HOUNDWOLF – Album Review: “Beware of the Dog”

Houndwolf album cover

I turn my spotlight back to Germany, this time on HOUNDWOLF, an outstanding hard rock/metal band based in Witten. Influenced by some of their favorite rock and metal bands like Metallica, Motörhead, Pantera, Slayer, Black Stone Cherry, Trivium and Black Label Society, they play melodic and aggressive metal rock’n’roll, with some of the best guitar work I’ve heard any band play. Comprising the band are Milan Schloßmacher (Lead Vocals & Guitars), Tobias Maienschein (Guitar & Backings), Daniel Teuchert (Bass & Backings) and Thomas Neuhaus (Drums).

Houndwolf

In early 2016 HOUNDWOLF released a debut 3-track EP Fast and Loose, then dropped their first studio album Beware of the Dog that November. The album includes the original three tracks that were on the EP, plus seven new tracks. It’s a real tour-de-force, with seven tracks running more than five minutes in length. Three of them clock in at over eight minutes, with impressive extended riffs that will satisfy even the pickiest lovers of metal guitar.

The album kicks off with the rousing “The Banner of Rock’n’Roll,” establishing right up-front that this band means business about carrying the banner for rock’n’roll. To an onslaught of blazing guitars, buzzing bass and pummeling drums, Milan snarls “We have come to kick your ass, to blow your mind today! With a sound that’s razor sharp, as a steely knife” – and do they ever! Milan and Tobias lay down some formidable riffs that make for an exhilarating rock’n’roll song.

Metallica’s influence is strongly evident on many of their songs, especially the title track “Beware of the Dog,” “Paintheatre” and “Fast and Loose” – all down and dirty high-energy rock’n’roll tracks with frenetic metal guitar riffs, heavy bass lines and rapid-fire drums. “Crematories of Hell” is a moody heavy metal ballad with stunning intricate guitars that shred and wail. Milan’s smoldering, gritty vocals add to the dark feel of the track as he bitterly sings: “So you laid me down into the crematories of hell. You drained all my joy, I’m pain in a human shell.”

Die Laughin‘” is fantastic hard-driving rock at its finest, opening with a blistering extended guitar riff, backed by pounding drums and throbbing bass. After about a minute, Milan’s powerful vocals enter the proceedings as he growls: “I wanna die laughin’, with a smile on my lips,” though it sounds like he’s singing “I wanna die lovin.'” Double meaning perhaps? At four minutes, the song slows to a ballad-like interlude with beautiful guitar, then ramps back up with a return to the frenzied tempo for the remainder of the track. (HOUNDWOLF does this on several of their longer songs, giving them a monumental quality.) Milan reaffirms his intentions: “I wanna die with a smile on my face.” It’s an awesome song with stellar guitar work, and one of my favorites on the album.

Sweet Goddess of Fire” is a great hard rock song, with more amazing guitar work. Milan sings about a woman who’s definitely caught his attention: “Pretty smile, she’s not that tall. But she really is the opposite of small.

It seems the guys are saving the best for last, as the tracks get better and better as the album progresses. Another favorite of mine is the gorgeous but melancholy rock ballad “Goldminer’s Dream,” a powerful song about feeling like a failure despite working so hard, but vowing to never give up trying to achieve your dreams:

I’ve been working all day and all night long
Searching every mountain’s mine for gold
Hoping to have my work, and money making it tenfold
Cause I like the dust and I like the dirt
For I desire the end of all my indefatigable work
I have to go on as it seems
But I won’t give up, I won’t bury a goldminer’s dream
Sorry that none I brought to you was gold
Glittering emptiness is all that I hold with these shattered hands
Again I lost, Again I commit a blunder
Again I feel this pain trying to pull me under

The track starts off slowly, with beautiful strummed guitars over a solid bass line and gently tapping drums. At about 3:30 the music intensifies with stronger electric guitar and heavier drums. Milan’s vocals also rise in emotion to a grittier delivery, in tandem with the music, then all settles down at 4:50 for around 45 seconds. Everything ramps back up again to a powerful crescendo before calming back down at the end. It’s an amazing song.

Speaking of amazing, next up is “Deathtiny,” an epic work featuring jaw-dropping guitars worthy of Metallica or Slayer. It’s ironic how riffs this scorching hot can bring such chills. Milan and Tobias shred their guitars nearly to the breaking point, while Daniel lays down a mammoth bass line. Thomas attacks his drum kit like a pile driver, crashing his cymbals with all the force he can muster. The track is almost nine minutes long, but so fucking good it seems over in an instant.

Here’s a video of Daniel doing a wicked bass playthrough of the track:

The guys pull out all the stops on the autobiographical album closer “Houndwolf.” It’s a rock’n’roll head-banger, delivering a barrage of frantic metal guitar riffs, crushing bass and thunderous percussion. Milan’s gruff vocals are fierce as he sings about what they’re gonna do with their music: ” We’re Houndwolf! We’re gonna take the stage! We’re gonna bring ya into eternal rage. We’re Houndwolf! Give us your hand! We’re gonna bring ya into  a fallen land.” Take me, I’m ready to go!

Here’s a video of Milan doing a guitar playthrough of “Houndwolf.”

HOUNDWOLF play hard rock’n’roll that’s every bit as good as many of the big-name heavy metal bands, and Beware of the Dog is a superb, monumental album. They’re writing and recording new music, which should be gracing our ears in 2018.

Connect with Houndwolf:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Purchase Beware of the the Dog on itunes and other sites offering music for download or purchase.

BRAD SCHECTER – Album Review: “Live Your Dreams”

Brad Schecter is a creative and talented singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Los Angeles. With a life-long passion for music and performance, he began studying classical piano at age 6, started writing songs at 15, and went on to earn a B.A. in Theatre.  In addition to being a rock tenor, he’s played piano and drums for over 25 years, both as a solo artist and with a number of bands, including Scarred and Blue Embrace, and more recently, a new project Face of Stone with guitarist Marc Palmer.

Brad Schecter

In October 2015, Brad released his debut album Live Your Dreams, a collection of songs that chronicle his life beginning with the death of his father when he was 16, his ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression and, most of all, never giving up. Drawing inspiration from some of his favorite artists and bands like Sixx:A.M., Pink Floyd, Muse, Iron Maiden and RUSH, he fuses powerful, heartfelt lyrics with hard rock and metal to create a sound that can best be described as progressive hard rock with a significant piano presence. Based on influences from those legendary bands known for their magnificent musical output, Brad’s music is as impressive and compelling as I’d imagined it would be.

For the album, Brad wrote all the music and lyrics, including the guitar solos, and played piano, drums, keyboards/synths, and auxiliary percussion, and sang all vocals. Other musicians providing backup instrumentals included Greg Karas on guitars, Drew Allsbrook on bass, and Daniel Balistocky on additional rhythm guitar and bass.

The album opens with the hauntingly beautiful piano instrumental “Bbc,” which really showcases Brad’s skills as a pianist. The track abruptly segues into the high-energy rocker “Blind Eye,” a powerful song about refusing to let someone continue to hurt you. Rapid-fire riffs and hammering drums propel the song forward, while Brad emotionally sings “Why can’t you see what you’ve done to me? I don’t want to live this way again.” An assertive piano later enters the scene as Brad defiantly sings “No more blind eye. I can see now.

A standout track is “Another Day,” a hard rock anthem with terrific instrumentals, including some stellar guitar work and piano. The hopeful lyrics speak to not letting life’s problems defeat you:

Maybe it’s not too late, in my hands is my own fate
So much left to do, not too late to start anew
I know I still have time, but it could never be enough
Explain to me the reason why, explain to me the reason why
The moon still rises, the sun still sets
Will my spirit carry on yet?
What if time stood still so we could live on
And I would not have to wait
So please let me see another day

Spring” opens with sounds of children playing outdoors, then suddenly interrupted by a thundershower. A lovely piano movement takes over, and Brad sings bittersweet lyrics that hearken back to his childhood and his father’s death. The music ramps up with added electric guitars, heavier bass and more aggressive piano as he fervently pleads “Father don’t speak, this is easier. Father don’t cry, I will be fine.” The music slows back down, only to ramp back up at the outro. It’s an epic song.

Brad delivers another amazing track with “So Long Sonata,” an emotion-charged song about telling someone that your relationship is irreparably broken. The track features beautiful, dramatic piano, great guitars and percussion. The sublime piano instrumental composition “Reminiscence” follows, providing a nice interlude and transition to the monumental track “Just in Case.” The grandiose orchestration, featuring an arresting interplay between piano and guitar, result in a gorgeous rock song of immense power, befitting of the subject of mental illness.

Next up is “True Selfie” an exuberant rock anthem about staying true to yourself, not being who you think you should be. Closing out the album is the title track “Live Your Dreams.” As always, the song is chock-full of Brad’s beautiful piano playing, accompanied by awesome guitar work and commanding percussion. The inspiring lyrics speak for themselves:

I know it’s easier to fantasize than to really do the task
Spend too much time pondering what if
Not enough time seeing what could be
No point in trying to relive the past
You must move forward never back
Now there’s an obstacle before you
Only one who stands in your way is you

Live Your Dreams is a solid testament to Brad’s expansive songwriting and musicianship, and I’m glad he reached out to me with his wonderful album. I realize the music industry is a tough, highly-competitive business, and that success can seem elusive for many musicians. I sincerely hope he continues writing and recording music, whether it be as a solo artist or in collaboration with other artists as he is now doing with Marc Palmer.

Connect with Brad:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Reverbnation / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes/Apple Music / Amazon

MURKOCET – Single Review: “Hustlin’ Hate”

Hustlin' Hate

Phoenix, Arizona-based heavy metal band MURKOCET is bound and determined to slam you against the wall with their relentlessly intense music. They state they’re named after a substance directly attributed to the aggressive and often times violent actions of it’s user. Listening to their music, I’m certainly not gonna argue with that! Following up on their self-released face-melting debut album Digging Mercy’s Grave, released this past January 2017, they’ve just released a blistering new single “Hustlin’ Hate.”

MURKOCET consists of Richie Jano on vocals, Nate Garrett on guitar, Mike Mays on drums, and newcomer Jared Pettit on bass. Their hard-hitting yet melodic music is heavily influenced by some of their favorite hardcore and death metal bands such as Lamb of God, Slipknot and Hatebreed. They combine those influences with a strong emphasis on engagement with fans though their incredibly dynamic, high energy performances.

Murkocet

“Hustlin’ Hate” starts off with a wailing guitar riff, accompanied by a rib-crunching bass riff and pounding drum, then explodes into an unrelenting four minute long assault of jackhammer bass, pummeling drums and blazing guitars. The interplay between guitar and bass is so good it brings goosebumps. Jano unleashes all the brutal fury he can muster with his raw, guttural vocals, raising those goosebumps to the breaking point. It’s a phenomenally powerful track, and a thing of beauty for those who love death metal.

Catch Murkocet at one of these upcoming concerts:

Nov. 25 –  Silver Spur Saloon, Denver, CO
Nov. 26 –  Rio Rancho, NM
Nov. 27 –  Green Room, Flagstaff, AZ
Nov. 29 –  The Merrow, San Diego, CA
Nov. 30 –  Bricks Restaurant & Sports Bar, Maywood, CA
Dec. 1   –  Dive Bar, Las Vegas, NM
Dec. 8   –  Marquee Theatre, Tempe, AZ
Dec. 22 –  Acadia Bar & Grill, Houston, TX

Connect with Murkocet:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud/ Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  iTunes

MOROSITY – Album Review: “Low Tide”

Low Tide Album Art

Unusual. Exotic. Captivating. Haunting. Stunning. Those are all words that come to mind when I listen to the album Low Tide by Morosity, a genre-bending band from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Formed in 2001 by childhood friends Jesse Albrecht (Lead Vocalist/Guitarist) and Dave Rowan (Guitarist) as a two-man acoustic group, they spent their early years developing a sound uniquely their own, and playing local gigs and opening for national bands. Wanting to expand their sound and musical reach, they added bassist Sean Bachinski in 2007, and two years later, Jason Wolfe (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin) and Nick Johnson (Drums) joined the band to complete their lineup.

Morosity released an ambitious debut album Misanthrope in 2011 to wide acclaim, and nearly six years later, in February 2017, they released their second album Low Tide, which I’m finally getting around to reviewing. While retaining many elements of their signature sound – complex song structures and melodies, richly layered guitars, crisp percussion, and generous use of the violin – with Low Tide the band takes a more eclectic and decidedly darker approach. Melding rock with tribal, psychedelia, folk and Middle Eastern influenced music through use of the mandolin and hammered dulcimer, they’ve created a powerful work of extraordinary beauty and depth. The album was produced by Albrecht, who records, mixes, and masters in his home studio Evensong Studios.

Morosity

The album starts off with “Mind Over Matter,” a brief but mesmerizing track dominated by a gorgeous dulcimer riff. The song elicits several images and feelings for me, but I mostly think of a beautiful belly dancer moving to the captivating Middle Eastern music. The song immediately transitions to the mysterious “The Answer.” One of my favorite tracks on the album, the song features haunting guitar work that’s so incredible it gives me goosebumps. Furthermore, Albrecht’s vocals are amazing; he seductively croons the lyrics about questioning one’s belief system: “My eyes tell me that the truth’s not being told. What if all I see is just a lie?” He finally concludes that it’s all a sham as he wails “You’re all wrong” to a hard-driving guitar riff at the song’s end.

Without skipping a beat, we segue to “Ouroboros,” another mesmerizing (there’s that word again, but it’s just so fitting) track with a Middle Eastern vibe. The instrumentals on this track are rich and varied, and Albrecht’s smoky vocals have a chant-like quality. “Moon” has more of a traditional folk-rock sound, with some tasty layered guitars floating over Bachinski’s solid bass line.

The album plays like a rock symphony, with each track a string of movements, one flowing into the next. “Moon” transitions directly into “Smoke & Mirrors,” a powerful five-and-a-half minute long tour-de-force of a track about self deception. The guitar work is outstanding, and Albrecht’s raw vocals, which remind me a bit of the late Chris Cornell on this track, perfectly convey the biting lyrics:

Is all your smiling make-believe?
Who is it that you are trying to deceive?
What is it that you plan to gain?
A life of misery, false heightened sense of fame. It all goes away…

The most powerful, and dark, track on the album is “Death Grip,” which speaks to the epidemic of gun violence that’s become so pervasive in America today. The folk-rock song is chilling, yet has an interlude containing whistling that comes off as almost carefree, in sharp contrast to the subject matter. A similar treatment was used by Foster the People on their hit “Pumped Up Kicks.” The disturbing lyrics are from the twisted perspective of a mass shooter:

Lately I just wanna kill someone
You can hide away the ammo Lock up all the guns
But if I really wanna have some fun
There ain’t nothing gonna stop me til’ the job is done
I wanna kill someone
In a crowded theater
In the church of nuns
In a school for children
In front of everyone
You think that you can stop me
You say you’re good with guns
If you try to kill me I’m gonna blow up everyone

The video shows serene images of the countryside and a cemetery, interspersed with a shadowy figure walking, driving, and at a shooting range. At the end, people are shown having fun riding bikes, bowling, and at a demolition derby, presumably oblivious to any potential danger.

Limbo” features Wolfe’s sublime mandolin work, accompanied by lovely violin and subtle guitars. Albrecht’s urgent vocals are marvelous, as are the backing chorus. The violin and acoustic guitar take center stage on the melancholy title track “Low Tide.” The gloomy lyrics speak to feelings of being worn down, and that life is slipping away, but you’re not yet ready to give up:

From stone to sand, I feel it all sifting through my hands.
Worn to bone, nothing left just a skeleton.
Bottoms up and cut me down to size.
Drag me out and wash me in the tide.
Give me life now no I don’t wanna die.
Low tide

But by song’s end, the feelings of hopelessness, regret and despair have become too great to bear, thus death would be a welcome relief:

Can not maintain the pain the rain is welling in your eyes.
Pleasure came back down the drain swallowing the light.
Playing blame insane it’s you that’s done this to your life.
Missing sane tired and drained thoughts of the other side.
Pick me up and bathe me in the light.
Drive it down and bleed me dry.
Take my life I’m ready to die.
Washed away in the low tide.

The band keeps with an oceanic theme on the funereal album closer “Adrift.” The languid track is moody, yet peaceful, with the sound of waves drifting in and out as a somber guitar plays. Like the music, Albrecht’s low, echoed vocals are dirge-like, yet somehow comforting. The music and vocals end at 3:30, and we’re left with sounds of the surf for another 20 seconds, followed by birds singing in a gentle breeze, as if to signify the gradual and peaceful passing away of a life. Morbid, but beautiful at the same time, which fairly well sums up the album.

Morosity is currently working on a third album, and I eagerly look forward to hearing more songs from these exceptionally talented and creative musicians.

Connect with Morosity:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  BandcampMorosity Store

BAD LLAMA – Single Review: “Apocrypha”

Apocrypha

Bad Llama is a talented and charismatic alternative metal band based in Burton Upon Trent, UK. Blending 90s rock, funk and metal with modern industrial and progressive sounds, they create music overflowing with intricate melodies, complex arrangements, powerful instrumentals, intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals. The band is comprised of Kyle Jordan (Vocals), Dan Houlbrooke (Guitar), Sam Wyatt (Guitar and Backing vocals), Lewis Hutchings (Bass) and Gaz Waddell (Drums).

Bad Llama photo 1

In September 2016, they released their outstanding debut EP Shedding Skin, which I reviewed and you can read here. Building on the solid foundation established by that EP, Bad Llama have now released a new single “Apocrypha” and it’s brilliant!

Roiling guitars, thunderous drums and throbbing bass set the tone for the hard-hitting song. An eerie synth that sounds like distorted violin strings lends a menacing, psychedelic vibe, while Jordan’s powerful, raw vocals raise goosebumps. Having two axe men gives their music incredible strength and complexity of sound, and Houlbrooke and Wyatt don’t disappoint as they deliver an onslaught of shredded and distorted riffs. It all builds to a powerful crescendo in the outro, and the soaring chorus is a perfect finish to the superb track.

Connect with Bad Llama: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Spotify

Purchase: iTunes

THREEFOLD MAZE – Album Review: “Dollar of Dust”

Dollar of Dust

Threefold Maze is an indie progressive metal/hard rock band based in Fort Worth, Texas. Formed by long-time friends Doug Whittenberg and Mike Smith, who originally called their fledgling band Aura Caelestis, they released a respectable self-titled album in 2010. Moving forward, as they state in their bio: “it was decided that the next album needed more production, better gear, and a much better name.” After an exhaustive name search, they decided upon Threefold Maze, and spent several years writing and recording songs for their debut album Dollar of Dust. Regarding the album title, Mike explained that it’s “the approximate value of all the stuff in the human body – if dried up. Kinda morbid but sounded cool.” Indeed it does!

Dollar of Dust was released in July 2016, and it’s an ambitious work containing 12 tracks and running an hour in length. Both Doug and Mike played guitar and keyboards on the album and Doug also played bass and provided the lead vocals, while Mike sang backup. Doug’s son Derek Whittenberg was recruited to play drums, and Caitlin Smith provided guest vocals on some of the tracks. The album was self-produced by Threefold Maze, and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, Finland. The band chose Mika based on his work with other bands that fall into the same genre, and the wide-open dynamic sound he delivered that they wanted for Dollar of Dust.

Threefold Maze

I’ve given the album multiple listens and discover another melody, lyric or instrumental nuance each and every time. It’s truly monumental in scope – the kind of album Styx, Boston and Dream Theater would create if they combined their talents and music styles. (In fact, to my ears, Doug’s vocals are reminiscent of Dennis DeYoung.)

From the ominous heavy sounds and eerie tinkling piano at the beginning of the opening track “Phear,” it’s clear we’re about to hear some amazing music, and Threefold Maze does not disappoint. They deliver an onslaught of blistering, razor-sharp guitar riffs, thunderous percussion and soaring harmonizing vocals. Toss in some amazing keyboards and exuberant orchestral synths, and we’ve got songs of incredible complexity and depth. This is strongly evident on “Hope,” one of the many standouts on Dollar of Dust. The guitar solo at the bridge is mind-blowing.

Many of their song lyrics address the search for meaning and purpose in life, and the challenges we face in finding our own truth. With pummeling bass and guitars blazing, the hard-hitting “To Visit the Darkness” tackles this head on:

Speculation about the world around me.
Never knowing what might be found.
I try to find my way.
Struggles of the mind are great.
Love and fear and often hate permeate my thoughts and take control.

The guys serve up more killer riffs and pulse-pounding drums on the melodic tracks “Lost My Way” and “Frozen in Time.” In fact, the brilliant “Frozen in Time” is pretty darn close to being a perfect progressive metal anthem, and is my favorite track on the album.

Next up is the beautiful instrumental interlude “Caelestial Intermission,” a nod to the band’s previous name and album. This track is loaded with magnificent guitar work and mesmerizing synths, and is another one of my favorites. The relative calm is abruptly shattered by the pummeling heavy metal sounds of “Vacant Eyes.” At 2:30, the song shifts to a soothing 30-second interlude featuring keyboards, sweeping synths, and the sublime guest vocals of Caitlin Smith, before the metal riffs return for the outro. Caitlin appears again on “If I” and the epic “What Truth,” a seven and half minute long tour de force of rhythmic shifts, chord change ups, hammering percussion, buzzing bass lines, intriguing synths, mindbending guitar work and lovely vocal harmonies. The track is so melodically and musically complex that it has the feel of a mini rock opera.

At this point, one would think the guys would begin to run out of steam, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their phenomenal musicianship continues to shine on “Beyond the Grey” and “This Moment Calling,” another standout track with jaw-dropping power riffs. The fantastic hard-driving “Neverwake” is a reworking of a track that originally appeared on Aura Caelestis, and a fitting closer to a superb album.

Connect with Threefold Maze:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon / Bandcamp / cdbaby

DEAD ON ARRIVAL – EP Review: “Chasing Tides”

It’s back to the UK to shine my spotlight on metal rock band Dead On Arrival. The Derbyshire four-piece was formed in 2011, and consists of Jack Dughan (Lead Vocals & Rhythm Guitar), Ben Calver (Lead Guitar & Backing Vocals), Connor Woodward (Bass) and George Lathbury (Drums). Drawing on influences from some of their favorite bands such as Metallica, Machine Head, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Asking Alexandria and Bring Me The Horizon, the guys make aggressive rock that’s melodic, raw and in-your-face. As they state on their Facebook bio, “Our passion is to write, produce and release our own music and then play it live and LOUD.

Dead on Arrival
Photo by Pete Key

Dead On Arrival released a full length debut album From the Ashes in 2016, and now return with a terrific EP Chasing Tides, which dropped on August 18. The EP delivers four scorching tracks that clearly demonstrate the band’s growth, both in songwriting and musicianship. Their song lyrics address themes of dysfunction and betrayal within ourselves, our relationships and our government leaders, and their ferocious instrumentals perfectly convey the strong feelings expressed in the lyrics.

Chasing Tides

Vulture in the Waves,” released as a single in late 2016, kicks things off with an onslaught of shredded guitars, powerful throbbing bass and pounding drums – all hallmarks of the band’s hard-hitting sound. Dughan wails the lyrics that speak of someone wracked with guilt and tormented by his actions:

Oh I’m the vulture in the waves
Chasing tides to escape my mistakes
Because I couldn’t live on
Knowing what I’ve done
And I hide in the shadows
It’s the only way to survive

Hammering drums and blazing riffs continue unabated on the hard-driving “Inside” and “Corrupted World.” Calver’s shredded and distorted guitars are mind-blowing, and the bass so heavy I felt it in my core. On the latter track, Dughan implores, “This is a final call. We will stand tall and fight against this corruption.”

As if the first three tracks aren’t aggressive enough, the guys unleash their full sonic arsenal on the bombastic “Sickening Thing.” The frantic guitar riffs rain down like thunderbolts, and Lathbury attacks his drums like a wild beast, nearly blowing out the speakers – and my ear drums! Woodward lays down a face-melting bass line, and Dughans’ fiery vocals match the brutal music note for note. It’s my favorite of the four tracks, and really shows what these guys are capable of.

Connect with Dead on Arrival:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on  Spotify and purchase on iTunes

MEN WITHOUT ARMIES – EP Review: “Strapped & Loaded”

Men Without Armies is a hard rocking, guitar-driven metal band based in Nashville, Tennessee. The band was formed in 2013 by Canadian guitarist/composer/producer Brennan Dylan, and now includes lyricist Dude Diablo and drummer Derek Bachtold. The band is set to release their new EP Strapped & Loaded on July 20, 2017.

Before I get into my review of their EP, I want to provide a little background on the band and its founding member Brennan Dylan. Born in Vancouver, B.C., raised in Ottawa and then Toronto, he’s had a love and aptitude for music since early childhood. He began playing sax and composing music at the age of 10, and performed classical, jazz & swing in school stage bands. In his bio, Dylan states “When I was 14 I picked up a guitar for the first time; it was like I’d inherited freedom. My high school music teacher told me that guitar wasn’t an instrument. I ignored him and studied rock/metal guitar for the first year.

Brennan D as boy

He wrote rock and metal songs and, while still in high school, performed jazz, rock & blues improv guitar at a local club. He branched out and studied everything from Motorhead to Dick Dale to Bach. He was in a surf band one summer, then moved into electronic music, which he incorporated into hard rock/metal compositions. He eventually moved to Boston to study Performance Guitar at Berklee College of Music, then headed west to LA where he played the Sunset Strip as a solo artist, performing with some major acts, including Michael Angelo Batio, DeathRiders and Gorillaz at the Whisky a GoGo.

In 2010, Dylan released his first self-produced CD Bullet Ride, followed two years later by Broken Glass, which received positive reviews and radio play, including a CBS Radio interview and press in Performer Magazine, NME & Guitar World. In 2013, he dropped his third CD Raining in Berlin. Still restless, he relocated to New York City that same year, where he formed Men Without Armies, about which he explained:

That simple 3 man band was the formula I’d been searching for in the trees rather than the forest. Pure rippin’ metal has been coursing through my veins since I first picked up a guitar. My adventures to incorporate every genre that has a beat into my metal compositions was very necessary and still is. I want to study it all but most of all I want to become a better guitar player and composer. By straying from the herd I think that I can accomplish that…no one has a monopoly on anything, even a flat tire kicks off a beat. I may not like all music genres but I’ve always been able to find great guitar players and/or composers in all I’ve studied.

brennan dylan

Men Without Armies released their debut self-titled EP in 2014, and followed up in 2016 with Walking Through Fire. The band won the prestigious IMEA (International Music and Entertainment Association) award for Best Metal Group in October 2016. They’re now based in Nashville, and ready to drop their third EP Strapped & Loaded next month.

Dylan states that the songs on Strapped & Loaded took more than a year to create and, in the process, he literally became a ‘man without an army’ after the band’s original drummer and bass player/vocalist abruptly quit to follow other pursuits. He had written 53 new songs, which he whittled down to 20 and finally 12 that he fully developed into complete works. With his drummer and bassist now departed, Dylan played all instruments but drums (guitar, bass, keyboards and synths) and hired a session drummer for recording of the songs, as their time at Vibe Studio had already been booked. The vocals were sung by Vibe Studio owner Johnny Burke.

Dylan and Diablo eventually landed Derek Bachtold as their new drummer, and they’re currently recruiting for a new bassist/vocalist. They decided that Strapped & Loaded will now be a six-song EP instead of a 12 song album. But they also recorded the remaining six songs without vocals. Those six instrumentals have been amped with searing guitar solos which have become their trademark and something their fans have come to expect, so they will also be released as a follow up EP to be called Strapped & ReLoaded once they have a new vocalist on board to sing the lyrics.

About the new EP, Dylan explains: “Strapped & Loaded speaks about our times, and three of the songs have a military theme. The song “Strapped & Loaded” is the single and has a double meaning. Dude also wrote it to help give my mom strength and courage to battle her cancer. “Crash ‘n Burn” is all about Vegas. The title for “Fast Life in Hollywood” says it all. “The Gun Show” was written to help bring more awareness of living life inside of our inner cities, to those living the great life in places like Man Hat Tan – grab a coat, got a plane to catch, see ya man.”

Track listing:
1. The Desert Haunts Me
2. The Gun Show
3. Strapped & Loaded
4. Crash ‘n Burn
5. Fast Life in Hollywood
6. A Day in The Life

The Desert Haunts Me” kicks things off with a rousing, hard-driving beat and killer riffs. “It’s the trigger that sets me free. The trigger that sets me free. Bang bang bang bang. Brings the bullets right out of me. The bullets right out of me. Bang bang bang bang. Forced to kill. Enough to thrill. The desert haunts me.” “The Gun Show” ramps up the energy with a frantic beat and awesome rapid-fire riffs that really show off Dylan’s amazing guitar playing skills. The in-your-face lyrics speak to the endless bloodshed of gang violence: “Welcome to the gun show baby, with bullets flying. We’re all locked and loaded, spilling blood with people dying. Welcome to the gun show, and no one’s keeping count. It keeps rising, and rising and rising and rising.

Dylan unleashes his sonic weaponry on the title track “Strapped & Loaded,” with scorching hot riffs that do justice to the intense lyrics that describe the band’s mission and also Dylan’s mother’s battle with cancer. In his gritty vocals, Burke snarls: “Crashing through the gates, a burning hell. Never quit, always with horns up, never ring the bell. Punching stars, we’re rippin’ metal. This is our story for us to tell. Strapped & loaded we will go. There is silence in screaming. There is violence in dreaming. Bullets riddle my mind.

Crash ‘n Burn” offers up more hot, bass-heavy riffs and thunderous percussion, before all hell breaks loose on “Fast Life in Hollywood.” Frenetic guitar riffs, crushing bass and hammering drums make this track a real head-banger that gets the blood pumping, and Dylan’s guitar solo at the finale is jaw-droppingly fantastic!

My favorite track is “A Day in the Life,” a complex song with two distinct melodies. The track opens with a mysterious atmospheric synth chord, then explodes with snarling guitars, crashing drums and Burke’s gruff vocals singing the defiant lyrics: “Fearless we live, yeah, fearless we fight. Fearless we live, yeah, fearless we die.” The tempo abruptly changes to a beautiful melody, with gentler guitars, snare drums, and softer vocals, before the gruff, hard-driving melody returns for two more cycles, making this a musically exciting and compelling song. Dylan lays down one of his signature blistering guitar solos in the bridge.

If you’re a fan of heavy, guitar-driven metal rock, Strapped & Loaded needs to be part of your collection. Show Men Without Armies some love and support by following them on:

Facebook /  Twitter /  YouTube

Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Reverbnation

Purchase it:  Reverbnation

UNDER AEGIS – EP Review: “[Extinct]”

Under Aegis is a Progressive Djent Metalcore band with a lot to say. Their brutal in-your-face sound, born from generous amounts of crushing bass, explosive guitars, speaker-blowing drums and ferocious vocals, bulldozes a path of sonic destruction. At the same time, they launch a frontal assault on societal evil, hypocrisy and bullshit with their violent but compelling lyrics.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin based foursome includes Nik Dennee on vocals, Bao Vo on guitar, and brothers Avery Gaitens on bass and Parker Gaitens on drums. In December 2016, they released their hard-hitting EP [Extinct] (two years after their debut EP The Narcissist). We’ve followed each other on Twitter for more than a year, and I’m finally getting around to featuring them on this blog.

Under Aegis 2

[Extinct] confronts a dystopian world where violence, corruption and despair reign. The opening track “Apex Predator” sets the tone with a full-blown attack on every one of our senses. Avery lays down a bass line so intense you can feel it pounding against your chest, while Bao shreds and distorts his guitar nearly to the breaking point. With his jackhammer drums working in tandem with the crushing bass, Parker seems intent on blowing out the speakers – or our eardrums! Nik growls and screams the lyrics like a rampaging T-Rex: “I am a savage fucking beast at the prime of my killing spree. Brutal. Savage. Controlled by instinct. I always wondered what fed this thirst. Pull yourself together. You won’t feel a god damn thing.”

Unbelievably, the band somehow manages to dial up the intensity on “Born Sick.” The drums and bass are even heavier, and by now I’m certain my head’s gonna explode. The lyrics seem to be about the belief that man is born cursed with original sin, and in a continuous struggle to make it through life in one piece. Nik unleashes his fury as he screams “It’s never safe to say that tomorrow is another day. Live and learn and love and respect, because every breath you take is just another fucking side effect. I’m lost, an empty shell, living in fear.” 

Invective” speaks to someone contemplating taking their own life as a way out from dealing with their problems. “You said you’d give anything for a good night’s sleep. Now you have found a solution not so temporary. You’re a fucking coward taking the easy road to eternity. Listen close, no need to be nervous. Just relax it’s only self disposal. Every tragedy begins with a simple idea. You fucking coward. You worthless waste of fucking flesh. Why don’t you close the door. Roll up your fucking window. And just fucking give up.” The track has some seriously good guitar work, and Nik comes close to tearing his vocals chords to shreds as he whips himself into a vocal frenzy.

There’s no letup to the sonic onslaught on “Total Void,” a depressing song about the futility of life in a dystopian society: “We’re all born with broken bones. Suspended, hanging from a rope. So just lose all fucking hope! The ground is breaking beneath us. Sanity controls us. The ground is breaking behind us. Be free and follow me into nothing. Losing your mind could be the end of your struggle.

Nomad” is the most melodic and, at nearly five minutes, longest of the tracks on the EP.  It starts off with a mysterious guitar riff, then heavy percussion and bass ensue, accompanied by layers of shredded and distorted guitars. Nik passionately screams the lyrics that speak to man’s eternal search for meaning and purpose on an earth that’s increasingly being degraded by his own selfish actions:  “All the lines that we used to know they have all been crossed. In this world nothing is fair. No one belongs anywhere, We are all thieves. Searching for our piece of this rotten world long that has been long deceased. Overgrown cities, self absorbed drones. I’m not a miracle, I’m a walking crime scene. Outline me in chalk. Write my obituary.

Under Aegis demonstrate with [Extinct] that they are not only amazing musicians, they’re also adept at writing deeply powerful, relevant lyrics that speak to social and personal upheaval. Bao told me they’re now working on new songs that will address political and governmental issues, and I can’t wait to hear them.

Follow Under Aegis:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Stream their music:  YouTube /  Spotify

Purchase:  Bandcamp /  iTunes

BAD LLAMA – EP Review: “Shedding Skin”

Sometimes I wish I lived in the UK, as so many of the artists and bands I like seem to be located there. I’ve featured many of them on this blog, and today I introduce Bad Llama, an alternative metal five-piece based in Burton Upon Trent.  I was happy they contacted me about their EP, because I became hooked on their music at first listen.

They formed little more than a year ago in early 2016, and in fairly short order released their debut EP Shedding Skin last September. Blending 90s rock, funk and metal with modern industrial and progressive sounds, Bad Llama creates music overflowing with intricate melodies, complex arrangements, powerful instrumentals, intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals.

Making all this great music are Kyle Jordan (Vocals), Lewis Hutchings (Bass), Gaz Waddell (Drums), Dan Houlbrooke (Guitar) and Sam Wyatt (Guitar and Backing vocals). The band made their first live appearance at the 02 Academy 3 in Birmingham in October 2016 and have since played there again. They also appeared on Johnny Doom’s show Amp’d on Birmingham TV (a video of that appearance is at the end of this review), and have played a number of venues throughout the Midlands.

Bad Llama

From the moment we hear the mysterious haunting synths at the beginning of the stunning first track “The Healer,” the song begins to cast its spell. Then jangly guitars, heavy bass and pounding drums enter the picture, drawing us in until a waterfall of swirling and snarling guitars rain down upon our dazed ears, leaving us helplessly in thrall. After just one track, it’s safe to conclude that these guys are masters of their respective instruments. Jordan’s powerful vocals are mesmerizing, going from vulnerable one moment to passionately raw the next as he implores: “Your silence speaks volumes to me / Maybe everything isn’t as it seems.”

The Wolf You Feed” takes a darker turn, with gritty, wailing guitars and cymbal-heavy percussion creating a foreboding sense of doom. Jordan’s vocals once again run the gamut from smoldering to anguished screams, adding complexity and power to the track.  The video was filmed in an abandoned warehouse, and features menacing images of ghoulish characters tormenting the band, alternating with scenes of them performing the song outside the warehouse.

Houlbrooke and Wyatt show off their guitar-playing chops on the exhilarating “Paint in Sound,” as the song opens with a rapid-fire riff before we’re treated to layers of shredded, swirling and distorted guitars. Hutchings’ throbbing bass adds heft to the track, while Waddell pounds out the driving beat. Jordan pleads “Is this prison? Give me something to live for.” His captivating vocals take center stage on “10 Years Time” as he goes from tender falsetto to fiercely intense and everything in between. As to be expected, the instrumentals on this track are outstanding.

Last, but certainly not least, is “Exile,” a brooding, six minute long epic. The intricate guitar work on this track is extraordinary, at once both powerfully intense and achingly beautiful. Hutchings’ bass is so heavy I could feel it pressing against my chest. And it goes without saying that Jordan’s incredible vocal range is on full display, rising to an ear-splitting crescendo before things calm back down by song’s end.

There isn’t a standout track on Shedding Skin, as all five of them are superb. It’s a great EP, and I’m confident we’ll soon be hearing more phenomenal tunes from Bad Llama.

Here’s a video of their appearance on Johnny Doom’s Amp’d:

Follow Bad Llama:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify /  Soundcloud
Purchase it:  iTunes