Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The McGrath Project “Your Secret is Out”

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This week, I'm going to travel off the beaten path and turn my attention to something not as rooted in metal or even hard rock. I wrote before about musician Gary McGrath here on this blog, so this week I am going to give a nod to one of his many musical endeavors, The McGrath Project.

Whatever name the musical project is called, when Gary is involved, there is a distinct style and sound that is unmistakable. Gary's music is fun, upbeat, reminiscent of the days when good pop music was made with real sugar! It doesn't sound like all the other cookie-cutter pop music out there; the formulaic auto-tuned songs about booty that are a dime a dozen. The McGrath Project is refreshingly vibrant, something new and interesting amid all that boring stuff, yet maintaining an air reminiscent of yesteryear: that sweet bubblegum pop that ruled the 1960s, and could still be heard well into the ’80s; the days when “pop music” was not a derogatory term.

Keeping to the playfulness and fun in their sound, The McGrath Project's video for “Your Secret is Out” is a quirky little number with a sense of humor. That is clear enough from the start, when the video begins with a producer at the console, asking the band in the sound booth to “try a little better at not sucking, thanks!” Meanwhile, the band looks like they are having a blast as they play a song about betrayal, with big smiles on their faces.

For more information on The McGrath Project, visit their official website.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Secret Rule “Imaginary World”

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Last weekend I reviewed the new album from Secret Rule, one of several bands from Italy that I have written about here before. Originally, this review was going to be written last week for another video entirely, but ultimately things work out as they are meant to, because now I get to review a brand-new video hot off the presses, on release day. Appropriately for Friday the 13th, the new Secret Rule video is for the very gothic track “Imaginary World”, featuring ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn Gímenez.

The video just screams pure goth: from the dark backgrounds, subdued lighting, freaky dim lights, and bewildered face of a child, all within the first few seconds. Ailyn and Secret Rule vocalist Angela di Vincenzo are standing perfectly still as the music builds up, and then everyone is in motion.

The object of the boy's fascination soon becomes clear as we see circus performers walking on their hands, juggling, and balancing on stilts. The band themselves appear as though they are performing within a circus tent, as scary clowns lurk in the shadows. In keeping to the song's title, we see that the little boy is viewing this all through a Viewmaster-looking contraption (or a virtual reality headset, for you younger folks?); everything we see are just the images created by the viewfinder. When he takes the headgear off, there is no one there but someone sweeping the floor. He is a mime or a clown, leaving us to wonder if this circus was part of the boy's “imaginary world” after all.

For more information on Secret Rule, visit their official Bandsintown page.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Dream Spectrum “Lost and Found”

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I admit that in these (now) twice-a-week video reviews, there have been a handful of bands whose music I keep returning to time and time again. Those of you who visit here often probably know already who those bands are, but for those of you who are new here, there are a few bands that have been featured here more than once.

This week, I review once again a video from Buffalo-based progressive instrumental quartet Dream Spectrum, who are making their third appearance here in 8 months. What can I say? The music is good, and their videos are fun to watch, if only to witness the skill and musicianship that they possess. And while I do love progressive rock and metal music, Dream Spectrum is a bit outside of the typical fare that I review here regularly, yet not so far out of left field for it to be a surprise that I would listen to their music.

Up to this point, the Dream Spectrum videos I have reviewed have been of the “performance” type: a standard music video where the band plays in a concert setting or shown rocking out on their instruments. While performance videos are fun to watch, they don't leave much in the way of reviewing. After all, how many times can you describe a band jamming away on their guitars and drums, before it all sounds the same? In that respect, performance videos tend to offer a bit more of a challenge for me to review, because they are basic and straightforward, not leaving much to interpretation.

It is for this reason that I prefer to review “conceptual” videos: music videos that tell a tale, that are more like mini-movies and less like concert footage. I am also partial to conceptual videos for other reasons stated here before, but one of the main reasons I started this feature was to have fun using my imagination trying to interpret the story within, or to find hidden symbolism that would shed light on the subject and offer greater meaning to the overall plot. Or sometimes, it was just fun to compare the band's images of their own work to my personal visions when I listened to the music.

So even though I had reviewed Dream Spectrum twice already since February, when I saw their latest video was conceptual, I just had to review it. There is something about their music that is quirky and lively, bubbling just beneath the musical virtuosity; so I wondered if some of that would transition to their music videos.

The subject matter for the “Lost and Found” video is pretty self-explanatory: the story begins with a girl sitting at a table and looking at her phone. The camera focuses on a beaded bracelet that she wears, which soon becomes the centerpiece of the plot.  She makes brief eye contact with a gentleman sitting across the way from her, then gets up to leave. At that point, the man notices that the bracelet has been left behind. As we never see her take it off or come loose from her wrist, it is not exactly clear whether she carelessly forgot the bracelet, or purposely left it there for the man to find; this omitted detail is obviously a mystery, as soon we follow the man as he takes the bracelet and attempts to track down the girl, in a series of paths almost crossing but not meeting, as he attempts to find this woman and return the lost bracelet to its owner. Either he is a very good Samaritan, or he really likes this lady—another detail that is left open to the viewer's interpretation. For a moment, we watch the band break into a Satriani-flavored jam, and we are left to wonder at this couple's fate. We feel the man's frustration as he rounds street corners just seconds after she has gone, and feel sorry for him as he sits on some steps, looking heartbroken. Will he find the woman? Will he think of another way to seek out the bracelet's owner? I can't give away too many spoilers, right...?

For more information on Dream Spectrum, visit their official website.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Album review: Secret Rule—The Key to the World (2017)

Album cover

Album: The Key to the World
Artist: Secret Rule
Genre: Melodic/gothic metal
Label: Pride & Joy Records
Tracks: 13

*Review originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page*

Over the last few years, Italy's Secret Rule has been anything but a secret: drawing attention to themselves by recruiting talent from some of the biggest bands on the scene, Secret Rule's 2015 album Machination got a lot of notice from fans of the genre, stoking curiosity as to what their next project had to offer. Led by the strong, harmonious voice of Angela Di Vincenzo and guided by the musical hand of Sonata Arctica keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg, Secret Rule was striking a path away from the prestigious guest stars, and was unveiling their new band lineup on their third album, The Key to the World.

However, it would not be completely bereft of guest appearances: ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn Gimenez would lend her voice alongside Angela's for a rousing merger of strong and sweet on the dark, gothic track “Imaginary World”. Another duet is heard on the song “Twin Flames”, this time with Henning Basse (of MaYan and Firewind fame), sounding very much like the yin and yang complementary twin souls as their voices blend together like fitting puzzle pieces.

After the short instrumental title track starts things off, the album is driving, melodic, hard-hitting, and bombastic, with Angela's voice leading the charge. The single “Song of the Universe” reminds me a lot of fellow Italian band Macbeth, and perhaps those who are fans of bands like Delain or Triosphere could find a lot to enjoy about Secret Rule as well. “Empty World” sounds like a cross between Delain and Lacuna Coil. Songs like “A Reverie”, “Are You Gone?” (my personal favorite), and “I’m You” (undoubtedly the most experimental track on the album) introduce some elements of electronica while still being positively brutal. “The Lost Child” is a straightforward rockin’ tune that is sure to get a crowd going, while “No More” is a sad, tender ballad that will prompt the lighters to come out at a live show. There are more gothic/symphonic-sounding tracks, such as “Trip Of Destiny” and the final track “100 Poets (Calliope)”, which sounds like a nightmare inside a music box!

For those who enjoyed the last Secret Rule album, they continue to build on that momentum, and there will surely be a lot here to please fans. If you are new to the band, this is as good as any a place to get started. With outstanding work like this, it won't be long before Secret Rule is no secret any longer!

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: A Sound of Thunder “Els Segadors (The Reapers)”

Photo credit: Dewey Tron

For those two or three people that follow my blog regularly, it is likely you already know that one of my favorite bands from this decade is A Sound of Thunder, the only thing to come out of Washington D.C. that has integrity, honesty, and a backbone! Not to be corrupted by record labels or pigeonholed by mindless categorization, the Thunder has succeeded on their own terms, continuing to boggle the minds of music biz suits that are so certain that sucking up to the man is the only way to get to the top.

Without help of a record label or (up to recently) management, ASOT has become metal's modern-day grassroots movement: relying on the 21st century variant of “word of mouth”—otherwise known as social media—to bring them new fans. Using Kickstarter as their promotional platform, the Legion of Thunder (i.e., devoted fans) back their belief in the band's talent by contributing to the Thunder's musical endeavors; making sure that the band has all the freedom to create the music they want, without pressure from a record label to write a hit single or to construct an image more suited for mass consumption.

Another component to the Thunder's appeal is their outspoken stance on social and political issues. Whether it is writing about the Memphis Three, contributing to causes such as LGBT rights and charities such as Rock Against Dystrophy, or their “feminist Manowar tribute band” side project Womanowar—the members of A Sound of Thunder are strong in their beliefs and do not back down from random trolls who threaten to leave the fandom for not staying safely middle-of-the-road so as to please those fans.

So then, when the band announced the first single for their upcoming seventh album It Was Metal, it came as no surprise to anyone that they composed a variation on the Catalonian national anthem “Els Segadors”—after all, frontwoman Nina Osegueda is of Catalonian descent. However, what started out as homage to her heritage coincided with current events sweeping the region, and within days of releasing this lyric video (directed by Vicky Ryder), A Sound of Thunder's take on Catalonia's national anthem quickly went viral among Catalonians and became an unofficial anthem for the secession movement.

Perhaps for anyone who had never heard of ASOT before all this finds it as an “out of nowhere” success story, but anyone who knows and loves the Thunder never expected anything less from them than to lead the charge and write the anthems of a revolution. Because, after all, what can be more metal than that?

The song itself, of course, is a national anthem, so it has the cadenced drumming and marching beat that make up the foundation of most anthems. Then you've got Nina's voice, so strong and sure, that it just sounds like she is commanding a rebel army! With lyrics like “raise up your scythes”, and “destroy the enemy, their conceit has sentenced them to death”, if these are translated lyrics from the original, it was already the most metal national anthem before ASOT got hold of it! But once Nina starts singing in Catalonian, it is clear why so many new fans from the region are proclaiming this the new anthem after Catalonia receives independence. Who knows? After all the recent controversy here in the U.S. over our national anthem, maybe A Sound of Thunder can give us a new national anthem as well?

In the words of my friend Craig Phillips, A Sound of Thunder “is the real-life Wyld Stallyns” (Google it, young folks!)—a band that is so loved by everyone that they bring about world peace. Truth be told, ASOT is the only band I have ever successfully “converted” anyone to—everyone I meet who hears them instantly likes them, and goes on to tell others, who like them too. Perhaps Craig's compliment will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and rewriting the national anthems across the globe will be the start of ASOT's healing of the world.

For more information on A Sound of Thunder, or to contribute to their latest Kickstarter campaign, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Dewey Tron.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Serenity “Lionheart”

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In music, there are certain lyrical themes that are just tailor-made for a particular genre; the two elements gelling together so perfectly that one is oftentimes unsure whether one depends on the other in order to flourish.

For example, because symphonic metal is so steeped in classical music influences, historical themes within the lyrics are almost a given. Just hearing the orchestra or choirs instantly hearken imagery of the Renaissance, of lords, ladies, and gallant knights. The two are so intertwined that it would be difficult to determine whether the sound influences the lyrics, or the historical themes influences the music! Of course, the fantasy element is also a huge component of symphonic metal's lyrical content, but that is another discussion for another time!

Within the symphonic metal scene, credit is often given to the band Sabaton for being the premier historical experts, and there is no denying that their moniker of “History Channel Metal” is not undeserved. However, if any one band was next in line to the throne at the metal historical society, I would give a strong nod to Austria's Serenity: a band who wrote a concept album about the life of Leonardo da Vinci; whose songs feature titles such as “Legacy of Tudors”, “The Chevalier”, and the latest song I am reviewing today, “Lionheart”. (It should probably be mentioned here that the band's frontman, Georg Neuhauser, is a history teacher, which is one reason the band knows its material so well!)

Based on Richard I, the song's namesake, the video for “Lionheart” tells the story of Richard's oath to take up the cross and lead the Kings' Crusade into Jerusalem. At this point, as I am no history expert, I am merely going to make observations on the video itself, and the history buffs reading this can figure out what the imagery means.

The video starts with Georg (presumably in the title role) climbing up a craggy, rocky hill, armed with sword and shield, bearing the royal standard. The band plays inside a cave (again, presumably inside the rocky mountainside shown in the video), faces and arms coated with dirt and dust, as if they have been unearthed after years in the mountain. Georg (as himself) sings the lyrics as a large cross looms behind him, emphasizing the religious angle to this tale of old.

The camera alternates between scenes with Georg as Richard the Lionheart, and shots of the band playing in the dark cave. As “Richard” enters the darkened corridor, he kneels before a woman dressed in white, wearing a crown of thorns (spiritual symbolism, perhaps?), moving before him as he looks on in awe. Before long, she is seen wearing almost nothing (more symbolism?), as Lionheart makes his way to the summit, the royal standard waving proudly in the wind.

For more information on Serenity, or to pre-order their new album Lionheart (out on October 27th), visit their official website.

Thanks to Claudia Steinlechner at Napalm Records.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: The Dark Element “My Sweet Mystery”

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It is not very often that I get the chance to review more well-known names in these features, let alone one as highly anticipated as The Dark Element, a musical project featuring ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen, and former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon.

Perhaps it is good timing or a happy coincidence that The Dark Element's new video premiered this week; an event that occurred within just a few days of the 10-year anniversary of Dark Passion Play, the Nightwish album that first introduced Anette to the world. Whichever of the two it may be, in any case the milestone occasion is a perfect way to remind the public that Anette is still out there. Aside from a solo album in 2014 and a couple of singles here and there, not much has been heard from Anette since her greatly publicized split from Nightwish 5 years ago (another milestone that happens within the next few days). Since her solo album was more pop-oriented, this is the first time we have heard Anette in a metal setting since parting with Nightwish. That alone was enough to stir curiosity from both sides of the metal community—both the die-hard Anette fans who have stood by her, and the Anette “haters” who were never convinced that she belonged in Nightwish. So when it was announced that she was joining forces with Jani Liimatainen, a respected name on the scene in his own right, people all across the board of public opinion were curious to hear what this merger would produce.

Sounding like a cross between the Nightwish songs “Storytime” and “Bye Bye Beautiful”, the song “My Sweet Mystery” is undeniably catchy and upbeat. It is also much closer to the sound that fans want to hear from Anette, as opposed to her solo album. The majority of her fans discovered her through Nightwish, and so would prefer to hear her in a heavier style of music. The music is also reminiscent of Cain's Offering, another collaborative project of Jani's, featuring Stratovarius frontman Timo Kotipelto.

As for the video itself, it is a straightforward performance video, taking place in an old warehouse or abandoned building that is brightly-lit, with white walls and big windows. Stylistically, it may remind fans of the “Bye Bye Beautiful” video, as it also takes place in a similar setting, and Anette does many of the same dance moves in both videos (except there are no bandmembers transforming into supermodels this time!). I will say that Anette's fashion sense has improved over the last 10 years, and it hardly looks as if she has aged at all!

For more information on The Dark Element, visit their official Facebook page.

Special thanks to Dustin Hardman at Frontiers Records.

Extra thanks to Oceansouls of America.