SABOTEURS – Album Review: “Dance With the Hunted”

Saboteurs album art

Saboteurs is a rock band from Lincoln, England who (in their own words) “play trans-genre songs about badgers, constellations and other things which creep into our lives during the night.” Fusing elements of alt-rock, grunge, post-punk, metal and folk, they create hard-hitting music that thrills and surprises our ears and minds.  Like many a band, they’ve experienced some personnel changes since forming, and now consist of Ben Ellis (lead vocals/guitar), Rick Whitehead (lead guitar/vocals), Kirsty Marlog (backing vocals), Geoff Standeven (bass), and Pete Botterill (drums), although for the album Dance With the Hunted, drums and percussion were performed by Hamish Dickinson, who also handled production, mixing and mastering.

The band released their self-titled debut EP Saboteurs in 2018, immediately attracting a growing base of fans and recognition by BBC Introducing, as well as being named Richer Sound’s Artist of the Week and finalists in Radio Wigwam’s Rock Act of the Year. But shoulder surgery for lead guitarist Whitehead led to unrest in the band and, ultimately, a violent split with the rhythm section. This caused the band’s songwriters Ellis and Whitehead to sink into a dark place, which actually provided them with needed impetus for an explosion of new material that would become their first full album Dance With the Hunted, which dropped on May 4th.

The opening track “Splintered” reveals the intensity of their feelings while writing the songs for the album. The biting lyrics speak to a bitter breakup of a relationship, delivered by Ellis’ fiery vocals: “The pain – I dedicate our loss to you. The shame will never end but I’m coping on my own. The ones I left behind – they just fade out. If I fall down, I won’t stay down. If you fall down, you will stay down.” The roiling riffs of grungy guitars, pulsating bass and thunderous drums are fantastic.

Next up is “Over and Doubt“, a moody but gorgeous track that leaves no doubt that these guys know a thing or two about crafting superb songs with the power to inspire and move the listener. And I’ll state right here how much I love Ellis’ vocals, which in addition to his and Whitehead’s spectacular guitar work, are one of the strong points of Saboteurs’ overall sound. He’s one of the best rock vocalists around today, in my opinion, with an incredible tone and range that give him the ability to comfort us one moment, then chill us to the bone the next. When he plaintively wails “Please stay with me, over and over again!“, we really believe him. On this track he sounds a lot like Steve Kilbey of The Church. Musically, the song features a complex, ever-changing melody that keeps us enthralled from start to finish, and the guitar work is outstanding. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The dark and moody vibe continues with “Believe Nothing Hurts“, but presented here with an exhilarating fast-paced rhythm and chugging riffs of gnarly guitars. Ellis angrily snarls the searing lyrics condemning someone for their duplicity: “This time, believe nothing hurts. Oh, your lies. As they come in they’re drowning now in your own sweet precious melody of lies.” “Break Down” is a lovely, incredibly melodic song with a 1990s vibe that, to my ears, calls to mind songs by the Goo Goo Dolls, Gin Blossoms and Deep Blue Something. The strummed guitar is a great addition, providing a wonderful added texture of sound. The backing vocal choruses by Miles Kent and Kirsty Marlog are especially nice.

Marooned” is a big, arena-worthy track, with lush, layered guitars and a torrent of bombastic percussion. But it’s the deep, pulsating bass that plays a starring role here, giving the song a massive U2 vibe. In fact, Ellis’ vocals sound a bit like Bono on this and a few other tracks. He passionately sings of emotional hurt that can never be undone: “Broken red skies are endless. The reason I guess why you left me here. They look like the old wounds you can’t suture. They are the scars of time.” On the poignant, hard-rocking “I Think My Face Hates Me“, Ellis sings of his feelings of hopelessness: “I’ve been lying on the floor just eating time. Pretending there’s no light behind my eyes. I’m going home or I’m going down. Every day I am reborn in the skin I’ve had before.

The guys keep delivering compelling lyrics and killer riffs with “One Track Mind“. The protagonist acknowledges his need to change his ways: “What would it take to be the better man? To say, ‘Yes, I can – I’ll never let you down’. Constant mistakes – pathetic apologies. Want to effect a change and make it alright.” But then he bitterly resigns himself to the fact that while he’s the one who must change “I kill the doubt inside and learn to play your game.“, others will not: “You all stay the same.

The title track “Dance With the Hunted” is about a rock star whose fame has not brought the happiness and contentment he’d hoped for. Instead, he lives a miserable, self-destructive life: “The spotlight I always craved keeps pulling me back but there’s no light behind these eyes./  Is art ever worth the pain? To watch you die on centre stage for fifteen minutes of shame.The disappointment never ends.

Traces” is one the darkest tracks on the album, with trace elements (no pun intended) of metal, giving it a heavier vibe. The song opens with a mesmerizing guitar riff, then expands with a powerful melange of intricate guitars, throbbing bass and hammering drums. The lyrics speak of someone tortured by their past and possible mental illness, desperate to escape their surroundings in the hope of starting over fresh: “There are traces of the old times. Like battle scars in my mind. Only the world to me. Turn the lights out – leave this home. Wherever the white lines take us.” Backing metalcore growls by guest vocalist Jamie Armstrong add an extra layer of gritty texture to Ellis’ raw vocals, to great effect.

The final track “Willows” closes out the album on a gloomy note, speaking of a couple whose relationship is so damaged by hurt and pain, it may be beyond salvation. In vocals that really seem to channel Bono, Ellis passionately wails “Skin so thin, so thin it bleeds right through you. And we blame ourselves, don’t you blame yourself too? Walking wounded – in a black wind. Take me to the place where the willows grow. Write down everything that hurt us so. Everything we never said.” As always, the instrumentals are hard-hitting, with furious riffs, crushing bass and tumultuous drums.

Dance With the Hunted is a heavy, emotionally-wrought album to be sure – there are no upbeat love songs here! But it’s a beautifully-crafted work, with deeply compelling, heartfelt lyrics, gorgeous rock melodies, and magnificent instrumentals. Every track is superb, with no filler or throwaways. If you like some of the aforementioned bands I discussed, you will enjoy the music of Saboteurs.

The beautiful original album artwork was designed by Anita Inverarity.

Catch Saboteurs at one of these upcoming shows:

Saboteurs concerts

Follow Saboteurs:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

New Song of the Week: COUNCIL – “Born Ready”

Council Born Ready
Photos by Evgeny Photography

New York alternative rock band COUNCIL are an act I’ve been following for over three years, and it’s been gratifying to watch their star rise (I hope they’ll still remember me when they get huge). With their sweeping melodies, bold instrumentation and anthemic choruses, COUNCIL’s dynamic sound has been compared to Imagine Dragons. I first featured them back in September 2016 when I reviewed their debut EP Rust to Gold, and they’ve been on an upward trajectory ever since. Their magnificent life-affirming lead single “Rust to Gold” received worldwide acclaim, including being played at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as on American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, World Of Dance and Premier League. It’s been streamed more than 4 million times on Spotify, and ended up on my list of 100 Best Songs of 2017.

Council

COUNCIL is comprised of three strikingly handsome brothers – Patrick, Doug and Andy Reeves. Patrick (bass and lead vocals) and Doug (drums) are twins, and Andy (guitar) is a year younger. Originally raised on a farm in rural upstate New York, they now split their time between tending the family farm and working on their music in New York City. The guys followed “Rust to Gold” with another great single “The World is on Fire” in July 2017, which I also reviewed, and now return with their first new single in nearly two years, “Born Ready“, which drops June 21st.

Like many of their songs, “Born Ready” is a powerful, uplifting anthem. Musically, however, it’s a bit of a departure for them, with a darker, more synth-heavy sound. It opens with an ominous bass-heavy horn synth as the guys chant “Born ready, born ready…oh oh oh, oh oh oh!“, which is then followed by a high-pitched electronically-altered vocal chorus repeatedly wailing “Born ready, born ready“, giving the track an otherworldly feel. As the moody synths swirl, somber piano keys, wobbly bass and thunderous drums enter the mix. Patrick fervently sings “I was born with a storm inside me. Hurricane full of rage set me free. Try to pray but the devil he finds me. Someone lift me up, someone lift me up./ On the run, here it comes.” Then all three brothers sing the soaring chorus “I was born ready, born ready. Oh oh oh, oh oh oh!”

Doug told me the lyrics were written from the perspective of a person who comes to terms with who they are, realizing that instead of allowing themself to be beaten up by the world, they have to acknowledge they were always “born ready” to empower themself to rise up and face all the shit the world throws at them. Although I don’t think “Born Ready” is quite as strong a single as “Rust to Gold”, I really like its dark, anthemic melody and edgier, synth-heavy vibe. And, as with all their songs, the production values, instrumentation and vocals are first-rate. I also like that COUNCIL is experimenting with their music and trying new sounds and styles, and can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

COUNCIL will be appearing with The Strumbellas on Saturday, June 29 at Sharkey’s in Liverpool, New York. Order tickets by clicking here.

Connect with Council:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase it:  iTunes 

SECOND PLAYER SCORE – Album Review: “Glorified”

Second Player Score Glorified

Second Player Score is a terrific rock band based in Vancouver, Washington (located across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon), and nice guys too. They play hard-driving, melodic music they humorously refer to as nerd punk, influenced by two of their favorite bands Green Day and Bad Religion. Making the music are Brian Tashima (guitar, lead vocals), Daniel Downs (bass, backing vocals) and Kyle Gilbert (drums/backing vocals). The guys released a fine debut album Fortress Storm Attack in late 2014, and followed up two years later with the monumental Nobody’s Hero (which I reviewed in July 2017). They’re now set to release their third album Glorifed on June 21st via No Pants Records.

Like Nobody’s Hero, Glorified is another concept album. Band drummer Gilbert explains, “The heroine of the story is a woman named Gloria. She was raised to be the best soldier of her generation, and ends up fleeing her oppressive hometown and reluctantly helping people as she traverses a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of answers about her past. The story is similar to other stories like the latest Mad Max and Alita Battle Angel.”

Eye of the Needle” kicks off the album in a big way with an onslaught of chugging, gnarly riffs. crushing bass and tumultuous percussion. As Tashima shreds his guitar nearly to bits, he fervently sings the lyrics spoken from Gloria’s perspective, in which she comes to the realization that she can’t take any more of the oppressive bullshit she’s been living under: “I’m always such a good little soldier, following your every command./ But I don’t need this anymore./ Cause now I see just how sweet it is to be living free of all your drama and your sorrow. I don’t know why it took so long to go. But I’m finally looking forward to tomorrow.” He then lays down a scorching-hot riff while Gilbert beats the crap out of his drum kit. These guys know how to rock!

Next up is the hard-driving “Ragged Town“, which sees Gloria bitterly decrying her town and the people who live in it: “One day you’ll see reality lies somewhere out beyond this ragged town./I hate you now, I always will. You’re like the ones I love to kill. But tonight you’ll be my clown. Something’s wrong, something’s amiss. I don’t know why I feel like this, but burning scars have worn me down.” The guys deliver more of their signature furious riffs and aggressive rhythms, providing a thunderous backdrop for Tashima’s impassioned tirade.

They slow things down a bit on “Broken Ecstasy“, though it’s still a great rock track. We now find Gloria addressing her broken spirit, not knowing exactly what’s next for her, nor where she’ll go: “Don’t ask where I’m going to go. I said that I do not know. Don’t analyze or fantasize. Just relax and enjoy the show./ Be sure that you comprehend there is no goal, I have no soul. On that you can depend. I don’t want to see your face. We’re all just a big disgrace.

The guys dial it back up to full throttle on “Liberty’s End“, with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, heavy bass and speaker-blowing drums. Gloria laments about her shitty world and wanting to escape both it and herself: “Don’t you know the world cannot be saved. With good deeds the road to hell is paved. I just want to live my life for me, and wallow in my pit of apathy. Hello, I’m running from liberty’s end.” Brian makes great use of the talk box in the bridge, providing another texture of sound to the track. The amusing video shows the guys’ playful side, as they act zany in scenes of them running a race, interspersed with them performing the song in a garage.

Gilbert’s fantastic pummeling drums are a highlight on “The Last Trigger“. Wow, this man is a beast on his drum kit, giving new meaning to the term “power drummer”! Tashima’s scorching guitar and Downs’ powerful bass are pretty damn amazing too, as are their vocal harmonies. “Shiny Rebellion” sees Gloria confronting her oppressors and vowing to lead the fight to defeat them: “See I know that underneath your fancy crown, is a skull that’s full of nothing but decay. So I go, cause I can’t take this lying down. I’m a leader in the war against your way.”

The guys continue on their sonic rampage with the hard-driving “Into the Ruins“, in which Gloria assesses the wasteland before her: “Welcome to the ruins of a paradise gone wrong”, and the dark”Desolation“, with its tortured riffs, grinding bass and blasting drumbeats. Tashima snarls the bitter lyrics spoken from Gloria’s point of view: “And I don’t care how much you might stare now. It doesn’t matter anymore. No. Cause I don’t care now!” “More Than I Can Give” starts off like a heavy metal ballad, then explodes into a storm of frantic riffs and rapid-fire drumbeats, with a melody that reminds me a bit of Green Day’s “Bang Bang”.

On “Long Road Home” Tashima really shows us what he can do with his guitar, delivering killer riffs that set the airwaves afire, while Downs aptly lays down a bass line so heavy we feel it in our cores. And it goes without saying that Gilbert nearly blows our speakers with his frenzied drumming. The lyrics speak to Gloria’s determination to stand up and fight in her lonely mission to defeat the evil forces: “When this all started I fled and I ran. Now I must finish what they all began. I understand your master plan. Nothing can stop me when I’m all alone. I’m going home to claim your throne.” “Death and Glory” is a continuation of Gloria’s plan to vanquish her oppressors once and for all: “Now this time you’ve gone too far. It doesn’t matter where you are. I’ll be coming after you. You won’t even have a clue./Cause I am here to end your story. Drown your fear in death and glory. Close your eyes, this might get gory tonight!

They close the saga and album with “Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone“, an eight and a half minute long epic that ties things up without an actual resolution or happy ending. To a somber, gritty guitar riff, Tashima sadly wails: “There’s nothing left to say. I don’t know why it has to be this way. There’s nowhere left to go. I didn’t think that time would fly so slow. I hate to say the answer’s still unknown. Why some of us were meant to be alone. I’m giving up it’s true. Sometimes that’s all I ever want to do. I know it isn’t fair. I wish I could forget I even care.” At around 3:40, Tashima begins shredding his guitar and Gilbert pummels his drums at full blast to the same forlorn, start-stop melody as before.  Then, at 5:39, the song erupts into a fury of shredded and distorted guitars, pulsating bass and hammering drums that continue to the end. It’s a breathtaking finale to another monumental album from this badass band!

Track listing:
Eye of the Needle
Ragged Town
Broken Ecstasy
Liberty’s End
The Last Trigger
Shiny Rebellion
Into The Ruins
Desolation
More Than I Can Give
Long Road Home
Death And Glory
Some Of Us Were Meant To Be Alone

Here is a link to the email list sign up that will provide a free download to the full Glorified album:

https://t.co/dqu9CcdeGF?amp=1

Connect with Second Player Score: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Steam their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Reverbnation
Purchase: Bandcamp / iTunes

New Song of the Week: UNQUIET NIGHTS – “Four Winds”

Unquiet Nights Four Winds

Unquiet Nights is an outstanding rock band based in both Northern Ireland and Italy. Begun as a solo project for singer-songwriter Luke Mathers, Unquiet Nights relocated from Belfast to Rome in 2010, where his debut album  21st Century Redemption Songs was finished and released a year later. Mathers eventually brought Italian musicians Matteo Bussotti and Francesco Piciucchi on board, and Unquiet Nights officially became a band. In 2015 they released a second album Postcards in Real Time, a beautiful work that I strongly recommend my readers make an effort to check out by using one of the links at the end of this review. One of the singles from that album, “George Best City”, recently passed a quarter million streams on Spotify. About that feat, Mathers stated “That’s really satisfying for us considering we’ve never worked with a PR company during the history of the band or had any budget to help promote our stuff.”

Mathers moved back to Northern Ireland in 2016, though he has continued recording and releasing new music with Bussotti and Piciucchi as Unquiet Nights. In February 2018 they released a fantastic single “Promise of You” (which I reviewed), then followed two months later with another banger “Young Believers.” Now they return with “Four Winds“, a superb single that keeps their perfect score of releasing excellent guitar-driven songs fully intact. The song was produced by Mathers, and mixed and mastered by Neal Calderwood, who also mixed and mastered all previous Unquiet Nights releases.

“Four Winds” opens with an ominous synth chord and pounding drum beat, then we’re suddenly plunged headlong into a gorgeous reverb-drenched soundscape of swirling guitars, dramatic sweeping synths, throbbing bass and muscular, thumping drumbeats. Mathers’ vocals are wonderful as he plaintively sings about betrayal and deceit: “Don’t leave me to the four winds. I only got myself to blame. Things like these don’t seem to change.”

Connect with Unquiet Nights:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud 
Purchase on Bandcamp / Unquiet Nights Online Store

MOONLIGHT BROADCAST – EP Review: “A Cynic’s Guide to Dying Happy”

Moonlight Broadcast EP

I’ve stated in previous posts that one of my favorite aspects of social media is learning about new musicians and bands, and another recent find is Moonlight Broadcast, a rock group from the fair city of Melbourne, Australia. They released their debut EP A Cynic’s Guide to Dying Happy back in February 2018, but I’m reviewing it today, as it’s a stellar work that’s highly deserving of peoples’ attention.

Now a four-piece, Moonlight Broadcast is comprised of Cameron (lead vocals), Adi (guitar), Craig (bass, backing vocals) and Ash (drums & mojo). Influenced by such greats as Crowded House, The National and Death Cab for Cutie, they write songs with memorable guitar-driven melodies and poignant lyrics about (in their own words) “the winding, bumpy road we’re all travelling on.”

The EP kicks off with “Breathe Easy,” and as we press play, our ears are greeted by an arresting jangly guitar riff that immediately grabs our attention. Once the rhythm section enters the mix, the song settles into a really pleasing soft-rock groove. Cameron has a fine singing voice, and his heartfelt vocals nicely convey his love and devotion for a partner who’s put up with his shit over the years, and still chose to stay by his side:

I will be, I will be yours
Until I, until I die of a coronary from poor lifestyle
I hope that, I hope before I go
I’ll give you some days that make it worth your while

All those dark roads I may have dragged us down
I’m surprised you’re still around
All those dark roads I know I dragged us down
I’m so glad you’re still around

Stay with me, stay with me now
So I can breathe again

The beautifully-filmed video shows the band performing the song on a beach, with the tide gradually encroaching and ultimately engulfing them at the end.

Next up is “Harm Min (Josie)“, a bittersweet song about finally ending a tempestuous relationship with a mercurial lover named Josie. The jangly guitar work is gorgeous, and Cameron’s fervent vocals express a sad but detached sense of resignation that they’re both better off apart.

As wonderful as the first two songs are, my favorite is the hauntingly beautiful ballad “Sorrow Pass Me By.” Gorgeous twangy guitars and a somber drumbeat create a stirring backdrop for Cameron’s emotionally-charged vocals as he laments about his string of bad fortune, hoping his life will make a turn for the better: “I’d like to be lighthearted or even optimistic. Might be more to life than just getting through. I’m asking for once, sorrow please pass me by. It seems like you have been there, breathing down my neck for a real long time.”

The guys serve up more of their signature jangly guitars and driving beats on “The Ballad of Cognitive Dissonance“, a rousing tune with some great harmonica that give it a Country-rock vibe. The lyrics speak to being in a destructive, co-dependent relationship, knowing it’s destined to fail but unable to get out of it: “We’re driving in the dark with no headlights. I think there’s someone in the back here with us. I’m like a moth and you’re a buzzing street light. I’ll break my head in against you, over and over. / Sometimes I stick to my guns. Other times I turn tail and run.

Square One” is another take on being stuck in an unhealthy, one-sided relationship where the other person keeps a firm hold on your emotional attachment, making it impossible for you to let go: “It costs too much of me to keep you outside. I open the door and now I find, we’re back to square one. Your voice dancing through my brain, and I come undone. / It’s not so simple. It all hurts more than it should./ I will always be your alibi.” Musically, the song opens with a pensive, reverb-heavy guitar note, then settles into a slow, bass-driven tempo. The music gradually builds with more guitars, keyboards and heavier percussion, as Cameron passionately refrains “It’s all or nothing!” The guitar work is fantastic, and I love the extended run that continues straight through to the end, reminiscent of the great O.A.R. song “Shattered”.

A Cynic’s Guide to Dying Happy is a solid debut effort by Moonlight Broadcast. Every track is high quality, and the instrumentation, vocals and production values are all first-rate. These guys need to get busy recording some new songs ASAP, because we need their music in our lives!

Connect with Moonlight Broadcast:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Purchase on Bandcamp / Amazon

New Song of the Week: MONZA EXPRESS – “In the City”

Monza Express In The City

Monza Express are a five-piece guitar band from Aberdeen, Scotland who formed in 2017 from the ashes of several other bands. As they humorously state in their bio, they’re “all the wrong side of 30 [and] no strangers to live music, having played in various bands in Aberdeen over the years.” Drawing on influences from a variety of sources depending on which member you speak to, the band includes Fraser Bateman (lead vocals & rhythm guitar), “Mr Glass” Shaun Reid (lead guitar), Greg “Mercury” Burgess (bass), Kris Fraser (keyboards, backing vocals) and David “Deco” Smith (drums). (I love that ‘Fraser’ is the first name of one member and last name of another.)

Following up on their 2018 double-single release “Sunshine/Big Dumb Rock” – both terrific songs that I urge my readers to check out using one of the links below – Monza Express just dropped a delightful new single “In the City“, which I’ve selected as my New Song of the Week. The song has a rather serendipitous little back story. The recording session was a runner-up prize in a Facebook competition put out by Aberdeenshire-based Floortom Studios, inviting acts to submit their rough song demos for possible selection by studio producer Steve Curtis. The band submitted a live GoPro rehearsal recording of “In the City”, and were delighted to learn they’d been awarded one of the coveted spots. The song was recorded, mixed and produced by Curtis, and mastered at Metropolis Studios in London.

The sweet song addresses themes of escapism from the standard 9 to 5. Fraser explains:  “I called it ‘In the City’ as both The Jam and The Who have songs [with that title] and I love those bands and what they stood for.” Bateman adds: “The composition came from a bass line Greg had been playing and we went from there. I like the almost early 60s style of the arrangement, especially when Shaun is just playing the main melody. It gives the song a little familiarity.”

The lighthearted song has a bouncy, guitar-driven melody that’s just too damn infectious! It’s the perfect feel-good song for summer, and it’s made me a big fan of Monza Express.

When you’re living in the city
And the bar looks so so pretty
Running shelter from the weather
Beer, pool and ripped up leather
I can take you miles away
Circle JFK for the day
Come and climb the Empire State
We’ll have ourselves some cake
We’ll have ourselves some cake

When you’re living in the city
And the barmaid oh so pretty
Running shelter from the thunder
Fill your glass with endless wonder
I can take you miles away
Eurostar to Paris today
Come and sail the Seine with me
We’ll have a cup of tea
We’ll have a cup of tea…and whiskey

The equally delightful and endearing animated video is a good indication that the guys don’t take themselves too seriously. Says Bateman: “I went on the website Fiverr and commissioned an animator in Pakistan to make us a video. I sent the song, the lyric sheet and photos of the band and left him to it. What resulted was an almost literal translation of the lyrics that we couldn’t not use. We think it’ll get laughs and multiple views.” I love it!

Connect with Monza Express:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Apple Music

IGNITE THE FIRE – Single Review: “Echoes”

Ignite the Fire2

Alternative metal band Ignite the Fire play some of the most electrifying rock I’ve had the pleasure of hearing recently. Based in the state of Maryland northwest of Baltimore, the band was formed in 2011 by guitarist Mark Quinn and drummer Caelan Gregory while they were still both in high school. Their phenomenal vocalist Jack Gurecki joined a short time later after responding to a flyer put out by the band looking for a singer, and was soon joined by a second guitarist Michael Nelson, who serves as the band’s resident “unclean” vocalist for their harder-edge songs. The fifth and newest band member is the amazing bassist Holly Smith, who came on board in 2017.

That same year, Ignite the Fire released their debut EP Trial and Triumph, an outstanding work featuring their hard-hitting single “Criticize”, which was named 2017 Song of the Year by Z98 and iHeartRadio. They followed up in late November 2018 with a second EP Between Shadows and Solace, featuring six mind-blowing tracks. “This whole EP is about what it means to be human,” says band drummer Caelan Gregory. “We don’t want to just connect with listeners on a musical level, but an emotional one as well, and in doing that we hope to connect with people in a real and significant way.” Guitarist Mark Quinn adds “The title ‘Between Shadow and Solace’ speaks for itself. We are writing about battling the darkness but also about the hope that is there. You see that in the world we live in. There’s this feeling of dread and darkness around us but also there’s hope.

In April, they released an outstanding video for “Echoes“, one of the most popular tracks from the EP that strongly resonated with their fans and followers. The video shows scenes of a man returning to an empty house he once occupied with his significant other, and remembering past moments they shared in better times, interspersed with scenes of the band performing the song. At the end of the video, he sees her standing on the beach, and runs toward her, only to disappear just before reaching her. We’re left to determine the scene’s meaning for ourselves, but my take is that it’s too late to salvage the relationship, and he can no longer reach her, literally and figuratively. The video was directed by Tom Flynn and stars Jimmy Donohue and Kris Doscher.

“Echoes” is a stunning rock anthem, starting off with a gentle melodic synth and strummed guitar line. The song then expands in the first verse with jangly guitars, strings, keyboards, and crisp percussion as Jack begins singing in his beautiful, clear vocals. When the first chorus arrives, Holly’s deep bassline melds seamlessly with Mike’s guitar riff into a thunderous mix, accompanied by Caelan’s power drums that send the song into the sonic stratosphere. Jack’s commanding vocals – which have been favorably compared to Shinedown frontman Brent Smith’s –  rise to the occasion, bringing chills as he passionately sings the deeply poignant lyrics:

Cause I fear that I’m right
But I pray that I’m wrong
I’ll echo this silence
And I won’t let go
You left me uncertain
Don’t leave me alone
I’ll search through the darkness
And I won’t let go

The band just released a ‘Behind the Song’ video where they discuss their process and inspiration for the writing of “Echoes”.

Since 2018, Ignite the Fire has performed on numerous stages, supporting the bands Otherwise, Shaman’s Harvest, BadWolves, From Ashes To New and Diamante via Live Nation.  This year they provided direct support to Stone Horses and Another Lost Year, and headlined shows in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Those of you in the Middle Atlantic region can catch them at one of these upcoming shows. I would love to see them along with another one of my favorite bands The Mayan Factor, but alas, live 3,000 miles away.

SAT JUNE 8  –  ROCK FOR ROB! 2019 @ KC’s Music Alley, Fredericksburg, VA

FRI JUNE 14  –  With Stone Horses, The Mayan Factor, After the Broken @ Fish Head Cantina, Baltimore, MD

FRI-SAT JUNE 22-23  –  With Defending Cain, Seventh Seal @ Break Away II Sports Lounge, Hagerstown, MD

Connect with Ignite the Fire:  Website / Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Reverbnation
Purchase on iTunes / Amazon

New Song of the Week: REVOLVERS – “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil”

Revolvers2

There are many terrific indie artists and bands in the UK these days making some really outstanding music, and among the best of them is London four-piece Revolvers. Originally formed in 2016 and comprised of James Thurling (guitar/lead vocals) Will Oliver (guitar/backing vocals), Steven Morrison (bass/backing vocals) and Rhys Kibble (drums), they play sensational high-energy guitar-driven melodic rock. I first featured them in February when I reviewed their single “True Love”, a fantastic, hard-driving track filled with lush, reverb-drenched jangly riffs. They followed up in early April with another great banger of a tune “Come Again”, and now return with their third in a series of singles “Rubbing Shoulders With the Devil“, and I think it’s their best work yet. All three singles were produced by George Apsion (White Lies, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Ellie Goulding).

It’s a darkly beautiful track, opening with an ominous gritty guitar riff and a deep, buzzing bassline that immediately hook us in. As James starts to sing, the music expands with more guitars and Rhys’ thumping drumbeats and crashing cymbals into an exciting and rather menacing soundscape. In his review of the song for Obscure Sound, Mike Mineo observed that Revolvers exude a vibe reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys, and I totally agree. Once the chorus arrives in a stream of sweeping synths and wailing distorted riffs, I’m completely besotted with this song. James’ vocals have a cold, yet slightly seductive quality, backed by the guys’ stunning but ominous vocal harmonies that have a kind of gothic horror film air, similar to what you’d hear in a film like The Omen or The Exorcist as they croon:

Rubbing shoulders with the devil
  (Anywhere you go I’ll go there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Anywhere you stay I’ll be there)
Rubbing shoulders with the devil
 (Cause you drag me down)

James continues to sing the brilliant lyrics that speak to someone who leaves him feeling unsettled almost to the point of revulsion:

But every night I wake up to the smell of you
While I’m clutching to a dirty pillow
Your shadow stops the reflection of bedroom lights
And raises alarms in my head
Complain the swimming pool’s not as deep as your love darling
Guess your love is just so ardent
But every time I see someone drinking your cocktail
Take refuge inside the devil’s lair

I’m really impressed by the high quality of a lot of music videos being made by indie bands today (having also been blown away by the video UNDER AEGIS made for their song “Separate” that I just reviewed). Like the music, the gorgeously-filmed video has a dark feel similar to The Omen, and I think it’s brilliant that parts of it were filmed in a cathedral. It was expertly directed by Bradley Davies of Yosemite Bear Productions, and stars band frontman James, who now plays the role of the devilish character. He’s a nice-looking fellow, but that cold stare of his is downright malevolent! He’s shown carrying a briefcase as he lurks and skulks around in a disquieting manner, and at one point coldly watches a woman drowning in a pool, and even strangles a man in another scene. It’s pretty disturbing, but the scenes of the band performing the song in the cathedral balance things out quite nicely – both symbolically and literally.

I love this band and I love this song! It’s instantly one of my favorites of the year, and will most definitely end up on my list of Top 100 Songs of 2019.

Those of you fortunate to live in and around London can catch Revolvers at one of these upcoming shows:

Friday 7 June @ 7:30 pm – The Finborough Arms, London
Saturday 15 June @ 7 pm – Roadtrip & the Workshop, London

Connect with Revolvers on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on iTunes / Bandcamp

BLAIR DOLLERY – Single Review: “Strange Kind’

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Blair ‘Misty Red’ Dollery is a British singer/songwriter and guitarist from the western London suburb of Twickenham. A phenomenal guitarist, Blair has been playing and performing for nearly 20 years in a number of different bands, as a session musician, and also as a solo artist. He currently serves as lead guitarist and vocalist for the outstanding alt-rock band The Underground Vault, but has also recently begun releasing singles again under his own solo project. In March (2019) Blair dropped a gorgeous single “Dream On”, and now follows up with another single, the hauntingly beautiful “Strange Kind“.

The only sounds we hear are Blair’s stunning layered acoustic and electric guitar work and resonant, heartfelt vocals, yet the track has an incredible lushness and depth. It’s a testament to his skill at coaxing such rich and full sounds from just his guitars. The dark lyrics seem to be about someone contemplating drowning himself in the ocean due to feeling heartbroken over losing the love of his life.

Follow me down to the ocean
To the deep blue sea
No time for reflection
The end is near, can you see
Some will say I have lost my mind
Some will say I’m a strange kind
Strange kind

Watch the sea growing quickly
She is everything to me
All my love, all my life
Unconditionally
Some will say I have lost my mind
Some will say I’m a strange kind
Strange kind

Connect with Blair:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / YouTube
Purchase: Amazon / iTunes / Google Play Music

DOCTOR GONZO – EP Review: “PhD”

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Doctor Gonzo is a four-piece punk ska band from the Brighton area of Sussex, UK. They’re all about having fun and not taking themselves too seriously, but are very serious when it comes to making straight-up badass rock! Formed only a year ago, Doctor Gonzo consists of Ash Miles on vocals, Andy “Gibbo” Gibson on guitars and backing vocals, Tony “Tig” Tugnutt on bass and Louis Maxwell on drums. In late April, they dropped their debut EP PhD, featuring four boisterous bangers guaranteed to kick your ass!

The EP blasts open with “Poisonous”, a blistering-hot tune with heavy, chugging riffs of gnarly guitar, crushing bass and hammering drums. Ash’s urgent vocals ooze bitterness as he snarls the lyrics addressing someone who’s toxic to his existence: “In my veins, sucking the life out of me. Filled with pain until there’s nothing left. Pulsing through me with your liquid venom. You won’t stop ’til I take my last breath! Oh!

Before we can even come up for air, the guys are back pummelling our eardrums with “Something’s Gotta Give”. Man, can these guys rock, once again delivering frantic riffs of fuzzy guitars and throbbing bass, while Louis beats the living fuck out of his drum kit! Next up is the rousing “Mary Jane”, the fantastic lead single from the EP.  It’s a delightful love song to a woman named Mary Jane, set to a hard-driving beat and the band’s signature barrage of thunderous instrumental mayhem. The lyrics are fairly simple but charming: “Mary Jane I let you take my breath away. Remember that time I took you on an aeroplane? Oh Mary Jane, I think you’re driving me insane. But when shit hits the fan I know you’ll make me feel better.” The whimsical and fun video for the song was written, directed and edited by Nick Burdett.

The final track “Royalty” serves up more hard-hitting post-punk goodness. Gibbo does some fine shredding on his six-string while Tig lays down a deep, strutting bass line and Louis pounds out the driving beat. The lyrics speak to feeling like a loser in a rut, going nowhere: “I tell myself to stop complaining. Learn to read between the lines. I wanna be somebody, instead of just a casualty. I’ll go against the grain. You’ll probably know my name. I wanna live like royalty.”

Despite it’s short run time of only 12 1/2 minutes, PhD packs a mighty punch. These guys know how to rock and set the airwaves afire with their respective instruments. I found myself loving these songs more with each listen, and am now a huge fan of Doctor Gonzo. I also love their playful sense of humor, which is strongly evident in this hilarious video of outtake bloopers from the making of the “Mary Jane” video:

Connect with Doctor Gonzo:  Facebook / Instagram
Purchase on iTunes / Google Play