MISSIO – Album Review: “VILLAIN”

Am I a villain or a saint?” MISSIO asks on the title track of their brilliant new album VILLAIN. As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of the Austin, Texas-based duo, which consists of singer-songwriter and producer Matthew Brue and songwriter/producer and instrumentalist David Butler. On the strength of their exceptional music catalog, as well as their honesty and openness with their fans and followers, they’ve earned a place among my favorite music acts of all time, and I’ve featured them several times on this blog. Their edgy, thoroughly original sound is an eclectic mash-up of gritty alternative electronic rock, hip hop and dreamy emo vibes. Matthew’s beautiful, deeply emotive vocals add to their distinctive sound that’s totally unlike any other act.

David Butler and Matthew Brue

Beginning with the release of their debut album Loner in 2017, they’ve consistently put out a tremendous amount of outstanding music, including their magnificent second album The Darker the Weather // The Better the Man in 2019 (my review of that album has garnered over 2,900 views, making it my highest-viewed album review ever). They released their gorgeous fourth album Can You Feel The Sun in October 2020and their fifth and latest album VILLAIN dropped September 23rd. Three of their songs – “I See You”, “Underground” and “Can You Feel the Sun” – have reached #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 chart, with “I See You” also being my #1 song of 2019 and #10 of the entire decade of the 2010s.

Though most of MISSIO’s songs are inspired by personal experiences, both good and bad, VILLAIN is perhaps their most deeply personal and introspective: “This is the first album we’ve chosen to release independently, and we poured our hearts into it. We always aim to write vulnerably about what we are feeling in the moment, and honestly, the last few years have been filled with a lot of difficult moments for us. Therefore, this album was written and inspired from some of the darkest spaces / heaviest emotions that we’ve experienced. It’s an album cultivated over hundreds of hours of internal/external dialogue within ourselves and each other about the meaning of the world and our place in it.

The ten tracks touch on such topics as the conflict between the good vs. evil that exists within most of us, feelings of self-worth, anger and resentment, and the need for love and acceptance. The title track “Villain” seems to encapsulate all of these: “Complicated and a mess, slightly OCD. Take for granted many things that mean a lot to me. I know, I’ve got a lot to learn. I was raised as a scorpion. Being pulled by the moon in a high tide. That’s why I’m broken. I know, this hurts a lot. It’s not my fault it never was. And I know, I’m tough like stone. But right now, please hug me, I feel alone.” Musically, the song alternates between pensive, atmospheric moods and urgent, beat-driven grooves, nicely conveying the inner conflict touched on earlier.

On the menacing trip hop song “Demons“, Matthew starts off lamenting of his shortcomings “I feel I am letting go. And that makes me angry because I’m not who I want to be. It seems like I’m fading. And that makes me terrified because I’m not who I want to be.” But then he seems to take on the persona of the devil as he malevolently snarls, perhaps in reply to himself “Ay boy, what the fuck you think you’re doing here? This is Hell, don’t you know that you were coming here? I’ve been playing with your demons all day.”

MISSIO summon their inner beast on the bombastic “Say Something” and “#gimmeakiss“, which according to Spotify streaming stats are two of the most popular tracks on VILLAIN. Both tracks last barely two minutes, but blast through the speakers like a sonic battering ram of grinding industrial synths and pummeling beats. It’s clear the guys had a lot of fun recording these bangers, which are more frantic than their usual style, and both need to be played at full volume!

I Wanna Fight And You Know It” is an eerie, aggressive song in which Matthew speaks to his darker, more combative side: “People tell me that I may be the disease. Like I’m the crazy bitches in the sea. Maybe all of ’em are right when it comes to being shady. I wanna fight and you know it. I got my fists up tonight and you know it.” And on the anthemic “We Are Who We Are“, Matthew addresses the importance of being true to ourselves, and accepting our imperfections in order to live a life that’s honest and real: “Why do we try to live a lie? It isn’t worth it. Who you tryna please? ‘Cause if it’s me, it isn’t working. We are who we are. That can be hard to accept. We are all fucked up human beings.”

One of the more enjoyable tracks on the album is “Does Anybody Love Me“. I love the infectious upbeat vibe and hearty piano and bass-driven groove. The lyrics speak to overthinking and worrying too much about what others think of you, but also cognizant of the fact that many others do the same: “Does anybody love me? I don’t know. Is everybody lonely? I think so.”

The final three tracks on VILLAIN are more contemplative and melodic, beginning with “Failure to Comply“, a beautiful, powerfully moving song about a narcissist who’s unable to love or show empathy toward others: “What is it you’re looking for? What is it that leaves you wanting more? Will you ever fight for me? Will you ever love someone other than you?” The mournful piano and dramatic, sweeping instrumentals are gorgeous, as are Matthew’s deeply heartfelt vocals. My favorite song on the album, it’s spent the past three months and counting on my Weekly Top 30.

Picture in My Pocket” is a beautiful love song, with a languid, almost jazzy feel. The warm piano keys, subtle percussion and strummed guitar are positively sublime, and Matthew’s gentle vocals have an enchanting ethereal quality as he softly croons “Hang on to love if it’s real. I want to believe. I have this picture in my pocket of a peace I won’t grieve. And then I saw you. And you saw me. And suddenly the world wasn’t as bad as once before.”

VILLAIN closes on a positive note with the stunning and cinematic “To the Universe“. The lyrics speak to living life with an open mind and an open heart, unafraid to take chances and follow your dreams: “Open your mind to ideas that you don’t like. It’s a beautiful world if you quit puttin’ up a fight. You can let your walls down and be who you want to be. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful world, you can scream it when you don’t believe. To the universe, to the universe. It’s where we’re headed.”

Their previous albums are all so exceptional, I wasn’t sure how MISSIO could possibly keep matching their quality, let alone top them. But how shortsighted and wrong I was to doubt them, as once again they’ve gifted us with a phenomenal album in the form of VILLAIN. Every single one of its tracks is outstanding, which is not something that can be said about very many albums. I remain a faithful and devoted fan.

Follow MISSIO:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple MusicYouTube
Purchase on Amazon

FROZEN FACTORY – Album Review: “Of Pearls & Perils”

Hailing from the beautiful nation of Finland is the exceptionally talented rock band Frozen Factory. I first introduced them to my readers last June when I reviewed their excellent EP The First Liquidation, which they cheekily described as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” I was so impressed with its high quality that I didn’t think they could top it, but their new album Of Pearls & Perils has proven me wrong. I’m not generally a huge fan of hard rock, but I loved it at first listen. And it’s not often I call an album a “masterpiece”, but Of Pearls & Perils deserves that title, and then some. 

Since forming in December 2018, Frozen Factory has undergone several personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on lead vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, Marianne Heikkinen on drums, and Johnny Koivumäki, who joined the band in late 2021, on rhythm guitar. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.

Photo of Mici, Johnny, Marianne, Stephen & Tomi by Petri Sara

Interestingly, Of Pearl & Perils was actually written and partly recorded before the band even began writing and recording The First Liquidation EP. They explain: “We penned ‘Of Pearls & Perils’ almost immediately after finishing 2020’s ‘Planted Feet’ and fell so in love with the songs that we wanted to make sure we’d give the album all the right conditions to sound the best it could. So, we banked the songs and experimented with the creation of ‘The First Liquidation’, expanding our horizons along the way. As a result, the EP and this new album link together almost like siblings. That’s not to say that ‘The First Liquidation’ is a B-record – it simply felt like a necessary bridge to our growth before we tackled the monster we knew was lurking within ‘Of Pearls & Perils’.

And what a magnificent monster it is! They’ve really outdone themselves with their skillful blending of alt-rock, melodic metal and progressive elements to create an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. All 12 tracks are outstanding, overflowing with gorgeous melodies, driving rhythms and breathtaking instrumentation. The poetic lyrics are both biting and deeply insightful, and delivered with Stephen’s powerful, resonant vocals, which often cover me with chills. He seriously has one of the more beautiful voices in rock today.

Written by Stephen and Tomi, the album addresses such topics as inequality and oppression, toxic masculinity, the afterlife, and the climate crisis. More specifically, the dark lyrics reflect Stephen’s inner struggles with the behavior of much of the human race, including himself. He elaborates: “I really cannot comprehend why we’re so careless with our home planet and the living communities that depend on it. I’m sad when I see regular people fighting with other regular people and then voting to give power to people who’re hell-bent on destroying regular folk. I feel like we’ve become so easy to influence, so easy to deceive, so easy to distract with trivial differences. I’d like to see a safe world where every kind and life-respecting human has the opportunity to reach their potential, no matter what kind of body they possess, beliefs they follow or lifestyle they lead. Our songs are usually a wake-up call, and often written to push myself as well as anyone else who listens, because I sometimes feel lazy and inactive about things that should anger me to the core. I want to be more. I want to do more to help. I want human civilisation to succeed.”

Album opener “Murder in the Depths” starts off with a woman speaking the line “Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis” (which translates to English as “Only a fool would never change their mind”), accompanied by jarring sounds of a siren blaring a warning. The woman speaking is Angela Carolei, one of Frozen Factory’s most active fans, whom they’ve never met. Her voice is also featured in several other little moments throughout the record, in both French and English. Stephen said that he chose to use some minor French moments for both Of Pearls & Perils and The First Liquidationbecause the French language includes some absolutely killer phrases that don’t work so well in English.”

With lyrics containing nautical references, a theme that will be repeated on several tracks, the song encapsulates the album’s overall messages of social injustice and inequality, not only among classes but between men and women, oppression and environmental degradation. “Murder in the Depths” speaks of a woman who perished while diving for pearls intended for the wealthier class, which she would never have had the opportunity to wear: “With little choice like most before, she laboured for a dream. Was sent to dive too deep, where nobility refused to even dip their toes. Her lungs collapsed far below...if we don’t face up together, fear will point our distrust down. And billions more will drown.”

The song quickly segues into “Host With the Most“, blasting through the speakers with a barrage of raging guitars, throbbing bass and Marianne’s explosive drumbeats. And though it’s purely coincidental, I like the little guitar riff that sounds like the one from The B-52s “Rock Lobster”, and Mici’s wailing guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. As an Atheist who does not believe in heaven nor hell (other than how both are manifested here on earth), the lyrics about how so many people endure injustice and pain in their lives, hopeful in the belief they’ll do better in an afterlife, strongly resonate with me: “How many place their bets on bliss? How many live their lives for this? Oh have they seen some guarantees or signs of afterlife? / There’s only one life given at a time. The rest is a question that will never die. But you will die, so be prepared to say goodbye. No afterlife.

Solar Windfalls” is a gentle song with a nod to David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity” and “Life On Mars”, sung from the perspective of an astronaut traveling through space, contemplating their endless search for exciting new adventures and the state of the world they’ve left behind: “I’m closer than ever to an answer for Bowie. Yeah I turned to face the strange, but what can life on Mars teach me about the richer man’s change?/ What have I become? Pursuing shiny desires. Points of light above keep me majorly wired. Is there even a place at the end of my trail? Or will I endlessly trace a line that’s destined to fail? The pale blue dot fades, she is to me ever darker, ever farther she wanes, and the chasm grows starker.” The somber piano keys, twinkling synths and chiming guitars are wonderful, as are Stephen’s plaintive vocals.

The next several tracks see Frozen Factory railing against racism, cruelty and putting our faith in duplicitous leaders who steer us to ruin. On “Equalise Power“, they call out racism, fear of the other, and police brutality, and implore us to act with fairness, tolerance and compassion: “What part of you is broken? That your heart cannot be open to a person of another colour, what is colour? You’ve been put in a bubble to elevate your struggles. Your fire stoked by nonsense that you swallow gladly. Apparently unable to see what’s on the table. The poison that you’ve been fed since your first days alive./ Your reasons for hate are not reasonable. When you discriminate you are not reasonable. That call you will make it is not reasonable. The actions police take will not be reasonable. Time to end this now. Time to equalise power. Seize thy hour.”

They channel their inner Alice In Chains on the hard-hitting “The Depths of Hell“, a scathing diatribe against too many societies’ penchant for going against our best interests in the support of disingenuous and evil leaders who stoke hate and divisiveness by preying on our fears: “Our only future is the ash of the past, when we fund and root for the most egregious ass. We love a Lucifer to fork our lives on every burning issue. They will decide. We’ve picked our demons to fix our aim and sell us our trip to heaven.” The song’s a proper metal rock gem, with a deep, pummeling rhythm courtesy of Tomi’s crushing bassline and Marianne’s speaker-blowing drums. Mici’s guitar work is positively fearsome as he makes his six-string wail and scream, and Stephen’s vocals are dripping with venom as he matches the music’s fury note for note.

And speaking of venom, they launch headlong into “Loud, Lazy, Late“, furiously calling out an asshole totally lacking in any redeemable attributes: “Can’t you show any will to grow? Any thoughts to be kinder than you’ve been. You’ve no empathy, it’s all me me me. You don’t like my tone, but you’ve abso-fucking-lutely got to go! Loud, lazy, late and low quality!

Pie in the Sky” is a stirring anthemic ballad, with beautiful piano, cinematic synths, and exuberant jangly and wailing guitars. The lyrics seem to speak of finding contentment not from material possessions and desires, but from the natural beauty and love that lies inside each of us if we allow it to flourish and grow: “False symbols of winning life, bring promise before denial. ‘Cause what we’d like you cannot buy. This is our own and it’s beautiful.

I think my favorite track from a musical standpoint is “Absolute in Vanity“. I love its strong driving beat, heavy chugging rhythms and gorgeous ostinato guitar riffs of a similar vein as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, though the melody is vastly different. The song is a kind of response to “The Depths of Hell” above, but this time sung from the perspective of the evil Trump-like leader people have elected: “You! I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You love me? Well. I don’t come free. No. I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You chose me? Well. I don’t come cheap. Because of lies, lies. You idolise lies.” Between those fiery riffs and Stephen’s spectacular impassioned vocals, I’m left covered in goosebumps.

We’re Gonna Die” is a rousing banger decrying peoples’ greed and insatiable need for more, more, more, and how it’s killing the planet: “Long ago on a hill lived a group who felt they had a need. Though they had more than most, their whole life was a spiral of greed. They lit a fire for their revolution. The first distant lands burned with absolution. Hey you, we’re gonna die if you don’t change your lifestyle now.” The arresting piano riff reminds me a bit of U2’s “New Years Day”. “Never is a Theory” is perhaps the most enigmatic song on the album. I’m not sure of the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about coming to terms with one’s own death, as expressed in these lyrics: “Will I cease to be tonight, as i can’t believe my sight. A myth the trust in vision seems hard to swallow, lies or dreams yeah. End of the river. End of the river. I’m trying to see, what’s at the end of the river. End of the river for me.” In any case, it’s an enchanting rock song, with terrific improvised guest vocals sung by Lily M.

The title track “Of Pearls & Perils” opens on a pensive note with a man assuring his son that, even though the ship (representing the Titanic) is in trouble, everything will be alright: “Try not to worry about it son. You know what the captain said. He said ‘Every single one of us is safe on this ship.” The song gradually expands into a haunting piano-driven anthem, accompanied by grungy guitars and soaring vocals.

Stephen states that the song is essentially about toxic masculinity, and how men have taken the world in the wrong direction, but remain incredibly stubborn and resistant to change, denying or underplaying their weaknesses and overstating their strengths in order to protect their pride. The ship represents the ruling elite of men who currently control the ship of human destiny, and in this song, a man gains a woman’s love with a gift of pearls, assuring her the ship is safe: “With a hull so strong, we will brush off ice and storms. On the treacherous cold seas we will never freeze. I’ve heard no man can steer us wrong. Our ship will n carry on. This titan can’t be breached. These props will never seize.” As the ship continues to sink deeper into the ocean, his unwavering belief in the men who built the ship, and that it would never sink, cannot be broken: “Sit with me, be relaxed. Rest assured this is a lapse. Don’t listen, look or think. You cannot know that we will sink.” The song ends with sounds of actual Morse code from the Titanic, sending out a distress call, accompanied by an eerie voiceover of a woman, sung by Angela Carolei, saying “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire“, which translates to “It’s not the sea to drink”.

The album closes with the somber “Deceit Upon the Decks“, a final note to the story of the woman described in “Of Pearls & Perils”. The song also mirrors the first track “Murder in the Depths”, except that in this song, the woman who perished was upper-class, rather than a worker: “A skull dressed with her jewels. He never loved her true. They never really were for her, but emblems for other men to observe. Of status, cash and property. The shackles in his evil dream. Her trust went to the top of the chain. They both tumbled when he fell from grace.” Stephen says that the final lines of the song sum up the album’s overall meaning, that we’ve been conditioned to believe that many things that are actually against our own interest would be good for us, and we often allow things to happen that are bad for us: “Of pearls and perils there is much lore. To claim each as a gem for the men with it all. And they’ve told you they’re one and the same. And it’s not your place to question their game.” The last words, spoken by Angela, quietly implore us to “Please, think again.”

What more can I say about this album that I haven’t already gushed over, other than to restate that it’s an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. The thought, care and strong musicianship that have gone into its creation and production are truly impressive, and the five members of Frozen Factory should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s one of the best albums of 2022.

Follow Frozen Factory:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

pMad – Single Review: “Sisters”

pMad is the solo music project of Irish singer-songwriter Paul Dillon, a lifelong lover of music who’s been involved in songwriting and performing for years. Based in County Galway, Paul was previously a member of the bands Starve the Barber and The Suicidal Dufflecoats, and currently a member of The Greeting, as well as his project pMad. His eclectic sound, which is a dramatic and fascinating blend of darkwave, post-punk, alternative and goth rock, is heavily influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, Sonic Youth, Suicidal Tendencies, The The and Tom Waits.

When the pandemic lockdowns impacted his and just about every other artists’ ability to make and perform music, Paul created a “The Best of Irish Indie” page on Facebook, in which he ran a series of ‘Best of Irish’ polls. The response was so positive, he was newly energized and inspired to rework and record some of his previously-written songs, along with some newly-written ones. Without ever being in the same room together, he took advantage of modern recording technologies to create a number of singles remotely in collaboration with Zedakube Recording (Ireland), Protonaut Studio (Germany) and Elith Mastering Labs (Mexico). He released his debut single “Who Am I” last December, then followed in February with “Medicine”, and “Broken” in April (which I reviewed in a Fresh New Tracks post). He subsequently dropped a six-track EP Broken in May, featuring four songs and two remixes, then another single “Horror” in June, and today returns with his latest single “Sisters“. 

Like most of pMad’s songs, it’s dark, brooding and intense, but I loved “Sisters” upon my first listen. Even my husband, who’s not much into goth or alternative rock, liked it the moment he heard it. What a magnificent song it is, driven by a deep, chugging bassline, and awash in ominous darkwave synths, layered guitars and pulsating drums. There are so many brilliant instrumental textures and elements, such as the contrasting shimmery and gnarly, reverb-soaked guitars and dramatic swirling synths, all creating a darkly beautiful cinematic soundscape for pMad’s arresting monotone vocals that come across as simultaneously menacing and hopeful.

About “Sisters”, pMad says it speaks of “those we love gone too soon. They don’t go away very far, they walk beside us every day… having left such an impression on us! They are still loved, still missed and a very important influence on our lives.” He elaborated further in an interview for the NenesButler Presents Music blog: “The inspiration for ‘Sisters’ was my youngest sister Keira who just dropped dead one day! Too young and too good to die, yet she did. We mourned, but the world will spin with you or without you. So, life goes on but she left an indelible mark in my life, like my father and relations and friends that have died. She was a cool, calm character and had some great sayings and thoughts on life. Of course, like me and any of us, she was not perfect, and had a few of her own demons to conquer too. She always saw the good in people, [and] the one great thing she always said, if someone was mean to her or anyone, was ‘be kind to them, you don’t know what they are going through right now’.

“Sisters” is fantastic, and I think it’s the best single released yet by pMad! He plans on dropping more singles in the coming months, and his album Who Why Where What is scheduled for release in November.

The fabulous artwork for the single was created by Little Bird Design.

Follow pMad:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 27 – “The Drop” by David Oakes

The subject for Day 27 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song by an instrumental artist“, and once again, the possible choices are immense. Musicians and composers have been creating instrumental music since the dawn of time I suppose, with classical music, followed by jazz, being the two most widespread forms of instrumental music composed up until the beginning of the so-called ‘rock era’ in the mid 1950s. After that, instrumental music created by more mainstream artists became popular, and from the mid 1950s through early 1980s, scores of singles like “Tequila”, “Sleep Walk”, “The Theme from ‘A Summer Place'”, “Green Onions”, “Stranger on the Shore”, “Love is Blue”, “Classical Gas”, “Grazin’ in the Grass”, “Frankenstein”, “Love’s Theme”, “T.S.O.P.” and “Chariots of Fire” became huge hits. Why instrumental songs failed to become hits after that has been a subject of debate, which I won’t delve further into here, other than to say that I think it’s unfortunate.

That said, there are still lots of musicians and artists out there who are creating some great instrumental music, and I’ve featured many of them on this blog over the years. One of my favorites, and also the very first I wrote about as a new blogger way back in March 2016, is David Oakes. Born in England and now living in Wales, he’s an imaginative and prolific musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. I really like his music, and have written about quite a lot of it (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).

David’s been actively involved in making music since his late teens, when he started playing in various bands. From 2001-06, he and his younger brother were members of the rock band KOTOW, for which he played drums. He went on to study guitar and music theory at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildord, England from 2009-12, after which he started composing and recording music as a solo artist. Since 2012, he’s released an astonishing 10 albums! One of his non-album singles is “The Drop“, which I’ve chosen for my latest song challenge.

It’s an intense song, with a strong chugging bass line overlain with gritty staccato guitar and relentless pummeling drumbeats, highlighted by some tasty melodic riffs of metal guitar riffs. As with all his music, David played all the instruments, and recorded, produced and mixed the track.

The equally intense, horror-film like video, produced by Dark Fable Media, shows David playing the song on his guitar in the woods, where he encounters a man in a frightful-looking mask. The masked man attacks him, whereupon they struggle until David stabs him and runs off. The story seems to be a kind of nightmare, as all three men shown in the video are the same guy, stuck in a disturbing time loop. The entire video is filmed in black and white, with the only color shown being the red blood on the knife and the stabbed man’s hands.

Here’s David’s latest release Ten Years A Dave, featuring what he feels are his ten best tracks over the past ten years, including “The Drop”.

Stream/purchase David’s music on SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 17 – “Seasick” by The Rare Occasions

The subject for Day 17 of my 30 Day Song Challenge is “A song released this year“. This was another tough one, as there are literally thousands of songs to choose from. To help narrow my list of possible choices a bit, I decided to choose a song I like by an artist or band who follows me on Twitter, and who I’ve not yet written about in 2022. And the very first act that popped into my head is L.A.-based trio The Rare Occasions, and their terrific new single “Seasick“. I love their music, a glorious cornucopia of colorful melodies, sparkling arrangements, exuberant instrumentals, compelling lyrics and endearing vocals. With songs that are immediately memorable and delightfully addictive, it’s not surprising they’ve earned a massive following, with over 5.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone.

I first wrote about them in September 2020 when I reviewed their fantastic single “Alone”, so I won’t repeat a lot of background information about them that can be found in that article. But to summarize, with origins in New England, and based in Los Angeles since 2017, The Rare Occasions now consists of three very personable and talented guys: Brian McLaughlin on lead vocals and guitar, Jeremy Cohen on bass, and Luke Imbusch on drums. They’ve been putting out great music since the release of their debut EP Applefork in 2013, and last summer (of 2021), they released their outstanding second album Big Whoop. When I wrote about them two years ago, their song “Notion” had garnered approximately 1.7 million streams on Spotify. But after the song went viral on TikTok late last year, it’s now racked up more than 237 million streams! With their explosion in popularity, nine of their other songs have earned between 1-9 million streams.

Their latest single “Seasick” is a fun romp, with a bouncy, lighthearted groove set to Jeremy’s galloping rhythm, and highlighted by Luke’s thumping drumbeats and Brian’s exuberant surf guitars. Brian’s plaintive vocals are wonderful too, rising to electrifying wails in the lively choruses. The lyrics, which feature lots of nautical metaphors, speak to struggling with fears and insecurities that hold us back, preventing us from moving forward in life, living our truths and reaching our goals: “I can’t keep pushing back the plans I got, impersonating something that I’m not. / We get caught up in the little things, displaced from what we know. Though I’m not too fond of traveling, there’s a long long wake behind me.

The animated lyric video, with sweet artwork by Rhea Hanlon of Lost Lines Studio, and animation by Arianna Soto & Mamasoto Design & Media, shows the band floating in the sea on a small inflatable raft.

Follow The Rare Occasions:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp

HOLY COVES – Single Review: “Desert Storm”

Hailing from beautiful Holy Island, situated just off Anglesey Island in northwest Wales roughly halfway between Dublin and Liverpool, alternative psychedelic rock outfit Holy Coves is the brain child of singer-songwriter Scott Marsden. Since its formation in 2005, the band has consisted of an ever-changing group of musicians, as Marsden brings in who he wants to work with for each project. Holy Coves released their debut album The Lizzies Ynys Môn on New Years Day 2008, then followed in 2011 with an EP and two singles, which were later included on their second album Peruvian Mistake, released in 2012.

After a nearly 10-year hiatus, brought on in part by the death of his best friend and manager, as well as his personal struggles with addiction and subsequent recovery, Marsden assembled a new group of esteemed musicians to record his third album Druids and Bards, due for release this coming August via his label Yr Wyddfa Records. These musicians are (with previous acts they’ve played with in parentheses) John Lawrence on guitar (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci), Owain Ginsberg on guitar & synths (WE//ARE//ANIMAL, Hippies Vs Ghosts, The Heights), Jason Hughes on bass (The Painkillers), and Spike T Smith on drums (Morrissey, The Damned, New York Dolls). Marsden told me “It was a honour to work with them. I’ve wanted to work with all of them since I was a teenager. I’m very lucky. They are all geniuses.” He wrote and sang all songs, and co-produced the album with Lawrence, who also engineered the album. The two men shown flanking Marsden in the header photo are friends he’s brought in for live performances, who will also play on his next record.

In late March, Holy Coves released their first single from Druids and Bards, the brilliant “The Hurt Within”, which is currently enjoying a run on my Weekly Top 30. Now, only a month later, they return with the second single “Desert Storm“, and it’s another brooding cinematic stunner. Over a stomping, mesmerizing groove, they layer mysterious, psychedelic synths, crisp percussion and an arresting blend of droning and jangly guitars to create a dark and moody soundscape, but with a hint of optimism. Marsden has a clear and pleasing singing voice, and his slightly echoed vocals have a somewhat ethereal quality here as he earnestly details his struggles of keeping a troubled relationship together while suffering from severe drug addiction.

What you see is what you get
What you needs irrelevant
It's time we need to heal my friend
Let's go until we reach the end
Look how far we've come
We've only just begun
You're holding onto me
But I'm so far gone

Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
Let's ride the storm
Were coming up don't fight the feeling
It's the desert storm

I come to feel her love again
And take away all the pain
It seems like everyday I fight her now
It's tearing us apart
Right now I'm falling hard
Let's go back to the start
I'm falling off again
She's got me hook line babe

“Desert Storm” is a marvelous track, and if it and “The Hurt Within” are any indication, Druids and Bards is guaranteed to be a spectacular album.

To coincide with their album release, Holy Coves will kick off their 24 date Druids And Bards UK Tour on August 19th in Wrexham.

Connect with Holy Coves:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp

AVA VOX – Album Review: “Immortalised”

Ava Vox is the music project of Irish singer-songwriter Elaine Hannon, a fascinating and seasoned artist who’s been involved with music for much of her life. Originally from Dublin and now based in County Meath, she started her music career at the age of 17 as vocalist for a band, then in 1986 she formed alternative goth rock/post-punk band The Seventh Veil. Their music garnered airplay on Irish radio and earned positive reviews in local press, and they even won a Battle of the Bands competition. They lasted five years until disbanding in 1991. Hannon spent the next few decades involved with various other music projects, and was in the early stages of forming another band when the Covid pandemic brought everything to a halt (as it did for just about every other artist and band) in early 2020. Unable to perform live or record together, she eventually made the decision that September to create her own solo act under the moniker Ava Vox.

With her distinctive deep vocal timbre and commanding delivery, not to mention her arresting goth persona, Ava Vox is a dynamic and compelling performer. Her music style is similar to that of her previous band The Seventh Veil, namely alternative rock imbued with goth rock and post-punk elements, and steeped in strong 80s sensibilities. She began recording songs remotely with a talented group of musicians from Dublin, Scotland, Brazil and Italy, for what would become her debut album Immortalised, which she released on March 25th. Specifically, piano/keyboards and Hammond organ were played by Ray McLoughlin, who also arranged the strings and co-produced the album, electric guitar by Enda Dempsey, bass by James Blennerhassett, and drums Robbie Casserly.

The album features eight marvelous tracks, five of which were previously written and performed by Hannon and her The Seventh Veil bandmates, along with three covers of iconic songs by The Cure, David Bowie and Soft Cell. She elaborates: “I revisited some songs that were written collectively by me and my previous band. I wanted to give these songs new life again, for the world to hear them. Then these songs would be preserved for evermore” – i.e. ‘immortalised’. As for the three covers, she stated that each of those artists and songs were inspirational for her, and hold a special place in her heart.

The album bursts open with “Crash” a darkly beautiful cinematic rocker and standout track. I love the aggressive, pulse-pounding beat, fortified with gothic industrial synths, powerful galloping rhythms and – most appropriately – a torrent of crashing cymbals. Ava’s commanding vocals raise goosebumps as she issues dire warnings of impending doom. The dramatic video, produced by Isaac Burke, is intended to bring attention to the devastation caused by climate change/global warming. Ava portrays the white witch goddess, symbolizing mother nature, who loves the earth and all its species, and provides us with a glimpse of the present and what the future could be, the potential end of the world/extinction of species and the human race.

All of the tracks on Immortalised are strong. “Silent Tear” and “Alone Again” are beautiful synth and guitar-driven rock songs, with compelling melodies that stuck with me long after hearing them. The latter song describes an abusive relationship, wherein the victim eventually finds the courage to escape from their abuser, but sadly falls prey to the abuser’s false charms and promises to change, returning for more: “It’s here again, in rings of garland. Opened eyes and telling hearts. Punch me, hard against the wall. Kick me, trip me, hush me til I fall.”

Another favorite of mine is “One Sweet Goodbye“, a haunting piano ballad about the searing pain that results from the end of a relationship. Ray McLoughlin’s gorgeous piano and string arrangement create a stunning cinematic backdrop for Ana’s heart-wrenching vocals as she laments “Goodbye, goodbye, I feel as though I will die.” “Heart of Good Intention” is great too, with it’s exuberant organ-based groove that calls to mind the music of early 80s The Kinks.

Ava does a fine justice to the three cover songs: “Tainted Love“, originally written by Ed Cobb and recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964, and later covered in 1981 by British duo Soft Cell, “Life on Mars” by David Bowie, and “Love Song” by The Cure. “Tainted Love” is given a full-band treatment, with piano and Hammond organ played by Ray McLoughlin, electric guitar by Daniel Martin and drums by Jonathan Owens, whereas “Life on Mars” and “Love Song” are more stripped down, with mainly piano by Ray McLoughlin (as well as Hammond organ on “Life on Mars” and a bit of drums at the end of “Love Song”) accompanying Ava’s arresting vocals. “Love Song” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and has been covered by many acts, most notably 311, Adele, Good Charlotte, Tori Amos, Death Cab for Cutie and Nina Sky. Ava’s slowed-down interpretation is quite lovely, and her heartfelt vocals are particularly moving, beautifully expressing the intense enduring love described in The Cure’s lyrics.

I’m glad Ava Vox decided to immortalize her songs with this album, and she and her crew have done an outstanding job in its production and execution. Listening to Immortalised is 26 and a half minutes well spent.

Connect with Ava: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream her music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

MACHINEKIT – Album Review: “I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND”

Album artwork by Jaydee Buege at Wire Mark Design

MACHINEKIT is a techno-punk band based in Los Angeles. Originally founded as Dharma in 2012 by John Rojas, Dave Cayetano and William Buege, as their sound evolved they made the decision in 2016 to change their name to MACHINEKIT, and the following year released their self-produced debut album Dysappearencer. They followed with two EPs and several singles, and in 2021, drummer Ryan Janke and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Garcia were added to their line up. All veterans of previous bands, the five musicians quickly bonded to become an even stronger musical force, combining their years of collective expertise and array of influences to create what they quite appropriately describe as “an agglomeration of chaos”. Now they’ve released their second album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND, and it’s dark, aggressive and brutal, yet also strangely beautiful and sexy.

In early February, Rojas reached out to me about reviewing the album, and though it’s not the type of music I’m normally drawn to, I liked the songs and agreed to review it, even though I wasn’t quite sure how to write about this music. Soon after, I was hit with another bout of burnout, this time so serious that I decided to stop writing reviews altogether, though I would still honor the commitments I’d already made. To further complicate things, Rojas himself is a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy, and after reading a few of his, I felt even more intimidated. But he was gracious and encouraging, and also generous in providing me with his thoughts and inspiration for writing the album, along with the lyrics, and I will do my best to give this album the credit it deserves.

Photos by Katie Viola

Before I get into discussing the songs, I’ll share some of Rojas’ eloquent words to provide context for I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. “I started writing the album back in March of 2020. We had just gone into lockdown and I had nothing to do, so I just wrote music. Track 1, “In March of Nothing”, was actually written first and its title paves the way for what would be the concept of the entire album: loneliness. The title is both literal and figurative because 1) I literally had nothing to do in March, and 2) life felt so overwhelming that it confused my beliefs

During most of 2020 and 2021, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues that gave me a sense of emptiness and boredom. Eventually, I went sober, and for some reason, that exacerbated my loneliness, so I just got into making the album and it just so happened that I had something to say. With all the weirdness happening in politics and society, I felt more isolated, but I wanted to merge that confusing feeling with my personal life. I decided to be cryptic and discuss my childhood in La Puente, my drug use, my current relationships with people, and my interactions with my community and the public. I was also tired of feeling fear and resentment over the toxic behavior that was and still continues to come from the world, so I wanted to talk shit when I felt compelled. By the end of the creative process, I realized each facet was contributing to my loneliness in ways that I still don’t fully understand, but when it came to writing the words, I tried my best to be viscerally honest with myself.

I grew up going to punk shows and raves, and wanted to merge my love for both sounds, which inherently allowed me to push my musical boundaries while I was being inspired by nostalgia. It was definitely a weird formula, but it worked. Also, I had just opened my recording studio, MachineHouse Audio, so I had the privilege to experiment in all capacities with the sound, which I believe helped me get where I wanted to go. With starting the studio and dealing with lockdown, the economy and the world were flipped on their ass in all dimensions, and having trouble in my personal life, the message came back in full circle. The only thing that really stood out to me was that weird ambivalent type of loneliness that wasn’t negative nor positive. It was just filled with anxiety and equanimity, and I just happen to document where I was at the time.” 

As previously noted, the opening track “In March of Nothing” describes Rojas’ feelings of ennui and loneliness, as well as setting the overall tone for the album. The song starts off with ominous pulsating synths, portending rough times ahead. The music is gradually joined by a strong synth-bass beat as Rojas sings in a seductive, yet menacing voice “I am Jack’s lonely heart club band. Info news feeds me shit on high demand. The common clutch for the plastic adults. Programmed into the culture of cults. Hit me where it hurts. Enough to feel the burn.” As the song progresses, the music and vocals grow harsher and more intense, finally erupting into a bone-crushing maelstrom of dystopian madness as Rojas screams “They want my fun! They can have my fun! But the party is over!”

And speaking of dystopian madness, “LoveFuck” is a two-minute, 56-second-long psychedelic trip into hell. Machinekit unleash their sonic weaponry with a furious barrage of raging guitars, tortured industrial synths, crushing bass and explosive percussion. Rojas channels his inner beast as he savagely rails of his disillusionment over romantic love: “Young adults have all the fun. Pop-stars with fake luck. Click-bait when you’re done. Is it better than a morning fuck? Oh, What I wear fits. Oh, What I fear hits. Fear of missing out throughout those years. I don’t know where the feeling lives!” His vocals are so intensely feral, he’s left panting by song’s end, while I’m covered with goosebumps!

Distressor” sees Rojas questioning our belief systems and why we follow leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing either: “Who’s your modern angel of death? Aren’t you fuckin’ bored to death with picking someone to reform your thoughts? Public figures conduct chess fights. Do you really know wrong from right? I want a sign in full-form.” And on “Divebomb“, he ponders the soul-crushing impacts of the covid lockdowns: “Are you bored of staying in? Is your air getting thin inside your head, your home? Your head is a dead home.” In listening to the song, as well as the entire album, I was struck by its strong Nine Inch Nails vibe, and in fact, Rojas told me he’s a huge NIN fan. He really seems to channel Trent Reznor on this track, as his vocals go from seductive breathy whispers to brutal screams.

One of my favorite tracks is “Purge“, with its frantic, hard-driving techno/dance groove and glitchy industrial synths creating an intense, otherworldly soundscape. In a similar vein, “Glue” features loads of spacey distortion, glitches and blips layered over a hypnotic dance beat, punctuated with jagged, gnarly guitar riffs. Everything erupts into a bone-crushing crescendo in the choruses as Rojas wails “Your bloody thoughts have bloody clots. I can sense your dirty thoughts. Our bloody clogs have bloody spots. I can feel them when I’m not.” On the moody and psychedelic “Anti Anti“, Rojas seems to question his faith, acknowledging the sobering thought that whatever he or any of us believe, we’re all going to end up the same at the end: “And I’ll make my own damn bed at the very end. Cause the dirt is my home. I’m all alone, and I will belong to the worms.” I really like the haunting piano and trippy synths on this song.

One of the standouts is “Whore On The Floor“, a very dark song about the inner conflict between using our guile and physical beauty to get what we want, but also willingly submitting ourselves to those who take advantage of us. Rojas elaborates: “The song and the video for “Whore on The Floor” are intentionally explicit. As the first lyrics says, “Am I a whore on the floor? When I want to,” I have a conversation with myself of how I feel like a whore in many forms. The video portrays me being submissive to a beautiful woman, so I use my sexuality or sexuality in general to illustrate that concept. That song is very literal but can be associated with many things, ie: sex, love, life, money, power, friendship, etc. This again is tied to how the act of being submissive makes me feel like shit and lonely.” The ominous glitchy industrial synths, combined with Rojas’ menacing vocals – which culminate with his screams of “And what you want from me, won’t come for free!” – creates a dangerously sexy vibe.

The instrumental track “__X__” features a repeat of the glitchy synths heard in “Whore On The Floor”, accompanied by hauntingly beautiful sounds that serve as lead-in to the gorgeous closing track “Stressor“. Nearly six minutes long, the song is a magnificent tour de force, with a glorious kaleidoscope of shimmery guitars, spooky industrial synths, grinding bass and thunderous percussion, all of which blend in perfect alchemy to create a darkly cinematic wall of sound that’s at turns both breathtaking and terrifying. Rojas defiantly calls out those who threaten our individuality and identities with their judgemental, soul-killing influencer bullshit: “And then these gatekeepers intervene. They kill our dream with their social scenes. And I stare off in disbelief. So called decent motherfuckers just act like thieves./ And press the stress into my voice. I hear my name inside the noise. Outgrow each god and their brands. I am still Jack’s lonely heart club band.

Like many albums I’ve reviewed, it took a couple of listens for me to fully appreciate I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND. With each successive listen, I heard more nuances in the myriad sounds and textures of its instrumentation, as well as the complex rhythms and melodies that give the songs such incredible impact and depth. Besides, who doesn’t need some brutally intense music to work out those aggressions now and then! Rojas and company have much to be proud of here, as they’ve created an exceptional, beautifully-crafted record. If you’re a fan of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Daughters, you will enjoy this album.

Follow MACHINEKIT: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase on Bandcamp  

Fresh New Tracks, Vol 11: Amongst Liars, FloodHounds & Mount Famine

As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.

In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.

Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.

AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”

Photo by Duncan Tyler

Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.

I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.

The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.

Follow Amongst Liars:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

FLOODHOUNDS – “Panic Stations”

Photo by Eleanor Freeman

FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.

In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.

Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.

Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.

Follow FloodHounds:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”

Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.

Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.

Follow Mount Famine:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

PLAINS OF SILENCE – EP Review: “Archangel”

Plains of Silence is a progressive/post-rock act based in Lincolnshire, England, and comprised of the very talented double threat of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Whitehead and bassist/guitarist Geoff Standeven. The busy duo have also been active with other bands and music projects both in the past and present. Both were members of alt-rock band The Saboteurs (who I’ve previously written about and are now on hiatus). Rick also records music under his music project Sparralimb, and was previously a member of now defunct rock band Tripswitch, while Geoff also plays bass with metal rock band Sleepless.

As Plains of Silence, Rick and Geoff create exquisite instrumental compositions that incorporate elements of progressive, alternative, grunge and metal rock. Rick plays lead guitars, keyboards/synths and drums, while Geoff plays rhythm guitar and bass. Last August, they released their debut single “Jeremiah”, a darkly beautiful 8-minute, 40-second long tour-de-force of melodic guitars, meandering rhythms and cinematic crescendos. Now the guys are back with their debut EP Archangel, which they’ve released on Bandcamp. The EP will be available beginning March 4th on all major streaming sites.

Archangel features “Jeremiah”, along with four new tracks, each of which sounds uniquely different and most of which are fairly long, running well over five minutes. Kicking off the EP is the gorgeous title track “Archangel“, which Geoff told me is dedicated to all mums everywhere, and in particular his own mum who’s currently battling cancer. He said he wanted to write something from the heart that people could connect with, and after listening to the track, I think he’s succeeded quite nicely. The song begins with a somber but lovely acoustic guitar riff, backed by a rather mysterious gravelly background synth of some kind that provides a fascinating contrast with the haunting guitar notes. Two minutes in, the music expands into a glorious and almost spiritual Pink Floyd-esque soundscape, with shimmery guitars, throbbing bass and emphatic drumbeats.

Plains of Silence switch things up on the next track “Redded“, a moody rocker with a blend of grungy and melodic riffs layered over a strong driving rhythm. Rick lays down a tasty psychedelic guitar solo in the bridge, before the song fades out. This is followed by “Jeremiah“, which I think is my favorite track on the EP. As I alluded to earlier, the song is a monumental tour-de-force and a feast for the ears. The song starts off with a simple but arresting acoustic guitar riff lasting slightly over a minute, at which point it’s joined by a rhythm section of subtle bass and measured drums. Soon, the guitar becomes more intricate and melodic up to around 3:45, when the tempo increases with edgier riffs and more forceful drums and bass. The instrumentals continue to build until everything erupts into a dramatic crescendo of grinding gnarly riffs, pummeling bass and assertive, military-style drumbeats that transition to a barrage of thunderous percussion. The music calms back down to just strummed guitar and thumping drumbeats for the final minute as the song ends on a somber note.

As its title would suggest, “The Saint of Killers” is the darkest, most intense track on the EP, with strong progressive and alternative metal underpinnings. Much of the song features a furious barrage of grinding buzz saw riffs, crushing bass and explosive percussion, interspersed here and there with brief interludes of beautiful chiming guitar notes and subtle drumbeats, all of which serves to create a powerful and sonically fascinating track.

The final track “Starlight” is a wonderful melodic rock song, highlighted by Rick’s impressive guitar work and Geoff’s gorgeous driving bassline. The first two-thirds of the song is hard-hitting, with an onslaught of heavy riffs, bass and drums. But at around 3:45, the tempo abruptly changes to a serene, contemplative mood, with lovely strummed guitar notes and ambient natural sounds of birds chirping in the breeze all that we hear. It’s a fine, soothing close to the EP, ending it as it began with the first notes of “Archangel”.

Archangel is a stellar EP, and a testament to the creativity and talents of these two musicians Rick and Geoff. Anyone who’s a fan of progressive rock or alternative metal, delivered with outstanding musicianship, will enjoy this record.

Connect with Plains of Silence: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube