MATT SKIBA AND THE SEKRETS - Kuts CD Review
Matt Skiba and the Sekrets
Matt Skiba and the Sekrets return with their sophomore effort, Kuts. Following up the heavily anthemic Babylon, the band (which also features AFI’s Hunter Burgan) slow the pace and darken the landscape a bit more for their second Superball Music release. The lack of big, catchy choruses here surprised me at first, but repeated listens revealed a depth that Babylon didn’t have.
While, the choruses aren’t all big and sing alongy, Skiba and his Sekrets still offer lots of bouncy, melodic tunes that aren’t entirely unlike The Mission’s better works. “She Said” has a punk rock swagger that makes you want to pogo and throw up your hands. It’s an almost pop punk bounce, but the lack of ridiculous parts and a Chuck Berry style guitar solo keep it on the up and up.
“Lonely and Kold” and “Krashing” have the dark eighties vibe that Skiba has mastered at this point in his career. His voice commands you to listen as the music just rolls underneath it, enabling the listener to focus on the lyrics really easily. “Never Believe” finds Skiba attempting a croon set to a mostly acoustic backdrop splattered with some really nice piano work that helps set the song apart from the other Kuts. It’s got an almost Achtung Baby flare to it musically. “Vienna,” meanwhile, ends the album on an intimate note hearkening back to Damnesia or the Haven’t You? EP’s renderings. It’s the perfect end to a really good album as, in my opinion, Skiba is at his best when armed with only an acoustic guitar.
Overall, I really dig Kuts. The band didn’t abandon what made Babylon a classic but they also didn’t repeat themselves, a fact that surprised me. The darker overall sound and production hearkens back to a part of music that is sorely missed by this reviewer. While it’s not as anthemic as I had hoped, the deeper, more thoughtful approach, especially lyrically, makes it well worth your time. When it comes to exploring life’s relationships, no one in modern music can touch Skiba.
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
ARCHITECTS OF CHAOZ - The League of Shadows CD Review
Architects of Chaoz
The League of Shadows
For those keeping score, Architects of Chaoz is a more formal uprising of ex-Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno and his longtime, German-based, touring band The Phantomz. Di’Anno has never been able to keep my attention much over the years, so I didn’t expect much from this release. Man, oh man, was I wrong. The 57 year old hasn’t sounded this good since he fronted the mighty Maiden.
There are a lot of highlights here if you like your metal full of piss and vinegar. The band manage to sound huge on this release, without losing those buzzsaw guitars that keep the metal grounded in the working class suburbs. Di’Anno snarls over top of it all and even clean sings here and there, proving that he’s got more in the tank than most of us probably gave him credit for.
“Dead Eyes” is a good example as Di’Anno drives the chunky guitars forward with a sort of bark/snarl/clean sing that embodies everything that is good about metal music. It’s combined with some badass guitar riffery, punchy rhythm work, and a simple chorus that makes you want to throw up your fist and scream along! The pounding “Angel of Death” is another song that reeks of the NWOBHM without totally embracing it, offering instead a speed and aggression that was often missing from that scene.
The ballad “Switched Off (Released)” is perhaps the album’s most striking moment. It’s drowned in melancholy guitars as Di’Anno clean sings the verses, making the song seem much more intimate and revealing a new side to this band that is both powerful and raw and even….kinda beautiful.
Architects of Chaoz’s The League of Shadows has literally come out of nowhere and commanded my attention. I’ll be honest and say that I simply put this in because it was Paul Di’Anno and I was just curious how he would sound these days. The band proves, without question, that they are the REAL deal with well-written songs, memorable choruses, and musical chops that extend far beyond Iron Maiden covers. This is an essential purchase for any fan of hard music!
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
VERUCA SALT - Ghost Notes CD Review
El Camino Media
Veruca Salt is one of the lost treasures of rock music. Crashing onto the scene in 1994 with their debut American Thighs, the band quickly built a following based on the catchy hooks and rocking arrangements of songs like “Seether.” In a time when riot grrrls were an alt rock novelty trend the guitar and vocal team of Louise Post and Nina Gordon provided solid songs that made their gender an afterthought rather than the focus of any discussion pertaining to Veruca Salt. 1997’s full length follow up Eight Arms to Hold You was even better. The band was tight and focused, the songs rocked, and Post and Gordon created vocal harmonies that ranged from haunting to piercing. Eight Arms… was pure rock perfection, and is still a staple in my music collection. Then the band disintegrated. Nina Gordon embarked on a solo career, while Post continued to front a band called Veruca Salt with a rotating crew of musicians. The songs were still good, but the delivery was never the same without the original lineup, Gordon’s vocals being the most obvious loss. The band that could have had it all was changed forever.
Ghost Notes sees the original Veruca Salt lineup back together, offering new material for the first time since Eight Arms to Hold You. With anticipation and trepidation I sat down to listen to this album wondering if the old formula would hold true, or if time would have made changes to the band’s sound. The answer is a bit of both. Certainly, the songs still sound like Veruca Salt. “The Sound of Leaving” is the kind of slow tempo, plodding rock that made “Loneliness Is Worse” a favorite, and “Come Clean, Dark Thing” is the kind of straight ahead, no frills melodic rocker that the band’s debut offered. The song structures are similar without repeating previous work, and Gordon and Post’s tightly wound harmonies add depth to personal lyrics. Producer Brad Wood, who also produced American Thighs conjures a sound that is reminiscent of the band’s origins, while the songs themselves show growth since the last time the band created music together. The impact is that fans will find Ghost Notes feels like an old friend and a new experience.
Veruca Salt offers a rocking release. Really, there’s not a bad song on this album, so choosing high points is a tough job. Opening track “The Gospel According to Saint Me” is energetic and catchy. “Laughing In the Sugar Bowl” is a straight ahead rocker. “I’m Telling You Now” is a great bit of power pop. Songs like “Empty Bottle,” which features a sweeping, melodic bassline from Steve Lack (who creates several memorable performances on this release), and closing track “Alternica” wander into more somber territory, while never straying far from the rock n’ roll core that is the basis of Veruca Salt’s sonic attack. As always, VC takes the kind of rough pop offered by bands like Cheap Trick and adds some AC/DC muscle and a bit of Breeders style alternative swagger. Big hooks, heavy guitars and smarty lyrics complete the formula, and the results are undeniably awesome.
As Ghost Notes closes Gordon and Post sing the line “and in the end it comes around, comes around again.” It becomes a swirling chant that sums up this release. It’s nearly impossible not to to sing along, reveling in the return of one of the finest bands the 1990s ever produced. Veruca Salt has come around again, and as a fan I couldn’t be happier. I approach reunion albums expecting the worst, because unfortunately few bands are able to capture the old spark of brilliance after years apart. Veruca Salt not only capture that spark, but set an uncontrollable blaze on their new album. Ghost Notes is more than worthy to stand beside the band’s classic albums. It serves as a reminder that I don’t want to live in a world without Veruca Salt.
Reviewed by Jim McDonald
PARADISE LOST - The Plague Within CD Review
The Plague Within
Global warming, increasingly violent weather patterns, civil unrest, wars, new and devastatingly virulent diseases… all of these things suggest that we may very well be living in the End of Days, and if indeed we are facing Armageddon, there’s no better soundtrack for it than Paradise Lost’s The Plague Within. Deep from the Stygian depths of doom metal’s black abyss comes one of the most withering and oppressively despondent albums in the history of the genre (and I mean this of course in a good way). The Plague Within, the prolific British band’s 14th studio album irrefutably proves that Paradise Lost are still a force to be reckoned with. It’s also worth noting that even after all this time the band still contains 4 of the original members. Only the drummer’s position has changed over time.
Along with their fellow countrymen and former Peaceville labelmates My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost essentially gave birth to an entire genre of music. We had doom prior to these two bands, but it was more of a Black Sabbath sort of blues infused sound than the crushingly heavy dirge that it would eventually become. Originally displaying a significant death metal influence, early Paradise Lost was as heavy as they were somber, but eventually they embraced a more gothic approach, utilizing more clean vocals and electronic elements. We’ve all seen the trend many times before, even the most extreme bands tend to mellow out through time. With The Plague Within these guys prove they still have what it takes to craft ponderously heavy metal, with tracks such as the plodding dirge “Beneath the Broken Earth” and the staggering “Flesh From Bone”, with it’s blast beats and scathing vocals, being some of the heaviest tunes they’ve ever released. With all of this astounding heaviness it is also worth mentioning that they still retain their atmospheric elements, illustrated by “An Eternity of Lies” which features the band’s more traditional clean vocals and gothic elements.
The Plague Within is both haunting and profoundly heavy; an amazing amalgam of doom, death and gothic metal, which features the best of what Paradise Lost has been, throughout their career, all ensconced into one woefully somber slab of metal. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. You have been warned.
Reviewed by Farron Watson
CHAOS MAGIC - Chaos Magic CD Review
Former Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki has been one busy beaver since departing the band in 2008. From solo albums, to supergroups, to guest appearances the man has been anything but reclusive. All controversy and personal issues (of which there appear to be many) aside, Tolkki has been greatly influential in today’s melodic metal scene and the man is undeniably talented. He was, after all, included in Guitar World’s “50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time”. Never being content to rest upon his laurels Tolkki is back in action yet again with an entirely new project, this time joining forces with Chilean vocalist Caterina Nix who began her career as the vocalist for South American metal band Aghonya. Nix and Tolkki had previously collaborated on the second chapter of the Avalon rock opera "Angels Of The Apocalypse".
The music found on Chaos Magic’s self titled debut album was written, performed, and produced entirely by Timo Tolkki with the exception of drums which were handled by Jami Huovinen who is likely best known for his work with Allen-Lande. So while this is certainly Tolkki’s baby it also exists to showcase Nix’s vocal talents. And talented she is. Most of the album falls under the mid-tempo melodic rocker umbrella; there’s definitely metal in there, but not to the extent of say an Epica album. Chaos Magic is perhaps best described as melodic metal with a touch of symphony.
Nix’s vocals are sensual and powerful without being operatic. The entire album in fact gives an impression of understated magnificence. Somewhat surprising considering all the music was written by a man who is known for his grandiose, guitar laden epics. As for the guitar work, Tolkki appears to let that facet of his skill set take a back seat in order to demonstrate his other talents, most notably his considerable prowess with a keyboard. The opening track, “I’m Alive” with it’s big guitar, electronic rhythm, and passionate vocals gives a prime example of what the rest of the album is all about. Take “Seraphim” for instance, with it’s almost industrial toned electronic opening, or the ethereally beautiful and haunting “Please Don’t Tell Me” a ballad which evokes goosebumps with it’s pairing of delicate keys with Nix’s angelic voice. Don’t be thinking the Tolkki toning things down entirely however, as tracks such as “Right Now” and “The Point of No Return” both feature some serious riffing and uber-catchy hooks.
Chaos Magic is a superb example of talent and class, and if you in any way appreciate female fronted symphonic metal then you owe it to yourself to experience this sublime work of art.
Reviewed by Farron Watson