Dan Szyller is an imaginative and earnest Brazilian singer-songwriter and musician currently based in Metz, France. Born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he also spent time living in the U.S. and Israel before emigrating to France, and those life experiences led him to write and record songs for his debut album The Celestial Immigrant. Dan says “It’s the story of many travels I have made and places I have been in my life, mostly as an immigrant.” The album, written and recorded over a six month period earlier this year, was released on Apple Music and Spotify on July 20th. For recording of the album, Dan played guitar and sang vocals, Fabien Pilard played additional guitars, bass, keyboards and sang backup, and Meriem Rezik played drums.
A lifelong lover of music, Dan’s songs are influenced by some of his favorite bands like The Doors, Iron Maiden, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. These influences are readily apparent on the opening title track “The Celestial Immigrant“. With its expansive, moody soundscapes, highlighted by a vibrant blend of jangly and psychedelic guitars, it sounds like a long-lost Pink Floyd song. The lyrics, about a young boy hurtling through outer space toward the Milky Way, seem to be an allegory for Dan’s well-traveled, sometimes beautiful and perhaps at times chaotic, childhood, being repeatedly moved without his consent to several different countries, in search of a better life: “Sent away into the darkness. No warnings were given, the baby. In the wake of the night.The celestial immigrant is on his way, in the Milky Way. Will he ever make it? The stars are watching him—riding the neon wave. Will he ever make it? Will he find new home? All the forgotten faces, all part of a strange dream somehow. All the beautiful places, The journey of the sacred moon-child.”
On the grunge-flavored “My Road“, Dan seems to ponder the fleeting impermanence of life: “Life passes by so fast; old pictures and you’re gone. The Crossroads is coming. Another drifter’s story.” And on the optimistic “Summer Kiss” he sings of the joys of summer, and how people and nature come alive with activities and romance: “The birds are calling, the people will wake. The smell of grass, the children that play. The night is falling, the feast will begin. A man is hunting, a girl is the prey.” The song features some great reverby guitars and 60s-flavored organ.
Some of the progressive influences from bands like King Crimson and Pink Floyd are strongly evident on the next three tracks, with meandering melodies and fascinating instrumental flourishes. On “The Believer” Dan sings of being a world traveler, in search of a better life: “I can see a land of riches. / The howling winds of freedom, my life and blood astray. I dream of a paradise beyond the clouds. I read, the signs are so evident now. Believe, the blind shall see. I am away. I am a troubadour. I have many stories to tell.” His vocals, while not particularly powerful, are emotive and heartfelt, conveying just the right amount of passion and fervor when he sings.
On the dark and dramatic “King’s Hall“, he uses medieval fantasy metaphors to describe what could be the plot of a Game of Thrones episode: “Inside the King’s Hall, love and jealousy. Blades are held high! The old man is gazing from his throne. A lifetime before his eyes.” I’m not quite sure what the story in this song has to do with the album’s overall theme, but it’s an intriguing track nonetheless.
On the introspective and bittersweet “Sunday Again“, Dan wistfully sings of being at a low point in his life, feeling bored and alone, and missing those he’s left behind: “Looking out the window. A quiet street, no life at all. The rain that falls each day. The fog that hides the dawn. Sitting on a couch, I think of her. Could I fall in love once more? My imagination is playing games with me. Happiness seems so far, so lost.” Musically, it sounds almost like two different songs melded together, with the first, more grungy segment ending just after three minutes, and the second segment having a more relaxed vibe, with some great reverby and distorted surf guitars. On this segment, Dan seems to have come to terms with his loneliness, finding solace in his music: “It’s Sunday, I’m free again. In a corner, playing my guitar. La La, La La La.“
The final track “Interstellar (Voyager 1)” is a captivating instrumental piece, with more of those great reverb-drenched guitars we’ve heard on several of the album’s songs, accompanied by spacey atmospheric synths that beautifully convey images of traveling through outer space. The only vocals we hear are Dan’s spoken words briefly reciting a description of the Voyager 1 space probe that was “launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere.” The description is taken from Wikipedia, which he cites on his album liner notes, and includes a statistic of how long the space probe has been in operation “Launched 16 days after its twin Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for 44 years, 9 months and 12 days as of June 17, 2022 (now 45 years, 1 month and 6 days as of today, October 12, 2022). The track brings the album’s celestial theme full-circle, with an overriding message – to my mind at least – that we’re all travelers on this planet, which itself exists within a much greater universe that’s beyond our comprehension.
The Celestial Immigrant is an ambitious and fascinating work, and an impressive debut for Dan Szyller. His creativity, imaginative songwriting and strong musicianship really shine on this very fine album.
Hailing from Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland is Culann, a talented five-piece comprised of brothers PJ (vocals, guitar) and Sean (drums) Kelly, Greg Irish (guitar), Ross McCluskie (keyboards) and Calum Davis (bass). Formed in 2008 while still in their teens, they’ve managed to stay together as a band all these years, rather unusual for a group with five members. Skillfully blending elements of folk, Celtic-rock, alt-rock, prog rock and even a bit of reggae, as well as largely ignoring the norms of conventional songwriting and structures, they employ complex melodies, frequent time changes and an unlikely fusion of traditional Scottish music with a contemporary rock approach to create their own distinct and colorful sound. They’re also proud of their Scottish heritage, and sing it’s praises on a lot of their songs.
They’ve released music rather sporadically over the years, beginning with their self-titled debut album Culann in 2012. They followed with a few singles, finally dropping their beautiful second album The Great Ecumene seven years later, in 2019 (which I reviewed). Now, Culann are back with a fantastic new single “Rovers”. Released in September, it’s their first new music in three and a half years. The time off hasn’t diminished their dynamic sound one bit. The guys effortlessly deliver driving rhythms, fueled by Calum’s powerful chugging bass line and Sean’s explosive drums, and fortified by PJ and Greg’s dual intertwining guitars and Ross’s sparkling keyboards. The music is alternately raging and delicate, serving to heighten the tension as the song progresses, and keeping a firm grasp on our attention from start to finish. “Rovers” is another superb song from this remarkable band.
As to the song’s meaning, PJ explained: “It’s based on an old myth from our area in Scotland called ‘Rovers Doom on the Carrick Shore’. The two main characters, pirates consisting of a captain known as the ‘rover’, and his shipman, used to take their ship and raid the coastal towns. The younger of the two men hears a voice one night, an enchanting mermaid’s song beckoning them to come closer. He tells his captain, who immediately is defiant of any supernatural occurrence. He ignores the younger man’s advice and hits full steam ahead, causing the ship to crash into the rocks, whereupon the crew meet their doom. Lyrically we wanted to show both men’s point of view; the younger man laments the song and speaks of how he hears the mermaids song in his dreams. The older captain is bullish, in the lyrics he says things like ‘ignore the heathen’s lore’.”
‘Row out to me my love’
Came the gorgeous sunset cry
A force, a voice of comfort
With no danger & no lie
It’s you, when I close my eyes
No others see you in their dreams
and your voice that haunts me only
Are things not what they seem
SAIL! It’s springtime in the harbour.
Fuck the cries, the mermaid’s lies. Ignore the heathen's lore.
SAIL! It’s your time in the harbour.
There’s no Red Head, alive or dead, that can whip winds off the shore
So now, from the burning sea
We watch, as the waves turn wild
and I beg don’t call another
to leave one more orphan child, tonight.
SAIL! It’s springtime in the harbour.
Fuck the cries, the mermaid’s lies. Ignore the heathen's lore.
SAIL! It’s your time in the harbour.
There’s no Red Head, alive or dead, that can whip winds off the shoreSo why, why take me blindly
I’ll never comprehend
Cause you, you curse the bounty
and sent me to my end
Below the ocean waves
across the thunder sea
Below the ocean waves
You sleep with me
The dramatic video, shot in black and white by Stuart Alexander, was filmed in and around the historic coastal hamlet of Portencross, and features Scottish actor Rab Affleck, who’s also starred in six other Culann videos, as well as actor Brian Blakeley. The two are seen acting out their conflict, interspersed with scenes of the band performing the song near a raging fire.
Hailing from the beautiful nation of Finland is the exceptionally talented rock band Frozen Factory. I first introduced them to my readers last June when I reviewed their excellent EP The First Liquidation, which they cheekily described as “an EP with a suspiciously high number of tracks.” I was so impressed with its high quality that I didn’t think they could top it, but their new album Of Pearls & Perils has proven me wrong. I’m not generally a huge fan of hard rock, but I loved it at first listen. And it’s not often I call an album a “masterpiece”, but Of Pearls & Perils deserves that title, and then some.
Since forming in December 2018, Frozen Factory has undergone several personnel changes, and now consists of founding member Tomi Hassinen on bass, keyboards and backing vocals, Stephen Baker (who’s originally from England) on lead vocals, Mici Ehnqvist on lead guitar, Marianne Heikkinen on drums, and Johnny Koivumäki, who joined the band in late 2021, on rhythm guitar. Influenced by some of their favorite acts like Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine, they create moody, complex and melodic alternative rock with strong undercurrents of progressive, grunge, symphonic, metal and dream rock. This seemingly contradictory and eclectic combination of stylistic elements makes for some incredibly compelling and darkly beautiful music that’s a joy to listen to.
Interestingly, Of Pearl & Perils was actually written and partly recorded before the band even began writing and recording The First Liquidation EP. They explain: “We penned ‘Of Pearls & Perils’ almost immediately after finishing 2020’s ‘Planted Feet’ and fell so in love with the songs that we wanted to make sure we’d give the album all the right conditions to sound the best it could. So, we banked the songs and experimented with the creation of ‘The First Liquidation’, expanding our horizons along the way. As a result, the EP and this new album link together almost like siblings. That’s not to say that ‘The First Liquidation’ is a B-record – it simply felt like a necessary bridge to our growth before we tackled the monster we knew was lurking within ‘Of Pearls & Perils’.“
And what a magnificent monster it is! They’ve really outdone themselves with their skillful blending of alt-rock, melodic metal and progressive elements to create an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. All 12 tracks are outstanding, overflowing with gorgeous melodies, driving rhythms and breathtaking instrumentation. The poetic lyrics are both biting and deeply insightful, and delivered with Stephen’s powerful, resonant vocals, which often cover me with chills. He seriously has one of the more beautiful voices in rock today.
Written by Stephen and Tomi, the album addresses such topics as inequality and oppression, toxic masculinity, the afterlife, and the climate crisis. More specifically, the dark lyrics reflect Stephen’s inner struggles with the behavior of much of the human race, including himself. He elaborates: “I really cannot comprehend why we’re so careless with our home planet and the living communities that depend on it. I’m sad when I see regular people fighting with other regular people and then voting to give power to people who’re hell-bent on destroying regular folk. I feel like we’ve become so easy to influence, so easy to deceive, so easy to distract with trivial differences. I’d like to see a safe world where every kind and life-respecting human has the opportunity to reach their potential, no matter what kind of body they possess, beliefs they follow or lifestyle they lead. Our songs are usually a wake-up call, and often written to push myself as well as anyone else who listens, because I sometimes feel lazy and inactive about things that should anger me to the core. I want to be more. I want to do more to help. I want human civilisation to succeed.”
Album opener “Murder in the Depths” starts off with a woman speaking the line “Il n’y a que les imbéciles qui ne changent pas d’avis” (which translates to English as “Only a fool would never change their mind”), accompanied by jarring sounds of a siren blaring a warning. The woman speaking is Angela Carolei, one of Frozen Factory’s most active fans, whom they’ve never met. Her voice is also featured in several other little moments throughout the record, in both French and English. Stephen said that he chose to use some minor French moments for both Of Pearls & Perils and The First Liquidation “because the French language includes some absolutely killer phrases that don’t work so well in English.”
With lyrics containing nautical references, a theme that will be repeated on several tracks, the song encapsulates the album’s overall messages of social injustice and inequality, not only among classes but between men and women, oppression and environmental degradation. “Murder in the Depths” speaks of a woman who perished while diving for pearls intended for the wealthier class, which she would never have had the opportunity to wear: “With little choice like most before, she laboured for a dream. Was sent to dive too deep, where nobility refused to even dip their toes. Her lungs collapsed far below...if we don’t face up together, fear will point our distrust down. And billions more will drown.”
The song quickly segues into “Host With the Most“, blasting through the speakers with a barrage of raging guitars, throbbing bass and Marianne’s explosive drumbeats. And though it’s purely coincidental, I like the little guitar riff that sounds like the one from The B-52s “Rock Lobster”, and Mici’s wailing guitar solo in the bridge is absolute fire. As an Atheist who does not believe in heaven nor hell (other than how both are manifested here on earth), the lyrics about how so many people endure injustice and pain in their lives, hopeful in the belief they’ll do better in an afterlife, strongly resonate with me: “How many place their bets on bliss? How many live their lives for this? Oh have they seen some guarantees or signs of afterlife? / There’s only one life given at a time. The rest is a question that will never die. But you will die, so be prepared to say goodbye. No afterlife.“
“Solar Windfalls” is a gentle song with a nod to David Bowie’s iconic “Space Oddity” and “Life On Mars”, sung from the perspective of an astronaut traveling through space, contemplating their endless search for exciting new adventures and the state of the world they’ve left behind: “I’m closer than ever to an answer for Bowie. Yeah I turned to face the strange, but what can life on Mars teach me about the richer man’s change?/ What have I become? Pursuing shiny desires. Points of light above keep me majorly wired. Is there even a place at the end of my trail? Or will I endlessly trace a line that’s destined to fail? The pale blue dot fades, she is to me ever darker, ever farther she wanes, and the chasm grows starker.” The somber piano keys, twinkling synths and chiming guitars are wonderful, as are Stephen’s plaintive vocals.
The next several tracks see Frozen Factory railing against racism, cruelty and putting our faith in duplicitous leaders who steer us to ruin. On “Equalise Power“, they call out racism, fear of the other, and police brutality, and implore us to act with fairness, tolerance and compassion: “What part of you is broken? That your heart cannot be open to a person of another colour, what is colour? You’ve been put in a bubble to elevate your struggles. Your fire stoked by nonsense that you swallow gladly. Apparently unable to see what’s on the table. The poison that you’ve been fed since your first days alive./ Your reasons for hate are not reasonable. When you discriminate you are not reasonable. That call you will make it is not reasonable. The actions police take will not be reasonable. Time to end this now. Time to equalise power. Seize thy hour.”
They channel their inner Alice In Chains on the hard-hitting “The Depths of Hell“, a scathing diatribe against too many societies’ penchant for going against our best interests in the support of disingenuous and evil leaders who stoke hate and divisiveness by preying on our fears: “Our only future is the ash of the past, when we fund and root for the most egregious ass. We love a Lucifer to fork our lives on every burning issue. They will decide. We’ve picked our demons to fix our aim and sell us our trip to heaven.” The song’s a proper metal rock gem, with a deep, pummeling rhythm courtesy of Tomi’s crushing bassline and Marianne’s speaker-blowing drums. Mici’s guitar work is positively fearsome as he makes his six-string wail and scream, and Stephen’s vocals are dripping with venom as he matches the music’s fury note for note.
And speaking of venom, they launch headlong into “Loud, Lazy, Late“, furiously calling out an asshole totally lacking in any redeemable attributes: “Can’t you show any will to grow? Any thoughts to be kinder than you’ve been. You’ve no empathy, it’s all me me me. You don’t like my tone, but you’ve abso-fucking-lutely got to go! Loud, lazy, late and low quality!“
“Pie in the Sky” is a stirring anthemic ballad, with beautiful piano, cinematic synths, and exuberant jangly and wailing guitars. The lyrics seem to speak of finding contentment not from material possessions and desires, but from the natural beauty and love that lies inside each of us if we allow it to flourish and grow: “False symbols of winning life, bring promise before denial. ‘Cause what we’d like you cannot buy. This is our own and it’s beautiful.”
I think my favorite track from a musical standpoint is “Absolute in Vanity“. I love its strong driving beat, heavy chugging rhythms and gorgeous ostinato guitar riffs of a similar vein as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”, though the melody is vastly different. The song is a kind of response to “The Depths of Hell” above, but this time sung from the perspective of the evil Trump-like leader people have elected: “You! I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You love me? Well. I don’t come free. No. I will be your king if you please. What’s that? You chose me? Well. I don’t come cheap. Because of lies, lies. You idolise lies.” Between those fiery riffs and Stephen’s spectacular impassioned vocals, I’m left covered in goosebumps.
“We’re Gonna Die” is a rousing banger decrying peoples’ greed and insatiable need for more, more, more, and how it’s killing the planet: “Long ago on a hill lived a group who felt they had a need. Though they had more than most, their whole life was a spiral of greed. They lit a fire for their revolution. The first distant lands burned with absolution. Hey you, we’re gonna die if you don’t change your lifestyle now.” The arresting piano riff reminds me a bit of U2’s “New Years Day”. “Never is a Theory” is perhaps the most enigmatic song on the album. I’m not sure of the song’s meaning, but my guess is that it’s about coming to terms with one’s own death, as expressed in these lyrics: “Will I cease to be tonight, as i can’t believe my sight. A myth the trust in vision seems hard to swallow, lies or dreams yeah. End of the river. End of the river. I’m trying to see, what’s at the end of the river. End of the river for me.” In any case, it’s an enchanting rock song, with terrific improvised guest vocals sung by Lily M.
The title track “Of Pearls & Perils” opens on a pensive note with a man assuring his son that, even though the ship (representing the Titanic) is in trouble, everything will be alright: “Try not to worry about it son. You know what the captain said. He said ‘Every single one of us is safe on this ship.” The song gradually expands into a haunting piano-driven anthem, accompanied by grungy guitars and soaring vocals.
Stephen states that the song is essentially about toxic masculinity, and how men have taken the world in the wrong direction, but remain incredibly stubborn and resistant to change, denying or underplaying their weaknesses and overstating their strengths in order to protect their pride. The ship represents the ruling elite of men who currently control the ship of human destiny, and in this song, a man gains a woman’s love with a gift of pearls, assuring her the ship is safe: “With a hull so strong, we will brush off ice and storms. On the treacherous cold seas we will never freeze. I’ve heard no man can steer us wrong. Our ship will n carry on. This titan can’t be breached. These props will never seize.” As the ship continues to sink deeper into the ocean, his unwavering belief in the men who built the ship, and that it would never sink, cannot be broken: “Sit with me, be relaxed. Rest assured this is a lapse. Don’t listen, look or think. You cannot know that we will sink.” The song ends with sounds of actual Morse code from the Titanic, sending out a distress call, accompanied by an eerie voiceover of a woman, sung by Angela Carolei, saying “Ce n’est pas la mer à boire“, which translates to “It’s not the sea to drink”.
The album closes with the somber “Deceit Upon the Decks“, a final note to the story of the woman described in “Of Pearls & Perils”. The song also mirrors the first track “Murder in the Depths”, except that in this song, the woman who perished was upper-class, rather than a worker: “A skull dressed with her jewels. He never loved her true. They never really were for her, but emblems for other men to observe. Of status, cash and property. The shackles in his evil dream. Her trust went to the top of the chain. They both tumbled when he fell from grace.” Stephen says that the final lines of the song sum up the album’s overall meaning, that we’ve been conditioned to believe that many things that are actually against our own interest would be good for us, and we often allow things to happen that are bad for us: “Of pearls and perils there is much lore. To claim each as a gem for the men with it all. And they’ve told you they’re one and the same. And it’s not your place to question their game.” The last words, spoken by Angela, quietly implore us to “Please, think again.”
What more can I say about this album that I haven’t already gushed over, other than to restate that it’s an epic, mind-blowing and stunning work. The thought, care and strong musicianship that have gone into its creation and production are truly impressive, and the five members of Frozen Factory should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s one of the best albums of 2022.
Plains of Silence is a progressive/post-rock act based in Lincolnshire, England, and comprised of the very talented double threat of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Whitehead and bassist/guitarist Geoff Standeven. The busy duo have also been active with other bands and music projects both in the past and present. Both were members of alt-rock band The Saboteurs (who I’ve previously written about and are now on hiatus). Rick also records music under his music project Sparralimb, and was previously a member of now defunct rock band Tripswitch, while Geoff also plays bass with metal rock band Sleepless.
As Plains of Silence, Rick and Geoff create exquisite instrumental compositions that incorporate elements of progressive, alternative, grunge and metal rock. Rick plays lead guitars, keyboards/synths and drums, while Geoff plays rhythm guitar and bass. Last August, they released their debut single “Jeremiah”, a darkly beautiful 8-minute, 40-second long tour-de-force of melodic guitars, meandering rhythms and cinematic crescendos. Now the guys are back with their debut EP Archangel, which they’ve released on Bandcamp. The EP will be available beginning March 4th on all major streaming sites.
Archangel features “Jeremiah”, along with four new tracks, each of which sounds uniquely different and most of which are fairly long, running well over five minutes. Kicking off the EP is the gorgeous title track “Archangel“, which Geoff told me is dedicated to all mums everywhere, and in particular his own mum who’s currently battling cancer. He said he wanted to write something from the heart that people could connect with, and after listening to the track, I think he’s succeeded quite nicely. The song begins with a somber but lovely acoustic guitar riff, backed by a rather mysterious gravelly background synth of some kind that provides a fascinating contrast with the haunting guitar notes. Two minutes in, the music expands into a glorious and almost spiritual Pink Floyd-esque soundscape, with shimmery guitars, throbbing bass and emphatic drumbeats.
Plains of Silence switch things up on the next track “Redded“, a moody rocker with a blend of grungy and melodic riffs layered over a strong driving rhythm. Rick lays down a tasty psychedelic guitar solo in the bridge, before the song fades out. This is followed by “Jeremiah“, which I think is my favorite track on the EP. As I alluded to earlier, the song is a monumental tour-de-force and a feast for the ears. The song starts off with a simple but arresting acoustic guitar riff lasting slightly over a minute, at which point it’s joined by a rhythm section of subtle bass and measured drums. Soon, the guitar becomes more intricate and melodic up to around 3:45, when the tempo increases with edgier riffs and more forceful drums and bass. The instrumentals continue to build until everything erupts into a dramatic crescendo of grinding gnarly riffs, pummeling bass and assertive, military-style drumbeats that transition to a barrage of thunderous percussion. The music calms back down to just strummed guitar and thumping drumbeats for the final minute as the song ends on a somber note.
As its title would suggest, “The Saint of Killers” is the darkest, most intense track on the EP, with strong progressive and alternative metal underpinnings. Much of the song features a furious barrage of grinding buzz saw riffs, crushing bass and explosive percussion, interspersed here and there with brief interludes of beautiful chiming guitar notes and subtle drumbeats, all of which serves to create a powerful and sonically fascinating track.
The final track “Starlight” is a wonderful melodic rock song, highlighted by Rick’s impressive guitar work and Geoff’s gorgeous driving bassline. The first two-thirds of the song is hard-hitting, with an onslaught of heavy riffs, bass and drums. But at around 3:45, the tempo abruptly changes to a serene, contemplative mood, with lovely strummed guitar notes and ambient natural sounds of birds chirping in the breeze all that we hear. It’s a fine, soothing close to the EP, ending it as it began with the first notes of “Archangel”.
Archangel is a stellar EP, and a testament to the creativity and talents of these two musicians Rick and Geoff. Anyone who’s a fan of progressive rock or alternative metal, delivered with outstanding musicianship, will enjoy this record.
I’ve been following British psychedelic garage/punk band DENSE pretty much since their beginnings nearly five years ago, and it’s been gratifying to watch them grow and mature as artists. Based in Leeds, the wickedly talented trio – comprised of Charlie Fossick (Guitar/Vocals), Dylan Metcalf (Bass) and Sam Heffer (Drums) – live up to their moniker by combining thick, fuzz-coated grooves with progressive elements and fierce instrumentation to create music that’s electrifying, innovative and intense.
I’ve written about them numerous times over the past four and a half years, most recently in August 2020 when I reviewed their debut EP Abjection, which I described as “four combustible sticks of dynamite packed into 14 explosive minutes” (you can read some of my previous reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post). Now the guys are back with a new single “Reckoning“, which they refer to as “a desperately needed release of energy“. After listening to the track, I’d say that’s almost an understatement, as it’s a furious eruption of wailing distortion and sonic mayhem.
The guys have gained a reputation for their electrifying live performances, and they’ve somehow managed to capture that energy and inject it into their songs. As MC (who goes by @LeedsGigs_ on Twitter and writes about shows in and around Leeds) commented on my review of Abjection, “Seeing them live is a visceral experience and their music demands your attention. Charlie contorting primeval sounds from both mic and guitar through his pedal board, Dylan prowling the stage with adrenaline-fueled rockstar stances, riffing on a parody of every bedroom axeman, and Sam, limbs akimbo, thrashing his drumkit into quivering submission.”
According to their press release, “‘Reckoning’ is an abstract journey through anguish, capturing the frustrations of modern day life through utilisation of melodic dissonance alongside a focus on rhythm and groove-led songwriting, conveying what the lyrics represent. The track boasts a mix from Ross Orton, who has worked with the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Drenge, God Damn, Pulled Apart by Horses and Working Men’s Club. This was the first track we wrote together in 12 months post-lockdown, and it feels like the track absorbed and channeled a lot of our pent-up energy and frustration that the three of us individually experienced during isolation.”
That pent-up energy and frustration is manifested in an explosive barrage of super-gnarly guitars, grinding bass and bombastic percussion. Dylan drives the chaotic rhythm forward with a deep, chest-thumping bassline while Sam smashes his drumkit like a man possessed, the two of them somehow bringing order to the madness. Charlie unleashes the full fury of his double-barreled arsenal of gritty guitars and savage vocals, thrashing the airwaves with frantic, reverb-drenched psychedelic riffs, punctuated here and there by flourishes of screaming distortion, while sending shivers up and down our spines with his signature demonic wails and screams. The song is so intense, I’m left in a quivering heap by the end. It’s good to hear that DENSE have not lost one bit of their fearsome edge in the 12 months they’ve been quiet.
The guys pull no punches with their bitter lyrics that speak to a sense of hopelessness and despair, a reckoning with the terrible state of things:
When I get inside I never feel dry the rain it constantly pours and I’ll ask for more
I feel a nervous pulse men riding on horse been dropped in the tank shot, point blank
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
Reliving Past lives and I’m always Terrified
The ends are looking frayed Cause it tore me Fired under No cause
residing I’m torn providing I’m born declining I’m torn reclining I’m born
Reckon now? Reckon now? Re, Reckoning, Reckoning
I’m formed we’re scorned No future And no past
and it sails, to the core sailing down to the core, to the core, to the core
DENSE will be launching “Reckoning” at a show tonight at the Castle Hotel in Manchester. They’ll perform again on the 13th at Royal Park Cellars in Leeds.
Sparralimb (is that not a great name?) is the musical brainchild of British songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rick Whitehead. Based in Lincoln, England, the creative and busy artist has been involved in a number of other projects, including post-rock band Plains of Silence, alt-rock band The Saboteurs (who I’ve previously written about and are now on hiatus), and now defunct rock band Tripswitch. As Sparralimb, he’s released several singles over the past five years, but became more active beginning this past May with the release of his single “Too Far Gone”, featuring vocals by Jamie Armstrong, a fellow former member of Tripswitch. He’s since followed with three more singles, the latest of which is “Little Agonies“, which officially drops on all music streaming sites October 31st.
Drawing inspiration from the music of The Cure, Deftones and Tool, in “Little Agonies”, Sparralimb has created a darkly beautiful alternative rock song with strong progressive elements. The song once again features vocals by Armstrong, as well as bass performed by Geoff Standeven, Whitehead’s bandmate in both Plains of Silence and Saboteurs. Standeven’s gorgeous pulsating bassline provides a moody foundation for the track, over which Whitehead layers an intoxicating mix of chiming and droning guitars, accompanied by subtle otherworldly synths and looped drum fills. It all makes for a magnificent and mesmerizing soundscape for Armstrong’s haunting whispered vocals that are at once both beautiful and chilling.
The lyrics are somewhat ambiguous, but seem to speak of coming out of a hellish period of mourning over a lost love, or possibly a lost band:
It's a cold day and the fiery gates open my way
It's a cold day yet the smoke blocks my way
My fear floats away
It's a cool day my thoughts of you just fade away
It's a cool day just a memory of warmer days
My fear floats away
Hands of glass holding lies, holding sands of time
Wake me up let me know that I'm still alive
The rather surreal video, filmed in black and white and edited by Sparralimb, shows a man’s hands in several configurations, such as extended with sad face emojis on each fingertip, tapping out the beat, or clasped together, mimicking a person’s mouth singing the lyrics.
I’ve featured hundreds of bands on this blog since I began writing reviews in early 2016, and have to say that some of the best hail from the United Kingdom. And among all those great British bands, one that impressed me from the start is alternative psychedelic group Future Theory. Blending elements of alternative and progressive rock, psychedelia, grunge, shoegaze and funk, they write especially compelling songs characterized by lavish, complex instrumentation, intelligent lyrics and mesmerizing vocals. Like many bands, the Lincolnshire-based foursome has undergone some lineup changes over time, and now consists of Max Sander on rhythm guitar and vocals, Chris Moore on lead guitar, Jacob Brookes on bass and Tom Paton on drums, although for the recording of their latest single “Hang Your Hat“, former band members Rex Helley played bass and Rohan Parrett played drums.
I first wrote about them in April 2017 when I reviewed their fantastic 2016 debut EP Fool’s Dream, then twice in 2018 when I reviewed their excellent singles “Fractured Nation” and “Peace of Mind”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.) Now the Lincolnshire-based foursome are back with “Hang Your Hat”, their first new single in more than three years. The lead single from their forthcoming self-titled debut album, the song is a biting kiss-off to a romantic partner who’s been unfaithful, and broken the bonds of trust in the relationship. The track was recorded at 2fly Studios by Alan Smith (Arctic Monkeys, Reverend & The Makers, 65daysofstatic), mixed and produced by Koncide (aka Chris Hengmith), Max and Chris, and mastered by Yves Altana and Chris Ree.
Musically, “Hang Your Hat” is a marvelous feast for the ears, with some of the more dramatic and varied guitar work I’ve heard packed into one song in a long while. The song opens with a fairly intense instrumental flourish like you’d normally hear in a bridge or chorus, with a barrage of fuzz-coated psychedelic guitars and lots of crashing cymbals. At around 25 seconds, the music calms to a languid bass-driven groove, accompanied by strummed guitar and light drums as Max begins to sing in his distinctive sultry croon. Those gnarly guitars and aggressive rhythms ramp back up in the chorus, then transition back and forth in another verse and chorus, punctuated with beautiful chiming guitar notes and highlighted by a killer reverb-soaked guitar solo in the bridge.
I love Max’s vocal style that’s equal parts sensuous and raw, and enhanced by echo and reverb that render them particularly effective here in conveying the bitterness and pain expressed in the lyrics: “I don’t want to do this anymore. Where did you go last night? I said I’d lose my mind, where did you go last night? Got to be, where did you hang you’re hat? You’re gonna need that some day, pick it up wrap it up, just for today.” In the calmer moments, he almost sounds a bit like Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, not a bad thing at all.
With “Hang Your Hat”, Future Theory return in fine form, proving they haven’t lost their stride one bit during their hiatus. It’s a very strong track, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more gems from them in their forthcoming album.
Blight Town are a five piece alternative/math rock band based in Nottingham, England. Formed in 2019, 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 bold instrumentation, complex time signatures and a dramatic mix of screamo and melodic vocals to create their wildly explosive sound. In short order, they dropped their debut single “Jejunum” in September 2019, but since then have taken their time releasing new music. Nearly a year later in August 2020, they followed up with their second single “Argument Bargument“ (which I reviewed), and now return with their self-titled debut EP Blight Town, which dropped July 16th. The EP features the two aforementioned singles, plus two new tracks.
The guys get right down to business with the opening track “Frostilicus“, instantly demanding our attention both musically and lyrically with an unrelenting thunderous barrage of grungy guitars and pummeling drums as Jake screams “She needs to listen to us right now!” I have no clue as to what the song’s title means, but the lyrics seem to be about confronting a duplicitous and self-destructive person: “Such whack shit is going down. The bullshit she’s churning out. If you don’t say the words to her then I will. Such a shame that you haven’t got the guts to still. Tell me where do I go? I wish that I didn’t know. A slave to the wages of sin. Where do I begin?” The scorching, intricately layered guitar work is fantastic, and a testament to the guys’ impressive musicianship.
“Jejunum” continues on a similar theme, delivering another onslaught of fearsome riffs and explosive percussion, accompanied by a marvelous, almost skittering bassline. Once again, the intense, richly-textured guitars are mind-blowing, turning hauntingly beautiful at the breakdown that occurs at the 1:06 minute mark. Jake’s vocals are downright fearsome throughout much of the song, but also soften to an enchanting ethereal calm in the interlude. As for the song title, a quick Google search revealed that ‘jejunum’ is a part of the small intestine in both humans and most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds, so it’s anyone’s guess as to the title’s meaning. The lyrics seem to speak to a similar type of unpleasant person we were introduced to in “Frostilicus”, who Jake roundly denounces: “You already know you made my life a living hell.“
The cheekily-titled “Argument Bargument” is a prog-rock gem, opening with an atmospheric strummed electric guitar that gradually becomes enveloped in wobbly reverb. Suddenly, we’re 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 terrific guitar noodling punctuating the otherwise tumultuous proceedings, Jake’s vocal gymnastics are a thing of wonder as he transitions from pleasing croon to scary screams. 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.” Jake emphatically snarls “You never wanted an argument, well now you’ve got it. And that’s why they call me the cynicist.”
The guys unleash their full arsenal of sonic weaponry on the final track “Don’t Touch Me I’m Covered in Poisons“. The instrumentals are heavier and more intense than ever, with Sam and Will’s dual intertwining guitars laying waste to the airwaves while Joseph nearly blows the speakers with his smashing drumbeats. Then there’s Jake’s feral vocals, which are positively spine-tingling as he screams like a wild beast. It’s a wonder he has any vocal cords left!
Blight Town is a great little EP, a literal bundle of explosive TNT packed into 12 minutes and 51 seconds, beautifully showcasing this band’s outstanding songwriting and composition talents, as well as their impressive technical skills. Though their music is both complex and intense, it’s still surprisingly accessible and melodic.
Blight Town also offers an array of merchandise, including tee shirts, hoodies and caps made from sustainable and vegan-friendly materials, which you can purchase at https://slugapparel.com/.
I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Polarizer, a phenomenal five-piece band from Chicago. They play a progressive style of alternative rock they call “loud, spacey epic rock” that’s earned them comparisons to bands like Muse, Rush and Jane’s Addiction. I learned about them last year through their front man and vocalist Taylor Brennan, who’s also vocalist for Chicago rock band The Million Reasons, one of my favorite bands who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog. Formed in 2011 by Brennan and his childhood friend, keyboardist Stan Tencza, along with guitarist Ian Palmer and drummer Ben Ludwig, they released their debut EP Lightscapes in 2013. Ludwig subsequently departed in 2015, and was later replaced by drummer John Schiller, as well as bassist Chris Shen, who complete the current lineup. Polarizer released their superb full-length album The Fall and the Swell in 2016, after which they stayed fairly quiet over the next few years.
They returned to the studio in late 2019 to begin recording a new album, and in August 2020 released a single “One for One”, their first new music in four years. On February 14th, they dropped their latest single “Metronome“, a powerful and stunning feast for the ears that I loved at first listen. The song is magnificent, and though it lasts only four minutes and 22 seconds, it feels and sounds epic in scope, in confirmation of Polarizer’s own self-assessment of their music. Every single aspect of the track – its elaborate melody and dynamic arrangement, Ian’s killer guitar work, Stan’s intricate keyboards, John’s muscular drums, Chris’s incredible bass line (played on what appears to be a five-string bass), and Taylor’s gorgeous vocals – is perfection from start to finish. I love how the music erupts into a monumental crescendo, bolstered by Taylor’s jaw-dropping impassioned vocals that almost sound like another instrument in themselves. It’s truly spectacular!
The lyrics call out the divisiveness and self-destructive ways of many of our leaders, urging newer generations to rise up against those forces to build a better future: “The old way is divisive. It keeps us small. Make way for the new kids. They’re coming up. / The future belongs to those in love from the underground.” Then there’s the amazing video, which shows the guys at the top of their game, performing the song in a Chicago studio. I often prefer seeing artists and bands performing their songs on videos, rather than a scripted, acted-out storyline, unless it’s done really well. Their performance, even done socially distanced from each other, is electrifying.
I can confidently state that “Metronome” is one the best new songs I’ve heard in a very long while, and I’m thrilled to feature this brilliant band and their song on my blog. They deserve more acclaim and many more followers, so please check out their music and give them a follow on social media.
Duderama is the instrumental music project of Melbourne, Australia-based Liam Stack and Pierce Brown. The two met in the 1990s while both part of the alt-rock music scene in the capital city of Canberra, and played together in the alt-rock band Narco Wendy and lounge-rock act Coocoo Fondoo. Their collaboration as Duderama began in 2015 when Pierce was living in Melbourne and Liam in Ethiopia. Back in those days, the two created their musical collaborations remotely through phone apps and compressed files that, in their words, “were barely able to squeeze their way through the intermittent (or non-existent) internet of the authoritarian regime at the time.”
Their first release, in July 2015, was the EP The Mask, followed by a couple of double singles and their debut album Peace Fire that November. The duo continued with their prolific music output over the next two years, releasing four more albums by the end of 2017, as well as a couple more double singles and an EP, just for good measure. In July 2019 they released their excellent sixth album Quiet Life, and on January 22nd, they returned with their latest album New View, which they describe as “an elixir for these dark and strange times, where deftly executed and inventive guitar rock interplay can provide a simple joy amidst an era of mass anxiety. A lesson in the joyousness of lo-fi indie rock made with passion.” The guys’ skills for remote collaboration came in handy once again, as the album was recorded and produced during the Covid-19 lockdown. Liam mastered the album, while Pierce designed the art work.
New View features 11 guitar-driven instrumental tracks drawing upon numerous elements of rock, including alternative, progressive, grunge, electronic, psychedelic, and experimental, as well as jazz and funk. They kick things off with “Progtronic Man“, a moody lo-fi track dominated by a super-gnarly droning guitar riff and pulsating bass, punctuated here and there with more melodic guitar notes that add a bit of color to the proceedings. “Deepening Sky” features a funky head-bopping bass line overlain with wonderful jazzy guitar notes, accompanied by the perfect amount of percussion that make it one of my favorites on the album.
The title track “New Views” has a greater sense of urgency, with heavier rhythms, more pronounced synths, and multiple guitar textures, all blending to create palpable tension while still keeping things on an optimistic note. The mood shifts with “No Looking” to a languid, dreamy vibe that conjures up images of a romantic interlude on a sun-drenched tropical island. The warm synths and mix of shimmery and gnarly guitars are all exquisite. “Collapse Away” picks up the pace with an irresistible thumping groove that had me doing a lap dance on my chair! This song has it all: a terrific funky bass line, dynamic percussion, glittery atmospheric synths, and superb intricate guitar work. And speaking of superb guitars, the interplay between the guys’ shimmery and grungy guitars on “Entanglement” is positively mind-blowing.
As it’s title suggests, “Space Yacht” features spacey synths and gnarly psychedelic guitars set to a mid-tempo groove. Those super-grungy, buzzing guitars are back on “Light of a Billion Suns“, heavy, meandering lo-fi track that still manages to sound hopeful, thanks to well-placed melodic guitar notes. “High Life” is a fascinating track, with sort of a low-key Nirvana-esque grunge vibe as its foundation (at least to my ears), and embellished with a mix of late 60s psychedelic guitar notes along with some progressive elements. “Hollow Point” is rather pretty and melodic, with more of the guys’ marvelous intertwining guitar work and some really nice piano keys adding warmth to the track.
The album closes on a high note with “Liquid Beret“, a wonderfully mesmerizing track that’s another of my favorites. I love that powerful walking bass line that gives the song its deep, pulsating groove, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again I must gush about the brilliance of the guys’ intricate, multi-textured guitar work. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but that persistent undulating riff is fantastic.
I’ve written about many instrumental albums, a lot of them heavy on synthesized electronic music, which is perfectly fine as I really like that kind of music. But what I especially love about Duderama’s music is how they put their guitars front and center, then build the rest of the music around them. New Views is an outstanding and expertly-crafted work, filled with instrumentally-complex tracks that captivate and surprise with every listen.