Metal is a fascinating genre; it’s creative, broad, progressive, explorative and always searching for respect outside of its devoted enthusiasts. From Metallica’s pairing with the San Francisco Orchestra to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s innovative Christmas classics to The Sound of Metal earning six Academy Award nominations and taking home two golden Oscars this year, metal music is a lasting, at times misunderstood form of entertainment. Blitz Union is adding to the genre’s advancement.
Though research is more affiliated with academia, exploration can be used in a variety of fields and independently. For artists attempting to shift the industry and offer something visionary, they must have experience in knowledge in performance and theory.
Blitz Union is from Prague, and there aren’t many international cities more in tune to the structure of composition. Of course, locals and visitors alike have a deep passion for classical music, but this is something that has been consciously and subconsciously ingrained in the minds of Blitz Union’s members. Strangely enough, that wasn’t what brought the band together at first.
Lead vocalist Mark Blitz said, “It was not music at all that put us together. Our ways crossed because of our common research/obsession. And this research was later on the main impulse to found Blitz Union.”
Commonality leads to camaraderie in a band, and the musicians in Blitz Union are definitely on the same sheet.
Stylistically, the band describes themselves as EDM-Rock, and it’s a fitting description. Their sound can be traced back to the golden era of nu- and industrial-metal in the late-‘90s and early-2000s. Many of those acts successful fused different musical elements to remain relevant for decades. Two artists that stand out, and perhaps blend together to form Blitz Union’s style, are Linkin Park and Rammstein—and on a lesser scale, Orgy and Ultraspank. I say, how promiscuous.
Blitz explained, “Our sound consists of heavy riffs, energy-driven rock elements and catchy EDM hooks. This fusion became very natural for us as we enjoy the freedom during the creation process. There are so many options how you can approach a song by combining those two styles. It’s fun.”
One thing that should be noted, which always has to be said to combat assumptions in rock and metal, is that the men in Blitz Union are incredibly musical. Shodushi and Schtorm have mastered the guitar and bass, respectively, and Governor pulses infections beats on the drums. Then they all contribute to the act’s style.
Electronic elements sometimes get a bad rap because they come from a “box” but an artist also has to have a good understanding of rhythm to produce quality content. The mastery of an instrument comes in a variety of ways as well. For example, Christian Lorenz of Rammstein is a terrific keyboardist and composer, but you can tell he’s a piano player at heart. Classical dynamics just fit well in rock and metal, and Blitz Union captures that same essence in the EDM portion of their sound. Plus, the lyrics aren’t half-bad either.
Another thing that makes Blitz Union a tad different from their influential comparisons is vocal tone. Though they were inspired by the techniques of Korn, Mudvayne and Slipknot, for example, Blitz’s range behind the microphone helps the listener understand the lyrics, and their message is a strong part of their plight.
“Inspiration for our songs comes to me in waves, which I carefully listen to,” Blitz shared. “Then I try to put it into words. Everything that happens afterwards is somewhat of a mysterious process for us, but we as the band have developed a certain technique to approach it.”
With a moving message, Blitz’s lyrics challenge the direction humanity is heading and focuses on the affairs that haunt society today. They expose the wicked layers of society, but at the same time offer hope and inspiration to bring us back to the surface. They have a voice.
In 2019, Blitz Union released their EP Revolution. The title track starts off the record, and it is perfect in a variety of ways. You can’t open a rock or metal album better than the distorted rhythm of “Revolution” which was introduced by a great electronic tone. The mix built, and though short, it provided enough of an intro to not only the song but the capabilities of the band. The track has Disturbed and Rammstein written all over it, and besides Blitz’s immediate display of vocal versatility from verse to chorus, this is an anthem song. Blitz Union gives you everything they’re about right off the start.
“Cyberbully” then introduces the band’s message. The pain and struggle of abuse, which is customary in rock and metal, is covered but in a more focused way to modern society. The music in “Everybody Else” is pristine and structured brilliantly. However, if I had a criticism, it’s the strange monotone backing vocals that are apparent on this track and others moving forward. Vocals also need to mesh, and there just seems to be a lack of balance without a buffer. If, and this is just a suggestion based on personal preferences, the support vocals were more hissing and sinister, it may perfect that element of their sound. Something like Rob Zombie’s timbre in the verses for “Superbeast.”
“Broken” is a great song, and this is where Blitz Union truly beings to impress. They subtly add another sub-category of metal into their repertoire, especially vocally. This track contains those dark harder emo elements. Finally, the short EP ends with another anthem-type song to remind listeners of what they experienced and what is to come, not to mention “Deleted” is a mindset rock audiences have shared, but that simple title makes it so modern. The sound and cadence is very 2000’s nu-metal, but the ideology twists the past to fit with the future.
The band put out their second EP, Not Proud, earlier this year, and new styles are fantastically blended into their sound. Think this weird thought: The Bravery and Jukebox the Ghost.
Of course, those two bands are not in Blitz Union’s genre. However, “Tv” has those Bravery tones mixed into the verse, both musically and vocally. They keep their sound with more great distorted rhythm, and somehow add a punky catchy chorus.
Then the listener is brought back decades and into yet another genre. “Money Crazy World” has a very new wave, synth-pop, Depeche Mode feel. That continues with “Human Robot” except the chorus falls a tad short, but somehow remains fitting for the song. I could picture someone doing the robot to that brief chorus.
“Plastic” returns the listener to what Blitz Union is about from their message to their style, and their ability to transition different musical elements is on full display, especially from a synth standpoint. Then “Not Proud” almost continues and combats “Human Robot” because it discusses how someone can distance themselves from society, but admitting the similarities at the same time. Admitting, but not quite yet accepting (in the character’s mind), we’re all human beings.
The piano rendition of “Tv” finishes the EP and this exemplifies what I was talking about with musical talent. If outside listeners don’t think rock and metal bands have roots in classical training, just listen to this track. This is also where the Jukebox the Ghost comparison comes in. They did an entire bonus album of their self-titled 2015 release with just piano renditions of each track and it was fantastic. It wasn’t a surprise when they did it, however, but Blitz Union offers something different with their change of pace.
Blitz Union is visionary. It’s difficult to blend the amount of styles they do, because it’s not just about EDM and rock, but if done subtly, and if the artists possess a true understanding of composition, it can be masterful.
“I am happy about the music which I make and how our Union is doing,” Blitz stated.
This band has the ability to be an international headliner, and they’re have every intention to stay relevant for a long time. The look to unionize a revolution.
“Your heart is my candlestick, when it lights it takes everything I have.” Dig Two Graves, “Wick”
Dig Two Graves doesn’t want to be labeled—how very Sturgill Simpson of them. Being labeled conforms an act, especially in over-saturated genres. Through defining a trait that preaches uniqueness, the band attempts to just make music how they want to make music.
Dig Two Graves formed in New Jersey. Guitarist Josh Brewer and drummer Kenny Meeks have been playing music together for as long as they can remember. Vocalist Mike Reisser joined the band after befriending Brewer in college, and bassist Jess Agins was discovered on Instagram. Ah, the power of social networking.
After just a few years, the band created enough anticipation for their debut release. Perhaps their attitude fits the scene well and younger audiences have grasped onto the carefree disregard toward industry and the confidence that comes with such brashness. Dig Two Graves fits the scene they are trying not to be a part of.
“Genres are a social construct made by FDR and the communists,” Brewer stated. “We’re free flowin’ and play whatever we want.”
The combination of metal and orchestra has worked on many levels before. Melancholy lyrics, which are sometimes too difficult to understand due to raspy screaming, pair well with minor scales and the somber shrill of other string instruments. Perfecting the blend, however, must be accomplished through a focused structure.
The quartet does, in fact, possess a unique style, and one that has been dormant in mainstream music for quite some time. Yet, just like most late-‘90’s, early-2000’s sounds, a resurgence is simmering. That doesn’t mean that Dig Two Graves hasn’t placed a progressive twist on the sound.
They have been described as metalcore, which is probably where most of their sound falls into place, but with the emergence of a plethora of sub-genres, they have expanded to broader niches. The band’s range is eclectic, from progressive metal to djent to dream pop. In other words, they like to experiment; and early in their career—especially during a pandemic—is probably the best time to explore what delineates them from other acts.
One thing that is impressive is Dig Two Graves has a broad range of influences, capturing versions of rock from other cultures. Brewer mentioned the Japanese acts Dir En Grey, Luna Sea and The Gazette as major influences, for example. However, they also pull inspiration from mainstream performers such as Fall Out Boy and Asking Alexandria.
Meeks explained, “We just make whatever we feel like. Our main goal is to make heavy music with pretty piano parts and cool orchestral stuff.”
This mix of aforementioned artists helps explain Dig Two Graves, but not necessarily their music. For the fans who need an example, perhaps the ones who are less hipster in who they listen to, Dig Two Graves has early Mudvayne written all over them—but without makeup all over them.
Mudvayne’s 2000 release L.D. 50 was a fantastic introduction to the nu-metal outfit that challenged Slipknot early on as the best mainstream hardcore shock act. What’s going to decide the direction Dig Two Graves takes is Reisser’s vocals, and that comes with maturity.
Chad Gray is the voice of Mudvayne, and during the beginning that voice consisted of a lot of screaming. However, just as the band transitioned out of their huge makeup budget, their sound and vocals became more rhythmic and structured, which made their impact more powerful and lasting. The same could be said for Corey Taylor and the development of Slipknot. However, there is one thing that Brewer shares with both Gray and Taylor: an underrated singing voice overlooked by shattering tones. That’s how someone gets labeled when they don’t want to be labeled; some fans don’t look at the whole picture.
Gray proved he had an excellent voice right from the start on L.D. 50, and it became even more seasoned and used as an instrument as Mudvayne progressed. Taylor showed his range primarily with Stone Sour. Like it or not, critics, these guys are musicians with knowledge of the craft, and so are Dig Two Graves.
Dig Two Graves released their EP, Deathwish, in 2019. They introduce this alien-ish sci-fi synth sound to set the tone during “As Above.” The intro track is a tad choppy and lacks a direct tempo, but there is definitely potential and at least showcases the band’s creativity.
“Track 2” features those signature progressive metalcore guitar riffs. Around the 2:30 mark of the track, the listener experiences a simple twist. It’s not a necessarily a solo, but just an extended bridge bringing out the lead guitar notes that have been present throughout. There is also a hint of synth that never overpowers the song—which is nice.
That same harmonious background, a more passive beat, heightens “Wick” to what may be the band’s signature song. The track displays their control over their musical elements.
The title track off the EP captures what Dig Two Graves is going for. This is where the synth-metal combination comes through the most, as well as the testing with structure and where such experimental elements fall. Though it is unique and there’s a great pulsing drum, the flow that had been built up on the first three tracks begins to regress.
“Iron Lungs and Paper Hearts” contains those great spooky notes, and the listener can realize here that that’s what the band wants more of, but the heaviness of the rhythm still outweighs these great orchestral melodies.
If you want a song from Dig Two Graves to base their sound on, it’s “So Below.” This track, in my mind, exemplifies what they are going for musically the best. The dynamics are the most balanced in any song, the transition from strong riffs to melodious backings flow better, leading to an exceptional outro around five minutes into the song. These two-and-a-half minutes are perhaps the best moments of the album—and then it ends.
If I may revert back to my reference of L.D. 50. I’m not comparing Dig Two Graves to Mudvayne because they are two different bands. However, Mudvayne did use all these musical elements early in their career, and Gray combined screaming with a countertenor-esque shift which sometimes led to even spoken word. Reisser has a good voice; another nice reference could be Stephen Richards of Taproot. You can either go as far as to say he can hit the same notes as Conor Mason of Nothing But Thieves, one of the better vocalists in modern rock.
However, it’s all about how someone wishes to express their pain and how a band wishes to evolve their personal sound. Dig Two Graves has a lot of potential within a variety of sub-categories. Their composition and talent is there, they have a sound, but all artists should be wary of too much experimentation because it can impede clarity. Complexity can be captured, and with focus and inner-song structure, Dig Two Graves has the ability to do exactly that.
“I’ve got the rest of my life and I’m not gonna stop ‘til I get it right.” -The Simple Radicals, “The Optimist”
Rock is a glorious genre. It’s diverse, it’s moving in many ways, and it captures the essence and passion of a person’s identity—whether that be artist or audience. This happens in all music, but a song leaves a certain impression to the point where you can hear a release from decades ago and remember the exact moment you heard that track and what it meant. The Simple Radicals attempt to bring back that feeling.
Vocalist John Malkin and guitarist John Griffin formed The Simple Radicals in Chicago. After years of performing with other acts and laying tracks in home studios, a simple request via social media brought the two together—and a sound was born.
It’s an old sound, but not borrowed, and the same could be said for the sake of a revolution. As discussed before, rock music is due for a rewind that will rejuvenate the genre back into mainstream significance. Not that all rockers necessarily value mainstream success, many would claim the underground is where the energy pulsates the most, but rather the ability to share a beloved sound and deeply meaningful lyrics. Or at least a strong opinion.
Malkin shared, “We released a song and video “Rich Man Wanna Be King” which provides a scathing lampoon of ex-President Trump. It’s already racked up 190,000 views and climbing.”
Impressive, yes, but The Simple Radicals are more than one message; they’re a package deal.
Inspiration can occasionally be misconstrued as imitation. Yet, all music comes from a similar foundation of past brilliance. With influences such as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, Green Day, and Tom Petty, The Simple Radicals have a tremendous base to build upon. These great names have helped the band craft their sound and style, and also fittingly place them in the retro-rock genre.
“I grew up listening to classic rock and still listen to it to this day,” Malkin said. “It’s timeless and some of the best music ever written. I wanted to form a band that maintained the integrity of the classic rock sound while adding retro flavors.”
The key element to The Simple Radicals’ sound is they actually span generations—which, and I’m aging myself here, have all become “classic” rock. As long as the loves of my adolescence aren’t considered “oldies” then I’m fine with the label. I remember when it happened; years ago, probably at least over a decade, a classic rock station in town played Local H. I knew how old I was then. Yet, just like a certain song, these moments are engrained in a listener’s memory, and they are welcomed.
Malkin explained where his lyrics stem from, “Life as we see and know it. When you distill it down to the basics and just take a look around, you’ll see that it’s so dynamic and malleable. Things develop and change right in front of your eyes every second. The challenging part is how to capture it all and put it into lyrics and music. But that’s also the most rewarding part.”
That’s what rock music is about, and life has certainly been challenging for all as of late. Even more reason for the revolution.
The Simple Radicals have taken advantage of the pandemic. The more we move through this, the more we are winning the battle. Progression remained essential for the band including the heavy promotion of their releases, recording new music and the development of a podcast, “Music & A Brew.” What more do you really need in life?
A sustainable income would be nice, and touring is where acts make a majority of their revenue. The Simple Radicals have played hometown festivals as well as iconic venues like New York City’s Cutting Room. Though 2020 came with many cancellations, the band is slated to support major acts and perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas in 2021. With the guests they are able to book on their podcast, and the artists they tour with, The Simple Radicals have created and maintained their experience in the industry.
“I’m always learning from other bands and musicians,” Malkin said. “The way they interact with the fans, their mannerisms, how they use pauses in the show. It’s a combination of the band being completely in sync and in the moment combined with the audience truly engaged with you and your music. There is nothing more rewarding than watching people lose themselves in your music. It’s intoxicating.”
Even though the live shows are scarce, we’re gradually crawling back to normal. As for now, The Simple Radicals are solidifying an online presence with their sound.
When a band has knowledge and experience in their genre, especially when it comes to blending the subtle differences each generation presents, it shows. From blues to classic rock to even hints of metal, The Simple Radicals have used their industry familiarity to produce new content the last two years.
In 2019, the band released an eight-track album, New Revolution. It was pure, direct and visceral. “Raise Hell” is a perfect opening track. The song not only preludes to the overall statement of the album, the structure and flow hit all the right elements you want when beginning a musical experience: a growing intro, crisp riffs and a catchy rhythm that transitions anticipation into energy.
“The Optimist” then comes in with a heavy metrical bassline and a solid beat throughout courtesy of James Page and Griff Johnson. Something that stands out other than just the standard rock vocals is the clean and blistering solos Griffin produces. The rock feel is there, but the influences are apparent and diverse from track to track, yet contained, which is important because it proves the band doesn’t lose their style via experimentation.
“Raise Hell” gave us a little of The Refreshments at the beginning, “Medicate” has hints of Alice Cooper, the title track is just a clean standard rock song straight from the ‘90s it would seem on first listen, and then they relax the tempo for “Emotion.” Balance is so important while producing a full album or listeners become weary of the tracks just blending together.
“Talk” is a beautiful enigma of meshing styles; it shouldn’t work, but it does, and has before any of the mentions to follow, which makes it stranger. Griffin’s notes are Santana- or Pink Floyd-esque, while Malkin captures the bleak somberness of ‘90’s vocals, but the undertones are comparable to ‘80’s metal. “Talk” is a three-decade experience of rock music shifts in about five minutes.
Then the transition out begins the conclusion. Malkin’s favorite song he has written sums up the overall message of New Revolution, and though the tempo is slow and basic, it proves that passion and energy truly have no specific cadence, just relevance and relation within. This technique was perfected by Metallica, and after listening to “Learn” you’re given that exact feeling.
“Civility” is great closure to the journey. If an album’s overall rhythm resembles a roller coaster, then a band has done a very good thing. Listeners are able to experience the variant moods Malkin and Griffin create from song to song and a collection of life experiences.
Malkin stated, “The important thing is to get things right in your life and you have your whole life to do so. Be patient but just get it right.”
The band is getting it done on many levels. On March 5, The Simple Radicals released a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” with a pop-psychedelic spin. The collaboration with Che-Val stretches even further back into rock history, and the new version is excellent.
The Simple Radicals may be strengthening their presence in the scene at the perfect time. Stay simple and think radical.
“In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes (Andy Warhol).” -The Venus Fly Trap, “Icon”
The Venus Fly Trap has been around for decades. The British alternative rockers have an extensive catalog that has spanned generational shifts in music. In an era where it’s harder to maintain consistent relevance, the band is grasping on to the resurgence of their prime.
The Venus Fly Trap has seen many contributors to their sound through the years. Originally formed in 1986 in Northhampton, England, just a shade fewer than 20 musicians have helped produce the post-punk electronica rhythm that has helped the band sustain a name in the industry.
Career musicians never stop creating and perfecting their craft. Lead singer Alex Novak not only formed The Venus Fly Trap, he also provided vocals for such past acts as Religious Overdose, Attrition and The Tempest.
Novak shared, “I’ve been watching live music since I was about 15. What got me involved in music in the first place was the punk, new wave explosion and it changed my perception of being able to be in a band.”
It’s an obsession of sort, and when artists become engrossed in the scene at a young age, it’s easier for them to set their goals and find their sound—and find other ways to stay in the industry. Not only does Novak play, he runs a record shop. Now during England’s third lockdown, he has used the time to save his business and perfect his craft.
The Venus Fly Trap, currently consisting of Novak and Andy Denton, has been described as “bladerunner rock ‘n’ roll with dark acidic shades” but Novak brings a more artistic feel to the music. He treats it as a movie almost.
“We create dark sonic cinema for the mind, film noir, sci-fi soundscapes,” he explained.
The band’s influences are acts well-deserved of following and flattery. The Venus Fly Trap attempts to blend inspirations from Chemical Brothers, Joy Division and the Doors. In fact, Novak’s vocals have been compared to Jim Morrison’s signature mysterious monotone. Yet, no artist wants to sound exactly like an earlier band or they will be labeled a copier or trend-chaser. It’s important for an act to strive for uniqueness, and that can come from taking specific elements of influence and then arranging an original sound. With that being said, it’s difficult to categorize The Venus Fly Trap.
Imagination is the essence of The Venus Fly Trap’s style and sound. Their music isn’t just something to listen to, they strive for it to be an experience. It’s almost as if they write for movies, attempting to capture a visual to help the listener better understand their tracks. This especially makes touring memorable.
The stage was dark and smoky and the audience was being provided with an unknown aura that ended up enchanting them through the evening. The electronics pounded, the colors mesmerized, and Novak sang as a woman, slim with tiny cloth barely covering only the most precious areas of her figure, danced next to him. A large python slithered around her body as she not only charmed the reptile but the audience as well.
The Venus Fly Trap attempts to make their live show into an event rather than just a recital. Yet, it’s the after party that allows the band to understand their impact.
Novak said, “It’s always interesting speaking to people after the show, it’s a two-way conversation, you’re finding out about what people are thinking. We have a lot of memorable shows, probably done hundreds of gigs, so it’s good to keep track otherwise you forget where you have played.”
Of course, touring has been limited the past year and gaining support is vital not only for the artists, but audiences as well.
“Let’s hope we can do that again soon. It’s good to see all sorts of live music; it all goes into the brain to widen your influences and see what works and what doesn’t. You’re always learning.”
The Venus Fly Trap’s debut, Mars, landed in 1987. It had new wave undertones, but darker, less poppy than the mainstream acts who defined the ‘80s. It was deeper, as if it was always raining while the music played. Most notably the singles “Morphine.” Their psychedelic sound continued in 1989 with Totem. A little more post-punk began to surface, especially when it came to the drum and bass rhythms, but their original style didn’t falter in the least.
In 1991, the band’s Gothic roots were added to the dark wave, psychedelic post-punk sound. The consistency throughout, however, is the use of electronica to mesh everything together, keeping the band’s identity always intact. Pandora’s Box may be the band’s best ablum, and not only is their style most on display, but as is their true ability to create infectious cadence. “World Turned Upside Down” is a great song and “Monument To The Sublime” is a fantastic instrumental. Lastly, their versatility is proven with the pure piano arrangement of “Shedding Another Skin.” There is a Duran Duran resemblance throughout, but, again, they kept it their own.
Luna Tide added yet another element of the times. Launched in 1994, that standard ‘90’s rock distortion was apparent, especially on tracks like “My Ships Coming In” and “Jupiter Collision.” Yet, the album as a whole sounded too similar from song to song, but tracks “Urban Sprawl (Part One)” and “Heretic” either slowed the pace or offered some dark acoustics for balance.
The Venus Fly Trap revamped and almost reached back for their 1996 album Dark Amour. The track “Lifeforce” captures the essence of the band, but the album also displays their range of creativity, even using the sounds of different cultures as exemplified on the primarily instrumental track “Decaying Orbit Part 1 & 2.”
The next 22 years, Venus Fly Trap provided listeners with limited editions, compilations, documentaries, and the albums Zenith (2004), Nemesis (2011) and Icon (2018). They were epic and operatic, charming and dark, and the lasting impression that they made in the music world proved their love for music and creating.
As uncertainty looms at the moment for society, The Venus Fly Trap hopes to continue their passion. Nothing has to end.
“You reach out to the stars, but they move further away.” -Pressure, “Path of a Shadow”
There’s a heavy feeling in the world today. It’s not the weight of the earth, but rather the figurative burden of uncertainty and growing anxiety. Sweden’s Pressure attempts to relieve the stressors of daily life and help listeners embrace their existence. Music can always be a release, a guide to navigating each step we take.
Based in Stockholm, Pressure was formed after 10 years of performance experience and audience analysis. Simon Forsell once was Emil Salling’s guitar teacher, and soon they were part of a successful cover band. After experimenting with a blend of pop and metal, they discovered an invaluable reaction from the crowd: artist appreciation.
Forsell said of their origin, “We wanted more challenging things in our music journey. Because of this we started to change the songs, both the lyrics and also the arrangements, taking pop songs and making them into metal songs. The crowd loved the versions and we wanted to explore this even more.”
To an average music follower, pop and metal are two genres that don’t sound like they would mesh well based solely on the stereotypical surface of each. The assumption makes sense, but couldn’t be further from the truth. Denser vocal tones and distortion differentiate the two genres from a style standpoint, but at a song’s core, there’s a relation.
“We play story metal. That is a sub-genre of heavy metal but focuses on the stories that we tell and the mood of the songs.”
Why do you think ‘80s hair metal was so popular? Look, both styles of music are written together in that sentence. When done correctly, it’s a fascinating sound.
Forsell is a story collector. His inspiration comes from the tales told by people around him, the life experiences that can be turned into an anthem of sort.
“We take our inspiration from the mood of the Pressure that we sing about and from the people around us who inspired us to write the stories,” Forsell explained.
Lyrics and finding that relation to the listener are key elements to how Pressure produces a track. Occasionally, especially in the modern era of rock, experimentation can lead to complexity and lyricists believe they are deeper than they actually are. They stress image, uniqueness and progression, and the final product suffers. Sometimes a listener just wants something they can share and something that sounds good. That’s what Pressure is attempting to offer. Acts like Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and The Union Underground created some fantastic content back in the ‘90s using this industrial, groove metal concept.
Whether it is heavy metal, folk, thrash and power metal, punk, or simply standard rock, there’s one thing that people appreciate: a relation. This is where Pressure starts to drift into pop metal. Pop is popular for a reason, people understand it and it makes them move.
“We tried our concept at a private party. It was cool and we were rocking out poolside as people had a really good time.”
Sometimes that’s all an artist needs to be successful.
Something refreshing about Pressure is their devotion to the genre and the local scene. Social media, especially when everything has become over-saturated, can be daunting at times. The future of promotion may be lifted from the past.
Forsell shared, “We go to a lot of other bands’ shows because we really think it’s important to support the local scene. Especially now when the pandemic has hit our business really hard. There are so many stages and clubs closing down. We need to support each other if we shall have a live scene that is working well after the world has become somewhat normal again.”
Touring is vital to sustainability, but while profit and live inspiration is on hold, writing new material and practicing performances is important to a band’s goals. Pressure wants to broaden their audience and bring their sound and style to the masses. If they continue to focus on the local scene and creating quality content, then they will re-enter the international scene with ferocity.
Though Olaf Jönsson sings primarily in Swedish, other European acts have certainly became mainstream without English lyrics. Rammstein’s dominance can’t be stressed enough. The band has flourished, and this is partially due to their melodic metal and stage performance. The rhythm is certainly there for Pressure, but I’m not going to impress anyone by using a translator for the lyrics.
The band released five tracks in 2020. “Osårbar” and “Ännu Mer” have a straight ‘80’s metal feel similar to Mötley Crüe. The riffs are infectious and the tempo is perfect for bobbing your head or tapping your foot. Song structure starts to become more seasoned and modern on “The Shadow,” however. This is a great example of solid metal vocal rhythm and is a hit, perhaps Pressure’s best song, and the Swedish metal sound is on full display. This would be a great end to an opening set if their Scandinavian brethren Ghost were headlining.
“Beaten But Not Dead” and “Julstress” regress a tad on vocal flow and structure, which are important elements to creating anything pop—whether that is dance, punk or metal. Pressure rediscovers its guitar cadence on “Julstress,” and the chorus is catchy, but the verse rhythm needs more consistency.
In 2021, Pressure released “What You See (Is What You Get)” and they clearly found a distinctive sound that blends what they’re going for. They have been able to capture four decades of metal into one track. The guitar becomes more modern, like Avenged Sevenfold, as does the structure. With the vocals becoming spoken word before a nice solo, it reminds rock fans of Five Finger Death Punch.
With future releases “No One Can Hear You” and “Path of a Shadow” in queue, Pressure has the ability to put together a quality album, but must truly stick to the pop metal sound for consistency. It’s a popular genre that has international appeal, and the band has the talent to gain a massive following. The lyrics are there, and the musical philosophy and stories are greatly appreciated as well—as proven on their website because they share their lyrics. It’s like looking in an old CD jacket which I love. They are doing it the right way; they are paying attention to the local scene, working on their craft, and eventually they could entertain the masses by bringing generations of metalheads together. They could because they know how to adapt and relate.
A trend in rock music is taking place, and it’s welcomed. As noted with Alien Feelings and Tarah Who?, there has been a surge in ‘90’s grunge influence. Freedivers continues that rush of nostalgia, but falls even deeper into the past.
Spain is a country known for his incredible rhythm and masterful guitar. One of my favorite composers is Isaac Albéniz, and though mostly known as a pianist, his pieces have been transposed beautifully to the classical guitar. The moment I heard “Asturias (Leyenda)” I knew I had to learn it. I did my best piano rendition, but is mostly performed on an acoustic six-string now.
Over a century since Suite Española’s release, there has been plenty of instrumental innovation and progressive composition. Though many older classical listeners may not consider the grunge movement of the ‘90s worthy of recognition, many artists embrace the overall importance of that rock era.
Rafa d Villegas, bassist of Freedivers, explained, “We are influenced by the sound of Seattle of the ‘90s, it is undeniable. We have grown up listening to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam.”
Yet, bands don’t just stick to one genre or era for inspiration. They incorporate different styles and branch well into the past to craft a song. For example, Iron Maiden samples “Astrurias (Leyenda)” in their track “Mother Russia.”
Freedivers is no different. From Barcelona, the trio of Villegas, Sergi and Xavi Blanch display classical training in their abilities and song structure.
During 2019, Villegas was beginning to find his sound. He had developed some decent riffs and solid lyrics, but was in search for talent to finish and produce the songs. Brothers Sergi (guitar and vocals) and Xavi (drums) then joined him, and Freedivers was formed. The three Spaniards then added their personal touches and created with equal collaboration.
“It’s been said that our music is indie/rock,” Villegas said. “We talk about personal stories; we believe that they are the same stories as anyone else and that connects us with people.”
Relation is key, especially when writing for a rock audience. Writing, however, is all they can do at the moment.
It has officially been over a year since the world entered a global pandemic. As is the case with most acts, the lack of touring can hinder an artist’s progression. Exposure is key during a time like this, especially with things seemingly on the swing upward to being social once more. Real social, not social networking. Ironically, to sustain the possibility of future social gatherings such as concerts, bands must rely on online promotion.
“The pandemic situation made down most of our plans,” Villegas shared. “Any tour or concert was canceled. That is why we have tried to promote the sale of records and merchandising. These are hard times.”
The band is currently writing and recording and making the best use of their time. Freedivers is looking forward to getting back on stage and making a connection with their audience. It’s not about the size of the crowd, it’s about the magical environment created by musician and listener. The band is capable of providing such as aura with their sound, and live music always heightens the senses.
Freedivers released their debut EP, Upside Down, on Feb. 6. The track listing is a gathering of pre-released singles they have shared since 2019.
Perhaps “The End Of The World” isn’t the most tasteful title for an opening track, but that’s just the times, and no one with a practical mind should take issue to it. The song provides a feel for Freedivers’ sound, and listeners can surely catch the ‘90’s rock influence through the distorted riffs and even Sergi’s vocals. It creates a standard for what is to come, and that’s part of a solid opening track’s responsibility.
The beginning of “Under Arrest” is dangerously close to “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not like there’s anything wrong with that; they are certainly a band other rock artists should like being mentioned with. The song structure flows well, and the chorus has an easy sing-a-long start, but also shows how the trio can harmonize their vocals. That is difficult to find right now in rock.
“Isolation” again showcases the band’s influences. The sound and vocal cadence is very ‘90s. The monotone drawl of grunge is apparent on this track, the guitar style is similar to Filter or Oasis, and it captures the essence of the era. Again, as I have pointed out before, it’s a good era of rock to incorporate while creating new music.
Freedivers slow down the tempo with “Walking Upside Down” which balances out the EP. It’s a beautiful melody with a deeper, poetic message. Every album needs a ballad such as this because it’s important to the overall flow. It also displays range and versatility in a genre where bands are sometimes labeled as having the same sound throughout. The old, “each track sounded like one big song” complaint. You can say that about a lot of popular artists and genres these days, however.
“Freerider” is the hit of the extended play. The track has a jam-band feel that was once perfected by Counting Crows or Sister Hazel in the ‘90s, but the rhythm definitely has roots that can be traced back to the ‘70s even. The small solo is fantastic and completes the song, and it’s a tune that can get stuck in your head. Upside Down is a complete EP.
The Spanish trio has a great sound and it comes from a variety of inspiration and overall understanding of music. They have captured a time and are re-releasing the experience through their uniqueness as an artist. Another win for the future of rock music.
She took the stage; stories permanently etched from wrist to neck, her hair shaved on one side with the rest parted, allowing the opposite full strands to dangle and wildly match the energetic performance. By the end, red had stained her guitar strings and dripped to the floor from her fingertips, the strobe spotlighting the blood through the haze. For Tarah G. Carpenter, music is in her, and she’s fine exposing her passion.
Tarah Who?. It’s not a question that needs to be answered. Tarah Who? is a rising statement in the progressive punk/grunge scene. However, the duo of Carpenter and Coralie “Coco” Herve is prepared to become a brand whether the world is ready or not.
They are an independent band. Though the industry has been over-saturated with amateur acts for quite some time, Tarah Who? has built a solid following the last half-decade. Yet, their end game isn’t necessarily overwhelming stardom, but rather motivating others to push through the obstacles that make sustainability difficult in the music industry—and having fun throughout the process.
Carpenter said, “I hope to inspire women to play and dare to do what they want to do, and everyone as a matter of fact, regardless of their sexuality, religion, race, etc. My end game is: if WE can do it, EVERYONE can.”
Though people have fought mightily for progression, female lead singers in rock music still must overcome hindrances that delay recognition and relevance.
Herve explained, “I don’t understand that in 2021 there is still this thinking. The best will be for artists to be respected for their art and not because they are a man or a woman.”
Tarah Who? has not only showcased their talents, but has proven their value, and are leading a new charge to shift the narrative.
Carpenter was born in France. Many, especially visitors who have only experienced the country through stories, view the culture as romantic in a sense. Their musical tastes are deep and moving, and many French audiences expect poetic lyrics and masterful production from classical to pop. At 14, Carpenter decided to self-teach herself the drums. At the time, it wasn’t common for a lady to be aggressively slamming sticks against cymbals, snares and toms.
“I remember when my dad said that it was not an instrument for girls. I didn’t take it as a rebellion but more like ‘I don’t care I still want to do it’,” Carpenter said.
Even the drum teacher at a music school in Paris brushed away her aspirations based solely on assumption. Little did they know, Carpenter had already been practicing over tracks and playing in a band. It wasn’t the norm, it was too different, and it had been that way for quite some time.
“I found out a year ago or so that my mom had always wanted to learn how to play the drums, but my mom was born in 1943, so for her time it was really not something girls, women did. Especially after the war.”
The norm had been challenged.
Though she was an experienced stateside traveler since she was 10, Carpenter moved to the United States as an exchange student at 15. Positioned in Kentucky, she fell in love with America, though she had always been drawn to the culture. Her English teacher in France would praise her grasp of the English language. After earning her baccalaureate, she saved all her money and headed way west at 21 with just a guitar strapped around her shoulder and one piece of luggage in tow.
It was just years before she was learning to break musical barriers on the drums, and now she had thrown herself into a sea of intimidation and dreamers. She was in Los Angeles. With no plan or contacts and little money, she landed in Koreatown, and she knew her voice had to become louder than all the screamers.
A writer needs to be knowledgeable in a variety of industry and societal aspects. They don’t just understand their genre and instrument, they understand music as a whole. They don’t just understand their experiences, they understand the issues that affect their surroundings and beyond. They find a relation in human behavior through past actions and modern affairs. They’re capable of processing an obscene amount of content, and using the information to produce something to share with the world they are emotionally embedded in.
They also need to be able to rock out.
As Tarah Who? was first being formed, another French-native moved to Los Angeles. Herve came to the states from Brittany, France, but her and Carpenter’s similarities and bond didn’t just stop at language and culture. She was a drummer since 10 and a well-versed music lover. After Coco graduated from the Musicians Institute in 2018, it was time for the duo to define and perfect their sound and start their legacy.
Music has the tendency to repeat itself every three decades. This doesn’t necessarily mean the sound is the same, but rather the style and attitude. The ‘60s and ‘90s brought us great rock, boy bands, and emotion; the ‘70s and ‘00s also gave the world great rock, disco and dance and high energy; the ‘80s and ‘10s spread pop throughout every genre, fantastic experimentation and some strange fashion choices. The ‘20s will give us yet another rock revolution.
In the ‘60s and ‘90s, societal conflict led to progressive voices rising from every form of status, and the start of the ‘20s have been no different, maybe even more demanding in that sense thus far. Also, perhaps these chance comparisons are subconsciously due to the generational bonds we have with our parents, or perhaps, on a less complex psychological note, we’re just in need or nostalgic influence. Fans get that with Tarah Who?.
“I have never written a song just to write a song,” Carpenter shared.
Does this signify the return of the quality album in the industry, something that has vanished since probably the ‘00s in rock music? As a ‘90’s teen, a CD was something of value, and every last track was part of that experience. In the modern world of digital downloads, all a band needs is a hit or two, and maybe land the audio for a commercial.
Both Carpenter and Herve have deep-seeded roots in “older” rock. From strong female-led ‘90’s acts such as Alanis Morissette, Bikini Kill, Björk, The Cranberries, The Distillers, Garbage and Sonic Youth to classics rockers like Bon Jovi, Heart, Joan Jett and Journey, the women of Tarah Who? have a superior catalog of influence.
Her love for these artists, and her drive, allowed Carpenter to enter the industry and a valuable network.
Jason Orme was, and still is, an established guitarist from the ‘90s on. He served as Morrisette’s guitarist, and provided support for other strong female artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Natasha Bedingfield, Michelle Branch, Idina Menzel and Kelly Clarkson. He has since added production to his credits.
Orme first met Carpenter when she was a teenager. He was on tour with Morrisette and they were playing a show in Paris. Carpenter attended the concert and was able to linger enough after the show to have a conversation with Orme. They would connect each time France was a tour stop, and after Carpenter moved to Los Angeles, their contact became more frequent. It wasn’t until 10 years after they met that Orme began to truly hear what Carpenter had to offer, and with production now a part of his resume, the timing worked out perfectly.
Orme said of their relationship, “It just kind of developed over time. She’s really got a voice, and she has something to say.”
Carpenter fits in well with the role of a strong female voice who has the ability to reach an audience. Orme has always respected her work ethic and independence, and it’s partially why he was excited to work with her and Herve.
“I have a lot of respect for her because I think she really sticks to her gut feeling on things. If it doesn’t feel right in her gut, and if she’s not representing herself in a way that she really wants to, then she doesn’t do it.”
Though Tarah Who? is in a good position when it comes to their genre, they still face an uphill battle. They have their sound, they have an audience, but now there is a call for broader respect.
Progressive punk, grunge, hard rock and other closely-related genres have one thing in common: they are male-dominated. Yet, female-led acts such as Evanescence, Flyleaf, Halestorm, Lucina Coil and The Pretty Reckless have been able to maintain successful careers in the mainstream rock world. Not to mention the previously aforementioned acts dominated the ‘70s-‘10s. The industry isn’t necessarily the issue, though.
Gender norms aren’t something that musical artists themselves live by, but rather audiences and listeners tend to be more focused on what is standard.
Carpenter said, “We had an interview with a French radio show not too long ago and there seems to be, still, an issue with female artists playing rock, metal, etc. Here in L.A., I feel that women, in general, are able to express themselves more in whatever area they are in. It is very refreshing.”
Cultural differences and mindsets are important to consider for international acts, and when placed in the right scene, it enables any musician with more opportunity and to be taken more seriously. And though the artist shares a common ideology with their colleagues, ignorance and sometimes strategy can delay progression.
Orme added, “I think women are held to a different standard sometimes than men. That’s something they still have to fight.”
There is also the danger that comes along with being a female in not only a male-dominated genre, but in front of male-dominated audiences. Precautions need to be taken, and there have been instances where both Carpenter and Herve have felt uncomfortable, even at risk from persistent vulgar drunks.
“We usually are able to either calm them down or they get kicked out,” Carpenter explained. “We as artists can’t really get into it since it is also our show on the line.”
It is a difficult balance. Carpenter and Herve, who tour alone most times, must be careful of not only the information they provide, but from any sort of physical altercation or theft. On the other hand, they also have a name to keep and a brand to promote. The duo does it the right way: through their music and onstage presence. They don’t need shock value or degrading sexiness to prove they belong or draw an audience in, and most spectators appreciate the genuine act.
In 2014, Tarah Who? released their debut album, Little Out There. It screamed progressive punk and grunge with loud rhythm, low riffs and heavy distortion and Carpenter’s signature blunt lyrics.
Carpenter admitted of her style, “I am not good at making up stories or using metaphors. When I write I have this burst of emotions, and I am about to explode. Well, I actually do end up in tears of anger or sadness. For a few minutes, I am just writing and writing until my hand hurts and almost until the dark cloud is gone. I feel like I can breathe again.”
Her methods are full of emotion and energy, but nothing is ever forced. Everything is developed with thought. After Little Out There, Tarah Who? released three EPs, Federal Circle of Shame (2016), Half Middle Child Syndrome (2017) and 64 Women (2020). Recently, a slew of singles have been available for streaming, including their latest release on Feb. 16, “Manners.”
Though many of Tarah Who?’s songs contain aggressive riffs, anger and sadness, like “Copycat,” “Pantomath” and “Swallow That Pill,” the band does showcase versatility. “Human To Be” slows the tempo and promotes acceptance and hope within personal frustration, and “Hurt,” “14 Months” and “In A Rush” bring a deeper, softer musical touch to their cadence.
Tarah Who? has shifted their sound a tad. Little Out There had more of a standard ‘90’s rock feel, especially on tracks such as “Rainy Day” and “Too Much Thinking.” The best thing about the album, however, is full balance. It’s loud, heavy, up-tempo, but can shift and transition into melodious ballad songs like “Here All Ears” without any abrupt choppiness. In music, or at least in the past, it’s not just about inner-song structure, but album structure as well.
Releasing singles and EPs are a newer strategy recycled from decades ago. It works on many levels, especially for independent bands. However, Tarah Who? has proven they can write an album, and another full release like Little Out There, not necessarily a retreat to the sound, but rather the structure, may push them further into the scene—and even more so in the community.
The EP title 64 Women isn’t just some random grouping of females; it has significance. On Nov. 19, 2014, 64 women were detained at an immigration detention center in downtown Los Angeles. Carpenter and Herve also reference the Manchester bombing at Ariana Grande’s concert on May 22, 2017 in the track “Numb Killer.” Through the hard riffs, the punk-grunge sound and attitude, there are important messages connected to Tarah Who?’s music. Carpenter sings about accepting yourself, loving one another despite our physical and ideological differences, and affairs that affect society as a whole.
Tarah Who? can possibly be an influencer—an important one, that is, not the pointless millionaires on social media. Fame isn’t a primary aspiration because there are drawbacks to that level of status. It’s sometimes just about developing a core audience in order to make a living and keep doing what an artist loves to do. That happens on and off the stage.
Carpenter said, “I think that it is the responsibility of any influencers, musician or not, to inspire others in what you believe is right. If you are able to make an impact on someone, you should try to make a good impact. For instance, voting, Black Lives Matter, etc.”
One such cause in Carpenter’s heart is the LGBTQ+ community. “For communities like the LGBTQ+, the way I am making an impact is by not hiding, nor do I need to mention it on every post. The way I see it is that if I want the LGBTQ+ to be ‘normalized’ (because I think it is normal in the first place) is just to be. Do your thing.”
She lives her life as she chooses, and if she receives any flack for her style or preferences, she realizes that sometimes reaction is useless. It’s regression in a way. When issues are brought to light, and norms are challenged, it’s about progression, and the petty arguments only hinder our development as a society.
Orme added to Carpenter’s plight, “The thing that always impresses me about her is her drive. I think Tarah can keep moving forward and do what she wants, but she’s putting in the work of probably 20 people.”
What’s most impressive is that Tarah Who? remains an independent band, which comes with freedom. However, there are the financial uncertainties and the stresses of booking gigs and managing tour logistics. Yet, one of the main issues an unsigned artist faces is being taken seriously. Tarah Who? works just as hard, or even harder, than other acts in the industry; they don’t sit around and wait for opportunities to be presented.
Orme said, “In my experience they are some of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever met. Tarah is so dedicated and their story is deep and touches on so many facets of what it takes to be an artist and remain true to what you want to put out into the world.”
Tarah Who? has a great opportunity to lead a new charge of female empowerment, as well as being an influential act for young musicians. It’s the story you always hear about, but one in which the ending still needs to be written. Carpenter and Herve can be more than a talented rock duo, they can be an industry symbol of perseverance and progression.
Herve simply said, “I hope we can, as humans and with our music, make the world better. I know it’s cliché, but that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Tarah Who? is doing exactly that. Cliché or not, that’s something we can all aspire to achieve with our respective passions and talents. You just have to go for it whether the world is ready or not.
Carpenter added, “We want an open-minded audience.”
Experimentation in music, especially when mixing genres, has led to progression within the industry. Vulgarithm is looking for similar success, and is using an old style to help.
Vulgarithm is a one-man outfit created by Andy “Dirt” McGurk. With a decade of rock and metal experience, he decided to make a change and challenge his artistic abilities.
McGurk explained, “I felt my previous solo stuff started getting stale and I needed a creative reboot.”
Bands, or artists, in need of invention look to the technique of blending styles, or in many pop culture cases, collaboration. Look what’s going on with country and hip-hop, for example. Blending sounds is different, though, especially when it’s one person creating and programming the composition. McGurk knew what he liked, knew what was becoming flat, and decided to venture into the uncertain world of providing unique content.
Based in the U.K., McGurk has concentrated on music since he was a child. There wasn’t a thought toward anything other for his future. He learned the piano at six and eventually picked up the guitar. He studied his craft, learned structure and sound through listening to songs and attending festivals, and eventually followed the industry as it has drastically shifted the last two-plus decades. He realized a personal change was inevitable and vital to sustain in an overcrowded scene.
Vulgarithm’s style could best be described as riff rave. It takes deeper riffs, especially the low distortion popularized in the ’90s and 2000s, and mixes in some 90s dance music. Sound strange? There’s a little more to it, so it’s a tad difficult to explain. Yet, within the variety of beats offered, nu-metal is also present.
“Bands with big riffs and grooves always stick with me,” McGurk said, “but the two biggest influences on my writing has been anything Trent Reznor or Maynard James Keenan have done. Constantly reinventing themselves to make their music unique.”
Those inspirations, and also the vocal tone of Serj Tankian at times, can be heard. More so, the bass usage is similar to The Prodigy and the nu-metal act Ultraspank. Yet, he also mixes in remains of the old rap-rock genre on some tracks when the vocals are added. A good comparison may be Hed PE.
Then there are the visual elements, and this derives from McGurk’s time as an audience member watching bands such as Chemical Brothers, Underworld and Orbital. I’ve personally seen Nine Inch Nails and Tool before, and the production quality of their performances is incredible. It’s an art; it’s an act. Of course, they have the funding to offer that level of entertainment on a grand scale, but adding those elements are important factors to consider.
The combination of visuals with energetic sound can take a live show to the next level. However, there first needs to be live shows.
Vulgarithm uses projections and costumes to enhance the experience for its audience. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many performances to showcase its fresh act and sound. In fact, the only shows McGurk has been able to share are virtual, having never played in public as Vulgarithm due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
McGurk said about his shows, “I’ve had a grand total of 3, maybe 4. Sadly, all of these have been online as Vulgarithm has only been around since the start of 2020.” He added, “My main aim as an individual performer is to look engaging as well as sounding good.”
As many in the industry know, live shows are where artists make a majority of their money, and for McGurk to miss out on that type of revenue and promotion is difficult to swallow. In the meantime, it’s about finding other avenues in order to sustain.
“This is where Vulgarithm has to step up now,” McGurk explained. “It has only known lock-down in its existence so I’ve had to really push the word out through music, videos, online shows, and merch. Anything other than gigging to let the general public know I exist.”
In 2019, Vulgarithm released Share If You Agree, and offered its sophomore EP, Share If You Disagree, last year. The single “Out My Way!” was recently shared on Feb. 19. More tracks will be released leading up to McGurk’s next EP, Share In The 3rd Degree.
There are a couple tracks by Vulgarithm that best defines the sound McGurk is attempting to develop and perfect. “Piece of Shame” off Share If You Agree provides listeners with an idea of Vulgarithm’s influences. It has similar energy to the nu-metal group Spineshank. McGurk really finds his sound and attitude on “The Vulgar Rhythm” and “I Cannot Take This Country Seriously.” The latter is his hit, in my opinion, and it’s because the song is one of the most consistently rhythmic and structured tracks McGurk has produced.
Though Vulgarithm is in no doubt creative and versatile, which is most apparent in its tracks “Still Have Doubts” and “I Can Only Find Nothing,” there is a small issue to consider. Occasionally, when blending styles, consistency suffers. You can use different styles to make a unique sound, but it’s better to keep that unique sound instead of flirting with other combinations on the same track or album. Experimentation is a necessity for the creative mind, but so is organization for the final product.
There is some Reznor in “Out My Way!” but it also displays Vulgarithm’s ability to make infectious hard rock beats. On the contrary, it also makes abrupt changes to the sound, including the insertion of the Independence Day speech. No complaint there. Great movie, great speech. The one thing Vuglarithm can work on is its in-song transitions, and then it will have its unique sound.
Nine Inch Nails, Tool, The Prodigy and Chemical Brothers maintained their sound and style, and they are definitely great acts to be influenced by. In the case of Maynard James Keenan, when a new sound was developed, it wasn’t developed necessarily through Tool, but rather A Perfect Circle or Puscifer.
What Vulgarithm is best at, in my mind, is rhythmic nu-metal, or perhaps industrial metal. There are parts of each song that McGurk can use. He has a good hard rock vocal range and tackles issues with his lyrics, he can make excellent beats and riffs, and can visual stimulate an audience. The key is bringing those aspects together more consistently and organizing each song and EP for a better flow. And if he can do that, he has the ability to become a known brand.
Heavy rhythmic acts, whether straight riffs or with the addition of synthesizers, do work on an international level. Danish band Volbeat has some of the best cadence for a hard rock band, especially with the distinctive vocals of Michael Poulsen. However, if Vulgarithm wants to take note of any band to learn from, it would be Rammstein. The Germans not only blend hard rock distortion with synthesizers almost perfectly, they know how to structure a song from beginning to bridge to end. Not to mention Rammstein is one of the most electrifying live acts in the world. Trust me, I’ve seen them and I will always remember that show.
McGurk is on the right path with Vulgarithm. One thing is for sure, he is creative and true to his style, and once he perfects it, it can take him places.
“Dancing on the ceiling, tonight we’re going out.” -Foxy Shazam, “Dreamer”
We broke from the hot early-summer dusk for a moment. Inside the hazy bar we ordered a beer and waited for the shade to cover the last open spots of the sidewalk patio. A publication usually used as a vagrant’s blanket printed an article that brought us to the small venue—that, and the desire for whimsical randomness to fill our lives of little responsibility. What we witnessed the evening of May 1, 2010 will never be forgotten.
It was early in the night. As we waited for our order, one that shouldn’t have taken as long as it did judging by the audience-capacity ratio, a rumbling stumble descended from the upper level. The staircase’s carpet was as thin and delicate as a stale wafer, and it was shocking the shadowy figure between two other silhouettes made it down walking on different portions of each foot.
The pair placed their inebriated third party on open sticky dark plastic. The man stretched his legs out and rested his back against the chip paneling, his top hat tilting over his eyes, but not far enough to cover his wide grin and accompanying chortle. One man, the one with the drooping frizzy curls, waited with his mate. The other approached us.
He was a squirrely fellow with a baseball tee, tight and faded black jeans, and uneven bangs. His straight black strands dropped just below the back of his neck, and he sported a long moustache with an unintentional gap underneath his apex. He acknowledged our presence with the softest timbre.
It was a brief cliché conversation, one in which minor details of the encounter were remembered while the dialogue was easily forgotten. Perhaps it was because of the thin man’s mousy voice.
We toasted our fresh beers to our new concert acquaintance and exited to the patio. The sun had traveled farther west and dropped behind the building, at least. A group of young men laughed and worked on their pints. They took up a majority of the space, so my friend and I joined in on their harmless antics and banter before we would all reenter the venue for what was hoped to be a good show. We had no idea.
The venue manager jutted his aging face outside, grasping onto the frame of the open sliding door. He summoned our new pals, “Guys, you were supposed to be on 10 minutes ago.”
The band, Bad Rabbits, consumed what was left of their drinks, and casually entered the building in direct route to the stage. There was barely a body for them to navigate around, so as polite and friendly as they were to us, we figured we should reciprocate the mood and check out their performance. We wouldn’t be let down.
My friend and I ascended the stairs that survived the gangling gait of a drunk moments before—and countless times before and after that. The three scalawags had disappeared from the booth we last saw them. Perhaps they were asked to leave. Perhaps they found a quieter locale to sober up.
We moseyed to the front of the loft and rested our forearms on the rail. There were just a few more bodies upstairs, but they allowed us the best view of the unknown act below. The boys from Bad Rabbits finished tuning their instruments and adjusting their amps and mics. The show began; we were immediately drawn into the catchy basslines, soulful vocals and funky rhythm. Their music was a blended cadence of rhythm and blues, rock, pop and punk. It was hard not to gently bob our heads and tap our heels against the stained deck above as we watched a small, increasingly-loyal crowd gather in front of the band. Our movements became more rhythmic with each passing song and beer. Bad Rabbits was a well-suited opener who could have headlined—if it wasn’t for the next act, of course.
Foxy Shazam was once compared to Queen, and also the likes of Meat Loaf and The Darkness, due to the theatrics of the band and operatic lyrics and vocal range of lead singer Eric Nally. Though there are similarities to an extent, the band wasn’t exactly like any predecessor, nor will they be replicated in the future. Foxy Shazam can be compared to no one other than Foxy Shazam.
The Cincinnati outfit formed in 2004, and self-released their first album, The Flamingo Trigger. Their sound was bellicose and maniacal in a way, different from what was to follow and their current style, but it still landed them a record deal.
Introducing Foxy Shazam was released in 2008 by Ferret Music. The album created a media buzz about their potential arrival into mainstream rock, and they were slated onto bills that included The Strokes, Portugal, The Man and Panic! At the Disco. Foxy Shazam was being talked about, but yet, they were still trapped in the shadow of past great acts and casually compared to bands on lineups they supported.
Foxy Shazam’s uniqueness reminds me—and this is not a comparison at all—to the band Zebrahead. When the Orange County group became mainstream, there was really nothing like them on the airwaves. And, having seen them twice live, their stage presence was also slightly different than bands in their genre—which was difficult enough to firmly label. They incorporated so many styles and traits that they made their own sound, which is fascinating.
Foxy Shazam did the same, whether through inspiration or progressive innovation. In 2010, as their name appeared in more music publications and they booked stage slots on festivals like Lollapalooza, the band changed labels and released their self-titled album. Foxy Shazam is, and always will be, one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The tracks are structured brilliantly; each song has a distinctive tempo and timbre, as well as a defining lyric. Keyboardist Schuyler White’s composition is versatile. He shifts between traditional pop rock piano to sultry jazz at times, and all styles mesh with the standard rock distortion and Nally’s powerful, occasionally high-pitched vocals. In addition, Alex Nauth bringing brass into rock music without other ska elements completely supplementing the rest of the record is something difficult to accomplish—almost as difficult as fashioning a perfect horn solo in a drunken state.
Foxy Shazam took the stage. We still weren’t sure what to expect, especially when the squirrely fellow with the mouse voice stood behind the microphone. How could a man with such a soft tone be able to lead the vocal charge of a rock act? Then, to our left and his right, his intoxicated comrade stood with a horn dangling to his side, the spotlight reflecting off the well-used yellow coating. The last of the trio we earlier met lifted his axe on the opposite side of the stage, and joined by an additional three mates, the show began as the third member of our party arrived just in time.
It was powerful, glamorous, exhilarating. Nally belted his deep words without a crack in any tenor he chose, and Nauth played his instrument flawlessly as if his earlier intoxication was merely part of the act. The drum beat and bassline were pulsing, the guitar riffs crisp, and White tickled a captivating melody over the black and white keys in front of his waist. Soon after, he would play the notes upside down, with his feet, and then lift the keyboard off its stand while maintaining his fortissimo dynamic throughout.
The musical talent of the members of Foxy Shazam was incredible, and their stage presence matched their level of melodious aptitude. Nally would twirl the microphone wire, pedal and shift the stand with the balls of his feet, tell convincing fibs as filler between songs, and jump on the shoulders of his bandmates—each musician staying in precise form during any antic.
Toward the end of the performance a mishap almost hampered the whole show. Nauth, during a horn solo, tumbled over a large amp. Perhaps the drunkenness wasn’t part of the act. While on his back with his legs resting atop the tipped-over device, he continued to hit each note. After his section of the movement completed, he vigorously tried to lift the large amp, but instead stretched his torso across it and jokingly pretended it was his faux lover. At some point during the joyous debauchery, the frizzy-haired man who partook in the preshow festivities, Loren Turner, had his guitar damaged. A flipped amp, a broken guitar and a raucous back-and-forth between members on stage didn’t serve as a hindrance. In fact, the imperfections only strengthened the experience as if it was part of the show. As if this was Foxy Shazam, and we weren’t ready for it, but gladly adapted to and accepted their brilliance.
The key to a great album is balance and changeability. In other words, not every song should sound the same, but still contain a band’s distinctive sound. It needs a strong opening track to set the tone, “hits” staggered throughout, some power, some clandestine catchiness, something cool, and, of course, some emotional and meaningful ballads. Foxy Shazam accomplished that with TheChurch of Rock and Roll in 2012, just like they did with Foxy Shazam. The album, a compilation of music to blast with your windows down, did produce the first single I heard on the radio in my town, “I Like It.”
In 2014, the band released Gonzo. Their sound shifted a tad for this self-release. It became softer, more experimental and seemed to reach decades into the past for inspiration. Soon after, Foxy Shazam announced their breakup.
The band members each took on different projects, most notably Nally’s inclusion on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit “Downtown” in 2015. Though he brought his distinctive flare and range to a broader audience, the pop world may not have been completely prepared for his unique genius. In 2020, the like-minded musical minds of Foxy Shazam got back together and released their sixth album.
Burn was released on Dec. 11, 2020. There is a cosmic feel to the album in its entirety—similar to Gonzo. It’s hard to depict if the band is reaching into the past or giving the music world some sort of post-modern sound.
The opening title track presents not only the anticipation of power, but also a darker shift in Foxy’s sound. Yet, “Dreamer” changes tone and slows the tempo which is unexpected for the second track of an album. With that in mind, the song’s goal doesn’t seem to want to keep the musical momentum at first, but rather state a message as the character of the album—until about two minutes in when the pace increases and the volume strengthens, and continues on through “Doomed.”
“Dreamscape 2020” is the song that won’t be a hit, but will be a favorite. White’s piano is intoxicating, the dynamics of the track will make you tap your foot and bob your head in whatever direction you choose, the structure flows without fail (until the abrupt last ten seconds), and Nally’s lyrics and story are relatable and worthy of sharing.
“Never Ever” falls a little short if compared to “Forever Together” from The Church of Rock And Roll and “Evil Thoughts” off Foxy Shazam. “In My Mind” and “S.Y.A.A.F.” have infectious beats to keep the album rolling along. Unfortunately, “Into the Wild” is severely out of place, but could become a cult favorite among Foxy’s listeners, as is the case with “Never Ever” I suppose.
The album ends with two strong tracks. “Suffering” is a solid rock song, and “The Rose” was already popular before Burn’s release. Something was missing, however. The album just kind of ends, and though each song contained a good structure for the most part, the track listing didn’t possess a very solid flow.
I will forever be a Foxy Shazam supporter and listener—I even pre-ordered Burn (and it still hasn’t arrived). The album, however, is to own solely for the nostalgia of their collection. It’s an average grouping of tracks that may not be appreciated beyond the circle of Foxy supporters, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are definitely a few songs that are catchy and deep enough to have on repeat, but as a whole, the album needed something more, but it’s tough to say what that is. It needed closure, in a way.
Lastly, though the thematic elements of the songs may focus on relationship issues, perhaps they’re not directed toward the standard. There’s a battle going on throughout Nally’s stories, and this ultimate conflict could serve as a bigger interpretation than just a simple courtship between two people. It could be the fight that is the journey of life and our respective struggles not only with love, but with industry and societal censorship.
Overall, the music and lyrics are good, and Foxy fans won’t be hugely disappointed. However, this is just a return and not necessarily a step forward for the band. I will always support Foxy Shazam no matter which way they move. I gladly bought the album, and I will certainly see them live once again.
The show had ended and the small crowd made their way to the bar or out the door—all smiles and immediate recollections. We stayed a bit longer. I bought an album and a shirt one size too small. We noticed Foxy Shazam packing up their instruments and equipment. The candid moment of docile labor exemplified the trials and dedication of a band on the road.
We approached, not to bring up our earlier encounter, but to show our appreciation and wish the band luck. As a pianist and amateur composer, I spoke to White. It was the second to last stop on their tour and he was ready to return home. He explained how he had broken fingers due to the intensity of his performance as if it was just a casual occurrence.
We laughed and chatted and expressed our gratitude for them coming to Albuquerque. Our friend then asked one of the band members, I can’t quite remember if it was Nally or Nauth, to sign the album he purchased. He asked them to write their favorite lyric on the CD jacket.
The band shuffled out the back door of the Launchpad, tired and toting their heavy gear. We reminded ourselves of how great the night had been, and agreed it couldn’t end quite yet. Our friend opened his CD as we meandered toward the bar counter. It read:
“Life is a bitch but she’s totally doable.”
She sure is. And Foxy Shazam, even after a breakup and subsequent reunion, continues to prove that to be true. You should, too.
We’re here: the top five songs from my top 100 playlist. I’m sorry you had to sit through some songs, maybe most of them, that you didn’t like or never planned to hear again, and that may not change with these next five. My favorite song of all time will probably never be on anyone else’s entire list, but again, it’s based on individual preference.
I do hope you choose to do your own top 100 playlist. It’s a great distraction during this crazy time in history, plus you may surprise yourself.
First, a recap. If you don’t remember or you’re just now tuning in, you can click on 21-25, 16-20, 11-15 and 6-10.
Now, enjoy my top five songs of all time.
5. “Wasted Years” by Cold
Favorite Lyric:“Was it life I betrayed, for the shape that I’m in, it’s not hard to fail, it’s not easy to win.”
There were four bands from this era that were my favorite: Oleander, Disturbed, Zebrahead (Justin Mauriello days) and Cold. Cold is a band that music lovers tend to either love or hate, and I fall at the top of the former. Just like with story songs, I’m a sucker for depressing songs, whether about heartbreak or life—but probably more of the latter. “Wasted Years” is that track for me, though Cold has a plethora of choices if someone is in need of a sad song. It’s one of the best songs off maybe the best post-grunge album I’ve ever heard, Year of the Spider. The song, like many of Scooter Ward’s, helped me reminisce, relate and recover in a mere four minute span, and any track that can have that type of emotional impact is something incredible.
4. “Teenage Anarchist” by Against Me!
Favorite Lyric:“I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient.”
Against Me! is another great punk band. The Florida outfit has been around since 1997, and they have grown and transitioned to one of the more followed acts in the punk rock world. I used the word transitioned for a reason, because in 2012, lead singer Thomas James Gabel became Laura Jane Grace. Even though the band has seen a slew of members come and go, they have provided fans with some great tracks, none more meaningful than “Teenage Anarchist.” The song isn’t necessarily about what the title implies, but rather how the punk revolution left many young rebels unfulfilled. Essentially, the revolution never came on individual levels, but the memories of the time remained. This video also is chilling, especially with what has been going on in the world, and as one of the comments points out, the punk camaraderie around 1:40 is special in a non-conformist way. You put effort into your mindset as a youth, and sometimes that ideology doesn’t pan out, but the memories make the moments worth it.
3. “Piano Man” by Billy Joel
Favorite Lyric:“Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.”
Billy Joel is one of my favorite artists of all time, and “Piano Man” could be the perfect song. The great instrumental melody, the lyrical rhythm, the mass appeal and, of course, the story and the techniques used to tell it. Joel was able to not only talk about an evening in a lounge and the collective characters that regularly grace the establishment, but rather the varying representations of people in society—and how they can agree upon one thing: music. Also, the “oh, la la la, di da da” bridge is fitting because it’s not necessarily about the story, but rather the same old story. I’m currently learning the song on the piano, and the jazzy elements Joel adds makes its C Major 3-4 signature far from basic. A goal of mine is to see Joel at Madison Square Garden, and I heard the audience gets to sing the chorus to “Piano Man.”
2. “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
Favorite Lyric:“Stand by me.”
This is my favorite song from the era, and that may be true for many listeners. “Stand By Me” has been a staple in not only American culture, but the world, since its 1961 release. Ben E. King’s vocals have been used when people are in need of a positive message or to honor a memory, movies or television programs need an emotional moment, companies are in need of an accompaniment for an ad, or other artists need a great cover song. Artists such as John Lennon and Tracy Chapman have recorded the track. The song contains a basic rhythm with a basic, but immensely important message, and this shows that music doesn’t need to be complex to have a massive impact. In a world that is constantly changing, and heading more and more toward division rather than progression, we need tracks like “Stand By Me” to settle our communal anxiety and uncertainty. Now, if we could just stand by each other, that would be nice, as well.
1. “Stay Young” by Strata
Favorite Lyric:“For a lifetime of paying dues and ruthless reviews, yeah, it’s hard not to end up a cynic, when everyone’s too scared to walk in your shoes, but can work up the nevre to be critics.”
Let the comments begin. “Stay Young” may not be on a lot of top 100 lists; in fact, many general music listeners may not have ever heard the track or have never explored Strata’s version of alt metal and rock. And though it may not be the best song ever, I believe everyone should hear it at least once. Lyrically, it’s a masterpiece, and musically, it’s just as outstanding because of the growing shift in tempo and tone. The main reason this song is so important is because of the message. This world is messed up, and it continues to become more complex, and it seems the only end game, whether sooner or later, is doomsday. We must look back on our lives, embrace the moments when we were young and innocent before being exposed to the troubles of reality, and perhaps the answers to happiness lie within those moments (I’m not telling you to live in the past, though). The line, “Can you still remember your very first kiss,” can be furthered into a deeper relation to confusion. We all remember our first kiss, and perhaps how confusing it was, and how vibrant the action and the dreams to follow became. Now we deal with the confusion of real life and the hopes that fade. We need to stay young, not just with the memories of when we were youths, but to prepare our minds for the future.
Thanks for listening! Now go out and make your own list and enjoy your favorite songs of all time.