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A THOROUGHLY TRAGIC MONTH: HOPEFULLY SOME LIGHT RELIEF WITH THE AUGUST ALBUMS BY ANDY BARNES
August has proved a traumatic month, riots in England leading to the death of innocents and even music fans haven't escaped tragedy, experiencing fatalities at The Indiana State Fair and Pukkelpop in Belgium due to stage collapses in extreme weather conditions.  Hopefully the releases offer some light relief in dark times. And to begin with........ 

Not Above Evil – Deification

Upon hearing “The Waspkeeper,” debut album from Talanas, I assumed this to be the best metal album of 2011, especially from a U.K outfit. That is, until I heard “Deification” from Manchester based, Not Above Evil, as immediately a second contender appears for that particular crown of thorns. Although released earlier this year, I felt a necessity to highlight at this slightly late stage a collection of tracks so exceptional.

“Deification” is an album combining the best of death metal and hardcore, creating a crushing, formidable and daunting ambience. Each constituent part of the three piece shine although the radiance is shadowy rather than glowing.  Initially the attention focuses on Sideeq Mohammed’s throaty growl, a bi-polar Golem’s most evil guise, proclaiming his intention to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting Mordor.  The vocal closely followed by Daniel Mucs, the drumming throughout absolutely gargantuan, the intro to “Terra Nova” hands and feet like hyperactive jack hammers let loose in a sea of concrete, the pulverising rhythms beating constantly at your cranium.  Listen to “Deification” whilst enduring a hangover at your peril. 

Gradually throughout the album, a further component arises, the guitar work of David Gwynn evermore becoming the focal point.  It’s easy when listening to metal to become complacent to the speed, the shredding, the blistering solos although the more you imbibe Gwynn’s playing, the more you appreciate the incredible skill.  It is the rapidity, the fluidity and swift changes in tempo but additionally a diversity of sound, explosions unexpectedly emanate, a swift pedal change revealing a chord(s) requiring a bomb shelter for survival. “Seven Broken Halos” just prior to the vocals entering and the last strum markedly.

Great music is extremely emotive, both to the artist invoking their thoughts and feelings but also to the listener. The majority are moved by lyrics, a line which outlines their own circumstances or insecurities to the point of conjuring tears on certain occasions. Intensely passionate fans differ in they can also be moved by particular musical sections, even the tiniest of flashes induce a swell of the chest or bring that tear to the eye as you realise you have happened across something exceptional.  There are numerous occasions within the guitar work of “Deification” this takes place, the solo in “Terra Nova” the pick at the top of the neck in “Seven Broken Halos” and especially the instrumental section and subsequent solo out of the rest in “Rise to Fall” extracting the listener from the depths of a death morass into a state of almost euphoric, exhilarating electric nirvana.  To further augment the point, instrumental closing track “Of Sins and Shadows” runs through the whole range of layered guitar virtuosity, from the acoustic opening, crushing riffs, rapidly frenetic fretwork whilst maintaining an unerring sense of melody, which permeates the whole of this album. With “Deification,” Not Above Evil have produced a fusion of metallic elements more inflammatory than anything this side of the periodic table. Furthermore, they continue to highlight along with Bring Me The Horizon, Talanas and Spires to name but three, U.K metal is back with a vengeance and the rest of the world should take note. Incredibly, “Deification” proves a self release, no might or money of a label supporting, instead Not Above Evil likely working to a shoestring budget.  Hal Sinden of Talanas commented in a recent Mudkiss interview, a certain stigma still pervades within the industry around self releases, which is ridiculous as artist after artist across numerous genres continue to liberate their music free from the commercial constraints of record labels a fact to be celebrated rather than debased. 

Although metal fans bemoan the lack of mainstream attention, part of the attraction is exactly that fact.  A breed apart, understanding and appreciating extreme music where others don’t, can’t or purely won’t. Would we really want it any other way? www.reverbnation.com/notaboveevil

The Loud – Harris Shutter

Although Liverpool’s The Loud inhabit a glam world, revolving very much around T-Rex, particularly within “Amy’s Going to Get You” and “There’s a Bomb in the House” they don’t conform to the pretty boy image of Marc Bolan.  Instead, the three piece have stumbled into a club, had a few too many, scuffled with the bouncers and been thrown out into the back alley with the rubbish.  Undeterred, they burst back through the stage door, clothes ripped and torn, battered and bruised, screaming “fuck you” before playing some of the most dirty, filthy rock n roll imaginable.  If this is modern day glam....... it’s glam at it’s sleaziest and most potent.  Guitarist / Vocalist Pennington Lee slurs his twisted vocals to great effect, within “Avida Dollars” the stuttering delivery integrates impeccably alongside a cranked up distorted guitar.

As an album however “Harris Shutter” fails on one level, at only six songs being far too short. While a great collection, we really need to hear more.www.theloud.co.uk

Epigene – ‘A Wall Street Odyssey ; The City, The Country and Back Again’

“Rock Opera”........ “Concept album”.......... phrases guaranteed to strike fear into the majority of music fans. As a long term fan of classic and prog rock, I approach upstate NY’s Epigene’s 3rd album with an open mind however. Initial impressions are centred around the beautifully packaged 2 CD’s, incorporating a 95 page hard bound book including a graphic novel, lyrics, photos and plot essay.  An impressive start, can the music maintain the same level of interest? 'A Wall Street Odyssey' focuses on “Yossarian” inspired by the character of the same name in Joseph Keller’s novel Catch 22. The concept is based around Yossarian the wealthy, although lonely, stressed investment banker who crashes and burns in a drug and alcohol fuelled haze, becoming homeless before taking refuge in the countryside within an eco village community. Revitalised and complete with a new set of beliefs and ethics, he heads back to a city in chaos due to capitalist government oppression, preaching the benefits of the more basic and simple life.Undoubtedly from the packaging throughout the album musically, a tremendous amount of thought and work has been expended on producing this collection.  While initially a desire arises to follow the story to a conclusion, ultimately in similar fashion to a book, once completed no craving to return immediately transpires.  The tracks based around numerous styles including folk, electro-pop and obligatory prog elements aren’t generally engaging or catchy enough to stand alone outside of the context of the project.  Epigene have produced more of an epic curio, than a piece of work a listener would return to over and over again, the true measure of a great album.‘A Wall Street Odyssey ; The City, The Country and Back Again’ is released on August 27th. www.facebook.com/pages/Epigene/122191244518002           

Various Artists – Dirty Home of Riot Rock ‘n’ Roll

This compilation of 21 rare, new and previously unreleased tracks from People Like You Records is an absolute must for all fans of modern day punk rock.  Face to Face open proceedings with solid rifftastic rocker “Should Anything Go Wrong” before Roger Miret and the Disasters slink in with a piece of vocally distorted dub reggae “We Are Gonna Find a Way.” It’s the constant variety throughout which ultimately makes “Dirty Home of Riot Rock ‘n’ Roll such an entertaining premise.  Want full on Doc Marten to the face punk, Krum Bums, SS-Kaliert and particularly the brilliantly named Peter Pan Speedrock with “We Want Blood” provide exactly that to the max.  Fancy some Celtic folk based punk in a Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys style, Flatfoot 56 are the guys for you......bit of country influence, Bob Wayne......psychobilly your bag, The Meteors deliver........... at every turn a change of sound and style whilst still crucially retaining that punk rock ethic. Throw in the fact the CD also includes 10 free downloads of your choice, what more could the discerning punk require. www.peoplelikeyourecords.com

The Icarus Line – Wildlife

The first album from The Icarus Line in four years heralds a more musically mature band, the frenetic punk / metal sound of yore replaced with funky bass lines and a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll presence. The Stooges influences still apparent, although in “Sin Man Sick Blues “ or “All The Little Things “ The Rolling Stones and even Primal Scream spring readily to mind whilst still maintaining the fundamental constituent of sordid sleaze throughout, utilising filthy, distorted guitar riffs and Cardamones drawled, sex fuelled vocal. So, with “Wildlife,” The Icarus Line have grown up?...........not quite, from the visceral diatribe of the press release and lyrically throughout the collection, we find them rooted in what would appear a world revolving mainly around drugs and bitterness to the record industry. From “King Baby,” “They call me the cocaine kid,” “Soul Slave” “You don’t take drugs, you don’t smile at all” and “We Want More” “Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, we want more.” Now, I may be taking these out of context although the implication appears without drugs life can’t be lived to the full.  

Cardamone is also quoted as follows :  “Hola, welcome to being completely fucked. It has always been a hard sell to convince record label suit types to invest in music that celebrates the kind of lifestyle that threatens their very day-jobs and status of importance in this material world since Kurt Cobain blew his brains out high on dope years back, it sure seems that they have.vowed to never make this mistake again and if you read any popular music magazine or website you'll see that they have been widely successful. Call it how you see it, it’s a load of crap. Not only are bands that hold guitars a vintage idea but anything that doesn't pander to iPhone sales in some way is banished to the back of the bus with the other delinquents. That is unless you were born a rich, rock star to begin with. Not the case here.”

The facts are inescapable, the industry has changed irrefutably over the years, whether anyone likes it or not, ultimately making music is a vocation and the chances of making any money, never mind enough to allow the luxury of an old school rock star existence are slim to say the least.  Talk to the vast majority of musicians, they hold down day jobs, which supplements their passion, tours generally a replacement for two weeks in Ibiza.  I’m no great fan of the major record labels, however it’s understandable in the current climate a label would be reluctant to take a chance on someone seen as a loose cannon, their investment perhaps leading to the production of absolutely nothing. More and more bands are choosing to self release, the internet making distribution easier to a wider audience, there are ways around the labels, ways for your music to be heard. No one said it’s easy, it’s a competitive world out there..... it is possible however.  The perception that however good you may be, especially in the alternative, underground sector will lead to fame, fortune, trashing hotel rooms and launching T.V’s out of windows (which doesn’t look particularly cool from the bottom floor of a Travelodge just outside Tonbridge Wells just in case any young bands are reading) exhibits a certain naivety you might expect from a bunch of seventeen year olds, but not from a band who’ve been around since the turn of the century.  There’s a definite temptation to ask the question, if you hate it that much, why bother? And that’s a real shame, I’ve been a fan of the The Icarus Line for a number of years, “Penance Soiree” is one of the great albums of the 2000’s and “Wildlife” sounds brilliant in places.......as long as I ignore much of the lyrical content. http://theicarusline.org

Jeff Bridges – Jeff Bridges 

There was a time it appeared the majority of music stars strived to be actors, in recent years the reverse appears more the norm. From Jared Leto, Johnny Depp through to Steve Martin and Hugh Laurie, actors emerge in musical roles on a more than regular basis to varying degrees of success.  The most recent of the phenomena is Jeff Bridges who releases his major label eponymous debut album on September 5th.The album is produced by the legendary T-Bone Burnett and along with songs written by Stephen Bruton, John Goodwin, Greg Brown and Bo Ramsey, Bridges contributes two of his own compositions “Falling Short,” and “Tumbling Vine,” along with co-writing “I Will Wait” in conjunction with Burnett and John Goodwin plus “Slow Boat” again with Burnett, although on this occasion combined with Thomas Cobb, not that the composers of the songs makes any real difference.  Is this a good album........no.......is it a terrible album.........no......... it’s just extremely bland and very, very safe.  Bridges possesses an adequate voice, which a collection of plodding country based tunes fortunately doesn’t stretch too far. Neither does it trouble T-Bone Burnett’s, almost house band, including Mark Ribot who basically hit the cruise control button. The most annoying aspect to albums recorded by “stars,” without their name they literally wouldn’t see the light of day certainly through Parlophone or a similar sized label.  While I can’t condone the comments made by Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line, I can understand any talented, struggling musician being completely frustrated by a record of this nature.Released Sept 5th. www.facebook.com/jeffbridgesofficial

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