CARBONSTONE – Album Review: “Dark Matter”

Carbonstone is an industrial alternative metal band from Baltimore, Maryland that I learned about a few weeks ago when their front man, songwriter and vocalist Corey James reached out to me about their latest album Dark Matter. Influenced by such acts as the Rolling Stones, Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Static-X, Linkin Park and Starset, among others, Carbonstone creates hard-hitting, yet incredibly melodic music fueled by powerful driving rhythms, explosive riffs and lush industrial soundscapes, and fortified by James’ exceptional vocals.

James originally formed the band in 2005 under the name ‘Unspoken’, but later briefly changed their name to ‘Carved in Stone’, until someone misheard him, thinking he said ‘Carbonstone’. In a conversation with bandmate Neely Johns I watched on YouTube, James humorously recalled the exchange he had with someone at a party: “Somebody asked me ‘So what’s the new band name?’, and I said ‘It’s Carved in Stone’. When you have about 15 beers in your system and try to say Carved in Stone, it slurs out a little bit. He repeated Carbonstone back to me, and I said ‘Holy shit, that’s now the band name!’

Carbonstone released three albums, Behind Closed Doors, Process of Elimination and What You’ve Become, as well as two EPs Unspoken and Strength in Silence, before life demands, the pressures of touring and burnout ultimately led the band to call it quits in 2014. Everyone went their separate ways, and James came very close to giving up on music altogether. But he could never fully let it go, and after a hiatus lasting more than five years, James once again felt the pull of music. In 2019, he decided to resurrect Carbonstone with former bandmate Neely Johns on guitar, along with new members Daniel Ryan on bass, Tony Correlli on synths and production, and TJ Darpino, who handles the extra live guitars and produces the band’s videos. Armed with three previously-written songs and several new ones he wrote during the first three months of 2021, James got together with his bandmates in April, and spent the next six months recording Dark Matter.

Released in late October 2021, Dark Matter is a gorgeous work, featuring 11 outstanding tracks plus a brief instrumental intro. The album was masterfully arranged and produced by band member and engineer Tony Correlli. As implied by its title, it’s a dark concept album inspired by some of the personal traumas James experienced in the years after Carbonstone’s breakup in 2014. He says the album contains some of the most personal songs he’s ever written, which take us on a journey from initial injury, as depicted on the opening instrumental track “Laceration” and following track “AM Trauma”, through the process of addressing personal demons and beginning the recovery from emotional trauma, as described by “Mend” midway through the album, to a state of well-being on the closing track, “Heal”.

The opening instrumental track “Laceration” establishes a moody tone with ominous atmospheric industrial synths, highlighted by darkly beautiful piano keys, before launching into the full-frontal assault that is “AM Trauma“. The guys layer an intense barrage of gnarly riffs over a chugging bassline and pounding drums, all of which explode into a raging torrent in the choruses. James has a beautiful, arresting vocal style that’s perfect for hard rock. His voice reminds me at times of Trent Reznor or Adam Gontier, effortlessly transitioning from seductive breathy croons to bone-chilling impassioned wails as he sings “Have you recovered. You won’t admit you never knew me, and you’ll pay for the way you deceived me. AM trauma, look at what you’ve done!/What have I become? All eyes on me, I am a catastrophe!

Hush” is a dramatic and melodically beautiful rock song with intricate guitars that run the gamut from shimmery to shredded, accompanied by swirling industrial synths and galloping percussion. The lyrics speak of being unable or unwilling to face one’s demons, choosing instead to suppress them in the mistaken belief they’ll just go away: “Ever feel like you’re always faking. It’s all in how you hold secrets left untold. You’d never know I’m suffocating.”

Bookended by rather spooky dulcet tones one would hear on a music box, “Phantoms” is a melodically complex tug of war between the calm of a lovely rock ballad and the explosive aggression of industrial metal. James plaintively laments of the demons – i.e. phantoms – that torment him: “I am forever haunted. These phantoms live beneath my skin. If I descend to madness, just look away and pray for me.” And on the heavy and dark “Mend“, he fears he’ll never experience happiness again: “I can never feel that way again. It’s so unreal the way I bend. Push and pull me closer to the edge. These open wounds will never mend.”

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “My Own Summer (Shove It)“, an excellent cover of the Deftones classic. Carbonstone does the song great justice, capturing the intense, eerie vibe of the original while making it their own, and James’ jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics are every bit as good as Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno’s. The title track “Dark Matter” is a powerful and stunning song with elements of Depeche Mode and Muse, only much more intense. James rails about the burdens he’s carried his entire life: “Cause I’ve carried the weight of the world, from the very day that I was born. Been buried underneath again, forever walking with the dead.”

The parade of excellent songs continues with “Pins & Needles“, featuring the dual vocal harmonies of James and his wife Chrystal, who’s the lead singer of metal rock band ANOXIA (of which James is also a member). Her beautiful vocals remind me a bit of Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee. The lyrics are a plea for help to escape from emotional torment: “I’m locked alone inside my head, it’s like a carnival. Somewhere between alive and dead, I’m just a tragedy. Rescue me from myself, the enemy.” “Vertigo” is a hard-driving banger addressing the negative impacts the cruel, hard ways of the world have on our souls: “It’s not your fault, the way you are. This fucked up world will leave you scarred. It tears you up and lets you down. This vertigo drives us underground.”

Another favorite of mine is “Kill the Dark (Astray)“, a stunning piano-driven ballad that’s the most melodic and beautiful song on the album. James’ breathy vocals are captivating as he sings of coming out of the dark and moving toward recovery: “Inside you scream, until it bleeds. Let’s kill the dark in you and me. Feel it all break, shattering away. Every move we make leads us more astray.” “Heal” closes the album on a high, albeit intense note, with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. James’ menacing vocals even sound like Trent Reznor’s as he passionately sings “The hardest part is letting go. It’s diving into the unknown. An empty space that you can feel. Sometimes the fall is how we heal. Do you feel better now?

Dark Matter is a phenomenal, beautifully-crafted album brimming with impactful songs dealing with emotional trauma and the self-realization required for eventual healing. Carbonstone should be very proud of what they’ve created here, and this album needs to be heard by as many ears as possible. They’ve got a fan in me, and I hope my readers will love this album as much as I do.

Connect with Carbonstone:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicAmazon Music / YouTube

THE MAYAN FACTOR – Single Review: “Peace”

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Back in January of last year (2019), I was honored to introduce my readers to the extraordinary progressive rock band The Mayan Factor (you can read my article here). Originally formed in 2002, the Baltimore, Maryland-based band quickly built a huge following through the success of two critically acclaimed albums In Lake’ Ch and 44. One of their tracks “Warflower” has been streamed more than two million times on Spotify.

Tragically, their lead singer Ray Schuler died suddenly in 2011, leaving a void that sent the band and their fans reeling. They’d already been recording songs for a third album Yesterday’s Son, which they went ahead and released in 2012. After that album release, the remaining band members went on a hiatus and considered calling it quits, but the love and dedication of their fans persuaded them to soldier on. They eventually found a new lead vocalist in Lenny Cerzosie Jr., and reformed in 2015. Besides Lenny, who also plays rhythm guitar, the band lineup consists of Brian Scott (guitar), Kevin Baker (bass), Dan Angermaier (drums), and Jason Sage (percussion, backing vocals).

Since reforming, they’ve release a number of singles, starting in 2016 with the epic track “Ascension”, followed in 2018 with “Whispers” and “Hope”. Now, after a break of two years, they’re back with a dark new single “Peace“, and it was worth the wait. The song opens tentatively with what sounds like a slowly building fuzz-covered synth accompanied by gently crashing cymbals. Eventually it bursts forth with pulsating riffs of gnarly guitars, becoming a dramatic progressive rock song with elements that call to my mind the music of such greats as Tool and Pink Floyd, among others. The intricate guitar work is spectacular, and I love the interplay between the heavier fuzz-coated riffs and more delicate chiming guitars. Kevin’s deep, throbbing bass line provides the song’s beating heart, while Dan’s insistent drums add powerful strength and depth. Lenny’s haunting vocals are chilling as he snarls the lyrics that seem to speak of a relationship broken beyond repair, and seeking peace by moving on from a toxic situation:

The truth is it was all a suit I never fit into
Please hold on, don’t let go
I, I cannot live inside a lie
Please hold on, don’t let go
I, I cannot live inside your lies

Though nearly six minutes long, “Peace” is so good that it seems over in an instant. The fascinating and dramatic video, filmed in time-lapse and black and white, is a front-seat view from a car as it backs out of a suburban driveway, then drives through a subdivision and beyond. We’re a passenger in the car, watching the view as it speeds through a town and surrounding countryside, as if the driver is trying to run away. The car goes through a car wash at one point, possibly symbolizing a cleansing of not only the car but one’s soul. A small hula girl figure holding a ukelele that’s attached to the dash is in the center of our view as we speed down the road. She’s eventually joined by a witch doctor figure also holding a ukelele as day turns to night and we continue on our journey. After seemingly driving all night, morning returns as we make our way back home and pull into the driveway, having gone full circle. We’re left to ponder whether anything has really changed at all?

Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Connect with The Mayan Factor on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

Artist Spotlight: THE MAYAN FACTOR

mayan factor collage names

As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog, one of the redeeming qualities of Twitter is the astounding number of musicians and bands I continue to discover, a great deal of whom are really talented. One such band I recently had the good fortune of learning about is The Mayan Factor, a five-piece alternative rock outfit based in Baltimore, Maryland. They’ve been around since 2002, and after listening to their music I was perplexed as to why I’d not previously heard of them, because they’re phenomenal.

Their first release, the 2003 EP In Lake’ Ch, is a veritable masterpiece, featuring the powerful and stunning tracks “Warflower” and “Beauty and the Beast”. They followed up two years later with an equally stellar album 44. Then tragedy struck a hammer blow in 2011 when the band’s lead singer Ray Schuler died suddenly, leaving a void that sent the band and their fans reeling. They’d been recording songs for a third album Yesterday’s Son, which they went ahead and released in 2012. I strongly urge my readers to check them all out, because they’re fucking fantastic, and you’ll literally be the poorer if you don’t!

Not quite sure what to do after Ray’s death, the band considered going their separate ways, but the love and dedication of their fans persuaded them to soldier on. They eventually found another musician to be the band’s lead vocalist in Lenny Cerzosie Jr. Besides Lenny, who also plays rhythm guitar, the band lineup consists of Brian Scott (guitar), Kevin Baker (bass), Dan Angermaier (drums), and Jason Sage (percussion, backing vocals). Dan told me that Lenny has worked out very well as the band’s lead singer, bringing his own style to the mix. “Ray was unique. Lenny doesn’t try to be him. I think that’s why he works so well. He makes Ray’s words work for him.

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With their re-invigorated lineup, the band began writing new songs and in 2016, they released an epic single “Ascension“. Wow, this 7:13 minute-long song is a religious experience! Layer upon layer of gorgeous intricate guitars are combined with a strong bassline, exotic percussive synths and pounding drums to form an intense and lush soundscape, evoking the drama and color of an ancient Mayan ritual. Then there’s Lenny’s raw, passionate vocals, soaring to the heavens and adding to the chills already covering my body.

In January 2018, they released “Whispers“, a deeply moving song that was inspired by Lenny’s mother’s struggles of living with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or “Lou Gehrig’s disease”, which my mother-in-law also died from). Once again, the guitar work is stunning, and the bass, drums and synths are perfection, making for a formidable powerhouse track. Lenny’s fervent vocals at first remind me of Michael Stipe’s, but as the track progresses they grow more impassioned as he wails of the pain of watching a loved one gradually slip away: “I thought we had another day. Another day just passed away. Azaleas grow along the way. I thought we’d have another day. I’ll meet you in the other place. Heaven couldn’t stay away, Angels wouldn’t sing that day.”

Their most recent single “hOpe” was also inspired by Lenny’s mother’s battle with ALS. About the song’s title, the band explains “The definition of the word HOPE is ‘to cherish a desire with anticipation’, but the word truly takes on different meanings to each of us as individuals. However different the meaning of the word is to us, it all connects us together with the promise of change and the promise of light after darkness. Even though friends and family may not be with us, they remain as long as they are in our hearts. They speak to us but without words. We created this song as an anthem to those traveling through darkness of illness, grief and any type of difficult time.”

It’s a lovely, bittersweet song with beautiful jangly guitars, anchored by a sturdy humming bassline and pounding drums. Lenny’s passionate vocals have a raw vulnerability as he sings the poignant lyrics:

I remember the sound. 
Not the words but the sound of her voice 
trembling, trembling 
I remember the things she said to me 
All this life is lost into the night, too soon 

Tonight… 
I remember her eyes, so sweet so sweet 
Lovingly, so lovely 
Don’t let me fall, don’t let her fade

The beautiful animated video shows scenes of a young boy moving through a colorful dream-like landscape with what appears to be his grandmother and, in one scene, his grandfather.

They released a beautifully moving alternative video for “hOpe” that was shot in Mexico as a symbolic tribute to Lenny’s mother. It shows us the faces of #hOpe, of survivors who didn’t give up hope to keep living.

And so, dear readers, my hope is that you’ll give these songs a listen, and end up loving The Mayan Factor as much as I do. Not only do they make incredible music, but their resiliency and strong sense of humanity are admirable. They’re true survivors, and I hope they’ll continue making more great music for years to come.

Connect with The Mayan Factor on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / cdbaby

SEPIA – Album Review: “Drop Dead, Gorgeous..”

Sepia Drop Dead Gorgeous

Sepia is a four-piece modern rock band from Baltimore, Maryland that I have the pleasure of reviewing today. Drawing from a myriad of influences ranging from rock, 90’s grunge and punk to folk and pop, they create exceptional songs with arresting melodies, intelligent lyrics and wicked riffs. Making all this great music are Ryan Beckelman (lead vocals, guitar), Derek Falzoi (drums, percussion),  Colleen Becker (bass), and Chris Gray (lead guitar).

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Following up on their 2014 debut album …break my heart, in March they released their sophomore effort Drop Dead, Gorgeous.. – one of the better albums I’ve heard this year, with the absolute best title. The band describes their intent behind the album’s creation: “This…album explores the edgy side of everyday life. Carefully telling a story of love, loss, and self deprecation…without taking ourselves too seriously.  The album embraces the cynical world of life, relationships, competition, success and failures. Conflict and duality are often found in shades of gray, or more notably, “sepia tones”, but now can be heard and felt through Sepia tunes!”

The album opens with the hard-hitting “Change For You,” an exhilarating guitar-driven rock song that sets the tone for things to come. The thunderous percussion, grimy riffs and fuzzy bass are fantastic, and really showcase the band’s impressive musicianship.  Ryan’s passionately sings the biting lyrics that speak to someone who’s been all take and no give in the relationship: ” You lie like a rug, but I’m the one who’s trampled. / Why can’t you change for me, when I’ve changed so much for you. I never spoke my mind, cause I thought you’d get the clue. I’m looking right at you girl, but it’s me you’re looking through.”

Cool” has a bit of a Nirvana vibe with grungy guitars and a strong driving beat. The distorted riffs in the bridge are terrific, as are Ryan’s vocals as he castigates someone who’s always putting him down “You’re so critical, when I stumble, when I fall. I hope you know, I hope you know this isn’t cool anymore.” One of the standout tracks that was also released as a single is “Marionette.” The song immediately hooks us with an enthralling little acoustic guitar riff, then heavier electric guitar, bass and percussion ensue. I love the song’s captivating melody, and the recurring guitar riff is marvelous.

Home” is a really nice soft-rock track with gently distorted riffs, tambourine, and lots of crashing cymbals. The optimistic lyrics are from someone essentially telling his better half how much she means to him: “Your laughter, your laughter is all that I’m after. You’re my home and my life.” “Better Out Than In” is an emotionally-charged rock song that speaks to the personal struggle with alcohol abuse. “My insides turn to outsides out on the curb. My sign says occupied and please don’t disturb. Better out than in. Where do we begin. The bottom of this bottle is calling my name. With no regard for health and no one to blame.”

In addition to awesome guitar-driven rock, Sepia also creates some very fine ballads. One is “Delaware,” a lovely, bittersweet folk rock song about the end of a relationship where one of them checked out emotionally long ago. “And if you’re looking for your crazy train. You are on the right track. So spend your last days in Delaware. Out of sight and out of mind. I am doing fine. Your excuses are tired. But there’ll be time to sleep when you are dead.” Ryan’s heartfelt vocals are really nice, and the acoustic and electric guitar work is terrific. Another is “Blindside,” a gorgeous ballad that reminds me of a few songs by The Script.

Born Yesterday” is a grunge-rock song that seems to be about how falling in love can sometimes make you lose all good sense and throw caution out the window: “You make me stupid. Like I was born yesterday. They said we couldn’t so we did it anyway.” “Hard to Tell” is a fast-paced rock song with a galloping drum beat and twangy guitars that impart of bit of a Western vibe. The band closes out the album with the powerful track “The Invincible.” Starting out with mysterious synths, the song erupts into a barrage of distorted guitars, buzzing bass and tumultuous percussion.  The lyrics speak of someone who’s shut themself off from emotional involvement, possibly from past hurts or the fear of being hurt again: “Figured out exactly who you’re supposed to be. Locked your chest and threw away the key. The invincible.”

Drop Dead, Gorgeous.. is a superb album from a band with a strong sense of who they are and what they want to express though their music. Their skill at writing engaging melodies and thoughtful lyrics, then expertly performing them, makes for an incredible listening experience. I hope we won’t have to wait another four years for Sepia to release their next album.

Connect with Sepia:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase:  iTunes / Bandcamp