Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Alesana – ‘Confessions’

alesana confessions

Curtain up. This is the end you’ve all been waiting for. After two previous installments–The Emptiness (2010), A Place Where The Sun Is Silent (2011)–The Annabel Trilogy comes to a close with Alesana‘s fifth studio record, Confessions. Shawn Milke (vocals, guitar, piano) himself described the new record as “a panic attack” in our recent interview, and while he certainly didn’t exaggerate, Confessions is far more enjoyable than that. True, the eleven song compilation pushes the boundaries of comfort at times with dissonance and complicated structures (“The Acolyte,” “Through The Eyes Of Uriel”), but those alienating moments are relieved by catchier, pop-ier, more easily digestible sequences (“The Goddess,” “Fatal Optimist”) that effectively complete the conceptual masterpiece.

Much like A Place Where The Sun Is Silent, if you go into Confessions with the mindset you’ll be listening to an album, you probably won’t have the best time. Most tracks have more in common with movements of a score than actual rock songs, just as their creators are more akin to composers than standard hardcore musicians. You may have to listen to it several times before a good deal of the record sinks in in a satisfying way, but each time you will discover new, exciting elements. From humorous lines like “Dearest love I hope this finds you well/ I am kidding, this is probably Hell” (“Paradox”), to nursery rhyme melodies (“Through The Eyes Of Uriel”), and even reincorporating the single “Fatima Rusalka” into the Annabel narrative (“Fatal Optimist”), Confessions is an emotionally exhausting and surprising journey front to back.

While the album opens on an incredibly strong, entrancing note with “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night,” we turn our greatest attention to the closer (“THIS IS THE FINAL ACT!”), “Catharsis.” Like The Emptiness‘s “Annabel,” the last piece of the puzzle is expectedly epic, reaching the height of drama in a symphony of menacing whispers, desperate screams, racing guitar lines, and building drums. Yet after one of the most well-developed climaxes in post-hardcore history, the ending (Spoiler Alert) comes as a shock difficult to grapple with. After the hours of complexity Alesana have given us over three volumes, it all comes to a finish in the throws of bitter irony and a vanishing act. Dennis Lee (vocals) screams the tragic, “Did man even notice as he was erased?” and with a poof, all is over. My first reaction: “WHAT?!” My reaction after listening to it about seven times: “That’s actually brilliant.”

Honestly, this review could take up dozens of pages to accurately represent all that Alesana have done here, but for the sake of being somewhat brief, what you need to know is this: Alesana have created a work. Over the years, they’ve strung together an entire universe thread by thread, and how many other bands can say that?

Four and Half Star Rating

Review: While She Sleeps — ‘Brainwashed’

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When an album’s opening lines are “We are the underground,” impeccable song structure, high instrumental sophistication, and even a chanting choral ode reminiscent of Viking culture are probably the last things you’d expect. However, the UK-based While She Sleeps was able to deliver the impressively unexpected masterpiece that makes up their sophomore release Brainwashed with all of the above.

About three years from the release of their debut record This Is The Six, While She Sleeps has proven the wait was worth it. While Brainwashed is first and foremost a metalcore album, the stereotypes associated with that genre are as far from this record as possible.  Brainwashed is a pleasant mix of tones and layers reminiscent of both The Poison-era Bullet For My Valentine and Sempiternal-era Bring Me The Horizon. Gone are metalcore’s djenty breakdowns and cliché uses of clean and unclean vocal song structures. In place are thrashy, fast paced hard hitters (“Method In Madness”), rolling guitar melodies with heavy cymbal emphasis (“Torment”), and riffs and solos that round out fuller hooks (“Brainwashed”).

From groove metal back beats (“New World Torture”) to the communal vocals echoed by the entire band (“Your Evolution”) each track off of Brainwashed is more like an extended chapter to a novel than a stand alone song.  Hell, they even include a piano instrumental interlude (“Kangaezu Ni”) to broaden the record’s sound spectrum.

While She Sleeps not only creates a sonically beautiful work, but also transcends the choral and communal nature of their album into their lyrics.  “Our unity is divided” vocalist Lawrence “Loz” Taylor shouts on “New World Torture,” a sentiment followed by lines like “If you want words to live your life by/walk with me/walk with me” (“Our Legacy”) and “You’ll get out what you give in” (“Life In Tension”) .

This is easily the best material put forth by While She Sleeps and shows tremendous promise for any upcoming live shows as well as future recordings.

Go download: “Method In Madness”

4.5/5 stars.

Four and Half Star Rating

Review: OPHEON – ‘As I Walk With Fire’

EP Cover

While modern metalcore seems to be gravitating more to the -core side of the spectrum, budding Birmingham ensemble Opheon deliver a refreshing and much-needed take on metalcore proper, where intricate guitar work and heavy symbol usage reign bloody and supreme. Though the vocals sometimes dip into melodic hardcore textures and they even work in their own take on breakdowns in “The Distance” and “A Portrait Of Self Hate,” it is the versatility and prominence of the guitars, the intensely varied and seamless syncopations, and the sheer speed of the work that put the ‘metal’ in ‘metalcore’ on this EP.

With the exception of the one slow song on the record (“The Answer”), As I Walk With Fire is the very definition of brutal. The EP hearkens back to the glory days of acts like Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and Lamb Of God, reaching insane heights with the last song, “Lost In Undertow.” This song is the crowning achievement of the EP in terms of showcasing the virtuosity of nearly every instrumentalist. Between the catchy yet searing chorus, the almost inhuman double bass, and the masterful oscillation between devastating squealing and shredding and the slower, chugging grooves, there is so much dimension in this one five minute track it is practically impossible to believe most of the members are only around 19 years old.

Though the bass guitar tends to get lost and the vocals need to be tightened before slow songs become their strong suit, As I Walk With Fire demonstrates incredible talent and crushing tenacity. As yet unsigned, Opheon surely won’t remain so for long.

4/5 stars.

Four Star Rating

Review: Falling In Reverse – ‘Just Like You’

falling5 After Falling In Reverse’s entry into the music world and Ronnie Radke’s triumphant return with The Drug In Me Is You and their sophomore release, the electronic rapcore enigma that was Fashionably Late, it seemed unlikely that Radke would be able to top his two prior epics with a third full length.  While 2015’s Just Like You upholds the classic Radke aesthetic found within his early days of Escape The Fate, it doesn’t quite hold up to the innovative and controversial sounds that Falling In Reverse has become known for. Just Like You is the poster child of playing it safe. Tracks like “Chemical Prisoner” are catchy as hell and include the signature Jacky Vincent guitar solo FIR fans have grown to love.  Apart from directly quoting the line “Days go by” from Ronnie’s previous track with rapper B. Lay, the song is fun and energetic, but lacks the sonic bite that challenges the listener.  The same problems arise with tracks like “God, If You Are Above…” and “Wait and See.” As the album progresses, FIR attempt to tackle a heavier sound, most notably in “Guillotine IV (The Final Chapter).” FIR finally close the ongoing “Guillotine” song series, a series that originated on the first Escape The Fate full length and had two follow ups with Craig Mabbitt behind the vocals rather than Radke.  Somewhat overthought, the “Guillotine IV” feels more like a track made just because Radke could write it rather than to serve any real purpose apart from letting the new Escape The Fate get the last word. While tracks like “Brother” and “Get Me Out” feel dated and reminiscent of the height of the emo craze, singles like “Sexy Drug” and “Just Like You” capitalize on Radke’s snarky lyrical witticisms.  Just Like You‘s title track is a classic FIR song that lets the world know what we’ve all known for a while: Ronnie Radke is an asshole.  Though it’s a highly publicized fact, hearing Radke cleverly string together the words “I am aware that I am an asshole/I really don’t care about all of that though” in a catchy chorus is one of the major highlights that remind the listener this may be a safe play album for FIR, but as an album overall, it’s a solid effort.

3/5 stars.

Three Star Rating

Review: Stick To Your Guns – ‘Disobedient’

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Stream ‘Disobedient’ at AltPress 

A band that have been and remain socially conscious to a point of great inspiration, Stick To Your Guns deliver an album which ignites passion equivalent to the kind it took to make it, inciting thought, and greater still, action from beginning to end. Not only is it a well-crafted installment in terms of composition and sound, but it does what truly impressive hardcore records do—it interacts. ‘Disobedient’ is not just a product but a living, breathing tool of engagement. It creates a dialogue, it establishes connection in energetic, honest, and heartfelt terms. STYG have not only recorded songs but they’ve captured a spirit. This is the kind of record that is dismissive of the capitalistic demands of the music industry. It’s a record that sounds like it was made purely because there was a need for it to be made, and to borrow from “I Choose No One,” made from men, not machines.

Each track is not widely different from the others; a quality generally to the detriment of a record, but not here. Rather, each song builds upon the last as one sustained effort. ‘Disobedient’ reveals itself to the listener more as a speech being dramatically delivered by an activist at a podium (emphasized by the intermittent sound bites sampled from a 1974 conversation between Jiddu Krishnamurti and Dr. Allen W. Anderson, transcript HERE) than a standard album. Even the effects put on the vocals serve at points to make it sound as though Jesse Barnett were shouting through a megaphone.

The record opens with the chanting vocals and warlike drums of “It Starts With Me,” as if to prepare us to enter battle with STYG as our leaders–and you better be okay with that. “What Choice Did You Give Us,” “Nothing You Can Do To Me,” and “The War Inside” are declaratory and combustible, provoking a guilty conscience should your feet remain on the ground. “Left You Behind” offers a softer conclusion to the record, a poetic and symphonic gesture that begs the listener to start from the beginning again and take it all in, which this reviewer highly seconds.

5/5 stars.

Five Star Rating

Review: Palisades – ‘Mind Games’

Mind Games

‘Mind Games’ Album Stream

As a hardcore kid, turning up with friends who aren’t into heavy music can ignite a bit of an identity crisis. Parties can be hard to navigate if you aren’t the biggest fan of Top 40, and some people won’t be enthused when you try to blast Bring Me The Horizon instead. The answer to the riddle of how to get by as a hardcore kid who also likes to go hard is Palisades’ new album, Mind Games.

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