Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Insatia “Memory of a Sapphire”

Photo credit: Sean Mundy

As much as I enjoy scoping out new talent from different parts of the world for this feature each week, I especially love to shine a spotlight on rising stars from my own home country as well. Another rare pleasure is to review a band who are my friends as well.

This week, I get to do all three by reviewing the latest video from Insatia, the Canadian-American symphonic metal powerhouse fronted by the lovely (and super-talented) Zoë Federoff. I have known Zoë since before she joined Insatia, so I know she is not just talented, but a genuinely good person who would much prefer to let her music speak for itself—not to be viewed as some rock star, but as a regular gal who has the good fortune to live her dreams. But she has also used her music to do good; calling attention to causes that are dear to her heart, and actively involving herself in numerous musical projects and charity work. She takes the high praise she receives in stride, and is as generous with giving compliments as she is in receiving them. A down-to-earth mom with a penchant for chai tea, Zoë is the farthest thing from a “diva” as you will ever find, on this scene or any other.

After over 3 years since bursting onto the scene with their debut album Asylum Denied, Insatia's star has steadily been rising; opening for respected bands on the scene such as Delain, Xandria, and the queen of metal herself, Doro Pesch. The band has also seen a lot of changes, with Zoë's personal growth and musical maturity leading the way. Still determined to keep this a band that celebrates the friendly alliance between the U.S. and Canada, Insatia merges the heat of Tucson with the cold of Montreal to produce not just a diamond in the rough, but...well, a sapphire.

Fans have waited a long time for Phoenix Aflame, the highly-anticipated follow-up to their 2013 debut, and let me just say that they will not be disappointed! Insatia's brand of symphonic metal is something that very few other bands in the genre can claim: it is as catchy and hooky as a rock song, but with all the sweeping grandeur and elegance that you come to expect from a symphonic metal band, all within the span of 4 minutes.

The band's choice for their first video, “Memory of a Sapphire” (which features a guest appearance by ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Chris Amott), captures this perfectly. A lone sapphire is shown on the floor, as Zoë walks to it, picks it up, and looks at it for a moment. The quiet is just long enough so that the heavy riffs jolt you, and then Zoë goes from contemplative silence to headbanging all over the place! The entire band is rocking out: bassist Dave Ablaze is swirling his bass around his neck, as hair goes whipping around. If you are not instantly committing the earworm of a chorus to memory, or at least aren't singing along with Zoë's line, “memory of a sapphi-iii-irrre”, then you are just too cool for me; because I had this song stuck in my head after one listen!

The video itself is very straightforward with not many frills: Zoë is wearing a nice blue dress, while the rest of the band is dressed in black, or black-and-white. It consists mostly of performance shots, cutting occasionally to Zoë pondering over her sapphire. Perhaps there is meaning behind this, but the video itself does not tell. The most we see of the titular character is at the end of the video, where it is left where it was originally found, spinning like a top.

For more information on Insatia, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Zoë Federoff and Dave Ablaze.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Aggronymph “I Want You”

Band photo

One of my favorite newer bands on the scene right now, Aggronymph has a new video out and I can't wait to review it!

As I have written in past reviews, this band has a diverse sound to them, merging together all these different styles and fitting them together in such a wonderful way.

In the video for “I Want You”, there are some similarities to their previous video, “Moonlight”. There are shots of the band's hometown of Yichang, China (which has some very lovely scenery, I might add!). This time, there is daytime footage including the band's vocalist, Elain. She looks sad and pensive, matching the mood of the song as she walks down the city streets all alone. As evening comes, we see Elain among the busy city nightlife; sitting alone in a coffee shop, wandering aimlessly through shops, up stairs and down sidewalks, in the futile attempt to ease her loneliness. The video ends with Elain running through an empty field, as an aerial shot pans away to show the lone figure amidst the world that is still moving along.

For more information on Aggronymph, visit the band's official Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Caligatum “Dante”

Band photo

Normally each week, I try to share a video that is fairly “hot off the presses”, or recent enough to check out while it is still new; but every now and again a video will come my way that has been out for a while, that I just have to share anyway.

Opening for bands such as Rhapsody and Dark Moor in their native México, Guadalajara's Caligatum is moving up the ranks in their local metal scene. Citing bands such as Tristania and Draconian as their musical influences, Caligatum's gothic sound and imagery really comes through in the video for their song “Dante”, which was released last year.

The video starts with a full moon and dark clouds, as a woman sits in a candle-lit room, looking over old papers with ancient writing, as a black cat curls up at her feet. The band plays in a dim setting with very minimal lighting. The woman is seen carrying some sort of cauldron, and again reading tarot cards. The exchange of “beauty and the beast” vocals between vocalist Arianna Dheva (who is rocking a very cool-looking headdress!) and the guttural male voice of guitarist Robert Noir is accompanied by imagery of the video's main female character standing in the middle of a pentagram, casting a spell. The video continues to alternate between shots of the band, and the woman standing in the mist, chanting her spell. A man shows up with a giant snake at one point, and things involving this invocation seem to take a bad turn from there! I won't give away the ending, but perhaps the phrase “be careful what you wish for” might come to mind.

For more information on Caligatum, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Demas Miller.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Lighthouse in Darkness “Oceanbliss ”

Photo credit: Janine Buds

A while back, when I was first starting this blog and trying to think of things to write about, I made a list of bands and artists I liked who had not made any new music for quite some time, and hoped to hear from again. One of the bands on this list was the German gothic metal band Flowing Tears, who seemed to suddenly just disappear from the scene.

At the time I wrote the piece in early 2014, the band's website was up and running, but had not been updated since 2009. They had not made an album in nearly 6 years by that point; the last anyone had heard from them was with what many considered their finest work, the 2008 concept album Thy Kingdom Gone. Sadly, about a month or so after my article was written, the band announced that Flowing Tears was disbanding. So that was the end of the hope that one of the bands on my list would return. Or so I thought.

While 2016 had been a huge blow to the music world with so many legendary artists passing away, 2017 has appeared to be a year of growth and rebirth for many bands. One example is Lighthouse in Darkness, a project headed by Flowing Tears vocalist Helen Vogt and songwriter/producer Sascha Blach; a musical collaboration that has been building over the course of 5 years. While it is a far cry from the gothic rock sound of Flowing Tears, Helen's warm, velvety voice is instantly recognizable and pulls you in with that same dreamy charm.

Sound-wise, Lighthouse in Darkness is a blend of soundtrack music coupled with electronica, a touch of jazz, and a little bit of rock. It has this dark, theatric sensibility to it, but at the same time it is calming and relaxing. The duo describes their music as “cinema for the ears”, and it is right on the mark: when listening to their first single, “Oceanbliss”, you can almost envision the smoky clubs, white jackets and ties, and piano playing in the corner just like out of a 1940s movie.

The lyric video also plays into this theme with a record playing, filmed in black-and-white. There is something so old-school and yet so modern, with the hip-hop influences subtly threaded into the many different layers of this tune. If you are into bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode, but also love the old torch songs of the past, Lighthouse in Darkness is definitely worth a listen.

For more information on Lighthouse in Darkness, or more information on their upcoming album The Melancholy Movies, visit their official Facebook page.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Grim Reaper “Wings of Angels”

Band photo

Over the past several months since I last wrote about Grim Reaper, a lot has been going on with them. Shortly after my blog entry reviewing their last video (“Walking in the Shadows”), frontman Steve Grimmett was performing for fans in South America when he was besieged by pain in his leg so bad that he had to finish the show sitting down. Rushed to the hospital immediately thereafter, a terrible infection ultimately resulted in the loss of his leg, and an extended stay in Ecuador.

However, through all of this, Steve still presses on, and has stated more than once that this will not end his musical career. To prove his point, within weeks of first learning to get around on his prosthetic, Grim Reaper was playing festivals!

Forget these icons of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll, who gain praise for getting shit-faced and banging groupies—all those guys can do that—but those aren't my rock heroes. When it comes to metal bad-assery, as far as I'm concerned, Steve Grimmett leaves them all in the dust. I think it's pretty fuckin' metal to endure that kind of pain to finish a show, lose a limb, go through months of strenuous therapy, and get on a plane to rock out before thousands of fans almost as soon as you are able to bear weight on a prosthetic. If that doesn't win you the lifelong title of a bad-ass, I don't know what does.

To show that they have no signs of slowing down, Grim Reaper has a new lyric video: “Wings of Angels”. The video is very cinematic; with black-and-white animation reminiscent of a 1940s war movie, a fighter plane swoops into view. As the aircraft zooms through the air, we see patchwork fields and ominously dark cloudy skies, as the lyrics scroll across the screen. The plane spins and nose-dives towards the ground as Steve sings the lyric, “out of control in a death roll, until you're slamming into earth”. The flashes of the plane's machine guns blink on the screen as the unseen pilot chases his enemy through the air. The guitar solo starts in, and the pursuit becomes more intense. I probably shouldn't give away the ending, but let's just say a fiery conclusion is involved.

I should also note the little Easter egg: the plane—the hero of the video—is named “Amelia”, which is the name of Steve's wife, his real-life hero! Because behind every kick-ass metal dude is an equally tough metal chick, and Steve makes no secret that Amelia is his inspiration.

For more information on Grim Reaper, visit their official website.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Gary McGrath “Never Let me Go”

Photo credit: Deborah Buffington

If you were to look up the term “prolific” in the dictionary, don't be surprised if you find a picture of Gary McGrath next to the definition. A Grammy award-winning musician, Gary is constantly busy with one of his many musical endeavors: whether he is producing albums, touring with his own bands or seasoned musicians, or directing the Texas State Men & Boys' Choir, Gary knows how to multi-task, and is always focused on the next project.

With huge names like B.B. King, Bon Jovi, and Devo on his professional résumé; touring with rock veterans such as Peter Frampton and Peter Tork; and collaborating with members of Foreigner, WASP, and the Doobie Brothers (to name only a few), it is no wonder Gary's prolificacy is so high. Working with the best in your given profession is bound to raise your own personal standards, and Gary sets the bar pretty high.

Because of this, his music is quite diverse, and cannot really be lumped into one category; such as can be heard in his latest video, “Never Let me Go”. Musically, it is an acoustic blend of country, folk, and just a bit of pop to make it catchy. It is a sweet, simple love song; but aren't those always the best songs? Sometimes a no-frills approach can be the most striking.

Conceptually, the video is straightforward as well: a beautiful woman rises from sleep as Gary sings about hitting the snooze button. She holds a mug in her hands during the line where she drinks her morning coffee. A breeze blows through her hair as we hear the lyric, “listen to the wind whisper”. Interspersed between these scenes are shots of Gary playing his guitar. Sadly, the only lyric that isn't matched with a corresponding scene is the lyric, “hold me in your arms, and never let me go”. The woman and Gary are both filmed separately and we never see them get together in the entire video! I don't know if that was intentional, but it gives the video a sort of bittersweet feel; such a beautiful song and a lovely sentiment, but the characters aren't seen with each other. The video ends with a recap of the woman's day: always seen looking out the window or gazing outward, as if waiting for that special someone.

For more information on Gary McGrath (or any of his numerous musical projects), visit his official website.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Clark's Secret Identity “Opacity”

Band photo

In the past 6 months since I last wrote about Pennsylvanian prog-rockers Clark's Secret Identity, the band has had many positive changes: their debut full-length album has been released and is getting rave reviews. Also, with the addition of keyboardist Thomas Cichon, the power trio has become a mighty quartet (but you will have to either catch a live show or wait until CSI's next album to hear him!). The band has made their album title a self-fulfilling prophecy, and are on their way to many incredible things.

Already on their second music video, CSI wastes no time getting down to business and making artistic statements with their music videos. Like myself, a couple of the bandmembers come from the era of MTV and remember when the music video was a huge medium to send powerful messages; whether artistic, social, or political. So I like that they make an attempt to tell stories with their music videos.

In the case of the video for “Opacity”, the artistic statement is literal! Directed once again by Theresa Gaffney, the video begins with guitarist/vocalist Shane Anthony and artist Virginia Clawges are standing side-by-side before a bare wall. The view is blurry at first, but as they begin to each draw on the blank canvas, the picture becomes clearer as the painting unfolds. The two work together, each adding their own touches to the other's work, combining vivid colors and subdued shades until it is a cohesive whole, a lovely image of light and dark, created by camaraderie and teamwork. When the work is done, it is a rendition of the CSI album cover, which is praised with a round of applause. Considering that Shane has said on the band's Facebook page that this song speaks of “the fragility of trust”, I think it's cool that the video's concept showed what good things can happen when we put our trust in one another, working together, and seeing it through.

For more information on CSI, or to purchase their new album The Promise of a Wonderful Future, visit their Bandcamp page.

Special thanks to Matthew Bankes, Keith Horning, and Shane Anthony.