Thursday, August 30, 2012

Carnival of Madness Tour Rocks a Rain Soaked Charlotte, NC

The Carnival of Madness tour rolled into a very stormy Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, NC on August 8. A sudden thunderstorm shortly before the gates opened threatened the existence of the show as the sky lit up with an amazing display of lightning accompanied by ground shaking thunder and a downpour of rain. Yet, the show still went on as scheduled.

There was a minor adjustment to the show as New Medicine cancelled their appearance due to lead singer Jake Scherer recovering from an unexpected appendectomy. This meant that the show started an hour later and that would hopefully give some of the people scared away by the massive storm time to rethink their decision to stay home. Cavo was then bumped up to opening band status for the night. I will give them the proverbial “E” for effort, but it was just an ok performance. They sounded good and the crowd seemed to get into a few of their songs.

At this point, the few people in the lawn seats were actually moved in underneath the shelter area because of “concerns with the weather”, but I think the event just didn’t sell very well. The prior year’s event was held in a smaller venue and I have no idea why they moved it to such a bigger place this year. Maybe the planners were in hopes of drawing a larger crowd this year?

Up next was Halestorm and as always, they delivered the goods. Led by the beautiful Lzzy hale, this band is having a banner year. Their set leaned heavy on their newest album The Strange Case Of. The band was solid and tight and they worked the crowd over with one number right after another. Opening with “Love Bites (So Do I)” really hooked the crowd in immediately. “Freak Like Me” got a great response from the crowd as did “I Miss The Misery”. The only songs off of their self-titled debut album that were played were “It’s Not You” and “I Get Off”. Lzzy did a solo performance on piano for the emotional introspective song “Break In”, which was my personal favorite song performed by the band.

Chevelle was up next and introduced their newest, fourth member: a big black bull stood proud on the left side of the stage. The band sounded great and had the best light show of the evening. They cranked off such hits as “Hats Off to the Bull” and “Face to the Floor” and the crowd sang right along. Older songs such as “Send the Pain Below” and “The Red” received great crowd responses. Is it just me or does lead singer Pete Loeffler look like Jimmy Fallon’s lost brother?

Evanescence closed the show and lead singer Amy Lee received a huge pop from the crowd when she made her way to the stage. Amy looked and sounded great. She definitely has an awesome set of pipes on her. Amy is very animated on stage and moves all over it, but her band is another story. Now, don’t get me wrong, they sounded amazing and very tight. The problem was that there was no chemistry between Amy and the band. The guys just kind of stood there like they were bored. All the hits were on the setlist including “What You Want“, “Going Under“, “Bring Me to Life“ and “Call Me When You‘re Sober“.

Overall, it was a really good show and great at times. The venue was too big for this show and it should have been at the smaller amphitheater in town. I’m not sure how much of the bad turn-out had to do with the storm and how much with ticket sales. I have to give it to the bands though. They put on a great show and gave it their all their as if the venue was sold-out.

KISS and Motley Crue: A Night of Rock and Roll Excess

“The Tour”, as it was christened at a press conference a few months ago, pulled into the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 25. The crowd, despite the heat and humidity, was ready to experience two of the biggest spectacles ever in the history of rock and roll. Tonight, they were sharing the same stage and promised to bring a full production, 90 minute set of maximum rock and roll.

The Treatment, heralding from the U.K., opened up the show with a brief, yet power packed mini-set with selections from their debut album This Might Hurt. After a short break, the curtain covering Motley Crue’s stage dropped and the house lights went down. Scantily clad girls holding Motley Crue signs marched their way across the walkway from one side of the amphitheater to the other. In the middle of this precession were both Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx from the Crue. They made their way to the stage and the show began with a pyrotechnics bang.

Motley Crue’s show was filled with theatrics including stilt walkers, scantily clad female back-up singers, girls suspended by tapestries above Tommy's drum kit and a ton of pyro. The band sounded tight even though poor Mick Mars can barely move around the stage because of his ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine and pelvis. Don’t let that fool you though; the guy still plays like a beast. Speaking of playing, drummer Tommy Lee brought along his roller coaster drum kit from last summer’s tour. He even took a lucky fan along for the topsy turvy ride.

Motley Crue’s set was hit filled and included such Crue classics as “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Home Sweet Home”. They even included their new single “Sex”, which got a decent reaction from the rowdy crowd. Speaking of reaction, bassist Nikki Sixx and his newly found syndicated fame thanks to his radio show The Sixth Sense got the biggest crowd reaction of all the Crue members. It seemed as if every time he spoke, the crowd would cheer wildly.
The Crue exited the stage and the tear down began as the road crew attacked the stage at a fever pace. They were tearing down the Crue’s set and clearing things out for the huge KISS stage show. After a brief period, the big, black curtain with the KISS logo on it dropped down covering the front of the stage and the crowd was brought to its feet. Then, the anticipation stated to build.

Then, the intro known to millions worldwide began to bellow over the PA system. “Alright Charlotte, you wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world….KISS!!!!” The curtain dropped and “Detroit Rock City” began to ring out. The guys were lowered down from the ceiling. Yes, we have seen this stage intro before, so that part was a small disappointment.

The band stuck close to the original make-up days playing such KISS classics as “Black Diamond”, “Love Gun” (during which Stanley flew out into the audience) and “Firehouse” (which saw Simmons breathe fire). They did include their new single “Hell or Hallelujah”, which sounded really good, and one non-make-up classic “Lick It Up”. Simmons also did his blood spitting routine and then flew to the rafters to sing his trademark song “God of Thunder”. "War Machine" sounded almost as menacing as the looks Gene was directing towads the cameras throughout the song.

Stanley and Simmons were particularly animated on this night in Charlotte, NC and seemed in great spirits. Guitarist Tommy Thayer, who is still receiving criticism for wearing the Spaceman makeup even though he has now for almost ten years, sounded just as sharp as ever, although not as animated towards the crowd. The band included all their trademarks including lots of pyro, cherry pickers that raised Simmons and Thayer almost to the top of the amphitheater, Stanley smashed his guitar in half and drummer Eric Singer’s drum kit was raised high in the air also. Oh yeah, “Rock and Roll All Night” was the finale and the confetti covered everyone as far back as the eye could see. No matter how many times I experience that, it never gets old.

Now, for the bad stuff. Vince Neil of Motley Crue still manages to mumble his way through songs. KISS have been coming out at each show and mentioning a curfew that won’t allow them to play any longer. It seems the truth of the matter is that it’s taking much longer to tear down the Crue’s stage to get ready for KISS to come out. This has cut into each band’s playtime with each one clocking in, on average, 75 minutes. That’s not exactly the 90 minute sets that we had been promised. KISS’ set list has become somewhat stale and needs to change up a bit. There are so many non-makeup songs that could be included into the set that would go over big with the crowd. “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Forever” are just two examples.

Overall, it was a great show. You had one up and coming band that sounded great and two legendary bands that have been doing their thing for 30 years (Motley Crue) and 40 years (KISS) and show no signs of slowing down. These two bands definitely know how to throw a party when it comes to a concert. It was a rarity to see anyone sitting down on this eventful night, unless they were just catching their breath. On this hot and humid night in Charlotte, KISS solidified why they are still called the hottest band in the world.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wolves at the Gate Deliver Solid Debut Album

The Ohio based Christian hardcore band Wolves at the Gate made quite an impression on critics and fans with the release of their 2011 EP We Are the Ones. The band may be young, but they definitely have a vision of who they are and what they want to deliver to the people. They have just released their full length debut album Captors on Solid State Records and it looks to be a solid delivery for the guys. The album was produced by Andreas Magnussen (Oh, Sleeper/Haste the Day).

Lead vocalist Nick Detty and the boys come out of the gate with a thunderous crashing of guitars provided by Steve Cobucci and Jeremy Steckel on the track “The Harvest”. It’s a great opener for the album as if gives a little inside of who the band is and what they have to offer. It also sets a great tone for the album and what’s to follow. Detty has a great screamo voice that shows quite a lot of depth to it. They also mix in some clean vocals on the chorus and other parts.

“Morning Star” changes up on the vocal delivery as the song is mainly done in the clean vocals of Cobucci. “In Your Wake” is a standout track on the album and one of the most solid selections on here. The guys show that they can mix it up within the confines of a 3 ½ minute song. This one is slow and melodic at the beginning, but then it crosses over to the heavy side. Cobucci’s vocals on this song are very strong and this is a prime example of how his style and Detty’s screaming style truly complement each other. There are other bands out there who attempt this, but they come nowhere close to the results that these guys accomplish.

“Slaves” is a very interesting song on many levels. It starts out acoustically and builds up intensity and changes speeds as it tells the story of a slave attempting his escape. It manages the art of storytelling in 4 ½ minutes and that’s an art form that is sorely missing in music today. It also exits out acoustically, just as it began. “Step Out To the Water” may very well be the best example of how Wolves at the Gate is able to almost perfectly blend the clean vocals of Cobucci and the screams of Detty. They do it effortlessly in a way that they blend well and complement each other.

It’s hard to believe that this album was recorded less than a year after they released their EP. Cobucci is a double threat on guitar as well as providing the clean vocals for the group.  Jeremy Steckel is the other half of that dual guitar attack. The rhythm section of Ben Summers on bass and Ben Millhouse on the thundering drums are a powerful and solid unit. It’s a rarity in a young band to find such a seasoned and polished sound. It’s almost scary to think how far these guys can go if they are this strong out of the gate.

 They show a great deal of diversity as they can play heavy, grinding rock with breakdowns and heavy riffs and then they can switch to something acoustic or a little mellower. They wear their faith and display it proudly in their lyrics. Wolves at the Gate are definitely a young band top keep an eye on. The industry is complacent and stagnant and can use a band like Wolves at the Gate to make them stand up and take notice.

10 Years Decide To Do Things Their Way

10 Years has been a band that has consistently turned out quality product since their major label debut The Autumn Effect in 2005. Last year, the band decided to do something that is almost unheard of. After achieving critical and commercial success for several years, they decided to release their new album independently. It’s definitely a very risky move that the band felt committed to in order to move forward in their career. After listening to their newest album Minus the Machine, it just may be the smartest move of their career.

The new album is almost a return to roots for the guys. There’s no label pressuring them for a hit single. There are no suits telling them what they are supposed to sound like. The reigns have been handed back over to them and they are finally free to create exactly what they want to create. I think the results will surprise some people are the band definitely explore outside of the box on this album. I also think it’s safe to say that it is the darkest album that they have created to date. Wait, don’t start to panic because it’s still the 10 Years that you have come to love, just free of restrictions. A band without limitations is a beautiful thing.

The album opens with the title track “Minus the Machine” and the door inside of 10 Years that has only been cracked open until this point is suddenly ripped off the hinges. What a great song to open with as if to tell the fans: this is us, this is who we are. On this track, all the pieces of the band come together to make this one hell of an opener. It’s slow and melodic until the chorus and has the big crashing guitars that resonate on the chorus. “Writing on the Walls” is the first track that will really have you doing a double take. It starts with some type of backwards masking that leads into a delicate ukulele and piano. Jesse’s vocals are very passionate elevate this song to another plateau. It’s a beautiful song both musically and lyrically.

The middle of the album tends to tread familiar ground for the band. Song such as “Soma” and “Sleeper” do seem to have that familiar sound that longtime fans of the band will immediately recognize. By this time, I am sure that most of you have heard the first single “Backlash”. If you haven’t, then you definitely need to check it out as well as the visually intriguing video for it. “Tightrope” finds the band venturing out of their musical box and treading some unfamiliar ground. The song has somewhat of an industrial feel to it, which I am pretty certain the band has not ventured into up until this point. I am sure this will be another track that will catch people off guard, maybe just a bit.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Forever Fields (Sowing Season)”. It’s a tranquil number composed almost entirely of a lone, haunting piano. It’s another example of how less can sometimes be more. The crashing guitars are stripped away as well as the thundering drums, yet the song soars above some of the other monstrous songs.  The album closes with two stand-out tracks and probably two of the most creative songs that the band has created to date. “Birth-Death” is a slow, somber piano driven instrumental that is accentuated by a string section and it flows right into “…And All the Other Colors”. The drums will definitely catch your attention on this one as they have a type of jungle or tribal feel to them. A slow starter that builds as it progresses into another powerful number.

The band has a renewed sense of direction and they sound hungry. I feel as if breaking away from the major label and being able to have full creative control has sparked something in the guys that may have been suppressed by the label and the suits. They definitely step outside the box quite a few times and show us a side of 10 Years that we haven’t seen before. Lead singer Jesse Hasek’s vocals sound stronger and more passionate than ever. The remaining band mates, Brian Vodinh on drums and guitars, Ryan “Tater” Johnson on guitar and Lewis Cosby on drums, sound tighter and more focused than ever.

10 Years have already experienced commercial success before, but it will be very interesting to see how this release plays out. This may very well be the best that the band has recorded to date. It’s as if every song from the first track to the final could be a single. I don’t think there is any filler on here at all. Yes, it’s that strong of a record. If this is any indication of what happens when a band jumps ship to follow their hearts instead of their checkbooks, other band may try to follow suit.

Periphery Make This One Personal

Remember when you were little and wanted to go out and play in the snow? Your mom would dress you in so many layers that you couldn’t move? Well, a Periphery album has just as many layers, minus the uncomfortable, confining feeling. The six piece band just released their sophomore album entitled Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal on Sumerian Records. It’s the follow-up to their self titled debut that was released in 2010.

Periphery has been labeled as progressive metal band, but they are also a part of the djent movement. It’s a complex genre with multiple layers of playing combined with loops and fretwork so intricate that it makes the heads of Justin Beiber explode from pure awesomeness. They have raised the bar on this new album and I am quite sure that those who bought their first album will love this one.

The album opens with “Muramasa”, an electronic flavored number until the guitars come crashing in near the one minute mark. That’s when the intensity starts and the fun begins. Lead singer Spencer Sotelo goes from a smooth singing voice to an aggressive scream style and really changes the song up. “Have a Blast” has an odd intro that sounded like that annoying Owl City “Fireflies”, but luckily that didn’t last too long. Then, someone must have cranked the energy to 11 because the song just takes off with intensity and power. My only complaint on this song is that when Spencer’s vocals go from screaming to a clean vocal, it takes away from the song just a bit. I wish he would have kept the scream vocals for the entire song.

“Facepalm Mute” is definitely a standout track on the album. It’s in your face, balls to the wall riffing and intensity. Oh, let’s not go any further without giving drummer Matt Halpern a major shout out. The guy is a beast and he beats the skins in this song like they owe him money. Then, at the 3:15 mark, the band hits the breaks and goes into a type of mellow, electronic infused breakdown. The song continues and finishes out on a mellow, trance like note.

“Erised” may be the most commercially sounding track on the album. Where it may lack in intensity, it makes up for it in passion and delivery, plus some pretty tasty shredding as the song starts to fade out. “13 Mile Zero” has some insane riffs throughout the entire song; one layer on top of another. The band hits the brakes at the 2:32 mark and slows things down. It’s a nice little breakdown, but it doesn’t last too long before the riffage begins again.

The band is growing and it’s evident all throughout the new album. The rhythm section of Adam Getgood on bass and Matt Halpern on drums is tighter than ever. Jake Bowen is a very effective triple threat as he plays guitar, synth and supplies electronic programming. I’ve already sang the praises of lead singer Spencer Sotelo. Last, but not least, is the amazing guitar work of band founder Misha Mansoor. He can go from shredding that will melt your face off to a slower, more melodic style in the blink of an eye.

Periphery pushed forward on this new album. They probably could have played it safe and stuck to the exact formula that won them praises for their debut album, but they didn’t. They decided to push themselves and raise the bar. I’m not sure what made this new album personal, but no matter the reason, it definitely suits this band’s sound really well.

Memphis May Fire Rise to the Challenge

The metal core genre is a big sea with a lot of little fish trying to jump to the head of the stream and become one of the big fish. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it is required in this business in order to survive. The Texas based metalcore band Memphis May Fire did just that with their 2011 album The Hollow. Now, they have released the follow-up to that album entitled Challenger and it looks as if they built on the momentum that followed that 2011 album.

Challenger, their second full length album for Rise Records, was produced by guitarist Kellen McGregor and Cameron Mizell, who also produced The Hallow. I think fans will be surprised by the intensity of this record along with the heartfelt messages found in the powerful lyrics. Lead singer Matty Mullins delivers a very performance that is stellar from the first track to the last; even though the last track is an instrumental.

“Alive in the Lights” is the second track on the album, but it’s the one that really gets things going. Mullins definitely knows how to deliver a catchy chorus. He mixes up his vocal deliver to where one moment he is singing in clean vocals and the next minute he’s screaming with power and passion in his voice. “Prove Me Right” is another killer track that rocks. It may use the “traditional” breakdown approach in this song, but it still manages to sound fresh and relevant.

“Vices” is one of the standout tracks on the album. The song starts out intense and hard and ready to melt your face. Then, the chorus kicks in and it gets very melodic and catchy. Where some bands may fail and not be able to pull it off, Memphis May Fire makes it work and it sounds really cool. Add a few dashes of electronic elements that compliment the song and all the parts come together to make a pretty awesome song.

“Losing Sight” is a pretty interesting track that features Danny Worsnop, lead vocalist of Asking Alexandria. Matty and Danny offer contrasting vocal stylings that seem to complement each other really well. It would be nice to hear more collaborations from these two. There’s another collaboration on the album on the song “”Miles Away” which features Kellin Quinn from Sleeping with Sirens. It’s a metalcore ballad of sorts which features some heartfelt and emotional lyrics about life on the road. This track really displays the band’s versatility and truly stands out.

Overall, it seems as if Memphis May Fire has definitely raised the bar on this release. I am pretty sure that if you liked The Hollow that you will be pleasantly surprised by this new album. Matty turns in a stellar vocal performance and sounds stronger than ever. Kellen McGregor lays down some pretty tasty licks throughout the album as well as adding depth to many songs with his additional vocal contributions. The electronic elements that he adds to the songs help to propel them from ordinary metalcore to something different and special.

Is it a perfect album? No, of course not and that’s ok. There are the pitfall, generic, traditional breakdowns scattered about, but those few bitter parts just make the sweeter spots that much sweeter. It’s great to see a young band push themselves and step it up from one release to another. That’s definitely a key to longevity and Memphis May Fire seems to be travelling down that track and not looking back.