Campus: ‘Empathy’ EP [Noel Horton]
Post-Hardcore outfit CAMPUS is a brutal, slam down outfit hailing from the regions of Belgium, and deliver exactly what you’d expect, and more. The band, having racked up slots at Hit The Deck Festival and Hevy Festival as well as touring with Gallows,, Cancer Bats, Parkway Drive and Alexisonfire, have hit the scene and made such an impact that it will be hard to ignore these boys before long. And after one listen to their EP ‘Empathy’ it is easy to see why.
The track ‘Empathy’ to see the opening of the EP, and had only one word coming to mind: “Riffs”. The change from a heavy driving riff, to a melodic chorus is complemented superbly by Martijn’s coarse, energetic vocals (which reminded me a lot of John Corabi’s harsh, driving vocals - a very good thing). The next track, ‘Lone Wolf’, comes crashing in with the same feel and vibe of the previous track of just pure anger and pumped up energy. This track gripped my attention and I caught myself replaying it as soon as I heard it, utilising the intricate drumming and connection to the guitars perfectly. Again, the vocals of Martijn Leenaert captivated my listening of this EP. The range and capability can be heard in the more melodic track ‘Down Time’. Much like they displayed in ‘Empathy’, the band’s capability of running a heavy, almost sludgy, driving riff cohesively into a melodic, euphoric chorus which excels most other bands’ imagination and ability to capture the feel for a song. The ending of the track ‘Young Bastard’ captures this perfectly, finishing with my certainty this band could perform with the same vigour and angst live as they do recorded. CAMPUS are the sort of band I’d love to see with Feed the Rhino and Polar, but also a band I believe could stand toe-to-toe with them. The energy, musical capability and raspy, energetic vocals made this EP a standout listen to for me and I will be ensuring I catch these guys at Hevy Festival in August.
Blacklisters: ‘Blklsters’ [Noel Horton]
After first hearing these guys, I have officially become their biggest fan. I discovered these guys through their video for ‘Trickfuck’, a mind-blistering groove filled track, and simply had to find the rest of their material. Their debut album simply has a sound driven through heavy, grunge filled bass riffs, unbelievably scorching vocals and the boutique, screeching guitars Gallows could only dream of.
The Leeds quartet’s debut album, ‘Blklsters’, kicks off with a cover of Kasabian’s ‘Clubfoot’ (one which I was dubious and skeptical about when seeing the track list), but somehow not only do they reinvent a brilliant track, but pull it off magically. The raw energy from the track had me hooked immediately. From there on out the album launches into a barrage of groove-laden riffs and fantastic guitar work, with energy that had me imagining how mental these fellows must be on-stage. Tracks such as ‘Swords’, ‘Mouthpeace’, ‘Hero of China’ and ‘Trickfuck’ explodes with raw, punk energy and creates such an individual sound of abuse to the listener that you cannot help but sit up and take notice of these guys. Fans of The Bronx, Black Flag or Nirvana would have a field day with the energy these tracks exudes. Meanwhile, tracks such as ‘Nice Garden’, ‘OK47’ and ‘Ask Yourself A Question If The Answer Is Go Fuck Yourself’ creates a low, bass driven grunge-driven feel with a very Alice In Chains-esque feel, while incorporating clever intricate guitar work exampling the diversity and versatility the band possesses. They somehow have gathered such a varied collection of songs, while maintaining their (to my ears) trade mark sound and create such an in depth collection of tracks and have arranged them into an organised and well-presented, chaotic, unmanageable barrage of sonic waves. These guys are certainly a band to look out for, and a band I simply cannot wait to see live. Mixing the sounds of Alice In Chains, Sonic Youth and Nirvana with the frantic, raw energy of Gallows, Turbowolf and The Bronx to create an almost Rex Brown, Deftones driven groove fronted with frantic, quite simply breath taking, Trash Talk insanity. This album has become a main stay in my CD player, and will be staying there for a long time to come.
Hostages for Smack: ‘Hostages for Smack’ [Noel Horton]
Stevenage’s Hostages For Smack bring back what was great about ‘good old fashioned’ British punk, with an updated twist of heavier guitars and heavy rock. Their self-financed and self-released ‘Hostages for Smack’ keeps in the niche of oi punk and doesn’t fail to deliver. Drawing from such influences like Motorhead, Black Flag, Rancid, Anti-Nowhere League, UK Subs and Sex Pistols, the album delivers a good taste of what’s good about British punk and what it was originally about (i.e. none of that disastrous American ‘punk’ that was knocking about in early 2000).
The album itself is a well-rounded, well presented representation of the band and has the trademarks of paint-by-numbers punk. Such tracks as ‘L.A.P.D.’ and ‘Hot Food for the Rich’ contain the ironic humour of the shit in everyday English life, while keeping the dark serious undertone in the music. ‘Oi Tony’ opens up with the anarchistic swagger that made this genre so good, keeping the British feel of punk and keeping in the vein of anarchy and attack on the powers that be. The band keeps the swagger and balls of the likes of Anti-Nowhere League and Rancid in their music, giving the impression that these guys not only play this music but that they live it, something which lacks in a lot of the ‘punk’ bands of today. However, tracks such as ‘Switchblade Blues’ keeps an old blues, almost Little Richard/B.B. King feel to it which really surprised me in a pleasant way. Overall I would say this album brings back what was good about punk, and dons the Doc Martins for some proper floor stopping, non-stop smashing British punk. Hostages For Smack are taking a tried and tested genre which is about life and the music that is played that has no room for posers or wannabes, shoving it down your throat and proving not only that they ARE the music they play but that they are the leaders of the revolution.
Thee Eviltones: ‘In the Shadow of the Beast’ [Noel Horton]
Garage rock quartet Thee Eviltones possess a certain mystique about them that has kept me enthralled in their album ‘In the Shadow of the Beast’. Mixing surf-punk guitars with boutique garage rock, they create a dark, mystical horror punk tone and one not to be mixed up with the likes of early The Horrors or Count Five. The band has created a sound individual to them, pulling it wonderfully to keep the album listenable and engaging throughout.
The album itself mixes Beach Boys surf-rock with an almost Mick Jagger-esque (with no intention of referencing Cher Lloyd) swagger. The introduction to the album, ‘Into The Shadow’, begins with amazing flamenco-style acoustics over-dubbed with a narrative setting the tone for what is to come: a dark, mystical journey reminiscent of Scooby-Doo style spookiness and mischievousness. Launching into the dance-crazy surf-rock influenced ‘La Bestia’ and ‘Thee Eviltones’, the journey throughout this album takes on what one would expect of this band to produce. The up-beat, irony of the music mixed with the contradicting melodies and dark lyrics makes for this album to be a very good listen. The standout track (for me) travels in the body of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, a wonderfully put together track that uses my favourite aspect of the band: a dark, brooding, inconspicuous enigma. The 50s swing, surf-pop influence of the guitar is epitomised in the tracks of ‘Eyes’, ‘Omen’ and ‘Monkey Tree’, highlighting the bands ability to differ in the writing approach to their songs. To further emphasise this, the cover of The Rolling Stones ‘Paint It Black’ takes on a different approach, and (if anything) is a perfect choice of cover for a band of character. The band catches the dark, ill-feeling of the song and further delves into the darkness of their song-smithery creating an enjoyable cover. However, the finale of the album ‘Monkey Tree’ launches into another dance-frenzy, party number which leaves the listener with the feeling of wanting more. A good thing indeed. Thee Eviltones create a superbly and well-presented body of work, one which they should be proud of. The boutique, vinyl style recording really does wonders for the bands representation on record and captures all that they are aspiring to be, and possibly more. These dance-inducing, horror loving lads are surely ones to look out for in the coming year.
DZ Deathrays - Bloodstreams [Callum Barnes]
Hailing from Brisbane in Australia, DZ Deathrays are the perfect party band. "We started at a house party and we hope to end at one- this is the middle bit". With a motto like that, its no wonder that they are becoming one of the most talked about bands of this year. I first became aware of the band back in 2011, when NME had a writeup of the "ones to look out for". DZ made the cut and I checked them out on youtube and saw the video for "The Mess Up" a track off their demo CD "Ruined My Life". With a bass heavy sound reminiscent of Death From Above 1979, mixed with a few odd screams from the Pulled Apart By Horses vein, these were definately a band for me. Having originally been titled simply "DZ", the band had to change their name due to a lawsuit. By taking one of the lyrics from their track "Rad Solar" they became DZ Deathrays and released their new EP "Brutal Tapes"- half of which was recorded at an actual house party the band played. So for over a year I have been aticipating this release, and while being a mixture of songs (some from 2 years ago, some wrote just before recording), it sounds like one hell of a bassy unit. Oh and did I mention, these guys are a two piece? Shane Parsons and Simon Ridley. Shane provides vocals, guitar and a monstorous effects board and Simon smashes the drums and crashes the symbols. Mental.
Opener "Intro" says it all within a minute. Plenty of bleeps and bloops sounding like R2D2 on acid, and then BOOOOOOM, a large staticly charged bassy rumble fills your ears (and your spine) with chills and thrills. The opening riff of "Teenage Kickstarts" then begins the onslaught of bassy guitars, shrieking vocals and an ideology of simply having a good time. The song itself, written about Shane's love for Motley Crue, does exactly what is listed on the tin. Kickstarts your bloodstreams- OWW OWWW! First single "No Sleep" rears its head early on, leading to a grand epic guitar finale' that is remeniscent of true classic rock. Though it may have its dancey connotations, all the band have done here is write a rock record. And its incredible. "Play Dead (Until You're Dead)" and "Gebbie Street" mellow off the first half of the album with their low rumbling basslines and awesome kick-ins. "You know our bodies make the right conversation, WAAAAAAWWWW" screams Shane during "Gebbie" (one of the tracks released a year early from the record). "LA Lightning" provides us with a riff tastic exploit before becoming a MUSE-esque scratch solo, then composing itself and returning to the main melody again. "Dollar Chills"- the latest single to be released, presents one of the albums most radio friendly moments through a simple rhythm and guitar riff combination. "Dinomight" is a brand new song for the album, featuring a combination of DZ's own guitar screeches and DFA's bass heavy verses. "Dumb It Down" and "Trans AM" are where Parsons vocals really stretch out, and we all realise he's actually a great singer as well as a shouter/screamer/partier. "Dumb It Down" seems to be for the album only atm, as there could be no real way for the two guys to play such intricate guitar parts and sing with only one member on the axe. "Debt Death" is a longer interlude- but in the "intro" style, with a mellow electronic pulsing rhythm, reaching a climax and then bursting into full mosh. The best song on the album by far is the long-awaited "Cops/Capacity" which the guys have been playing virtually since they formed the band back in 2008. Its been a long journey for them, and it can only get longer. DEATHRAYS!
Tenacious D - Rise Of The Fenix [Callum Barnes]
Not many people realise just how long "The D" have been walking this Earth. Forming in 1994 (the year of my birth), the friendship of duo Jack Black and Kyle Gass came from the famous Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 1989. Black was doing some acting while Gass was a musician. Upon learning this, Jack asked Kyle to teach him guitar and the ways of rock n roll. Gass agreed, as in return Black promised to teach him some dramatic skills so that Gass could begin acting. Over a few years and the spread of word and mouth gossip, Tenacious D got their own TV show on America's HBO. It was cancelled halfway through, but as if that mattered- the world had their first taste of Tenacious sourcery. Following this, was the release of their debut album, which featured such songs as "Tribute" and "Wonderboy", both considered to be among the bands best material. They raised their claim to be "the best band in the world" and toured relentlessly as a duo. 2006 saw the release of their CD/Movie package The Pick Of Destiny. Featuring brand new songs which all featured in the film of the same name, the D did not realise that it would be a flop. However, now they return with their own brand of rock and comedy putting cream in your jeans once again!
Opening with "Rise of the Fenix"- the title track, a six minute epic journey through the D's realisation of the money they lost through their movie "bombing" in theaters and their now reformed attitude to "be the best". "Just like the fenix, we'll fucking rise again". Yes, the unneeded swearing has returned with a vengeange but its one feature that I've always enjoyed in the band. "Low Hanging Fruit" demands listeners to get their marraca's and sombreros out for a mexican standoff about curvy ladies and "Classical Teacher" shows the D reverting back to a trend on their first record- creating comedy skits to fit inbetween numbers. Fear not fans, the band have still not reached maturity with the skit ending with KG nearly being anally penetrated by JB in disguise. Everything from the logo (a cock and balls in the shape of the fabled bird) to the lyrical content is of course total crass. Early played track "Deth Starr" rears its head halfway through the record, and "Roadie" provides a true anthem for all those who have been setting up bands equipment since day one. However, the majority of the album does seem to be a bit...........mediocre. The debut album is clearly always going to be the bands strongest, however, this flops below Pick Of Destiny and therefore makes me think that they are getting, sadly, progressively worse. Its probably best if they try and write 3 minute pop/rock tunes again instead of lingering on writing the next Stairway To Heaven- all the efforts they have created recently have been Stairway To Drevon- as in they are pretty dreadful when compared to the style model itself. Stick to your strengths guys!
Collisions – Believe In This EP [Lars Donohoe]
“Fuck this place up!” screams Olly Simmons, and for a second I almost feel the flinging limbs of the sweaty, testosterone-charged melee he’s trying to transport me to. But something’s wrong, and immediately I’m uncomfortably aware of the midday breeze coming through my bedroom window, and my fantasy wafts away like a fart in the wind. What’s snapped me out of it is not only the realization that this isn’t a gig: this isn’t even a rock band.
Using computers instead of proper studios, making music as collages rather than recording real events, using gigabyte upon gigabyte of fizzy digital effects – this is hardly a shocking formula in today’s musical soundscape. But with such an impermeable gloop of bitcrushers, autotuning, delays and all manner of other magic spells puppeteering the butchered audio of Collisions’ debut EP, my question is, can we take their crowd-commander act seriously?
Ok, so maybe I’m scapegoating these guys a bit – they’re hardly the only ones, right? It’s just that with the lines blurring all over the place between metal and drum n’ bass/ dubstep, it’s the metal band-gone-electronic side, with all its inherited rock star posturing, that can ultimately wind up looking silly.
The EP has got some half-decent hooks, and Simmons’ Skindred-style dancehall vocals (as heard on tracks like ‘Fire Fire’) are still a welcome novelty in the world of sledgehammer guitars and headbanging, but the best track for me is the harsh jump-up finale, a remix by Fickle6, simply because it’s the only point I don’t feel like I’m being told porkie pies.
Gossip – A joyful noise [Lars Donohoe]
Looking through the comments on youtube videos of old Gossip songs is an uncomfortable exposé on how they hit the big-time in 2006. In amongst all the “you go girl”‘s and tiffs over the sex appeal of larger-than-life women, it doesn’t seem like anyone has anything to say about their music. Back then Beth Ditto may indeed have been a conversation starter, rivalling Adele as the epitome of the anti-model, defiantly baring her gargantuan buttocks in the direction of the twig-thin catwalkers of the glossy magazine rack, but once you stripped them of alternative fashion icon status, Gossip always seemed to be a little short of things to say. For a band whose attitude has so completely defined their career to date, ditching riot grrl snarl to go boogie under the waning light of an irrelevant, deflated disco ball is nothing short of suicidal. But, by Jove, they’ve gone and done it anyway.
Rick Rubin’s swollen production on ‘Music For Men’ can be blamed for squeezing out the last of Gossip’s already dubious garage-punk credibility, and so it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that with the recruiting of Brian Higgins (Pet Shop Boys, Sugarbabes) for ‘A Joyful Noise’, their sound has yet again been pushed in an awkward direction. Ditto’s sugar sweet Madonna impersonation, the embarrassingly dated synth sounds and a nauseating flood of boring pop slogans (‘the beat goes on’, ‘it’s now or never’) speak all too much of Higgin’s previous projects, and very little about a band in control of their own destiny. Let’s hope this is the last we’ll hear from them.
Joe Walsh - Analog Man [Phil Allely]
The world of rock has always featured a heady collection of wildmen (and women of course), the kind who raise hell across the globe, but make damn good music whilst doing so. One such legend in that elite collective is long time 'Eagle' Joe Walsh. It's been an awful long time since Joe decided to make a solo album and perhaps it is his sobriety and advancing years that have allowed him the creativity and energy needed to do so. Analog Man is a great showcase for the great mans guitar techniques and his slide work in particular. On the song and lyrics front we find them to be more sombre and reflective in their nature, there are moments of wit sprinkled through too of course. This is an album to chill out to and contemplate life, the universe and everything, walsh has a message here and it deserves hearing. Some songs may miss their mark slightly or swerve off on a tangent, but most are right on the money and work well indeed. Maybe if he can get some time away from his Eagles committments Joe can hit the road with this album and let his fans see how genuinely passionate he is about his work.
The Ready Stance - Wrecking Ball [Phil Allely]
You know if you looked at my cd collection you'd not think so, but I do have a fondness for Americana (just don't tell my rock buddies that). So when an opportunity to review a new single by a band influenced by vintage American rock then I will of course jump at it. Cincinnati band 'The Ready Stance' are preparing to unleash their debut album 'Damndest' on the world and this track is the second song from what promises to be an exciting release. This is a meandering track and I mean that in a very good way, this is retro rock at its best. It's nice to see a band go out there and play the music they like, but add their own spin to it. It would have been so easy to take the copycat route here and not make the effort, luckily that is not the case. Guitarists Wes Pence and Chase Johnston's love of acts such as The Band, Big Star and other like-minded groups are obvious throughout also. 'Wrecking Ball' is overall a radio friendly track that will have broad appeal to fans of classic US rock.
Mirrormaze - Walkabout [Phil Allely]
Progressive rock is a section of the genre that I personally have a love/hate relationship with. Some bands can really float my boat and receive repeated playing on my various cd players. Others barely get a chance to progress beyond the first few tracks, before being relegated to a dark corner of my study. Fortunately my role as a reviewer has allowed me to expand my horizons somewhat and give every release that I receive the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately Mirrormaze were in no danger of making the un-played pile. The band’s debut album with Bakerteam Records is a nice little nine track effort that does exactly what it says it will. This is progressive rock in the old school style and it is all the better for it, The band do get compared to the likes of Rush and Dream Theatre and with even one listen you can see why.
The nine tracks are quite atmospheric in their sound and delivery. Opener Prisoner has a punchy feel to it, whereas elsewhere we get a simpler easy-on the ears song in Lost in a Belief. One highlight (although there are indeed plenty here) is the appearance of Ray Alder (Fates Warning) for Deeper Signs.
Walkabout is a very reasonable debut for the Mirrormaze crew and will surely go down well with prog rock fans old and new. It may not be genre defining or pushing boundaries, but then not every new release has to do that. As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
Mark Northfield - Alterations [Josh Nicol]
Mark Northfield suggests himself “People forget that listening doesn't have to be a passive activity simply to create wallpaper, it can very much be an active experience, almost an art in its own right.” This is certainly his take on Alterations, what can only be described as a rather… interesting… album. And don’t take that in a bad way.
Opening track, ‘The Death of Copyright’ begins so deliberately manufactured, simple keyboard structure imitating the sound of violins, which eventually fades into a beautiful classical composition. A musician like this, who is clear to be exploring different takes on the idea of making music, seems to be seen as marvellous as far as I’m concerned. It is difficult in this current climate of the music industry to do anything new, and anything that will shock, but the sheer contrast of styles in ‘Alterations’ shocks, surprises and lets the listener think, trying to decipher whether the music is actually good or not.
Northfield’s pop structures on the album compliment his strong voice, but when he tries to go a little more vicious, it can’t help but come across a little tame. With his songwriting, he tends to build up something very small into something of stark difference or climactic power.
Mark Northfield has created an album that will provoke thought, an experimental pop album, which tends not to occur in this era. All the way through, he integrates the classical elements in between the pop melody, breaking down the set structure of pop music and building it up as he wishes to construct it, much like the great experimental pop songwriters of the past.
As I begun ‘Alterations’ is an interesting album and will certainly make you think.
Maz Todderdell – Sweep [Josh Nicol]
I’ve always had a soft spot for sultry yet delicate folk music. Maz Todderdell is a singer-songwriter from Devon with a sweet softening appeal of Tracy Chapman’s calibre. Her latest album, ‘Sweep’ stopped me in my tracks as I heard such sheer talent along with songwriting delicacy and poetic style of gargantuan value.
With so many folk singers and singer-songwriters , it’s quite hard to find someone who stands out above the rest and offers something that is a little bit more powerful or meaningful than others. Second track in ‘Heart In Your Pocket’ begins with a ‘Fast Car’ style riff but mellows out down to the vocals that so tentatively glaze the guitar melody.
The album is essentially a series of love songs. Love songs that mean something and are accompanied with simplicity. The harmonies on each track are kept simple, using her own backing vocals singularly backing up what would already be strong tracks in themselves.
Highlight of the album for me would be the wonderful track, ‘Kaleidoscope’. So cleverly, it almost seems like the track could accompany the image of a kaleidoscope. Vibrant and full of depth, the track hosts a singular violin backing her vocals and guitar. This is no orchestra, and it certainly wouldn’t need composing to a great degree.
The power of a great singer-songwriter equals or sometimes betters the skills of a talented instrumentalist. With Maz Todderdell, she isn’t necessarily the greatest musician, but she’s mastered the art of writing fantastic songs, and this can only be a vibrant future for this delightful singer-songwriter. I would give this album a solid 9/10, as it is very much worth your while.
Rupert Stroud – Chasing The Night [Josh Nicol]
Witnessing an artist’s stage of their musical career is one of my personal highlights of listening to an album. Despite Jack White saying an artist’s personal situation is nothing to do with the music that is exerted, I am a thorough believer that the context in music and songwriting is one of the most interesting factors in an artist’s creative output.
Yorkshire-based songwriter, Rupert Stroud’s second album, ‘Chasing The Night’ is a semi-autobiographical album that highlights his growing maturity as an artist. Each track is of stark difference to the one before. Although tracks like ‘Forget You’ are oozing with testosterone and masculinity, mainly down to the strength of the man’s voice, he can easily contrast this with more delicate efforts such as ‘Hate To Stay’. This track highlights the concept of isolation and is evidently fuelled with frustration and subtle aggression. The lyrics itself are bitter in tone, “I hate to say I told you so” just highlights that cynical tone.
From an outsider’s point of view, ‘Chasing The Night’ seems to be a visible exploration of self-discovery, highlighting the inner demons of the artist himself. It’s not an easy way to create art. Exposing yourself and your own inner-struggles in an album or musical format takes practice, perhaps that is the strength within Stroud that is slowly developing in time, and this is his middle ground, his pathway to full emotional exertion.
Chasing the night is an emotional roller coaster but one that continues his career with optimism for his future work.
Thanks to Noel, Josh, Callum, Phil and Lars for there contributions this month. We are really sorry if we didn't manage to review your music, but we get an awful lot of submissions on a daily basis.