Album Review: TRAVERSE THE ABYSS – “The Gamble of Life”

If you like music that melts your face off, then Traverse the Abyss is the band for you! These guys from Scranton, Pennsylvania play metal so heavy, it’ll knock you on your ass. The first time I listened to their debut album The Gamble of Life I was blown away by the sustained, unrelenting fury of their instrumentals and vocals from beginning to end. The thing is, despite the crushing intensity of their music, it’s still accessible and highly melodic. As an added bonus, their lyrics are heavily peppered with “fuck” – my favorite word in the English language.

The band formed only a year ago, in early 2016, and spent much of the year writing and recording songs for their debut album, which was released in November. For the recording of the album, the band line-up included Eric Ross on lead vocals, “Iron” Mike White on lead guitar, Mike “Bnoc” Bieniecki on bass/backing vocals, and Phil Luongo on drums. Luongo left the band in January 2017 and they welcomed new drummer Nelson Negron and second guitarist Seth Cardona.

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The music style of Traverse the Abyss draws from classic heavy metal, thrash metal, death metal, groove metal, metalcore, hard rock, rock’n’roll and punk. In a conversation with band front man Eric via Twitter messaging, he stated “we are all fans of metal and all the different sub genres within it. We like to blend all our influences together to get a more unique sound compared to the monotony of most modern music. Instead of going towards an album with intentions of writing to appeal to only one crowd like some deathcore & death metal bands do, we write more based on the vibe presented.

Regarding the gambling/card theme of the album and song titles, Eric explained “The gambling theme came into play when we first started writing songs. The first two songs we wrote were ‘Royal Flush’ and ‘One of a Kind,’ and our guitarist said ‘what are we going with, a gambling theme?’ Gambling themed titles with a life reference in the song: ‘One of a Kind’ – be yourself; ‘Snake Eyes’ – death/bullets/hatred;  ‘Joker’ – being used/revenge.

The album storms out of the gate with the first track “One of a Kind.” No song lead-in here, but rather an instantaneous onslaught of pummeling bass, machine-gun riffs, hammering drums and Eric’s furious vocals. He screams “Am I the only one who follows his own path? Am I the only one that doesn’t live by a fad?” Halfway through, the song tempo changes a bit, guitars and heavy bass ablaze as Eric shrieks  “I would like to know, who the fuck you think you are? You act like you’re some sort of god.

Not skipping a beat, the second track “All In” explodes with a full-on assault of blistering guitars, powerful bass and fierce vocals. The song is a thrash metal/rock’n’roll gem, even containing a ‘sex, drugs, rock’n’roll‘ lyric. There’s no let up as the album segues to the brutally hard-hitting “Royal Flush.” Unbelievably, the ferocity of Eric’s hardcore, growling vocals reach new heights, and remain there in the intensely dark “21 or Bust.” He screams “Who do I ask these questions? Who’s got a fucking answer? I just want to know what’s the meaning of life.” Shredded guitars and more savage vocals are the highlights of the menacing “Snake Eyes.” By this point, I’m wondering if Eric has any vocal cords left!

I like every song on the album, but a favorite is the frenetic, punk-infused “Aces High.” Awesome, rapid-fire guitar riffs, buzzing bass and staccato drums keep the energy at full speed. Eric’s vocals alternate between clear and hardcore, and I love when he sings “woo” at 2:44, providing a bit of levity in an otherwise intense song. Speaking of which, the intensity dial is turned all the way to ‘High’ on “Diamonds.” The machine-gun-fire bass and hardcore vocals are positively brutal, yet we’re treated to some melodic guitar solos too. Eric growls “Fuck your Disrespect. Its funny now I see the people who support me. Just look over my shoulder and you’ll see the people who matter to me.”

Joker” is the perfect kiss-off – or should I say ‘fuck-off’ song – with furious instrumentals and vocals to match the searing lyrics: “Reap what you sow, don’t go crying to me./ To be honest, I think you should go fuck yourself!” The fury continues unabated in “Bullets“, with staccato riffs and hammering drums that literally sound like machine gun fire. The album closes with the superb title track “Gamble of Life.” The nearly six and a half minute song begins with a haunting distorted guitar solo accompanied by mysterious vocals, then abruptly changes to a rapid heavy metal beat. Bnoc’s staccato bass is at full throttle, with pummeling drums and shredded guitars keeping pace. Eric’s screaming hardcore vocals intensify in the last two minutes, and by song’s end I’m completely spent.

The Gamble of Life is an impressive debut album from this highly talented group of musicians. I’m confident we’ll be hearing more great music from them in the future. Support Traverse the Abyss by following them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Subscribe to their YouTube channel and stream their music on Spotify. Gamble of Life may be purchased on iTunes and other music sites offering music for download.

Top 20 Songs for February 5-11, 2017

1. CLEOPATRA – The Lumineers (2)
2. DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5, Kendrick Lamar (3)
3. MY NAME IS HUMAN – Highly Suspect (1)
4. ATLAS, RISE! – Metallica (4)
5. SQUARE HAMMER – Ghost (5)
6. STILL BREATHING – Green Day (6)
7. SHINE – Mondo Cozmo (10)
8. TAKE IT ALL BACK – Judah & the Lion (8)
9. BLOOD IN THE CUT – K.Flay (9)
10. SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran (11)
11. BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane (7)
12. I NEED A LIGHT – Run With It (14)
13. SCARS TO YOUR BEAUTIFUL – Alessia Cara (17)
14. 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars (12)
15. RUST TO GOLD – Council (16)
16. WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE – Adele (18)
17. HEAVYDIRTYSOUL – twenty øne piløts (20)
18. HUMAN – Rag’n’Bone Man (N)
19. OBSOLETE – Agony in the Garden (13)
20. STARBOY – The Weeknd, Daft Punk (15)

Featured Song and Video: BLUE CACTUS – “I Never Knew Heartache (Then I Knew You)”

I’m not a big fan of what is generally referred to as ‘Bro-Country’, however I am quite partial to classic old-school country music of the 50s and 60s. I’m talking about Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Marty Robbins, all of whom could do no wrong. They wrote and sang songs about life and love that tore at your heartstrings, and their music strongly influenced a multitude of artists in other genres, including folk, rock, rockabilly, R&B, soul and the blues. I fondly remember a fantastic album my parents owned by the legendary Ray Charles called Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which was a huge hit in 1962, but I digress… Thankfully, there are still artists around today who make country music that stays true to the classic form. The duo who call themselves Blue Cactus are such artists. Hailing from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Blue Cactus are singer/songwriters Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez.

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The pair played music together for three years as the Americana string band Steph Stewart & the Boyfriends, releasing two pretty decent albums, Over the World Below in 2013, and Nobody’s Darlin’ in 2015. They’ve now recorded their first full-length album as Blue Cactus, which is set to drop in late February. In advance of the album, they’ve released a lovely single “I Never Knew Heartache (Then I Knew You)” along with a compelling video.  

The song is about a woman whose man is being unfaithful, causing her heartache. With sorrow in her voice, Steph croons “Heartbreak will find you, wrap his arms round your waist. Hold you tight through the night, in his lonely embrace.” Musically, the song features many signature elements of a classic Country song – a pretty slide guitar riff, gentle piano keys, acoustic guitar, sweet violin and light percussion, all played at a languid pace. The lovely but rather mournful chorus adds to the overall sad vibe of the song.

The interesting video, produced by Roxanne Turpen, juxtaposes footage of the couple performing the song (in which Steph wears a short white-blonde wig) with other scenes of them acting out the story told by the song lyrics. Steph sings directly into the camera while her man spends time with another woman, unaware of her presence. Happier times are recalled in other scenes of them sharing tender moments together.

Here’s a nice video worth watching of Steph and Mario talking about why they make music and the influences for their particular style of Country.

To learn more about Blue Cactus, check out their website. Follow them on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram, and follow their YouTube channel. Their upcoming debut album may be pre-ordered at http://bluecactus.bigcartel.com/product/blue-cactus-cd-pre-order

Song Review: SHELITA BURKE – “Penetrate”

Last October, I reviewed singer/songwriter Shelita Burke’s steamy EDM-infused single “Belong” (which you can read here). Now she’s back with a brand new single “Penetrate,” and it’s a beautiful, sexy track. The song title is a metaphor for connecting with a lover on an emotional level, though its highly suggestive meaning is certainly up to the listener’s imagination. Opening with delicate, plucky synths and finger snaps, the song slowly builds with rich layered synth chords and gentle percussion, set to a languid electro-house beat.

In her sultry voice, Shelita practically moans as she demands her lover to fully submit to her carnal passions while also respecting her: “I slow grind, Imma be on top. Penetrate my thoughts. If you want to stay with me, you better treat me right now, baby. You want this love for free, you better hold me tight now, baby.” It all makes for quite an intoxicating and sensuous song.

Follow Shelita on  Facebook,  Twitter  and Instagram, and stream her music on Spotify. “Penetrate” and her other songs may be purchased on iTunes and other sites offering music for download.

Concert Review: ADELITAS WAY & DISCIPLES OF BABYLON – Jan. 27, 2017

I recently had the pleasure of seeing two bands that I love in concert on the same bill, at The Slidebar in Fullerton, California. LA band Disciples of Babylon, whose debut EP Welcome to Babylon I reviewed a year ago (which you can read here), opened for Las Vegas band Adelitas Way. (Varna was the other opening band, but I missed part of their set so am not including them in this review.) Adelitas Way played several gigs up and down California in late January, including at The Slidebar on January 27, and will resume touring throughout the Western U.S. in early March.

The Slidebar is a pretty small venue with no seating, so everyone stands to watch artists perform. I would guess the room held no more than 200 people, so it was quite intimate, and great to be able to see the bands up close and personal. Unbelievably, the concert was free! Disciples of Babylon, a four -man rock band consisting of Eric Knight on lead vocals, Ramon Blanco on lead guitar, Gui Bodi on bass, and Chris Toeller on drums, were first to perform.

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The guys look a bit tough in their promotional photo, but in reality are kind, generous and funny, with a great appreciation for their fans. This was their second gig I’ve attended, and they deliver 100 percent. Their set, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, included a number of new songs that will be featured on their upcoming full-length album, currently being mastered and planned for release in early Spring. They also sang their fantastic hit song “KARMA” and “The Great Pretend” off their debut EP, as well as an awesome cover of the David Bowie classic “Fame.” I filmed a portion of that song but, unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t very good (the music and bass were extremely loud in the small venue, so the sound is distorted in the audio recorded by my phone). Still, one gets a good feel for their dynamic sound and stage presence.

Adelitas Way came on stage around 10 pm, and by that time the room was filled to capacity, with anticipation running high. The band’s current line-up includes lead vocalist Rick DeJesusTre Stafford on drums, Robert Zakaryan on lead guitar and backing vocals, and Andrew Cushing on bass. The guys put on an exhilarating live show, and DeJesus is a crazy man on stage! He’s a big guy, and stalks the stage like a lion, his charisma and incredible energy charging up his audience.

They played many of their hits, including “Criticize,” “Bad Reputation,” “Sick,” “Getaway,” “Invincible,” and “The Collapse,” as well as their new song “Ready for War (Pray for Peace)” that will appear on their upcoming fifth studio album. In between songs, DeJesus engaged the audience and spoke about the band, their music and future plans. It was obvious Adelitas Way has a large, loyal base of fans, and a few people in the audience had seen them five or six times. At the end of their set, the band members circulated among the crowd, shaking hands and posing for selfies with fans. I was impressed by the amount of time and effort DeJesus put forth in meeting and greeting his fans, and his interest in them was completely genuine.

Here’s a snippet of their performance of “Bad Reputation” and once again I apologize for the poor sound quality.

Adelitas Way kicks off their Ready For War Tour 2017 on March 2 in Las Vegas, joined by opening act Letters from the Fire. If you haven’t seen them live, I highly recommend you make the effort to see them on this tour.

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To learn more about Adelitas Way, follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and stream their music on Spotify. Likewise, follow Disciples of Babylon on Facebook and Twitter, and stream their music on Spotify.