the infectious ‘Cartoon Graveyard’.
The heavily orchestrated and multi-layered vocal leanings of ‘Send No Flowers’ again brings to mind Gabriel era Genesis with a touch of Queen in places (Which strangely enough works quite well), while the lengthy ‘Meadow And The Steam’ is by far the most progressive rock based piece on the album (In other words, Genesis like), and undoubtedly a definite favourite.
Mitchell brings a lot of emotion into the touching piano based ‘The Last Escape’ which could easily have been mistaken as an outtake from some long lost Frost* sessions, while the acoustic based closer ‘Exit Song’ is simply beautiful.
It Bites have never been the easiest of acts to pin down in the musical sense due to their constant evolution of sound and style. But on the strength of the band’s last couple of releases, It Bites seem to have found a sound that works for them, and one they’re obviously keen to build upon.
While I’m not entirely convinced that their latest release eclipses the brilliance of ‘The Tall Ships’, ‘Map Of The Past’ is still an excellent release, and one that no fan should overlook.

For more information on It Bites, check out - http://www.itbites.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Slash (Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators) - Apocalyptic Love (Deluxe Edition)

Slash (Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators)
Apocalyptic Love (Deluxe Edition)
Dik Hayd Records/Sony Music Entertainment Australia

Few would dispute that Slash is a great guitarist and song writer. After all, he played a major role in shaping the original Guns N’ Roses’ classic hard rock sound. But being a guitar legend isn’t the be all/end all to making truly inspired music, with Slash’s post Guns N’ Roses career regarded as patchy at best. To put it in simple terms, his work with Slash’s Snakepit (1995’s ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere’ and 2000’s ‘Ain’t Life Grand’) were quite enjoyable and solid efforts, but his efforts with Velvet Revolver (2004’s ‘Contraband’ and 2007’s ‘Libertad’) and his last solo album (2010’s ‘Slash’) were downright forgettable.
It was quite obvious that vocalist/rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy (Ex-The Mayfield Four/Alter Bridge) was the definite star on Slash’s last effort (Kennedy sang on two of the album’s tracks), and this was further reinforced when Slash took Kennedy out on the road in support of the album (Which was documented on 2010’s ‘Live In Manchester’ album and 2011’s live D.V.D. ‘Live In Stoke 24/7/11’).
Given the strength of Slash’s most recent live band, and Slash’s own past track record, I was really interested to see what magic Slash, Kennedy and his band The Conspirators (Comprising of bassist/backing vocals Todd Kerns and drummer/pianist Brent Fitz) could conjure up in the studio. And in short, ‘Apocalyptic Love’ is without a doubt Slash’s strongest solo effort to date.
The album opens up in classic rock fashion with the driving title track ‘Apocalyptic Love’. The funk edged riffing is classic Slash in sound, while Kennedy’s killer vocals and melodies give the song a dimension that has at times been lacking in Slash’s past efforts.
From here, the objective is simple – Dish out some classic riffs, make the songs rock and catchy enough to sing along to. And sure enough, Slash and his band deliver their promise on every track.
‘One Last Thrill’ is a great fast paced cut with Kennedy giving the track a bit of punk attitude with his snarled vocals, while tracks such as ‘You’re A Lie’, ‘No More Heroes’, ‘We Will Roam’, the slow blues-like groove of ‘Bad Rain’, the energetic ‘Shots Fired’ and speeding/high octane ‘Hard & Fast’ are all first class hard rockers.
But while there’s plenty of hard rock delivered throughout the album, Slash and Kennedy have managed to venture a little outside the predictable hard rock format, with Slash providing some inspiring extended acoustic and electric fretwork on ‘Anastasia’, while on the melancholy ‘Not For Me’ and ‘Far And Away’, the combined talents of Kennedy and Slash really produce some of the album’s truly exceptional and memorable efforts.
On the deluxe edition version of ‘Apocalyptic Love’, the album is bolstered by an additional two tracks and a D.V.D.
The first track ‘Carolina’ is a great tune that has a distinctly ‘70’s vibe with its funky guitar sounds and groove via a talk box, while the second track ‘Crazy Life’ is a anthem-like rocker, and a perfect track to close the album with.
The D.V.D. is a twenty-eight minute making of ‘Apocalyptic Love’, which gives fans an inside perspective on those within the band (All of whom are surprisingly ego free and easy going) and a brief rundown on the making of the album. The D.V.D. is hardly groundbreaking, but a cool bonus.
Slash’s legendary status as a guitarist has never been denied. But in terms of solo output, it’s clear that a great guitarist will never make up for a shortfall in quality song writing. But while Slash has failed to deliver a truly consistent album in the past, his latest effort alongside Kennedy has finally shown what can be done with the right co-conspirator.
Slash isn’t reinventing himself one bit on ‘Apocalyptic Love’, but he has at last made a consistent and truly enjoyable kick ass classic hard rock album. And really, that’s exactly what I was hoping for from Slash.

For more information on Slash, check out - http://www.slashonline.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silversun Pickups - Neck Of The Woods

Silversun Pickups
Neck Of The Woods
Dangerbird Records/Warner Music Australia

There are plenty of acts on today’s music scene that have taken their lead from the popular alternative rock sound that dominated the better part of the ‘90’s, reworked it and presented their reinvented sound to a whole new generation of listeners. But while a few of these so called new alternative rock outfits have caught my attention, none have completely captivated quite in the way Los Angeles (California, U.S.) outfit Silversun Pickups have.
On the strength of a couple of songs I heard on the radio, I picked up their debut full-length effort ‘Carnavas’ (2006), and was impressed with what the band had to offer throughout. Needless to say, I was keen to hear the band’s sophomore effort, and duly purchased ‘Swoon’ (2009) as soon as it was released. I expected big things from the band with the album, and I wasn’t let down one bit.
It’s been another three year wait since ‘Swoon’ for something new from the band (If you excluded their three track E.P. ‘Seasick’ from 2011 that is). But after what seems to be a deliberate move not to hastily release anything before its ready, the four piece outfit (Comprising of lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist/backing vocalist Nikki Monninger, keyboardist/sampler/sound manipulator Joe Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao) has returned with their all important third full-length release ‘Neck Of The Woods’.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Neck Of The Woods’ on first listen. The album was good, but the darker vibe of the songs and the lack of immediacy within the choruses was a stark contrast to the appealing aspects of the band’s former releases. But despite my initial impressions of the album, I persevered, and over time, I was eventually convinced of the band’s continually evolving sound and direction from album to album.
‘Skin Graph’ is the opener on the album, and the first to showcase the band’s unwillingness to go for the obvious, and make the audience work a little at digging beneath the song’s tough exterior. After a gentle build-up, the song finally gets underway – and while the verses do seem to have the familiar melodic edge over downplayed guitar riffs, downbeat moods and rhythmic/drumming dynamics, the chorus is somewhat stripped back and harder edged than anything the band have ever presented before. The song is definitely a winner on the heavy front, but the chorus does take a little time to really unfold.
The follow-up track ‘Make Believe’ maintains the minimalist approach the band adopted in their song writing on the opener, but makes up for the absence of rock on its first half with an all-out full-on guitar drenched second half, while the single ‘Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)’ is almost a bridging track between old and new sounds, with Lester’s swathing keyboards and gorgeous chorus pop melodies.
But while the band have stripped their sound back in a lot of places, it’s never been at the cost of the guitars as the band do turn up the heat on tracks such as the driving ‘Busy Bees’, the distortion drenched/mechanical ‘Mean Spirits’, the sinister ‘Gun-Shy Sunshine’ and the powerful and stunning closer ‘Out Of Breath’.
Elsewhere, ‘Dots And Dashes (Enough Already)’ straddles the fine line between pop and alternative rock with considerable ease, while on the sparse ‘Here We Are (Chancer)’ and ‘The Pit’, the band flirt with programmed drum beats and synthesised sounds to create something completely different from what would normally be expected of the group, and push their sound in avenues previously unexpected.
‘Neck Of The Woods’ is exactly the sort of album you would expect from Silversun Pickups given the progression between their first two albums. It’s far from an instant album (Like ‘Swoon’), and far from a carbon copy of what has worked for the band in the past. What it is however, is a darker and more adventurous new effort, and the kind of album that rewards those who are willing to allow the songs to reveal their subtle intricacies and shrouded melodies with time.

For more information on Silversun Pickups, check out - http://silversunpickups.com/

© Justin Donnelly