WE KILLED THE LION – Album Review: “Boogie Shoe Blues”

We Killed the Lion is an alternative hard rock band from Chicago I recently learned about when their keyboardist Stan Tencza reached out to me about reviewing their new album Boogie Shoe Blues. Along with Tencza, who also plays keyboards for Chicago alternative/progressive rock band Polarizer (whose album Love from the Underground I reviewed last November), the other band members are Brian Lorenc on guitar & vocals, Joe Gunia on bass & vocals, and Leonard Warren on drums. Formed in 2011, their heavy sound is infused with elements of stoner rock, grunge, psychedelic blues and even a bit of doom to darken things up a bit.

They released their self-titled debut album We Killed the Lion in 2012, then followed two years later with an EP One Way Ride, then a second album Circle of Stars in 2017. After a four-year hiatus, they began work on Boogie Shoe Blues, and dropped the first single “Final Stand” this past April, followed by “Southern Death Trip” in August. Today (Halloween), along with the album’s release, they also release a new video for “Snake Bite”. Though Boogie Shoe Blues contains only eight tracks, three of them are more than six minutes long, making the album feel more substantial than eight tracks would suggest.

Let me state up front that I don’t normally gravitate toward this type of grungy hard rock, however, I listened to the album several times with open ears and an open mind, and found lots to like about it. Opening track “Final Stand” is a fine representation of their signature brawny, dark and dirty sound. The guys get right down to business, grabbing us by the throat with a barrage of grinding buzzsaw riffs, bolstered by a deep, chugging bassline and explosive, pummeling drums that never let up for a second. Lorenc and Gunia’s dual echoed vocals sound ominous as they belt out the violent lyrics speaking of going into battle with an entity that was once an ally but now a bitter enemy: “All out of patience, love turned into vengeance. Run away in fear. Spilling out the blood, spitting out the bones, scratching out the eyes. Pray for your last breath, we’re making our final stand.”

The video for the song shows the band breaking into what appears to be an underground club, whereupon they perform “Final Stand”.

While several of the album’s tracks deal with darker topics, a few others touch on pleasures of the flesh with playful lyrics. On “Come on Get Down“, they sing of showing a hot woman a good time: “Little girl I want to take you downtown. Wanna go for a ride? Get in my backseat and spread your mind. I’m gonna show you a good time.” The song’s a sultry banger, with fantastic gnarly guitars that frequently break into a bone-chilling wail, accompanied by Gunia’s throbbing bassline, Tencza’s aggressive keyboards and Warren’s thunderous percussion. And on the sexy “Peach“, they tell a woman exactly what they have in mind: “I wanna sit on your front porch. I want a sip of your ice tea. I want to gaze at your orchid, yeah. I want to taste your peach meat.” I love the song’s deep, bluesy bassline and sludgy guitars.

Dirty Bones” is a speaker-blowing feast for the ears, with more of those fearsome buzzsaw guitars, and ditto for “Southern Death Trip“, with some of the dirtiest riffs I’ve heard in a long while. The album’s title comes from the song’s lyric “Got the boogie shoe blues.” And just when I think the guys have thrown everything in their sonic arsenal our way, they continue to amaze with the psychedelic monster “Rocket“. The song opens with an onslaught of screaming distortion, followed by a thick, lumbering bassline as the guys begin to sing. Things eventually settle into a tumultuous mix of wailing and grungy riffs, pummeling drums and heavy keyboards, that lumbering bassline still keeping the menacing groove.

I think We Killed the Lion would be a great band to see live, and I really like that their videos show them performing their songs, rather than attempting to act out the narrative of the lyrics (which sometimes works well, but more than often falls flat). The cool video for “Southern Death Trip” shows them performing the song wearing fluorescent body paint.

The last two tracks, “Pick Me Up” and the epic “Snake Bite“, have somewhat of a progressive feel, and feature their signature reverb-soaked psychedelic guitars, thick bass and booming percussion. The latter track is spectacular, highlighted by spine-tingling piercing guitars and some really terrific keyboard organ work by Tencza.

To sort of expand on what I stated earlier, this album grew on me with repeated listens, and I’m truly impressed by We Killed the Lion’s strong songwriting and musicianship. If you like your rock music on the heavier side, with elements of psychedelic, grunge, blues and doom, you will enjoy Boogie Shoe Blues.

Connect with We Killed the Lion:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

Purchase on Bandcamp

New Song of the Week – DUNES: “This Must Be the Plague”

Dunes is a British stoner rock band based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch, they play an aggressive style of what they call “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, followed by their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which they released in September 2019 (you can read my review here). Now the guys are back with their first new single in 16 months, “This Must Be the Plague“. Released through Sapien Records Ltd., it’s four minutes of hard-driving stoner rock goodness, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song blasts through the gate with an explosive barrage of grungy riffs slicing through the airwaves like a rogue buzzsaw, driven by a powerful chugging bass line and thunderous drums. The guys are all strong musicians who play as a tight unit, and despite the time gap between the release of their album and this single, not to mention the fact they’ve not been able to perform live, it’s clear they’ve not lost their groove one bit. Davies’ nimble guitar work is superb, and Huggins and Watson do a masterful job keeping the pulse-pounding rhythms at full throttle.

About the song’s meaning, I guessed it to be a commentary about how the Covid pandemic is our modern version of The Plague, with the line “We’re the disease, and that’s the cure” suggesting that people are both the cause and the solution. When I asked Davies about it, he said I was basically correct, but elaborated: “The track was originally written early 2020 pre-pandemic world. It’s a reflection on the feeling that we’re staring down the complete downfall of society with people becoming more and more polarised and divided day by day. It didn’t feel like there was a way back. Then a pandemic happened. We’re not hopeful, but we’ll at least make some noise and have a drink while the ship goes down.”

It appears the pandemic made “This Must Be the Plague” all the more relevant and timely. And though it may not be a solution, I’m certainly always down for some good music accompanied by an adult beverage!

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

EMPTY FRIEND – Single Review: “Falter”

Empty Friend Falter

Many of the artists and bands I’ve written about recently seem to be from the UK, but there’s just so damn much great talent there that I can’t help but showcase some of it! My latest find is London-based rock band Empty Friend. Formed in 2015, their name was inspired by a song from one their favorite bands, L.A. alt-rock group Failure. Influenced by acts like the aforementioned Failure, as well as Queens of the Stone Age, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Incubus, Empty Friend fuses elements of hard rock, grunge, stoner and even a touch of metal to create music that’s heavy and loud, yet melodic and riveting. The current lineup consists of songwriter/vocalist David Kirk, guitarist Ryan O’Hare, drummer Karl Morgan, and bassist Daverage Norman.

They released their debut EP Saltwater in 2018, a fine work featuring five tracks steeped in grunge/stoner grooves. Two of the tracks, “Hanging On” and the title track “Saltwater” are especially good, and I encourage my readers to check them out on one of the music platforms listed below. Now Empty Friend return with a fantastic new single “Falter“, which dropped October 26th. The song is a hard-hitting protest song of sorts, with dramatic instrumentals and vocals that match the fiery intensity of the powerful lyrics.

The song opens with chugging riffs of fuzzy guitars, as Kirk’s fervent vocals command the proceedings. O’Hare’s gnarly guitars grow more intense as the song progresses, with flourishes of wailing distortion accompanied by Norman’s throbbing bass and Morgan’s tumultuous drumbeats. Now Kirk’s powerful vocals reach a crescendo as he emphatically screams the scathing lyrics calling out the ruthless, cynical leaders who prey on societal fears and divisiveness to gain and hold on to their power. Eventually, the masses will turn on these demagogues and drive them out (something I hope happens soon with assholes like Trump, Johnson, et.al.):

You rode the wave and made them love you
Stoking discontent
Whipping up the people into
Choices they regret

Now they hate you all the more
And they watch your every step
It’s one thing to forgive
And another to forget

Next you weaponised your lies
And you cracked down on dissent
You grew weaker with your pride
While the people gained their strength

Well enjoy your last sunrise
While the knives
Are being sharpened
In the shadows

Well the day’s gonna come
When you falter and run
All the people as one
Baying for blood

I’m glad that more artists are writing songs that speak to our current socio-political upheaval, and “Falter” is one of the best I’ve heard yet. It’s a brilliant track both musically and lyrically, and Empty Friend are surely a band to keep an eye on.

Catch Empty Friend at one of these upcoming shows:

Nov 23 – The Constitution, London, UK
Dec 07 – The Monarch Pub Camden, London, UK

Connect with Empty Friend:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase:  Google Play / Bandcamp

DUNES – Album Review: “Take Me to the Nasties”

Dunes Take Me to the Nasties

I’m back in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England (having recently written about folk singer-songwriter Holly Rees), this time to feature another act from that city, a stoner rock band called Dunes. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). In their own words, they play “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock, which draws on influences such as Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, then began releasing singles in advance of their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which dropped September 6th.  The album was recorded at the Sandcastle in Newcastle under the guidance of Graham Thompson, who also worked on the band’s previous EPs, and mastered by Dave Draper. It was released via Sapien Records (We Are Knuckle Dragger, Big Lad, Tank Engine, Scott Michael Cavagan).

The album blasts open with the rousing title track “Take Me to the Nasties“, and from this point forward, Dunes never let up on their relentless onslaught of head-banging stoner-punk rock’n’roll grooves. Here, their barrage of jagged riffs, crushing bass and pummeling drums leave us little choice but to pogo about like crazed banshees. I can’t quite make out all the lyrics, but as the title implies, Davies sings about sexual frustration, telling someone they can keep their tinder and grinder, and he’s going to the nasties.

Without skipping a beat, they launch headlong into “SOS“, a bombastic tune with a chugging guitar riff that reminds me a bit of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, though overall, the song sounds very different. Besides the great guitar work, I also really like Davies and Huggins’ vocal harmonies as they implore “I’ll tell you what we all need. This shit to stop happening!” “Been Expecting You“, “Release the Clowns” and “Danger Mouth” keep the heavy, guitar-driven vibes coming on strong with thunderous riffs and speaker-blowing rhythms. I’m a sucker for hard-driving rock grooves, and gotta say I’m loving every track on this beast of an album!

And one of my favorites is “Phantom Head“, a moody, near-epic grunge song that ventures into progressive/hard rock territory with its melodic change-ups, tortured gnarly riffs, intense, reverb-heavy bassline and explosive percussion. The fierce guitar solo in the bridge is fucking spectacular, covering me head to toe with chills. On “Shakamoto’s Revenge“, “Lantern” and “Denim Casket“, Dunes seem to channel the early Foo Fighters with frantic, grungy riffs and powerful, driving rhythms. In fact, Davies’ vocals even sound a bit like Dave Grohl’s at times, including his scream at the end of “Shakamoto’s Revenge.”

Everything is Blue” closes the album on a high note with some mighty tasty psychedelic reverb-soaked guitar work that’s freakin’ fantastic! The song also has a somewhat progressive rock vibe, with interesting time and melodic changes and intense instrumentation, giving the track a complex, fuller sound that makes for a riveting listen.

Take Me to the Nasties is a solid album filled to the brim with hard-hitting rock tunes, all of them superb. There’s not a single throwaway or filler track to be found here, as every track could be a hit single. Davies, Huggins and Watson are three incredible musicians at the top of their game who should be very proud of their latest creation. I love it!

Connect with Dunes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

BRAIN APE – Album Review: “Auslander”

Auslander Cover Artwork

As I’ve stated in previous posts, being the EclecticMusicLover, I like when artists and bands incorporate lots of different influences to create genre-bending music. One such band is Brain Ape, a London-based outfit who skillfully fuse punk, stoner rock, grunge, noise rock and shoegaze to create their unique sound they call “scratch rock.” In August 2017, they dropped their second album Auslander, which was released through Schlimbum Records. It’s an ambitious work, containing 12 brilliant tracks with some of the best titles I’ve heard, and running nearly 55 minutes in length.

Brain Ape consists of Minky Très-vain, who plays guitar and sings lead vocals, and Sol Albret who plays bass and sings backing vocals. Jacob Powell played drums and sang backing vocals on Auslander, but is no longer with the band due to other commitments. In an interview with Rebecca Singer for her blog Read Between the Lines (which you can read here), Minky explained the strong influence of Nirvana on Brain Ape’s sound:

“It’s incredibly cliché, but the album that changed my life musically was “Nevermind.” After hearing that album, I knew exactly what type of music I wanted to make. I think one of the most interesting things about [Nirvana] is the legacy that they’ve left behind having only made a handful of albums.”

And regarding their unusual name, Minky explained:

“I really like the name because everyone seems to have their own ideas where it comes from and what it means. For me, there are about three contradicting ideas bouncing against each other, all within two words. I like how abrasive it sounds, yet to me sounds rather beautiful too. But the core idea for me, when we were coming up with a name for the band, was that what we do is very instinctual: neither Sol nor I are classically trained musicians. We’re not even particularly good at what we do. It just so happens that when you put the two of us in a room together with instruments we seem to think along the same wave lengths. Genetically we’re all apes, and when you remove any conscious thought you end up just creating from instinct. That’s why our logo is a chromosome. I guess we feel like the music we make comes from our very own genetic makeup.”

Brain Ape [6]_preview
Photo by Gregory Hesse-Wagner

Brain Ape gets right down to business with the outstanding album opener “Give Me My P45,” a rousing punk-infused number with grungy guitars, a dominant buzzing bass line and loads of crashing cymbals. Minky’s echoed and distorted vocals add to the song’s gritty texture.

Next up is “Watercolour,” a grungy track that shifts back and forth from hard-hitting verses with gritty guitars and hammering drums to softer interludes with delicate chiming guitar, a characteristic of many of Brain Ape’s songs. Minky’s plaintive vocals rise and fall with the intensity of the music, wailing “I don’t know why I still breathe” during the heavier verses. Nirvana’s influence can clearly be heard on the six minute and 22 seconds long “Graphomania.” Quiet, melodic verses with gently strummed guitar alternate with intense, shredded guitar riffs, heavy bass and powerful drums. Minky emphatically sings “He doesn’t know what he should be.”

Respect Your Icons” is a fast-paced punk rock gem with frantic riffs of shredded guitars and pounding drums. Halfway through the tempo slows to a thumping drumbeat and psychedelic reverb-heavy guitars. The guys deliver more psychedelic goodness with “The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over the Lazy Fox.” And what an awesome song title is that!  The track has a mesmerizing melody with awesome guitar work and a buzzing bass line so heavy you feel it in your core.

The sublime “I Could Use Some Food” opens with gentle strummed guitar and Minky’s quiet, almost whispered vocals, then explodes into a crescendo during the last minute of the track before quieting back down at the outro. It’s one of my favorites on the album. “Stop Sulking” is another track having a definite Nirvana vibe, with sharp, clipped verses, gnarly guitars and heavy bass. Minky repeatedly wails “I don’t want to play.

Punk makes a return appearance on “Das Krokodil Will Barfuß Sein,” with shredded guitars and fuzzy bass over a frenetic drumbeat, and “Extra-Tourette’strial,” a psychedelic head banger punctuated by Minky’s screaming vocals and distorted, reverb-heavy guitars. Brain Ape offers up some heavy metal on “Blood Blister,” with crushing bass and shredded guitars over an aggressive, hypnotic drumbeat. With his echoed, distorted vocals, Minky shouts “It wasn’t me, you got it all wrong.”

Oh, David” is an ominous sounding track with throbbing, speaker-blowing bass and fantastic guitars that go from jangly to gritty and back again. Album closer “Hunger”  is a complex, retro-sounding track that seems at times to channel 60’s bands The Yardbirds or The Doors. The track features psychedelic-sounding echoed vocals and more of Brain Ape’s signature guitars that alternate between jangly and shredded, with an extended reverb-heavy outro. It’s a dramatic finish to an exceptional album.

Connect with Brain Ape:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream Auslander on Soundcloud or purchase on Bandcamp