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

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / YouTube

Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

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.

Connect with Ryan:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple Music / YouTube

MOUNT FAMINE – Single Review: “Offcuts”

Mount Famine are a British post punk/synth-infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. Formed in 2019 as a collaboration of seasoned musicians with a shared love of such bands as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Pet Shop Boys, Manic Street Preachers, Pulp and Suede, they aim to create music that, in their own words, “produces the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” Hallmarks of their vibrant sound are infectious melodies, lush soundscapes and soaring vocals. A rather enigmatic band, they have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, nor do they list their members’ names. Band front man and vocalist Martin Stanier, who I know of from his having reached out to me on Instagram, explained that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music.

Beginning with their debut single “Faith” in January 2020, they’ve released a string of excellent singles over the past two and a half years. This past March, I included their fourth single “Distance” in a Fresh New Tracks post. The song garnered support from BBC Introducing East Midlands and Louder Than War, as well endorsements from actor Robert Carlyle and British broadcaster Terry Christian. I liked the song so much, it spent 11 weeks on my Weekly Top 30 list. Now they’re back with a new single “Offcuts“, a rousing anthem that calls to mind some of the great songs by New Order, Manic Street Preachers and The Killers.  

The song storms through the gates with an exuberant soundscape of swirling synths, roiling guitars and driving rhythms. Martin’s sparkling keyboards have a wonderful cinematic quality, and the layered shimmery and grungy guitars are quite marvelous. Also outstanding are the humming bassline and emphatic thumping drumbeats, both of which add great power and depth to the track. And, as always, Martin’s resonant vocals are incredibly pleasing, rising with a commanding force in the choruses. 

The song’s lyrics touch on the drudgery of executive management, work hierarchies, and the disposability of workers. Martin elaborated further: “It’s about a moment I had recently where I doubted myself. I spent some time in the company of some very senior managers in my job who weren’t nice or kind and treated others lower on the food chain really badly. And all the others treated them with adoration and respect that to my mind, they didn’t really deserve. I wondered if I had got it wrong and that doing this was the way forward. I mean, it didn’t last very long because of course that isn’t how to be or to treat people, but it also echoed the behaviour of a lot of our world leaders of late.

I am the new normal in rock and roll; discos
Kiss me, between the sheets
You're so discreet, discreet

Maybe I misunderstood
And dreams and schemes are not as fun 
As real life, through office doors
We are Offcuts on director's floors

Maybe I misunderstood
And dreams and schemes are not as fun 
As real life, through office doors
We are Offcuts on director's floors

Fast cars, high class bars
Now you are stars, all stars
Diamonds and dollars
Now you look down on us, on us

Maybe I misunderstood
And dreams and schemes are not as fun
As real life, through office doors
We are Offcuts on director's floors
 
Maybe I misunderstood
And real life is Hollywood
And Sundays walking through the malls are the best days, best times of all

Funny, you're so funny
They laugh with you
But money and power have made you sour

Maybe I misunderstood
And dreams and schemes are not as fun
As real life, through office doors
We are Offcuts on director's floors
 
Maybe I misunderstood
And real life is Hollywood
And Sundays walking through the malls are the best days, best times of all

“Offcuts” is a fantastic radio-friendly song that’s certain to be a hit.

Follow Mount Famine:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud 

Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 18 – Black Bear Kiss, The Metal Byrds, Tough on Fridays

Given my hiatus from writing reviews (notwithstanding my recent 30-day song challenge), it’s been over three months since I’ve written a Fresh New Tracks post. Now that I’m feeling more rested, I’ve decided to dip my toes back into the turgid waters of review-writing, steadfast with determination going foward to not allow myself to become overwhelmed or burned out. With that in mind, today I’m featuring new songs by three great bands I’ve previously written about on this blog – British rockers Black Bear Kiss, and two female-fronted rock bands from Texas, The Metal Byrds and Tough on Fridays.

BLACK BEAR KISS – “Chasing All I Know”

Black Bear Kiss have been a favorite of this blog for over four years, since June 2018 when I reviewed their terrific debut single “Hooks”. Over the succeeding four years, they’ve released a number of fine singles, most of which I’ve also reviewed. With their exhilarating, guitar-driven rock sound, strong charisma and rowdy live performances, they’ve built a loyal following in their home base of the West Midlands/Shropshire region of England and beyond. In June of last year, the band was shaken by the tragic and sudden passing of one of their guitarists Rob Jones from a previously undisclosed heart ailment. Now soldiering on as a four-piece, Black Bear Kiss consists of Chris Leech on lead vocals, Colin Haden on guitar, Rich Sach on bass, and Chris Bagnall on drums.

To honor Rob, as well as to help raise funds for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a charity aimed at raising funds for cardiac screening, research and the support of families affected, the band released a single “The First Time” this past February. Now they return with their latest single “Chasing All I Know“, which was one of Rob’s favourite songs. The track was recorded at the iconic Foal Studio in Wales, with Rob’s cousin Mike playing rhythm guitar using Rob’s own Gibson Les Paul. About the song, band vocalist Chris Leech explains: “We all have different pressures in our lives. This track is about feeling like you’re at the centre of everything and trying to get back to a place or feeling that you know – it’s also got some grunt which is what we are all about!” Black Bear Kiss delivers their signature driving rhythms we’ve come to love and expect, overlain with roiling riffs of grungy guitars and thumping drumbeats. Leech’s expressive vocals sound better than ever as he fervently sings “There’s all these people standing by my side. I just want you to tell me it’s alright. I’m at the center of it, I’m chasing, I’m chasing all I know now, whoa.”

Follow Black Bear Kiss:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

THE METAL BYRDS – “Vicious Circle”

The song is an exhilarating banger, driven by a hard-charging rhythm, courtesy of Mac’s brilliant chugging bassline and Charlie’s pummeling drums. Sly lays down an aggressive onslaught of gnarly riffs, highlighted by a blazing guitar solo in the bridge. And Suzanne’s powerful, resonant vocals are in fine form as she fervently wails the lyrics describing the torture of insomnia, keeping her awake with worries and anxiety that she’ll never be able to sleep: “Here we go again, a vicious circle. Can’t get it started. Round and around again.” It’s a fantastic song, and I think it’s one of their best yet. The wonderful video shows Suzanne suffering the agonies of insomnia, interspersed with rather humorous scenes of her bandmates performing the song while on her bed, adding to her sleepless misery.

The Metal Byrds are a female-fronted rock band based in Austin, Texas, who play a hard-hitting style of rock, infused with healthy doses of rock’n’roll and power pop, along with enough metal in the mix to give their songs a dark, edgy quality. Formed in 2018, the band has undergone a few personnel changes, and now consists of founding members London-born singer-songwriter Suzanne Birdie and guitarist Sly Rye, along with bassist Mac Jacob and drummer Charlie Breeze. Over the past three-plus years, they’ve released three EPs – The Song Byrd in April 2019, Byrds on a Wyre in June 2020, and Life in 20 in October 2020 (which I reviewed) – and an album simply titled 4, in September 2021. On July 15th, they released “Vicious Circle“, the lead single from their forthcoming album BIRDIE LANE, due for release later this year. 

Follow The Metal Byrds: Facebook / Twitter

TOUGH ON FRIDAYS – “Growing Pains”

Hailing from Georgetown, Texas, not far from Austin, grunge pop-rock trio Tough on Fridays have been on an upward trajectory since forming in 2017. Now consisting of Caleigh Oceguera on vocals & guitar, Carly Fairchild on bass & vocals, and Chris Schreck on drums, they’ve garnered an enormous base of loyal fans through their memorable music, relatable lyrics and high-energy live shows. Blending elements of indie, alt-rock, pop and grunge, they create their own unique style of edgy rock ‘n roll. Since 2017, they’ve released numerous singles and EPs, which culminated in the release of their outstanding debut album A Fantastic Way to Kill Some Time, in September 2020 (my review has been viewed more than 1,100 times, making it the fourth most-viewed album review I’ve written.)

In the two years since, they’ve released several singles, the latest of which is “Growing Pains“, which dropped August 15th. The song has a pleasing folk-rock vibe, highlighted by Caleigh’s lovely strummed guitar work, while Carly and Chris keep the lively rhythm on their bass and drums. The subtle piano keys are a nice touch, adding to the song’s melodic sound. Caleigh’s slightly echoed vocals have a vulnerable quality, providing a rather melancholy undercurrent to the track as she plaintively sings the lyrics directed to a former loved one that she’s moving on from the relationship: “Growing pains. Sick of hearing how I’ve changed. Cause I’ve outgrown you, I don’t need you. Cause I’m pulling all your weight. Done cleaning up the mess you’ve made. You always made./ Am I bitter? Just feeling better.” It’s a wonderful, beautifully-crafted and masterfully-arranged track that nicely showcases Tough on Fridays’ continued growth and musical maturity.

Follow Tough on Fridays:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Onism E – Single Review: “Lin Manuel”

Photos by JMK Pictures

For my final review that I’ll be writing for the foreseeable future, I’m featuring an amazing band with a fascinating name, Onism E. The brainchild of California-born, Texas-raised and now New York City-based singer-songwriter Eline Chavez, the term “Onism” can be defined as “The awareness of how little of the world you will actually experience.” Inspired by groundbreaking female rockers like Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge, Eline draws from her experiences living in vastly different places to create her own distinctive style of edgy and soulful indie rock, expressed through her honest, often biting lyrics and fierce vocals.

To help deliver her message, Eline has enlisted three talented Texas musicians – Chris ‘Lefty’ Vargas on guitar, Chris ‘CeeRod’ Rodriguez on bass, and Raj Arenas on drums. The energy and inspiration they contribute helps elevate Onism E to even greater musical heights, and together, their warm, welcoming approach and riveting live performances have enabled them to form a strong positive relationship with their fans. Since the release of their debut single “Love You More” in August 2019, they’ve dropped several more outstanding singles, as well as an album Survivors in February 2021. Now they’re back with a brilliant new single “Lin Manuel“, a song inspired by Eline’s struggles of trying to make it as a musician during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The song is darkly beautiful and melodic, with a moody, almost progressive vibe. The arrangement and instrumentation are pretty spectacular too. CeeRod lays down a sensuous throbbing bassline, while Raj keeps pace with his flawless drumming that goes from restrained to explosive and back again. Then there’s Lefty’s gorgeous intricate guitar work, which is positively mind-blowing. Wow, this man can play, coaxing shimmery notes, wobbly psychedelic riffs and screaming distortion from his six-string, seemingly with ease. All this incredible music serves as a dramatic backdrop for Eline’s powerhouse vocals, which she delivers with an impassioned conviction that’s downright chilling. “Lin Manuel” is a magnificent track in every sense of the word.

I asked Eline why she chose to name the song after the talented singer-songwriter, composer, playwright and actor, to which she kindly responded: “I’ve always found Lin [Manuel] an inspiring individual. He’s been one of those people that just kept going and working to make his dream happen. As an indie artist, I gravitate towards people like him because his story resonates with me. It’s about the everyday struggle where I question my place in this industry – ‘What am I doing? Should I keep playing? Should I keep working towards this goal?’ I know it’s a common artist struggle but during the pandemic, that voice got louder and I started questioning my next steps. I kept thinking…what would Lin do right now, what would Tom (Petty) or Bruce (Springsteen) do? The answer was always the same. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep believing.”

Those sentiments are beautifully articulated in her poetic lyrics: “Broken glass and shattered ceilings, I’m still waiting for my season they tell me you will one day see. But darkness comes and darkness goes, and I’m still all alone here with my dreams. / Lin Manuel reminded me that freedom comes at a cost for those who believe in. But I’m so scared of failing, I rarely sleep, I rarely sleep. And we’re all just working for better days, but sometimes I wanna scream!

Connect with Onism E: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

FOLLOW NO ONE – Album Review: “FATE”

Follow No One is the collaborative music project of two highly accomplished musicians from different parts of the world, with two completely separate musical backgrounds – singer/songwriter and pianist Rich Hall, who’s originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but now based in Denver, Colorado, and guitar virtuoso Pedro Murino Almeida from Lisbon, Portugal, but with roots in Brazil. Rich began performing at a young age in theater, but found his true calling in writing and performing music. Pedro was classically trained in music composition, with a successful career involving his own musical acts, and his work has been featured in film and video.

Influenced by such rock giants as Dream Theater, Alter Bridge, Foo Fighters, Queensryche and Styx, to name but a few, they draw from the classic hard rock that defined an era, while adding a fresh approach to create their own distinctive sound. Working remotely from their respective home bases in Denver and Lisbon, the duo released their debut EP, simply titled “5“, in September 2017, featuring five hard-hitting tracks (here’s my review). They followed up with several singles over the next few years, including an excellent cover of David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” (which especially resonates with me at the moment, but I digress). In 2019, Follow No One was named Best Rock Act at the Nashville-based Josie Music Awards, the world’s largest all-genre, privately-owned award show.

Rich Hall & Pedro Murino Almeida

Now they return with their first full-length album FATE, a monumental concept work based on Hall’s real-life and near-death experiences that tested his faith, endurance and will to live. The album is an epic rock opera of sorts, featuring 17 tracks, 11 of which are songs and the other six spoken word pieces that drive the storyline forward. FATE‘s overarching theme is predicated on the question “If you lost everything you had, would you just give up or fight like hell to get it back?” The various tracks follow Hall’s journey from the depths of despair that culminated in a life-threatening health incident, to his self-redemption and healing that followed to get him to where he is today.

The album opens with “The Beginning Is in the End“, a spoken word piece that begins with sounds of someone gasping for air making a 911 call, then hanging up. We soon realize it’s Hall in a severe state of distress, recalling some important events in his life as he stares death in the face. Those events include happy times like the birth of his first son and his early career success (to which his father comments “You’re a lucky young man. This is one helluva place you got here, son. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be fine. But, if you want my advice, enjoy your time at the top of the mountain. You may not always be here“), as well as the devastating news that his wife is leaving him and taking their two sons with her.

Next, we’re launched headlong into the hard-rocking “No Happy Ever Afters“, in which Hall bitterly laments of feeling betrayed and abandoned, his life now in tatters: “Take everything you have, and all that you hold dear, and watch it disappear. It’s just me we’re talking about, but I don’t think we’ll ever speak again.” Almeida’s guitar-playing prowess is on full display as he lays down scorching hot riffs, backed with pummeling rhythms and explosive percussion. They keep the aural onslaught going full throttle on the appropriately blistering “Drowning in Fire“, which is followed by a spoken word interlude “Adding Insult to Injury” that chronicles Hall’s life spiraling out of control from destructive behaviors, and isolating himself from others to the point where his father sends the local police to check in on him.

As the album progresses, Hall’s story unfolds with the telling of the rupturing of a major blood vessel in his throat, detailed in the song “Hanging by a Thread” and spoken word track “ICU – Can You See Me“, in which his doctor tells him of the severity of his condition. Realizing he nearly died, Hall has an epiphany “You were on a hell of a ride, but soon you may be dead. Now you’re in that moment where the memories of your life are passing by. Better hope the man pulling the strings, is pulling for your side.

He starts coming to terms with his life as it now exists and contemplates the path he must take going forward on “Erase Me“. A year later, his sanity reaching the breaking point, he just wants to run away from his pain, which he lays out on the exhilarating rocker “Just Drive“: “Ok, take a deep breath and just remember: Every mile you go is one mile away from where you were. So fuck it, just drive!

Now we arrive at the title track and centerpiece of the album, “Fate“, an anthemic rock ballad in the style of some of the great rock ballads of the late 80s. Almeida’s guitar work is especially magnificent here, and nicely accompanied by Hall’s beautiful piano and keyboards. His vocals are particularly moving as he plaintively ponders whether all the hardship and pain he’s going through is pre-determined or totally random “Is it fate, that makes our tomorrow? Is it me, that determines it all? Could it be, through the pain and the sorrow, there is no choice at all?

Hall’s journey toward his recovery and self-improvement encounters a few setbacks along the way. On the very poignant “No Christmas Without You“, he’s left heartbroken at the prospect of facing another Christmas alone, without his sons. This pain is expressed on the hard-rocking “Million Miles Away“, with Hall lamenting about how he feels that, no matter how much he’s moving forward, he still feels farther away than ever. “A million miles away, is not far enough to keep my heart away. The closer I am, the further you are to me.” For this track, bass was played by Tony Franklin, and Hall’s son Reagan sang backing vocals.

Hall takes on his depression on the spoken-word “Just a Dream“, a conversation with his father who also suffered from the mental illness, and the song “This Bastard“, giving a name to the emotional foe he vows to vanquish. Once again, Almeida lays down some blistering riffs, making this a pretty good rocker. On “Never Surrender“, he sings of not giving up and letting his problems and depression defeat him. Things are finally looking up as he picks his sons up at the airport when they arrive for a Christmas visit on “Airport – Reunidos“. I like how he tells them about his new music project with Almeida when they get in the car.

FATE ends on an optimistic note with “Let Love” a beautiful, cinematic rock anthem about the healing powers of love. Reunited with his sons, Hall jubilantly sings of how love, faith and forgiveness helped him to survive and find happiness. “I forgive you, I still love you / You know that anything’s possible, as long as you learn how to survive. Keep your dreams alive, there is nothing to stop you now. Now that you’ve learned how to die.” Almeida’s guitar work is spectacular, accompanied by Hall’s gorgeous piano and soaring strings that make this song one of the highlights of the album.

With FATE, Hall and Almeida have created an epic work of musical art. It’s an impressive accomplishment, for which they should be very proud.

Connect with Follow No One:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Soundcloud / Spotify / Tidal /YouTube

Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon

MORGENDUST – Album Review: “14”

Morgendust is a Dutch alt-rock band based in Zwolle, Netherlands. Formed in 2018, the engaging quintet is comprised of Marco de Haan (lead vocals, guitars), Ron van Kruistum (guitars, backing vocals), Iwan Blokzijl (keyboards, backing vocals), Dario Pozderski (bass, backing vocals) and Andre Swinkels (drums & percussion). All are talented and accomplished musicians with years of collective experience playing in other bands and as session musicians, giving their music a maturity and worldliness that comes from having lived on this earth for a while. Through intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, they tell stories that everyone can relate to, and package them with exquisite rock melodies and beautiful instrumentation.

They released their stunning debut EP Storm Will Come in September 2019, and since then have dropped a string of excellent singles, several of which I’ve featured on this blog. You can read those reviews, as well as the one I wrote of their EP, by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post. Now they’re back with an ambitious and unique new album 14, in which they reimagine eight iconic songs from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s that had a major impact on each of the band members when they were 14 years old. The band elaborates on their inspiration for making this album:

Fourteen. The age at which you discover, learn, fall and get up again. The period in your life when you experiment, do your homework, get pimples, fall in love and are really moved by music for the first time. During the various lockdowns, we were thrown back to our own environment. And just like you during this period, we rummaged through our memories in attics and cellars. That gave us the idea to pay tribute to the music we played when we were 14. No 1 on 1 covers… but mashups of our own music with our sources of inspiration. We call it a re-dis-cover.

We grew up in the 80s. The time of the Cold War, squatters, roller skates, on land, at sea and in the air and the first computers. And after years of vinyl and cassette tapes: the CD. The 80s brought bad and of course also very good music, the music from our youth. Recent research shows that the age at which you are musically formed is, you guessed it, 14. ’14’ is about songs that were very dear to us and still influence the music we make today.”

The eight songs they’ve chosen to reimagine for 14 (all of which I love too) are “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police, “This is Not America” by David Bowie & Pat Metheny, “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds, “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, “Walk On the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, “Big Love” by Fleetwood Mac, “Land of Confusion” by Genesis, and “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. For the recording of the songs, they had help from two female vocalists, Cindy Oudshoorn and Judith Elders. Cindy sang co-lead vocals with Marco on “Don’t Give Up” and “Big Love”, and Judith sang lead on “Land of Confusion”. Both ladies sing back-up on most other songs.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of their interpretations of each track, but suffice it to say I think they do great justice to them all. The songs are flawlessly produced and masterfully arranged, with lush instrumental treatments, resulting in really wonderful interpretations that are distinctly their own, while still respectful of the original recordings. Marco’s warm, resonant vocals, as well as those of Cindy and Judith, are marvelous. That said, I think my favorites are “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Alive and Kicking”, “Don’t Give Up” and “Enjoy the Silence”. Here are two great videos Morgendust produced for “Spirits in the Material World” and “Don’t Give Up”, which I think is the best and most powerful of the eight performances, thanks to it’s stunning arrangement and Marco and Cindy’s gorgeous vocals.

It’s also interesting that some of the songs, most notably “Spirits in the Material World”, “This is Not America”, “Land of Confusion” and “Don’t Give Up”, speak to issues that are sadly still relevant 35-40 years later.

Here’s a 14-minute long video of the band members discussing their own musical awakenings and why they chose the songs they wanted to include on 14.

Connect with Morgendust:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon

THE MILLION REASONS – Album Review: “Haven”

One of the perks (and there are a few downsides as well) of being a blogger who writes music reviews is getting to know a lot of musicians and bands from all over the world, some of them on a personal level. High on my list of favorites, both as musicians and humans, is Chicago-based rock band The Million Reasons. Though I’ve never met them in person, I seriously love these guys and consider them friends who honestly care about me as a person, rather than simply a blogger who can be of use to them. A few of them actually check in from time to time to ask how I’m doing, which means a lot to me. It also makes me an intensely loyal fan.   

The Million Reasons originally formed in 2016 as a trio comprised of Scott Nadeau on lead vocals, and Ken Ugel and Mike Nichols on guitars. They were joined a year later by drummer Colin Dill, then bassist Jason Cillo in 2018. I first learned about them when they followed me on Twitter in July 2018, around the time they released their magnificent single “Dizzy”. It was love at first listen, and I quickly became a big fan of theirs. Without question one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard, I was happy to write a review of “Dizzy”. I loved it so much that it went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30, and ultimately ranked #69 on my 100 best songs of the decade list.

The guys went on to release a few more singles, then in August 2019, Scott decided to leave the band. Fortunately, they quickly found a phenomenal replacement in singer-songwriter Taylor Brennan, a close friend of Colin’s, and the band lineup was complete again. Taylor brought not only his impressive vocal talents, but also great songwriting skills and years of experience, which have expanded The Million Reasons’ musical horizons quite nicely. Whereas their music had primarily been classic rock/rock’n’roll oriented, some of their new songs venture more into progressive rock territory.

Photo by Lexi Nichols

All five band members are highly accomplished musicians, several of whom are also involved with other projects. Taylor is vocalist for alternative-progressive rock band Polarizer (who’s brilliant album Love From the Underground I reviewed last November). Ken is guitarist for rock bands Guardrail and Wild Gravity, and Colin and Jason are members of covers band Dad’s Night Out. Having five members, including two guitarists, their sound is dynamic, heavy and melodic, consistently delivered with incredible riffs, tight rhythms and powerful vocals – everything we lovers of rock want to hear.

With their new lineup, the band set to work writing new songs, as well as re-working a few song ideas from their previous iteration that had never been fully-developed. This culminated in the release of their EP If Not For the Fire in February 2020, which I also reviewed. The title single “If Not For the Fire” also climbed to the top of my Weekly Top 30 chart, and ended up at #20 on my Top 100 Songs of 2020 list.

Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic cast its ugly pall soon after the EP’s release, hindering the relatively new lineup from touring or performing live to promote it. Also prevented from gathering together to record more songs, the guys soldiered on remotely, often struggling in the process. In the hopes of getting their music out to a wider audience, they signed with Pavement Entertainment in summer 2020, and once Covid restrictions were lifted, got back into the studio to continue recording songs for what would become their debut full-length album Haven, which finally dropped April 15th. It’s a beautiful work that was definitely worth all the blood, sweat and tears it took them to finally get it done and released.

The word ‘haven’, defined as a place of safety or refuge, is the perfect title for The Million Reasons’ new album, as it encapsulates all that got them to this point. The album features 11 tracks, including the four previously released on the EP, which have been re-engineered and mastered with a bigger and fuller sound. Though I did not conduct an interview, each band member beautifully articulated their own thoughts about the album, some of which I’d now like to share in order to provide some context.

Mike, Taylor, Colin, Ken and Jason

Taylor: “It’s an intensely personal album for me. But I/we always hope that our songs connect with people, whether it’s an individual or a crowd. I like to think there are enough overarching themes to speak to someone else going through the emotions represented by the songs; the highs, the lows, or especially if it’s both. It’s about one’s journey through highs and lows, no matter the obstacles, no matter the duration of the tumult. One of my favourite lyrics on this album is ‘It’s not over til it’s better’. It updates on the ’til its over’ aspect because to me the original phrase implies a potentially negative finality. The point being, I now believe there is always “better”. Even if the body shots keep coming, even if it feels like death by a thousand shots, even if “better” is achieved incrementally…if you keep going…if you work on yourself and surround yourself with love and support…it will get better. To me, that culminates in ‘Haven’. Haven is the place where you finally feel safe. The place where you finally feel home. The place where you finally feel better. The place where you finally feel like ‘you’.

To me, the album represents that natural chemistry cannot be denied. That’s obviously a theme of the lyrics, but the band also lived that. We have a great time together when we get together. Musically, we gel. I think we had the rocky start that could have ended some projects before they had a chance to get going. But we made it through and now we know what we are capable of. I love the record, I am as proud of it as anything I have done. When you have to work hard to get through adversity, the end result is that much sweeter. We’ve done that, and we like each other and this band more now than we did when we first met, I feel. So while this feels like our peak right now, like a penultimate record, I think it also represents that we’re in this together and we have what it takes to see this through indefinitely. We are a band, and a fucking good one. And we’re just getting started.”

Colin: “‘Haven’ is the culmination of 5 years of songwriting, practice, shows, line-up changes and hard work, all finally pieced together to create the true foundation and spirit of The Million Reasons as a band. The spirit being defined by keeping Rock N’ Roll alive and well and having a damn good time doing it. COVID impacted our timeline and motivation greatly. It was extremely challenging to find time to finalize writing and recording each piece whether at the studio or on our own. There were absolutely discouraging times that we would never quite get there, but we persevered and are absolutely ecstatic at the end product. I’m very proud of this album and release. I love the guys in the band like family and it’s so exciting to have this release finally happening. “If Not For The Fire” and the passion of the group, there would be no album!

Jason: “This really is a culmination of all the band’s work. Some of these songs were written during the first iteration of the group (Mike & Ken being the only remaining members) and then re-done with new vocals. I personally joined the band where the music was already mostly outlined for about half the album and the other half was written together. We write the music completely separate from the lyrics and let Taylor write on top of what we came up with. A lot of these songs came from jams or specific writing sessions in Ken’s apartment. Ken and I paired off a lot to write in a more rigid, methodical way, while Mike and Colin would go into the rehearsal space and jam with something recording them and then we’d converge on those ideas. I hope that [the album] gets in front of people who will enjoy it. I’ve never felt better about music that I’ve worked on and I know it’s good, it’s just a matter of showing the world that. Truthfully, I just want people to enjoy it and for the band to play some more shows to see that in-person.”

Ken: “‘Haven’ is our defining moment as a group and the place where we’ve established our sound. This is our base, and acts as the beginning of something special. The journey to find our ‘Haven’ over years of songwriting, lineup changes, and a pandemic; has led us here: our safe place, where we are coming into our own. The metaphorical and physical start of this new chapter of TMR. I truly believe if these songs were played to a wider audience and given the attention it deserves, we’d break out of the ‘only friends and family’ listening parties. I’d hope to start opening up for some bigger acts and get in front of new people over the next year. ‘Haven’ showcases everything the band is about and just to boost my self-esteem up a bit: I think it’s a damn good album!

Mike: “‘Haven’ is about overcoming adversity, from being at your lowest point and attaching your focus from one silver lining to the next in order to escape your rut. It’s an emotional story from Taylor’s point of view, but to me it can also represent the journey the band has gone through over the last few years. There’s darkness, but there’s light to bring us out of it. Lyrically, ‘Haven’ delves into love, loss, and self-doubt, followed by hope, confidence, and triumph over hardship. Musically, the album explores the spectrum of rock music we grew up listening to, from the poppy sensibilities of “1985” and “Alone With You”, to the high energy of “Oh, Tranquilizer” and “If Not For The Fire”, to the anger of of “All You Can’t Afford” and “Only Human”. “No North Star” might be a standout track on the album, easily distinguished by being melancholic and acoustic, but it also reads as a flashback, setting the scene for how we’ve arrived at the emotional state that came to influence the rest of the record. Track by track, there’s something for everybody. Everything about this album is overdue, it’s about time the world gets its ears on The Million Reasons. I want people to hear the album and love it. I want to play on stage for those people. I want this album to inspire people to create. ‘Haven’ is the catalyst that turns our dreams into reality.”

Well, I’ve heard the album loud and clear, and I love it more with each listen! Haven kicks off with “Oh, Tranquilizer!“, a rousing blast of atomic energy that both Ken and Mike name as one of their favorite tracks to play. And no wonder, as they deliver an onslaught of scorching riffs, fortified by Jason’s pummeling bassline and Colin’s explosive drumbeats. Taylor has a commanding tenor voice, dazzling our earbuds as he sings about our failing to clearly see what’s important amid all the noise: “Oh tranquilizer, this will be our year. You soothe the symptoms of this mania. We’ve got a lot to lose. Pay attention to the signs around. You’ve got a lot of nerve, to hear the noise but miss out on the sound.”

On the fiery (no pun intended) title track “If Not for the Fire”, the guys unleash their inner beasts, letting loose with an electrifying barrage of thunderous musical mayhem. The song is a rock masterpiece, and a highlight of the album. Taylor says the message behind the song is simple: “Do not settle. We get one go at this. Whatever makes you happiest, whatever makes you feel most alive, whatever lights you up, go fucking get it.” And once again, he raises goosebumps as he passionately wails of his need for an intense, almost obsessive kind of love that thrills and excites: “I came for the curse of, I came for the kiss of, A love divine that paralyzes. What did you come for, if not for the fire to light you up this way.”

The powerful video, filmed and directed by Philip Goode, shows Taylor seated at a table and struggling to write, juxtaposed with scenes of the band performing the song and working their magic with their respective instruments. Their energy and charisma are clearly evident.

Perhaps the most upbeat track on the album is “1985“, a bittersweet love song with an infectious and pleasing pop-rock sensibility that sets it apart from the others. I love the bouncy, guitar-driven melody, soaring harmonic choruses, and especially Colin’s spirited drumbeats. Taylor plaintively reminisces about lost time he could have enjoyed with a loved one: “Take me to 1985. I’d do it all again with you. I learned too late, the only priceless thing is time. Bring me back to 1985.

The guys get back to business churning out hard-rocking bangers on the next several tracks, starting with “Coup De Grâce“, a blistering song about a toxic and abusive relationship featuring lyrics with boxing metaphors: “Back in the ring again, absorbing the body shots. Jab to a cross then uppercut, sends me back to my corner.” I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but wow, these guys know how to deliver the rock goods, nearly blowing out the speakers with rampaging riffs and explosive, stomping rhythms. And it goes without saying that Taylor rises to the occasion with his jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics.

Shine On” has a bit of a Meat Loaf vibe, with it’s frantic galloping beat and aggressive guitar work, but especially in that Taylor’s vocals sound at times like those of the late, great singer. “Alone With You” is a proper rock tune with a catchy melody, intricate guitars, and thumping rhythms. Essentially a love song, Taylor sings of the joys of being with the woman he loves: “Anything to be alone with you. Where you go, I’m locked beside you babe. I don’t think I can get enough of you. And we are only getting started.” “Ride Or Die” starts off with a grunge vibe, highlighted by Jason’s gnarly bassline, but eventually explodes into a full-blown rocker with blazing riffs and heavy chugging rhythms every bit as good as some of the iconic rock songs of the late 70s and 80s. And on the poignant “Only Human“, Taylor pleads with a friend to not surrender to the pain that threatens to overwhelm them: “We’re far from done. But please hold on. You’re going to make it. Remember, it’s not over ‘til its better.”

Pretty Ones” is a brilliant track, with a complex melodic structure and intricate, yet powerful  instrumentation that give it a monumental prog-rock feel. Mike and Ken’s dual guitars are really spectacular here, and Colin’s drums are perfection. Taylor’s vocals are filled with intense passion as he sings the lyrics touching on restlessness and the internal struggle between putting down roots in one place or with one person vs. the desire for freedom, believing the grass is greener somewhere else or with someone else, but also fearing that perhaps we’re just running away from ourselves: “Ever after chasing down the pretty ones / Right back to the place where I am running from / In motion, stuck in motion / I fear it’s just my nature.

Without question the most beautiful song on Haven is “No North Star”, a powerful and melancholy ballad about a man ready to give up all vestiges of hope. The song opens with a mournful cello played by Alyssa Laessig, accompanied by a lovely acoustic guitar as Taylor forlornly laments about mistakes he’s made: “Four on the floor / As the shower head pours heat on me / Praying to the god of sorry / I’m sure she has questions for me.” The music gradually grows more expansive until reaching a dramatic crescendo at the end, at which point he passionately implores: “Stare in the sunken-in eyes of a ghost of a shell of a half of a half of a man / Saying what good can I be if I couldn’t be better for you / I couldn’t lie when you asked me to lie / But I’ll die if you ask me tonight / I’m going to die anyway / I might as well do it for you.” Along with “If Not For the Fire”, it’s my favorite song on the album.

The final track “All You Can Afford” is a dark and heavy kiss-off to a lover who’s pushed the relationship beyond the breaking point. The guys deliver a torrent of blistering psychedelic riffs and crushing rhythms during the first three minutes of the track while Taylor rails “I’m taking the keys to my heart and your car. I’ll leave you behind, hoping you’ll find all that you can’t afford, my love, anymore.” The music then transitions to a gritty, almost cinematic instrumental for the remainder of the song, punctuated by a rather ominous, barely intelligible male voiceover and a mix of sirens and other harsh sounds.

What more can I say that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to proclaim that Haven is a spectacular album and a glorious feast for the ears. The five talented lads of The Million Reasons have outdone themselves, and should be quite proud of what they’ve created here. This band deserves to be successful, and I hope this review will encourage my readers to give this album a listen. And if they like it even half as much as I love it, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

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

Fresh New Tracks, Vol 11: Amongst Liars, FloodHounds & Mount Famine

As some of my regular readers and Twitter followers know, my recent bout of serious burnout caused me to decide, for the second time in six months, to quit writing music reviews. The fact that I actually do not enjoy writing, combined with a relentless and often overwhelming flood of submissions and requests for reviews from artists and PR firms, have time and again caused me tremendous anxiety and stress. On the other hand, I do enjoy lending support to indie artists and bands who follow me on social media in whatever small ways I can. Obviously, giving them a bit of press is an important part of that support. I’d like to continue doing so, but the challenge is finding a way to accomplish that without burning myself out again.

In order to continue featuring new music, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Fresh New Tracks’ series, which has been on a hiatus since I last wrote one in October 2021. For the series, I feature three or four new songs by various artists, with a few paragraphs about each one, rather than a full-blown review. Though they were generally well-received, I got the sense that some artists were not happy sharing the limelight with other artists or bands. But as more than a few musicians have told me, artists and bands should be grateful for any press, especially when I’m giving it to them for free.

Also, many of my reviews tend to be rather wordy and long, and being a slow, meticulous writer, they take me quite a while to get done. This seems to be a counter-productive approach in this day and age, where most people have the attention spans of a gnat. Although most artists and bands love when I write extensive and detailed reviews of their music, I’m guessing that few people actually read those long reviews in their entirety. Therefore, a short, concise description of each song would seem to be more appealing to a lot of readers who are pressed for time. With that in mind, I will make a valiant attempt to write a Fresh New Tracks post each week going forward. Today I’m featuring songs by three outstanding rock bands with great names from the UK, two of whom, Amongst Liars and FloodHounds, I’ve previously written about, as well as one that’s new to me, Mount Famine.

AMONGST LIARS – “Cut It”

Photo by Duncan Tyler

Hailing from Brighton & Eastbourne, Amongst Liars play a fiercely aggressive style of melodic hard rock, forged from a powerful trifecta of alternative rock, grunge and punk. Comprised of Ian George (lead vocals, guitar), Leo Burdett (guitar, backing vocals), Ross Towner (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Oarton (drums), they formed in September 2019 from the ashes of two successful previous bands – Saint Apache and Katalina Kicks. Not only are they all highly accomplished and talented musicians, they’re nice guys too. Ian in particular has been very supportive of me and my blog, which of course makes me a loyal fan who’s more than happy to support them as much as I can.

I first learned about them in early 2020, and was immediately blown away by their explosive debut single “Over and Over”. In the two succeeding years, they’ve followed with six more outstanding singles, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Their latest is “Cut It“, a clarion call for people to stand up to abuse in all its forms. While they don’t consider themselves a ‘political’ band, Amongst Liars are not afraid to tackle some of the biggest socio-political issues of the day, including war mongering for financial gain, poverty, greed, fake news, deceitful politicians, election fraud, human rights abuses and climate change, and they’ve been outspoken advocates for social justice on several of their songs. About “Cut It”, the band explains: “These are difficult times behind many closed doors – words and actions can cause a lifetime of damage. Speak up for those being abused and bullied, and be kind – always.

The song is a ripper, overflowing with the signature searing riffs and pummeling rhythms we’ve come to love and expect from Amongst Liars. Then there’s that droning bass riff by Ross, creating a menacing vibe that chills us to the core. Ian has a beautiful singing voice that turns deadly when he needs to get his point across: “This violence bleeds silence, bleeds silence / Pray, lead us astray! Pray, just cut it!” I love the dark video, which shows the band performing the song surrounded by curtains of sheer fabric, creating powerful feelings of suffocating claustrophobia. “Cut It” will be included on their forthcoming self-titled debut album, due for release July 8th.

Follow Amongst Liars:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

FLOODHOUNDS – “Panic Stations”

Photo by Eleanor Freeman

FloodHounds are a terrific rock band from Sheffield who play a high-energy style of guitar-driven alternative rock, drenched in blues, punk and grunge influences. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Jack Flynn on guitar and vocals, Lauren Greaves on drums, and Anna Melidone, who replaced Joel Hughes on bass in summer of 2021. I’ve been following them for nearly six years, and they’re among the earliest bands I wrote about when my blog was still in its infancy, way back in October 2016 when I reviewed their excellent EP Look What You’ve Started.

In the years since, they’ve released numerous singles and a second EP Always in Sight, in 2019, and have toured extensively throughout the UK, including performances at the Isle of Wight and Liverpool Sound City festivals in 2019, as well as twice in Paris. FloodHounds remained active during the repeated lockdowns, putting out live streams and sessions for platforms such as Jagermeister, God Is In The TV Zine and Wentworth Festival, as well as self-producing a 10-track acoustic album. They also made the final shortlist of Record Store Day’s national video competition, and their innovative video for their single “Take It Too Far” garnered high placement at the London Music Video Festival 2020. Also in 2020, they released a brilliant single “Something Primeval“, a hard-hitting song about tapping into our inner resolve to survive in this world, which I also reviewed.

Now FloodHounds are back with “Panic Stations“, a stomping banger fueled by Jack’s jagged fuzz-soaked riffs, Anna’s grinding bassline and Lauren’s fearsome drumbeats. The biting lyrics call out those who spread lies and misinformation to sow fear and divisiveness, urging them to instead put their energy into trying to bring people together for a common good. “Panic Stations touches on the air of uncertainty we’ve all been labouring under“, explains Jack. “I wanted to write a song that echoed us roaring out of lockdown, and back into real life. The takeaway is that sticking together will serve us better than alienation and blind panic. It’s great fun to play live, it’s heavy but catchy, so people seem to really get on board with it.” In his arresting vocals, Jack emphatically implores “Give me something with meaning. And I will show you something to believe in. But if you just try and deceive me with all the lies that you hear blaring out your TV. It is your mission to heal division, so go and rally all the people who will listen.” It’s a great song.

Jack is also a photographer and graphic artist, and created the artwork for the single.

Follow FloodHounds:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

MOUNT FAMINE – “Distance”

Mount Famine are a rather enigmatic post punk/synth infused indie rock’n’roll project based in Derby. From what I can tell, they formed in 2019, and according to their bio, their sound is inspired by 80s bands such as The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and Pet Shop Boys (all of whom I personally love too), and 90s bands like Manic Street Preachers, Pulp & Suede, along with “the same desire to tell stories that produce the adrenaline-fueled highs of indie disco dancefloors.” They have no photos of themselves on any of their social media, and I was told by band member Martin Stanier that they’ve steered away from photos, wanting the focus to instead be on their music. They’ve released four outstanding singles thus far, beginning in January 2020 with “Faith”, followed that July with “Pulse”, then “Lost” in February 2021, and now “Distance“, which dropped March 11th.

Martin reached out to me about “Distance” after seeing posts of my recent Top 30 song lists on Instagram, thinking it would be to my liking. Well, he was correct, as it’s right up my alley. With it’s rousing, guitar-driven melody, swirling cinematic synths and exuberant dance groove, all creating a glorious 80s-influenced wall of sound, it’s exactly the kind of sound I love. The band says the song was written and recorded on an old Roland synthesizer and beaten-up drumkit, which gives it that wonderful vintage 80s feel. The lyrics speak to the speed of life, and how it passes by with the blink of an eye, a sentiment they beautifully capture in the frenetic video.

Follow Mount Famine:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

ALEXIS GERRED – Double Single Review: “Unbreakable” feat. MiG Ayesa & “Mary Go Round”

Alexis Gerred is an engaging and multi-faceted artist based in London, England. He began his career on stage, performing in productions of American IdiotOur House, Dreamboats and Petticoats, The West End Men, and Rooms, but his true passion is for music and singing. I last featured him on this blog in November 2018, when I reviewed his wonderful debut album Alexis (which you can read here). Now, I’m pleased to share his new double single “Unbreakable“, featuring vocals by MiG Ayesa, along with “Mary Go Round“, a cover of the song originally recorded by The Struts. 

“Unbreakable” was written by Gerred and produced by TylaJoe Connett, and is the lead single from his forthcoming EP, due for release later this year. The song features guest vocals by MiG Ayesa, the acclaimed Australian-Filipino singer and actor who’s performed on Broadway and London’s West End in such mega hits as Rock of Ages, Thriller Live, Annie, and We Will Rock You. It was Ayesa who’s responsible for inspiring Gerred to become an entertainer himself.

When Gerred saw his very first musical We Will Rock You, based on the career and music of Queen, in London’s West End and starring Ayesa, it was a revelation. He recalls: “I watched MiG Ayesa take to the stage and his delivery, passion and charisma flipped a switch inside me. Although I had never even attempted singing a note before, I knew I wanted to emulate him and follow a path that would one day see me up on that stage, too. I’ve followed his career and plucked inspiration from so many things he’s done. One that stands out in particular was his time on ‘Rockstar: INXS’ where I loved his rock ‘n roll style of showmanship.”

Having Ayesa record a song with him was a dream come true for Gerred, as not many artists get the opportunity to collaborate with the star who inspired them to make music to begin with. And let me state that the combination of these two talented and charismatic vocalists results in sonic fireworks. “Unbreakable” is the hardest rocking song Gerred’s ever done, and he really summons his inner beast to great effect, his raw vocals nicely contrasting and complementing Ayesa’s somewhat smoother vocal delivery. Musically, the song has an aggressive stomping groove and deliciously funky vibe reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love the thunderous, driving rhythms and blistering guitars that hit full throttle in the bridge, highlighted by a screaming guitar solo that’s matched by note for note by the guys’ explosive vocal alchemy. Wow!

Collaborating on “Unbreakable” with Ayesa is even more meaningful given the personal nature of the song, which is based on a negative experience with a former acting agent. The song is about staying driven and focused on one’s dreams, an important message for many of us in today’s challenging, uncertain world. Gerred elaborates “This song is about resilience and determination. If I can inspire someone to take charge of their own lives and bounce back from adversity, that’s my goal.”

On his beautiful cover of the Struts song “Mary Go Round”, Gerred does great justice to the original, while making it his own. His vocals are a powerful combination of vulnerable and raw, beautifully conveying the feelings of pain and heartache of a broken relationship expressed in the poignant lyrics. “How long before my little pill starts kicking in. How long before your broken heart starts giving in? Here we go up, here we go down. Mary go round and round and round.”

It’s great to see Alexis Gerred back and sounding better than ever. Both “Unbreakable” and “Mary Go Round” are superb, and if the rest of the tracks on his upcoming EP are even half this good, it’s going to be a winner.

To learn more about Alexis, check out his website
Connect with him on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on iTunes