This is Hell – Black Mass

4/5

Genre: Hardcore, Thrash
Release Date: October 11th 2011
Record Label: Rise Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slightly a year removed from their previous full-length Weight of the World, This is Hell is back with newfound fury and passion with Black Mass – a thrash-sparked record of feverish drumming and blazing guitar solos that breathes new life into a band that has seemingly fallen under the radar in the past few years. It isn’t to say they were never good in the first place, but This is Hell have found something particularly special in the creation of Black Mass – something only a visit to the gnarly days of thrash could produce.

After hearing the ominous melodies leading off the title track when this record was promoted via viral marketing last month, it was easy to say that there was going to be something different about this record. This is Hell weren’t kidding when they said they were going for a throwback thrash sound, as tracks like “Salt the Earth”, “Black Mass” and “The Last Outlaw” are ripe with grungy guitar licks and hammering drums backed by Travis Reilly’s raw vocals. Sounding confident and tactful in their execution, This is Hell embody the sound without completely losing their hardcore leanings (“The Reckoning”), splicing in moments of buzzing breakdowns and relentless verses to bolster the intensity that Black Mass brings from front to back. Whether its the haunting breaks in “Black Mass” or the drawn out melodies ending “The Wars – Part One”, the overall aura of the record is hard to deny, regardless of the methods this band brings it to us. Even the slowed down shredding of “The Last Outlaw” gets owned by the band, giving some emphasis to bigger vocal lines with Reilly’s raspy voice fitting nicely in the mix.

In a matter of minutes, the energy of Black Mass is apparent through deliberate abrasion and dangerously ‘80s-metal guitar solos. Rick Jimenez certainly wastes no time here, as his leads are showcased through the record. While certainly entertaining in their own right, they feel more like icing on the cake for the type of feel Black Mass portrays – gritty hardcore meets old-school flavor that This is Hell seem to have gotten do to an art. Reilly’s vocals aren’t just buzzing to fit in either – his pleading approach is evident in lines like ‘Jesus fucking christ, how was I so blind?’, only a hint of proof that the emotion of hardcore is just as sharp on this record.

But in all of its glory, does Black Mass overdo what it sets out to sound like? Granted, This is Hell sound like they’ve been doing it this way for years, but sometimes you get the feeling like its over the top at points. It might be the guitar solos, or it could be the narrow focus of the album. It’s obviously too early to know whether or not the band will continue is some way down this trail, but if they do it’ll be interesting to see where they go from here to take this sound to another level. In any case, in this day and age of hardcore, This is Hell took a chance to do something a little different and have left little doubt to the strength and accessibility of this record.

While certainly a bold move for the band, it was a calculated one that definitely has paid off in the final product that is Black Mass. This is Hell have always done the genre right, but this time around we hear them turning hardcore into something many have tried, but few can pull off with out many a snag in the proceedings. Black Mass might pull old fans out of the dead, or it could bring new fans looking for a fresh twist on an old sound. Regardless, this record slays with unbridled energy and strong songwriting, making it possibly the best thing to come out of hardcore this year.

Tracklisting:

  1. Acid Rain
  2. Black History
  3. Salt the Earth
  4. Black Mass
  5. The Wars Part One
  6. Mi Nombre
  7. The Last Outlaw
  8. Demons
  9. The Reckoning
  10. The Wars Part Two

Band Links:
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Man Overboard – Man Overboard

3/5

Genre: Pop Punk
Release Date: September 27th 2011
Record Label: Rise Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With four EP’s and a full length, not to mention two “collections,” under their belt, New Jersey’s Man Overboard is doing their part to stay relevant.  While some don’t quite understand the appeal of Man Overboard, others see Man Overboard as part of the “second coming” of pop punk, if you will.  With the release of their sophomore album, and Rise Records debut, Man Overboard is ready to show everyone that they aren’t just another pop punk band.

Before listening, try to let go of any preconceived notions of the band.  Sure, Man Overboard tends to play a little on the poppier side of things.  And yes, their lyrics are a bit childish, even for pop punk standards.  However, Man Overboard has made some strides since 2010’s Real Talk, as evidenced earlier in the year with the release of “Driveway.”  Man Overboard is, essentially, an extension of the sound heard in “Driveway;” faster and more aggressive than anything previously found in the bands catalog.

Man Overboard is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.   Album opener “Rare” provides listeners with a taste of the new found aggression, with drummer Mike Hrycenko providing the machine gun blasts usually reserved for edgier bands, while Nik Bruzzese and Zac Eiesenstein flawlessly deliver the dual vocal attack that fans have become accustomed to.  First single “Dead End Dreams” contains the catchiest hook on the album, while tracks such as “Voted Most Likely” and “Picture Perfect” are guaranteed to stay in your head after multiple listens.  “Something’s Weird” is by the far the fastest song the band has ever penned, while “Night Feelings” has one of the most driving guitar chords found on the album, making for two tracks that are sure to incite circle pits when played live.

For everything good about this album, there is one thing that is bad: the lyrics.  While no one expects overly philosophical lyrics, they simply shouldn’t be this dire.  Take, for example, “Dead End Dreams”:  “I don’t know how old I am / I don’t know if I’m grown up / I feel good when I hold your hand / But when you’re gone it’s not enough.”  Pop punk is all about girls, and being awkward, but singing about not knowing your age and holding hands takes it to a whole new level.

All in all, Man Overboard is exactly what one would expect it to be: a fun pop punk record.   If Man Overboard can grow lyrically the way they did musically, they will be a scene staple for years to come.  If this is what the “second coming” of pop punk sounds like, consider the genre well defended.

Tracklisting:

  1.  Rare
  2. Teleport
  3. Voted Most Likely
  4. Dead End Dreams
  5. Something’s Weird
  6. Punishment
  7. Not The First
  8. Headstone
  9. Spunn
  10. Picture Perfect
  11. Night Feelings
  12. Atlas

Band Links:
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LIGHTS – Siberia

4/5

Genre: Electronic, Alternative
Release Date: October 4th 2011
Record Label: Last Gang Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electronic music has seen its use and abuse across the spectrum in recent years. Whether you love techno or hate dubstep, it seems to be popping up everywhere these days. But in its simplistic, adventurous sounding form, LIGHTS’ newest effort Siberia focuses more on feeling than sick beats to create something that is not only moving, but shows growth in the craft and connectivity of the tracks we hear throughout Siberia. While its melodic tendencies and kicking beats are grittier than LIGHTS’ previous output, the palate of moods and thoughtful backing tracks provide a lush backdrop for LIGHTS’ vocal expedition into the unknown surprises lurking in Siberia.

With a mixture of smooth, spacey melodies, punching beats and an often angelic voice, LIGHTS swerves through Siberia with marked confidence in her catchy musical backdrops. Our lead-off title track buzzes and bumps a pulsing beat as whirring melodies play a cat-and-mouse game of hits to balance out behind the upbeat and moving vocal lines of the track. With the first of many hints of dubstep making an appearance on this track, we’re not quite sure what to expect as this record progresses. “Where the Fence is Low” boasts a ever-churning melody and triplet wubs to create a dance-ready chorus for even the most staunch dubstep opposers, while “Everybody Breaks a Glass” channels effects-laden beats and mid-tempo bumps to build up tension until a cleaned up musical break divides up the dirty-sounding beats that eventually anchor Shad’s perfectly-paced guest rhymes later in the track. Siberia finds lyrical topics based around the psyche of relationships, embracing serious delves into heartbreak (“Cactus in the Valley”) without leaving out outpours of self-discovery and the injection of a light-hearted gamer joke (“Timing is Everything”).

Though the record is often successful when the tempo is up and the beats are ripe,Siberia is stellar when we hear an effort to pull back on the reins, resulting in what are often the best cuts of the disc. “Heavy Rope” brings a minimal amount of instrumentation, layering it delicately to allow a snare-driven beat to back the pleading lyricism and somber vocals the track presents. “Cactus in the Valley” finds hollow beats and resonating melodies as our base, once again putting the spotlight on our leading lady to shine vocally – an area where she can easily carry a track when the writing calls for it. Things bounce back in tempo though, as “Suspension” pumps a solid beat with low accents to create a journey-like feeling as our ears are treated to phasers and chopped-up wobbles placed between sections of exploration-minded songwriting. “Fourth Dimension” cuts a killer beat with kicks and humming synths to create a hard background for smooth, yet assured vocals to the stamp home the punching nature of the track.

While there is certainly a lot of good to say about Siberia, the bad moments come with preference in mind. You’re going to have to come to terms with some dubstep sprinkled throughout this album – though it is certainly not a prominent fallback for LIGHTS musically. The overuse of effects in sections can be a bit distracting (“Everybody Breaks a Glass”), even if it is just a slight use of distortion on the voice or melodies. Sometimes, it is certainly just a bit too much, but again, we don’t hear enough of it to bring down the execution of this album as a whole.

As the record closes, it is worth noting the ups and downs of such a record, keeping our dancing tendencies in check without forgetting about the vocal aspect of this record. Even if it falls prey to some personal dislikes, this is a record that will move you inside and out – making Siberia a strong candidate for one of the better electronic-based albums of the year.

 

Tracklisting:

  1. Siberia
  2. Where the Fence is Low
  3. Toes
  4. Banner
  5. Everybody Breaks a Glass
  6. Heavy Rope
  7. Timing is Everything
  8. Peace Sign
  9. Cactus in the Valley
  10. Suspension
  11. Flux and Flow
  12. Fourth Dimension
  13. And Counting…
  14. Day One

Band Links:
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blink-182 – Neighborhoods

3.5/5

Genre: Pop Punk
Release Date: September 27th 2011
Record Label:  Interscope

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a completely general sense, there are three frames of mind when it comes to how people have been reacting to Neighborhoods, blink-182’s first album in eight years:

1. Some fans have hailed this as the greatest album of the year. A true classic, devoid of flaws. These people tend to be more likely blinded by their biased fan-dom.

2. Others think of Neighborhoods as mediocre (or words to that effect). Complaints like “This sounds too much like AVA”,  “This sounds too much like +44”, or “This doesn’t sound like Dude Ranch” are plentiful and, at times, overbearing. These people tend to be bitter about either the band’s hiatus, the quality of the side projects, or are just unhappy people for the most part. Again, very general.

3. And then there’s the opinion held in this review: That Neighborhoods is pretty good. A very happy medium between Blink’s earlier work and a combination of all of their outreaching musical endeavors.

Neighborhoods starts things off with the admittedly Angels and Airwaves-esque “Ghost on the Dancefloor”. While polarizing for fans of my previous point #2 due to Tom DeLonge’s now trademarked spacey vocals, the song is undeniably catchy. It’s also the first example we get of the band’s improved musicianship. Listeners won’t hear extreme technicalities or solos throughout Neighborhoods, but it’s obvious that the members have all used their time away to their best advantage. Travis Barker is exceptional as always behind the kit, while DeLonge has upped his game in the guitar department, as songs like “Wishing Well” and “Kaleidoscope” have very interesting riffs.  While Mark Hoppus’ bass skills are not the forefront, he delivers quite the solid vocal outing.

Neighborhoods does a great job of balancing the two primary styles of blink-182: the poppy side and the punk rock side. On tracks like the aforementioned “Ghost on the Dancefloor” or the latest single “After Midnight”, blink-182 showcase their knack for infectious, catchy choruses. This is a trait that they always had, and will undoubtedly continue having. Arena-ready and sing-along approved, those songs , as well as “Love Is Dangerous” offer up a nice contrast to their crunchy, faster paced songs. The faster songs are usually led by Hoppus’ simple yet endearing vocals, and it’s apparent that the band hasn’t forgotten its roots. “Natives” is a standout, with Hoppus knocking the chorus out of the park without compromising the hectic pace – “I’m just a bastard child/Don’t let it go to your head/I’m just a waste of your time/Maybe I’m better off dead”. The same can be said for “Hearts All Gone” –  with its dark lyrics and +44 sound, it’s bound to be a fan favorite.

I could spend all day talking about the songs individually, but the fact of the matter is, Neighborhoods has been dissected by everyone individually by now. The purpose of this review is to merely to try and get fans to stray away from points #1 and #2 that were made earlier. This album is a juggernaut. Whether one is a fan of Neighborhoods or not, it is still a new release from arguably the biggest band in the scene today.  Is it perfect? Far from it. Lyrically, it’s simple to almost a fault, and the album suffers from a few filler tracks (“This Is Home”, “Fighting the Gravity”, the latter of which is on the deluxe version). However, its strengths cannot be ignored. If anything, I think we can all agree that it’s nice to have blink-182 back in our lives. They may not be making the same skateboard mall-punk of the golden age, but they are, at least, still churning out quality music. It would be in our best interest to be thankful.

Tracklisting:

1. Ghost On The Dance Floor
2. Natives
3. Up All Night
4. After Midnight
5. Snake Charmer
6. Heart’s All Gone – Interlude
7. Heart’s All Gone
8. Wishing Well
9. Kaleidoscope
10. This is Home
11. MH 4.18.2011
12. Love Is Dangerous
13. Fighting The Gravity
14. Even If She Falls

Band Links:
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