RUSTY SHIPP – Album Review: “Dark Side of the Ocean”

One of the more uniquely interesting acts I’ve featured on this blog is Nashville rock band Rusty Shipp. The brain child of front man Russ T. Shipp (his actual birth name is Russell Thomas Shipp), Rusty Shipp is a self-described “Nautical Rock’n’Roll” band, with a sound influenced by, in their own words, “the melodic chord progressions of The Beatles, the surf guitar of Dick Dale, the grunge rock of Nirvana, and the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin“. As their name would suggest, their music is characterized by a dark, immersive sound, unforgettable melodies, electrifying guitar work, and Shipp’s vibrant tenor vocals. Like many a band, they’ve experienced numerous changes in lineup since forming in 2014, and now consist of the aforementioned Russ Shipp on guitar and vocals, AJ Newton on drums, Dave Gajda on lead guitar, and Doug Webster on bass.

Photo by Chad Fenner

Rusty Shipp released an EP Hold Fast to Hope in 2014, then followed in 2017 with their highly-acclaimed debut album Mortal Ghost. They dropped several singles throughout 2019, which culminated in the release that November of their phenomenal second album Liquid Exorcist, which I reviewed. In keeping with their nautical theme, the album is a concept work built around the subject of sea mine terrorism. This past January, starting with “Bottom of the Barrel”, they began releasing what would become a series of nine singles at the rate of one per month. All of those songs and more are featured on their latest album Dark Side of the Ocean, which dropped October 28th.

An ambitious work, Dark Side of the Ocean (its official title is Cosmic Innuendo, Vol 1: Dark Side of the Ocean), is another nautically-themed concept album, this time exploring the balance between dark and light, descent and ascent, and men and angels. About the album, Shipp explains: “While it was written and recorded during the pandemic, instead of following the natural response of the world to react to the crisis with fear by retreating into our comfortable “Us and Them” sects and blaming “Them” as the problem and the bad guys, this album tried very hard (as challenging as it was at the time) to focus on the commonalities and good that still exist in all people and the hope that still exists for our world to bring us all together and get all our needs met.

Shipp wrote the lyrics, co-wrote the music with band drummer Newton, and did the arrangements. The album was produced by Stephen Leiweke at Yackland Studio in Nashville, and mastered by Alex McCollough. The gorgeous artwork was created by Hein Zaayman.

With a few nods to Pink Floyd, including its title, the album is divided into two parts: The first half (consisting of 21 ½ minutes), called “DESCENT”, follows the descent of a drowned sailor, sinking past undiscovered creatures and mysteries to the bottom of the ocean, where his soul is intercepted by a group of sea angels and taken to their underwater kingdom. The 2nd half of the album (also 21 ½ minutes long) is called “ASCENT”, and explores this angelic kingdom, ruled by Poseidon, the king archangel of the ocean. After debating the danger involved, the angels decide to ascend and discover why men’s souls are sinking from the ocean’s surface with increased frequency, with feelings of duty to help these men in the world above the waves, which the angels ironically call “Heaven.” Read the full story here.

The album opens with the title track, a 33-second-long spoken word introductory piece accompanied by eerie underwater sounds and a building guitar riff, informing us that the ocean contains 99% of Earth’s living space, yet 80% of it has never been mapped, much less explored. We have better maps of the surface of the moon than of the ocean floor, and with scientists estimating that there are as many as 90% of ocean species still undiscovered, one has to wonder what else could be down there at the bottom of our planet…the dark side of the ocean.

Those grungy, jagged riffs are quickly joined by a torrent of aggressive drumbeats as we’re launched headlong into “Living Waters“. Shipp passionately sings of the life-giving power of water, despite the fact that it’s also taken the life of many a sailor: “Let the living waters flow and bring the world to life. Trickle down the darkest cracks that never get the light. Weaving in and out of every creature on the Earth. Pull us all into the harmony that we’re created for.

This immediately segues into the 49-second-long interlude “What Blows Up (Must Come Down)“, a fantastic barrage of raging surf guitars. Like their previous album Liquid Exorcist, Dark Side of the Ocean contains several instrumental interludes that serve to connect the tracks and move the narrative forward. That interlude then becomes “Bottom of the Barrel“, a gnarly but melodic track sung from the perspective of the drowning sailor, whose soul is reborn into a magical undersea world: “Down at the bottom of the barrel. Still your love is bottomless. The weight of the world is crushing me to a pulp, but it brings my soul to the surface. If I make my bed in Mariana Trench, I’m welcomed to a city that’s lit. Bioluminescence.” The cool video was directed by Shipp’s wife Joy Soleil.

Though Rusty Shipp is not a Christian band per se, Shipp is up-front about his faith, as is evident in many of his lyrics. The 36-second-long track “The Bloop“, which serves as an introductory piece for “Tanninim“, a song about undiscovered sea monsters, includes spoken lines of scripture from Genesis, interspersed with Shipp’s own lyrics: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life. And God created great Tanninim and every living creature that moveth. Which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind. And God saw that it was good, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas’.” “Tanninim” has a wonderfully eerie vibe, highlighted by a bold reggae beat driven by Newton’s brilliant drumming, and accompanied by Shipp’s spooky vocals that sound like he’s singing while underwater.

On the hard-driving grungy rocker “What’s Kracken?“, Shipp uses the mythical sea monster Kracken as a metaphor for the truth in a divided political environment where what constitutes the truth is often elusive and up for debate: “A tentacle washed up on shore. The TV says there’s something more ‘Was it just a giant squid or evidence of Leviathan?’ Can anybody out there say ‘What’s Kraken?‘” 

One of the many things I love about this album is how every track sounds uniquely different, with a wide variety of music styles and genres represented. “Fish in the Sea” is in the style of a sea shanty, a traditional work song once commonly sung aboard large merchant sailing ships, while “Angel Aquarium” fuses ska with frantic guitar-driven rock. “DESCENT” ends with “Bioluminescence“, a brief hauntingly beautiful piano ballad reprising the chorus from “Bottom of the Barrel”.

Opening the “ASCENT” half of the album is “King of the Deep“, a funereal-sounding sea shanty that’s one of the most powerful tracks on the album, and also one of my favorites. With verses alternately sung by sailors, angels and Poseidon, the song seems to be an ode to Poseidon himself. I like how the vocals and instrumentals are presented differently for each: the sailors’ are delivered with deep, baritone vocals accompanied by pounding drumbeats and fuzz-coated gnarly guitars, while the angels sound…well, angelic, with Shipp’s near-falsetto front and center, accompanied by lovely synths and delicate guitar notes. And as Poseidon, Shipp’s vocals are more commanding, of course. The song ends in a dramatic chorus of all three entities singing in glorious harmony.

Man Myth Legend” is a roiling punk rock gem fueled by marvelous psychedelia-tinged surf guitars. Man, this band knows how to rock! The lyrics speak to looking beyond our pre-conceived notions about people, keeping us locked in eternal conflict, and instead try to see them as humans not all that different from ourselves: “Tradition tries to demonize what we don’t understand. We need to see them through the love that covers all our skins. Until we’re dining in their homes, these men will be as good as myths and legends. They say the issue’s black and white, but aren’t we all just different shades of gray? If it makes us black and blue, then we’re going the wrong way. But we could bring in an age of peace, joining both our worlds into one. We could be the heroes that make a new end to the legend.

Each of Rusty Shipp’s three albums includes a cover of a classic rock song by a famous band. Their first album Mortal Ghost featured the Beatles song “Helter Skelter”, Liquid Exorcist featured Audioslave’s “Show Me How to Live”, and now Dark Side of the Ocean includes Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them“, from their 1973 masterpiece Dark Side of the Moon. While honoring the song’s compelling melody, Rusty Shipp’s version shaves a little over four minutes off the original, and gives it a harder rock treatment, with a bold mix of jangly and gnarly guitars and more emphatic vocals. The lyrics speak to the stupidity of war: “Us and them. And after all we’re all just ordinary men. Me and you. God only knows, it’s not what we would choose to do. Forward he cried from the rear. And the front rank died. The general sat and the lines on the map moved side to side. Black and blue. And who knows which is which and who is who? Up and down. And in the end we’re spinning round ‘n round.

The darkly beautiful instrumental interlude “Waking Braves” is a playful reimagining of their song “Breaking Waves” from Liquid Exorcist. This is followed by the grungy “Untouchable“, a terrific Nirvana-esque song about a soul with eternal life, free from earthly worries: “I am untouchable ‘cause nothing in this world can touch my soul. I am unconditionally loved, more than my heart could ever hold. I am a part of a plan where I am taken care of forever. I have eternal life, so tell me what is left to fear?” The grungy rock vibes continue on the raucous minute and a half long instrumental interlude “Up the Waterspout“.

The album closes with “The Other Side“, where so many of the elements that make Dark Side of the Ocean such a great album come together into a grand finale. The songs starts off as a slow acoustic ballad, then erupts into a celebratory feast of rousing surf guitars and frenetic ska grooves. The lyrics speak to what I think of as my own definition of Heaven, which is not some magical ‘perfect’ place in the clouds, but rather a sense of happiness and contentment that exists as a state of mind: “People always look for Heaven in the wrong places as if it’s just somewhere you go on retirement vacation. But a wise man once said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within; try looking there and let me know when you find it. We’re going on a search for the real Heaven. A Heaven we don’t have to wait for till our lives are through. We’re finding out the real meaning of salvation, and finding out it’s better than anything we thought we knew.”

I’m not sure what more I can say about Dark Side of the Ocean, other than to reiterate how marvelous it is. Not only are its concept and storyline brilliantly executed, it’s sounds damn good too! The musicians and sound engineers involved in the album’s recording and production did a masterful job, and the result is a work that’s flawlessly arranged and beautifully crafted on every level. Finally, a great deal of credit must go to Russ Shipp’s incredible vision, imagination and talents, both as a songwriter and vocalist.

Connect with Rusty Shipp: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music: SpotifyApple Music / SoundclouddeezerYouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp 

COLUMBIA – Single Review: “Disorder”

Artwork by Stay Focused Photography

I’m back in Wales (having just featured Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna last week) to shine a spotlight on indie rock band Columbia, who released their new single “Disorder” on November 4th. The Cardiff-based act was formed in 2019 by long-time friends Ben Rowlands (lead guitar) and Craig Lewis (vocals/rhythm guitar), who had been in a handful of other bands both together and separately over the years. They released their debut single “Fall Into the Sun” at the end of 2019, followed by a number of singles over the next two years. While in the process of recording their debut album Embrace the Chaos in 2021, they brought on bassist Aron Stenning to complete their current lineup.

Columbia released Embrace the Chaos in March 2022, garnering positive reviews from both music writers and fans. They celebrated its release at a sold-out show at The Moon in Cardiff, and have since performed at such renowned venues as Camden’s Fiddlers Elbow, The Dublin Castle, and SWNDfest at The Bunkhouse, Swansea, as well as playing on several This Feeling shows supporting The Shakes and The Kairos (another band I’ve previously featured on this blog). The band will be performing this weekend at the sold-out Shiiine On Weekender 2022 festival at Butlin’s Minehead Arena in Somerset. Their set is scheduled for Saturday, November 12th.

Photo by Stay Focused Photography

Recorded at King’s Road Studios in Cardiff and produced by Andrew Sanders, “Disorder” marks a new direction for Columbia. Not only is the song their first to be written by lead guitarist Ben Rowlands, (their previous songs have been written by Lewis), it’s also their most powerful track yet. Sanders has called “Disorder” “the biggest sounding track I’ve made with a band“, while the band cheekily notes that the song’s “incredible wall of sound makes you wonder where on earth Ben has been hiding this behind his calm and quiet demeanour?

The song is a darkly beautiful, cinematic anthem. Opening with ominous sounds of police sirens and helicopters circling overhead, suggesting unrest in the streets, our ears are suddenly hit with a barrage of gnarly guitars, grinding bass and thunderous drums, accompanied by Lewis’ commanding vocals. I love the song’s portentous swirling melody, and the intricate guitar work – punctuated here and there with delicate acoustic notes, only to explode into a wailing solo in the bridge – is spectacular.

My take as to the song’s meaning is that it speaks to the addictive nature of public protests and disorder in the streets, how easily people can become attracted to them by the adrenaline rush from participating in such events that usually involve intense anger and/or passion for a particular cause. We’ve seen how these public protests can sometimes feed upon themselves, growing larger and out of control as crowds grow and tempers rise: “I’m breaking the silence. I feel my fear running. Don’t want to believe it, but everything is changing The colors are fading, the sound around me rising, climbing higher and higher and higher. I feel it, I need it, the streets are in disorder. Addiction, a feeling I couldn’t ever be there. I had it, I want it. The streets are in disorder, climbing higher and higher and higher.

“Disorder” is a phenomenal track, nicely showcasing Columbia’s continued growth as a band.

And here’s the newer action video they’ve created for the song:

Connect with Columbia: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicAmazon Music

Purchase on BandcampAmazon

THIS HEART I SURRENDER – Album Review: “THIS: FOUNDATIONS”

One of my recent music finds is an alternative rock band from Wisconsin with the rather endearing name of This Heart I Surrender. The other day I happened upon their debut album THIS: FOUNDATIONS, which dropped October 21st, and made the wise decision to give it a listen. I immediately liked it, so much so that I reached out to the band to let them know I would be featuring it on my blog.

Combining elements of emo-punk, metal and alternative rock, they create melodic, impactful rock music that sounds at once familiar, yet distinctly their own. Listening to their music, I hear an eclectic range of influences from bands like Sum 41, Bring Me the Horizon, Aerosmith and Blink-182, to name just a few that come to mind. According to their bio, “blaring guitars, strong vocal melodies, and beat thumping drums is what This Heart I Surrender is all about; the powerful hooky melodies and ear-candy moments will have you coming back wishing the song was longer.” After listening to their album, I can’t argue with that!

The engaging and talented four-piece consists of lead vocalist Jourdan Westenberg, drummer/beat maker Jairius Stolar, lead guitarist Kyle Conner, and bassist/guitarist Will Peters, who joined the band while recording of the album was underway, but ended up playing bass on all the tracks. (Unfortunately, the band already had photos taken of themselves before he came on board, hence the inclusion of only three band members in their photo).

THIS: FOUNDATIONS opens with the beautiful and cinematic neoclassical “OVERTURE“, which sounds like it could be part of the soundtrack to a fantasy adventure film or series like Game of Thrones. This overture was composed by This Heart I Surrender with the assistance of Larry Moore, who band vocalist Jourdan described as ‘a master of synthesized orchestration’. Indeed, Mr. Moore co-wrote, arranged and played the orchestral string parts for the entire album. Jourdan added that nearly every track includes an element of strings, and was intended as the connecting “sound” between songs.

Thinking it might be a concept album of sorts, I also asked about the album’s title, to which Jourdan responded: “If I had to describe the theme of the album it’s in the title. This is our first full length album, and we titled it ‘Foundations’ because it’s the foundations of us starting out. Our sound. Our style. All of it. A lot of the songs [touch on the idea] of a new beginning and being tired of the same old same old. Taking risks and moving forward toward something new.”

“OVERTURE” directly segues into “RAISE IT” a powerful and stunning rock anthem, featuring added vocals by Garett Rapp of Illinois metalcore band The Color Morale. The inspirational song is a clarion call to arms against forces who lie and distort the truth for the purpose of keeping us divided and fighting each other: “Falling short when we need to stand up strong. Why do we keep on deciding wrong? Faceless victims in the night, not knowing where the demons hide. So raise it up, raise it up! Let us spark a revolution today!” Jourdan and Garett’s dual vocals complement each other nicely.

Themes of love and loss are addressed again and again on the album. “THANK YOU” is a beautiful song of thanks to a loved one who’s no longer around, but who had a major part in shaping who we are now. Jourdan has a great voice, and his plaintive vocals are heartfelt and filled with emotion as he sings “I never expected to lose you. I never thought I’d say goodbye. I know there’s a promise to see you. I cling to that hope with my life. But until that day. All I can say is ‘thank you’. Thank you for all that you were for me. Thank you for everything.” And on “STAY“, he pleads for someone to stay with him and help him through a rough patch.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “MORE THAN A MELODY“, a gorgeous song that starts off as a gentle ballad with breathtaking acoustic and chiming guitars, then transitions into a stirring anthem, highlighted by soaring vocal harmonies and a terrific solo in the bridge. The lyrics seem to address a troubled relationship, and trying to remember the things that brought you together in the first place: “Remember what you are to me. You’re more than a melody? You’re more than a song. You’re more than a moment that’s fading along. Are we caught up in our mess? Broke in all that stress. Forgetting just who we are. We won’t forget.”

DEATH OF IT” is a fast-paced rock song, with driving rhythms and bold, jagged riffs. The lyrics speak of never giving up on your dreams, and to keep moving toward your goals: “I’ll keep my mind on this. I won’t give up or quit. Rushing, rushing around, don’t let my feet hit the ground. Never stop moving. Oh, this is the death of it.”

WELCOME TO COMPROMISE” has a bit of a Blink-182 feel. thanks to its lively groove and Jourdan’s fervent vocals. The bittersweet lyrics speak of reminiscing about a lost romantic relationship and what could have been: “I’ll always miss you and I won’t forget you. I’ve been wondering how you are, and how you have been. I’ve been wishing to go back relive the moments. Though I miss you, you’re always with me.

True to its title, “HAUNTING” is a hauntingly beautiful song, both musically and lyrically. Once again, I have to bring attention to the stunning guitar work, as well as the arresting melody and Jourdan’s commanding, emotion-filled vocals. The song is about struggling with emotional demons, and fighting to overcome them: “My demons haunt me no matter where I go./The war is raging and it’s never letting go. Sometimes I hold my head and wish that it would stop. Seems like a cycle that will never end at all. It’s all the same, haunting me. So let it rain./This isn’t who I want to be.”

Closing track “DAYS OF GOLD” speaks to those who are struggling day to day, hoping there’s something more for them in this life: “Back at it again repeating my steps. Still waiting for an answer if there’s one at all. Still sit here in the grind, thinking I’m made for more. I’m not looking for some glory, just a different story. I’m done with the same thing tonight. I’m holding on for a new light. I don’t know tomorrow, but still I will wait for a better day.” The song is a brilliant rock anthem, and I love how it closes with beautiful orchestral strings, bring the album full-circle. The guys really show us what they can do here, blowing our minds and dazzling our ears with their impressive musicianship, while Jourdan digs deep into his core, summoning all the passion he can muster to deliver a spine-tingling vocal performance. Watch and listen to them create musical magic:

THIS: FOUNDATIONS is an outstanding album, and a triumphant debut for This Heart I Surrender. All the hard work and effort they put into it really shows, for which they should be quite proud. It’s my honor to support them.

Connect with This Heart I Surrender: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

BLACKWELL – Single Review: “Six Figure Suitor”

Photo of Ryan and Brandon by Denis Cheng

Blackwell is a new Chicago-based folk rock act comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryan Loree and drummer Brandon Buffington. Ryan has previously released music under his solo act Draft Evader, which I’ve written about on this blog. The duo just released their debut single “Six Figure Suitor“, a hard-driving rocker that Ryan said has a heavier, poppier sound than many of the other songs they’ve been working on. The song was recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Scaletta, who also played bass.

The song bursts open with a roiling barrage of Ryan’s grungy guitar, which is soon joined by Brandon’s aggressive drumbeats, along with a throbbing bassline that doesn’t let up. I’ve always liked Ryan’s songwriting and lyricism, and his guitar work and Brandon’s drumming are both outstanding here. Further, Ryan’s plaintive vocals have an honest vulnerability that’s really endearing, and keep sounding better and better as he matures as a musician and singer.

To my ears, the song has a bit of a Gin Blossoms feel, only heavier. I’m also impressed by the tight arrangement and economical production; the song immediately gets right to the point, knocking our socks off in the process, without a single superfluous note or wasted second. It’s rock’n’roll at its finest.

As to the meaning of “Six Figure Suitor”, Ryan told me it’s about two people jumping into a new relationship while still being completely consumed by their pasts. The relationship becomes abusive and toxic, with one partner imposing unfair expectations on the other.

I'm not a six figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
He's content to dance on my grave
But he's got a six shooter waiting
He's been hiding in your driveway

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well he's been lost, but so has paradise

So I guess we've outgrown the honeymoon phase
But disappointment on your face
Tells a lyric I can't think of 
I'm not a six-figure suitor baby
And I don't think that I'll ever be
A sniper in the U.S. Army
 
And it won't be long, til we find God
Well she's been lost, but so has paradise

And it won't be long, til we find God
Well they've been lost, but so has paradise

“Six Figure Suitor” is a very fine debut effort by these two talented musicians. Ryan told me they have lots of songs ready to go, including an EP of acoustic songs, and I can’t wait to hear them.

DAN SZYLLER – Album Review: “The Celestial Immigrant”

Album artwork by Sumit Roy

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.

Connect with Dan: TwitterFacebookInstagram

Stream his music on SpotifyApple MusicAmazon Music

THE EMBER GLOWS – EP Review: “Where Spirits Play”

I recently learned about Canadian rock band The Ember Glows when they followed me on Twitter. Based in Montreal, the four-piece consists of Richard Bunze (lead guitar), Kevin Hills (bass), Martin Saint (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Dan Stefik (drums). Friends since their teens, all are seasoned and accomplished musicians who were previously members of Montreal bands Room Control, Repo, Scene Noir & Citylake. With a shared love of 60s psychedelic rock, late 70s post-punk, 80s new wave and 90s British indie, what started as a side-project for each of them eventually became everyone’s music priority, and The Ember Grows was officially born in 2019.

Photos by Bryan Gagnon

Influenced by an eclectic array of artists ranging from Echo and the Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Nick Cave, The Cult, The Verve and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to The Mission, Interpol and The War On Drugs, their dynamic sound is characterized by strong hooks, richly-textured intertwining guitars, muscular driving rhythms and resonant vocals. They released their debut five-track EP Passerby in March 2021, then followed this past June with their outstanding single “SILENT LOVE”. On September 23rd, they dropped their second EP Where Spirits Play, which I’m reviewing today.

The EP features four songs, including “SILENT LOVE”, with lyrics written by vocalist Martin Saint, and music collectively written by the entire band. It was recorded at Closet Studios in Montreal by Daniel Karrasch and John Gurnsey, and produced by Karrasch. The beautiful photography and cover artwork was done by lead guitarist Richard Bunze.

Where Spirits Play opens with “TOMORROW’S THE DAY” a song about someone who recognizes they need to change some of their behaviors that are holding them back in life, but lack the will or drive to follow through, keeping them on an endless self-destructive cycle: “Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. You’re haunted by the words out of your inner voice. You might fool the gallery, but you always had a choice./ Tomorrow’s the day things turn around. Just like you said the day before. When you swore no more, no more, no.” The song blasts open with a barrage of super-grungy riffs, which are soon joined by jangly guitars, gritty bass and thunderous drums that don’t let up for the song’s four-minute duration. Though a bit flat in spots, Martin’s commanding and clear baritone vocals remind me of the late Scott Walker of The Walker Brothers.

MIRROR” is an intense and stunning song, with biting lyrics that seem to speak to the never-ending death and destruction mankind has rained upon one another and the planet, unable or unwilling to stop: “Suburbs crawl where rivers once ran. A nation’s sins live on streets across the land. Our lost romance, as warriors sweat and dance, and break the mirror. And we crack… No country right or wrong. Clear your conscience in a protest song. Plant your flags upside down, where a stolen child’s ghost haunts the ground.” Richard and Martin’s intricately layered grungy, distorted and chiming guitars are spectacular, while Kevin and Dan’s flawless bass and drums keep the propulsive rhythm rampaging forward.

On “SILENT LOVE“, the guys combine a powerful driving Simple Minds-esque groove with lush instrumentation a la The War on Drugs to create a robust cinematic soundscape that’s truly exhilarating. Once again, the complex, intertwining guitar work and production qualities are impressive, and Martin’s impassioned vocals sound their best here. Essentially a love song, the lyrics are directed to a loved one who’s going through personal turmoil, assuring them he’ll be patient and supportive, and give them as much space and time as they need to heal: “Whenever you close your eyes, whether near of far, I will let you be. But I will stand guard when you wake up in tears. After dreams crossed your defenses I’ll be here to give you space and silence. Now there’s nothing left to do except wait for you. Now there’s nothing left to give except silent love. As you sit and gaze at the stars above.”

The longest track on the EP, “HIGH FEVER” is a guitar-lover’s delight, overflowing with a jaw-dropping maelstrom of jangly, grungy and wailing psychedelic guitars. Of course, the throbbing bassline, tumultuous percussion and screaming industrial synths are all pretty amazing too, adding to the song’s overall explosive impact. The song seems to be about being besotted with a woman, wondering whether you’re in love or just deeply infatuated with her beauty and sensuality: “Her eyes light every dream she rules, like two sparkling jewels. I’ll dive in her mystery and feel real arms around me. Is this love or is your fever running high, running high?

To sum up, Where Spirits Play is a great little EP that packs quite a powerful punch in just four tracks. The members of The Ember Glows are all outstanding musicians, with the collective skills and experience to successfully coax the best possible sounds from their respective instruments. I love their music, and hope we’ll be hearing more from this talented band soon!

Connect with The Ember Glows:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream/purchase their music on Apple MusicSoundcloud / Bandcamp 

THE STAR CRUMBLES – Album Review: “The Ghost of Dancing Slow”

Music act The Star Crumbles came to be rather serendipitously earlier this year when singer-songwriter Brian Lambert, who’s based in Denton, Texas, reached out to singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Marc Schuster, who lives in suburban Philadelphia, for some help with his song “Kids” (which I wrote about last March in a Fresh New Tracks post). The two had previously met on Twitter, but had never before worked with each other. Well, they immediately hit it off, so much so that they decided to collaborate together on more music projects, eventually leading to their creation of a new music act they dubbed The Star Crumbles. On September 30th, their debut album The Ghost of Dancing Slow was released on Bandcamp, and will go live on most other streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) on October 7th. 

Brian Lambert & Marc Schuster

Before I get into the album, I want to provide a bit of background on Brian, Marc and The Star Crumbles. Brian has been writing and recording music for many years, and says he’s “reinvented himself more times than he can count.” He even tried his hand at country music for a while, but eventually realized that it just wasn’t for him. More recently, the prolific songwriter’s been making indie rock music inspired by some of his favorite acts like Spoon, Gang of Youths and the Replacements, and beginning in 2021, he challenged himself to writing, recording and producing a new song every week for an entire year. He now has an incredible body of work to his credit.

Marc is an insanely creative renaissance man in every sense of the word. Not only is he an educator, author and literary critic, he’s also a prolific songwriter and musician, recording both as a solo artist and as part of numerous music projects and collaborations with an ever-expanding roster of musicians. As if all that weren’t enough, he’s also a pretty good visual artist, is incredibly supportive of other artists and music bloggers (including yours truly), and has a terrific WordPress blog of his own called Abominations, where he writes about music and interviews lots of indie artists. I’ve featured him three times on my blog, including a review last February of his wonderful EP There Is No Down.

In addition to making music, both Brian and Marc are wildly imaginative and funny guys. Soon after forming The Star Crumbles, they came up with the idea of creating a tongue-in-cheek back story for the act. Since their music is strongly influenced by their shared love of 80s new wave music by such bands as The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Ultravox and New Order, they decided that The Star Crumbles would have its origins in the early 80s, but due a number of unexplained circumstances, they suddenly disappeared from the music scene before having a chance to release their first album: “From 1982 to 1986, The Star Crumbles were always on the verge of something big – until they vanished without a trace, taking their eagerly anticipated album, ‘The Ghost of Dancing Slow’, with them. Everyone thought they had potential, but they were dogged by misfortune and bad timing. Also, they had terrible business sense.

The guys recruited a motley crew of friends and fans to provide their own unfiltered insight into what became of The Star Crumbles. The result (which I was honored to be a part of) is a brilliant and hilarious video documentary Beyond the Music. The inventiveness, originality and deadpan delivery of those who participated is really quite impressive! Please press play:

Okay, now lets get to the music. The Ghost of Dancing Slow was a DIY project, totally self-recorded and produced by Marc and Brian. Marc mixed the tracks, and they both had a hand in the final mastering. Marc played guitars and drums on all tracks, while both he and Brian played synths. All but one of the ten songs on the album were written by Brian and Marc, the exception being “Cool Down”, which was written by fellow musician Mike Mosley (who also appears in the documentary).

Opening track “Desperately Wanting” was The Star Crumbles’ first official single, released this past May. It’s a beautiful and compelling song about a couple who are unable to communicate their needs to each other, leaving their relationship in a perpetual state of limbo, with each of them feeling unfulfilled and unhappy. The album’s title is taken from the song’s lyrics: “The space that lies in between. The gap that lies in between, what we’re really wanting, we don’t want to talk about. The ghost of dancing slow, inside what we’re speaking. But we pretend not to know, what we’re really thinking.” Musically, the song is driven by Marc’s hypnotic bassline, over which he’s layered somber droning synths, thumping drumbeats and gently crashing cymbals. Both he and Brian played guitars. Brian’s plaintive vocals are both comforting and melancholy, nicely conveying the sad sense of resignation expressed in the lyrics. It’s a great song, and spent 12 weeks on my Top 30 chart this past summer.

Next up is their follow-up single “Shadows in the Dark“, another winning tune with a strong retro 80s vibe that borders on darkwave. The guitar work is fantastic, and I love that sizzling little guitar solo in the bridge. Brian’s fervent vocals are great as well. The cool video, which was created by Marc, features pixelated renditions of the band trapped in an eight-bit Atari nightmare.

On the timely and relevant “Conspiracy“, the guys take on those who spread conspiracy theories, and the damage it does to society: “While bald-faced lies are told, the rhythm of what’s true skips a beat. We wonder how they get away with it. There is no consequence for ineloquence that harms the trust. I think it’s more than just a bit intentional.” The gravity of the subject is driven home by the song’s unsettling vibe, created by a rather menacing groove, overlain with dark industrial synths and distorted guitars.

Cool Down” sounds like a long-lost song by Joy Division or The Cure, with gorgeous shimmery guitars and swirling synths, and Brian’s vocals sound better than ever here. “Cozumel” is a sweet song about spending time with a loved one in the Mexican resort, and though the subject matter is quite different, it made me think of Suzanne Vega’s great song “Tom’s Diner”. Those great jangly guitars return on the haunting new wave gem “Trees in the Forest“, with lyrics that seem to speak of feeling lost and disconnected from the world.

With its bouncy new wave vibe, “What Are We Waiting For” urges us to stop doubting ourselves and seize the moment so that we can move forward and live our fullest lives. “Spectres in Waiting” has a decidedly different feel than the other tracks on the album, with a somber, more introspective feel, highlighted by rather mournful guitar notes. The wonderfully-titled “Past, Present and Future Walk Into a Bar, It Was Tense” is another terrific story song, in which Brian talk-sings about his present self encountering his past and future selves in a bar, and wanting to ask them questions to gain a better understanding of himself: “All these years older, what do you get? I hope not colder, nor full of regret.” I love the song’s darker vibe and rather menacing gnarly guitars.

Closing track “If I Could” is the longest on the album, running over five minutes, and has a gentle, upbeat cadence that’s really pleasing. The song seems to be about searching for the truths that will help guide us to a better life, which I also think kind of encapsulates the overall them of the album: “Every time I thought I had an answer, there is just another question that begs that I go searching. Even when I find it, I’m left not truly knowing. I guess it will always be that way.”

The Ghost of Dancing Slow is a marvelous album, and we’re so fortunate The Star Crumbles were successful in retrieving the lost masters to these new wave gems so that we can enjoy them these many years later 😉

Those who purchase the album on Bandcamp will receive a bonus song. Also Friday, October 7th is Bandcamp Friday, meaning all proceeds from purchases go directly to the artists.

Connect with The Star Crumbles:  TwitterInstagram

Drawing on Scars & Jodie Reid – Album Review: “A Bridge Across the Sea”

Not really a band in the traditional sense, Atlanta-based music act Drawing on Scars is the creative brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Thacker, who for more than a decade has collaborated with vocalists from across the U.S. and beyond in the creation of dramatic and edgy alternative rock songs. Will writes and performs all the music, and the different vocalists write the lyrics, which they then interpret in their own distinct vocal style. The result is an ever-changing music repertoire that always sounds fresh and unique.

After putting the act on hiatus in 2017, Will formed the band Fieldcrest with vocalist Jena Jones, and together they released an EP Canvas (which I just happened to review four years ago today). He resurrected Drawing on Scars in early 2019, and has been on a creative tear since then, dropping an impressive number of singles. His most recent collaborative effort has been with South African singer-songwriter Jodie Reid, a prolific artist from Johannesburg who’s released four albums of her own since 2019, at the rate of one per year! The two began collaborating by long distance in 2020, and released their first single “Here Comes Some More” that November. They followed in April 2021 with “If Only For a Little While”, and “Take It” (which I also reviewed) that August. All three of those songs are included on their new album A Bridge Across the Sea, which dropped September 30th.

Most of the songs on the album can best be described as melodic hard rock, tinged with elements of grunge, alternative metal and even power pop, and delivered with Will’s driving rhythms, scorching riffs and thunderous percussion. While these songs fall generally within Drawing on Scars’ typical music style, they’re a considerable departure for Jodie, whose solo music is more folk and soft-rock oriented. But she does a fine job as both a lyricist and rock singer, with a sound somewhat similar to that of Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams.

The album title A Bridge Across the Sea seems to reflect not only the long-distance connection between the two artists made possible by the internet, but also the themes of many songs, namely trying to hold onto one’s mental well-being, sense of self-worth or struggling relationships amidst breakdowns in communication, trust and/or identity. On the opening song “Desire” Jodie emphatically sings of her unrelenting and insatiable sexual hunger that’s overtaken her existence: “My self-control is crumbling, no matter how I hold it. I want it, I need it, I won’t accept defeat. Keep pushing, I crave it, as soon as I’m ready I’ll grab it and I won’t ever let it go. Take me to the edge and push until I break (let’s see how far I go) Down on my knees I’ll do whatever it takes.” Will’s jagged riffs serve to reinforce the emotional fire contained in the lyrics.

What Day Is It” finds Jodie feeling lost and at the end of her rope: “I could have turned back. Retraced my steps. But that seemed like too much effort at the time. I just wanted to escape parts of myself.” And on “Encode“, she sings of the walls she’s built around her for self-protection: “And so you poke and prod to discover what makes me tick. You’d have me cuffed and caged, and treated like a lunatic. And when questioned I would stubbornly shake my head. I don’t want to share my secrets with you.”

The haunting and lovely “Bitter and Sick” is a cover of the original song by L.A. duo One Two, from their 2012 release Best Friend EP. Whereas One Two’s version is more ethereal and atmospheric, Will and Jodie give the song an edgier treatment, with heavier instrumentals and stronger vocals that become most pronounced in the dramatic chorus, while still retaining the song’s deeply emotional vibe. The lyrics seem to speak of a toxic relationship from which the singer cannot free herself: “Come on and break me down. I’ll let you ruin my day. Flow through my veins. I need a fix. Bitter and sick.”

The next few tracks are both hard-hitting and deal with dysfunctional relationships. “You Ran” speaks to a partner who just couldn’t be counted on, and I love these lines which really cut to the chase: “To be honest we were never meant to breathe the same air. Cause whatever I gave you stole from me and left me there.” And on “Take It“, Jodie rails against an indecisive partner who’s unable to ever choose a course of action or direction to take, causing them both frustration and ennui as they lumber along without direction. “Weighted down to your knees as you drag your feet along. And all questions are avoided with a shrug. Whatever’s easiest for you. Given time you just might drop that burden to the floor as you march alone unencumbered, but you’re weighing down on me.” It’s a terrific rock song.

Broken Photo” touches on the perils of trying to be someone other than who you are, and living a superficial existence in an attempt to impress others. Jodie uses social media references to drive home her point: “You could have been so great, you might have been so grand if you had taken time to focus on the tasks at hand. Instead, you framed yourself a picture-perfect life. On display to show the socials, but didn’t even get a like.” I really like the song’s chugging rhythms and super-grungy guitars.

Elephant” tackles the proverbial elephant in the room, namely how many people are afraid to speak honestly for fear of being harshly judged, even when we need to call out injustice or wrongs: “There’s an elephant in the room. Can you sense all the space in the conversation? Best eluded to keep the peace. Avoidance is encouraged by our generation.” This song strongly resonates with me, as I will not keep quiet about a lot of shit going on in America and the world, and it appears both Will and Jodie agree with me: “I can’t stay quiet anymore. Silence will not stop what’s in store. I will not roll over sweet submission. Forces will ensure that we learn our lesson.”

My favorite song on the album is the poignant “If Only for a Little While“. Jodie wrote the deeply moving song after the sudden passing of a close family friend, as a way of helping her process her feelings of grief and loss. Her vocals are heartfelt and tender as she laments “Cold down to the core of whatever’s left. I’m just matter lying still – hands on my chest. How I wish I could cry – let it all escape. Instead, I’m completely broken not even able to break. Lie me down, I’ll be right by your side. And I will hold onto you if only for a little while. Now you’ve gone, you left us all behind. But we will hold onto you if only for a little while.” The mournful piano and strings are beautiful and haunting, but also contain glimmers of hope.

The album closes on a high note with “Here Comes Some More“, a splendid nod to 90s grunge. I’m not certain, but the lyrics seem to be about someone who always needs to win, to be right, to be the best, yet never changing their approach, nor ever feeling fully content with themselves: “Every breath that you fake – you take it too hard. Each time, you start to lose faith, just to see if you’ve still got it in you (Well we all know you do). But you’ve been there before. You take a swing in the same old fight, hoping maybe this time you’ll strike true. The way you did before.” Jodie’s confident vocals are especially good on this track.

A Bridge Across the Sea is a fine debut effort from two very talented artists. Though they come from totally different environments, with divergent music styles and backgrounds, Will and Jodie have successfully managed to ‘bridge’ those differences to collaborate in the creation of a solid, well-crafted and compelling work.

Connect with Drawing on Scars: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream: Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase: Bandcamp 

Connect with Jodie: Facebook / Instagram 

Stream her music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

FROZEN FACTORY – Album Review: “Of Pearls & Perils”

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.

Photo of Mici, Johnny, Marianne, Stephen & Tomi by Petri Sara

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 Liquidationbecause 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.

Follow Frozen Factory:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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New Song of the Week: “All Said and Done” by RYAN REDWOOD

Ryan Redwood is a creative, charming and affable young British singer-songwriter based in Lowestoft. I’ve been following him since the beginning of 2018, back when he was lead vocalist for alternative indie rock band The Only Route, and reviewed several of their singles. After the band called it quits at the end of 2019, Ryan soldiered on as a solo artist, writing and recording songs influenced by some of his favorite acts like Oasis, The Charlatans, Catfish and The Bottlemen and Blossoms. He released his first single “Perhaps” in December 2020, and since then has released four more singles, the latest of which is “All Said and Done”, which I’m pleased to select as my New Song of the Week.

Ryan says “All Said and Done” is “effectively two songs sort of bashed together“. He’d finished the initial framework for the song, but hadn’t yet developed a bridge. He’d also composed another musical piece, but didn’t feel he could create an entire song around it, so he came up with the idea of inserting it into the middle of “All Said and Done” to change things up a bit. Under the guidance of producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Sam Wilson, who then recruited his musician friend Dylan Levett to play sax, together they’ve created a wonderful, more melodically complex and interesting track.

The song starts off as a rousing rocker, with a lively blend of shimmery and jangly guitars bathed in reverb and accompanied by assertive thumping drumbeats. At the two minute-and-fifteen second mark, the music abruptly downshifts to a mellow instrumental interlude lasting about a minute, highlighted by Dylan’s terrific saxophone solo, giving the song a jazzy, sophisticated vibe. At the end of the interlude, everything ramps back up to the urgent rock groove heard at the beginning, ending with a strong finish. Ryan has a relatively low-key vocal style that’s not particularly powerful, but he does a fine job here, his earnest vocals rising in intensity along with the music.

The lyrics speak to the inevitable predictability and drudgery of day to day life that eventually afflicts us all as we age, but also taking solace in the fact we have a loved one beside us to help and support us along the way: “I can’t help but shake the feeling I’ll wake up one day, in the same job, in the same house, in the same place. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be me and you. When push comes to shove, it’s always better with you. When it’s all said and done, it’ll be us forever.”

I think “All Said and Done” is Ryan’s best work yet, and nicely showcases his growth and maturity as a musician, songwriter and vocalist.

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