DYING HABIT – Album Review: “Until the Air Runs Out”

From the picturesque Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales hails alt-rock band Dying Habit, who in mid-October released their debut album Until the Air Runs Out. Officially formed in 2016 after a few years of informally playing together, the band now consists of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and Alan Hart (guitar). Influenced by some of their favorite bands such as Dead Letter Circus, Katatonia, Biffy Clyro, Therapy?, The Wildhearts and Karnivool, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock with progressive undertones.

I’ve previously written about Dying Habit a few times on this blog, first in July 2018 when I reviewed their magnificent single “Unrealities”, then again this past May when I reviewed their single “Solutions”, one of the tracks featured on Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) About the album, which dropped October 16th, band front man Nathan Jones explains: “Almost a year in the making, this album portrays our passion for music, grunge, and a 90s feel which has been given a contemporary makeover. It also explores the difficulties of how our world changed in 2020, as well as mental health, loneliness and how even in the darkest of times there is always hope.”

It’s an ambitious work, featuring 13 tracks and running a total of 46 minutes. There are quite a few gems here, and I’ll touch on the ones that most resonated with me. Kicking things off on an ominous note is “The Prey“, a dark track with heavy stab-like riffs of grungy guitars, spooky synths and a grinding, wobbly bass line, all of which succeed quite nicely in creating a menacing vibe. I really like the instrumentals a lot, and my only criticism is that Nathan’s vocals are sometimes overpowered by the music, making it difficult for me to understand much of what he’s singing.

Lost On You” is a great example of Dying Habit’s superb songwriting and musicianship. I love the meandering melody that goes from a moody, Nirvana-esque groove to a dramatic crescendo, highlighted by a torrent of fiery buzz-saw riffs. I cannot gush enough over Alan’s phenomenal guitar work, and Nathan does a great job on both bass and vocals here as he sings of his frustration to a partner who doesn’t value or appreciate him: “I will never burn these bridges / What are we hurting for? All my reasons, all my conscience, must be lost on you.” The beautiful track “Solutions” speaks to feelings of regret over past mistakes and hurts inflicted toward others, and yearning to make things right but not fully knowing how: “Whatever my mistakes were / Whichever lies I told / The heat is overwhelming but my skin’s remaining cold / This serenity engulfs me yet the world keeps passing by / I long to find solutions.”

I like when bands leave unintended sounds at the beginning or end of their songs, so the belch heard at the beginning “The World’s Too Big For Us” is perfectly fine by me. That said, it’s a terrific progressive grunge rock song, with a chugging start-stop groove, highlighted by a cacophonous mix of super-gnarly and distorted guitars, heavy throbbing bass and spacey synths. Along that same vein, “Red Lines” delivers a wonderful fantasia of grungy as hell riffs, accompanied by pummeling bass, Mark’s crashing percussion and wild psychedelic synths that make for a dramatic and fascinating track.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Out of My Hands“, an enchanting song where the band shows their softer side. The chiming guitars are simply gorgeous, and accompanied by a subtle bass line and just the right amount of percussion that allow the guitars to shine. Once again, it’s hard to make out many of the lyrics Nathan sings, but the exquisite instrumentals more than make up for it.

The title track “Until the Air Runs Out” is another great track that’s heavy on progressive grunge vibes. The song starts off with dark, ominous sounds that conjure up images of an impending battle in a sci-fi movie, then a driving, bass-heavy rhythm ensues along with wailing buzz-saw riffs as Nathan begins to sing. As the song progresses, Alan introduces an upbeat melodic riff that ends things on slightly more optimistic note. “Scared of the People We Love” is a moody six-minute-long tour de force, with an extended instrumental segment that nicely showcases Dying Habit’s outstanding musicianship and skill at playing as a tight unit. And the mesmerizing melody, stunning guitar work, and hypnotic drum beats on album closer “Nowhere to Run” are fantastic.

I must admit that I’m generally more a fan of melodic and dream rock than heavier grunge or progressive-style rock. Nevertheless, I still have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those genres, and do enjoy a fair amount of it. Dying Habit have packed quite a lot of complexity and nuance into their songs, and it took a couple of listens for me to fully get into Until the Air Runs Out. But once I did, I fell head over heels in love with this excellent album. I’ve been following this band pretty much since their beginning and I’m so proud of them. I know they worked hard on this album, and their skill and dedication for producing quality music really shows.

Nathan is also a talented visual artist, with a number of remarkable paintings to his credit. Inspired by their lyrics, album, lockdowns, and anxiety, he created this wonderful abstract oil painting titled ‘Until The Air Runs Out’:

Connect with Dying Habit:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream/Purchase their music:  Apple Music / Spotify / Amazon

DENSE – EP Review: “Abjection”

DENSE is a remarkably talented young psychedelic garage rock band from Leeds, England I’ve been following pretty much since their beginnings nearly four years ago. As their name suggests, they combine thick, fuzz-coated grooves with intricate, often explosive riffs and complex melodies to create music that’s exhilarating and intense. To best describe their distinctive sound, I’ve come up with the phrase ‘industrial surf-metal psychedelic garage rock’.  Making this incredible and innovative music are Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums), three intelligent guys who take their music seriously, yet are still fully in touch with their playful side.

A favorite of this blog, I’ve featured DENSE numerous times over the past three and a half years, most recently last December when I reviewed their dark and gritty single “Fever Dream” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys return with their debut EP Abjection, featuring four combustible little sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes. The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and in the creation of the EP, they wanted to capture that energy and translate it into their songs. Abjection was written and recorded by DENSE, produced and mixed by Adam Bairstow, and mastered by James Grover.

It’s been gratifying to follow these guys on their musical journey, and as they’ve matured, so too has their sound, songwriting and performance, with each release sounding better and better. Abjection is their best work yet, with the band further experimenting with progressive rock elements. In a recent interview with British webzine DRAB, the band explained “The instrumentals are incidentally written to sort of be ‘progressive’ with changing moods and vibes through each song to almost tell their own story. To pair with this, Charlie usually writes taking influence from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft (i.e. cramming a horror story into a single song), and this led to us landing on the main theme of the EP being a small collection of songs that are all essentially short stories about different forms of suffering, hence the title of the EP. Looking back on that, it makes us come across a lot more bleak and depressing than we like to think we are as people!

Opening track “Calcium” really showcases how well the three guys play as a tight unit, their respective instruments in perfect sync as they deliver a thunderous wall of psychedelic sound. Starting with Dylan’s deep, pulse-pounding bass line that serves as the song’s rapidly beating heart, Charlie layers scorching reverb-soaked riffs that rip through the airwaves while Sam aggressively smashes his drum kit. I can’t make out all the lyrics Charlie’s singing, but he screams with a ferocity that’s downright chilling. A little more than halfway through the song, we hear what sounds like jets flying as Sam starts shattering his drums with crushing beats that echo off the walls. At 2:45, Charlie lets loose with a savage volley of raging distortion, while Dylan’s relentless throbbing bass can be both heard and felt. It’s an exhilarating ride from start to finish.

As it’s title suggests, “Dread” is a dark and ominous track, with a heavy start-stop beat driven by a menacing bass line. Two thirds into the song, Charlie blows us away with an explosion of screaming distortion while Sam smashes his drums to bits. Charlie wails the lyrics that speak of depression and hopelessness: “Dark shadows surround me. So patient. So worthless. So nothing.” In that DRAB interview, he commented on his vocals: “I think as far as my vocal tone on the EP goes, I was trying to be more confident in my voice and not hide too much behind walls of reverb and delay which is a lot more comfortable for me. I never think of myself as a ‘singer’ or anyone of any significant talent vocal/lyric-wise so I wasn’t very comfortable in having my words sound clear and at the forefront. This time around I’ve decided to be a bit more vulnerable with what I wrote and how I’m performing it.”

Electric Chair” has a rousing punk rock vibe, with gnarly reverb-soaked guitars that border on surf at times. As always, Dylan and Sam blast out a hard-driving rhythm with their intricate heavy bass line and pummeling drum beats.

The final track “Cleanse/Repair” is a reworking of their song “Irreversible Knot” that they’d previously recorded a few years ago. After changing a few lyrics and elements that make it a sharper and more polished-sounding track, they felt it needed a new name. The song begins with Dylan’s deeply-strummed bass, then we’re hit by a thunderous barrage of fuzzy distorted guitars and wildly crashing cymbals. Charlie’s echoed vocals go from sultry drones to savage wails, while he shreds his guitar nearly to bits. Halfway through the track, things calm down so that we hear only Dylan’s bass, then with a scream from Charlie, a cacophony of reverb-soaked distortion comes crashing back like a rogue wave. A second lull occurs three quarters of the way through, with a final return of tumultuous discordant musical mayhem closing out this monumental track.

All three members of DENSE are supremely talented guys who continue to blow me away with their incredible musicianship. Charlie’s guitar work is exceptional, and I think Dylan is one of the finest bassists around today. And Sam’s a literal beast on the drums. Abjection is a fantastic little EP that makes quite an impact in its 14 minute run time, and if you like music that’s complex, thrilling and dark, you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Connect with DENSE:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp / Google Play

BLIGHT TOWN – Single Review: “Argument Bargument”

Blight Town

Blight Town are a relatively new five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed just a little more than a year ago, the band consists of brothers Jake (vocals) and Sam Hough (guitar), Will Emmerson (guitar), Scott Taylor (bass) and Joseph Smith (drums). Together, they combine elements of progressive, math, pop and metal rock with powerful instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their unique and wildly explosive sound.

Last September (2019) they released their terrific debut single “Jejunum”, and on August 8th they returned with “Argument Bargument“, the cheekily-titled second single from their forthcoming self-titled EP, due out later this year. The band states that the song is “A wistful retrospective on the transient nature of modern relationships and the lengths we will go to in order to rationalise our lived experience.”

The song opens with an enchanting strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb, piquing our interest as to what’s about to ensue. Suddenly, our ears are hit with a burst of chaotic gnarly riffs, throbbing bass and aggressive drumbeats as the song evolves into a rousing, melodically complex and discordant banger. Amid some lovely guitar noodling that punctuates the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocals gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he either sweetly croons or scarily screams the lyrics. At first listen, I found his screamo vocals a bit off-putting, but after a few listens they grew on me to the point where I cannot imagine the song sung any other way. The contrast between his smooth and harsh vocals nicely complements the sense of tension and discord expressed in both the electrifying music and lyrics.

“Argument Bargument” is a brilliant song, and if it and “Jejunum” are any indication, their EP is sure to be  a winner.

Yeah, been throwing pennies down a wishing well
“Oh, what the hell?” I thought
I always knew that I would wish you well
You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it
And that’s why they call me the cynicist

Yeah, it’s so quiet
When you go to sleep
But we retire
We get busy, getting busier

Were not leaving, didn’t expect you would show
(Sore eyes, dead brain)
I’ve been reading, I think I’m losing control
(Sore eyes, dead brain)

You know I’d appreciate
Being kept in the loop
Yeah, you know I’d appreciate if somebody could tell me
Why what I did was so wrong

Don’t try to ghost me
‘Cause you don’t see through me
It’s beautiful
It ends too soon

Follow Blight Town:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music
Purchase:  BandcampiTunesGoogle Play

THE MAYAN FACTOR – Single Review: “Peace”

mayan factor collage names

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the video and decide for yourself.

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

MALLAVORA – Single Review: “Deceiver”

Mallavora
Photos by Aesha Nisar

Bristol, England-based hard rock band Mallavora are making a big splash on the British music scene with their exciting and hard-hitting sound, with features on BBC Introducing and airplay on UK radio station Planet Rock. Hot on the heels of the late March release of their spectacular single “Ego” (you can read my review here), on April 26th they dropped their latest single “Deceiver“, and now follow up with an exciting new video of them performing the song. “Deceiver” is the second single from their forthcoming Paradise EP, due out later this year, and it another winning tune.

Strongly influenced by progressive rock, groove and doom metal elements from some of their favorite bands like KoЯn, Mastodon, Muse and Alter Bridge, Mallavora create melodic hard rock songs characterized by thunderous riffs, driving rhythms, intelligent lyrics and the incredible sparks that come from having both female and male vocalists with great singing voices. The current lineup consists of Larry Sobieraj (guitar), Ellis James (bass/vocals), Jessica Douek (vocals) and Jack Pedersen (drums).

“Deceiver” explores the theme of domestic abuse, with lyrics describing someone trapped in a toxic relationship. She yearns to break free, but his recurring promises of love, combined with her weakness and lack of self-esteem, prevent her from leaving him. Mallavora skillfully expresses the darkness of the subject matter with an aggressive barrage of Larry’s chugging gnarly riffs, Jack’s pummeling drums and Ellis’ heavy, grinding bass that together sound downright diabolical. Larry’s an amazing guitarist, and his wailing guitar solo in the bridge is a highlight for me. Then there’s Jessica’s powerful, soaring vocals, which beautifully convey the intense emotion and despair described in the lyrics.

Look in his eyes
Love is a lie

She can’t hear anything
Her heads still ringing
The tears on her face
The last result of his embrace

And she can hear him calling
Feels her heart start stalling
She lets her life stay falling down
Without a sound

So wash away the truth
Except the one he told you
Give him your hand to hold
And let the fear within take control
Look in his eyes
Love is a lie
She can’t feel anything
Her heart’s still beating
The rings round her eyes
Revealing how she spent last night

Goes to where she was lying
To find her phone still dialing
But no one’s replying how
Is she gonna leave him now?

You’ve gotta tell the truth
Accept the things he’s done to you
Break free from his hold
It’s your life babe, regain control

Look in his eyes
Love is a lie

Follow Mallavora:  Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  BandcampGoogle Play / Amazon

FOLLOW DEEP – Album Review: “Will You Still Love Me…”

Follow Deep album art

Follow Deep is a young indie/alternative rock band from Hull, England who are making quite a name for themselves on the UK music scene with their dynamic, innovative music and high-energy performances. Making the music are Luke Bushby (vocals, guitar & bass), Joe Ingram (bass, keyboards & saxophone), and Jed Pearson (drums, vocals). The talented trio skillfully blend elements of alternative, progressive, psychedelic and grunge rock to create their unique, eclectic sound, with an added bonus of having two vocalists and a saxophonist in the mix.

They released their debut single “Bad Influence” in December 2017, then dropped an EP of the same name in July 2018. They followed up with several new singles in 2019, and in December, released their debut album Will You Still Love Me, which I’m finally getting around to reviewing. The album features ten songs addressing the highs and lows of love, along with the myriad perils of entering into romantic relationships.

Follow Deep

The brilliant opening track “Before The Storm” is a shining example of Follow Deep’s solid songwriting and musicianship. The song has everything I love in a great rock song: a complex melody, a strong, driving bassline, intricate, multi-textured guitars, explosive percussion and superb vocals that span a wide emotional range. The aggressive gnarly riffs contrast nicely with the more subdued jangly guitars and deep bass during the track’s calmer interludes, and along with the dramatic stop-start breaks in the melody, keep the song’s overall tension on a high level. I really like Luke’s voice, which goes from a seductive croon as he sings “You’re a fan of Mozart / I love him too / But it’s now your time to…“, then launches into a chilling full-blown scream with “Sing!” I also love his well-placed shouts of “Woo” and the harmonica riff that comes later in the track.  The lyrics seem to speak to our darker impulses, and possibly someone suffering the effects of PTSD. In an voice electronically altered to sound evil and menacing, we hear the words “Do you know what it is to be a monster? You have no idea.”

The band has released two videos for the song, first a lyric video to coincide with the album release last December, then an official video at the end of February. I’ve included them both, as the film footage in the lyric video nicely complements the lyrics, whereas the official video shows the band performing the song.

Next up is the album’s lead single “Alive“, a terrific rock song about the overpowering feelings that hit us when we fall hard for someone: “Cuz you are the reason that I’m not OK. Cuz you are the reason that I’m in pieces.” The dual contrasting vocals of Luke and Jed are highlights on this track and also the sexy and grungy “Sweet Innocence“, one of my favorites on the album. A torrent of grimy guitars and crashing cymbals are layered over a deep, throbbing bassline, creating a sizzling-hot backdrop for the guys’ sultry mix of falsetto and deeper vocals as they alternately croon and wail: “Cuz I don’t wanna behave anymore. There’s no good in your heart.” “Press Rewind” is a bittersweet song about a couple facing the fact their relationship is over, and needing to move on. The track has a pleasing guitar-driven melody, backed by some gentle, sweeping keyboard synths.

Another standout for me is “Hearts In Hands“, with its outstanding bluesy guitars and the guys’ passionate vocals making for a really stellar track. “Lifeline” is a hard-driving rocker, with fuzz-coated jangly guitars, crunchy bass and lots of crashing cymbals. But the real treat is Joe’s lively saxophone solo in the bridge, injecting a bit of a jazzy flourish to the track. “Steal A Flower” is a dark, grungy song with a strutting bass-driven melody. Luke laments about a relationship that began with promise, but ended badly. “How did it get so dark? You are not my destiny. I know what we could have been.” The intense, gnarly riffs and heavy percussion that erupt in the final chorus are fantastic.

Paradise” is another fine example of how Follow Deep expertly fuses grunge with progressive and psychedelic elements to great effect. The track starts off with a fairly straightforward grunge rock melody, with some fine guitar work setting the tone. At 2:23, the guys inject a blast of grinding psychedelic riffs and spooky swirling synths that last about 28 seconds before calming back down to the previous melody. Luke admonishes: “I’ve told you once, won’t tell you twice. I’m sick of being nice. Why do you think you’re making it to paradise?” With that, the music abruptly launches back into the psychedelic trip, only this time with an onslaught of screeching, heavily distorted guitars that continue to the end.

The guys pull out all the stops on the final two tracks, beginning with the bombastic “Start A War“. Luke’s blazing guitar work is positively mind-blowing, accompanied by Joe’s lush, ominous synths that seem to channel Depeche Mode. Jed attacks his drum kit like a man possessed, adding tremendous power to this glorious track. On the 7:18 minute long “The Same“, they complete the question they began asking in the album title “Will you still love me the same?” This monumental track has more of a prog-rock feel, starting off slowly with a hauntingly beautiful little acoustic guitar riff. Gradually, the music expands into a thunderous soundscape, then Joe enters with a terrific, moody sax solo that’s pure bliss. At 3:50, the music calms down to the gentle acoustic guitar of the beginning, while Luke repeatedly croons the question in a lovely falsetto: “When I’m no longer here no more, will you still love me the same?” The music intensifies again, this time into a gorgeous extended instrumental, highlighted by a stunning guitar solo that continues for the last two minutes before fading out. It’s a magnificent track.

Will You Still Love Me… is a superb album from this very talented and creative trio who make up Follow Deep. I don’t know their ages, but I’m guessing they’re barely in their 20s, and their music has a maturity and complexity that’s quite impressive. With so many elements in the mix, there’s a lot going on here from a musical and compositional standpoint, and I found myself discovering something new with each listen. The guys are great songwriters and musicians, and have much to be proud of with their first full-length album. My lone criticism is that I wish a few more tracks featured Jed’s saxophone, but that’s pretty minor in the overall scheme of things.

Catch Follow Deep at one of these upcoming shows:

Sunday, March 8 – w/Bone Broke Kings, Slackrr & King Boa
West Street Live, Sheffield, UK

Thursday April 16 – w/Dude Trips
The Polar Bear, Kingston upon Hull, UK

As their name implies, follow them deeply on FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music on SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase on Google PlayAmazon

THE MILLION REASONS – EP Review: “If Not for the Fire”

The Million Reasons If Not For the Fire

One of my favorite indie rock bands is Chicago-based The Million Reasons. I became a fan of theirs the instant I heard their magnificent song “Dizzy” in the summer of 2018 (I love it so much it ended up at #69 on my 100 Best Songs of the 2010s list). I’ve closely followed this talented group of guys ever since, and have featured them a number of times on this blog. (You can read my previous reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, and consistently delivered with killer riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals. 

I was sad to learn their vocalist Scott Nadeau left the band last August but, fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in Taylor Brennan, a close friend of band drummer Colin Dill. Brennan is also vocalist for Chicago alt-rock band Polarizer (they’re pretty terrific too, so do check out their music). In addition to Brennan and Dill, the other band members include guitarists Mike Nichols and Ken Ugel, and bassist Jason Cillo. Brennan brought not only his vocal talents, but also his great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music has primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory. They’ve also employed additional instrumentation, including keyboards and cello, into some tracks, giving them a fuller and richer sound.

With that in mind, the band set to writing and composing a huge array of songs, four of which they’ve selected for their new EP If Not for the Fire, which dropped February 21st. The songs are rather dark, with brutally honest lyrics that the band describes as “a study of separation and self-discovery.” The EP was beautifully produced by band guitarist Ken Ugel, along with Nick Stetina and Noam Wallenberg, and flawlessly mixed and mastered by Stetina. The other band guitarist Mike Nichols designed the artwork.

They kick things off with the title track “If Not for the Fire”, a bombastic, high-energy rocker that clearly shows the band hasn’t lost their stride. The song opens with a brief flurry of fuzzy guitars and Dill’s power drums, then Cillo lays down a funky little bass solo before everything erupts into a barrage of thunderous musical mayhem, and we’re off to the races. The guys unleash their inner beasts, setting the airwaves aflame with fiery riffs, throbbing bass and explosive drumbeats. Brennan quickly dispels any doubts I may have held regarding the issue of a new vocalist, blowing me away with his incredible vocals. He literally raises goosebumps as he fervently wails the lyrics that speak of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of / I came for the kiss of / A love divine that paralyzes / What did you come for / If not for the fire to light you up this way.”

The fantastic video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Brennan seated at a table, struggling to write (something I can identify with as a music blogger), juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are strongly evident.

“Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful  instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. The dual guitars of Nichols and Ugel are really spectacular here. The lyrics explore the restlessness that exists in some of us – the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for eternal freedom and believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.

The guys slow things down on “No North Star”, a gorgeous but melancholy ballad about a man at the end of his rope, ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song starts off with a mournful cello and beautiful acoustic guitar, as Brennan forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” Gradually, a lovely piano enters along with more guitar, drums and bass, all of which grow more expansive as the song progresses until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point Brennan passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Though I love all four tracks, “No North Star” is my favorite.

“All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point: “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car / I’ll leave you behind / Hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford / My love, anymore.” The guys deliver blistering riffs and a torrent of hard-driving grooves during the first two-thirds of the track while Brennan sings the lyrics. The music then transitions to an almost cinematic instrumental for the outro, finally ending with a harsh, increasingly loud static-like sound in the final 30 seconds that seems to symbolize a rather violent end – of the relationship perhaps?

If Not for the Fire is a wonderful little fireball of an EP (sorry for the bad pun, but hey, it perfectly describes the work) that packs quite a major punch in it’s 16-minute run time. I love The Million Reasons, and am thrilled to see them continue to grow and evolve through time and personnel changes, something not all bands are able to successfully navigate. Drummer Colin Dill told me they’ve written about 20 new songs, and I cannot wait to hear them!

Connect with The Million Reasons:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

New Song of the Week – MINUS CUBE: “Into the Air”

I’ve been following alternative rock band Minus Cube for a long while now, but have somehow egregiously neglected to feature them on this blog. Today I’m remedying that sad situation by choosing their stunning new single “Into the Air” as my New Song of the Week.

An international band of sorts, Minus Cube is comprised of vocalist Michael Martin, who’s based in the U.S., and guitarist Joe Weinstock and drummer Glyn Rolmanis, who are both based in the UK. Influenced by bands like Alice in Chains, Audioslave, Soundgarden and Tool, their style of alt-rock is characterized by strong grunge and progressive rock elements. Since forming in 2013, they’ve released three excellent albums and numerous singles. If you like the aforementioned bands, I highly recommend that you check out their music on your favorite streaming service, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this review.

It’s a bit ironic that I’ve chosen “Into the Air” as my New Song of the Week, as it’s actually several years old. The song was first recorded in 2014 and was the title track from the band’s debut album Into the Air, however, it was never released as a single. The band wasn’t completely satisfied with the original recording, so they’ve updated it with some newly-recorded guitar tracks, as well as remixing and remastering it to give the bass and drums greater definition. The result is an epic song of breathtaking grandeur lasting nearly eight minutes.

The song opens with Weinstock’s resonant jangly guitar riff setting a rather somber tone. Then Martin’s plaintive vocals enter the scene, accompanied by a subtle bass line and Rolmanis’ intricate drumbeats. As the song progresses, the marvelous guitar work ebbs and flows, climaxing in a gorgeous solo in the bridge. The guys add a backdrop of sweeping orchestral synths to the mix, beautifully conveying a sense of soaring into the heavens, as described in the lyrics. Martin has a wonderful singing voice with an impressive range that’s perfectly suited for their grunge/prog-rock sound. One moment he seduces us with a soothing croon, then brings chills with an impassioned wail the next.

The lyrics seem to speak to breaking the suffocating bonds that tie us to our earthly existence, and escaping into a freer state of mind:

The tides will cry
As time leaves our side
Far and far
And we’ll chase the stars
It’s just the start

Arise into the air with me
Where archaic worlds are yet to see
Arise into the air with me
Illuminate the galaxies

We know they lead a bitter life dream
And have called it free, but it’s not free
So climb the vine at the destined time
Shatter away, Break away
Breach this day, Decrypt the names

We know we’re free, We’re not deceived
We know they lead a bitter life dream
We are free

Follow Minus Cube:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple MusicReverbnation
Purchase: BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

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