Monday, January 28, 2013

Early Graves - Red Horse

Early Graves
Red Horse
No Sleep Records

When San Francisco (California, U.S.) act Early Graves released their second full-length album ‘Goner’ midway through 2010 (The follow up to 2008’s ‘We: The Guillotine’, and released through Ironclad Recordings/Metal Blade Records), things were looking up for the band. The record was getting a positive response, and the band was really starting to make their presence felt out on the road in front of audiences with their new material. But for all the momentum the band were making, it all came to a screaming halt when the van the band were travelling in from Oregon to Nevada was involved in an accident and claimed the life of vocalist Makh Daniels.
As you would expect, the band went on an indefinite hiatus to deal with the loss of their front man and friend, and contemplate the band’s future. It would take a full twelve months before the band announced their return, with John Strachan (Who is the vocalist for The Funeral Pyre, and the band who were sharing the same bus with Early Graves at the time of the accident) taking on the role as the band’s new front man.
A year on, and Early Graves (Who comprise of Strachan, guitarist/backing vocalist Chris Brock, guitarist Tyler Jensen, bassist Matt O’Brien and drummer Dan Sneddon) is back with their all-important third full-length effort (And No Sleep Records debut) ‘Red Horse’.
Any significant change of guard within in a band will have an effect on the said band’s sound. And that’s certainly the case with Early Graves’ new album. While it’s obvious that the vocals mark a significant factor in the change of sound on ‘Red Horse’, it’s far from the only change the album presents as a whole. The opening track ‘Skinwalker’ boasts a gentle and slow building instrumental piece at the start that is best described as a calming interlude prior to the inevitable oncoming storm, and it’s here that you can see that the band have made some attempts to inject a little more technicality to the guitarists roles. When the song eventually kicks in, it’s Sneddon that steals the show with some crushing drum work that rivals the pulverising blasts of raw guitar, while small pockets of shred can be heard here and there in the wall of metallic hardcore noise. Needless to say, Strachan has a clearly different sounding voice to that of Daniels, and the change is something that some fans may take a bit of getting used to. But while that may be so - it has to be said that Strachan does a stellar job in his new role. His vitriolic bark brings to mind shades of Converge’s Jacob Bannon, and that’s never a bad thing.
The follow up track ‘Misery’ is a definite stand out with its meaty metallic riffs and that trading vocals between Strachan and Brock, while the death ‘n’ roll/punk vibe ‘Days Grow Cold’ and the punishing groove of the title track ‘Red Horse’ keeps plenty of variation in the opening half of the album.
Both ‘Apocalyptic Nights’ and the moody and stripped back ‘Death Obsessed’ represent a new sound for Early Graves, with melody playing a bigger role within the band’s overall crushing metallic sound, while ‘Pure Hell’ quite literally lives up to its name as one of the album’s more extreme sounding efforts.
Finishing up the album is the rather lengthy ‘Quietus’ (Which runs for just a touch over six minutes), which initially starts out in a violent metallic manner, before trailing out with an instrumental second half that allows Brock and Jensen to showcase their abilities to inject some melody into their leads.
If there’s a bone to pick with ‘Red Horse’, it’s the rather rough and raw sounding production. I would have liked to have heard a bit more clarity in the band’s sound, but when you take into account the progression the band have made as song writers since their last release, and Strachan’s fit within the band out front, it’s hardly a major concern in the grand scheme of things.

For more information on Early Graves, check out – http://www.earlygraves.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bad Religion - True North

Bad Religion
True North
Epitaph Records

The punk rock scene is a fairly transient one, with band’s coming and going at a rate that’s hard to keep a track of at the best of times. But if there was one true fixture over the ever changing landscape of the punk rock scene, it would have to be Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based outfit Bad Religion. Three years after the success of their last full-length release ‘The Dissent Of Man’, the six piece act (Comprising of vocalist Greg Graffin, guitarists Brett Gurewitz, Brian Baker and Greg Hetson, bassist Jay Bentley and drummer Brooks Wackerman) has returned with their latest effort ‘True North’. And as expected, the legendary band proves beyond any doubt that inspiration and the fire within the band still exists.
The opening title track ‘True North’ is a fast paced blast from the past, with the aggression stepped up a bit from their more recent efforts; bringing back memories of some of their older material. But while the aggression is a little closer to the surface, the slick and melodic backing vocals (Graffin, Gurewitz and Bently’s signature ‘Oozin’ Aahs’) keep the song in line with their more recent sound and direction.
Despite its slow introduction, ‘Past Is Dead’ is every bit as hard hitting as the opener in terms of its speed and aggression, while ‘Robin Hood In Reverse’ is classic Bad Religion, and could have easily slotted onto any of the band’s albums from the early ‘90’s.
In terms of highlights, the album is filled with its fair share of absolute gems. But tracks such as ‘Fuck You’ (The first single lifted from the album), the infectious punk/pop blast of ‘Crisis Time’, ‘Nothing To Dismay’, ‘Popular Consensus’ and ‘Land Of Endless Greed’ (Which boasts an awesome, albeit brief and simple, guitar solo) are by far the real picks of the faster paced material.
When it comes to some of the more mid-paced efforts, ‘Hello Cruel World’ is one of the rare moments on the album where the band deliberately put the brakes on, focussing their attention on a more deliberate sounding slower tempo and greater vocal melodies, while ‘Dept. Of False Hope’ is the only other track where Bad Religion lifts their foot off the accelerator.
The only other track worthy of singling out is ‘Dharma And The Bomb’, where Gurewitz takes on the role of lead vocalist. Although a little more rock orientated than anything else on the album, the track is obviously intended as nothing more than a short blast of fun, and on that level, it works a treat.
In terms of the punk rock scene, there are few bands that have remained as consistent throughout their career as Bad Religion. And as expected, ‘True North’, is another in a long line of enjoyable releases from the punk rock legends. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of Bad Religion, you’ll find plenty to enjoy on their latest album.

For more information on Bad Religion, check out – http://www.badreligion.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dark New Day - Hail Mary

Dark New Day
Hail Mary
Pavement Entertaniment, Inc.

When Dark New Day announced their formation in 2004, there was an air of expectation surrounding the group. And rightfully so, with the band coming across as something of a supergroup, with members of the group serving in acts such as Virgos Merlot (Lead vocalist/additional guitarist Brett Hestla), Sevendust (Lead guitarist/backing vocalist Clint Lowery), DoubleDrive (Rhythm guitarist/backing vocalist Troy McLawhorn), Stereomud, Stuck Mojo (Clint’s bassist/backing vocalist/brother Corey Lowery) and Skrape (Drummer/backing vocalist Will Hunt).
And while the band’s 2005 debut effort ‘Twelve Year Silence’ was hardly a groundbreaking piece of work, the release was a solid effort, and one that garnished enough praise and interest from the press and fans alike. Their follow up E.P. release ‘Black Porch (Acoustic Sessions)’, which was released in 2006, was an interesting diversion from the sound of their debut, and showcased another side of the band, helping build anticipation for their upcoming second full-length effort.
To most, the potential for the band to build and take their sound further was only a matter of time. But within the inner sanctum of Dark New Day, it was a completely different story, with various members of the band leaving the group to pursue other musical projects midway through the making of their second album.
Throughout the intervening years, Dark New Day have offered fans a taste of what they were working on prior to dissolving, and even went as far as to release two albums worth of material via official download sites (‘B-Sides’ and ‘Vicious Thoughts’), but without label support or a full-time commitment from the band members themselves, both albums were removed, and Dark New Day once again went into hibernation.
Fast forward to 2012, and Dark New Day announced their long awaited return with a new label (Goomba Music), who duly officially released their reworked ‘B-Sides’ album in the form of ‘New Tradition’.
Twelve months on, and Dark New Day are back once again with the highly anticipated ‘Hail Mary’ – which is the officially band sanctioned version of their long lost second full-length effort (Which was briefly released a few years back as ‘Vicious Thoughts’).
Long time followers of the band will already be familiar with what ‘Hail Mary’ has to offer up for the most part. After all, the album is virtually identical, barring a couple of tracks that have been reshuffled. But for those who didn’t get the chance to get the album the first time around, ‘Hail Mary’ is finally here.
The opening track ‘Goodbye’ provides a heavy start to the album, and is definitely one of the stand out cuts in the early half of the album with moody verse structures, huge melodic choruses and angular riffing throughout.
The follow on track ‘Anywhere’ is another strong effort, and while not too far removed in sound from the opener, does reveal a bit more of a melodic edge, and in some ways reminds me of Clint Lowery’s more recent solo outfit Call Me No One in direction.
Both ‘Vicious Thinking’ and ‘Simple’ are somewhat odd efforts from the band with a big Muse influence coming through, while the title track ‘Hail Mary’ sees a return to heavy territory via the sonic contrast between the sparse verses and the densely layered and guitar driven choruses.
Both ‘On My Way’ and ‘Dear Addy’ are two of the albums more radio friendly efforts, and therefore come across as a little out of place on the album. In other words, if there’s anything on the album that falls under the filler banner, these tracks would be prime candidates.
‘Saddest Song’ is an energetic hard rocker with a strong stand out chorus, as to is the full throttle ‘Outside’, while the band’s rendition of ‘Fiend’ on this album (Which originally appeared on 2011’s ‘New Tradition’ release) has been given a new coat of polish, with all of the raw edge of the original replaced with a slick production.
Finishing up the album is fairly unremarkable and melodic ‘Someday’ (Which was previously known as ‘Sunday’ on the ‘Vicious Thoughts’ release) and the rather predictable hard rocker ‘Give Me The World’.
As an album, ‘Hail Mary’ shows Dark New Day experimenting with their sound well beyond the confined sound of their debut. And that’s a good thing. The only real problem is that as a whole, ‘Hail Mary’ comes across as patchy, with the clash of direction making for an album of uneven tracks with little or no consistency whatsoever.
Despite this, fans who have always wondered where Dark New Day would go after the release of ‘Twelve Year Silence’ will find this release an audio revelation. Others however are unlikely to understand what all the fuss is about.

For more information on Dark New Day, check out - http://www.facebook.com/thedarknewday

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hour Of The Wolf - Decompositions Vol. II

Hour Of The Wolf
Decompositions Vol. II
Think Fast! Records

Following on from their ‘Decompositions Vol. 1’ compilation effort from last year, Prescott (Arizona, U.S.) based punk/rock outfit Hour Of The Wolf and Think Fast! Records have finally completed work on the long awaited second compilation effort - which is appropriately enough entitled ‘Decompositions Vol. II’.
As expected, this fifteen track release compiles the remaining bits and pieces of Hour Of The Wolf’s vast collection of recorded efforts on E.Ps, split releases and various one off recordings, with the first seven tracks on the album lifted from the band’s long out of print ‘Waste Makes Waste’ E.P. from 2007. It’s clear from the tracks that make up ‘Waste Makes Waste’ that the five piece act (Who comprise of vocalist Lance Merwin, guitarist/vocalist Addison Math, guitarist Hank, bassist Pat Callaway and drummer Dustin ‘Sweat’ Phillip Hanna) had stepped up their game since their previous effort (2006’s ‘Power Of The Wolf’ E.P.), with the band sounding sharper, more aggressive and overall that much more refined in terms of their song writing. But while some of the rougher edges had been smoothed out a little, the band’s trademark rock ‘n’ roll influenced hardcore sound is still very much intact, with tracks such as the raucous ‘Black Blood’, the melodic and anthem-like duo of ‘Set The Trash On Fire’ and ‘Blue Recluse’ and the heavy hitting destructive drive of ‘Heavy Living’ clear evidence of Hour Of The Wolf’s perfect mix of maturity and pure chaotic rock ‘n’ roll hardcore.
Interestingly enough, the two hidden bonus tracks on the ‘Waste Makes Waste’ E.P. are included here as tracks in their own right. The first is the rather short ‘William Wayne’ (Which is essentially a brief speech from actor John Wayne, who at the time is a little intoxicated to say the least), which is little more than filler at best. The second is the band’s cover of Mission Of Burma’s ‘That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate’ (From 1982’s ‘Vs.’), which is true to the original, but given a makeover with a distinctly Hour Of The Wolf edge.
The second half of this album compiles the three tracks that originally appeared on the band’s split effort alongside Lewd Acts back in 2008 (Both the catchy ‘Overload’ and the intense ‘War Machine’ are firm favourites!), before finishing up with a previously unreleased cover of Tom Petty And The Heatbreakers’ ‘I Need To Know’, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘Chainsaw Love’ (Which is reportedly an obscure remake of a long forgotten Brian Edward Gianelli/Bueno/All Autonomy track) and the humorous uncredited hidden track that goes by the title ‘Snake Man’.
Prior to getting ‘Decompositions Vol. 1’, I had no idea of who Hour Of The Wolf was. But after a couple of spins, I could honestly call myself a fan. Needless to say, ‘Decompositions Vol. II’ more than lives up to my expectations and I’ll be sure to keep a closer eye on the band’s movement for this moment on.

For more information on Hour Of The Wolf, check out – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hour-of-the-Wolf/136819514121

© Justin Donnelly