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

AGENCY PANIC – Single Review: “The Middle”

Agency Panic3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow of Everest album art

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

Shadow of Everest2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day single art

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

Day3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOROSITY – Single Review: “Time”

Morosity Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thegear28229

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

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

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

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

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