• Review - Halestorm "Halestorm" (2009)

    3. Apr. 2009, 7:48

    Written by Andrew Hart from Rawkfist Music

    Let’s face it dudes and dudettes, there is a serious lack of great female-fronted rock these days. Even more so, so many of them are focused on something other than just out straight up party rock, the kind of crap that gets everyone at a party or concert on their feet. In an era filled with Buckcherrys, Hinders and Rev Theorys to bring the noise to the masses, isn’t it about time the females of the world got a band fronted by one of their own to do the same thing? Look no further my estrogen-filled friends, here comes Halestorm to rock your world and blow your mind.

    Front(wo)man Lzzy (not a typo) Hale wastes no time getting your attention on the self-titled debut of this Pennsylvania foursome, screaming out “I’m in love with somebody, found someone who completes me, I’m in love with somebody, and it’s not you,” right as the album opens. First track “It’s Not You” is ripe with angst and intense vocals from Miss Hale, and has a powerful raucous chorus to bring your attention straight to the jams in your ear. This song is as catchy as anything you’ll hear all year, and Halestorm is only beginning. The next song “I Get Off” is exactly the kind of dirty rock that Hinder makes their money on. The lyrics describe the experience of being watched while, ahem, doing things. It’s family friendly in that there’s no explicit language, but make no mistake, Halestorm is not writing this stuff for the kids.

    Oh, did I mention that Hale’s voice is perfect for this band? It’s true, she’s got a crisp and clear voice with fantastic range, and just enough of a grungy sound to pull off the themes that Halestorm sings about, and the instrumental style of the band. Her voice is on perfect display on “Innocence,” especially towards the songs end when she raises the pitch for the chorus’ opening line for an attention grabbing hook into the song’s outro. “I’m Not An Angel” later demonstrates Hale’s vocal qualities very well also. The song is a wonderful slow down from the album’s frantic pace, and the chorus is an emotional thrill ride driven by Hale’s impassioned vocals. The chorus of “What Were You Expecting” is similarly brilliant.

    Instrumentally, every other member of the band is more than capable. While Halestorm doesn’t blow your mind with crazy guitar solos, there’s a hook to every song that’s really well-written, because it’s incredibly obvious when the track changes. It’s rarely more noticeable when a song changes than on this album. Even those who find themselves spacing out frequently when listening to an album will find it hard to miss the thrilling opening screech of “What Were You Expecting” or the repetitive lead up to the insane chorus of “Love/Hate Heartbreak.” Though much of the album is driven by Hale’s vocals, she’d be nowhere if not for the well-written hooks and beats of the rest of the band, and that much needs to be stated.

    Halestorm’s biggest weakness now would have to be the lyrical content of the music, or the overall length. I’ve already touched on the former, and the latter is noticeable when you listen to the CD repeatedly. The eleven tracks of the disc clock in at about 37 minutes, just over three minutes a song. Only one song (”Familiar Taste of Poison”) clocks in at over four minutes, and most are under three and a half. Every song is enjoyable, but you’ll wish they were longer, especially when songs like “Innocence” pull you in to that big final chorus and the fun is over no more than 20 or 30 seconds later. Lyrically, Halestorm is pretty much a female-fronted Hinder, so those bothered by the absurd raunchiness of that band will probably not be fond of Halestorm either.

    Beyond those small faults however, Halestorm’s debut is a ridiculously catchy and fun endeavor for any listener. It’s incredibly difficult not to be drawn in by the powerful voice of Lzzy Hale, and it’s even harder to escape the well-written riffs that build each song. Even those bothered by absurd lyrics will likely get dragged in by a few of Halestorm’s songs, and enjoy them enough to be humming them for the rest of the week. In the end, you can’t ask much more out of a band than that.

    9 out of 10 - Download “Innocence”

    Halestorm is | Lzzy Hale - Vocals, Guitar | Joe Hottinger - Guitar | Josh Smith - Bass | Arejay Hale - Drums

    Halestorm
    Halestorm
    Innocence
  • Review - Blue October "Approaching Normal"

    29. Mär. 2009, 18:27

    Written by Andrew Hart from Rawkfist Music

    I’ll admit right now that I’ve never listened to Blue October, at least not beyond the band’s recent success in their single “Hate Me.” I couldn’t help but be intrigued however, by the roughly pieced ballad with growling vocals and when word traveled to me that a new Blue October album was springing it’s way towards me, I decided it was time to give this band a shot. The results are certainly fascinating, and definitely against what the album title will have you believe. As much as Blue October may want us to think so, they are not anywhere close to Approaching Normal with this effort. That is not necessarily a bad thing however.

    “Weight of the World” strikes me as an odd album opener every time I listen to it, but after listening to Approaching Normal enough times, I’ve accepted there’s few other choices. This is the song that’ll get you used to Justin Furstenfeld’s unconventional vocals, a mixture of singing and ranting in a generally rough demeanor. Those used to the clean and crisp vocals of other bands may have to take some time to get used to this, which sounds as though Furstenfeld’s been swallowing rocks since he was born. It kind of fits the band style though, a real 90’s vibe which mixes light alternative with grudge influence to make for a fascinating sound. “Weight of the World” won’t grip you though, despite a strong lyrical showing, which I assume is why “Say It” follows closely after.

    The aforementioned carries over more of the rant/sing style but has a damn catchy chorus which’ll you have singing along by it’s second go-round. It’s not commonplace on this album to have something so delicious addictive, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the repeteating chants of “I don’t want to hear you say say say say say say say say it, now you’re messing with my pride,” and the raw emotion shown in some of the other parts of the song. Don’t get used to it though, Blue October’s newest effort is a mixed bag and every song has it’s own personality. Lead single “Dirt Room” is a little more upbeat in style and uses a great drum beat to pull you in to more lyrical twists and turns. Writing is Blue October’s strongest suit and it’s showing in grand style throughout the entire CD. A lot of it’s angsty, so it’ll be great for the grunge enthusiasts still weeping over the late Cobains and Staley’s of the world.

    There’s not a bunch more to comment on here, individually speaking. Nearly every song on Blue October’s endeavor into “normality” is completely different than the one before it, making this not so much of a cohesive effort, but more of a collection of interesting songs. “Been Down” has some pretty catchy moments for those who fell in love with “Say It,” though the chorus packs more of an emotional punch to be sure. “Kangaroo Cry” is an oddball in title, but doesn’t really stand out otherwise, as one of the weaker efforts on the album. Not a bad thing necessarily, it’s still very listenable, it just won’t be coming back to you as much as the others. “Jump Rope” is the biggest problem on the album. The strings arrangement that follows the track is incredibly strange and the overall sound of the song seems so out of place on this relatively downbeat collection. I almost broke out laughing when Furstenfeld enthusiastically sings “Up down, up down, up down….life’s like a jump rope.” The metaphor there might be worth paying attention to, but it sounds so absurd it’s really hard to enjoy the track at all.

    Instrumentally speaking, Blue October’s not very special on anything. It’s rare to notice anything outside of those trademark vocals, but everything the band does works cohesively. Never does anything seem too out of place (except on “Jump Rope”) and every song really fits together well. Arguably the best track is one you’ll get with the explicit version only, the bonus effort “The End.” Strongly reminiscent of Eminem’s classic “Kim” or the more genre-related “A Little Piece of Heaven” of Avenged Sevenfold fame, the song reeks of violent revenge on a loved one. It’s a little insane, it might scare some people, and it might get a minority of those people really pissed off at Blue October, but the raw passion and emotion of the song will chill anyone who listens. Really, that’s what Blue October does best throughout all of Approaching Normal, and I won’t be one to fault them for it. There’s not a lot about the album that’ll jump at you, but it’s work sticking around for a few listens to see if it’s your cup of tea.

    8.5 out of 10 - Download “Say It”

    Blue October is | Justin Furstenfeld - Vocals, Rhythm Guitar | Jeremy Furstenfeld - Drums | Ryan Delahoussaye - Violin, Viola, Piano, Backing Vocals | C.B. Hudson - Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals | Matt Noveskey - Bass, Backing Vocals

    Blue October
    Approaching Normal
    Say It
  • Review - Reality Addiction "Maybe Now You'll Listen" (2008)

    24. Mär. 2009, 6:22

    Written by Andrew Hart from Rawkfist Music

    I was a bit of a latecomer to the fad of piano rock, not really learning of it’s potential greatness until introduced to Dropping Daylight’s unique brand in 2006 (look ‘em up, this review isn’t about them). Since then however, it’s been easy for me to develop an appreciation for the craft, which typically adds much-loved melodies to hard rock tunes. So when I stumbled across Reality Addiction and discovered their penchant for piano playing, I was immediately intrigued. Intriguing was most certainly what I ended up with too, once I gave their debut album Maybe Now You’ll Listen a spin.

    Reality Addiction picked a damn good opener with “People Die Building Bridges.” The opening riff is unique and sure to grasp your attention just as much as the crisp vocals and great lyrical content. Anyone who says rock and roll is all about sex, drugs and women forgot to tell Reality Addiction, who go out of their way to fill songs with meaningful content. Sure there’s still a lot of sappy songs of love lost or found, but at least they make an effort to have it sound unique. As it stands the lyrics are definitely one of the highlights of Maybe Now You’ll Listen.

    This is even more evident on the follow-up track “The Story of You and I,” which stands out as one of the most complete songs on the album even despite some cheesy vocal harmonies at the end. It works as a really powerful early album ballad, and becomes a formula Reality Addiction will attempt to repeat multiple times throughout the album. The exactly-what-it-claims-it-is “A Sad Song” is the first example of this which really gives it the proper twang of emotion thanks to some beautiful piano playing, though the vocals are lacking the best range to truly throw some passion into the song.

    Maybe it’s because of that fact that so many of the album’s songs fall flat when it appears they shouldn’t. The best work on the disc is no doubt the unique drumming of Ben Antelis and the perfect backdrop of the piano from Max Green. Neither one is overpowering at any point on the album, but both really move each song along and get it as close to its potential as it can go. The problem is that despite Dustin Widofsky’s crystal clear voice, his range isn’t very big, and his inability to really nail some higher notes makes a lot of the songs fall flat even when the other instruments are playing out of this world. This combination sadly leaves a lot of unmemorable tracks on the CD, from “Smokescreen” to “Bleeding Through.”

    There’s a lot of good stuff going on with Reality Addiction though. The band is relatively new and has the potential to make a big splash thanks to some great song-writing and brilliant incorporation of piano and keyboards. As a mostly soft album, songs like “A Little Light Please” and “Almost Beautiful” are really wonderful sounding songs with proper use of the piano, and every song on the album sounds good. Really though, sounding good will only get you so far, and the lack of memorable hooks and varied vocals push Reality Addiction closer to the bottom of the barrel than they probably deserve. Maybe Now You’ll Listen is a solid debut effort, but Reality Addiction will want to refine a little more before their next disc drops.

    6 out of 10 - Download “The Story of You and I”

    Reality Addiction is –Dustin Widofsky – Vocals and Guitar, Robby Tal – Lead Guitar, Jonathan “Sheep” Schevelowitz – Bass, Ben Antelis – Drums, Max Green – Piano, Keyboard

    Reality Addiction
    Maybe Now You'll Listen
    The Story of You and I
  • Review - Skillet "Comatose" (2006)

    18. Mär. 2009, 7:17

    From my blog at Rawkfist Music

    Written by Andrew Hart

    There's catchy music, and then there's damn catchy music, and just one listen to the Christian rockers known as Skillet, and you'll have a pretty good idea which side of that line they fall on. Followers of the band since it's inception in 1996 will be the first to admit the band has come a long way too, evolving more than most bands do in their decade of activity leading up to their seventh studio album, Comatose. Perfecting the art of crafting truly compelling songs can't be easy, but all of Skillet's hard work is paying off, as they're more than happy to demonstrate.

    Comatose opens with strings and a blistering guitar intro known as "Rebirthing." This track is perfect for those either getting their first taste of Skillet, or those eager to see where the band's evolution has taken them this time. The combination of keyboard, strings, male/female vocals, and memorable riffs is incredibly unique and makes "Rebirthing" an insane feat as it stands. One listen to it and you'll already be thinking it's one of the best songs you've heard in a while, but Skillet isn't content to give you just one. Stepping right into "The Last Night," a song about saving a young girl from suicide, you're introduced to the same kind of material in an entirely different pattern. The uplifting message of the songs is matched by Skillet's intensity in everything they do.

    "Yours To Hold" is next on the agenda, a power ballad that's quick to show off the singing chops of John Cooper. His voice carries a rough tone, while still being crystal clear. It doesn't immediately strike you as a powerful and recognizable voice, but you'll be noticing it quicker than you expect when Skillet pops up on shuffle in your music library. "Yours To Hold" is the easiest way to distinguish his voice, as being of the ballad persuasion, it has a little less of the epic instrumentation. Fans of the first two songs need not fret though; not only is "Yours To Hold" beautiful and attention-grabbing in it's own right, but Skillet will put you right back on track with songs like "Comatose" and "Whispers In The Dark."

    Getting too attached to "Yours To Hold" though? Fear not, Skillet backs it up with "Say Goodbye," which is the slowest song on the album but retains much of the positive vibes provided by the former. Looking to rock a little harder? Look no further than "Better Than Drugs" or "Falling Inside The Black," songs that focus more on just flat out rocking than combining with Skillet's many unique qualities. Through the first ten tracks Skillet pretty much has a twosome for all of your needs as a slave to rock and roll, and whether you're a devout Christian or just a rocker in need of a pick-me-up, the uplifting messages in each song are fantastic. Skillet doesn't push their message in most of the songs, so it's easy to love the lyrical content of each song no matter your religion.

    "Looking For Angels" closes the CD with something you haven't heard yet, an Everlast style spoken word number with a sung chorus. It's almost like a rap in execution, and although it may sound scary in concept, it's just as ridiculously catchy and easy to love as the rest of Comatose. In fact, if you haven't figured it out yet, the whole album is going to be stuck in your head for days. John Cooper's vocals push forward with great passion in each song, and his wife Korey provides some great backing vocals to really turn up the heat on numbers like "Comatose" and "The Last Night." Ben Kasica proves more than capable to throw down some great riffs, and former drummer Lori Peters has a great high-energy drumming style (don't worry, new drummer Jen Ledger is pretty learned as well judging by the live DVD).

    When trying to recommend Skillet to someone, going off this last disc, I have merely one question to ask of them. How do you feel about really catchy, well-written, uplifting, rock and roll? If you say you hate the stuff, I probably wouldn't give you a copy of Comatose (not to mention advise you to steer clear of my reviews). However, were you to say yes, I'd say Skillet is exactly the band you're looking for. Honestly, this band has all their bases covered, and from start to finish Comatose is a unique and varied experience, unlike anything else you've heard. For Christians and non-believers alike, I whole-heartedly recommend this album.

    10 out of 10

    Download This - "Rebirthing"

    Skillet
    Comatose
    Rebirthing
  • Review - Hoobastank "For(N)ever" (2009)

    11. Mär. 2009, 6:48

    Written by Andrew Hart from Rawkfist Music

    Alright mainstream music fans, time to test your chops. Remember Hoobastank and their 2004 breakout hit "The Reason"? Good for you! Now forget that song every existed and think about what else you know about this four piece California-based band. Nothing you say? I thought so. Now reward yourself with a snack while I break down exactly what these guys have been up to for the last five years, and where exactly this largely mediocre band stands with their newest release, the confusingly titled For(N)ever.

    Where I nothing more than a casual radio listener, I would call Hoobastank brilliant. The great singles from their first two albums are numerous, but the rest of each album was sadly forgettable. Even more so, their 2006 release "Every Man For Himself" was entirely unnoticeable on most fans' radars, and I was honestly surprised to ever see this band again. Yet here they are, showing me who's who with their addictive new single "My Turn." It's mainstream radio rock at it's finest, mind-numbingly simple, but brilliantly orchestrated with lyrics like "When's it gonna be my turn," to turn into a huge concert anthem. Okay, granted, I knew this band could produce decent singles, and I fully expected this album to do exactly what all their others had. Turns out, it's Hoobastank's turn indeed, as this album is the best they've put together yet.

    "I Don't Think I Love You" is the next track, and is set up nicely to be the next single. As I expected again, it's simple and catchy, and the lyrics are even a bit more meaningful this time. It's great hard rock that should get a fair amount of radio play. Then the surprise kicks in with "So Close, So Far," which puts frontman Doug Robb's surprisingly passionate falsetto voice out for all to hear at key moments. It's not there for long, but it serves as the only hook the song needs. Turns out, that's the kind of formula Hoobastank has decided to work with this time around. Good ole' rock and roll hooks, whether it be by voice or vibration, are ever-present on For(N)ever, and slowly but surely, you'll start enjoying this offering.

    The heavy hitters are no doubt tracks like "All About You," "Gone Gone Gone," and "Sick of Hanging On." Each one contains Hoobastank's usual jam session type sound, but this time around are filled with far more punch and hook (left or right? Get it, it's a boxing joke). Then there's the power ballad type numbers such as "The Letter" which begins with a haunting and addictive progression that almost completely makes up for the rest of a relatively uneventful track. There's the weakness here though. Even though Hoobastank got most of their fame out of the super slow "The Reason," their attempts to replicate it with more ballads comes up mostly flat, as "You Need To Be Here" and "You're The One" are not only cliche and bland, but easily the worst tracks on the disc.

    Hoobastank's general flaws are still out for all to see. There's a general lack of passion in some of the songs, while others just don't have any sort of hook or memorable moment. The instrumentation is rather blah-worthy at times, and Robb's voice is not enough for him to carry the album on his own. For all the praise I slapped down at Hoobastank, there's still plenty of room to pick up the pieces (Hoobastank fans will get that one) and get a really solid album out the door. As it stands, For(N)ever is a surprisingly solid release with a lot of great qualities for casual listeners. It's easy to sit back and enjoy this album, and many people will. Once more however, Hoobastank lacks enough of anything special to make this album stand out.

    7 out of 10

    Download This - "I Don't Think I Love You"

    Hoobastank
    FOR(N)EVER
    I Don't Think I Love You
  • Review - Hurt "Goodbye To The Machine" (2009)

    6. Mär. 2009, 4:01

    Review From My Blog At Rawkfist Music

    Written by Andrew Hart

    It took me an unusually long time to crank out the review of Hurt's new album Goodbye To The Machine. The unique entity known as Hurt has put out three full albums prior to this, each one with enough diversity and difference from other modern rock to stand it's ground as a completely unique offering. Hurt's latest is no different in this sense. The music is deep and each song is it's own super-special rare gem of a track. However, it's because of this I had to make sure every track felt right, that I got the message of every song and truly felt each one before delving into this review. Now that I've gotten through this CD a good 20 times, it's time to drop a bomb I was already sure of after one playthrough. This album is awesome.

    "If I don't get out of here, I'm gonna kill someone," are the empowered opening words of "Got Jealous," a track which describes almost exactly what it sounds like it would. Frontman J. Loren sings with the intense passion fans of Hurt will be familiar with, and alongside him in the powerful chorus is a nice harmonizing of the phrase "I think I got jealous." The opening song may be the catchiest and most relatable on the disc, as many will know of the overwhelming theme of jealousy and wanting to lay your hands on someone over it. Don't get too worked up in the theme of one song however, as "Pandora" will be sure to trip you up with it's distorted faraway vocals and fantastic riffs from guitar and bass alike. Bassist Rek Mohr, the newest addition to the band, begins proving his worth at this point in the record.

    Allow me to go on though, we're nowhere near the end of this wonderland. If you though "Got Jealous" was intense, you're not even close to ready for "Wars," the first single from the disc. It's a classic crescendo song, starting with nothing more than Loren and a piano. The song slowly jumps to it's peak with the introduction of Paul Spatola's guitar work, and an ever present, simple drum beat from Louie Sciancalepore. Every instrument intensifies as the song reaches it's thrilling conclusion, Loren screaming into your ears "There was never a day that went by that's a good day to die, won't you please close your eyes." Shivers? You bet. Feel free to hold on to those too, as the next track "World Ain't Right" is a slow jam featuring Seether's Shaun Morgan on guest vocals. The lyrics are mezmerizing and will lure you right into this haunting song.

    Three paragraphs and only four songs? Clearly I'm rambling, let's condense. "Sweet Delilah" is another slower song that compliments "World Ain't Right" very well, then slips into "1331" with a slightly faster tone, then furthermore into "Role Martyr X". The latter of the three is perhaps the most fist pumping song on the disc, with it's intense fretwork and awesome vocal ending. Yes, as the song concludes, Loren chants "I am the most humble, I am the most humble man in the world." The irony is delicious. "Well" is fantastic with it's bass-heavy intro and Loren's low, fast-talking vocals previously seen a lot on past Hurt albums. That is, until he raises it for the chorus, which turns this into a catchy number for sure.

    There may be a radio hit in "Pills," which follows soon after, which sounds uplifting enough but lyrically is more depressing than anything. Drug reliance is certainly a fun topic for a rock band to touch on though, and Hurt's take on the matter is unique for sure. "Dreams Away" and "Fighting Tao" close the album as hard-rockers, with excellent violining on the latter, and "That (Such A Thing)" is a slow track with production in the same vein as a live acoustic performance, serving it's purpose as a very chill album closer. Stay tuned for a fairly funny bonus track too, the words "We're all gonna die," see a lot of use.

    How do I love Hurt? Let me count the ways. There's great muscianship, every instrument is absolutely masterful in it's use. Never are you drowning in a frantic guitar stretch, nor driven mad by a repetitive drum beat. Every song is put together masterfully to emphasize each of Hurt's great parts. The lyrics are some of the best in rock today, and the song structure is unique, breaking the typical formula of other songs. There's no flaw in this CD, and I never once for a second thought there was. Everything is put into place as best as can be, and Goodbye To The Machine is eleven tracks that anyone should be able to enjoy.

    10 out of 10

    Download This - "Pills"

    Hurt
    Goodbye To The Machine
    Pills
  • Review - Strata "Strata Presents The End of the World" (2007)

    4. Mär. 2009, 8:12

    From my blog Rawkfist Music

    Written by Andrew Hart

    Many times experimentation in rock music is met with failure. Many fans of the band feel isolated by a major change, and oftentimes the music is criticized for being a major departure from the well known sound. Yet, time and time again rock musicians insist on this silly thing called "evolution" in an attempt to make themselves feel better about doing nothing but strumming on instruments all day long (I kid people, I'm sure there's some other reasons too). And so, despite the failures of many before them, hard rockers Strata took a huge gamble in 2007 with the release of Strata Presents The End of the World, a major transition from their post-grunge inspired debut to be sure.

    If you don't figure out pretty damn quick that Strata made a big time jump as "Night Falls (The Weight of It)" kicks in, you may need to get your hearing checked. The opening track is nothing like the dark rockers such as "The Panic" or "Never There" from the self-titled debut, but instead commands your attention with a killer drumbeat and vocalist Eric Victorino's piercing high voice crooning some brilliant words. "The walls of this city are all cold metal and stone, but we're nothing permanent we're just soft skin and bones," is just one display of Strata's obvious lyrical evolution. The difference in musical style is noticeable as well, as there's far less overpowering distortion in the guitars, and much more focus on the band's strength, Victorino.

    Every track on Strata Presents The End of the World is mind-numbingly unique, from the soft and comforting "Hot/Cold (Darling Don't...)" to the relentlessly quick "Cocaine (We're All Going To Hell)" (Too many parentheses yet? Don't worry, I think I'm done with those). The album's flow would seem erratic based on such varied musical styles, but never once does the disc feel awkward, but instead it feels as though every song was perfectly chosen for it's piece in the grand puzzle of this end of the world. Those two songs with such drastic differences in style are just separated by one song as early album-goers, as crazy as that seems from listening to them.

    Each and every track also delivers one of the things that makes a lot of bands today so great; raw passion. "Coma Therapy" stands out as music that plays along with Victorino's every sultry-sung word. The drum pounds with your heart on the verses as the lyrics build up to the soaring chorus, a beautiful ballad that Victorino clearly poured his soul into, and it shows. Don't get caught in it's entrancing three and a half minute span though, or "Poughkeepsie, NY" will kick your teeth out. The track stands out lyrically as do the others, a story of a man meeting with "the devil" in a bar, but it's dark tone combined with the repeated "Hallelujah" lyrics from Victorino stand out as a great intentional irony.

    It's hard to fault any album as good as this one for it's experimentation that has clearly paid off so gloriously, but fans of Strata's previous work are obviously all on the fence regarding this disc. It's a great descent from Strata's last album, and leaves little reminiscence of that time. The disc has a much softer vibe, and there's far less focus on instrumentation. The other glaring flaw is the politically charged "The New National Anthem." Some will view the lyrics of the song as the best on the album, while others will no doubt attack it for daring to speak what it does. It's the only political song on the album, but not all songs of this nature will be taken kindly.

    The other faults? Well, there just aren't any. I'd love to call this album perfect; it does everything right after all. Victorino is one of the best vocalists out there, something I'd never expected to say after the first album, and his lyrics are as top notch as his vocal quality. Strata is no longer in the business, Victorino is pursuing other projects, and this may has well have been his first. It's all his writings, his music, his passion poured into every crack. Enough dancing around, is Strata Presents The End of the World a perfect album? Not quite, simply because it takes a lot of effort to love this album. It's different, it's not real attention-grabbing, and it's not entirely identifiable. It's an isolated record, and the listener may have a hard time "feeling" it, but when you finally get it, there are few albums better.

    The Point - Eric Victorino shines as the vocalist for Strata, a band that despite major change, has succeeded in creating an original and beautiful album. It may take some to appreciate it, but it's worth the effort to get a chance to hear these marvelous songs.

    9.5 out of 10

    Download This - "Coma Therapy"

    Strata
    Strata Presents The End Of The World
    Coma Therapy
  • Review - BulletProof Messenger "Arm Yourself" (2009)

    1. Mär. 2009, 9:36

    From my blog at Rawkfist Music

    Written by Andrew Hart

    There are a lot of bands that have a bit of electronic fun with their music, and then there's BulletProof Messenger. Electronic vibes and beats are the calling card of this six man unsigned enigma, and if you don't believe me, one of those six is just there to play with the beeping noises. Unsigned is however, the last word you'd think to describe this band who's crisp production and masterful hooks would compete with some of the best in the business, and now BulletProof Messenger attempts to get signed once more with their sophomore album, Arm Yourself.

    Not convinced when I mentioned those hooks? Good luck escaping the insanity of "This Fantasy." This opening track is enough to get jaws dropping right away and demonstrate the absolute flawless integration of turntable madness into the modern rock scene. I have no idea just how BulletProof Messenger adds the electronic sounds to their hard rock jamming, but they do a damn good job of it. One of the things that makes each track stand out is the unique electronic sound that can be added to each one. For example, "This Fantasy" relies on a standard pulse-pounding turntable vibe, while the follow-up track "Move On" begins with a much more distant sound. The difference is noticeable, but the tracks are of course similar in how ridiculous catchy they are, and it only gets better with the big-time standout that is "Lose It All."

    But enough blabbering about the beeps and boops of BulletProof Messenger, I did mention this is a six man operation after all. Frontman Marcus has a crystal clear and well-ranged voice that sounds like a variation of Trapt's Chris Brown. The similarities in style are clear, and BulletProof Messenger brings a lot of punch to every song to keep themselves in that league. The riffs are outstanding, the drum beats addictive, and most importantly, every song combines them to form some dangerously powerful hooks. It's hard to listen to all of Arm Yourself without being consciously aware of every song change, and that's an impressive feat to say the least. These hooks have even evolved significantly from their 2006 debut The Crucial Line, an album that had a lot of strong material but a fairly similar sound. Here, every song is unique, right down to the downright haunting intro of "No Way Out" or the brilliantly paced and piano-lined "Where We All Belong." The only exception is the purely instrumental "DLD," a real shame considering the success of "11:59" on the previous album.

    Just about every album has it's shortcomings though, and Arm Yourself is no exception sadly. The previously mentioned "DLD" is a boring minute-long instrumental that may has well not have even been placed on the album, and is not alone in this fact. I say this, because it appears BulletProof Messenger's ambition for epic tracks may have gotten the best of them, as some of the songs seem to unnecessarily drag at the beginning or end. Album closer "Step Out" is particularly guilty of this sin. It's constant beat is a welcome and powerful album-ender, but it goes on by itself for far too long, to the point where you're bored with it and it loses the effect. "No Way Out" also has a solid two minutes of instrumentation before kicking in with much of anything. This sounds like critiquing just to critique as a reviewer who enjoys "epic" rock music, but BulletProof Messenger simply does not provide enough kick to these lengthy installments to make it worth of your time.

    To say anything else would be nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking. BulletProof Messenger as an unsigned band is among the best you'll ever hear, on the power of the hooks alone. They're not an overwhelmingly complex band, but by their powers combined they've been able to create some of the catchiest music I've heard in years (trust me that's a lot of music). If and when this band gets signed, there's no doubt they'll get some airplay, and rightfully so.

    The Point - Arm Yourself is an electronically charged blast of energy with enough hooks to catch an ocean worth of listeners. Despite some overly lengthy songs, there's no doubt the band has the potential to create some great music, and has on this album.

    9 out of 10


    Download This - "Lose It All"

    BulletProof Messenger
    Arm Yourself
    Lose It All
  • Review - The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus "Lonely Road" (2009)

    5. Feb. 2009, 7:08

    From my blog at Rawkfist Music

    As a man who doesn't often claim to be a big fan of the alternative pop punk stylings of bands such as The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, it should come as a surprise that their debut album rocked my world. Don't You Fake It was a wonderful blend of impassioned vocals, catchy riffs, and lyrics that went a little beyond "I love her so much, I want to marry her." A legit contender for album of the year 2006 was made from this very band, so logically I expected the same from their 2009 follow-up, Lonely Road. I only wish I could have been right.

    Now wait, I don't want to crucify this band, I'm getting carried away early. I do kind of like this Lonely Road that The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have spit out after three years in the studio. Lead track and single "You Better Pray" is an explosive derivation from their style of previous years but suits them well. The tempo increase once the chorus hits is a wonderfully played by vocalist Ronnie Winter, who's vocal melodies and screams were one of the highlights of Don't You Fake It. Most response to this track by fans of the band was fairly negative, and I can get why. It's a big change in style for the band, but it's hard-rocking nature is just a candy coat to something The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus did so well, make a really catchy song. At this point, I was expecting a change in style, but not the one I got.

    "Pen and Paper" is just about the only song with immediate throwback to the Don't You Fake It days, but just about everything else this CD contains is a mixed bag of mediocre tunes, so-so vocals, and an overall lack of passion. Nothing on Lonely Road comes close to the emotional vocal performances of "Justify," "Face Down," or "My Guardian Angel." In fact, even with a few more slow songs than the one on Don't You Fake It, none of them can hold a candle to the latter love song.

    I usually am more than eager to talk about as many of the CDs tracks as possible, and delve into what makes them good or bad, but the majority of this album falls into the same boat. The common theme is an overall lack of memorability. I've listened to the album more than enough times to write a proper review for it, yet I still have yet to fall in love with any of these songs, and only seem to have caught the lyrics to one or two of the slightly more remarkable tracks. Only one or two tracks truly have any amount of standout quality. "Represent" has a solid opening sound, "Pull Me Back" has a fairly catchy chorus, and "Lonely Road" should be noted for it's lyrical nuances. Overall however, each of these tracks suffers from other problems which drag down this endeavor.

    I have found myself growing fonder of "No Spell" and "Step Right Now" the more I listen to the album, at long last. "Step Right Now" in particular has the best chance at regaining any kind of radio attention for the band that's now trying to avoid being a one-hit wonder. The tune is a real toe-tapping kind of melody, and the chorus will get the rest of your body moving in it's simple rhythm. It's very remniscent of The All-American Rejects's "Gives You Hell" in it's simplicity and catchiness. All in all, short of the lead single which is hit for me, but a miss for most loyalists, "Step Right Now" is probably your best chance to fall in love on this Lonely Road.

    The best word I come up with as I listen to this album again and again is unremarkable. It's not bad by any stretch, in fact lyrically it's a step up from their stellar debut. But maybe that's it, fans of the band's first CD will likely find this to be a big step down from a very promising start. Those just stumbling on The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus may find this more enjoyable than I did, but it certainly doesn't sound as good to me when I know there's just so much more potential there.

    5 out of 10

    The Point - Average, mediocre, unmemorable, and unremarkable are the best words for Lonely Road. The beats are too simple, the vocals not emotional enough, the songs simply not catchy enough. For a band with a huge breakout single, they didn't put a lot of meat on these bones to try a repeat attempt. Lonely Road won't have any tracks that you'll skip on shuffle, but you won't remember their names when they come up either.

    Download This - "Step Right Now"

    The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
    Lonely Road
    Step Right Now
  • Review - Red "Innocence and Instinct" (2009)

    28. Jan. 2009, 6:12

    Courtesy of Rawkfist Music

    Red is quickly becoming a phenomenon, one in which I have had no problem being a part of. In a move reminiscent of Trent Reznor's mind-numbing prerelease games for Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero, the sophomore effort of Red was built up with a number of twisting and turning internet puzzles. For months, diehard fans of an increasingly popular band slaved over the tiniest numbers or messages, all just to find out a little bit more about Innocence and Instinct. Maybe they're all just crazy, but after Red's stellar 2006 debut End of Silence, can you really blame them?

    It's worth mentioning that Red is unlike anything you've heard before, a pure hard rock band with glorious electronic showerings and powerful vocals that range from beautiful melody to emotional screams. It won't take long for you to realize just what you've been missing if you aren't already a member of Red nation, because "Fight Inside" kicks out your speakers after one of the band's signature electronic intros. The guitars kick in shortly after to compliment the backbeat, and by the time you hear the crisp vocals, you'll be sold on Red's style. "Fight Inside" is hardly Red's catchiest track, but it's powerful both in sound and message, and if you don't figure out that Red's a Christian band right away, you're not alone.

    Lead single "Death of Me" isn't close to Red's catchiest work either, but it should be mentioned that Red does not pride themselves on catchy hooks, but on intense and emotional music. In similar vein to the opening track, "Death of Me" rings out with raging guitars and clean electronic beats, with a faded out vocal accompanying on the verses. The chorus may take a couple of spins to get ingrained in your head, but it will be worth it when you find yourself singing to "But I'm still bleeding and you'll be the death of me."

    I may be ranting a bit on the first two tracks so I'll make some more concise points with the rest of this. "Mystery of You" is that hook you've been looking for if you're not yet sold on Red, and "Start Again" will be sure to keep you locked into your headphones. Innocence and Instinct isn't about headbanging, thought it's certainly welcome, but more about the tone and edginess of the music. A dark and ethereal tone drips through every bit of Innocence and Instinct, yet the songs bring message of everything from hope to despair. "Never Be The Same" echoes both of these as crazy as that seems, and I'll never forget the raw passion of the bridge lines "No, stay, nothing compares to you...I can't let you go."

    It's increasingly harder to avoid going on with great length about each song, largely because every song brings it's own unique traits, breaking free of perhaps the only weakness of Red's debut. Even a cover of Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" shakes off any kind of mold that Red may have used to make Innocence and Instinct, and it's certainly easy to notice throughout that not a single song is the same. On my first listen I was barely focused on the CD at all, but managed to notice every time a song changed. It's very hard to find an album like that at any time. From the harmonies of "Shadows" to the gritty "Out From Under", not one track falls far below the rest.

    I hate perfect scores, and almost never give them away without great thought, but it's so damn hard to find a flaw in Red's second effort. The production is out of this world, the instrumentation is not legendary, but more than fits the sound of the band, and the lyrics are masterful. This isn't a blatant Christian record, you'd never know Red was one of those bands without serious thought. The biggest flaw has to be that Innocence and Instinct has only 10 tracks, but picking up the deluxe edition will fix that problem, and even without spending money, this disc never feels shortened or incomplete. Quite simply, it's everything that manic fanbase could have hoped for and more, which pleases this crazy fan quite a bit.

    The Point - Innocence and Instinct is brilliant in every way, with virtually no flaws. The powerful emotion of the record is top notch, and the band has more than enough chops to pull it off. If Red isn't established as one of the top bands in their genre after this record, there is no justice in this world. Buy this record.

    10 out of 10

    Download This - "Mystery of You"

    Red
    Innocence and Instinct
    Mystery of You