After reuniting with their original vocalist Jesse Leach a few years ago and completing one album cycle, Massachusetts metal vets Killswitch Engage are back with their newest album “Incarnate”. Leading up to this album, KSE said they had been experimenting with new things in their songwriting, probably one of the first-ever statements of its kind from any act in the notoriously formulaic metalcore subgenre. While this promise ends up being less than satisfyingly fulfilled, the band still manage to occasionally break away from the rest of the mire and demand the attention of us metal fans who abandoned metalcore like a cookie-cutter sorority girl a long time ago.
Lucid Dawn is the third full length-album by Arkaik, a technical progressive death metal band from Southern California. They’ve been a part of the great crop of tech-death bands coming from there, led by Unique Leader Records, although they haven’t quite found a sound uniquely theirs yet. Numerous line up changes make this record vastly different from their previous ones. Reflections Within Dissonance, their first album, was pretty direct tech-death, while Metamorphignition (their second) took things in a progressive direction with some super strange progressive and jazz elements being added. The jazz wankery really held that album back, and this album shows another evolution towards a more distinctive sound. Jared Christianson’s vocals continue the story of Cyrix, and the spiraling and disorienting story elements that are tied in with the dissonant guitar lines are much more grounded here. The music is more digestible, with an emphasis on ripping and percussive riffs that are easier to follow along and appreciate the immense quality of the musicianship that goes into each part. The drums feel more comfortable in the realm of death metal, whereas on the last album they felt too jazz influenced in a way that conflicted with the rest of the album. Lucid Dawn still has plenty of left turns, but they feel more cohesive and focused. It comes across as a mix of their first two albums, with tracks like From the Void and Conjuring recalling the pounding annihilation of Obscured Luminosity and Elemental Synthesis from the first album, while Digital Shroud and Fleshwalkers draw more parallels to Soliloquies of the War Machine and The Omnipus from Metamorphignition. While Metamorphignition was a tad disappointing, this album reaffirmed the band’s status as up and comers.
Evil Wizardy are a post rock band from Utica, with interesting guitar effects and soundscapes couched in simple and pretty indie rock songs. They create an interesting vibe on this album, as there is simultaneously a frenetic energy drawn from the closeness in the production and the almost chaotic guitars. The drums and bass are upbeat, although there is quite a bit going on there that gets buried in a mass of guitar distortion which is really interesting and worthy of attention. The vocals are distant, yet cheery, and float around the band. At times they provide texture, and at others they are kind of the focus (but not too much). The guitar parts on the whole jump from quiet, pastoral, and natural images of serenity to those more frantic moments. It leaves it feeling kinda all over the place, but in a good way, as it all sounds well put together and chock full of positive vibes. It just feels sunny, and the guitars are fun, if challenging, to listen to. The stock songwriting structure seems to hold the band back, as the longer songs have more comfortable pacing and display the cool ideas the band has better, while those shorter songs come off as trying to do too much in too little a time and become hard to follow. A great album to play on a cool summer day when everyone wants to chill and go for a drive.
Genre: Post Rock
Best tracks: Josh’s Creek, Motorcycle Music to Me, Santa is Dead
RIYL: The Antlers, Allora Mis, Comfy, A Shoreline Dream
Review by Will Rybaltowski ’17
Hailing from Utica, NY, The North Gate released their first offering in the form of this EP, and it’s pretty sick. It showcases a wide variety of influences that are molded into a grimy, heavy, and evil concoction of burgeoning hatred. This band, despite their youth, knows exactly what they want out of each song. Tremolo picked riffs draw equally on black metal and death metal backgrounds, leading into unabashed caveman breakdowns and slams. Deathgrind, hardcore, and black metal are all thrown around together for good measure, with the band grabbing common elements from these genres and writing killer riffs, crazed and energetic drums, funky bass solos and grooves, and some kvlt blackened vocals. It’s refreshing to hear this vocal style blended with some doom-deathgrind, as it brings an otherworldly and occult character to a solid backdrop, taking the band from pretty good to a skin-crawlingy evil affair. The lo-fi production is a must here, as this is the kind of music that benefits from those imperfections, with resonant lower end and a mashed up upper range that is densely populated and distorted. The oppresive wall of distortion indicative of doom metal does so much here, as it feels like it was performed in the catacombs of some abandoned church. The only major downside to this release is the length, as it leaves you craving so much more. Not for the faint of heart, but I look forward to seeing this band tear up the basement scene in Utica.
Best tracks: Forgive Me Father, Filthy Garments
RIYL: Anaal Nathrakh, Wormrot, Bleak, Rote Hexe, Darkcharge
Review by Will Rybaltowski ’17
Aaron Maine isn’t totally sure around other people, or at least that’s what he communicates in the new album from his band, Porches. In Pool, Maine explores feelings of detachment, even as he expresses his own desire for closeness. In the opening track “Underwater,” Maine discusses feelings of being submerged and isolated, even as he reaches out, looking for connection. It’s a theme that reoccurs throughout the album. In the second song, “Braid”, he vocalizes it through the chorus saying, “And it was as if / I was watching it / all through / a meaningful camera / so shaky and blue / I’ve got a dark / my soul too / pumping the strange, same, blood / running through you.” As much as Maine searches for association, he searches for escape. In perhaps the album’s most memorable and defining song, “Be Apart,” he takes the conflict of community and social anxiety head-on singing, “I wanna be apart / I wanna be a part / of it all.”
Dante Elephante’s Anglo Saxon Summer’s sound becomes evident in the first two seconds. Eclectic. Cool. With only two albums, most bands would still be attempting to establish a sound, yet Dante Elephante seems entirely uninterested in any rigid classification. Maybe this is because the music is so authentic, it just seems to classify itself. It’s pop-y, but also holds its own in the alternative market. It isn’t hard to imagine this album as the soundtrack for a “coming of age indie teenage Sundance-esque” film. On an initial listen, a critic might complain the songs all blend together into an album of background music. Don’t believe them. The songs are all refreshingly distinct, oscillating between the upbeat, lo-fi, and even occasionally tiptoeing into indie rock territory. The first song on the album (discounting the intro), Never Trust a Junkie, promises a sound close to Foxygen or Arctic Monkeys. The next few songs then slowly bleed into a more relaxed sound. The turning point of the record occurs in Kyoto ’74, a song with a baseline and vocals that almost evoke King Krule. Energy is then resurrected in the next song and maintained until the end of the album, reintroducing beachy vibes and nostalgia for warmer weather.
Recommended tracks: 2, 7, 11
RIYL: Foxygen, Real Estate
Review by Samantha Fogel
Your Friend play indie rock, but slowed down and relaxed with some folk and strange electronic influences. The music is formless: there are not a lot of repeated passages and ethereal melodies drift in and out of clarity throughout the songs. The album feels fluid because of this, and for better or worse, individual songs don’t stand out as much as pieces of music in their own right, rather as movements in a drifting and wandering journey. For this reason, Gumption is really a love-it-or-hate-it affair. The vocals are the centerpiece of all of the songs, and they do well in this role with a rich sounding voice that can still string together a beautiful and soaring melody while also being capable of a haunting whisper that floats above the gentle cacophony in the background. The drums, guitars, and bass provide a platform for the vocals and the occasional guitar lead, and they do a good job at this by being constantly moving and shifting quietly to keep the songs moving forward. Unfortunately, a lot of the tracks don’t feel like they lead anywhere and some interesting ideas get buried in the sometimes crowded mix or get swept away too soon. The lack of climaxes also makes the experience disorienting, as it is hard to find significant events in the soundscape to relate everything against. A cool album for those who enjoy listening deeply and getting lost, but the introspective qualities can be daunting to delve into.
Best tracks: 1, 4, 8
RIYL: Chelsea Wolfe, Strata Florida, Myrkur, Ann von Hausswolff
Review by Will Rybaltowski
Little King are a throwback classic rock band with some progressive influences, as they clearly enjoy bands like Rush, Triumph, and Kansas. They have some cool sounds that they use in the guitars to create some interesting tones and riffs, and some of the solos are actually pretty solid. Unfortunately, tracks like Happy Home feel completely ripped off of an old album, and there just isn’t anything that Little King adds to make it their own. The unoriginal melodies, and the over simplification of the playing, and the almost utter lack of transitions makes this EP feel so much longer than it is. Riffs are played for too long (Black Hole could be half as long as it is), the vocals lack depth, and the feeling that the players don’t have a full grasp of their instruments takes a mediocre collection of songs and just makes them disappointing. When most of the songs leave you questioning whether or not the musicians know how to stay in key for a whole song, you know it’s not great. It’s like that band playing in the local restaurant writes their own music when they should stick to classic rock covers.
Best tracks: 1, 2
RIYL: Rush, Triumph, Kansas, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Review by Will Rybaltowski
Panic! At the Disco has come a long way since they burst onto the alternative scene with “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” in 2005 and went platinum: the only remaining original member is Brendon Urie, and their (now his) style has noticeably shifted from album to album, settling on a noticeably conventional pop-rock style for the majority of their (his?) newest album “Death of a Bachelor.” It’s not hard to tell that Urie enjoys being PATD’s sole songwriter, which, unfortunately, leads to this album’s biggest issue. The songs place an overbearing focus on his singing and drowns out the rest of the instrumentation, which makes the album often feel like Brendon Urie’s attempt to launch a legitimate solo career rather than a continuation of anything PATD established in their past. Most of the instrumentation that is here is uninteresting, with the exception of a few standout guitar melodies (including one ripped from the B-52s classic “Rock Lobster”), and there are some songs where Urie goes full Sinatra removing all but the most basic backing. Furthermore, the typical song structure on this album is less adventurous and more mainstream, which leads to some obvious filler moments linking second and final choruses, and the lyrics constantly praising wild bachelorhood quickly lose steam.
Monastic Living isn’t an easy album to review, but it isn’t an easy album to listen to anyway. In Monastic Living Parquet Courts, a band perhaps best known for their biting lyricism, abandons both words and conventional structure. In fact, only the 72 second opening track has any words at all. The results are, at the very least, interesting. Preceding the album’s release it had already been panned by Pitchfork, receiving only a 4.9 (somewhat shocking for a band whose live album was even given a somewhat remarkable 7.5 by the website). Not only does Monastic Living depart from that which has worked for Parquet Courts in the past, it seems to turn on their past work entirely. In Monastic Living a band which had once professed goals of being the next great “New York Band” turns on the idea that they ought be the voice of a generation, opening with “I DON’T WANT TO BE AN ESSAYIST”. Andrew Savage, who has always been wary of his seeming “cult of personality” status, goes further to distance himself and the rest of the band from this idea, saying “I’m just a man” and eventually “we’re just a band”. It’s self righteous and they know it, even saying so in their liner notes. That said, even as Parquet Courts challenges the idea that they should be anything more than musicians, they make it clear that Monastic Living strives to be a statement.