Where Did We Go Wrong
Barron Studios, Houston TX (2012)
by Andrew C
It must be tough to play in a southern rock band these days. First of all, southern rock has pretty much been done to death by now. The innovative sounds and twangs first crafted from the co-mingling of old-school negro blues and southern white-trash pride by people like the Swampers or Duane Allman back in the 1960s have already been polished and popularized beyond any of those founders’ earliest imaginings. Southern rock pretty much rose through the top-40 charts of the later 70’s as an alternative to the disco music or pop fluff like Captain and Tennille or Debbie Boone that prevailed at that time, and certainly after Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane went down in 1977, the public’s interest in chicken-fried hillbilly rock increased markedly. Bands like Molly Hatchet, Blackfoot, .38 Special, The Outlaws, and even the Black Crows followed behind, with their long hair, pot leaf imagery, large six-or-seven piece ensembles, and over-sized Confederate flags in tow. Still to this day southern rock remains a staple on classic rock commercial FM radio, limited though those playlists may be by the innate mundanaity of that format. There can be little room for innovation or real improvement to such an established genre, which is another clear reason that the southern rock musician has, to borrow the down-home vernacular, a tough row to hoe. How do you tweak something that’s already been perfected to such a degree?
If you’re American Swindle, the answer is you don’t. Their five-song debut EP Where Did We Go Wrong sounds just as southern as biscuits and gravy on the breakfast table before heading out with Mom and them to a Sunday morning Baptist hellfire tent revival. If Ronnie Van Zandt was still alive and heard this disc, it’s a fair bet that he would like it a lot. The only things that could possibly be missing are a bangin’ honky-tonk piano, a few hot-chick backup singers, and a big rebel flag on the front cover. There isn’t much of anything new being released here, at least not in terms of any sort of 21st century groundbreaking musical application, and rightly not so. American Swindle isn’t trying to re-invent southern rock, it’s just that they play it so damned well that this band, and the disc they put out, simply cannot go ignored or unnoticed. This is one hard-jukin’ barn-burner of a come-out disc right here, y’all.
From the opening notes of the first track, “Drifter”, one finds shades of Kenny Wayne Sheppard coming to the ear, and the hard-driving rock riffs interlaced with well-timed changes and stops that support the title track “Where Did We Go Wrong” are nothing less than the musical resurrection of Mr. Steve Gaines on guitar. American Swindle is a powerful three-piece out of Houston, Texas but their sound recalls that of the big-band travelling entourages of the mid 70s that came up out of the deep South, from the swamps of northern Florida, southern Georgia, and all of sweet home Alabama. Guitarist/singer Joey Kilcommins, bass player Michael Guidry, and drummer/singer Don Rosecrans play it large and rowdy, somehow capturing the essence of live performance on this studio-produced record, and one can only imagine what a wild bar band they would be to see over a few pitchers and some good friends on a Friday night. Truly, these are dirty southern white boys, in the kindest sense of the phrase. They call it ‘Texas Rock’ on their reverbnation page, but the music presented here doesn’t stop at the proud borders of our fine state. This disc has Dixie written all over it.
The third song, “X’s For Eyes”, is one of the better tracks of the five, which is saying something because every single number is solid. The pace never lets up even once throughout; the slick guitar work, the hard-thumping bass, and drums reminiscent of a rolling freight train carry you along into the also superb “Goodbye Angel”, a number so quintessential to the genre that you find yourself certain you’ve heard that song before, even though you know you haven’t. The disc ends with “Shine On”, which also could easily be slipped into any southern rock playlist virtually unnoticed; it’s so good that it stands beside the likes of Marshall Tucker or The Doobie Brothers with casual ease. Like I said, there’s nothing on this disc that ain’t been done before, but it’s been many years since it has been done so flawlessly or with this much raw passionate energy. American Swindle gets it dead-on right from the opening notes to the last fading cymbal crashes of their debut 5-song EP, and we at Rivethead recommend it highly.
You can find American Swindle on reverbnation, where all of these tracks can be heard. As well, they are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmericanSwindle and they have a pretty spiffy website at http://www.americanswindleband.com/ where you’re connected to photo galleries, tour dates, and videos of the band, and under the ‘store’ tab they have American Swindle key chains, coffee mugs, mouse pads, and T-shirts available not only for you and your significant other, but for y’alls dog too! Check ‘em out! You can be sure to see and hear more from this incredible band in the future!
“Deranged Kids of the Electric Playground” (2011)
by Andrew C
Joel Gregoire, formerly of Stride, is already well known for his technical wizardry on the guitar. Indeed, Gregoire’s masterful licks have always been Stride’s greatest strength and most identifiable trademark. Now a more mature Gregoire has gone into the studio by himself and has emerged with “Deranged Kids of the Electric Playground”, an eleven-song set (plus three remastered bonus tracks) that neatly showcases all of his wide-ranging abilities and talents. Nothing is held back here. All the guitar and bass guitar work is Gregoire; he programmed the drum tracks, and single-handedly composed and orchestrated each song as well. This album is simply the Essential Joel Gregoire at its purest, which is very good news for both current fans and those who soon will be.
From the opening notes of the title track “Deranged Kids…” Gregoire takes the listener immediately onto a wild coaster ride of electrical musical exploration, running through searing scale riffs and melodic lulls with the practiced ease of a seasoned expert. The second track on the disc, “Memorial Day Song”, and the fifth one, “Sons of Liberty”, both patriotically inspired tunes, could perhaps be called somewhat familiar in terms of where the songs are going as they are heard, but that is only because they sounds like something that Frances Scott Key might have composed had Key access to an electric guitar in his day. “Speed and Style”, which should have gotten some consideration for the title track of the album since that song so perfectly sums up the entire ambiance of the overall work, continues the theme of classical guitarist meets axe-shredding maniac, and the rest of the material follows suit. There are surprises here for the listener as well; a great example of this is the thrash xylophone very unexpectedly heard in the beginning of “Brain G’rnade”. “Runaround” features a hardcore drumbeat that never lets up and perfectly supplants the insistently driving guitar work overlain on top. “Whatever Comes” and “Among Giants” both invoke colorful musical imagery in the mind of the listener as the fret board is over-and-over again bent to the will of Gregoire’s lightening-fast fingers. “Urban Legends”, the tenth track, really does play like an old-timey jazz standard that has been given a modern refit and dressed up in rock clothing.
The remaining tracks on the disc also fall into the same genre and type. This material is all instrumental; there are neither vocal tracks nor lyrics anywhere to be found in any of these songs. Commercial success for this album may suffer on that account, since the mainstream does so enjoy poppy little rhymes that they can sing along to, but guitar purists and lovers of technique everywhere will eat this up. Gregoire’s efforts have resulted in nothing less than an album that evokes and lays bare the very soul of the electric guitar itself and takes the listener on a most enjoyable musical odyssey through the Electric Playground that is Joel Gregoire’s trademark sound.
“Deranged Kids…” is without a doubt one of the finest totally instrumental releases to become available in a good many years, and it is certain to end up on CD shelves, mp3 files, and Ipod playlists alongside the greatest guitar legends in the musical pantheon. Les Paul is smiling right now!
by Andrew C
Being small sometimes has its advantages. In the NBA, a small point guard can run circles around those big men like a rabbit zipping through a grove of trees. Horse racing jockeys are small so to be lighter upon the animal’s back. Certainly, when stuck out in a rainstorm, it is the midget, fortunate fellow, who is the last to get wet. If you’re making music, though, like love, you really don’t want small, you want big. You want large and full, rather than elfin and puny. In this, Owl Witch succeeds with ease, offering up both a large sound and a lot of substance for a two-song demo. It is straight-up thrash in the finest traditions of the genre, but the overall tone of this band’s music is above the norm, their technical musicianship is superb, and their presentation is very loud. This is an exciting demo to listen to; these guys are pretty heavy.
The first song, ‘Battle Will Be’, opens with a crash and sustained thunder and catches you with its many hooks and melodic guitar licks long before frontman Ryan Salazar even starts bringing his Paul Baloff-like vocals to bear. Indeed, if you didn’t know this was Owl Witch you might think at first that it was some old unreleased Exodus material, which is not the worst comparison to have if you’re a thrash band. The pickin’ is fast, the rhythms solid and hard, the breaks and changes are all dead on to produce a music that you can’t help but be carried along by, banging your head the whole way.
‘Wolf Chapel’ is next, and brings the same thrash intensity of the first song. The heavy chords and fast stringwork provided by dual guitarists Salazar and David Rivera is well supported by Angel Martinez’ thumping heavy bass-line and anchored in drum work that is as fast and complex as anything else out there. The drums on this demo were done by Brian Howk, but he’s no longer with the band. Trust me, though, their new drummer, ‘Mad’ Mike Del Monte has taken over the skins with no problem and the slammin’ beats do not suffer at all for the substitution.
There is nothing small about this demo release, either in sound or in substance. Both songs, oddly enough, are exactly three minutes and forty-six seconds, and I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence or not. Either way, though, it totals to over seven minutes of good, pure-hearted thrash that really is pretty easy to listen to. I suspect that next time, when it rains, Owl Witch may be amongst the first to get wet. Even Angel!
Owl Witch is a four-piece now playing with increasing frequency in and around the Houston area, and if you get the chance to see them out live now, before they become huge and totally inaccessible, one day you’ll consider yourself lucky for that. They can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OwlWitchMilitia and they’re also active on Reverbnation. Just search Owl Witch. Tell ‘em Rivethead sent ya!
by Andrew C
The first thing that can be said about Cruxiter’s promo disc is that, with only two songs, it is way too short. Hearing Cruxiter only leaves you wanting to hear more Cruxiter, and two tracks just aren't enough for one sitting. It’s a rare thing these days to hear music this heavy, this true to the true roots of classic metal so passionately executed by musicians who obviously love what they do. Combining all the best elements of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and others of that same ilk with aspects of new metal and the speed of European death, this two-song promo disc serves as a great introduction to this five (sometimes six)-piece band hailing from the tiny little berg of Alice, Texas.
From the opening guitar crashes of ‘Paradise Found’, the first track on the demo, one is drawn in by the development of the metal chord progression, so when vocalist Joe Gonzalez comes in sounding for all the world like Halford, Dio, and Dickinson with some Geddy Lee thrown in for pitch, you know at once you’re listening to something just a little different. Its oldschool metal, for sure; you ain’t hearin’ nothing new on this demo, but they just do it so superbly well, with such a modernistic 21st-century contextualization, that anybody who likes real metal would have no choice but to get down with it.
The second and final track is actually two songs together, ‘The Church’ and ‘May Eve’, which extend the track to over five minutes and deliver a whopping nine minutes of music in total. This is actually not too bad for a promo disc, and that’s nine minutes of non-stop serious rockin’ metal, not nine minutes of crappy pop fluff. ‘The Church’ is a straight up homage to All Things Metal, and ‘May Eve’ is a classical-guitar-type solo that brings up images of Yngwie to the ear of the beholder. The disc ends on this pleasantly melodic note, as if sealing Cruxiter’s claim to metal. We also highly recommend seeing them live if you ever get the chance to. It’s well worth it! The next time they come through Houston, Rivethead will spread the word! Because you never get enough!
Hyro da Hero
Birth, School, Work, Death
by Lisa Sullivan
When a rapper calls himself “hero” you have to wonder if he might just have an overinflated sense of his own self worth… or even if he really wants to be taken seriously. Make no mistake about it, Hyro da Hero is serious, and his powerful message set against a backdrop that blends the best elements of old school rap and in-your-face metal, punk and thrash makes him one of the strongest contenders to hit the scene is a long time.
Birth, School, Work, Death is an unapologetic musical and lyrical assault on the rap industry, reality television, man’s reliance on and submission to technology, racism, and many other contemporary ills our society is dealing with. If the lyrics don’t grab you by the throat, the searing and maniacal guitar riffs, rapid fire drum beats, pounding bass, haunting synthesizers, and an array of other instrumentation will enthrall and amaze you and leave you begging for more. Defying categorization, this release sucks you in from the first beats of the krunk-flavored opening anthem, Grudge, to the techno-inspired, psychotic closer, System Overload. In between you will find yourself vacillating between rhyming and head-banging and wanting to hit the dance floor. The change-ups come fast and furious, and not just from track to track, but often within the same track.
The opener, Grudge, is a call to arms that sets the tone for the whole album. It’s a no-holds-barred assault on the current rap scene. Hyro takes shots at “fairy tale rappers with fairly tale names” and stakes his claim as the real deal, fortified with a resounding chorus underscored by synthesizers that eerily sound like a funeral march.
Edgy, distorted guitar riffs lead into The Worlds Stage. No one is spared in this song which takes a hard look at what people are willing to do for their fifteen minutes of fame. The lyrics are right on time and the music is powerful and unpretentious. The bridge is set up against a searing guitar solo and a backdrop of howls, shouts, rants and raves that underscore the theme of the song. The point is brought home in the last verse, “Reality stars act as if they’re A-list, famous for nothing. Act as if the world owe them something… and we do. We owe you the truth. We gotta stop lying to youth. Co-signing, confiding, in things that don’t better society. People after that big buck. Shit sucks for the one that don’t give a fuck.”
We Still Popular is a catchy tune with a traditional heavy metal lead-in and backbeat of guitar solos and crunchy riffs. The tempo temporarily slows and then quickly picks back up as Hyro snubs Hollywood and shares his love for his hood. It’s one of the lighter songs on the release and does an excellent job of showcasing some of the amazing talent that he has assembled.
Man in My City is the other straight ahead rap anthem on the CD. Set off by magnetic synthesizers, the song showcases the frenetic rap style that Hyro is famous for and clearly makes the point that he can hold his own against anyone in his root genre.
Ghetto Ambiance is one of the most powerful tracks on the CD, bringing to mind some of the previous work that has garnered attention for Hyro such as Glimpse into New America. The lyrics tell the violent tale of living in the hood while sharing Hyro’s love for this place he calls home. The song builds to a pulse-pounding crescendo, “police cars, gunshots… helicopters, ambulances, enjoy the ghetto ambiance.”
Sleeping Giants is another standout. Frantically paced – vacillating from punk to hardcore to grunge and back again – it showcases the brilliant and diverse musicians. Intelligent lyrics confront problems in the community and issue a challenge to address the problems from within. “When we let the blind lead the blind, we fall off the cliff at the same time. It’s mass suicide. We the sleeping giants. Time to come alive.”
My favorite track is A Conversation with Hip Hop. The tempo starts out slowly and builds with a sense of urgency that matches the tone of the song. The lyrics are mournful and disheartening and leave the listener yearning for a time when hip hop stood for something, “invaded my art form, infiltrated, destroyed what I fought for... music disintegrates, these others emulate, never elevate.” The tempo slows as Hyro reminisces about the origins of hip hop, and transitions into a flamenco tinged bridge that is emotionally charged and laden with despair at the thought of what hip hop has become.
The heaviest track on the release is Fuck You (Say It to Your Face). It has an old school thrash lead-in with ballsy lyrics about racism, ignorance in the rap community and other societal woes that match the intensity level. Hyro is pissed and this song reflects that sentiment “can’t trust school or religion ‘cuz teachers and preachers are trying to touch children.” “We in a world of selfish ass hypocrites, we love cheap labor but complain about the immigrants.” The distorted guitar fadeout brings solid closure to the tune.
Section 8 takes the CD in a different direction musically, still edgy but almost with an other-worldly sound featuring more synthesizers and changing rhythms. There are some moments when I am reminded of U2 and other moments when it feels like the song is being ravaged by a hardcore punk band. Again the frenetic pace of the music perfectly complements the urgency of the message.
Beam Me Up continues the trend set by Section 8. It tells the tale of a visitor to Planet Earth who witnesses our dependence on technology and can’t leave fast enough. It is humorous but also sadly reflective of what our society has become. The musical pace is frantic and strangely disjointed, enabling the listener to identify with the visitor’s disconnection with Earth and its inhabitants. The tune is clever and catchy, once again demonstrating the broad range of musical talents assembled.
The final tune on the release, System Overload, is also the most unique, and has tremendous crossover appeal with potential to be a favorite in dance clubs. The focus once again is on technology and man’s dependence upon it, and the musicianship is simply put – brilliant. The song opens with pulsing guitar and synthesizers with clever lyrics. About two minutes in, the song kicks into high gear with powerful guitar riffs and heavy synth chords, overlaid with Hyro’s fast paced lyrics. It’s one of those songs that you just know you will be hearing on the radio over and over again.
Hyro da Hero has assembled the perfect band, consisting of musicians from Idiot Pilot (Daniel Anderson, guitar); At The Drive-In (Paul Hinojos, bass); and the Blood Brothers (Cody Votolato, guitar, and Mark Gajadhar, drums); to showcase his lyrical talents and merge his love of rap, punk, thrash and heavy metal. The band accompanies him on Worlds Stage, Ghetto Ambiance, Sleeping Giants, Fuck You, Section 8, and Beam Me Up which are produced by Ross Robinson (Korn, Limp Bizkit and Slipnot). Tony Royster, Jr., who drums for Jay-Z, lays tracks on We Still Popular and Conversation with Hip Hop, a song that Hyro produced himself. Alternative rockers, The Agency, out of Miami, are featured on Grudge and Man in the City. And finally, Evangelos, a Miami Beach music producer, worked with Hyro on System Overload.
At first glance, you may be tempted to pass this up, especially if rap isn’t your flavor. But Hyro brings a lot more than rap to the mix, and lays some amazing tracks that will have you asking for more. Just check out his page… after touring with bands like Cypress Hill and Hatebreed he has already built a solid underground following.
Birth, School, Work, Death is nothing short of a masterpiece. With its release Hyro da Hero will be taking the music world by storm. Those who have followed him all along will not be disappointed and those who are new to his music will be thoroughly delighted.
8th ElemEnt Records / 2011
by Andrew “C”
Y’all know that I’ve been holding this one back. It’s been well over a month now since the big huge 8th ElemEnt Album release party at the Summit Music Hall here in Denver and I swear that, before walking into that show, I really only cared about one of the three records being dropped on the public that night. N1LS! The rest was going to be just filler to me, opening bands. So caught up did I become in the solid acts of all the other artists, though, that by the time that evening was over I not only wanted to hear the other two discs, but I wanted to review and promote them as well! Hence the delay in getting to sit down with this one, but that postponement works to the overall benefit of ‘F.A.M.P.’. All this time it has been sitting in my CD player, in my truck deck, and in my PC and cellphone playlists. It has been listened to often and has been absorbed quite thoroughly, burned into my very soul, as it were, and I think I’m finally ready to get down to some serious introspection with it.
Before I really start into this
review, though, I should send a quick shout-out to both Menice and to Y-Jay
& Fame, and thank them again for helping send this heavy-metal guy onto an
unmarked path through a darkly unfamiliar woods! You boys made a large impact! Please find my reviews of their material, if
you haven’t already, here on the Rivethead website. So it’s probably not surprising, then, I look
forward to reviewing hip-hop discs by some of the other 8th ElemEnt
artists as well, since that particular stable is just chock-full of
Now that all of this has been
accomplished, though, the only thing left standing is No 1 Left Standing. Crowned “The Best Band In Denver” in 2009,
competing for that honor here again in 2011, and currently being shown much
love to by the highly popular Willie B. and Uncle Nasty over at 106.7KBPI
radio, N1LS has already amassed quite a legion of fans around these parts and
has established themselves as one of the foremost bands along the Front
Range. F.A.M.P. (Fine American Mental
Product) is the group’s third release and is their most anticipated one to
date. Clocking in at 12 tracks and just
over 35 minutes, it is also their second full-length album and was mixed and
mastered at the well-known Colorado Sound Studios in
For those unfamiliar with the sound
put out by N1LS, I would best describe them as a Rage/Beasties sort of hybrid with
a local touch of
Next up is ‘American Psycho’, a tunefully heavy rant against social apathy and the increasingly frivolous diversions of modern life. The band’s social conscience makes its first appearance here. “Red dawn on the horizon, ring the alarm, car bombs, soccer moms better turn that TV on / So you can forget what’s going on, on this planet that you’re from, let ‘em build their atom bombs as long as your favorite show is on.” James Belarde, the lead singer and primary lyricist of N1LS, has much to say, and this is only the beginning of his dis’ trip!
‘After School Fight’ follows, and over the crashing guitars and insistently driven rhythm, Belarde reflects upon his own personal growth from angry teen to beaten-down-by-life-yet-still-angry adult. “All the time I used to spend constructing verses to help me vent / is now filled up working for child support and rent.” He then finds and seizes upon the hope that comes from his music, and embraces the shared plight of many like him in the chorus: “Until my dying breath I’m gonna speak out for the weak / so even after I’m dead my voice becomes my legacy.” Many points are touched upon in this song, but there is one more lyrical clip that must be included because I think it speaks to the motivation of all performing musicians, a body of people whom I, without any journalistic shame whatsoever, hold in high esteem. Belarde says: “I don’t know why we feel tha need to say tha things we do / or why we get on stage and work so hard to play these shows for you. / I guess it’s just tha sickness that’s in us and you all have witnessed / when on stage it’s down to business and we don’t care if no one listens!”
The fifth song on this album, ‘Piggy Piggy’ is one of my personal favorites. After a rhythmic percussion opening and sweet intersecting bass line, the guitars in this song just seem to crash even heavier than they do in some of the others. As well, lyrically this is a social-activism song, lampooning the continued illegality of harmless leafy green substances, while spotlighting the unjust laws in our nation with regard to hard-drug abuse as a whole, and the overall perception of hard-drug addiction as a crime instead of an illness. A dedication is offered in the very midst of all the mayhem-metal shredding, as Belarde drops out of rap and speaks directly to the young, incarcerated kid who might have gotten busted once with a rock and is now so deep in the system he can no longer see daylight. “To all my brothers & sisters serving time for an addiction / to a drug that was introduced to our society to fund the mission / of these fuckin’ pigs that hooked your parents on crack / stabbed them all in the back and tried to blame it on the blacks.” More mayhem-metal shredding ensues, but the song ends with a heartfelt prayer that N1LS “will not rest until we finally hear freedom ring. Let freedom ring… run, pig!”
‘Jimmy Tha Kid’ is another very
catchy toe-tapping tune and is the first song in which gas masks make a lyrical
appearance. Gas masks are a very big
deal to No 1 Left Standing. At the disc
release party, they came out and played the entire first song in gas masks. The
cover art on this disc is a sketched recreation of the
Continuing down this patriotic path, the seventh track is titled “American Me”. This song starts out with a twangy guitar too, and the entire first movement is a sort of bluegrass-jazz medley that you just know is going to erupt into something loud! As Belarde comes in, he tells of how N1LS has crawled their gas-masked selves up out of the Wasteland to make a visible mark on the world around them. “Tha spray paint never drags when RedRum drops tha tags, / It’s my freedom of speech it’s just American Me.” They are here to disrupt the status quo of society, and particularly to challenge the current musical paradigms of genre classification and the practice of assigning labels to anything that an artist might put out. Watch out, suits and ties!
‘Ain’t On The List’ comes next. This song, which had originally been called ‘Mr. Lean’ but that had to be renamed following some shake-ups within the group, speaks to life in a working band and the inevitability of pissing off someone who is not on your list but feels they should be. This is more of a hardcore song, I think, than some of the others, perhaps in a musical attempt to deter those who are too weak to handle a simple dis! No 1 Left Standing makes it very clear that they have no time for haters.
Another song starred for potential commercial release, at least by me, is “Pink Slip”. This ripping jam plays like the street-drag racing scene that it sings to, carrying the listener along with velocity and speed right up to the chorus, “Cause I live and die, for tha green light, for tha finish line. / See my tail lights, as I pass you by, leave you far behind.” Then it breaks a little and cuts right back into the heavy groove. “Never comin’ last, huffin purple gas, leader of the pack with the wind against my back. / Strappin’ on my gas mask, speakers turned up full blast, smoking as I pass your ass, now who’s got the last laugh?” The band cranks like a well-lubed hemi from beginning to end here, and this is a very tuneful little number to listen to. Hence my suggestion of airplay?
The tenth track is ‘Recall Of The Century’. This song calls for the general product recall of all established government and social structures, laid down over a thrashing jazzy bass line and, again, the heaviest guitar riffs. “Time to fill tha glass that’s been sittin half empty, they say we’ve got plenty but we’re all still pinching pennies… / It’s hard to weather the storm, they want the poor to remain poor, there’s gotta be something more than this life we can’t afford. / Empty the shelves of all that bullshit they sell, tell ‘em this is where we dwell and for once just fuckin’ yell!” N1LS points out that the established authorities are no longer required within today’s society, and offers to boldly lead the way in this social upheaval toward the general anarchistic trendings of modern humanity. “Cock back tha sling/fire/reload, it’s the recall of the century / No longer need these so-called powers that be, it’s the return of tha Gas Mask Society,”
The next song, ‘Stick Em Up’ is really the last song on the F.A.M.P. album, since the twelfth track, ‘Lobotomy’, can’t really be called a song. ‘Stick Em Up’ disses those who dis the excesses of rock lifestyle, out-of-control partying, the trashing of green rooms, and the like. They make no apologies for some of their behaviors in the past, and offer no assurances of compliance in the future. “We’re musicians,” they basically are saying here. “What do you expect?” It’s a good song to end the disc on, since this scene and many like it are likely to be a part of No 1 Left Standing’s foreseeable future.
As I am absorbed in listening to this disc once again, this time paying particularly close attention for the purpose of review, I am suddenly stricken by the possibility that there may a funky, almost Morris Day-esque aspect to N1LS’ music that is so subtle it probably escapes damn near everybody. The thrashing guitars and heavy crunch are what hook most fans, indeed, they are what hooked me, but beneath all that crash is a solidly constructed and very bluesy rhythm line between the bass and drums, at least when they are not in the midst of ripping, and that is quite appealing. N1LS succeeds with this release on variety of levels both musical and lyrical, and you should certainly pick up a copy to add to your library, especially if you like Rage, or the Beasties. They don’t sound like either one of those bands, precisely, but in a world where comparisons must be made, that’s what I got and that’s what I’m giving to you!
F.A.M.P. is released through 8th ElemEnt Records and can be purchased directly from their website, www.8thelement.net. It is also available at any Independent Records location, which I understand to have nationwide outlets. Failing all else, No 1 Left Standing does live gigs frequently around town and plans an out-of-state tour later on this summer, so you can get one of their discs at any gas-masked show they play!
Because tha Wasteland matters!
Heavy In Houston: A Look At Today’s Metal Scene
Produced by Derek Norman, Hillary Marek, Rusty Conner, and Mandy Manslaughter
Directed by Derek Norman
Acadia Bar & Grill 3939 FM 1960 W Houston, TX
7/29/12 Sunday evening
by Andrew C
Truthfully, there has never been a documentary film, or any sort of film at all, ever made about the Houston music scene. The very phrase ‘Houston Music Scene’ could cover such a wide spectrum of musical genres and sub-genres as to be indefinable when taken as a whole, but when you parse it down, and find just the right particular musical niche to aim your documentary spotlight upon, you might uncover a group of bands all playing with a recognizably metal edge and a noticeably similar passion. Once this documentary effort gets out and is seen by the masses, you may unwittingly be on the verge of becoming the Original Authority on The Next Big Thing. Filmmaker Derek Norman is in almost immediate peril of having this title thrust upon him, because when he embarked on this project he had no real idea where it was going to end up, or where it might lead him to. He still has no idea, and neither do any of the rest of us. Only the passage of time can judge the success of this effort (and of the music featured within) but it is my guess that it is judged favorably by not only everybody who was there for the movie’s premier showing and party last Sunday night at Acadia, but also by history.
They say that it’s difficult to paint a picture in words. It’s even harder to paint a motion picture in words, but since putting music into words is what we do here at Rivethead, and since we are an actual Original Authority on the underground Houston metal sound, we’re probably qualified to do a review of the movie that could very likely open the doors of recognition, finally, for the Bayou City.
Heavy In Houston is a two-hour journey into the heart of some of the rippingest metal to come out of these parts in quite a long time, and includes just a dash of hard rock thrown in, since the two are not mutually exclusive. Between the video clips from such groundbreaking bands as Azrael’s Bane, Phantom X, bakbone, and Decimation Theory, there are insightful feature interviews with people like Matt Hughes, Ansley Stewart, Alex Lorenzana, and many other very influential players in this ongoing Houston Music resurrection. These, combined with the sheer power of the musical presentations depicted on screen, bring forth a film which not only lives but breathes, and it breathes pure Houston. From the opening credits to the final scene, this movie holds the attention of any viewer who bangs their head, and enthralls those who do not.
Not everything in this film is pretty. Norman gets down to the grimy more than once with many of these bands, and some of the material presented here may well be offensive to old ladies, young children and conservatives. Unapologetic in his approach, Norman lays bare the current state of the ‘Metal Scene’ here in Houston and puts it out to the world with warts and all.
The music featured in this film is the stuff of future legend. From the first opening riffs to the Failed to Reason song “III” played through the closing credits, this is a non-stop shred-fest of the best that our town has to offer. Songs from Bagheera, Devon Mycah, Epic Death, Carry The Storm, Mechanisms of a False Reality, Ten Ton Hammer and many others comprise the soundtrack. Of course there are bands that were left out or overlooked by this movie. That’s to be expected in a very big city where there are more bands than there are venues to see them at, and Norman couldn’t include everybody. It’s simply impossible to be exposed to every band in this town and slot them all into 120 minutes of film. But trust me when I say that he included absolutely as much as he could, and that the DVD is slated to run for just over three hours. It could have been even longer than that, and Norman says there are plans in the works already for a part two. Before long it’ll be Heavy In Houston part 19, and there would still be bands not covered. Nor would there be even one band that’s lame at all.
A shout must go out also to Acadia Bar & Grill for hosting this event. The movie was made even better by the festive atmosphere created by the complimentary grub and the $5 pitchers they sold all night long. Acadia did a great job making this premier a memorable occasion, and we thank them for being such a great host!
As of this time, the DVD version of this film has not yet been released. When it is, though, it will become a must-have for any lover of metal documentaries. Stay close to Rivethead for information on when and how you can score a DVD for yourself!
A Bitter Season
And I Won’t Lose In The End
Anarchy Studios, Houston TX (2011)
by Andrew C
One of the coolest things about being editor of Rivethead Magazine is that all the time I have random people coming up and giving me new music. This was the case some months ago, one night while I was hanging out at On The Rox and talking to the bartender. I told him about this webzine and what it is that I do, and then he asked me to excuse him for a moment while he went to the back. When he returned, he gave me a CD from his band – who I had never heard of – and asked me to check it out. This is cool, I thought. I always like to hear music that I haven’t heard before, but life goes on and it sat in my truck for at least a week. By the time I finally got around to popping it into the deck, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it not suck, but it was actually pretty freakin’ good! This bartender, who I only knew as John, is in fact John Valenti, lead singer of the band, and man, this cat can sing!
Before I go any further into this review, I feel obliged to point out to the reader that I’m not the biggest fan of Nu-metal or of screamer bands. Groups like Bullets For My Valentine, Atreyu, or As I Lay Dying generally leave me cold, and it has been my sad fortune to realize, after taking over this webzine and immersing myself back into music, that the whole screamer thing is rather commonplace amongst the metal of today. Nobody really sings anymore, and although I realize that screaming is an art unto itself, it’s still not one that I get behind or endorse. If I could change anything about modern music, I would fire all the screaming singers and replace them with singers who actually sing. Screaming has its place, but that can’t be all you got.
Then along comes A Bitter Season. Their debut disc And I Won’t Lose In The End fits the generalizations of the bands listed above, but it also features a raw blackness underneath it that sets it apart and makes it deeper, more well-rounded and enjoyable than any of those. Hailing from right here in Houston, A Bitter Season has released a come-out disc of both immensity and substance. All of the eight songs on this CD are solid, and although a few stand out above the others, the simple truth is that none of them are weak. Lead singer Valenti, who sings with power and screams only when appropriate, his brother Gino Valenti on guitar, along with Nathan Landry on bass and Willis Robertson on drums, have put together a progressive-metal 4-piece with a very full and hard-rockin’ sound.
It is John Valenti’s superb vocal work and insightful lyricism that sets A Bitter Season apart from other bands working in the same general genre. Songs like “Curses”. “Alone”, and “In Front of a Bullet” reflect depth and poetic structure, while throwing in just enough emo to make it heartfelt but not sickening. There’s no mush here, but there is meaning and intenseness that many other bands simply lack. All this is carried along on music that is well-constructed and heavy; Gino Valenti’s guitar work is nothing less than flawless, Landry’s bass thumps along with steady rhythm, and Robertson’s drums beat out a complex and driving tempo reflective of the best drummers working today. The song “Stay Alive” is noteworthy of all the attributes listed above, but as I said, none of this material is weak, just some of it is better. This is a disc that must be cranked up, it’s not the sort of thing that you can just hum along to, the frenzy and musical intensity that never let up sweeps the listener along like a freight train until finally the disc is over and you only find yourself wanting to hear it again.
I have, in the time since Valenti gave me this disc and my sitting down to review it, heard of A Bitter Season since then. They play in and around the Houston area with some frequency, and it is Rivethead Magazine’s recommendation that you see them if you can. There’s way too many bands out there putting out crap or sub-crap, it’s damned refreshing to hear one that’s not putting out any crap at all. Honestly, after listening to this disc like a dozen times before I even started writing about it, I still can find absolutely nothing about it that I don’t like. That’s pretty rare!
As well as finding them out playing clubs and venues, you can also find A Bitter Season on the web. They’re active on Reverbnation, Facebook, and MySpace, or just visit their official website. Tell them Rivethead sent ya!
Light of the Moon Sugar Hill Studios 2009
Songbird Sound Arts Studios 2011
by Andrew C Schlett
Chick singers have intrigued me for as long as I can remember. In the 70’s, it was Carole King, Linda Ronstadt, and Karen Carpenter. In the 80’s there were Pat Benatar, Dale Bozzio, and Stevie Nicks. The 90’s offered up Tori Amos, Gwen Stefani, and Amy Lee, among others. It’s just something about the high-melodic vocal range achievable only by female singers (with a few male exceptions such as Geoff Tate of Queensryche) that have always made them sound smoother to my ear than their male counterparts. The music of people like James Taylor is boring and dull to me, but when Carly Simon does James Taylor songs, I love them. Metal is in my blood, yes, but there is a secret stash of CDs in my bedroom that is nothing but Lisa Loeb, Cranberries, Sarah Brightman, Dido, Anna Nalick, and the like. They sooth me in times of stress, and lull me to pleasant sleep on nights when I otherwise would toss and turn. Call me a sissy if you will, but I have always had a soft spot for quality chick singers.
And now Girl Friday is in that secret stash as well.
Light of the Moon and Songbird are two 4-song EP’s that go very well together. Girl Friday’s songwriting skills, strong on the first album, mature and top themselves on the second. Her acoustic guitar playing is based largely in the style of a Joni Mitchell, but incorporates obvious influences of jazz, classic rock, and modern pop music. The song arrangements are solid on both albums, and the production values of each one is superb. Her backing musicians, different on each disc, are skilled players who support Girl Friday’s acoustic compositions well. Serious time and effort went into the writing, recording, and production of these two EPs, but what makes them succeed is that wonderful voice of hers. She does not have the soaring vocal range of a classically-trained opera singer, but she doesn’t need it. Her voice soars anyway, carrying the listener away on the wings of beauty and up into the soft-floating serenity of a lazy afternoon in the sunshine. That’s what Girl Friday has really done here, and what makes these discs so noteworthy: she has captured the sunshine, and set it to music.
Of the four songs on Light of the Moon, I think ‘Forever in my Heart’ is my personal favorite, but they’re all fine examples of Girl Friday’s talents. ‘Dorothy’, the first song on the disc, is perhaps the most pop-influenced of the bunch, but that’s not a bad thing in this case. The title track ‘Light of the Moon’ and particularly ‘Storm’, the third track, are so solidly composed that they stand easily alongside any of the chick singers I referenced above. Recorded in 2009 at the legendary Sugar Hill Studios, Light of the Moon set the template for what will eventually cumulate into a sizable body of discs over the course of Girl Friday’s working life.
2011 brought the release of Songbird, Girl Friday’s second 4-song EP, this one from the Sound Arts Studio. On this disc, the maturation of Girl Friday’s style and the evolution of her confidence are evident. Coming out with the aggressively fast-paced (at least, by Girl Friday standards) ‘Here I Go’, she brings it strong and loud from the start. The second song, ‘Carry Me Away’ follows in a similar theme and vein, but then she slows it back down somewhat in the third track ‘Leave the Light On’. Without doubt, though, this disc’s most far-reaching achievement is the epic title number ‘Songbird’. Girl Friday holds nothing back here, framing her exquisite vocal prowess within a captivating musical arrangement that includes violins and maybe even a mandolin, an instrument not entirely unheard of in the arena of folk rock. The lyrics to this song, too, catch you and almost compel you to listen; and so strong is the poetry offered here that it compares favorably to anything Joan Baez or Judy Collins ever wrote.
‘Songbird’ could easily turn out to be Girl Friday’s own personal ‘Stairway to Heaven’, that is to say, the song that becomes most closely affiliated and associated with her; that for which she is known best. If this does happen, though, it would only be appropriate. Girl Friday is a song bird in the truest sense of the phrase, a golden-haired little canary who sings with a power unanticipated from one so diminutive. The two EPs reviewed here are no doubt only the beginning of what will become a long and successful career for this talented young artist who carries a song in her heart and an acoustic guitar across her back.
Girl Friday is currently #3 on the Reverbnation charts for Singer/Songwriters in the Houston Texas area. You can learn more about Girl Friday, order these EPs for yourself, and listen to a wide variety of other Girl Friday music which includes some surprisingly good cover tunes, from her website. Simply visit http://www.girl-friday-music.com and enjoy! If you get the chance, try to catch one of her live shows, too.
Permuted Press, 2012
By Andrew C Schlett
Editor, Rivethead Magazine
“…Less than a week ago, she had been working in an insurance office, daydreaming about her Caribbean honeymoon plans with Mark. Now, she was effectively widowed, holed up in a cabin with three strangers, wearing an oversized combat uniform and a butch hairdo, holding a powerful rifle and mentally prepared to blow the fucking head off of anything that tried to harm her. Life had truly changed on a dime.”
Welcome to the world of Cheryl Malone … survivor of nothing less than the apocalyptic destruction of civilization as we know it by flesh-eating zombies. In this just-released novel by author Michelle DePaepe, a new life is breathed into the zombie genre through vivid imagery and DePaepe’s stunningly graphic depictions of the horrors that Malone comes to face as her regular life is destroyed, replaced instead with an unimaginably perilous new one. The author takes us along on Cheryl’s ride as the plague spreads all around her, the days turn into weeks, and the world turns ever nastier as more and more infected await in her path. At no time does DePaepe relent in the telling of this tale or ease up at all on the throttle.
Set in Colorado and, as the story progresses, Arizona, we witness the devastation that the zombies have wrought through Malone’s weary, bloodshot eyes. The author, a longtime resident of Denver, uses her topographical and geographical familiarity of that area to great advantage. She describes street corners in places like Golden, Idaho Springs, or Silverthorne with precise accuracy but paints them as deserted, destroyed, only the Eaters wandering about through the bodies and body parts that litter the pavement. Her attention to detail and her ability to draw pictures with words are DePaepe’s most powerful tools in this far-reaching end-of-the-world scenario, and she spares no gore along the way. The horror of zombie doomsday is made real on these pages through flowing passages of well-composed literature so the entire effort comes across as a smashingly blood-drenched success for this author and for everybody who reads this book.
Besides writing a fascinating zombie novel, DePaepe has accomplished here an almost unnoticed re-definition of the entire genre, if you will. Zombies have typically been portrayed in a very George Romero Night of the Living Dead style, being slow and cumbersome, not very agile or fast, and reasonably easy to elude. DePaepe’s zombies, though, are quick. They are affected, yes, the skin hangs in gray flaps from their bodies, their flesh is rotting away from their bones, they reek of total death, and they do walk or run with a lurch, perhaps with their head hanging limply to one side. But they are fast enough to chase living humans and reflexive enough to put up physical battle or traverse distances in pursuit of prey. At times these zombies almost come across as somewhat athletic. It should also be remarked upon that DePaepe has coined an entirely new name for these creatures. They are always called zombies, or the Walking Dead, but in my entire life of being a horror fan I have never heard them called ‘Eaters’ before. She even goes so far as to offer a very believable 21st century explanation to the origins of this widespread epidemic which turns regular people into flesh-gnawing fiends within days or sometimes even hours or minutes. It’s a by-product of biological manipulation. She explains that in Afghanistan, from where Malone’s fiancé Mark had just returned, they had done genetic engineering on dogs to make them sniff out cancer in patients – makes sense, because cancer is rotten tissue anyway and the first sign of infection is to crave rotten foods – and then somehow the virus jumped species and magnified its effect, essentially killing people and then reanimating them into the living dead with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.
Some of the more traditional well-known zombie lore is upheld in this work. The best way to kill them is still a direct gunshot to the head, and they are like all other zombies in that they are mindless dead things, stripped of any free will or intelligent thought, simply the eating machines they’ve always been, but DePaepe’s twist on the old familiar done-to-death format is a welcome and refreshing change.
DePaepe keeps everything real in this novel. Saying such a thing about zombie fiction is in itself unreal, but once the reader accepts the premise that these creatures exist, DePaepe makes it easy to keep rolling along with the narrative. Only at one point in the story does she stretch believability, that when Aiden, a helpful stranger whom Cheryl has befriended along the way, is pushing his out-of-gas Harley Davidson through the burning midday Arizona desert for miles, but that’s only hard to believe because I know how heavy motorcycles are and I know how hot the desert really is in Arizona. Other than that, there is no time at which readers are likely to roll their eyes in disbelief.
Like any good horror novelist, DePaepe leaves open the possibility of sequel, where her heroine goes from here, since the fates of both the world itself and Cheryl Malone personally remain unresolved at the end of this story. She also never does specifically pinpoint the actual origins of the zombie virus or how it spreads, but these details stand secondary to the non-stop action portrayed in this book and could easily be explained in the next installment, should DePaepe choose to write one. It is this reviewer’s real hope that she does, because in a market flooded with vampires, ghosts, and other supernatural beings, not enough people are writing zombie novels.
Eaters is not Michelle DePaepe’s first effort. She is the author of 2010’s much-acclaimed The Gardener, available from Amazon.com, which is the best damned ghost story I’ve read since I read Ghost Story. She also penned the recently-released Vampire Music and is no doubt hard at work upon some other literary project at this time. You can visit the Permuted Press website at www.permutedpress.com to score your own copy of this soon-to-be classic piece of horror fiction.
Dogz On Parole
Origin Sound Studios
Spring, Texas 2012
by Andrew C
So, I’m sitting at Shifter’s Saloon one night a few months back helping an old friend celebrate her birthday, talking with this random stranger about music, and he said that the only difference between punk rock and metal is a 3/4 beat instead of a 4/4 one. The only difference? Not hardly, I think. There are more contrasts than comparisons between the two genres, and people generally lean either one way or the other – punk or metal - and stay that way until they die. Punk rock has more to do with attitude than with anything else, musicianship included; where metal is more about chunk and heavy riffs, far-reaching musical imagery and artistic structure, punk is more about anarchy and disorder than it is guitar power. The metal musician may dream of someday being the next Metal God, delivering screaming chords to jam-packed arenas and stadiums around the world, whereas the punk rocker cannot even consider becoming famous because that would be anachronistic to punk’s core value: value nothing. Throughout the ‘70s and most of the ‘80s, these two camps were openly hostile to one another. During the ‘90s, though, and perhaps in response to the overwhelming dominance of grunge at that time, the two sides moved closer to détente, and by now punk and metal more or less co-exist harmoniously. It’s not too often they merge, though, and even less frequently does that union produce offspring of any real value.
Which brings me in nicely to Dogz On Parole. Rivethead Magazine has called them “the second-best punk band in Houston behind only The Hates” and this is a judgment we still stand behind. However, it is not entirely correct, or even accurate, to call the Dogz a strictly ‘punk’ band. To listen to their self-produced full-length debut CD Confinement is to hear the best that both the punk and metal worlds have to offer. There is all the undirected rage of the Sex Pistols and a violent, slam-happy Black Flag-like musical structure, but there is the occasional searing guitar work reminiscent of classic Dio or Priest peppered throughout. There is length to many of these tracks as well, some as little as two minutes and others closer to four, but none of those little 12 to 25-second vignettes that so many punk bands put out as “songs”. The musical and artistic structure presented here stands harmoniously with chaotic chord disorder to produce a full-length come-out release of both strength and quality. At no time does the frenzied pace of this album let up or relent; it rolls nonstop from beginning to end.
There are eleven songs on this record, and though they all have a similar feel to them which helps the flow of musical continuity throughout the effort, there are a few that caught my ear as being above par. The first song ‘Wish I Only Knew’ sets the rugged punk-infused tone of the entire record, and it only gets better from there. ‘Fallen’ is also a great track, laying heavy metal guitar work over the punk beat and infusing raw vocal desperation; this is also found prevalently and with measurable success in the love anthem ‘All I Want’. There is an unexpected, subtle kind of harmony behind songs like ‘Harder’ and ‘Lonely’ that doesn’t sneak up on you until you’re halfway in and it’s way too late to back out. ‘Tell Me’ opens with a wicked bass riff and some guitar work worthy of the finest metal traditions and keeps rolling for three full minutes of reckless punk/metal fusion. Dogz On Parole are more than just the sum of their influences, though, as there is attitude, angst, anger, and an underlying social conscience all through Confinement that is theirs and theirs alone, driving the music and keeping the listener pinned from start to finish. It’s probably not metal enough for the pure metalhead and probably not punk enough for the pure punk rocker - if such creatures even still exist - but that only adds to the unique overall appeal of this album. It treads where few others have ever dared, or as far as I know even tried, to tread before. Speaking as an old-school headbanger who never had much time or indulgence for punk rock, I dig it.
Dogz On Parole is a four-piece comprised of Rocker Jonez on vocals and guitar, Juice on lead guitar, Tifferz on bass, and, at least until somewhat recently, Mr. Insane on drums. Mr. Insane is no longer with the band, but the Dogz have moved forward with a new drummer and continue to play to increasingly larger audiences each time in and around the Houston area. You can pick up your copy of Confinement at any of these shows. You can also find it, and them, on the internet through these helpful social medias: