Our second installment of our Character Development series takes us to a world of evil turtles, magical pipes and lovable, bouncy lizards. What would your favorite, mustached, red-clad Italian plumber listen to as he flattens killer shrooms and smashes bricks in his efforts to save the beautiful princess Peach?
Everyone knows that when you’re headed to the beach, you’ve got to have a solid playlist for your ride. After all, half the fun of a road trip is blaring your favorite tracks on your way to your destination. So we’ve assembled 10 songs to help make your summer drive equal parts heavy and fun, with songs from R&B twinged Issues to metalheads Children of Bodom. Get your floaties on, folks. (PS–There might just be a BONUS VIDEO at the end…)
When was the last time you thought for yourself? Are you sure? Listen to Brainwashed, the new While She Sleeps record, and you may call your answer into question–and that’s the point. “We have all grown [up] being told exactly what to do in pretty much every single aspect of being alive,” says Sean Long, guitarist for the UK metal band, “leaving little room for pure creativity and fun, even though we are led to believe that we have freedom. We are trying to make people aware and to just take a step back and be conscious of the fact that not everything you hear or are told is what’s right or what you should do.”
The band’s against the grain ideas seem to be working in their favor, as Brainwashed has already met with some rave reviews across the board. The new record earned a 5K rating from Kerrang, 8/10 from Metal Hammer and Rocksound, and not to mention HXC Magazine‘s own 4.5/5 rating. The band challenge the listener with poetics as well as sheer heaviness, penning lyrics like “If you want words to live your life by/ Walk the graves, walk the graves / It’s written on the headstones/ Time waits for no one” (“Our Legacy”). While She Sleeps mean to throw you outside your comfort zone if only to urge you toward something better–“We are not lost/ There’s method in this madness” (“Method In Madness”)–and now’s the time to listen.
The devastating energy and merciless attitude of the songs are also part of what make it a stand up metal album, an aspect of the music that Long sites as coming out of some serious trials. “I think [it’s] because we have had such a wild year of struggle and confusion,” he says. “It most definitely shines through our music and also as friends. We are in this together and we like to think that people who like our music, too, are also in it with us.”
One such struggle was a 2014 surgery on vocalist Lawrence “Loz” Taylor’s vocal chords, which could have been enough to send any band spiraling. Whatever the troubles, though, While She Sleeps have clearly pulled through, and have even surpassed expectations, both physically and musically. The song “Four Walls” relies heavily on gospel style group chanting, while the entire fifteen track record is bracketed by strange chatter and noise in “The Divide” and “The Woods.” “‘The Divide’ is a presentation of chaos into order,” explains Long. “It’s making a stand on what we could do if we worked together. All the voices of ‘The Divide’ are the same voices to the next track in which they all sync up. It’s showing the two poles of what we can do together or against each other.” Citing his personal favorite tune as “Life In Tension” he insists, “For us it’s a triumphant album.”
Brainwashed is not only the result of the five members of While She Sleeps, but also the result of the impressive audio professionals who helped work on the album. Recording engineer Carl Bown (Trivium) and mixer Colin Richardson (Bullet For My Valentine, As I Lay Dying) provide influence that is immediately recognizable upon listening to the full album.
“Carl Bown is our boy,” Long takes care to emphasize. “[He is] one of the best guys we know. All of this talent under his belt and [he] is just a great guy. No ego blowing up everywhere which I hear all too much these days about people with talent. It really pisses me off that people do well then somehow lose themselves and think they are owed something or they are better than most. Carl knew from the start just how to keep our punk edge yet give it the real production it needed without losing any raw vibes.” The combined effort from all involved make Brainwashed what it is, an album designed to interrogate as much as to console.
Go and get your copy of the new record and catch While She Sleeps on the Vans Warped Tour this summer for a performance Long declares will be “fucking mental.” Until then, question everything and take his most pressing message to heart: “Simply be your own god.”
One of the best little things that can happen to a music buff is clicking a suggested video on YouTube and being pleasantly surprised by an unsigned band, as was the case with the UK-based Opheon. After being click-baited all over YouTube one day, I happened to stumble upon Opheon’s music video for “The Distance” and was immediately hooked.
“The Distance” pairs roaring riffs with a solid mixture of well-tuned cleans and pounding uncleans and is accompanied by a simplistic video that truly lets their complex sound round out the visuals. “It was pretty cool,” says vocalist and guitarist Liam O’Sullivan on filming for the video. “We did a photo shoot in this abandoned bomb factory from World War II and knew we had a music video coming up, and this was the best place we’d ever seen, so we ended up going back. It was like a half hour trek from where you can park to the factory, so with all the cameras and guitars and everything it was just horrendous to get there. Then we had to shoot for hours and take all the stuff back at like six in the morning so that was pretty long and tiring.” But the trek was definitely worth it as the video showcased a rising band with a hardcore twist on a classic metal vibe.
The quartet that makes up Opheon has only been together since the summer of 2013, and yet they’re making humongous strides with a sonic sophistication almost unheard of coming from a group of 19 and 20-year olds. Being heavily influenced by bands like Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage and Gojira, just listening to their latest EP, As I Walk With Fire, shows an appreciation for technicality so many up-and-coming bands feel they can overlook nowadays.
So how did these guys from Birmingham come together exactly? Like all great beginnings, it started randomly and unexpectedly. “Myself and Josh [Warhurst,] the other guitarist, were in the same class at school for like a year but we didn’t realize it,” explains O’Sullivan. “When we realized that we were in the same class we started playing guitar a bit and one thing led to another. We had a school concert in like 2008 and didn’t have a singer so I just thought I’d sing for it. And it was really bad. It’s on Youtube actually. [Laughs] So yeah, that’s quite funny, but that was it really.”
Shortly after settling upon their current lineup in 2013, the band was able to release two tracks, “We Are One” and “A New Hope,” which not only gained traction on the internet, but even got label heads turning Opheon’s way. “When we got scouted by the label they said the reason they liked us was they thought we were like a hardcore mash up of bands like Trivium and Killswitch Engage,” says the ever humble O’Sullivan still seemingly shocked by the deserving comparison. “We’d never really thought about that personally, we just sort of wrote the two songs out of nowhere and for them to think that of us was kind of cool. So when we started working on the EP [As I Walk With Fire], it was like we wanted to just build on that foundation about us that we didn’t realize we had going.”
When it came to recording As I Walk With Fire Opheon went above and beyond expectations by tossing conventions to the wind and revamping their sound in a far more melodic and technical direction. “Track six, ‘Lost in Undertow’ is the heaviest one,” notes O’Sullivan of his favorite song on the EP. “It’s kind of a groovy, Pantera, Machine Head, Lamb of God vibe. There’s no singing as well which is cool. It was more of a really angry song, and I thought it was sort of nice to not have a verse/chorus singing song. It’s different to the rest of the EP, so [as the EP’s last song] it’s got the heaviness fading out.”
Opheon always works to keep things as true to themselves as possible, even using artwork from a local artist friend of O’Sullivan’s to represent the cover of As I Walk With Fire. And when it comes to shows, Opheon is always prepared to bring the heat, whether it’s playing to five kids or an entirely booked out club show. “If it’s a pretty still, dormant crowd, we still try and give it a lot of energy,” explains O’Sullivan. “We’ve all got wireless systems now and we just try to throw some shapes and go for it. It’s a lot better when it’s tight and the crowd and everyone’s loving it, and you’re loving it.”
With several shows coming up in the spring, including their EP launch show this April, keep an eye out for Opheon on tour this summer. When asked to describe Opheon in one word, O’Sullivan hit the nail on the head with our new favorite word: “Riffolodic.”
READ MORE: Review: Opheon — As I Walk With Fire
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.