FROZEN FACTORY – EP Review: “The First Liquidation”

I’ve recently featured more international acts on this blog than ever (in the past few months I’ve written about artists & bands from South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy and Denmark, as well as a compilation album featuring artists from across Europe), and today I’m pleased to introduce my first ever act from Finland, a wonderful band called Frozen Factory. I learned about them when band vocalist Stephen Baker reached out to me about their new EP The First Liquidation, which dropped May 28th.

Formed rather spontaneously at the end of 2018, the Helsinki-based group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, and Marianne Heikkinen on drums. 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.

They released their marvelous debut album Planted Feet in June 2020, then followed with a series of singles from December 2020 to May 2021, which culminated in the release of The First Liquidation. Interestingly, the EP almost never got made, as Frozen Factory originally planned to drop a few one-off singles before moving on to focus on their already-written second album, to be released later this year. But they were having so much fun creating these new songs that ‘a few singles’ eventually grew into to a five-track EP, which then ballooned to become what the band describes as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” It now features eight tracks, six of which are fully fledged songs, with the other two serving as intro and outro. Because it runs less than 30 minutes in length, the band feels it doesn’t quite qualify as an album, hence their insistence in calling it an EP. The songs were co-written by Stephen and Tomi, with Tomi also flawlessly producing the EP.

About the EP, Stephen explains: “We’re extremely proud to present this record to you. In between our main records we wanted to spend some time practising our craft using some strong songs that didn’t match the theme of our previous or upcoming albums. It’s been even more rewarding than we imagined in terms of fun and from how much we’ve learned making these songs. This record takes a brief look at human-to-human relationships, expressing some thoughts on empathy or lack of, and telling a couple of true stories. We think you’ll enjoy the emotive true-to-life direction of the record and the expanded use of sound design. We’re active with talking to those who follow us, especially on Instagram, so please come and say hi and join our mailing list on http://www.frozenfactorymusic.com.”

In listening to the EP, what first strikes me is that, despite its relatively short run time, it feels almost like a rock opera or an epic musical in the vein of Les Misérables. This is partly due to the music’s complex and cinematic arrangements, but also the sounds and interludes used between songs that work to tie them together. Also, Stephen’s gorgeous vocals have a rich and commanding timbre that make them perfectly suited for the more grandiose orchestration. (As a side note, he recorded his vocals in a tiny home sauna that he converted into a sound booth, so as not to disturb his family and neighbors. Because it heated up very quickly within the enclosed space, he recorded vocals in his underwear.)

The opening track “The Alternative Missed” starts off rather ominously, with dark, cinematic synths and distant choral vocals, followed by sounds of footsteps in snow and a door opening and closing as someone enters a building. The ominous music returns along with Stephen’s vocals earnestly singing the profound lyrics that seem to speak of a fallen leader, and setting the tone for the EP: “And once his head’s spun with truth and fiction. The wise lament lest they ignore his final diction. And languish their judgement or vanquish indeed. His theatre has vanished and with it his heed. And we all miss the man that he could have been.”

The song immediately segues into “Au Contraire“, a lovely, melodic song with lyrics in both English and French. The song continues with the theme introduced in the previous track, namely what seems to me to be the duplicity of a hubris-afflicted leader who disregards the suffering of his/her citizens: “Fait accompli. The value of the public’s clear. Raison d’être, to earn for you through their blood, sweat, and tears. Objet d’art, the walls of that cathedral stand, Vis à vis, now aligned with your contempt for those who truly need.” Stephen beautifully sings the English and French lyrics with ease, accompanied by guest vocals by French singer Madeleen singing the choruses. The whistling at the beginning of the song, as well as the warm organ and accordion notes and gently-strummed guitars give the song an intriguing French flair.

One of my favorite tracks on the EP is the anthemic “Hour of Need“, with its stirring piano-driven melody and dramatic soaring choruses. The song’s arrangement and execution are first-rate, nicely showcasing the exceptional musicianship of all four band members. I don’t know who plays piano here, but it’s stunning, and I love Stephen’s plaintive vocals, backed by Marianne’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies. The poetic lyrics are somewhat ambiguous to me, but my guess is that they speak to the current fears and strife facing many of us, urging us to remain focused on the big picture, and make the best of this one life we’re given: “In our hour of need, we’re adrift endlessly / Always remember this journey’s but once. Don’t cast it away. A sound destination sits on the horizon. Keep above the waves.”

Frozen Factory taps into their metal sensibilities on “Old Money“, which has a frantic, almost punkish vibe, both musically and lyrically. Mici rips through the airwaves with his blistering guitar work, while Tomi and Marianne keep the pummeling rhythms moving forward at full throttle. Stephen’s rapid-fire vocals sound fiercer than ever as he launches into a diatribe against the wealthy elite and how they keep the rest of us financially enslaved: “Some are born in, with every way out they could wish for. Others are born out, with no way in. Yet many search endlessly for an open door./ Their old money. Their old kings and queens. Their bloody tricks. They’ve had us on our knees.”

I have a special fondness for female drummers, and this video shows Marianne working her magic.

They then show their softer, more introspective side on the poignant ballad “Two Dads“. The touching song is about a man on his way to work who encounters a homeless man begging for a handout. He fumbles through his pockets, only to discover he has no change to give him, and thinks about the fact that they both have children who they’d give their life for, and how fate and luck have put them in such differing life circumstances: “His face says that he knows, my growing dread has been shown. He’s sensed me thinking of my son. We’d both die to save a cherished one. I can’t begin to comprehend gifts only received by the few lucky kids. Ought’a run to my job, can’t be late, no I won’t miss my stop. After leaving I ponder my time. Could have gone to get cash, my career would survive.”

When You’ve Grown” is equally poignant, with lyrics spoken internally from a father to his child who’s growing up so fast, thinking out loud about how he will miss them as they are now, yet looking forward to knowing them as an adult too: “I feel I will miss you when you’ve grown. That child you are today, it’s sad that we won’t meet again./ I’d never hold you back. Never hope for that. I’ll be proud to see the grown-up that you will be.” The song starts off slowly, with eerie synths and a far-off gently pounding drumbeat that’s soon replaced by somber piano chords as Stephen wistfully sings. Halfway through, the music and Stephen’s vocals turn more dramatic and impassioned, with heavier metal-rock guitar and percussion, before calming back down at the end.

The powerful and haunting rock anthem “You” is another strong track, with outstanding guitar work, sweeping keyboards and thunderous percussion. Mici’s fiery guitar solo and Stephen’s impassioned vocals are fantastic, leaving me covered with goosebumps. The lyrics seem to speak to a leader of some kind who’s waging a valiant but continuously threatened effort against tyranny: “You build us up, and you’re torn down. We suck the gun aimed at you. Target of the noose. You call injustice by its name. And you won’t stop until it’s better. Though you’re sick of the lies. You give yourself for our lives. Enduring the pressure.”

The EP ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “An Improbable Flame“, a brief, rather dark-sounding track that opens with harsh sounds of radio static, eerie thumping drumbeats, ill winds and breaking glass, which are eventually replaced with a somber piano movement. Stephen speaks the hopeful lyrics that perhaps we’ll do better next time: “A flame is improbable in a storm that’s unstoppable. Yet it is not the storm but the greed that tips the candlestick. To light for one a second wick, only to snuff their blessing out. Yet when gifted another time and place, perhaps this soul won’t make the same mistake. But share instead that flame around, til’ the winds blow not amongst the circled crowd.

In another review of The First Liquidation for Finnish webzine Kaaos, a writer criticized the eclectic nature of the music and songs, commenting that “the listening experience leaves you wondering what the band really wants to be: serene, flexible British pop, gloomy Gothic rock, or post-grunge world pain?” He couldn’t be more wrong, as I think the variety of styles and sounds of the songs are a real strength, keeping the EP sounding fresh and surprising, rather than boring and predictable. Every track is superb, and I found that I grew to love each song with repeated listens, as the music is so complex and rich, and Stephen’s arresting vocals such a joy to hear. The First Liquidation is an exceptional work on every level, and I’m now a committed fan of Frozen Factory.

Here’s the EP on YouTube:

And Spotify:

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Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Purchase:  BandcampAmazon

New Song of the Week – DUNES: “This Must Be the Plague”

Dunes is a British stoner rock band based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch, they play an aggressive style of what they call “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, followed by their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which they released in September 2019 (you can read my review here). Now the guys are back with their first new single in 16 months, “This Must Be the Plague“. Released through Sapien Records Ltd., it’s four minutes of hard-driving stoner rock goodness, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song blasts through the gate with an explosive barrage of grungy riffs slicing through the airwaves like a rogue buzzsaw, driven by a powerful chugging bass line and thunderous drums. The guys are all strong musicians who play as a tight unit, and despite the time gap between the release of their album and this single, not to mention the fact they’ve not been able to perform live, it’s clear they’ve not lost their groove one bit. Davies’ nimble guitar work is superb, and Huggins and Watson do a masterful job keeping the pulse-pounding rhythms at full throttle.

About the song’s meaning, I guessed it to be a commentary about how the Covid pandemic is our modern version of The Plague, with the line “We’re the disease, and that’s the cure” suggesting that people are both the cause and the solution. When I asked Davies about it, he said I was basically correct, but elaborated: “The track was originally written early 2020 pre-pandemic world. It’s a reflection on the feeling that we’re staring down the complete downfall of society with people becoming more and more polarised and divided day by day. It didn’t feel like there was a way back. Then a pandemic happened. We’re not hopeful, but we’ll at least make some noise and have a drink while the ship goes down.”

It appears the pandemic made “This Must Be the Plague” all the more relevant and timely. And though it may not be a solution, I’m certainly always down for some good music accompanied by an adult beverage!

Connect with Dunes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp 

THE METAL BYRDS – EP Review: “Life in 20”

Like Tough On Fridays, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band from Texas. Based in the music city of Austin, the band formed in 2018 after a chance meeting between London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye Dovey. Both were in other bands at the time, and one night, at the urging of a mutual friend, Suzanne sat in on Sly Rye’s rehearsal with his band. He asked Suzanne to sing any song she wanted and she began singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. That was all it took, and she soon joined his band and began performing with them. His band was having internal issues however, which ultimately led he and Suzanne to create their own project together as The Metal Byrds. They were later joined by bassist Kevin Kurts and drummer Alex Romanov to complete their lineup.

The Metal Byrds play a dynamic style of rock infused with healthy doses of rock’n’roll and power pop, along with enough metal in the mix to give their songs a dark, edgy quality. They released their debut EP The Song Byrd in April 2019, then quickly followed two months later with a second EP Byrds on a Wyre. On October 2nd, they dropped their latest EP Life in 20, and listening to all three works, it’s clear that their songwriting and musicianship have gotten stronger with each release.

As the title would suggest, the opening track “The Ganges” starts off with Suzanne singing what sounds like an Indian chant, accompanied by jangly Indian instruments lasting around 15 seconds. Suddenly, the song blasts open with a juggernaut of Metallica-esque riffs, gnarly bass and pummeling drums that takes the song deep into hard rock territory. Sly Rye’s guitar work is truly impressive as he shreds the hell out of his six-string, laying waste to the airwaves with rapid-fire noodling and wailing distortion. Suzanne’s aggressively fervent vocals demand our full attention as she sings of feeling overwhelmed as if drowning, while making references to maharajas, brahmins and ghats.

Dreamin’” is a full-on rock’n’roll banger, with furious riffs and explosive rhythms that really showcase what The Metal Byrds are all about. Suzanne emphatically implores a love interest to give her a little consideration: “Can’t you see I’m standing right here in front of you / But you don’t even notice.” Keeping with that theme, “Tell Me” is about coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you’ve tried, the person you pinned all your hopes on just doesn’t feel the same toward you. Suzanne’s emotion-filled vocals convey the sad resignation expressed in the lyrics “Tell me I’m wrong, you’re not the one. I don’t need convincing.” Musically, the song starts off as a folk ballad but gradually transitions into a terrific Southern rocker, with lots of great twangy and distorted guitars. It’s my favorite track on the EP.

The rousing title track “Life in 20” has a Pat Benatar vibe, with a frantic driving beat and more of Sly Rye’s fantastic riffing. In fact, the song reminds me a bit of Benatar’s “Heartbreaker”. In their notes, the band states the song “is a generalization of what the year 2020 has been like. A diary of events and feelings, of sorts. The guitars wail, along with lead singer, Suzanne Birdie’s voice, to evoke feelings of struggle and inequities that we have experienced during the past year.” Suzanne mournfully laments “Everything could end, you don’t know. One step from letting go.”

Impossible” is another excellent hard-rocking tune, with the kind of powerful driving beat that I love. Kevin and Alex deliver aggressive thumping rhythms guaranteed to get your blood pumping and hips moving, and Sly Rye layers a lively mix of staccato riffs and screaming distortion that would satisfy even the hardest metal head. Suzanne gives her lover an emphatic kiss-off: “I’m leaving tonight to get on this flight like a thief in the dark to protect my own heart / You’re impossible to love, and still too blind to see.”

Life in 20 is a great little EP that gets better with each listen. The Metal Byrds sure know how to rock, and I think this is their finest work yet. As I noted earlier, the quality of their songwriting, production and musicianship have gotten stronger on each release, and I’m confident they’ll continue on this upward trajectory.

Note: The version of the EP on Bandcamp features five tracks, however, the one on Spotify and Apple Music also includes a sixth track, a radio edit of “The Ganges” without the 15 seconds of Indian chanting at the beginning.

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FACE OF STONE – EP Review: “Sex, Guns, Race and Money”

Face of Stone3
Marc Palmer & Brad Schecter

Face of Stone is a Los Angeles-based collaborative music project of songwriter, guitarist and producer Marc Palmer and singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brad Schecter. Each has years of professional experience both as solo artists and with other bands. Marc has been a musician for over 30 years, also serving as lead guitarist for venerable Grammy-nominated L.A. band The Busboys. Brad was previously in Scarred and Blue Embrace, and has also released music as a solo artist, including his acclaimed debut album Live Your Dreams in 2015 (read my review here). With Face of Stone, they combine Marc’s talent for writing hard-hitting guitar-driven melodies and bringing them to life with his prowess on the six-string, and Brad’s talent for penning compelling lyrics, vocal melodies and harmonies, as well as his strong vocals and musicianship. Their mission is to produce their own unique brand of metallic hard rock.

After years of hard work and a few setbacks along the way, Face of Stone has at last dropped their long-awaited EP Sex, Guns, Race and Money, released on the 4th of July via their label Black Grunge Records. The EP is not only hard-hitting and dark, but also socially and politically relevant, exploring subjects like political unrest, sexism, the struggles and mental abuse of love gone wrong, as well as larger themes of biblical significance, and the illusion and slow death of the American Dream.

Kicking off the EP is “Hurry Up and Wait“, an interesting track with a long, musically complex and dramatic intro that borders on progressive rock. After a minute or so, a darkly beautiful melody settles in, highlighted by Marc’s intricate layered guitars and a relentless onslaught of crashing cymbals. Brad’s powerful, resonant vocals express a sense of exasperation as he laments about what seems to be our overall lack of control over the external forces that affect our lives: “Shiny objects don’t just mesmerize. more times they often lie. Too bad it doesn’t matter what we give or if we try. We find out what’s important, hopefully before we die. Through all the pain and sorrow, hurry up and wait.” I especially like the soaring vocal harmonies in the final chorus.

Continuing on a similar theme, “United Shutdown (Sex, Guns, Race and Money)” is a scathing attack on the political and economic forces that have gained power by dividing us and force-feeding us an endless stream of lies and hate. The song is kind of a metal rock answer to Public Enemy’s classic “Fight the Power”, with lyrics strongly advocating us to take back the power: “See what pawns we have become. Surrendered our power, must be undone. Only you can seek the truth. Fight back now or forever be used.” Once again, Marc dazzles us with blistering guitar work as Brad’s commanding impassioned vocals drive home the urgency of the lyrics.

Dark Rocker” is a hard-driving kiss-off song to an old flame he’s fallen out of love with. Brad stated that he wanted the choruses to sound like a Trump tweet: “But something happened to you, I guess you just got old. You never left me, but you’re a dark rocker, not anymore. Sad!” Musically, the song features a frantic, pummeling rhythm that hits a sweet spot between punk, metal and rock’n’roll. Marc’s reverb-heavy distorted guitars are fantastic, and Brad’s colorful, spirited vocals are terrific as always.

Red Moon Sky” was the very first single released by Face of Stone back in April 2018 and it’s a belter. (You can read my review here.) The song blasts open with a barrage of raging riffs, chugging bass and pummeling drums, punctuated by tasty bits of distorted guitar that give the song added punch. Marc’s electrifying riff in the bridge is fire, and Brad’s raw, impassioned vocals bring chills as he snarls the lyrics that touch on the thin line between love and hate that can occur in a tempestuous relationship plagued by bad feelings and distrust: “Not one to deny what you need to feel fulfilled. Just not the one to do it. You’re not someone who is capable of change. No matter what, you stay the same.” The song spent more than four months on my Weekly Top 30 over the summer of 2018, and ended up at #50 on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list.

The gorgeous “Through the Wildnerness” touches on the story of the Jews’ escape from Egypt. At first glance, it seems like a rather odd song choice in the EPs lineup, but the more I thought about it, I believe it fits in with the overall theme of seeking freedom from oppression. It’s a grandiose song of near-epic scale, with dramatic instrumentation highlighted by a haunting jangly guitar riff, and accompanied by a thunderous mix of chugging gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy buzzing bass and explosive percussion that make for an electrifying listen. Brad’s plaintive vocals are chilling as he sings “Hand of god, delivered us. He will guide the way home today. He brought us out of Pharoah’s land. Destroyed him with his hand.”

Sex, Guns, Race and Money is a great little EP that nicely showcases the immense talents of the two musicians of Face of Stone. There’s a lot of power and intensity packed into the EPs 20-minute run time, and if you like great guitar work and expressive vocals combined with exquisite songwriting, you will enjoy this record.

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HOLLOW INTENT – Single Review: “Superhero”

Hollow Intent Superhero

Since forming in 2016, Wilmington, North Carolina-based hard rock band Hollow Intent have been perfecting their explosive, guitar-driven sound and building a growing base of loyal fans. Their hard work finally started to pay off in 2019, when in May they were nominated for the 2019 Carolina Music Award’s Best Rock Group, with front man Will Baker also nominated for Best Rock Male. Then in August, they released their outstanding debut EP Monster to widespread critical acclaim (including from yours truly, which you can read here).

In addition to Baker, who plays guitar and sings vocals, Hollow Intent includes Mark Davis on drums, Shane Noren on bass, and Wesley Seven on guitar. The fearsome foursome are now back with a hard-hitting new single “Superhero“, which dropped March 20. The band states that the song is “about anyone with a ‘disability’ or ‘ailment’ that has the courage to shine through anything! Your weakness is a strength!

The guys deliver another stellar track, maintaining their perfect score in terms of overall song quality. “Superhero” storms through the gates with an explosive barrage of raging guitars, pulse-pounding bass and smashing drumbeats set to a beautiful sweeping melody. The gnarly guitars are punctuated by pummeling jack-hammer riffs that together create a thunderous wall of sound for Baker’s ferocious vocals. As I pointed out in my review of Monster, he has a phenomenal vocal range that sounds beautiful and pleasing when singing clean, and positively feral when he launches into his metalcore screams and growls. His ability to transition from one vocal style to the other and back again is really impressive. It’s a gorgeous hard rock banger.

They also produced their very first video for one of their songs, which was directed by Jaiden Hord Frost, and filmed at The Warehouse Music Hall in Laurinburg, North Carolina. The video shows the band performing the song, interspersed with dramatic scenes of a young couple played by Will’s brother Nathan Baker and Annabelle Sanchez being held captive by a threatening-looking guy played by Tom Fuller. The unfolding drama seems to be a virtual imagining by the young man as he plays a kind of game on his laptop. The young man finally realizes that his eccentricities are nothing to be ashamed of, and summons his inner ‘superhero’ to overcome the bad guy and save their lives. The video ends with the words “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

Connect with Hollow Intent:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Monster” on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

DIARY OF AN OUTLAW – Single Review: “BIGTIME”

Diary of an Outlaw

Diary of an Outlaw (DOA) is the music project of singer-songwriter, producer and director Angel Synn. He’s a kind and gracious guy too! Originally from Michigan, where he grew up both on a farm and in Detroit, Angel now calls Hollywood, California home. He was once frontman for the rock band Down In Hollywood, but took a long hiatus from music to care for his wife who eventually passed away from cancer. This past summer, he decided to get fully back in the game as Diary of an Outlaw, and started recording new songs. On December 4th, he released “BIGTIME“, a hard-driving banger of a tune that speaks to his passion for music and dreams of making it big. And after all the tough challenges and heartache he’s gone through, he’s now fearless in his quest, and nothing’s gonna deter him from doing everything possible to achieve his goal.

DOA gets right down to business, blasting through the airwaves with an explosive barrage of raging riffs and pummeling drumbeats. He’s a fine guitarist, shredding his guitar like a man hell-bent on destruction through much of the track, but then he lays down a tasty little solo in the bridge, accompanied by some scratching to create a nice, contrasting interlude before the onslaught returns in the final chorus. His raw, commanding vocals remind me a bit of Scott Stapp as he fervently sings “Can’t you feel the music rising like a cannonball straight from your veins? / See the party, feel the people giving energy. Kickin’ ass while I’m taking no names! I am headed for the bigtime!” Keep playing guitar like you do, and it’s guaranteed DOA!

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Stream his music:  SoundcloudReverbnation YouTube

MAYOBA – Artist Spotlight & Review

I get so tired of hearing that ‘rock is dead’, because as far as I can tell by the huge number of bands throughout the world making great kickass rock these days, the genre seems to be very much alive. One such band doing their part to keep rock going strong is Italian crossover metal band Mayoba. Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Gojira, Opeth, Meshuggah, Lamb of God, Pantera, Killswitch Engage, Megadeath, Helmet, Biohazard and Alter Bridge, they serve up a face-melting, yet highly melodic, stew of hardcore and groove metal.

Based in the southern Italian city of Trani on the Adriatic coast, they’re a fairly new band, forming just last year (2018). Guitarist Francesco Di Bitonto and drummer Mimmo instantly clicked upon meeting each other at a casual jam session, and started playing music together and working on some ideas for songs. They were soon joined by vocalist Luca Bove, and Mayoba was officially born. Their lineup was completed in early 2019 when Enrico Povia joined the band as bassist.

Mayoba2

They released their first single “Through the Fire” in September, and the title’s certainly fitting, as Mayoba sets the airwaves afire like a rampaging flamethrower-wielding beast. The track starts off with dark, ominous synths that conjure up images of a gathering storm, then all hell breaks looks once the guys unleash a furious barrage of pummeling riffs, buzzsaw bass and speaker-blowing drums. Luca’s hardcore vocals are downright fearsome as he screams and growls the lyrics “Where should I go? I’m walking through the fire, where I belong!“, sending chills up and down our spines. They produced a video that shows them performing the song at a nighttime outdoor concert, juxtaposed with dramatic footage of explosions and civil unrest. Be sure to turn the volume all the way to maximum on this!

On “Falling“, Mayoba delivers an unrelenting onslaught of explosive, chugging riffs, scorching basslines and thunderous drumbeats that really showcase their impressive musicianship. I love the song’s powerful, driving melody and, once again, Luca makes his vocal chords bleed with his spine-tingling feral screams.

Savior” is another banger, with a frantic, pulse-pounding tempo that really gets the blood pumping! Man, these guys blow the fucking roof off with some of the most intense grooves I’ve heard in a long while. Francesco shreds his guitar to the breaking point as he lays down heavy doses of scorching machine-gun riffs. Enrico and Mimmo keep the pace with their relentless assault of pummeling rhythms, while Luca continues to melt our faces with his savage vocals. A little past the 3-minute point, the song transitions to a haunting guitar solo by Francesco that’s quite beautiful and melodic. It’s a striking finish for a phenomenal track.

Mayoba plans to continue performing live and touring as much as possible in 2020, joining many big festivals throughout Italy. Then they plan to return to the studio again at the end of next summer to record an EP or possibly even an album. Their music is not available for purchase yet, but is available for streaming on Soundcloud and Reverbnation. They hope to eventually find a label to support their music and help them grow. In the meantime, I’m happy to do my small part to help promote them to a wider audience. I’m not the biggest fan of hardcore/metal music, but Mayoba’s songs are so melodic and well-executed that they’re beautiful to my ears.

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HOLLOW INTENT – EP Review: “Monster”

Hollow Intent Monster

Hailing from Wilmington, North Carolina, hard rock band Hollow Intent has been making quite a name for themselves on the local music scene with their aggressive style of melodic metal rock. In May, the band was nominated for the 2019 Carolina Music Award’s Best Rock Group, with front man Will Baker also nominated for Best Rock Male. On August 1st, they released their appropriately-titled debut EP Monster, which I’m pleased to feature on this blog.

Hollow Intent was born when guitarist and vocalist Will Baker and drummer Mark Davis started jamming together and discovered an immediate chemistry between them. Soon, they brought on bassist Shane Noren and guitarist Wesley Seven to complete the band’s lineup, and quickly began perfecting their intense sound and crafting songs to take advantage of their explosive, guitar-driven music style. The band explains that Monsterdepicts all feelings with a negative connotation such as depression, anxiety, stress, rage, etc,, and they’re put together to create this “Monster”.

Hollow Intent

The EP kicks off with the title track “Monster“, a two-minute long instrumental that sets the tone for things to come. As its title implies, the song’s a rampaging beast of wailing distortion, grinding bass and crashing drums, plunging us headlong into the heavy metal zone.

Before we can catch our breath, “Burn” explodes onto the airwaves with a thunderous barrage of raging guitars, buzz-saw bass and speaker-blowing percussion. But the real highlight for me are Baker’s jaw-dropping vocals. He has a phenomenal voice that sounds beautiful when singing clean, and positively feral when he launches into his metalcore screams and growls. There aren’t many metalcore vocalists who also have great clean singing voices (Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and Ice Nine Kills’ Spencer Charnas are two who come to my mind). Baker definitely does, and it’s no wonder he was nominated for the Carolina Music Best Rock Male Award. When he screams “Let’s go!” with a terrifying ferocity, we have no choice but to comply. But then he draws us in as he plaintively sings the biting lyrics addressing someone who’s actions have brought out the worst in him: “You hate what I’ve become in you. The monster inside me. You’re inside my head, tearing me apart. Filling with red, straight through the heart. You’re starting to turn. There’s no controlling all these evil eyes. I’m here to watch you burn!

The face-melting “Bipolar” serves up chugging riffs of reverb-soaked grit and distortion enveloped in a punishing wall of sound. This song kicks some major ass, and is one of my favorite cuts on the EP.  Once again, Baker blows our minds and eardrums with his vocal gymnastics. The way he makes his voice bleed one moment as he screams “Liar!” or “Bipolar“, then transitions to a seductive croon the next is really impressive.

The guys slow down the pace with “Shadow of You“, a darkly beautiful metalcore ballad that speaks to duplicity and betrayal: “You didn’t believe in me. I trusted you, but I knew you were faking. /I am always in the shadow of you. It’s getting colder as I close my eyes. These dreams are made of all your lies.” The guitar work is fantastic, and I really like the recurring mournful little riff, as well as the moody piano keys at the end of the song.

Parasite” serves up more metalcore goodness with a torrent of shredded guitars and pummeling drums, accompanied by Baker’s death-rattling growls. But it’s on “Welcome to the Dead” that Hollow Intent show us what they’re really capable of. Wow, these guys blow the fucking roof off here, with some of most explosive instrumentals I’ve heard in a very long while. The raging guitars, crushing bass and pummeling drums are so hard-driving they leave me breathless! The guitar work here is nothing short of magnificent. Turn the volume all the way up for this monster of a tune!

The EP closes with “Normal“, a beautiful ballad that showcases the band’s softer side. The instrumentals are more stripped down, with strummed acoustic guitar, subtle bass, stirring strings and gentle percussion. Baker passionately implores someone to help him overcome his mental anguish and live a healthy existence: “If the pain could go away, would you save me? If the light stays gray, will you help me believe? If you could find a way to break this hold, could you help me be normal?

Though it contains only seven tracks, six of which include vocals, Monster feels monumental in scope. All of the songs are superb, both in terms of their high quality and in their power to move us, and it’s a very impressive debut work. Hollow Intent are an incredibly skilled group of musicians who know how to play metal rock as it was meant to be played – heavy, melodic and loud! Furthermore, Will Baker is one of the finest metalcore vocalists around, in my opinion. I cannot wait to hear more music from this fantastic band.

Connect with Hollow Intent:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Monster” on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

LYIA META – Single Review: “Deserving of Love”

lyia meta2

One of my favorite female vocalists is Malaysian singer-songwriter Lyia Meta. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Lyia is a lovely woman both inside and out, with a dazzling powerhouse voice. With her deep, resonant vocal style and ability to cover multiple genres ranging from blues and rock to pop and country with ease, she’s become an international star, winning numerous music awards over the past several years. I first featured her in early 2018 when I reviewed her gorgeous single “Without Walls”, then again this past January when I wrote about her pop-rock anthem “All of My Love”. Lyia now returns with a dramatic new single “Deserving of Love“, her first foray into metal rock.

About the song, Lyia told me “This is the first time I am doing/writing metal. As a multi-genre artist, I try not to limit myself, and because my heart/influence is rooted in rock and blues it seemed a natural sort of thing to gravitate toward this. As I started this adventure with [producer] Mike Hall, I must say I was a bundle of nerves throughout the entire process. Almost all my songs are written from a personal place. So this song is no different.”

“Deserving of Love” storms right out of the gate with an explosive mix of Mike Hall’s shredded guitar and Lyia’s raw, impassioned vocals. Soon enough, Mike delivers thunderous staccato riffs as Lyia demands to be heard and understood in her desperate longing to be loved.

Don’t cut me down
Cos’ I speak the words you need to hear
Don’t shut me out
Don’t cut me down

The dramatic soaring chorale vocals in the chorus have a chilling, almost Gothic feel that gives the track incredible power and depth. By this time, Mike’s shredding his guitar nearly to the breaking point as Lyia unleashes all of the raw emotion she can gather as she pleads:

Do you hear me?
Bare my soul I’m in need

Lay it there see me bleed
I’m so weary but I’m so deserving of love
So deserving of love
I’m deserving of love

“Deserving of Love” is a terrific song, and Lyia does quite an admirable job singing heavy metal. So play this one loud! As a side note, Lyia is also an accomplished visual artist, and designed the striking artwork for the single.

Connect with Lyia: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

TRUE THE GRAY – EP Review: “Bledstone”

True the Gray Bledstone

True the Gray is a metalcore band from Denver, Colorado, consisting of Peter Vaughn (guitars, clean vocals, percussion, keys & overthinking to a fault) and Scotty Wilson (growls & screams, guitars, percussion & weed). They’ve been friends for years, and played together in the now-defunct Denver metalcore band Me Against Sunrise prior to forming True the Gray in 2016. Inspired by some of their favorite bands like Slipknot, Wage War and Polaris, True the Gray make relentlessly aggressive yet melodic metalcore rock. They cheekily describe their sound as “great background music for wine and cheese board parties and satanic rituals.

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Scotty & Peter

In 2016, they released a very respectable debut self-titled EP True the Gray, and followed up in May 2018 with a powerful, face-melting single “Greet Your Tragedy”, which I reviewed. That October, they dropped a three-track EP In A Wake, and last month (June 2019), they released their latest effort Bledstone, a five-track EP serving up more of their signature punishing wall of sound, dark lyrics and fearsome vocals. The EP was produced and mixed by Peter and Scotty, and mastered by Mike Kalajian. Tanner Lichty played bass (and mixed and mastered “The Old Haunt”), and drums were played by John Baptiste Maukbuke.

Kicking things off is “The Old Haunt“, which opens with what sounds like a stylus being placed onto a worn record album before an onslaught of raging guitars and pummeling drumbeats ensue. Scotty savagely growls the lyrics that speak to man’s inherent evil nature, and our internal struggles to conquer that evil in the hopes of finding our better selves: “There is a piece of everyone’s heart that is wicked from the start. But there’s a reason to feel we were placed here to heal and contrive new working parts.” As the song unfolds, Peter fervently sings “A way to cross the line. A face an image of lies. And through thoughts he finds a side. Through thoughts he finds the sight.” But alas, goodness is not to be found, as Scotty bitterly laments “And in conclusion a sweet delusion of fortune and good faith, but as I have no doubt, nothing works out for the bold and the brave.

With nary a break in the action, “Lionize” explodes with a furious barrage of staccato riffs, crushing bass and hammering drums. It’s an exquisite track, both beastly and beautiful, and my favorite on the EP. The guitar work is spectacular, and really showcases the guys’ impressive musicianship. At the two and a half minute mark, everything calms down momentarily as we’re treated to an enchanting melodic guitar interlude before ramping back up for a dramatic finish. Peter and Scotty’s contrasting vocal styles complement and mesh together quite nicely on this and other tracks.

The guys unleash their sonic fury on “Dreamstealer“, a near-epic song with searing lyrics spoken from the perspective of a godlike figure to humankind. Angered by the mess they’ve made of earth and themselves, god concludes that the only solution is to flood the earth again, as was done in Biblical times: “I’ll fuckin’ turn the tide again. Let a wave take away your precious land./ You failed me. You all fell from my grace. So spineless. Empathy; I have none for the weak. Your price to pay. I gave you life. You meant everything to me. I’ll miss your sight. But you weren’t meant to be.” The heavy, distorted guitars and percussion fade out at around 4:40, transitioning to an atmospheric soundscape of haunting ethereal synths lasting another full minute, symbolizing the somber aftermath of such a global cataclysm.

Eon” blasts through the speakers with a relentless volley of machine gun riffs, frantic guitar runs and jackhammer percussion. Now it seems the devil is the one ready to settle some scores, and accordingly, Scotty’s vocals are more savage than ever as he screams “I will open the sky, I will watch as your demons die! With certainty the moon will bleed and light our darkest nights!” Once again, Peter’s clean vocals provide a dramatic contrast to Scotty’s metalcore growls. True the Gray continue to lay waste to the airwaves with their intense metalcore mayhem on the final track “Deadwood“. The song’s meaning isn’t totally clear to me, but my take is that the godlike figure is telling mankind that he/she is no longer their god: “These hearts left hallowed. My feelings shallowed. And I’ll turn away. I can’t be the one you follow.” Scotty and Peter’s vocals have never sounded better, and raise the hairs on the back of my neck from start to finish.

Bledstone is a fantastic and well-crafted little EP. Despite it’s relatively brief running time of only 19 minutes, it’s a raging beast of unabashed ferocity and brilliant metalcore grooves. True the Gray continue to grow in terms of their songwriting and performance with each release, and Bledstone is clearly a step forward for the talented duo.

Connect with True the Gray:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Apple Music / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp