CULANN – Album Review: “The Great Ecumene”

Culann album

Culann is a band from Irvine, in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Comprised of PJ Kelly (Vocals, Guitar), his brother Sean Kelly (Drums), Greg Irish (Guitar), Ross McCluskie (Keyboards) and Calum Davis (Bass), they blend folk, Celtic-rock, alt-rock, prog rock and even a bit of reggae to create their uniquely colorful and dynamic sound. Largely ignoring the norms of conventional song writing, they employ complex melodies, time changes and a perfect fusion of traditional Scottish music with a contemporary lyrical approach, resulting in a deeply satisfying and distinct sound. Since forming in 2008, they’ve performed the length and breadth of their homeland, gathering adoring fans along the way.

They released their self-titled debut album Culann in 2012, and after dropping a few singles now and then, they returned this past April (2019) with their second album The Great Ecumene, which I’m reviewing today. Curious as to what ‘Ecumene’ means, I checked Wikipedia and learned that it’s an ancient Greek term now used by geographers to mean inhabited land. It generally refers to lands where people have made their permanent home. Accordingly, many of the album tracks touch on various aspects of Scottish life and its history, and its strong connection to the sea.

The album opens with “Evonium“, a jubilant, monumental song with symphonic rock overtones that call to mind the great 70s bands Yes and Boston, with a bit of a nod to Dream Theater. The song was first released as a single more than two years ago, in May 2017. Once again, I was compelled to Google ‘Evonium’, and found the following:

Evonium is a purported lost city in Scotland that was first described by Hector Boece in his 16th-century Scotorum Historiae. According to Boece, it hosted the coronation of forty kings and was located in the Lochaber area.” Writer A.J. Morton has suggested that if Evonium actually existed, it could have been located at the band’s home of Irvine, Ayrshire. Culann assembles a rich mix of roiling guitars, exuberant piano and organ, and lots of percussion to create a powerful song befitting of the epic saga of Evonium. Lead vocalist PJ Kelly passionately sings of how the historic legacy of Evonium has shaped the lives of all who are born there:

Blood of this town, the place where I was born
A strength that’s driven in across the sea
Cut from the coast, we wake with price each morn
For all that’s past, it’s richest history
We owe our lives to our western home
Where kings and rulers stole their destiny
Shaped their lives and carved them into stone
With all that’s seen and all were yet to be, all were yet to be 

Now I understand
It’s all because I’m from Evonium
Now it’s in my hands
The greatness past fuels greatness not yet done that’s still to come

The beautiful video shows scenes of the band performing the song in historic Dundonald Castle, interspersed with scenes filmed in the Scottish countryside and Duncarron Medieval Village, a replica of an early Medieval fortified village. The album version of the track includes a somber but beautiful synth instrumental beginning at 4:15 that continues through to the end.

Next up is “Event Without Experience“, a rousing, melodically complex extravaganza of Celtic prog-rock brilliance. The intricate guitar work is fantastic, and nicely complemented by some fine keyboards, humming bass, and aggressive thumping drumbeats. I really like how PJ’s Scottish brogue shines through in his fervent vocals. Culann deliver more Celtic folk-rock grooves with the philosophical drinking song “Brewing of Ale“, and once again, the guitars, keyboards and rhythm section are perfection. The just-released video was directed & edited by Stuart Breadner, and filmed on location in Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Galloway Forest Park.

Century Box” is a stomper of a tune that took a couple of listens to grab me, but once it did, I couldn’t get enough of that wonderful melody. The lively guitars are killer and I love how they perfectly meld with the piano keys, something this band does so beautifully in many of their songs. The terrific organ riff and guitar solo in the bridge are real treats.

The title track “The Great Ecumene” is a near-epic six-minute-long ode to Scotland. This is true progressive rock, with a meandering (in a good way) melody, highlighted by a smooth organ riff and accompanied by delicate piano, measured drums and a wondrous mix of guitar textures that pull you deeply into the song. PJ croons about the complexities and contradictions of his homeland: “My country is bitter. My country is cold. My country is beautiful. My country is bold. My people are bitter. My people are cold. My soul it is sacred. My spirit is sold./ Join the great ecumene, see what you find. A road never ending, stretching through time.” Everything ramps up to a crescendo in the chorus, with impassioned vocal harmonies and a cascade of crashing cymbals for a dramatic finish.

Culann keep the energy flowing on “All Reverie” with rolling guitars, galloping drumbeats and passionate vocals. “Sunken Ships” appropriately opens with underwater sounds, then launches into a glorious mix of jangly guitars, sparkling piano keys, pummeling drumbeats and a deep, humming bassline. “Aegis” is perhaps the most high-energy track on the album (and also the shortest, though still running 3:51 minutes). Frantic riffs, pounding drums and exuberant piano keys make for a real banger of a track. PJ earnestly sings the lyrics to someone who’s been his aegis, or shield, helping him to overcome some of his self doubts and fears: “Closely, look at where I have come from. You made me, you taught me to be strong and lead the way. I can’t face the outside on my own. I can’t understand them. I can’t bear the inside, my unknown. Please don’t make me stand there alone.”

The guys really show us what they’re capable of on “Man Alive“, one of the standouts on an album filled with standouts. Running over seven minutes, this song has it all: melodic change-ups that hold our attention, complex and intricate guitar work, enchanting keyboards, a marvelous funky bassline, and some of the most impeccable drumming I’ve heard in a while, not to mention PJ’s always-great vocals. As I’ve mentioned on previous tracks, the interplay between the guitars and keyboards here is so freaking good. Finally, despite it’s length, “Man Alive” seems much shorter, always a sign of a great song (unlike some songs that seem to go on forever, with me wishing they’d come to a quicker end).

The lyrics speak to the resilience of the Scottish people: “Come gather ’round, meet the gladdest man alive. You see him everyday. Come gather’ round, meet the saddest man alive. He’ll never tell you so. A blackened sense of pride. No man alive could meet the broken soul of mine.”

The song immediately segues into the closing track “Queen Street“, a poignant ballad about life on the streets of Glasgow. The song has a more stripped-back sound than their other tracks, with mainly acoustic guitar, delicate piano and gentle percussion providing a somber backdrop for PJ’s heartrending vocals. With a strong sense of despair and pain, PJ laments: “I never needed a human being more. Sat down in the street, with a cup down by my feet. Oh but nobody seen me and the traffic arrow moving ’em on. And if I needed something, and I could reach out to you and I’d ask. I would beg of you one thing. Don’t make me beg for it. And if I needed someone, but I’ve turned my back on everyone that I had. I would beg of you one thing. Don’t make me beg for it.

Like a lot of progressive rock, it took me a couple of listens to fully appreciate all the nuance and complexity of the songs on The Great Ecumene, but once I totally immersed myself in the music, it really came alive for me. It’s a beautiful album, and Culann’s songwriting, lyrics and musicianship are all quite impressive. These guys are masters of their respective instruments, and operate as an incredibly tight unit to create music that’s flawless, exciting and a joy to hear.

Connect with Culann: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase: Bandcamp / Big Cartel

BRETT.GRANT.5 – EP Review: “disqui.etude”

Brett Grant

I’ve been following the young singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant for a long while, and am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to feature him on this blog. The Chicago-based artist goes by the moniker brett.grant.5, and drops his second EP disqui.etude today. Brett’s been involved in music for many years, both as a solo artist and in several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. He released his first solo EP digital dirge in 2016, and in addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, managed to earn a B.A. Degree in Music, graduating just last month.

Brett’s fascinating and eclectic sound draws from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock. He wrote all the songs and played all the music on disqui.etude, as well as recorded, performed, mixed, and mastered the entire project himself.

The EP opens with the eerily beautiful title track “disqui.etude“, an apt name as it’s essentially a disquieting etude. The song’s an instrumental, consisting of only a haunting piano riff, accompanied by rather menacing synths that build as the track progresses. It would make a great soundtrack for a horror film, and in fact reminds me of the music from the film Eyes Wide Shut. Brett states it and the album title are intended to represent the anxieties and unease he’s dealt with in his own life, which are expressed in the lyrics of the songs on the EP.

Next up is “Truth Be Told“, a moody track with spacey industrial synths set to a bouncy, stop-start bass-drum beat. Brett has an unusual but pleasant singing voice that’s strongly emotive as he sings of the misery and guilt he feels over the death of a loved one:

Truth be told, I never thought that you’d be dead
Truth be told, I just can’t get you out o’my head
Truth be told, I’ve been obsessing for so long
I’d give anything to write a different song
Truth be told, I should have been the one to go
Truth be told, this burden’s getting hard to hold

The poignant “Empty Bottles” features a beautiful but melancholy piano-driven melody, backed by delicate, sparkling synths. Brett’s vocals, which range from a low croon that seems to emanate from deep within his core, to just below a falsetto, are nicely displayed on this song. He sings of destructive and futile attempts to drown one’s troubles in alcohol: “You’ll see in the end this was the old me. And all my insincere apologies, like lobotomies, came off the top of me. Apostles of endless empty bottles. As we both drive full throttle to the bottom of my problems.”

Brett dives deep into electronica on “New Goner“, employing a rich mix of glittery and otherworldly droning synths to create a spellbinding track. On the apocalyptic, synth-driven “Might Make My Way“, he speaks to the downsides of the internet and social media, and the thought control we’ve allowed ourselves to become imprisoned by: “Alien intruder, watching from a computer. Alias abuser, flying fear producer./ The sci-fi officers playing cops and robbers. Have nothing to offer and keep us in coffers. You can’t run, you can’t scream, it’s all part of their dream. Bright lights and loud noises, foreign distorted voices. If they transport me safely, might make my way back maybe.”

The final track “Hitting Backspace“, which Brett released as a single in February (on Valentine’s Day), is the darkest and most intense track on the EP. The song starts off with an ominous throbbing synth, then 10 seconds in a loud piercing synth enters, sounding a bit like a slowed-down version of the shrieking music heard in the famous shower scene in the film Psycho. He wanted to create a similar disturbing backdrop for his gloomy lyrics about feeling like being buried alive by the weight of his problems:  “It wasn’t like I anticipated facing all this in the time since yesterday. Sands keep falling. Feels like I’m slipping away… And trapped hitting backspace./ It wasn’t like I could keep up pacing, keep up pacing through the sands of yesterday.” At the end of the first verse, the music intensifies with deeper synths and heavier percussion that continue until fading out at the of the song.

disqui.etude is a marvelous work that beautifully showcases brett.grant.5’s singularly unique songwriting, composing and production talents. One of the things I especially like about it is how every track sounds totally different, which makes for an interesting and surprising listening experience. If you like music that’s innovative and unlike anything else you’ve heard before, you’ll enjoy this brilliant EP.

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple Music

AGENCY PANIC – Single Review: “The Middle”

Agency Panic3

Agency Panic is an Irish rock band who, over the past year, have been establishing themselves as one of the more exciting and innovative acts in the progressive metal scene. They seem to prefer maintaining a low profile, however, as the few photos they have on their social media accounts are dark, with their faces in shadow, and I know them only by their first names:  J.D.K. on vocals, Tubs on guitars, Lee on bass, and Revsy on drums. My sense is that they want their music to speak for itself, rather than the focus be on them personally.

In July 2018, they released their monumental debut single “Panic” (which I reviewed) as the first installment from what they’re calling their ‘drip feed’ EP, which is being released one song at a time. The incredibly intense song set a very high bar for the band, with face-melting riffs, explosive percussion and fierce, chill-inducing vocals. I loved it so much it ended up on my Top 100 Songs of 2018 list.

They followed up that October with their second single “Lie”, a darkly beautiful banger featuring more of their signature scorching riffs and thunderous percussion. Now they’ve returned with their third installment “The Middle“, which dropped June 14. It’s another winning single, serving to further bolster Agency Panic’s flawless resume for putting out stellar progressive metal songs that challenge the listener. Unlike a typical song with a catchy melody that quickly bores into our brain, progressive metal (or any progressive form of other music genres for that matter) often requires a closer and/or repeated listens to fully absorb and appreciate the nuance of the unusual melodies, song structures, lyrics and instrumentals, all of which “The Middle” has in spades.

In keeping with their penchant for maintaining a bit of mystery, the poetic lyrics are somewhat abstract and open to interpretation. When I asked J.D.K. of the meaning of the song, all he would tell me is that “it all took place in the middle of Amsterdam.” The song opens with a twangy electric guitar riff and a whisper of ominous synth, then a somber drumbeat kicks in as J.D.K. speaks in a rather unsettling echoed voice about what seems to be a dream or possible acid trip:

Blinding blinding flicker
Sparks of light
Creeping dilations
Pupils rise
Abstract thoughts
Deceptively distort, shadows crawl to the sirens song
As it all dissolves the show has just begun.
Through to black
Beyond the veil
The oceans of chaos were about to sail…

The guitar suddenly explodes into gnarly riffs of shredded distortion as deep bass and heavier percussion are added, and J.D.K.’s vocals turn more impassioned as he sings:

Invasive influence
Hooked direct to the mainline.
Re con struct self
Time has melted design
Illusion slowly reveal
Spilling right into the dream…
Ahhhhhhhhhh
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh
In the loop again
In the loop again
In the loop again

By the third verse, everything ramps up to near-frenzy, with screaming guitars and speaker-blowing drums as he fervently wails the lyrics that seem to speak of being reborn into a new reality:

Erasing what you think is real
Ego peels
Stripped down to bone to which you’ll find
One mind’s eye
Seductively it reels us in
Hooks through the skin
Past present future on a plain
Reincarnate
Walking through the void
Entrance to the other side
Take take fear…

Step from the darkness into the light
As movement slowed and we bent time 

The song closes with a fadeout of reverb, leaving me awestruck by its magnificence. Agency Panic are proving themselves to be phenomenal songwriters and musicians worthy of notice, and I’m thrilled to be following them on their musical journey as they continue to release more songs.

Connect with Agency Panic:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream “Panic” on  Spotify /  Apple Music
Purchase on  Bandcamp /  iTunes

SHADOW OF EVEREST – Album Review: “The Hunting Ground”

Shadow of Everest album art

Shadow of Everest is a Canadian progressive groove metal band hailing from the beautiful city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. (I recently featured another Nova Scotia artist, singer/songwriter Guy Paul Thibault.) Formed in 2014, the band’s line-up includes guitarist/vocalist John Vriend, bassist Shaun Cowell, guitarist Andew Welsman and drummer Matt Burton. Influenced by some of their favorite hard rock bands Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Machine Head, Mastodon, Tool and Karnivool, they play an arresting and innovative style of metal rock, featuring intelligent lyrics penned by Vriend and delivered with unconventional melodies, wicked riffs, driving bass lines and pummeling drums.

Shadow of Everest2

They released an impressive debut album Idle Hands in 2017, and this past March, dropped their sophomore album The Hunting Ground, which I’m reviewing today. As the album’s title suggests, the songs generally speak to the darker, feral nature inherent in each of us to some degree. Similar to their first album, The Hunting Ground opens with an intriguing instrumental track “Umm al-Maa”. Wondering what it might mean, I did a Google search and found it translates to “mother of water” in Berber Arabic, and is also the name of one of several lake oases in the Idehan Ubari Sand Sea located in the Sahara Desert of southwestern Libya. The music on this brief track consists of strummed guitar, delicate piano keys and what I’m guessing to be a cello, accompanied by sounds of wind and water that beautifully convey the sense of mystery and wonder of a remote oasis. The dark irony is that the water in these oases is too salty to drink. John commented “Imagine being lost in the desert and finding that oasis, and then drinking the salty water would be your demise.

They next launch into “Fifty Four”, serving up chugging riffs of gnarly guitars over a foundation of buzzing bass and hammering drumbeats, and punctuated by flourishes of distortion. Vriend’s commanding vocals express a raw urgency as he sings about feelings of hopelessness and ennui: “Substituting for a lack of stimulation. Seeking out the offspring of my mind. Beneath consciousness there’s desperation that fits nicely into my design.” The title track “The Hunting Ground” at first sounds almost like a continuation of “Fifty Four”, with a similar melody and chord progression, but the killer guitar solos in the bridge and outro turn it into an especially satisfying track. Vriend passionately sings the lyrics that seem to speak to the age-old notion of survival of the fittest – ‘kill or be killed”: “Hear that wild call. Smoke them out. Rise or fall. Become what you fear.”

Here’s a great video of the guys performing the song live.

One of the highlights of the album for me is the gorgeous “We Are Wrong”. I usually like when metal and hard rock bands show their softer side with a slow ballad, and Shadow of Everest are no exception here. I love the haunting melody, outstanding guitar work, and especially the sublime vocal harmonies of Vriend and guest singer Erin Crosby. Guest musician Lex Coulstring played keyboards on this lovely track. The message expressed in the lyrics seem to be that “ignorance is bliss”: “And the moments became too many. Time keeps passing on. One day we understand. The next day we are wrong.”

“Castle in the Sky” is hard-driving metal rock at its finest, with rock’n’roll overtones and more of the raging guitars this band so nicely delivers.  This song seems to be about needing to be rescued from a life of degradation and despair: “Couldn’t see the splendor from the underground. There was no will to satisfy. Pull me out of the loss and the ruin. Those broken pieces will build our castle in the sky.” The aptly-named “Dark Spiral” dives deeper into progressive metal, with interesting melodic transitions and greater use of dissonance in the song structure, not to mention fearsome riffs and Cowell’s crushing bass. Vriend’s impassioned vocals are almost chilling as he wails “How does it feel to be spinning on a tangible wave of magnificence? As an ignorant drone, completely unaware and obsessed with your own insignificance.”

The guys unleash their sonic fury on “Ravenman”, the most metal-esque (is that a word?) track on the album and another one of its highlights. It’s a monumental six minute, 49-second-long tour de force of rampaging riffs, buzzsaw bass and Burton’s speaker-blowing drums.  The hardcore backing vocals are sung by Lex Coulstring. Thought I’m not certain, my take is that ‘Ravenman’ represents the devil, or at least the inherent evil that each of us is capable of: “I know the nightmares, what they mean. What you should fear, the shadows in your head, the violence in your hand. Be not a patron to the failures of the damned.” It’s a fantastic song.

They close things out with “The River”, another epic track that seems to be about the end of the world: “The earth is parting and the vultures fly. Statues crumble while the pharaohs die. What glory lies beyond the river’s flow? We’re unaware how far this shadow goes.” As always, Vriend and Welsman deliver scorching riffs while Cowell and Burton confidently maintain the aggressive rhythm section. It’s a strong finish to a solid album of heavy hitters. The guys are all highly accomplished musicians who now have two outstanding albums on their impressive resume. I trust we’ll be hearing more great music from them in the future.

Connect with Shadow of Everest:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

DAY – Single Review: “Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound”

Day single art

Like many people, British singer/songwriter James Day, performing under the artistic moniker Day, has become weary of the deep political divide that’s plagued The United Kingdom over the past several years with regard to Brexit. Wanting to spread a message of hope and understanding, he released a new single “Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound” in March 2019, along with a video showing him performing the song in the studio and on the streets of what I’m guessing is London, along with images of different cities and peoples throughout the UK and Europe. Taking a neutral stance, Day advocates that people must come together for the greater good, and that democracy must always prevail to ensure the continued trust of the people in their democratically elected government.

Day3

About the song, Day explains “‘Keep The Euro, Keep The Pound’ is about our modern world, it’s togetherness, love, hope ingenuity and inventiveness. Over the past 12 months we’ve been touring Europe and doing art and music. Learning the different cultures and traditions and seeing the history and landmarks whilst interacting with the locals who all are so friendly. Europe is such a rich and diverse mix of cultures and traditions, steeped in history that captivates tourists the world over every year by it’s beauty and ability to intrigue romantics. Visiting Malta, Milan, Sicily, Cyprus, Barcelona, Malaga, Bruges, Paris, Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv and London to name a few, the 12-month tour of Europe was eye opening and enriching, and helped ideas flow for the new album called ‘Day the Album’ that we are currently working on.”

Musically, the song is a catchy rock tune with some nice guitar work, accompanied by subtle bass and snappy drumbeats. Day’s vocals are commanding as he passionately urges people and politicians to stop fighting with one another, find common ground and complete the will of the British voters.

So why’s it so hard to complete?
Are we controlled by the elite?
Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

People want their country back
The farmers want their farms
The fishermen to fish again between Dover and France
It’s easy to forget, that just with half a chance
We liberated all of it by entering through France

Why we diluting all the truth and screening bad press news?
No use in going a second round
We gotta find us some common market ground

Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

People got their voices so, give ’em sound
stead of controlling situations by just keeping ’em down
Keep society together with the freedoms they’ve earned
and improve their way of living with the lessons we’ve learnt

We’ll trade with you anyway, just gotta go our own way.
Live in the future, ain’t to live in the past
It’s your people gonna make the EU last

And see the gathering crowd, why don’t you give ’em sound?
They all got choices, they all got voices
and they can make their countries proud

Keep the Euro, Keep the Pound
I’m sure we’ll find some common market ground

Connect with Day:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/purchase on  Soundcloud / iTunes 

MOROSITY – Single Review: “Time”

Morosity Time

Morosity is an unusual band with a unique genre-bending sound like no other I’ve heard. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Morosity is comprised of front man Jesse Albrecht (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Sean Bachinski (Bass), Jason Wolfe (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin), and Nick Johnson (Drums). They meld progressive rock with folk, dark wave, psychedelia, Middle Eastern and even tribal influences to create an exotic sound that’s captivating, haunting and always mind-blowing.

They released their ambitious debut album Misanthrope in 2011 to wide acclaim, and after a six-year span, followed up with the magnificent Low Tide, which I reviewed. In May 2018, they released a darkly beautiful single “Defend“, which I also reviewed, and now return to grace our ears with a stunning new single “Time“, which drops today.

Wow, this phenomenal track is loaded with moody, atmospheric vibes and gorgeous instrumentation that make for a mesmerizing listening experience (all of their songs are, really). The intricately-strummed acoustic and electric guitars are exquisite, and Albrecht’s captivating echoed vocals run the gamut from seductive to chilling, keeping our rapt attention. Everything eventually builds to a crescendo, climaxed with otherworldly synths and eerie vocal chanting in the chorus that lends the track a dark, almost demonic aura.

The lyrics speak to the perplexities of time and the eternal unanswered questions mankind has pondered about it throughout our existence:

Time It’s in the stars above
Time The past and what’s to come
Time Exists infinity
Time An astral fantasy

Spinning round like hands
falling down the sand
you see the signs

Wondering if it ends
What’s the master plan
It’s Time Devine

Time It’s an illusion state
Time Lack of conclusion day
Time Controlling destiny
Time There’s no conspiracy

The more I seek the less I find
I can not see all Spectrum of light
Perception finite

The visually stunning and clever video was created by Albrecht and his wife Heather (who also created the amazing cover art of Father Time). It shows two toy figures representing a chicken and a rabbit encountering a host of characters and worlds as they travel through time and space. I love it!

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

THE GEAR – Single Review: “Secret That Lies Behind”

thegear28229

Liverpool is one of the most legendary centers for music on the planet, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands from that historic city on the Mersey. My latest is the immensely talented young alternative rock band The Gear. Comprised of Callum Thompson (vocals, guitar), Ben Harper (lead guitar), Jack Crone (bass) and Ben Wall (drums), since forming in 2017 the band has been amassing a passionate fan base with their exciting, guitar-driven sound built upon the their love of blues, psychedelic, grunge and progressive rock.

They released a stunning debut single “There’s a Place” in Summer 2018, and it’s already garnered over 66,000 streams on Spotify. Today they drop their new single “Secret That Lies Behind“, and it’s fantastic! The song opens strong with a barrage of raging guitars and Ben’s thunderous drumbeats, then settles down a bit as Callum’s plaintive vocals implore to a loved one about why they’re unable to communicate with him, instead running off to find consolation in another: “Why didn’t you tell me the secret that lies behind? Where did you run to? Or did you go to a friend? I was trying to find my faith in you.”

As the track progresses, the guys employ several tempo change-ups, keeping our attention firmly in their grasp and thrilling our senses. Things reach a climax with a blistering guitar solo starting at 2:35, before calming back down to a gorgeous soundscape of chiming guitars, pulsating bass and razor-sharp percussion that continue to the end. The guys’ skilled songwriting and musicianship is impressive, and they’ve got another hit on their hands with “Secret That Lies Behind”. With two superb singles to their credit, I’m confident we’ll be hearing more great music from The Gear – soon I hope!

An interesting side note about the photo used for the single: it’s a double-image of a scene at one of my favorite places on earth, Sedona, Arizona. The photo and artwork were done by Anton Eager and Paddy Clegg.

Connect with The Gear:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify
Purchase on iTunes

Artist Spotlight: THE MAYAN FACTOR

mayan factor collage names

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

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

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

the mayan factor stage shot (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRED HILLS – Single Review: “Ketu”

Fred Hills is a creative and talented freelance drummer and composer from Brighton, UK, and he’s just released a captivating new instrumental single “Ketu.” A graduate of the British Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, Fred combines his love of jazz, rock, prog, electronica, folk and world music with inspiration from his favorite artists, as well as his travels, to create compositions filled with colorful rhythms and melodic ‘open-handed’ beats. Fred has collaborated and performed in the UK and Europe with a number of musicians and groups, including The Slytones, Hot Moth, Time for T, Ellie Ford, Michael Baker and Mara Simpson.

Fred told me that “Ketu” was inspired by his travels around India in late 2017. In their premier of the song’s video, the online music webzine Arctic Drones notes that the song was also inspired by “his experience with Hindu astrology, which sparked an interest in how lunar and solar energy systems may affect someone both mentally and physically. Fred stated that “Ketu” represents karmic collections – both good and bad – tangible and supernatural influences.” He adds that “Ketu” is an instrumental song built on an expansive emotional spectrum, mixing ambivalence and enchantment, hope and discovery.” The track was co-produced by Fred and Alex Barron, who also played bass and did the mixing and mastering.

The song opens with mysterious synths and a delicate guitar riff, then Fred’s intricate drums enter as the synths and guitar expand with the introduction of Alex’s bluesy bass notes. Fred’s arresting drum work, which the track is built around, has a quiet intensity that’s incredibly dynamic, yet never overpowering. The sparkling synths are gorgeous, and his jazzy guitar riffs are fantastic. In the video, Fred appears to be almost in a trance-like state as he plays the drums, which is the same feeling I get while listening to this gorgeous and mesmerizing song. Watch, listen, and see for yourself:

To learn more about Fred, check out his Website

Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Check out more of his music on Soundcloud
Purchase “Ketu” on Bandcamp

FUTURE THEORY – Single Review: “Peace of Mind”

Piece of Mind

I’ve featured quite a few artists and bands from the UK on this blog, and one of my favorites is the astonishingly talented Future Theory. The Lincolnshire-based foursome consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Rex Helley on bass, and Rohan Parrett on drums. Drawing inspiration from Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden, Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, Coldplay and The Verve – and how can you possibly go wrong with inspiration from those legendary bands? – they’ve developed a lavish sound built on elements of alternative and progressive rock, shoegaze, psychedelia and funk. I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘astonishing’ to describe them, as their outstanding songwriting and musicianship has a complexity and depth that’s impressive for such a young band. And Max’s amazing vocal style possesses a nuanced emotional intensity that seems mature beyond his years.

Future Theory4

Future Theory released their spectacular debut EP Fool’s Dream in 2016 (which I reviewed), then followed in April of this year with a brilliant single “Fractured Nation,” which I also reviewed. Today they return with a new single “Peace of Mind,” and it’s another stellar track with complex melodies, intelligent lyrics and dazzling instrumentation.

The song kicks off with exuberant jangly guitars, crystalline synths and sharp percussion, all melding together to paint a rich tapestry of sound. Max’s sultry vocals have a raw, vulnerable quality that’s quite pleasing to my ears, though it’s sometimes difficult to understand some of the lyrics he’s singing. The instrumentals build to a turbulent mix of heavy bass, piercing guitars and crashing cymbals in the bridge, then break down to clear jangly riffs that seem to sparkle like glitter on the airwaves through to the end of the track. It’s a dark and beautiful song.

The lyrics speak to the struggle of maintaining a loving relationship by reassuring your significant other of your love and devotion in the face of her alcohol addiction: “Forget about your day and your worries now. Go back into the warmth and find your wants in supply. Cause I adore you and all the things you do for me.” But then he’s trying to hold on to his peace of mind while applying some tough love to convince her to quit drinking: “I gotta stay here. Piece of warmth. Peace of mind. Be so warm, be so quiet. Love factor aside, you need a kick in your behind. You try to make her realize the alcohol don’t fix inside.

Connect with Future Theory:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram
Stream their music:  Soundcloud /  Spotify /  Google Play /  YouTube
Purchase on:  iTunes /  Bandcamp