BRAVE YOU – Album Review: “Places”

Brave You

I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (having just written about progressive metal band UNDER AEGIS) to shine my spotlight on Brave You, one of my favorite indie bands that I’ve also previously featured on this blog. In 2016 I reviewed their outstanding debut Six Songs EP, and now have the pleasure of reviewing their new full-length album Places, which dropped in late February. Released through Halloween Records, Places is a concept album. The band’s guitarist & lead vocalist Alex Meylink explains: “Places is entirely about addiction, but we tried to avoid ever mentioning drugs or alcohol. We focused primarily on how addiction interacts with one’s emotional state and relationships, so I think it’s applicable to anyone suffering a mental health issue. These are songs written across a few years: in the early stages of recovery, in relapse, at ‘the bottom’, and finally coming to a place of good mental health and sobriety.”

Brave You plays alternative rock that’s highly melodic, but with an honest, post-grunge sensibility that gives them a distinctive style all their own. In addition to Meylink, the other band members are Noah Snyder on bass & backing vocals, and Erik Burtraw on drums & backing vocals. Outstanding, complex guitar riffs, aggressive drums, and really fine harmonizing vocals are the defining elements of their sound. Add their solid songwriting to the mix, and the result are songs of exceptional quality and depth. And if all that isn’t enough of a winning combination, they’re also pretty nice guys.

Places is aptly named, as each track title is about a specific location, whether it be a geographical one or simply a bedroom. The album kicks off with a distorted riff and voice over of a guy inviting his friends to go to the amusement park on “Lake Michigan.” Swirling guitars, Snyder’s humming bass and Burtraw’s crashing drums ensue, as Meylink earnestly sings of being in a precarious mental state: “So I’m safe for now. Even if it’s just one moment I could crack a smile, goddamn it.” Determined to make it, he defiantly sings “So I’m safe for now. So let’s burn that fucker down and build it up from better ground.”

I may be off base, but my take on “The Hospital” is that it’s about being depressed over the impending onset of winter, which symbolizes the possibility of having a relapse that would necessitate going back into rehab. The lighthearted video puts a happy face on a rather serious subject, namely trying to stave off winter, or preventing a downward spiral and keeping an upbeat attitude by having fun playing sports with friends. By video’s end, the band members are all wearing giant teddy bear heads, indicating they’re getting ready to hibernate, another metaphor symbolizing the inevitability of returning to the hospital for rehab.

One of my favorite tracks is “Mound St.” It starts off with Meylink’s echoed vocals and a gentle riff and drumbeat, then explodes with a barrage of wailing guitars and thunderous drums. Still in a fragile mental state and feeling pessimistic, Meylink sings: “I’d spent a few years treading water in stagnant pools. You asked me where my head had wandered off to. I’ve been lost. / If these are the best days of our lives then we are fucked. I am fucked. / On Mound Street, I let my losses pile up. Refused to claim stake in the rubble and the sum of the stories I told you and to myself: that I’m alright and getting by. So I coasted on hope or the concept of having it. Got myself dry as a bone til mine were cracking, but I couldn’t help but sink into quicksand and pits. A morass of “faultless” debt I could never hope to pay back.

Wind Lake” and “King Cross” are a couplet, with the latter being a precise continuation of “Wind Lake.” It’s interesting the band would create a separate track in “Kings Cross,” as it begins with the exact same riff that “Wind Lake” ends with. Both tracks feature Meylink’s gritty, screaming guitars and Snyder’s deep, droning bass line, sounding fantastic.

The guys’ wonderful harmonizing is well represented on “Washington.” The nimble guitars and bouncy drumbeat lend an optimistic tone for lyrics that speak to a resignation that though things aren’t going so great, we’ll just continue acting like they are: “So let’s just make it through this winter. Toss off the sharp and jagged splinters. No matter, all of this is fine.”

Hometown” speaks to the depression that began while growing up, and wanting to escape that environment in the hope things will get better:  “Always remember how you felt at this moment, in this placeAlone and inconsolable in the house that you grew up inYou wanted to burn that fucker down. Erase twenty years on solid ground.” The track has a great melody, and is filled with loads of jangly guitars and gritty bass. “South Milwaukee” is a short and beautiful track with chiming guitars and warm bass, but sad lyrics about feeling hopeless and alone. Meylink sadly sings “Overworked and underfed, in need of rest, I drove the twenty minutes to South Milwaukee instead, to you and your shitty friend. Towards a beacon of light in an otherwise meaningless night. / Selfish, I expected too much of your company. That just one night could fix me. It didn’t help me at all.

Bedroom” finds him trying to escape his demons by isolating in a safe place:  “Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to stay home, stay in my bedroom alone. Me and these ghosts, still talking until I’m finally sleeping. I just want to be whole.” As always, the frenetic instrumentals and vocal harmonies are first-rate.

The hard-driving, bittersweet “Your Bedroom” speaks to the pain and feelings of loss after the sudden death of a friend. “You’re no ghost, you’re a warmth. A ringing in the ears. A reminder. Stay in motion now. Make the movement matter. And this will freeze and crack, thawed only by the embers. You’re twenty seven forever. By the back door, your old pair of blue Tiger shoes we didn’t throw out, as if after a day or two like Lazarus you’d come from your room. We’d get a sandwich at Lulu’s. God, I’d do whatever you want to. I’d get clean. I’d sing loud. Just come on out.”

Places closes on an optimistic tone with the anthemic “Everywhere.” He’s now confident things will be OK: “I wanna take back this city from dead memories, take back my body. Call off the funeral procession for all these loves that built me. Those years searching for something greater than these homes. Well, I found it. Found it in my bones.” It’s a gorgeous track with layered guitars that start off as tender strums, gradually building to celebratory jangly riffs. Likewise, Meylink’s heartfelt vocals build along with the music, eventually soaring to a crescendo of spine-tingling harmonies. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a brilliant effort from a really fine band. I love Brave You and hope they continue making music for years to come.

Connect with Brave You: Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase Places on Bandcamp or iTunes

UNDER AEGIS – Single Review: “Point Blank”

UNDER AEGIS is a phenomenal Progressive Djent Metal band who kick ass and take no prisoners. Their brutal sound – forged from explosive guitars, buzzsaw bass lines, speaker-blowing drums and fierce vocals – is a full-frontal assault on the ears, while their provocative lyrics call out societal evil, hypocrisy and bullshit. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based foursome released their monumental EP [Extinct] in 2016, followed by the scathing single “Sedated” in August 2017, both of which I reviewed on this blog. They’ve now dropped a brand new single “Point Blank,” delivering more of their signature face-melting metalcore we’ve come to expect.

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Photos by Luke Steffens

Along with their new single, UNDER AEGIS also has a charismatic new vocalist Carl Martin (who also mixed the track).  He sounds amazing whether he’s aggressively singing and rapping in clean vocals or ferociously screaming guttural metalcore. Rounding out the band lineup are the talented original members Bao Vo on guitar, and brothers Avery Gaitens on bass and Parker Gaitens on drums.

The powerful track is brutal yet melodic, with relentless wailing riffs and Avery’s bone-crushing bass providing a fitting backdrop for Carl’s furious vocals. Through it all, we hear Bao’s eerily beautiful recurring guitar riff that seems to rise out of the maelstrom, while Parker pummels his drum kit with all the strength he can muster. The three minute fifteen second long track leaves us drained but still wanting more. It’s awesome.

My take on the song’s meaning is that we’re all brain-dead and living a hopeless existence in a dystopian society fed a steady diet of pernicious misinformation and thought-control. Carl snarls and growls the bleak lyrics:

The only plan that will meet our demand is when we don’t exist.
Our lives are staged, stuck in a cage.
Projecting conscience in our brains.
When will you begin to conceive it as fake? Everyone is the enemy.
Point blank to the side of our head
they pull the trigger but they didn’t know we’re already dead.
Sweet dreams when they fill us with lead
I’d rather die alone than live with regret.
No life is the ultimatum when you follow in the trail of misinformation.
Every opportunity becomes an altercation, but according to the facts on foreign relations,
It’s inevitable that we can’t change the way the world sways upon the main stage,
and they don’t really give a fuck what we say
they can have the world and we’ll take the day.
Cut the fucking strings, the operation of change is in motion.
So take a shot at me point blank and watch expression leave my face.
I’ve always wanted to escape this fucking place.
Dissemination’s upon us, we live a lie, it’s larger than a nation.
Point blank to the side of our head
they pull the trigger but they didn’t know we’re already dead, so fuck it.

Connect with Under Aegis:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify or Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes

UNDER AEGIS – Single Review: “Sedated”

Under Aegis

Under Aegis is a Progressive Djent Metalcore band with a lot to say. Their brutal in-your-face music – born from generous amounts of crushing bass, explosive guitars, speaker-blowing drums and fierce vocals – bulldozes a path of sonic destruction. At the same time, their blistering lyrics call out societal evil, hypocrisy and bullshit. 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.

Last May I reviewed their outstanding EP [Extinct], which you can read here. In August they released a powerful new single “Sedated,” a scathing, full-frontal assault on the current state of affairs in the U.S. of A. It’s a monumental track, and a bit of a departure from the band’s usual music style. While still featuring their signature fearsome riffs, buzzsaw bass lines and jackhammer drums, it’s more melodic, with a healthy injection of hip-hop. Though he still screams many of his vocals in the metalcore style, Dennee also raps quite a bit, making for a track of greater complexity and impact. I really like it, and think it’s their best song yet.

Their incredibly hard-hitting and provocative lyrics attack the corrupt, greedy and tyrannical forces in our society – whether it be our government and political leaders, the media, or big corporations – all working to control our lives, take away our freedoms and sedate us into compliance and blind resignation.

Welcome to the individual, digital, subliminal, criminal, imminent dawn of the new age. It’s time to wake up, open our eyes, and realize that our lives are at stake if we hesitate.
They seek to control and manipulate.
Fuck that, my life they will never take.
But at the end of the day if you had a chance, if you had a way to attack would you fight back?
You chose to insult our intelligence.
We’ll respond with nothing but malevolence.
All your “search and seizures” with no evidence.
All of your power took all precedence.
We have been tranquilized, victimized, weaponized, demoralized.
They continue to operate away behind closed doors and away from our prying eyes.
And they continue to destroy our lives.
One by one, our world dies as theirs fucking thrives.
And truth be told, your only worth your weight in gold.
Land of the free? Don’t make me fucking laugh.
Destroying our lives and gaining profit.
Death to your prophet.
No matter the cost.
Freedom is lost.
It’s time to wake up.
And let me spare, you the people, another fucking hypocrite
I’m here to tell you how the shit really is.
In this land of unequal opportunity we are always coming face to face with tyranny.
Self treason no matter the season.
You justify arrests with no plausible reason.
Take a stand and react and see the facts.
There’s no fucking way out there’s no turning back.
No. Take a step back and look around.
You will see the facts.
There is no turning back. There is no turning back.
Here is the truth, can you handle it?
I pledge allegiance to nothing. So fuck you.
We will not fail. That’s what they expect from us.
We will prevail. That’s what they will get from us.
We will not fail. No. We will prevail.
All of this hate it must mean something.
I pledge allegiance to nothing.
Here is the truth, can you handle it.
They want us all sedated.
They want us all sedated.
Low doses from the red, white, and blue.

Follow Under Aegis: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Spotify / YouTube

Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes

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.

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[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