July 31, 2020

Byzantine - The Fundamental Component (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal
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© 2004 Prosthetic Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Right from the very start -- which, for all intents purposes, was signaled by their 2004 debut album, The Fundamental Component -- West Virginia's Byzantine were doing their chosen name justice by serving up a veritable smorgasbord of existing musical styles, torn asunder and reconstructed in sometimes curious, often startling new ways. For the most part, though, the resulting Frankenstein owed most of its body parts to the groove-laden work of Pantera, the tricky time signatures of Meshuggah, and the bandmembers' own thrash and death metal past lives (see prime examples "Stick Figure" and "My New Casket"). But, even at this early stage, Byzantine were already trying to break away from these dominant influences, and their best efforts -- including "Hatfield," "Sin Remover," "The Devil's Arithmetic," and the amusingly named, "The Filth of Our Underlings" (which literally sounded like Rush, at times) -- were usually characterized by unexpected dynamic shifts, unveiling truly progressive and exploratory melodic passages. Alas, much of the remaining material -- though rife with sporadic bright spots -- seemed torn by the gravitational pull of two, very distinct eras in the evolution of heavy metal: the fast-emerging metalcore movement and the nu metal fashion plate it was dethroning (although Byzantine never actually resorted to rapping). Thus, amid all of their other creative ambitions, the group couldn't resist tinkering with the hard/soft textures and harsh/clean vocals typical of the former on "Stoning Judas" and "Kill Chain," nor the vestigial rhythmic and atonal devices of the latter on "Slipping on Noise" and "Brundlefly" -- ultimately to distraction. Consequently, The Fundamental Component is generally viewed as Byzantine's least consistent and focused album, but that hasn't stopped die-hard fans from championing it for those very same reasons, and, in any case, it's quite a strong statement for a brand new band.

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Byzantine - ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents (2005)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal
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© 2005 Prosthetic Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Quickly moving to capitalize on the momentum attained by their impressive, but somewhat stylistically scattered debut, West Virginian prog-metal mavericks Byzantine set to work fine-tuning their complex sound with 2005's biblically named sophomore album, ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents -- but without renouncing the compositional risk-taking that had set them apart in the first place. This, most observers would agree, was accomplished by cutting out the genre-hopping fat; including any vestigial nu metal nonsense (as that movement was thankfully finally falling out of favor) and gratuitous dynamic mood swings (oftentimes more shocking than actually effective), so that Byzantine's distinctive penchant for matching Pantera's grooves with Meshuggah's polyrhythms could forge an optimum foundation for their increasingly stunning instrumental adventures. Amazingly, these changes made Serpents not only better, but, on the whole, even more brutal than its predecessor; consistently yielding violently syncopated riff sequences as thick as granite blocks, 'round which the band's gifted twin guitarists, Chris Ojeda and Tony Rohrbough, could then spin endless vines of spine-tingling leads and harmonies (see "Ancestry of the Antichrist," for a perfect example) -- as serpentine as the album's title suggested. Similarly, vocalist Ojeda decided to use his already much improved melodic singing far more sparingly this time around (although he really lets it loose on the album-best "Jeremiad"), choosing instead to alternate between raw (but always in tune) screams, guttural growls, or harsh, Anselmo-like howls, more often than not. Even the unforeseen necessity of recording the album as a trio (due to the recent departure of bassist Chris Adams) apparently posed no special challenge, since guitarist Rohrbough simply added four-string duties to his primary six. And thus, ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents solidified Byzantine's standing as a force to be reckoned with in the new millennium's first decade.

tags: byzantine, and they shall take up serpents, 2005, flac,

Byzantine - Oblivion Beckons (2008)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Groove Metal
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© 2008 Prosthetic Records
AllMusic Review by Cosmo Lee
Metal's recombinant energy has scarcely been more fluid than on Oblivion Beckons. On their third full-length, West Virginia quartet Byzantine synthesize the last 20 years of metal into an incredibly colorful, vibrant whole: '80s thrash rolls into '90s groove metal, which yields to Meshuggah's math meters, which cycle back around to straight-up '80s metal. The result evokes a brainier, and much less predictable, Lamb of God -- and therefore Pantera. Essentially, Oblivion is one long highlight reel. Jaw-dropping leads and headbang-able riffs erupt in such profusion that the record is a primer on state-of-the-art guitar playing. The sonic diversity is astounding. Clean tones, acoustic guitars, and lyrical Steve Vai Lydian modes whirl around swaggering, syncopated riffing that never sacrifices groove for technicality. "Nadir" thunders with hard-charging triplets; "Catalyst" tosses off melodic death metal so flawlessly that it humbles actual practitioners of the sound. Previous album ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents was also a riff bonanza, but Oblivion fixes the one thing wrong with that record: vocals. Before, Chris Ojeda's vocals sounded off, like he was singing the wrong song. Here, not only do his melodies match the riffs, he also expands his palette. Tough growls, sonorous singing, and even a witchy screech push the songs to near-ecstatic heights. This is a band at the top of its game, and perhaps its genre -- and tragically, it broke up mere days after releasing this record. Oblivion may beckon, but it'll take a while with a legacy this impressive.

tags: byzantine, oblivion beckons, 2008, flac,

Deafheaven - Roads To Judah (2011)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Blackgaze
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© 2011 Deathwish
Review by Sammi Chichester for Mind Equals Blown.net
In 38 minutes, it can be proven black metal still exists in a contemporary form- and it’s in the United States. San Francisco’s Deafheaven, have released their debut, Roads to Judah, and it is nothing short of what the hype suggests.
Promoted for months by Deathwish, it seemed they had a dirty secret they weren’t willing to share until the actual release date.  Recorded by Jack Shirley of Comadre fame, it’s an album that is difficult to start and stop due to the fact it only has four songs. The shortest song is about seven minutes, so you might as well listen to it in its entirety anyway.
It’s clear within the first few minutes of the opener “Violet” that this band is a conglomerate of genres. They are a mixture of pungent black metal, unexplored experimental, and tender post-hardcore. It’s like a little bit of Envy, Orchid, and Leviathan all at once. That’s why it’s too simple to say, “Deafheaven is black metal.” You can’t, especially when the vocals of George Clarke are reminiscent of that ’80s black metal, while a shoe-gazed sound precedes an aggressive guitar rhythm. Sometimes the guitars have effects that are atmospheric, yet weigh heavily on the listener. This is why it often sounds as if they are going to disappear, but they always make one last entrance with a desperate message.
“Language Games” is a chaotic mess in a great way, showing Deafheaven can pull off layers of sound within the same song, even bringing in a little post-hardcore towards the end.
By far, “Unrequited” is the best track on the album. While it’s clear by the lyrics that it is unrequited love (“I feel so worn, quartered, and torn/ Hung from the post where my brothers once sung/ Cut from the tie where my sanity binds/Stuck in Winter’s Hell, with just you in mind”), it will not leave the listener as such. Those atmospheric guitars return as the drums intensify with raw, deeply screaming vocals to a speedy explosion of sound.
Even “Tunnel of Trees” is unlike any other. It has a great beat with layers of tone until halfway through the song when suddenly, it goes quiet to just solemn outdoor noises. It creates a strange emotion as it sounds so beautiful with the darkest growls laid on top. Then church organ-oriented keys play with emphasis and emotion, as the song fades out to nothing.
If the songs are unlike most of what’s out there and the album is named Roads to Judah, it’s kind of hard to not think of biblical matters. In actuality, the title is just a reference to the busiest line of the San Francisco transit system, the “N Judah,” proving it is nothing more than tangible.
Nevertheless, Deafheaven’s debut is interesting and potentially influential.  It may be that the typical black metal fan may be too staunch to listen to Roads to Judah, but that’s their loss.

tags: deafheaven, deaf heaven, roads to judah, 2011, flac,

Deafheaven - Sunbather (2013) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Blackgaze
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 2013 Deathwish
AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney
When we think about black metal, there's a certain expectation we associate with it; a feeling of icy bleakness that grips the listener by the spine and throws them into a pit of existential despair. Metal, however, is not a genre concerned with simply meeting expectations; it wants to destroy and subvert them. On Sunbather, their sophomore album, San Francisco's Deafheaven do just that. Imbuing their sound with elements of shoegaze and post-rock, the band create a stunning sonic shift from suffocating darkness to enveloping light. Made up of four sprawling tracks strung together by ambient interstitials, the album drifts between moments of manic catharsis and contemplative calm, allowing the listener a moment of respite in its expansive soundscapes before releasing another intense deluge of rhapsodic emotion (and blastbeats). Amazingly, Deafheaven manage to make an album that feels completely different, tonally speaking, from any other death metal record, while still tackling the same subject. The album explores themes of death, regret, doubt, loss, and fear, but it does so through poetic exploration rather than profane confrontation. This lighter touch gives the listener time to really internalize and reflect upon the lyrics rather than react viscerally, making for an altogether deeper experience for those willing to take the time to really take the album in. Many bands go through their entire career without making an album as well crafted, fully realized, and downright gorgeous as Sunbather, and somehow, Deafheaven have managed to nail it on their second outing, with an album that seems to get bigger and more affective with each listen.

tags: deafheaven, deaf heaven, sun bather, sunbather, 2013, flac,

Deafheaven - New Bermuda (2015) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Blackgaze
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☠: Selected by Buccaneer
© 2015 Anti-
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson
California-based metal group Deafheaven's 2013 breakthrough album Sunbather was triumphant and uplifting, even as it dealt with harsh personal issues such as insecurity and alienation. That album's heavily anticipated follow-up, New Bermuda, offers a much bleaker perspective, beginning with the abandonment of joy, expressing feelings of not being able to escape, and ending by envisioning death. Musically, the group sharpens its attack, adding more traditionally metal-sounding elements (most notably the chugging riffs and wah-wah soloing during the middle of "Baby Blue") to its shoegaze-influenced black metal sound. Vocalist George Clarke sounds more ferocious and demonic than on previous outings, snarling with a previously unmatched intensity. The album is less overtly experimental than its predecessor, lacking its ambient interludes and spoken word passages (other than a minute-long Godspeed You! Black Emperor-like drone collage), but the group remains adept at incorporating influences from non-metal genres, gracefully switching between moods and dynamic levels throughout the lengthy, suite-like compositions. While New Bermuda's five tracks center around pulverizing blastbeats and thundering guitar riffs, the less heavy sections are more swirling and atmospheric than before, with several moments that recall '90s 4AD dream pop at its best (Red House Painters specifically come to mind, and that is never a bad thing), and even some non-country-sounding slide guitar during "Come Back." The album also reveals more of a pop sensibility than before, especially during the closing song "Gifts for the Earth," which backs up its screaming vocals and crushing drums with chiming alt-rock guitars and tambourine (!), ending with calm acoustic guitars and pianos, and ultimately facing death with a much more positive, welcoming notion than the album's beginning might have indicated. As on Sunbather, the group's scope is astonishing, the production by longtime associate Jack Shirley is immaculate, and the entire album is simply a powerful, enrapturing experience. New Bermuda finds Deafheaven continuing to effortlessly traverse genre borders and create transcendent music.

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Deafheaven - Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (2018) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Blackgaze
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© 2018 Anti-
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
Despite Deafheaven's penchant for sonic and musical experimentation, one of the true constants in their ever-evolving sound is the direct address of emotional expression. Their music shifts focus from album to album but results in something unequivocally their own. After an extended break, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love finds the band sounding both refreshed and renewed after the unrelenting, existentially crushing blackened power assault of New Bermuda. This seven-song album -- produced by the inimitable Jack Shirley -- offers a musical argument more accessible, but simultaneously more complex than any of its three predecessors, while falling in line developmentally. Taking its title from a line in one of Graham Greene's intimate, provocative novel The End of the Affair, itself about personal and spiritual transformation, this set charts human frailty, brokenness, desire, and the search for wholeness. Deafheaven may exist in a musical line that extends from Alcest, Envy, and Jesu, but they're more idiosyncratic, more direct and purposeful in pursuing beautiful sounds through sophisticated melodies, panoramic textures, and landscape dynamics. Their always-tasteful aesthetic makes use of both emotional excess and creative investigation. "You Without End" commences with ocean sounds that whisper the introduction of a gorgeous, repetitive acoustic piano line, followed by sunny, reverbed slide guitar, and Nadia Kury's voice reading from a short story as drums add a pronounced shuffle atop the bassline. Elton John-esque ivory crescendos and a spiky six-string break usher in Clarke's primal yet melodic screaming about a protagonist on a public street thinking of Julio Cortazar watching women walk amid violent men. First single "Honeycomb" is an 11-minute careen through visceral black metal, complete with blastbeats, blistering guitar swells, and tempo shifts, with Clarke screaming through solos and a sonically unruly noisescape. The first third of "Canary Yellow" offers a restrained guitar line that sounds like Robin Guthrie's before exploding into a transcendent Kerry McCoy riff orgy, framing a lyric body that reflects author Georges Bataille's explorations of desire and excess: "On and on we choke on an everlasting handsome night/My lover's blood rushes through me/Wild, fantastic…." "Glint"'s first half is spent shoegazing through blissed-out guitar textures before McCoy, second guitarist Shiv Mehra, and Clarke create a whirl intense enough for the rhythm section to erupt. The lovely "Night People" (featuring Chelsea Wolfe) finds Deafheaven experimenting with an intricate, artful, and haunting ballad form. Closer "Worthless Animal" is a post-rock ballad for half of its ten minutes; it then builds almost imperceptibly toward an explosive, transformative conclusion. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love isn't going to change detractors' minds about Deafheaven. Instead, with its searing depictions of emotional and spiritual struggle in a relentlessly ambitious musical presentation, it should attract a new legion of listeners as well as deliver assurance and solace to those who found their earlier records so compelling.

tags: deafheaven, deaf heaven, ordinary human love, 2018, flac,

July 29, 2020

Ricky Martin - Sound Loaded (2000)

*U.S. first pressing. 
Contains 15 tracks total.
Country: Puerto Rico
Language: English, Spanish (Español)
Genre: Latin Pop
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© 2000 Columbia
AllMusic Review by Jose F. Promis
Ricky Martin's second English-language album Sound Loaded did not fare nearly as well as its earth-shattering predecessor, even though the quality of the material is probably one notch higher. Several reasons could be given for this, but the most obvious is lousy marketing. First, the album's lead-off single, the electrifying (and terribly titled) "She Bangs" (arguably one of the best songs of 2000), which failed to make the U.S. Top Ten, wasn't even released as a commercial single. Second, the album's follow-up, "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely," was remixed and refashioned into a duet with red-hot Anglo-Latina vixen Christina Aguilera -- the album version is solo Ricky, and features largely acoustic accompaniment, as opposed to the remix's more bombastic instrumentation. Unbelievably, the version with Christina Aguilera wasn't released as a commercial single. Instead, the album was re-released with a single of the song clumsily attached to it (with a rubber band, no less). In other words, most of Ricky's fans, who had already bought the album, would have had to purchase it all over again in order to have the hit version of the song. And thirdly, the set's final single, "Loaded" (which was actually released commercially, indicating a base level of intelligence on the label's part), bore more than a striking resemblance to his breakthrough hit "Livin' la Vida Loca," but, by the time of its release, the magic had petered off. Those factors aside, the album is a lushly produced set, with more Latin-flavored dance cuts, such as the fun, Santana-ish "Amor," the smoldering, string-enhanced "Jezabel," the endearing "If You Ever Saw Her," and the sizzling Spanish-language track "Cambia La Piel." The ballads, however, tend to weigh the album down, such as the unmemorable "Come to Me" and "The Touch." And, finally, Latin loverman clichés abound, which bring down otherwise fine tracks such as "Saint Tropez" and the gypsy-tinged, slightly bizarre "One Night Man." Infinitely better marketing and less reliance on clichés will hopefully translate into better sales for Ricky Martin's future English-language albums, but, for the time being, Sound Loaded, an otherwise fine album (and exquisitely produced), will go down in history as something of an undeserved flop.

tags: ricky martin, sound loaded, 2000, flac,

July 28, 2020

Brad - Shame (1993)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Funk Rock
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© 1993 Epic Associated
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett
Released a couple of months before Pearl Jam's Vs. broke sales records, Shame is one of the sharper side-project efforts out there, largely because it doesn't seek to clone the parent group. Instead of Gossard, the focus falls on vocalist Shawn Smith, the sweetly voiced, soul-inspired frontman who also achieved notice later for his own group, Satchel, as well as his project with production legend Steve Fisk, Pigeonhed. On his first major effort, Smith shows excellent control, avoiding the dubious theatricality of the likes of Michael Bolton. His astonishing falsettos have won him Prince comparisons, but he's no slavish imitator, with a rich tone and sense of hurt. He handles keyboards for the group as well, and his piano and organ parts quite fine and his performance sense generally spot on. His composition "Screen," especially when it gets to a lovely vocal/piano/bass break towards the end, is a good all-around showcase for his work. As a band, Brad works in traditional but quite effective ways, about as close as the group gets to Pearl Jam in any sense. If anything, in "My Fingers" the group actually has a better anthem than most of what's on Ten, Smith's heavily flanged vocals mixed with a stirring Gossard guitar build and rhythms crunch. The group mostly works in two modes -- uplifting, heavier rockers along the lines of "My Fingers," also including the quietly funky "20th Century" and the great album-finisher "We," and slower, quieter late-night groovers like "Buttercup" and "Good News." If not groundbreakers per se, the four always do a fine job, guaranteeing a pleasant listen through and through. Bassist Jeremy Toback's own vocal turn on the melancholic "Down" isn't bad either, while the squelchy-voiced "Rockstar" is an amusing little one-off, not to mention the weird rant in the album's final seconds.

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Oh Susanna - Johnstown (1999)

*First pressing. 
Contains 12 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A./Canada
Language: English
Genre: Alternative Country
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© 1999 Stella Records
AllMusic Review by Michael Berick
Upon an initial look, Oh Susanna (the musical persona of American-born, Canadian-bred Suzie Ungerleider) appears to be just another Lilith Fair folky, but looks often are deceiving. The opening notes of her first song -- the disc's forceful title track, "Johnstown" -- reveal that she is no pastoral wallflower. Set around the Johnstown flood, the murder ballad "Johnstown" paints a gritty portrait of a soulless prostitute killer. Oh Susanna stocks her first full-length disc with similarly dark and harrowing tales. Songs like "The Bridge" and "You'll Always Be," for example, chronicle women trapped in troubled marriages. Even her happier tunes are tinged with trouble. In "Walking," the female protagonist might be a survivor, but she must live like a man to succeed. Love songs, such as "Home Soon (The Cherry Song)" and "Tangled & Wild," are bathed in sadness, although the latter tune -- the disc's closing cut -- does offer slivers of hope. Like Gillian Welch, Oh Susanna is inspired by traditional songs, but her interests dwell with country blues rather than Welch's bluegrass predilections. She sings in a fierce, bluesy style that only enhances her songs' sense of heartbreak. In "You'll Always Be," her voice reaches near-keening levels to convey the turmoil that the woman in the song is experiencing. Likewise, her determination is palpable when she sings, "I will find you/I will find you" in "Old Kate," a tale of lost love. Produced by Peter Moore(who also produced the Cowboy Junkies), the disc has a raw and noir-ish country blues sound that fits Oh Susanna's mournful but moving songs. While the arrangements generally are spare, there are moments when a dissonant piano or Hawaiian hollow-neck guitar get used to accentuate a song's turbulent emotional state. With one foot in the past and the other in the present, Oh Susanna makes Johnstown a powerfully stirring effort.

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July 27, 2020

Vicious - Destination Brooklyn (1994)

*A photo of the disc is included in the RAR file.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Ragga, Dancehall
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© 1994 Epic Street
Review by Allmusic.com
Marked by a stylish, varied mix of hip-hop, and both dancehall and roots-style reggae, DESTINATION BROOKLYN jumps out of a stereo with more authority than any debut by a 13-year-old has a right to. Then again, Brooklyn-born-and-bred Vicious isn't the average mic-wielding teenager. Rather than masking his hip-hop-ness with reggae intonations, Vicious is a "toaster" through and through. One listen to the dangerous dancehall of "Him Never Do It," or the Coxsone Dodd-style backing track of "The Lesson" (which also features the rhymes of Beenie Man), shows that he is immersed in reggae style; and the album's overwhelming bass riddims prove that his producers know well-enough to keep him there. Yet, it would be impossible to grow up in the middle of rap's old-school territories and not absorb its influences. Thus, the duet with Wu-Tan Clan protege Shyheim ("Life Of A Shortie"), and the cuts featuring beatbox champion Doug E. Fresh (particularly "Freaks," which first spotlighted Vicious' talents) mix a little hip-hop flavor with his ragamuffin style. Vicious treats both of those crafts as though they were his own.

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South - With The Tides (2003)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Alternative Rock
Style: Post Britpop
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© 2003 Kinetic Records
AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson
South made an impressionable debut in 2001 with From Here on In, which was a starlit, gauzy pop specter specially accented with mentor James Lavelle's meticulous production. Fresh off the critical acclaim of that album and a brand new confidence, South aimed to charm once more with their sophomore effort, With the Tides. Producer Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Ash, Kylie Minogue) builds on the band's classic swarm of string arrangement interludes and acoustic guitars for a glorious noise of heavy, cascading electric guitars, synth loops, and shimmering percussion. There's a sharpness that was absent before, a shift in focus and time that's strict in design. With the Tides' dozen-song selection ebbs with an underlying moody atmosphere. Frontman Joel Cadbury's warm vocals sooth complications of loss ("Natural Disasters") and loneliness ("Fragile Day"). The stunning backing of guitarist Jamie McDonald and drummer Brett Shaw surrounds these tender moments with a lush dynamic, hinting at South's underlying thought that there's light flickering at the end of it all. With the Tides isn't entirely a dark occasion of social isolation. Politics play a part regardless of what life presents, and songs like "Motiveless Crime" and the maddening guitar rush of "Colours in Waves" won't dwell on that. South's honest impression, taken from the fact that they've grown personally and professionally, of life in a general sense captures a feeling of a generation misguided by fear. The banjo-harpsichord waltz on "Loosen Your Hold" tries makes sense of it, and the album's title indirectly alludes to that. This London-based trio makes it all sound so easy -- to go with the tides.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Baby 81 (2007)

*U.S. pressing. 
Contains 13 tracks total.
Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Alternative Rock, Garage Rock
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© 2007 RCA
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra
After completely (and successfully) rehauling their sound for 2005's Howl, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club shelved their low-key Americana leanings, reburied their roots music influences, and retreated to a new version of their old, noisy sound. Baby 81 is a big rock record with walls of crunchy guitars, thundering drums, and lots of volume that sounds like a cross between Oasis and the Jesus and Mary Chain at their most conventional. It's also an over-polished, over-thought, and under-inspired record that forsakes everything good that the group accomplished on Howl (subtlety, emotion weight, solid songcraft) in favor of stale melodies, vacant lyrics, and clichéd bad-boy rock & roll posturing. Songs like "666 Conducer," "Berlin" (which is saddled with the howlingly bad chorus "Suicide's easy/What happened to the revolution?"), the slick new wave bandwagon-hopper "American X," and the clunky "Lien on Your Dreams" are like paint-by-numbers rockers that even JAMC would set aside as too bland. The Mary Chain comparison is blindingly obvious, but maybe a bit unfair to the Reid brothers; even at their most generic, they always had the evil force of their personalities to help sell their pose, but BRMC has no personality to fall back on. This album slinks past in an embarrassing haze of forgettable songs and missed opportunities. Even the couple of tunes that start off promising, like the moody "All You Do Is Talk" or "Am I Only" (which teases by opening with a quiet acoustic guitar passage), are ruined by the hackneyed production and the overall tired, desperate feeling that pervades the album. After Howl, it seemed like the group was poised to make some very good, honest-sounding records. Instead they have succumbed to an ill-fated attempt to get back in the rock & roll game, and it's a painfully disappointing artistic failure.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (2005)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Americana
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© 2005 Echo/Abstract Dragon
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra
Since the release of Take Them On, On Your Own in 2003, things were tumultuous for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. They were unceremoniously dropped by Virgin in a cloud of bad feeling. They lost their drummer. They bounced back and signed with RCA. They welcomed back their drummer. Somewhere in the middle of all this they completely revamped their sound. In fact, their first record for RCA, 2005's Howl, sounds like the work of an entirely different group. Gone are the insistent tempos, the snarling vocals, and the sheets of guitar noise. Gone is the hostile and often belligerent pose of the first two albums. Gone is the influence of noise rock bands like the Velvet Underground and the Jesus and Mary Chain. The band has embraced classic American music, namely country, blues, and gospel. It's dramatically expanded its sound to the point where you wonder if the albums that preceded this were some kind of reductionist prank. The band has a light touch and sense of drama and arrangement here that seems to have come out of the blue. (Check the credit to T-Bone Burnett for "additional recording assistance" for a clue, though.) In fact, the first thing you hear on the album is enough to have you checking to make sure the disc isn't defective: the multi-tracked vocals of Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been emulating a gospel choir at the beginning of "Shuffle Your Feet," a rollicking slice of front-porch country complete with strumming acoustic guitars, harmonica, handclaps, and slide. It's no fluke because for the most part the album that follows is built on similarly relaxed, acoustic, and loose underpinnings. Tracks like "Still Suspicion Holds You Tight," "Devil's Waiting" (which features the return of the multi-tracked choir), and "Complicated Situation" have a lightness and ease that they previously could never have achieved. Other songs benefit from the expansion of sound too: "Weight of the World" has an epic, reaching-for-the-stars feel not a million miles from Coldplay and their followers (though it has more gritty soul than that), while "Howl"'s fuzz chamber sound is the closest thing to their previous work, but the circus organ, sleigh bells, and dynamics give the song color where it would have been shades of gray. On these songs and elsewhere the vocals are much more a part of the sound now as they are more upfront and impassioned. Both Hayes and Been have fine voices that are well suited to their new direction, sincere and gritty but never strained. Along with a new sound BRMC seem to have found religion too, as nearly half the songs revolve around God, the Devil, sin, and salvation. "Restless Sinner" and "Gospel Song" (which shows that the band hasn't completely abandoned its old influences, as the song is filtered closely through Spaceman 3's interpretation of gospel) are the most obvious manifestation of this new focus, but much of the record has the exuberance and weight of a band wrestling with heavy emotions. Well, that but without being quite as boring as it sounds. Of course, boredom is relative and by the end of the record you may find yourself wondering whatever happened to your rock & roll. You may feel betrayed by their sudden shift away from noise and danger, confused by the sudden change from a band of sulky post-teens with sex and danger on their minds to questioning (though still young) adults looking for salvation. Understandable, no question. If you want your rock dirty, loud, and dangerous (though BRMC were only halfway believable when that was their image), you had better look somewhere else. If you want it thoughtful and passionate but still alive and realistic, then give Howl a chance. BRMC have grown up and grown interesting.

tags: brmc, black rebel motorcycle club, howl, 2005, flac,

July 26, 2020

Blake Babies - Earwig (1989) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1989 Mammoth Records
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason
A giant step beyond the Blake Babies' scattershot 1987 debut, Nicely Nicely, 1989's Earwig is an utter delight. Although it was recorded during a period of personnel instability, before the group had once and for all settled into the trio format of Juliana Hatfield on bass and vocals, John P. Strohm on guitar, and Freda Boner on drums, there's a cohesion to this album that makes it greater than the sum of its individual parts. Opening with the mildly petulant ecological rant "Cesspool," the album quickly settles into the niche that would remain the Blake Babies' for the rest of their career: first-person songs about life among the young and disenchanted. "You Don't Give Up," "Don't Suck My Breath," and the sneering "Take Your Head off My Shoulder" initiate the rocky relationship with romance that's the hallmark of Hatfield's lyrics, and songs like the moody, almost ambient "From Here to Burma" indicate a wider frame of musical reference than many groups of their ilk. Though the band would quickly outshine it with the mini-masterpiece Sunburn, Earwig was the album on which the Blake Babies proved that they were among the most important groups on the nascent indie rock underground.

tags: blake babies, earwig, 1989, flac,

Blake Babies - Sunburn (1990) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 1990 Mammoth Records
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason
Sunburn is not just the Blake Babies' best album, it's in many ways the last great college rock album, the album that's the pinnacle of the U.S. indie guitar scene of the late '80s, and the album that exemplifies what "alternative" meant in those pre-Nevermind days when the term was actually understood to mean something. Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love (puckishly billed here as Freda Boner) create a literate, emotionally direct brand of catchy, melodic pop based on the post-punk jangle pop of the '80s, but with a slightly tougher edge, particularly in Strohm's guitar sound. For the first time, Strohm contributes two solo writing credits on which he sings lead, the disturbing "Girl in a Box" and the anthemic "Train," which somehow manages to quote both "Mystery Train" and "I Melt with You." However, Sunburn is primarily the album on which Juliana Hatfield's songwriting prowess first flourishes, and it's possibly her finest collection of songs. Kicking off with the one-two punch of the tart kiss-off "I'm Not Your Mother" and the aching "Out There," the finest song of the Blake Babies' career, the album continues through ten more punchy guitar pop songs with lyrics filled with Hatfield's trademark combination of innocence, brashness, wit, and moments of extreme self-doubt. "I'll Take Anything" and "Kiss and Make Up" are early examples of the kind of disarming emotional vulnerability further explored on the more controversial songs of Hatfield's early solo career. "Watch Me Now, I'm Calling," though, has to be the most emotionally masochistic song of Hatfield's entire career, expressing romantic dependency in disturbingly graphic images of physical self-mutilation, which become all the more powerful and discomfiting given Hatfield's perfectly matter-of-fact delivery. It's an unpleasant song, but an oddly fascinating one with the same sort of compellingly real tone as some of Kristin Hersh's early Throwing Muses songs. On a more upbeat note, "Look Away" has a spirited chorus and wittily phrased lyrics, and "Star" seems, in retrospect, to foreshadow Hatfield's ambivalent response to her media darling image circa 1994. Gary Smith's production keeps things simple without sounding like the songs are unfinished or under-arranged, and Strohm, Hatfield, and Love have the casually impressive interplay of a band who know they're making the best record of their career. Elements outside of their control would change the musical landscape seemingly overnight within a year of Sunburn's release; so what else could they do except break up? They split amicably in early 1991.

tags: blake babies, sunburn, sun burn, 1990, flac,

Blake Babies - God Bless The Blake Babies (2001) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock
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☠: Selected by Lass
© 2001 Zoë Records
AllMusic Review by Kelly McCartney
The Blake Babies are back, melodic hooks and great songs in tow. Even if you aren't familiar with their previous work, both individually and collectively, you can jump right in with this one because God Bless the Blake Babies is as welcome as the title implies. Juliana Hatfield and crew open the jangle pop gates with "Disappear." You'd almost think it was a happy song, until you listen closely -- "What I wouldn't do: go back to '92 and erase the moment I met you and make you disappear." That's a kiss-off of the highest order. Hatfield shares the songwriting chores fairly equally with guitarist John Strohm, with drummer Freda Love Smith chiming in for two tunes and guest bassist/vocalist Evan Dando for one. Strohm even steps up to the center mic for his "Picture Perfect" and "Invisible World." The former is a great track, a loving ode to balance out the sentiment of "Disappear" and "What Did I Do." "She's my favorite shade of blue" goes a long way to counteract that erasing you business. Then it's Smith's turn in the spotlight for "When I See His Face," which has a slightly more alternative feel than most of the other tunes. Drugs seem to be a recurring theme. Witness "Baby Gets High," "Until I Almost Died," and "Brain Damage." Life can't be all roses and sunshine. They are rock stars, after all. The beauty of the Blake Babies is that it all sounds like roses and sunshine. Bless them, indeed.

tags: blake babies, god bless the blake babies, 2001, flac,

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - B.R.M.C. (2001)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Shoegazing
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© 2001 Virgin/Abstract Dragon
AllMusic Review by Bryan Thomas
This L.A.-based band (originally hailing from San Francisco) came along just when they were needed most. This self-produced major-label debut boldly plunders a reverb-and-white noise course previously trampled underfoot by long-gone British bands of the late '80s and early '90s (the Jesus & Mary Chain, the Verve, Ride, the Stone Roses, etc.). It all sounds very British, on many levels, despite the fact that only one band member is an Englishman living in exile in the States. On some songs, however, the driving, over-amped guitars (often buzzing with "VU needles-in-red"-type feedback) and pounding drums have a swaggering primeval feel that rivals solid Detroit rock outfits, both old and new (including the Stooges and the Go, to name two). A few have dark, introspective lyrics, with subjects like impending death ("Rifles" at their heart, while others have a positive, more uplifting feel (cf. "Salvation"), but it's really the group's cohesive, solid production overall that captures a shoegazing, blustery rock vibe not heard for nearly a decade or more. Highlights abound on this astonishing disc, including the bitter opening salvo, "Love Burns," the diaphanous space pop of "Too Real," and the flurry of sawtooth guitar scree that is "Whatever Happened to My Rock n' Roll (Punk Song)," a track recalling the manic intensity of the Stooges circa Fun House.

tags: black rebel motorcycle club, brmc, brmc album, 2001, flac,

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Take Them On, On Your Own (2003)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Shoegazing
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© 2003 Virgin/Abstract Dragon
AllMusic Review by MacKenzie Wilson
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club made an impressive debut in 2001, taking both America and England by surprise while alternative metal ruled the charts. Their psychedelic/space rock/glam-colored blend was hungry to give rock a new face. Three years later and garage rock still reviving the late-'90s pop-soaked scene, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aims to save a bit of rock & roll with its sophomore effort Take Them On, On Your Own. More gutsy, more aggressive, and more dynamic than B.R.M.C., Take Them On, On Your Own blazes on with an intoxicating presentation from the Brit-American collective; vocalist/bassist Robert Turner and guitarist/vocalist Peter Hayes boasted cocksure appeal on the last album, however Take Them On, On Your Own showcases drummer Nick Jago's powerful presentation, ultimately bringing the trio together. They're fearless and this dozen-track release is all swagger, emotive, and cool. Swanky guitar riffs and Turner's faltering drawl on "Stop" and "Six Barrel Shotgun" is classic BRMC. There's not a lot of sauntering like "Red Eyes & Tears" and "Spread Your Love" or snarly punk-tinged bits like "Whatever Happened to My Rock & Roll." The band gives the impression that the last album was lifeless, therefore, the split in song and craft on Take Them On, On Your Own isn't exactly a messy thing. There's more character to songs themselves and BRMC appears a touch more confident. From the acoustic ballad "And I'm Aching" to the post-punk fire of "U.S. Government" and "Rise or Fall," BRMC offers substance over shtick. Reworking some of rock & roll's natural components for their own brash arrangement highlights the band's overall brilliance. For only a second album, they've got the maturity that most young bands lack on a creative level. Such tenacity will carry them a long way

tags: black rebel motorcycle club, brmc, take them on on your own, 2003, flac,

July 25, 2020

Agathocles - Humarrogance (1997)

*First pressing. 
Contains 20 tracks total.
Country: Belgium
Language: English
Genre: Grindcore
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© 1997 Morbid Records
Reviewed by Sea of Tranquilty.org
Here's the one-sentence distillation of what you're about to read: Humarrogance does not disappoint. For those who like a little more detail in their editorials, read on. These Belgian grind-core thrashers are perhaps the best thing to come along since Napalm Death. While not exactly breaking new ground, they are adept at what they do.
Perhaps the best feature of Agathocles' music is the complete lack of formulaic style. This, combined with the short songs--twenty are packed onto the 38-minute disc--kept me absorbed throughout the length of the album. From the jazzy "White Horse" to the brutal "Because," the mixture of styles eliminates the predictability present in, say, Suffocation or Cannibal Corpse. After listening to Humarrogance a half dozen times I still can't remember what I'm going to hear next. And they may have even described a new musical subcategory with "Mince-core."
Agathocles keep everything short and to the point, without epic instrumental solos or other needless frills. Their riffs stand out prominently, not distorted into an undefined haze or mixed into the backgound, and are very catchy. As can be deduced from the title, many of the songs ("Model Citizen", "Culture of Degradation", etc.) deal with "social issues," but don't let that scare you away. The lyrics are unintelligible for the most part.
Agathocles perform intelligent and ruthless metal that sounds good every time I hear it.

tags: agathocles, humarrogance, 1997, flac,

Agathocles - Thanks For Your Hostility (1996)

*First pressing on CD. 
Contains 27 tracks total. 
This album was originally released in 1996 on LP.
Country: Belgium
Language: English
Genre: Grindcore
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© 1996-1997 Morbid Records
Review by Adrian Bromley for Chronicles of Chaos.com
European grindcore pursuers Agathocles' fourth album, _Thanks for the Hostility_, is a bludgeoning onslaught of noise and mayhem all packaged into one album of twenty-seven tracks. That doesn't mean it is worth a listen either. Problems arise quite rapidly with this collection of material, with an abundance of groans and moans, sarcastic band's lyrics and a sloppy direction (not to mention recording) of material. Lacking any kind of formula or even initiative to get any kind of momentum going, Agathocles' latest noisefest turns into a pile of garbage three songs in. I'm staying clear of this one. 

tags: agathocles, thanks for your hostility, 1996, flac,

July 24, 2020

Tankard - Kings of Beer (2000)

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Thrash Metal
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© 2000 Century Media
Reviewed by "Danny" for Metal Reviews.com
"Thrashback 2000 ? In fact, Germany number one disco-destroying outfit, Tankard have never been gone from the surface of extreme metal music, no matter how cold the winds blew for "80-style thrash metal throughout the years........"

And here we go again ... There is no thrash metal revival, but I am amazed but the number of new and old band back under the banner Thrash Metal. Tankard is playing a very honest thrash, the way it has to be played. May be to typical, may be to predictable, may be "déja-vu" a thousand time. No surprise, no bad songs, but I think this album is too linear to impress any metal heads. An average album with average songs.

But let me give you an advise. If you like thrash metal go for Terror 2000 or the last Destruction's album which are still for me the best pieces in thrash metal style this year. This one is a classical album for fans of Tankard's thrash metal, but I am almost sure it will not overcome the test of time.
 
tags: tankard, kings of beer, 2000, flac,