Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

PLATTENBAU - Net Prophet (

This German outfit has a wonderful, albeit tragically accurate, play on words for their newest release. Net Prophet sees a world careening towards inevitable suffering and self-destruction, and the darkwave grooves produced here reflect that pessimism. The band takes its name from a term referring to large buildings constructed with prefabricated concrete slabs, and this metaphor matches the cold dehumanization of society felt throughout Net Prophet. While the tracks revolve around a heavy use of synth and pummeling bass, nothing becomes too redundant, and there is a balance between a sound that one recognizes but there are subtle nuances that make this band special. “Best Western” meshes Sally Brown’s throbbing bassline with vocals that oscillate in both intensity and volume from the band’s sole original member, Lewis Lloyd. The song masterfully creates a perpetual sese of unease with a snarky sense-awareness and cynicism. Plattenbau touch upon early Cure affectations on “Cloaking Love”, highlighting the talents of keyboardist Jesper Munk. Munk works in perfect concert along drummer Brandon Walsh, as the two hold the songs together while Brown and Lloyd flirt with extremes on “A New Dawn” and the chilling ‘AR-15”, emphasized by the repetition of the phrase, “death washes over me”. The band is signed to Dedstrange Records, founded by Oliver Ackermann from the perpetually brilliant A Place to Bury Strangers, and there are similarities between those two bands. The writing and arrangements on Net Prophet are sharp and driven by both a worldly and musical intellectualism, as heard on the dystopian opener, “Lichtenberg Monologue”. Sounding like what will someday happen when AI runs amok, the track is an earsplitting, disjointed soundtrack to a nightmarish future wrought with chaos. “Departed” and “Purgatory Mall” are both mid-tempo pieces that adopt a minimalist approach, as shards of sound slash through the atmosphere on the former, and the latter draws the listener down a continuously off-putting path. Plattenbau has the ability to illicit powerful responses from fans of Sisters of Mercy and Clan of Xymox through A Cloud of Ravens, as their sound is sharp and their messages prophetic. This is an exciting band that I hope can get to the States soon.

VELVET INSANE - High Heeled Monster (Sound Pollution/Wild Kingdom Records

Can a band be too happy, and can someone please tell me what is happening in Sweden? For an area of the world often associated with rain or cold, this Scandinavian act seemingly cannot stop smiling. Velvet Insane is what would happen if Motley Crue traded bodies with Sweet while listening to the Bay City Rollers and touring with Mott the Hoople. There is an unadulterated adoration of all things 70s arena rock on High Heeled Monster, as “Boogie Star” sounds like it was stolen from Marc Bolan’s vault and the lyrics reference “diamond dogs” just so the Bowie idolization is made perfectly clear as well. This is eyeliner and handclaps glam rock, and the three members in Velvet Insane do it extremely well. They remain true to the original nature of the sound, but the question will be if people would like a high-quality reproduction of a classic sound, or will people simply listen to the original masters? “Sweet as it Can Be” transcends innocence and fun, and it a sugar rush of a song that is unabashedly unapologetic about reconstructing the sound of the band’s idols. Interestingly for me, I am captivated by the slower, more serious-minded “Don’t Let the Poor Boy Down” as it marks a significant departure from the up-tempo efforts but still fit nicely within what Velvet Insane has constructed. Vocalist/guitarist Jesper Lindgren has a wonderfully smooth vocal delivery with an uncanny talent for crafting huge hooks within the chorus. Ludvig Andersson and Jonas Eriksson round out this trio, although the band has jammed with an array of players and have a huge number of friends join them throughout this record as well. “Looking For a Rock (About to Roll)” has a wonderful saxophone solo and deftly breathable chorus that makes it another good-natured party guest. However, by the time I reach “Act Together”, I am simply exhausted from all of this joy, and the song sounds far too much like something from the Grease soundtrack. Maybe I’ve become such a curmudgeon that I cannot have fun anymore, but the constant exuberance and positive affirmations of High Heeled Monster wear me down after three songs. This is a highly entertaining release from three players who know exactly what they want to be and do it extremely well. However, I will continue to stick with the dark and depressing and allow others to have fun.

ABOLITIONIST - A Pernicious Truth (

I have been a fan of Abolitionist for years, as I believe they are one of the smartest and sharpest punk bands out there. It is very difficult to make me look smart, but my assessment of them is tremendously reinforced on A Pernicious Truth. There is not a wasted second on this record, particularly because there so few seconds available. With six of the ten efforts under two minutes, Abolitionist rage through a collection of eloquent and impactful tracks. “Dear Liberty” is a scathing opener with gripping lyrics, “It’s been 15 years since we lived our worst fears”. Dustin Herron sings with a raw emotional passion that is profoundly engaging throughout A Pernicious Truth. Herron is a bold writer as well, as he emotes “In the ‘after time’, we knew suffering” (“We All Know Better Now”) while a buzzsaw riff slashes through the piece by Herron and fellow guitarist Justin Dunlap, and declares “Loss/ Regret/ I’m only human/I miss you” on the pugnacious “Simple Thing”. Produced by Herron and written as a lyrical follow-up to The Vicious Rumor record of 2015, A Pernicious Truth is another step forward in the ongoing progression of one of punk’s true gems. There is a sheen to what Abolitionist does, but this not punk-pop by any stretch; the band has refined their aggression into a well-honed musical weapon. The hooks are abundant throughout the record, even when the songs are fleeting in length, such as the emotionally gripping “Her Name” (“You told me you were pregnant/I never felt so dead inside”). “Dead For Nothing” is another of the caustic efforts that emotes rage balanced by acceptance of the past (“I keep living like it’s a bad dream I can’t wake up from”). Drummer Sean Rule and bassist Joey Mohler hold each song together, and while Herron takes centerstage, Abolitionist works because of the perfect concert in which all four members work. The low end of these songs is the consistent dose of fire that supports what Herron and Dunlap are doing. Abolitionist seems to be one of those rare gems that remains underappreciated; I just hope more people find A Pernicious Truth and go back to revisit all of this band’s rich history.

CANNIBAL CORPSE - Chaos Horrific (Metal Blade)

Few bands are as instantly recognizable within their particular genre as Cannibal Corpse. Emerging on the crest of the first wave of American Death Metal along with acts including Morbid Angel, Obituary, Suffocation, Deicide, and the already established Death, Cannibal Corpse set a standard for blistering musicianship and nightmare-inducing lyrics. While many of their counterparts have taken long breaks between records and tours, the mighty Cannibal Corpse have never stopped dismantling the world with their now highly technical brand of death metal. Chaos Horrific is the band’s 16th release (!) and there are no signs of redundancy across the ten thunderous tracks. Bassist Alex Webster remains the pivotal force behind Cannibal, as he and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz are the only two original members going back to the band’s earliest days in Buffalo, NY, with Webster maintaining his long-established role as primary lyricist and songwriter. The band has never utilized subtlety, and the hyperspeed opening combination of “Overlords of Violence” and “Frenzied Feeding” are punishing pieces of sophisticated death metal, while an effort like “Fractured and Refractured” is both a classic Cannibal title and a celebratory example of the beast that the band continues to be. The addition several years ago of Erik Rutan into the fold as a permanent guitarist as well as producer set Cannibal Corpse on an intensified path towards more challenging and inventive arrangements. Opposite of Rutan is Rob Barrett, who, while not one of the original five, has certainly been a central piece in Cannibal Corpse’s evolution. Naturally, it is the vocals of George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher that instantly grab all listeners, whether long time devotees or first-time fans. In addition to possessing the thickest neck in metal, the windmilling monster continues to have some of the strongest pipes in the genre. “Vengeful Invasion” truly demonstrates the power of his guttural growls as the guitar interplay between Rutan and Barrett works in perfect tandem. “Pestilential Rictus” embodies the dynamics of a Rutan and Barrett as a duo, as the track includes blistering solos and a relentlessly heavy groove. Rather than relying on well-worn death metal staples such as an overdependency upon blast beats, Cannibal Corpse have thickened their sound into a devastating aural stew that highlights musicianship and song structure over blazing speed and clichés. However, lest no one thing that Cannibal is slowing down, as the title track is a face-shredding work featuring the band’s legendary galloping riff surrounded by a wall of overwhelming force led by Webster and Mazurkiewicz, as Fisher unleashes his other worldly vocal skills. “Pitchfork Impalement” is a masterclass in what constitutes a perfect death metal song-the riffs are strong and discernable, Mazurkiewicz supplies a punishing backbeat, and Webster continues to amaze as a bassist. His ability to stay in lockstep with both guitarists is not only what has come to define Cannibal Corpse for more than three decades, but as the songs continue to become more intricate and include varied forms of guitar gymnastics, more falls upon Webster’s talented shoulders. It is nearly impossible to imagine that a band that began its career in the late 1980s in small clubs in upstate New York continues to tour the world and make new and exciting music in 2023. As a fan of Cannibal Corpse since 1991’s Butchered at Birth, I believe their longevity is a testament not only to the devotion to their music and their ability to outlast those who attempted to condemn and censor them, but also a constant desire to improve and create fresh interpretations of their style. I hope Cannibal Corpse become the Rolling Stones of death metal.

DABDA - "Yonder" EP (

Named for the five stages faced by terminally ill patients (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), this Seoul-based fourpiece explore a vast array of musical territory on their five-song EP, "Yonder." The opening “Playing with Fire” fluctuates wildly between eruptions of ferocious noise and picturesque interludes, creating a sensation of multiple songs inhabiting one body. Waves of obtuse force assaults the listener before a controlled - but still loud - riff enters to conclude the effort. From the end of “Playing with Fire” forward, "Yonder" takes on a fascinatingly experimental structure. “Flower Tail” is highlighted by aspects of mathcore with 90s style shoegaze, and the song’s dreamy riffs and airy vocals by Kim Ji-Ae initially appears to be a significant departure from the record’s opener, until a burst of bombastic energy is injected into that track’s closing moment. The ability to craft songs that are beautifully intense is the staple of what makes Dabda such an intriguing listen. “Origin” is carried by Ji-Ae’s emotionally compelling vocals, as the song floats along on a cloud of beauty, with guitarist Lee Joseph offering a jangly riff nestled within a bouncy song structure. The song has a wonderful balance between heartfelt and lighthearted, and Dabda conveys a wealth of emotion throughout each effort. “Cloud City” is aptly titled as the vocals glide along a lush musical landscape constructed by Joseph and rhythm section bassist Noh Keo-Hyun and drummer Lee Seung-Hyun. It is the voice of Ji-Ae that captivates me the most about Dabda, as her delicate and compelling delivery is the ideal companion to the intricacy of the songs, particularly an effort like “Origin”, which also finishes with a flurry of force. The closing “One, World, Wound” progressively escalates towards a thunderous conclusion. The steady climb of the track is quite impressive as the band generates a tightly wound effort that rattles with energy before completely exploding into a torrent of concluding power. This is a remarkably engaging band.

COLONY DROP - Brace For Impact (

Seattle’s Colony Drop love all things metal and punk, and they do everything they can to throw as many different styles as possible into their boisterous debut, Brace for Impact. The opening title track has elements of the best of the Bay-area thrash movement with splashes of machine-gun drumming and dynamic guitar interplay from Benjamin Burton and Ryan Moon. One hears the band’s rallying cry of “High Speed, Twin Lead” throughout the record, as the crossover fanatics experiment with elements ranging from crust to metal’s earliest inception, giving each song a familiar yet distinctive sound. “Stand Against the World” is a supreme example of Colony Drop’s talents as vocalist Joseph Schafer declares a “D-beat, D-beat adventure” while unhinged riffs fly recklessly around him. The band then instantly shifts into a more melodic groove, reminiscent of Enforced or Power Trip. “Supplicant” takes a more traditionalist approach with shared guitar work that feels inspired by British Steel or Number of the Beast as Colony Drop acknowledges that blazing speed does always great metal make; instead, there is a concerted effort to allow each of the five embers to be given ample opportunity to shine. Schafer has a distinguishing voice, as he delivers all lyrics with the fury of a gravel-voiced monster. Granting listeners a sparse, forty-nine second respite with the gentle instrumental “Heartfelt”, the latter half of Brace for Impact is a collection of slightly briefer but relentlessly paced tracks that are my favorite of the bunch. Drummer Eric Harris and bassist Ari Rosenschein truly excel on the thunderous “The Guillotine”, a two-minute ball of destruction that precedes the chugging power of “Fantasize the Beast”. “Fantasize the Beast” is constructed around a punishing riff and continues the shape-shifting nature of these songs one also hears on the blistering “Patient Zero”. Colony Drop continues a very promising trend of bands nor marrying themselves to only one singular style or genre but choosing to embrace all forms of metal. In the hands of lesser talent, this can result in a disconnected assemblage of ideas, but with Colony Drop, people are treated to five players who easily command metal’s fifty-year evolution.

THE DARIÉN GAP - Haunted Lots (

Brain Moss is known to many through a string of impressive releases with The Wunder Years, The Ghost, and The Great Ape, but he is also an extraordinarily lucky man. Moss found his partner in The Darién Gap, Mike Thompson, through a Craigslist ad. I have seen enough Craigslist horror videos to know that finding someone sane via that recruitment is rare, much less someone as skilled and compatible as Thompson. The duo locked themselves in a spare room and produced five intelligent and poignant pieces on Haunted Lots. The songs are harrowing and poignant in nature, as one feels like Moss and Thompson are playing to an audience of one on “The Shroud”, as forceful guitar slashes across the sky with expert precision and control. Both men have spent their lives examining punk’s more obscure incarnations, and this experience allows the pair to construct songs that hold true to a daring punk aesthetic but have a refinement that can only come after years spent sleeping on floors and shedding blood on stages across the country. “Looking” is an aggressive, angular track that boils over with frustration throughout genuine self-reflection. There is a maturity to the five pieces on Haunted Lots and each track moves effortlessly to the next. The gritty “Bad Comment” is a perfect example what Moss and Thompson do so well: the song is perpetually rattling with rage but never completely loses composure. As Moss’ voice shakes with fury as he spits out “that fucking comment”, the anger is tangible and incredibly intimate. The concluding “I Wish I Didn’t Wish” locks into a rollicking, carefree groove that hits as fiercely as the previous songs even if it has smoother edges. The biggest challenge facing Moss and Thompson is the ability to find others who can both share their vison and talent; the hope is that the missing pieces can be found out there somewhere and The Darién Gap can become a full touring outfit.

ANTI-GOD HAND - Blight Year (American Dreams Records

Will Ballantyne is an extreme music mastermind. He is the talent behind the crushing wave of overwhelming destruction called Anti-God Hand. Blight Year, the second record from Ballantyne features remarkably dynamic black metal that alternates between moments of caustic chaos and sterling beauty. Ballantyne is joined by the limitlessly talented Greg Fox on drums. Blight Year was engineered by Colin Marston who has worked in the past with Gorguts. This is worth mentioning as Gorguts, in addition to being fellow Canadians with Ballantyne, play death metal with extraordinary intricacy and require a particularly skilled set of hands. Anti-God Hand travels a wide swarth of metal throughout the record, the two and half minutes of “The Horde at the End of Language” is a train collision set to music, a furiously delivered track that bludgeons the listener with inexhaustible fury. The ninety second “Demon Sniper” hits with the intensity of Dillinger Escape Plan’s finest moments. Every moment on Blight Year is highly sophisticated black metal with a constant juxtaposition of beauty and terror accented by blistering speed more often associated with death metal and grindcore. “Barge of Light” is built around deathly yowls supported by a torrent of blast beats that make the song both majestic and terrifying. Ballantyne enjoys taking the listener on a journey throughout the record, interspersing fleeting moments of temperate quiet with waves of severe desolation. “Warped and Opalescent Swords” is what would happen in Animals as Leaders listened to Immortal while trapped in a thatched roof cottage in a small Norwegian village during a forty-day stretch of rain. The claustrophobic “Chaoscene Hell” includes chugging death metal riffs surrounded by a song structure that is perpetually unraveling. The changes in atmosphere between serene and unsettling makes this both a fascinating and disturbing listen. “Hyperincursion of the Theocentre” and “Held” are anthemic and textured, but above all else, they are abrasive. Blight Year is a lucid nightmare; a record that will haunt you long after it finishes.

JOHNNY THE BOY - You (Season of Mist

Like so many great creations, Johnny the Boy started as just a fun side-project without any concrete plans of becoming a stand-alone band. Belinda Kordic and Justin Greaves are the centerpieces of Crippled Black Phoenix, and they now lead Johnny the Boy, playing ferocious blackened metal with tastes of metalcore, no frills rock, and thick sludge. While Greaves and bassist Matt Crawford are exemplary, Kordic is the show. Her vocals perfectly encapsulate all that the band represents; namely, a relentless wave of blistering sonic force. Lying beneath the surface of this musical barbarism are well-crafted songs whose foundations are consistently memorable hooks. “Die Already” sets the tone here, and while each song has an instantly recognizable tone, nothing on You becomes derivative. “Grime” moves more slowly and is anchored by a skull-shattering low end. My personal favorite effort here is the fascinating “Druh”, a song that reveals the vast intellect and songwriting skill of Kordic. The track celebrates the life of Witoid Pilecki, who was a member of the Polish Resistance against the Nazis in World War Two who intentionally allowed himself to be captured and brought to Auschwitz. His descriptions of what was done to the prisoners within the camp is invaluable historical information. Such a piece, utilizing soaring punk n’ roll punched in the head by death metal overtures, crystallizes why this band is so unique. The methodical opening of “Endlessly Senseless” becomes a groovy block of blackened rock that demonstrates Johnny the Boy’s ability to be chillingly aggressive while paying homage to a fundamental rock aesthetic. The eight-minute “Crossings” is a spacious example of erudite back metal songwriting. The vocals are vituperative as Kordic sounds as if she is singing from beyond the grave. The record finishes with “Without You”, a song about the band’s cat. However, do not allow yourself to think this is an adorable piece about a kitty; “Without You” closes this hellacious record with a vicious assault fitting of what Johnny the Boy does best. Treat yourself to this.

THE OXYS - Generation Irrelevant (

Austin’s The Oxys bring a sleazy, gritty Lower east Side of the 1980s vibe their brand of catchy punk. Generation Irrelevant is a glorious collection of songs celebrating all the frustration and exasperation currently gripping so many. The homage to classic punk purveyors like the Dead Boys, T.S.O.L., Johnny Thunders, and Stiff Little Fingers is readily apparent, which proves these kids know their history. The Oxys only know one speed (really fast) and their intensity is as impressive as the guitar solos from Jason “Ginchy” Kottwitz. that dot the record. Vocalist “Punk Rock Phil” Davis was almost unable to be a part of the Oxys due to a terrible case of having a coma and standing on the precipice of death. His recovery is astounding, and it also adds yet another layer of power to the record. From the opening “Ticking Time Bomb” through the closing “screaming in Silence”, the Oxys do not let up or offer a reprise. Rather, the band, rounded out by Gabe on bass, Rob Williamson on drums, and newest member, rhythm guitarist Genocide, hit furiously on “Death Rock Valley Girl” and the apropos “I Feel Nuthin’”. The Oxys are clearly not around to wallow in the sewers with the grime of classic punk, but their inclusion of rhythmic backing vocals and sing along choruses invokes the very best of Screeching Weasel, offering a nice balance between two distinct styles. I replayed Generation Irrelevant four times through initially, and the record offers something new with each listen. The huge guitars of “Isolation” reverberate with unyielding energy, while “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades” and “Vulgar Favors” is a raging slab of vehemence tempered with just enough harmony to keep it from imploding like a cheaply made submersible. The band ends the record with “Screaming in Silence”, a song possessing discernable darkness. There is a level of tangible hostility woven within its tightly molded form, and a fitting way to complete a very impressive release.


Firstly, one can never go wrong with a band’s moniker honoring Shakespeare, but that is the bare minimum of the intelligence and musical acumen presented on Beyond the Gate. This is prog rock in its purest form, blending elements of early Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and King Crimson. The seven tracks are a dreamy, lush voyage through a mystical world far beyond the grasp of our mortal coil; therefore, if you have a few edibles handy, take them before starting this expedition. The gentle, opening title track sets the stage for the band’s appreciation for wraithlike, intricate musicianship in an effort to transport the listener to domains previously unknown. Perhaps the band’s greatest time-travelling abilities is to take one back to the late 1960s and early 70s when different genres coexisted in wondrous harmony, as The Mighty Bard plays with free-flowing jazz structure as well as glorious guitar work from founding member Dave Clark. “Magician” begins with a 70s FM radio vibe and melts beautifully into a piano-laden gem through the performance of co-founder Neil Cockle. Like most prog bands, there is penchant for musical obliqueness, and one hears that on the fourteen-minute opus, “Guarded Secret”. Lying within the song’s sprawling dynamic are astounding performances from vocalist Benj, along with bassist Mark Cadman and drummer Tom Mears. With celestial keys, majestic group harmonies, and fanciful lyrics, the band constructs a song that combines the expert playing of Rush with the refined lyrical poetry of the Moody Blues. However, while the talent on display is wildly unattainable for most people, The Mighty Bard can still be appreciated by the less talented among us (like me). “Compound the Problem” includes the dichotomy between bombastic drumming and a darker riff with Benj’s delicate and emotive vocals. The twelve-minute “Secret Garden” dances on the edge of pop speckled with a healthy dose of Moog synth, while remaining true to the band’s astrophysical approach to songwriting. The Mighty Bard ends this journey with “The Last Orders”, a song that methodically works its way into a guitar crescendo before tenderly evaporating through Cockle’s verdant piano playing. The Mighty Bard is a band whose style and sound I would normally avoid, but I am very lucky to have this find its way into my ears. The abilities possessed by the members of this band is nothing less than stunning, and on a warm summer night under the stars with a few enhancements to clear one’s head, this would be mind-blowing. It’s also more likely safer than alien abduction. For now.

BLOODBOUND - Tales From the North (

In 1066, just months before the legendary Battle of Hastings, Viking leader Harald Hardrada, flying under his war banner “Land Waster”, was defeated by English King Harold Godwinson, known as Harold II. This defeat at the hands of the English brought about the end of the Viking invasions of England. In October of the same year, the Battle of Hastings ended the Anglo-Saxon rule of England as Harold’s forces were decimated by the troops of William the Conqueror. All of this information is necessary to truly relish Bloodbound’s historically themed concept record, Tales from the North. The eleven songs are galloping power metal, with each effort superbly produced and expertly delivered. The soaring vocals of Patrick Sellebey is a highlight, but each member of this six-piece outfit contribute to the rich tableau on display. Combining Nordic themes, including the use of traditional instruments, with a style similar to that of Hammerfall and Amon Amarth, Bloodbound produces a style of metal that harkens back to the classical days of the genre’s infancy, when themes of ancient warriors, myths, and man’s desire to destroy itself on battlefields were common topics. With its use of classical instrumentation (heard beautifully on the closing “1066”) and the superb keyboards of Fredrik Bergh, the edges of Tales From the North are softened a bit, but this is still skillfully played metal. The orchestral elements of “Odin’s Prayer” make it a perfect opening single from the record. The song is a punishing track featuring effusive guitar talent from Tomas and Henrik Olsson and a robust rhythm section compliments of Anders Broman and drummer Daniel Hansfeldt. Yet, “Odin’s Prayer” includes the grandiose use of Bergh’s keys which provides an additional layer to the breadth of Boodbound’s sound. Other acts have dipped their metallic toes into classical ponds of course, but Bloodbound uses this dichotomy as the focal point of their approach. The celebratory nature of “The Raven’s Cry” nestles nicely next to the fantasy themed “Mimir’s Crystal Eye”. There are no songs addressing contemporary political divisions or social concerns on Tales From the North, exchanging those exhausting matters for songs of giants and ancient mythology, and that is incredibly refreshing. Bloodbound balances a furious and intense approach on “Sword and Axe” with more symphonic elements, as one hears on “Stake My Claims”. This Swedish outfit will lift their war hammers to the sky as they play around the world throughout the rest of 2023, ready to conquer stages the way their Viking ancestors tormented European villages.

CARNATION - “Cursed Mortality” (Season Of Mist Records;

This Belgian outfit is now ten years old and has demonstrated varied forms of musical growth over the past decade. Beginning as a more traditional death metal act, “Cursed Mortality”, the first single and title track from the band’s forthcoming release, balances deathly aggression with newly utilized clean vocals. Simon Duson perfectly vacillates between Corpsegrinder-esque growls and emphatic, traditional singing. This juxtaposition of more refined vocals and guttural rage has been attempted by many others (Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation may be the master), but few succeed with the skill of Duson. A galloping wave of guitar force, compliments of Bert Vervoot and Jonathan Versrepen attacks from all sides, while a devastating low-end bombast rattles the listener with a destructive bass line from Yarne Heylen and a barrage of blast beats from drummer Vincent Verstrepen. At roughly seven and a half minutes, the song is given ample room to explore various moods and atmospheric qualities due to the use of subtle synth. I am truly looking forward to this November full-length release.

NECROFIER - Burning Shadows In The Southern Night (

Taking a sound made (in)famous in small villages throughout Norway and baking them in the Texas sun, Necrofier produce blistering black metal. The serenity of the opening “The Fall From Heaven” quickly gives way to an aural barrage in the form of “Total Southern Darkness”. As a crushing wave of blackened guitar assaults the listener, Bakka’s vocal descent menacingly across the musical landscape. The band truly hits its collective and devastating stride on “Forbidden Light of the Black Moon”. Not only does this track have a title worthy of a cramped basement metal record store in Oslo, but the song also oscillates between focusing on terrifying black metal buzzsaw riffs and jaw-dropping blast beats from Dobber Beverly (who formerly sat behind the kit for Insect Warfare). Fortunately, Necrofier delivers more of the same on “Destroying Angels”, as both songs are sonically expansive and relentless in their fury. “Whispers that Burn in the Dark” contains touches of more traditional metal, but one can still image the fires of hell illuminating the band as they perform this song. The guitar provided by Bakka and Semir Ozerkan sound like a Southern fried version of Gorgoroth. Deeply fearsome but not devoid of rhythmic construction, Necrofier balances raw, abrasive black metal with a sense of refined song construction and a willingness to experiment with mood and tempo. The slow, nearly sludge-metal intro of “The All-Seeing Shadows” provides an unsettling milieu for a song that launches into fits of astounding aggression with the rhythm section, anchored by bassist Mat Valentine shining brightly. The sinewy “On Wings of Death We Burn the Sky” (just as an aside, the song titles alone make this record brilliant) is more intricate in nature than more standard black metal fare, proving that Necrofier is interested in making a distinguishing mark upon the genre while still paying homage to the origin of the sound. “Burnt by the Sacred Flame” is the superlative closer, equally energized and ferocious as the previous efforts on a record that is both familiar in nature yet also distinctly unique.

TSJUDER -Helvegr (

Tsjuder plays a time-honored style of Norwegian black metal, which makes sense as this band traces its roots back to the 1990s. Helvegr is the band’s first release since 2015, and the most substantial difference between this and the band’s earlier works is the quality of the recording. Sounding clean but still adhering to black metal’s penchant for breakneck speed and flesh-searing vocals. “Surtr” is a tsunami of combustible guitar from Draugluin and punishing bass from Nag. However, it is the addition of Jon Rice on drums that puts the music heard on Helvegr into a different stratosphere. This devastating trio work together in perfect concert throughout the record, but “Chaos Fiend”, “Gods of the Black Blood” and the aforementioned “Surtr” are an unholy trio of unstoppable musical violence. Tsjuder does not live on speed alone; due to the production of Päl Emanvelsen, each player is heard clearly among the din. Rather than waves of distortion that often envelopes black metal, Helvegr allows the listener to discern the vast array of skill on display. The riffs are intricate and haunting while the never-ending array of blast beats refuse to allow anyone to gather themselves before being destroyed once more by the savage barbarism of the band. Early Mayhem, Darkthrone, and My Dying Bride influences are here, but Tsjuder is not attempting to breathe life into the sound of the past. Instead, the three-piece offers their unique approach to the genre. The closing “Hvit Død” is the only respite given on the record-a midtempo conclusion that offers listeners time to settle their rattled brains as they are left lying crumpled on the floor in the fetal position.

YAKUZA - Sutra (Svart Records

From the opening seconds of “2is1”, the music of Yakuza strikes the listener on a visceral level. This band has been redefining the sonic barriers of extreme music for over two decades, and Sutra is a circuitous explosion of force. “Alice” is a devastating work, hitting with a low-end fury while also adroitly shifting tempos and tenor, like an amalgamation between sludge metal and jazz. The level of sophistication one hears from Yakuza has long been one of its most recognizable attributes, as the tracks are a constant conflict between density and airy, best heard on “Echoes in the Sky” and the awing “Capricorn Rising”. Both tracks are granted over seven minutes of life, and the range of emotion and force is incredibly impressive, with elements of DC hardcore, thunderous metal, and daring experimentalism. Bruce Lamont’s vocals sound like a man pleading with an invisible foe in an impenetrable void, and it fits the music perfectly. As he yelps “we walk alone” in “Walking God”, it is impossible to not become transfixed by what this band is doing. Incredibly, it has been ten years since Yakuza’s last record, but Sutra is certainly worth wait, achieving more in one record than most do in a career. The sonically dense “Psychic Malaise” begins with the evocative cries of a black metal anthem before sliding effortlessly into a series of intricate riffs interspersed with more haunted wailings. This band cannot be adequately labeled for they incorporate a wide spectrum of stylings and genres into one perfectly constructed wall of intensity. Sutra is remarkably heavy and will thrill purveyors of metal’s outer edges, but the songs have elements of dazzling beauty that will enrapture listeners who may not be naturally drawn to metal’s experimental leanings. The neck-snapping “Never the Less” batters the listener in between ephemeral moments of respite, again bringing together the extraordinary fury and refinement over eight fascinating minutes. Maybe it takes a decade to create music so extraordinary, but I hope we do not have to wait another ten years to hear more.

GATUPLAN - Välkommen till Underjorden (Sound Pollution/Wild Kingdom Records)

This is proof that music is a universal language. I did not understand a single word this skilled Swedish band had to say, but I still thoroughly enjoyed Välkommen till Underjorden, which translates to “Welcome to the Underground”. Gatuplan, which translates rough to “street paln” does not truly have much of an underground sound, choosing instead to lean heavily on garage rock with a smile. Within the layers of pop-infused punk is a lot of traditional ska. For fan of ska purveyors like The Specials, Toots and the Maytals, or Madness will devour this. There are a few Ramones-esque moments, but much of this is very easily palatable for any audience. The ska songs are plentiful yet all distinctive; “Arbetarklasshhjälte” blends early rock steady with a smattering of early punk land New Wave like Stiff Little Fingers or The Jam. “Kidsen från Provinsen” includes wonderfully placed keyboards that enhance the song’s already rollicking beach party vibe. “Framtiden var Battre” is clearly inspired by the Clash’s love for Jamaican rhythms, along with “Bättre stil Rudy”. The infectious “Naralivetupplevelse” sounds like a Swedish Shonen Knife while “Amerikanska Mardrömmen” is the speediest and catchiest effort of the group. While I would have liked to have a sense of the lyrics without the help of Google Translate, the native language of Gatuplan fits this record perfectly. I love the experience of listening to this and was very surprised by the vast array of influences one hears throughout this.

69 EYES - Death of Darkness (Atomic Fire Records;

Borrowing heavily from 1980s goth, 69 Eyes create a richly harmonic record on Death of Darkness, even if much of the work is anything but uplifting. One such piece is “Dying in the Night”; like much of Death of Darkness, one hears a Bauhaus meets Sisters of Mercy with a splash of Wax Trax Ministry. This concoction also helps to produce some songs that are shockingly melodic, such as the slightly pop-infused “Gotta Rock”. Accented by Depeche Mode style keys, the track has a bounce and buoyancy that just screams crossover hit. “Outlaws” has a surprisingly optimistic message amid a fuzzy backdrop (“Nothing can hold us back now, when love is on our side”). “Something Real” opens as an amalgamation of energy and bleak vocals from Jyrki 69. 69 Eyes have terrorized Finland for nearly two decades and their sound does involve some straight-ahead rock n’ roll, such as the closing “Sundown” and the rollicking “Call Me Snake” which incorporates a big riff surrounded by traditionally atmospheric keyboards and easily memorable chorus. “Drive” is the lead single and that makes complete sense once one hears the guitar intro and steady beat that acts as the backbone of the song. There is a classic MTV “120 Minutes” vibe to this band which is familiar yet unique. I had a lot of fun listening to Death of Darkness, which I am not sure was the goal of 69 Eyes, but this deserves immediate attention, and far from just Helsinki.

TRAVELS WITH BRINDLE - “Switching Tracks” (

For anyone who does not know the story of Chelsea Spear, the ukulele wielding, pop dynamo performing under the moniker Travels With Brindle, please go look it up and be amazed. Famously starting her career by playing songs for anyone who would listen on and around mass transit in Boston, she has released a luminous string of dazzling singles with “Switching Tracks” only continuing Spear’s upward trajectory. Spear has a voice that is limitlessly expressive, baring levels of discomfort that everyone feels but so few have the courage to verbalize. As the protagonist takes a seat next to passenger, she admits her self-consciousness, saying, “Dirty fingernails and greasy hair/Wish I looked a little better” over the top of a sweet and steady pop jangle. I have always been drawn to the warmth and the intimacy of Spear’s work along with her uncanny ability to encapsulate life’s fleeting and moments with such grace and insight (“I practiced my small talk, my mind’s gone blank. My heart should be racing, but I don’t feel a pang”). Lyrically, Spear can find instances that seem insignificant except for the person to whom they are happening, and therein lies her magic, as there is a phrase or a chorus in all of the Travels With Brindle catalog that will touch someone viscerally because it sounds and feels like a moment from their own lives. “Switching Tracks”, like so much of Spear’s songs, juxtaposes childlike innocence and adolescent idiosyncrasies with the emptiness and disappointment that so often accompanies adulthood. The track may be three and half minutes of soothing, kind-hearted indie pop, but one finds incredible depth in all that Spear does. I am so happy that the world will finally have a full-length release for her in June.

SAMIAM - Stowaway (Pure Noise Records

Some bands are just flawless pros, and that is Samiam. The songs on Stowaway blaze past in a flash, but each one is a perfectly crafted nugget of melodic punk. Vocalist Jason Beebout has always possessed a voice that is ideally suited for what Samiam does, as he projects above the fast-paced energy behind him. Full of hooks and a plethora of harmonic choruses, there is not a wasted second here. By crafting truncated songs, with the vast majority averaging around two and a half minutes and only the title track reaching four minutes, one is compelled to listen to each effort repeatedly. “Lake Speed” seems to jump out of its skin to open the record, and it has a cold ending that is nearly jarring that establishes the frenetic pace of Stowaway. To that end, the songs become progressively stronger with each play and the lyrics are equally compelling. The themes found on Stowaway are poignant and very powerful, such as the stark warning about self-destruction on “Shut Down” (“you’re gonna be dead before you die”) and a pained relationship on “Lights Out, Little Hustler (“What makes you so hard to find, when you are right by my side”). Many of the songs address topics like feelings of tragic nostalgia, isolation, and loss, best heard on the distressing “Stanley” which asked, “How long have you been gone?”. On “Crystallized”, Beebout admits “Wonder how we got out, we were just the lucky ones”, and “Shoulda Stayed” includes the heart-wrenching line, “Sad old clown, stumbling around, should’ve stayed at home.” “Scout Knife” is a furious effort led by guitarists Sean Kennerly and Sergie Loobkoff with another depiction of loneliness and despondence (“Don’t know where you’ll go, but you’re too afraid to try”), and the melancholy “Natural Disasters” uses catastrophes as a metaphor for another struggling relationship. Samiam wraps up Stowaway with the title effort, slowing the pace just a bit, but the shift in speed only exacerbates the power of the story that is told, as yet another former friend meandered out of a person’s life (“Maybe find a brand-new love, maybe find someone to help her through external darkness”). This is an extraordinary record from start to finish, a true treasure of refined, authentic, harmonious punk.

DEAD HEAT - Endless Torment (

Dead Heat is a ferocious Oxnard, California outfit that perfects the speedy, thrash crossover so majestically played by bands like Iron Reagan and truly introduced to the masses by DRI. The old adage about judging books by their covers can be thrown aside here, as Endless Torment has a cover straight from the bedroom of every 14-year-old guy in 1987 that matched the brilliance of their World at War release. On top of that, the musicianship is flawless. The titular opener has an imposing Power Trip groove with ferocious intensity and great gang vocals; this makes sense as the record was mixed by Arthur Rizk who worked with the aforementioned PT. After a ferocious opening, “Smite Thee” is a ball of high intensity anger that only sticks around for less than three minutes, truly embracing the band’s punk aesthetic while still giving the track enough of a lifespan to take in the crushing force of Chris Ramos’ vocal intensity. “Eyes of the Rea” includes a broader range of guitar gymnastics under a wall of pummeling low end demolition that later morphs into a circle pit inducing groove. “Tears of the Wolf” embraces the breakneck pace and vehemence of Crumbsuckers and Cryptic Slaughter, truly wrapping their collective arms around a traditional heavy riff spiced with blasts of speed and poignant lyrics. The concluding “Hard Reset” features an innocuous intro before shifting gears to create a track that meshed the finer points of Agnostic Front and Suicidal Tendencies, and the result is naturally amazing. Dead Heat address significant social issues within their lyrics and do so with a forthright honesty that only hits harder when delivered under the wall of brutality that is their music. My only complaint is that this is only a five-song EP that is over far too quickly.

END REIGN - The Way of All Flesh is Decay (Relapse Records;

Hold on tightly when listening to this. Blending furious blast beats, hard driving basslines, flesh-searing guitar work, and vocal cord annihilating singing, End Reign touches upon all the best aspects of extreme music. The opening “Desolate Fog” is a torrent of blistering, classic sounding speed metal meshed with metal-tinged hardcore. This is truly a sterling cast of brutality fronted by Domenic Romeo who utilized his Covid lockdown time to craft one song a day, certainly making me feel lazy and pitiful. Sharing his visons with Mike Score from All Out War, the pair began crafting the blueprint for a collection of highly combustible anthems. The band is rounded out by bassist Arthur Legere (ex-Bloodlet) and maniacal drummer Adam Jarvis, whose resume includes Misery Index and Pig Destroyer. With such a collection of heavy hitters, no one should be surprised by the musical devastation this band causes on The Way of All Flesh is Decay. There is an Anthrax-style groove woven into the rage of “The Hunger” as the song is enveloped by raw speed and Romeo’s voice providing a profoundly visceral component to the song’s explosive nature. End Reign will delight both fans of traditional thrash along with those immersed in the latest wave of crippling hardcore. “Divine Abysmal End” features jaw-dropping guitar heroics and “Serpent Messiah” is the musical equivalent of being blindsided with a slab of concrete. “Giving Life to Tragedy” slows the pace down a bit, but certainly does not lessen the intensity as Romeo continues to push himself to the edge of a vocal abyss, providing a sense of claustrophobic ferocity to accent the song’ penetrating darkness. “Chasing Divinity “is a slice of headbanging heaven with its relentless yet rhythmic approach. End Reign finishes off what is left of the listener’s corpse with “The Night Creeps Up on Me”, a fitting conclusion to this relentless barrage of destruction. After decades of excellence, Relapse continues to harvest the finest in extreme music for the masses.

CHUCK YOAKUM – Paisley Garden Project (Kool Kat Musik,

Paisley was a popular pattern for clothing in the 1960s, with its psychedelic style. It went with the love and flowers pop music of the time, which often had hints of mod and psych. Chuck Yoakum does more than pay homage to that era, he dives in and makes himself at home in it with this LP. It’s chock full of the sort of music that was all the rave back then, especially in England. Vocals are subdued, while the music is sweet and moody at the same time. Think about the earliest Pink Floyd albums, loaded with psychedelic pop, but then smooth out the rough Syd Barrett edges and you get an idea. One of the really nice touches on this album is the use of orchestral-like arrangements, including lush strings, and even piccolo trumpet here and there. “The Sky Is Blue Hello Good Morning On With The Show” is a favorite, for its clever arrangements, including the aforementioned instruments, plus piano and harmonica, harpsichord, French horns, and even a rooster! The track, which is really three or four songs in one, has a lilt to it, a bounce reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper era Beatles. “How To Do It” has a familiar 60s pop liveliness to it, feeling almost theatrical with its insistent beat provided by the piano. “Let It Go” blends the orchestral pop of the mod era with sitar and back-masking of the psychedelic era, to create a track that’s both freaky and poppy. Juxtaposing the two genres of the era is quite a clever thing to do. This is an interesting journey into our collective musical past.

ROSS THE BOSS - Legacy of Blood, Fire, and Steel (AFM)

Ross Friedman is one of the great anomalies in music, as here is a man who has enjoyed extraordinary influence upon two genres, helping to define both classic metal and punk. The Dictators and Manowar are both bands of luminary importance but somehow also equally underappreciated. Friedman was essential to the sound and image of both bands, and this “greatest hits” style record illuminates his impressive solo career. Leaning heavily into the genre of metal bombast, the twelve song and fifteen-year career-spanning collection captures the grooves and hooks that make Friedman’s stye of metal sound timeless. From the galloping “Kingdom Arise” to the crippling intensity of “Denied by the Cross”, this is music designed for those with patches on the backs of their jean jackets. “I Got a Right” speeds along with composed fury, while the mid-tempo “By Blood Sworn” pulverizes with a thick low-end, compliments of Mike LePond and drummer Steve Bolognese, accented by a glorious solo from Friedman. “This is Vengeance” sounds like early 80s Overkill locked in a closet with Metal Church through the remarkable vocal dynamics of Marc Lopes, and I cannot be happier to hear this. Throughout his career Ross has injected a sense of fun and even the feeling of an inside joke into his work, and the same holds true for his solo work; it is obviously produced with great sincerity and precision, but the enjoyment behind it is almost tangible. The playing is outstanding, but there is not a desire to suffocate the listener with riffs; even amid the complexity and sophistication of the solos and arrangements, the songs are built around one massive riff that drives the action. “We Are the Night” was the song I needed at 14 but still adore almost 50, while “Maiden of Shadows” includes a riff that mimics bag pipes-just awesome. There is no way to not enjoy every ounce of this, as Ross Friedman embodies the sentiment that heavy music can be done with a smirk.

SAMIAM - Stowaway (Pure Noise Records

Some bands are just flawless pros, and that is Samiam. The songs on Stowaway blaze past in a flash, but each one is a perfectly crafted nugget of melodic punk. Vocalist Jason Beebout has always possessed a voice that is ideally suited for what Samiam does, as he projects above the fast-paced energy behind him. Full of hooks and a plethora of harmonic choruses, there is not a wasted second here. By crafting truncated songs, with the vast majority averaging around two and a half minutes and only the title track reaching four minutes, one is compelled to listen to each effort repeatedly. “Lake Speed” seems to jump out of its skin to open the record, and it has a cold ending that is nearly jarring that establishes the frenetic pace of Stowaway. To that end, the songs become progressively stronger with each play and the lyrics are equally compelling. The themes found on Stowaway are poignant and very powerful, such as the stark warning about self-destruction on “Shut Down” (“you’re gonna be dead before you die”) and a pained relationship on “Lights Out, Little Hustler (“What makes you so hard to find, when you are right by my side”). Many of the songs address topics like feelings of tragic nostalgia, isolation, and loss, best heard on the distressing “Stanley” which asked, “How long have you been gone?”. On “Crystallized”, Beebout admits “Wonder how we got out, we were just the lucky ones”, and “Shoulda Stayed” includes the heart-wrenching line, “Sad old clown, stumbling around, should’ve stayed at home.” “Scout Knife” is a furious effort led by guitarists Sean Kennerly and Sergie Loobkoff with another depiction of loneliness and despondence (“Don’t know where you’ll go, but you’re too afraid to try”), and the melancholy “Natural Disasters” uses catastrophes as a metaphor for another struggling relationship. Samiam wraps up Stowaway with the title effort, slowing the pace just a bit, but the shift in speed only exacerbates the power of the story that is told, as yet another former friend meandered out of a person’s life (“Maybe find a brand-new love, maybe find someone to help her through external darkness”). This is an extraordinary record from start to finish, a true treasure of refined, authentic, harmonious punk.

ICEAGE - Waves of Loss and Power (

IceAge has a long and rich history since their inception on Long Island in the early 1990s, but what they are now is nothing short of remarkable. The band effortlessly maneuvers between progressive metal, traditional arena rock, and ethereal qualities that border on classical. Waves of Loss and Power opens with “The Needle’s Eye”, a muscular collection of riffs that sounds like Fates Warning jamming with Dream Theater while vocalist Josh Pincus provides a staggering breadth of range over the top of the power of guitarist Jimmy Pappas, bassist Doug Odell, and drummer Hal Aponte. Pincus’ lyrics are biting and beautifully phrased throughout the record, and he captures the danger of contemporary world politics by noting, “Rome-Nero is fiddling/He can’t smell the fire/ Proud-the brownshirts are marching/They’ve found their messiah”. The anthemic “All My Years” and “Riverflow” are songs Dennis DeYoung wishes he wrote; the track is classic Styx-style rock that mixes superb musicianship and intelligence. That combination of extraordinary instrumental dexterity and intellect is what defines IceAge. The precision of the playing is simply uncanny, as this is what Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or Steely Dan would have sounded like if they decided to inject healthy doses of metal into their styles. There have always been bands who attempt to decorate their heaviness with elements of refinement and sophistication-for example, the first time I ever heard of “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” was compliments of Iron Maiden-but this is on an entirely different level of musical prowess. Most of the songs here are marathons, with two surpassing the fourteen-minute mark; however, this expansive tableau allows each track to play out like its own individualized theatrical production with a spectrum of emotions. One of the gargantuan efforts is “Perpetual Child, Part II: Forever”. Opening with a heavy, galloping riff, the song introduces itself sharply before eventually settling into a richly melodic structure that waxes and wanes over the course of nearly fifteen expressive minutes. IceAge understands how to bring songs to crescendos only before dropping the listener to the floor and beginning the process anew; the keyboard dense “Together Now” is a masterpiece of this particular artistic style. Soaring vocals ascend across the sky before tumbling like Icarus (thank you again, Maiden) and then climbing skyward once again as Pincus declares, “Together now, we all know how/Reason lights the spark/ I’ll meet you there, so don’t despair”. The stirring piano piece “To Say Goodbye, Part IV: Remembrance” is an ideal appetizer for the colossal closer, “To Say Goodbye, Part V: Water Child”. Sounding almost psalm-like at times, the song has a stunning beauty as the members work is flawless synchronization behind the poetic yarns spun by Pincus (“We always knew what love was/ We must nurture it to live”). Fittingly, the song and the record conclude with an optimistic refrain of “On our way/We’re all on our way”, leaving listeners with a belief that, despite the darkness and the potentially impending doom felt by so many, there is still hope. IceAge is a band that true musicians will fawn over endlessly, but they have to ability to also reach profoundly those of us without even a shred of ability, making Waves of Loss and Power an astonishing work.

KERALA DUST - Violet Dust (Play it Again Sam Records

This fascinating musical trio has been around since 2016, initially coming together in London. These days, the members of Kerala Dust can be found in Berlin and Zurich, and the vast array of influences on Violet Drive represent the musical diversity and ingenuity of European experimental dance and electronic music. The band garnered some broader fame through their staggering version of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” being given exposure of The Handmaid’s Tale. Hopefully the fans that were introduced to Kerala Dust will run to Violet Dust, a beautifully recorded, picturesque mix of Americana and indie rock guitar touches, compliments of Lawrence Howarth, surrounded by steady, yet serenely subdued beats. “Moonbeam, Midnight, Howl” has a poetic title as the song flows effortlessly, increasingly compelling the listener to become lost within the song. The restrained singing of Edmund Kenny is a dichotomic component to what Kerala Dust does, as they convey a depth of power without ever elevating in tone or tenor. Kenny’s performance is somehow both soothing and unnerving; on “Red Light”, he declares, “I’m gonna change my name to the one that leaves me” as a hypnotic groove presses on behind him. The aptly titled “Pulse IV” does just that-the song pulses with a melancholy energy that is wonderfully contradictory and make Kerala Dust such an absorbing listen. Kerala Dust creates engrossing pieces that blend club rhythms with downtrodden vocals, resulting in a perfect blending of the moody and the inspired, driven often by the keys of Harvey Grant. The aura of each song is nearly palpable, heard with great intensity on the haunting “Salt”, a work delivered with a halting pace and subtle Mediterranean touches. “Future Visions” opens as what sounds like a somewhat traditional pop song with shards of Howarth’s guitar cutting through it before evolving into a trippy, pseudo psychedelic headspace. The gentle “Fine Della Scena” fitting closes the record with a warmth that reflects the beauty of the overall record. This is profoundly moving and truly distinct.

ICEAGE - Waves of Loss and Power (Sensory Records

IceAge has a long and rich history since their inception on Long Island in the early 1990s, but what they are now is nothing short of remarkable. The band effortlessly maneuvers between progressive metal, traditional arena rock, and ethereal qualities that border on classical. Waves of Loss and Power opens with “The Needle’s Eye”, a muscular collection of riffs that sounds like Fates Warning jamming with Dream Theater while vocalist Josh Pincus provides a staggering breadth of range over the top of the power of guitarist Jimmy Pappas, bassist Doug Odell, and drummer Hal Aponte. Pincus’ lyrics are biting and beautifully phrased throughout the record, and he captures the danger of contemporary world politics by noting, “Rome-Nero is fiddling/He can’t smell the fire/ Proud-the brownshirts are marching/They’ve found their messiah”. The anthemic “All My Years” and “Riverflow” are songs Dennis DeYoung wishes he wrote; the track is classic Styx-style rock that mixes superb musicianship and intelligence. That combination of extraordinary instrumental dexterity and intellect is what defines IceAge. The precision of the playing is simply uncanny, as this is what Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, or Steely Dan would have sounded like if they decided to inject healthy doses of metal into their styles. There have always been bands who attempt to decorate their heaviness with elements of refinement and sophistication-for example, the first time I ever heard of “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” was compliments of Iron Maiden-but this is on an entirely different level of musical prowess. Most of the songs here are marathons, with two surpassing the fourteen-minute mark; however, this expansive tableau allows each track to play out like its own individualized theatrical production with a spectrum of emotions. One of the gargantuan efforts is “Perpetual Child, Part II: Forever”. Opening with a heavy, galloping riff, the song introduces itself sharply before eventually settling into a richly melodic structure that waxes and wanes over the course of nearly fifteen expressive minutes. IceAge understands how to bring songs to crescendos only before dropping the listener to the floor and beginning the process anew; the keyboard dense “Together Now” is a masterpiece of this particular artistic style. Soaring vocals ascend across the sky before tumbling like Icarus (thank you again, Maiden) and then climbing skyward once again as Pincus declares, “Together now, we all know how/Reason lights the spark/ I’ll meet you there, so don’t despair”. The stirring piano piece “To Say Goodbye, Part IV: Remembrance” is an ideal appetizer for the colossal closer, “To Say Goodbye, Part V: Water Child”. Sounding almost psalm-like at times, the song has a stunning beauty as the members work is flawless synchronization behind the poetic yarns spun by Pincus (“We always knew what love was/ We must nurture it to live”). Fittingly, the song and the record conclude with an optimistic refrain of “On our way/We’re all on our way”, leaving listeners with a belief that, despite the darkness and the potentially impending doom felt by so many, there is still hope. IceAge is a band that true musicians will fawn over endlessly, but they have to ability to also reach profoundly those of us without even a shred of ability, making Waves of Loss and Power an astonishing work.

MORRISON GRAVES - Division Rising (

Naturally, when reviewing the debut work from Morrison Graves, all the Doors references must make an obligatory appearance here, but they are subtle at best. Morrison Graves harkens back to the early days of ominous post-punk that was dark and menacing, yet still catchy. I hear numerous Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Bauhaus homages throughout Division Rising. Johnny Marr-like jangle opens “Crane Song” before the track shifts to a far murkier tone, with vocalist Ryan Brown elevating his moody and emotive voice above disquieting rhythmic structures generated by Gary Jimmerson and Rob Bartleson. “Invincible” and “A Puppet Dance” are two sterling examples of how this Oregon trio integrates psych, surf, and fuzzed-out indie into a swirling mass of intriguing rock. “Bent Beyond the Break” is a brooding anthem transposing bassist Rob Bartleson’s low-end rumble and Brown’s nervous energy delivery. Providing nearly every other form of musical accompaniment for Morrison Graves is Gary Jimerson, and there is not a song on which he does not place his stamp. The entire record is a painful depiction of the loss, displacement, and suffering that the members see daily, but “Occupation” and “Ghost Town” are consecutive works that expertly capture the frustration felt by the people of Portland, as their beautiful city became a literal and figurative flashpoint around the nation. Brown poignantly utilizes the metaphor of Alice in Wonderland on “Occupation”, as he sings, “Alice dreams beneath the fold of a drought in a wilted world/ No one, she moves alone/ Alice sits in the seams of space/ In a squat because nowhere’s a place.” “And if Your Car Alarm Keeps Going Off, I’ll Smash Out Your Fucking Window”, does not contain lyrics, but simply through news samples and a discomforting riff, the band creates a wildly unsettling experience. The record closes with the tragically appropriate “Wartime Song”; this is not discussing a war fought in a distant place, but rather here in America. The pain and the suffering of the people involves are briefly given attention, but then fade away from the news cycle and become anonymous once again. Morrison Graves taps into the pain, the resentment and the disillusionment that is so apparent in America and provide a musical score for it. The trio does not offer answers, but one must know the problem before attempting to fix it. I just hope enough people listen to what Morrison Graves do on Division Rising.

SLUMBERING SUN - The Ever-Living Fire (

Doom metal can often be a misunderstood segment of the genre’s vast universe, with many listeners hearing only a meandering wave of blunt force without much musical diversity. Slumbering Sun discards any preconceived ideas about doom on The Ever-Living Fire; part St. Vitus blended with Black Sabbath and even early grunge sludge of The Melvins, Slumbering Sun is undeniable heavy, but there is an experimentalism that makes this a truly distinctive ride. The opening “Morgenröte” opens with a vast ethereal beauty before the dual guitar line-up of Keegan Kjeldsen and Kelsey Wilson lock in and forge a monstrous, rattling groove while vocalist James Clark sounds as if he is wondering through the atmosphere, unsure if he will ever touch ground again. At over twelve minutes, the opener presents a comprehensive introduction to what Slumbering Sun does but does not create a template to be repeated throughout the five-song powerhouse. The band’s lyrics are perfectly reflective of the celestial nature of the playing, as Clark states on “Liminal Bridges”, “Sometimes I feel I’m a traveler, never at home upon this plane, never at home among these earthly things.” The song resonates warmth and intimacy, defying the occasionally icy nature of doom. Garth Condit and Penny Turner, on bass and drums respectively, act as a dense wall for their three comrades, allowing the experimental waves of guitar force to effortlessly bounce off them, particularly on the dazzling “Dream Snake”. “Love in a Fallen World” is a sprawling piece that never elevates its heartbeat above a low rumble, but its dismay is palpable and deeply heartfelt (“So you crossed the river, hoping it’s not the same. Emotions withered, fearing that you’re insane. I loved you deeper, but it’s all in my mind. Beautiful figure, casting shadows of time”). Listening to Slumbering Sun is akin to an out of body experience; one can become lost in what this band does as the sounds envelop the listener and penetrates the soul, and the closing title track embodies this. The song is exceeding impenetrable on the low end, features exceeding guitar gymnastics, and may be Clark’s finest vocal performance. As the song gently fades into the ether and the journey is complete, Slumbering Sun leaves a permanent hold on all who open their minds to listen.

VANISHMENT - No More Torture (Dead Sage Records;

Metal is a genre that has subgenres upon subgenres and fans who often battle for knowledge supremacy. However, there are bands like Vanishment that strip away and false pretenses and facades to simply produce classic thrash metal inspired by the legends. Sounding as if they just left the stage with bands from the Bay Area thrash revolution of the 80s, No More Torture is a deafening trip down a path of frills-free metallic force. The opening “Door to Deceit” sets the table with a speedy, smooth riff and barked yet euphonious vocals from Rob Ropkins. There is a purity to all that Vanishment do throughout the record; “Dismiss the Warning” begins as a midtempo effort before quickly escalating into a pummeling thrash gem with an infectiously simple singalong chorus. Guitarists Brian Johnson, a member of the devastatingly underappreciated band Himsa, and Jeremey McAlliser, who played with the outstanding Heiress, are the driving forces behind each track, blending speed with melody that results in scathing riffs. Nearly track clocks in at well over four minutes with “Killing the Sun” and the closing “Lost Hope for Comfort” both approaching seven minutes, revealing a collection of musicians who do not only want to get heads banging in the pit but also have a vast array of talent. Bassist Nate Baker and drummer Chris Wozniak supply a punishing low end that anchors the tracks, particularly on “Severed Cord” and “Forced Compliance”. The latter is another anthem which demonstrates Vanishment’s penchant for crafting tracks they are pummeling, but still retain a commitment to harmony that not all bands of this ilk can achieve. My personal highlight was the blistering “Relieved in Pain”; a whirlwind of blunt force in the vein of Dark Angel or Death Angel. The aforementioned “Lost Hope” experiments with tempo and mood, even including subtle nods to metalcore, without losing its sense of impending doom. I was instantly hooked on each song and equally impressed with the skill and aggression of this band. Vanishment will bring in the kids as well as appeal to the old heads in the crowd like me who will never stop adoring metal.

FUCKED UP - One Day (Merge Records

Toronto’s Fucked Up starts 2023 with One Day, a colossal achievement of deafening punk. The record starts with “Found”, a gritty, raging mass of relentless energy. Raw guitar from Mike Haliechuk and the angered growls of Damian Abraham dominate the track, and as the song fades, the rugged but more affable “I Think I’m Weird” arrives. Lighter in nature, and replete with a solid groove which is easier on the ears than its predecessor, “Weird” is a song whose unique structures define Fucked Up’s remarkable sound. One Day is a schizophrenic collection of blinding moments of blistering intensity (the noisy ball of force “Huge New Her” and “Nothing’s Immortal”) and tracks, that while certainly not pop, do possess a more refined veneer. “Lords of Kensington” has a mid-90s Archers of Loaf vibe which an angular riff that requires the listener to put in some effort to fully grasp what the band is doing. “Broken Little Boys” hits like a headshot of classic punk while the title track is built around a richly harmonious and spiraling chorus as vocalist Damian Abraham yelps wildly. Perpetually on the verge of self-destruction, Fucked Up constantly challenges listeners with a myriad of gaunt rhythms and beautifully off-kilter melodies. There is a density to One Day which makes the record such a messy joy of a listen. “Cicada” has a warmth to it that resonates richly through ethereal guitar that takes listeners back to the work of Ride or Catherine Wheel. The closing “Roar” is a fitting conclusion to brilliantly challenging collection.


This one answers a fascinating question about what happens when three incredibly talented, wildly innovative, and relentlessly daring musicians get together. Everywhen We Go is largely a project by percussionist virtuoso Jim Keltner, but certainly the presence of Mike Baggetta on guitar and the immortal Mike Watt on bass only solidifies Everywhere We Go as a masterclass in precision and avant-garde expertise. The title track has a more winding pace reminiscent of a classic Western soundtrack with Keltner’s swirling drums holding hands with Watt’s instantly recognizable bass tone. “This is Not a Euphemism” is a perfect example of the talent of this trio, as the song features a jazzy, free-form experimental bliss and there is a psychedelic vibe that permeants mush of the work. The entire record is a celebration of three brilliant players doing what they do best and feeding off each other’s aptitude and creativity. As one listens to “Fake Break” and the closing revival of the title track, the experience is akin to secretly sitting in a jam session with three of your best and certainly most musically gifted friends. Each piece is effortless in delivery that exudes joy. The blending of classic and contemporary jazz styles defines “Fearmongers”, while “Measure of a Life” is a song pristine elegance. The most combative effort is not surprisingly Watt’s contribution, the noisy and intense “Yank it Out”. The song wonderfully juxtaposes the serenity and delicate splendor of “In the Center” with an uninhibited flurry of force. Everywhen We Go is an explosion of sophisticated chaos.

FINNEGAN’S HELL - One Finger Salute (Sound Pollution Records

Finnegan’s Hell continues a long tradition of melding punk rock with traditional Celtic music, so if you have an affinity for Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, Tossers, Rumjacks, Pogues, or one of dozens of others who do this, you already know what this will do for you. Finnegan’s Hell do not reinvent anything, but to be fair, I had no idea that they are leading the “New Wave of Swedish Celtic Punk”, at least according to their Wikipedia page. Everything on One Finger Salute will make those who adore metallic speed and punk angst set to tin whistle smile broadly, but “Mickey Finn” and the drunken shanty “Oh Death” will undoubtedly become staples at both Irish bars and wakes. The Swedes do not attempt to hide their adoration of the Ramones as the members all borrow aliases, and yes, four of the five use “Finnegan” with only “Old Roxy” not partaking; however, this is not a gimmick band. Originally forming over a decade ago, Finnegan’s Hell continue to refine what they do and there are subtle aspects of their sound that provide a level of uniqueness among the stable of other skilled bands that produce this type of more esoteric punk rock. “Godforsaken Town” tells the story of the tired and downtrodden in the same manner that Dropkick relays the solemn and more tragic tales of Boston. Capturing heartbreaking scenes of tragedy, including a homeless man with “his belongings in a cart” and a Purple Heart, the song is Springsteen meets Lars Frederickson. A unique aspect of Finnegan’s Hell is their willingness to flaunt a more pronounced allegiance to metal as much as barroom punk. “Read My Lips” has the same whirring blur as anything one hears on Ace of Spades and “Nothing Left to Lose” exudes darkness through the lyrics of a collapsed relationship and the menacing percussion that acts as the backbone to a punishing anthem. It is inspiring to see how conflation between traditional Celtic music and the lawless fury of punk has now grown into a global phenomenon.


Jim Ward of At The Drive-In refused to merely sit at home and shop online during the pandemic. With a short expanse of time, he released a Sparta record, Trust the River, then a solo record, and now, with the sun (sort of) shining again, Ward brings us another Sparta record. This self-titled work includes 12 energized and beautiful songs of sophisticated modern rock. Much of the work moves briskly, such as the opening “Kill the Man, Eat the Man”, and “Carry On”, with Ward’s warm voice pleasantly supported by a collection of friends, namely Matt Miller, whose bass work truly shines on ‘Until the Kingdom Comes”. The songs are sleek and refined, yet still quite forceful, a wonderful blend of intensity and finesse. “It Goes” is an impassioned, nearly whimsical “love note” to Ward’s wife Kristine that layers keys on top of nimble, fuzzed out guitar. When he does choose to slow the tempo, as one hears on “Just wait”, the result is a powerful song with both emotion and musicianship laid bare. While ward’s vocals are intentionally buried within the mix, the struggle to be heard embodies the impact of the track. The most scintillating is the two and half minutes of “Mind Over Matter”. With its cardio-class tempo and yelps of “anybody can do anything”, this may become my new daily affirmation. Vocalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy lends her extraordinary voice to “Spiders”, a daunting, emotional piece of piano-laced rock that simply captures an impressive depth of human spirit in under four minutes. The record concludes with the incredibly powerful “True to Form” and an extended piece of a speech from Beto O’Rourke. His level of passion is a fitting to conclusion to a record of equal eloquence.

TRAVELS WITH BRINDLE - Rudolph’s Ranch (

Our intrepid editor told me at the beginning of November that Christmas decorations adorned a local store on October 5th! As the holiday season seems to start more prematurely each year, the new single from Chelsea Spear is a welcomed early gift. Spear, performing as Travels with Brindle, exchanges her trusty ukulele for a banjolele on the opening track, “Rudolph’s Ranch”. In what is quickly becoming Spear’s trademark, the song has the fragility of porcelain as the singer exposes her deepest fears and anxieties as she mourns, “Is it comedy or romance or do I wind up dead?” While these lyrics may not embody the spirit of the season, Spear uses the ironic dichotomy of profound sadness interspersed with musical references to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with sly, majestic precision. Spear has a voice that is hypnotic-she draws listeners into her world and her head with lyrics that are poignant, intricately detailed, and evocative. As she describes returning to her old room for Christmas, there is a sensitivity to her work that so few others can capture. An aspect of Travels with Brindle that I have long enjoyed is Spear’s willingness to tackle challenging and more obscure covers. This time, she takes on the purveyors of power pop in Big Star. Stripping the thematically fitting “Jesus Christ” to its barest essentials with just a voice and ukulele, Spear dissects the beauty of the song with surgical precision. On “Sister Cities”, Spear is joined by cellist Marshunda Smith and percussionist Hillary Lahan. Spear is clearly a brilliant historian as the song details examples of the relationship between her beloved Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The two cities have shared a distinctive bond since the founding of Halifax in 1749. At one point, Spear references the collision between the French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc and Norwegian sub, the SS Imo. The explosion killed nearly two thousand with another nine thousand wounded in what was the largest manmade explosion of the time. How Spear chose to write about the connection between Boston and Halifax is in itself a glimpse into the constantly churning mind of a brilliant woman. I will never grow tired of anything Chelsea Spear creates.

TRAVELS WITH BRINDLE - Something’s Wrong (

The latest work from Chelsea Spear-the ukulele-toting Bostonian who performs under the moniker Travels With Brindle-begins with the delicate title track to her newest EP. Haunting cello and backing vocals from Trisha and Thara Lyer accompanies Spear’s voice which makes the singer sound particularly vulnerable, and the track is a deeply emotional piece that will undoubtedly grab hold of the heart of anyone who listens. (“I haven’t kissed him/I haven’t held his hand/What am I missing?”) “Something’s Wrong” encapsulates Spear’s expert skill as a performer, for she uses minimalist musicianship to craft works of devastating passion. Her interpretation of R.E.M.’s “Bittersweet Me” is an appropriate choice that fits perfectly within Spear’s poignant canon. As per usual, it is the vocal dexterity of Spear that carries the song. Impactful yet fragile, Chelsea Spear has tremendous courage to lay bare her anxieties and inner musings, as she does on the closing “Rug Island”. With references to “making ramen while drunk” and a new dorm room, the song possesses an innocence that is undeniably authentic. Spear is a superbly gifted writer as her use of figurative language and eye for finite details paints pictures of fleeting moments that are painstakingly vivid. Chelsea Spear continues to get better with each release.

ALL TAKEN - “The Den” (streaming)

Avo and Daniel have led All Taken, a band that routinely delivers opaque rock with subtle touches of melody. Blending a wall of mid-90s grunge crunch with an adherence to harmonies, the band perpetually straddles a line between homage and ingenuity. Their latest single, “The Den,” announces that All Taken have truly found their sound and have grown into their talents. A thick riff sinuously moves around heavy-handed drumming and empathic vocals to create three minutes of rock bliss. As the riff announces its presence, it is accompanied by hand claps that act as an interesting accompaniment before the track locks into a viscous groove. This is nothing to dislike about what the band is doing, as listeners can both sing along and bounce around the floor to this. Blending energy and continuously evolving precision, All Taken continues to push themselves for greater success, and I hope it comes their way quickly.

BLACK MATH HORSEMAN - S/T (Profound Lore Records;

In full disclosure, when I see the word “math” attached to anything, I begin to panic. When I see that the new record by Black Math Horseman is only one twenty-five-minute song divided into four segments, I start to sweat. However, rather than existing in a universe far above the heads of talentless hacks like myself, BMH bring sonic beauty to their brand of complexity. The opening eponymous salvo to the opus includes waif-like, ethereal vocals from bassist Sera Timms that hover above a wave of intricate guitar and atmospheric texture. However, the work is not fragile; the drumming of Sasha Popovic is a torrent of fury that juxtaposes itself beautifully with the broader, ghostly scope of the song. The duo of Ian Barry and Bryan Tulao on guitar create their own universes throughout the work, ranging from hazy, fuzzy tones through gargantuan slabs of dense bombardment. When broken down, the pair of guitarists immediately emerge as stars, but the entire band functions as one organically coordinated unit. “Boar Domane” includes stunning vocals from Timms and the song grows increasingly expressive and reaches a stunning climax with Timms’ voice ascending majestically while the remaining troupe of players bending genres into unimaginable positions. “The Bough” begins gently but the inevitable explosion of force was waiting quietly, and when it detonates, the dichotomy between gentle and volatile is particularly impactful. The EP comes thirteen years after BMH’s last record, Wyllt, and while Wyllt was a distinctive record as well, the refining and courage of the band’s sound is more obvious here. Timms described the character of the songs, an enigmatic figure known as the Black Math Horseman, as having a power that can cause “aggressive, manipulative reality shaping”, and this is also the ideal description for the band’s work. Mystical, deeply emotive, and spiritual, the closing moments of “Cypher” are a cathartic release that draws a majestically lush work of art to a lovely close.

REST EASY - Hope You’re Ok (Mutant League Records;

More refreshing than an autumn breeze, Rest Easy brings accessible but intense hardcore to the masses. Their speed is undeniable, as the sixty-three seconds of “All Inside Your Head” demonstrates, yet this four-piece also understand the importance of a tasty hook. “Hey Maxine” is a furious anthem, but not without melody and distinct harmonies. Rest Easy has crafted a recognizable sound that is apparent on all twelve tracks but eschews predictability with great aplomb. The riotous nature of “Tough Break” and “Broken Wrists” is pure hardcore, with elements of acts like Lifetime and Paint It Black. “On the Outside” is not only the longest anthem of the bunch, but also the most committed to introducing a pop styling into the music, but that quickly dissipates on “Empty Vessels”. Featuring a ripping guitar riff and deceptively groovy breakdown, “Vessels” is a blueprint for other bands interested in writing smart, sharp, modern hardcore. Prior to the last pair of searing songs, Rest easy treats listeners to thirty-five seconds of devastating energy on the noisy ‘The Hill”. Steeped in fury, the effort would be interesting if stretched out to even ninety seconds, but the passion was so alluring that I will take what I can get. “Patch This Hole” is an ideal concluding effort, for it brings together all the best elements of the band heard throughout the record into a neatly wrapped three-minute package. While there are classic touches throughout Hope You’re Ok, this is a sterling example of contemporary punk.

ABDUCTION - Black Blood (Candlelight Records;

England’s Abduction delivers evocative, atmospheric black metal on Black Blood. Churning and distorted, the songs feed upon themselves, with the punishing opener “Kernos Crown” sending an early and deafening message to all who dare travel this path. All music and lyrics are created by an unknown figure known only as A/V as Abduction follows in the path laid by many black metal bands, which is to keep the identity of the creator(s) shrouded in mystery. Abduction adds more death metal touches to its music, particularly on “Dismantling the Corpse of Demeter”, but avoids sliding into the world of the apparitional world of depressive suicidal black metal. The vehemence of “Dismantling” acts as a perfect lead into the shredding rage of “Plutonian Gate”. The eleven-minute opus is an unyielding wave of annihilation that runs over the listener for just over four minutes before pausing for an interlude of unnerving experimental noise and ethereal keys. Within a moment the respite ends as the song once again launches itself with a fearless barrage of blackened bombast only to break once again for a spoken word intermezzo fitting for a haunted forest. To the credit of A/V, Abduction’s music is built around specific riffs that exist within the surrounding din, and “Plutonian Gate” finishes with three minutes of breakneck musicianship. “Lightless at the Grand Conjunction” features more traditional black metal stylings, but the samples found woven within the nightmare give the song yet another layer of dread. Throughout Black Blood, Abduction pays homage to the founders of Black Metal, for one hears the influence of Mayhem within the gigantic riffs and otherworldly screams but retains a very contemporary sound with enhanced recording capabilities. The result is a clean yet emotionally intrusive record that bores itself into the mind and soul of the listener. Unforgivingly heavy and unflinching in its desire to slash and burn everything in its path, Black Blood is a work of modern black metal perfection. What I also admire is that the record never lets up; the concluding “In Exaltation of the Supreme Being” is another track that removes flesh from bone. Too often, even bands that are as intense as Abduction will choose to end a record with a genteel composition. That does not happen here; instead, Abduction decides to create seven more minutes of an aural assault to leave the already bloodied audience battered and nearly lifeless. I sat in awe of all I heard from Abduction and there is beauty within his caustic diatribes. The band has expanded to a five-piece for live performances, and should Abduction find their way across the Atlantic to the States, I for one will travel wherever necessary to see this in person to joyfully wallow in the pain.

FUCKED UP - "Oberon" EP (Tankcrimes Records

When your band adorns the moniker “Fucked Up”, you are clearly not seeking mainstream acceptance, but Oberon may even shock long time fans. The four track EP is glacial, devastating mass of sludgy, skull crushing density. The opening title track is nearly eight minutes of crushing power, bringing doom into a modern context. I will refrain from calling this “stoner” rock, as I would be terrified to listen to this while high. Damian Abraham’s vocals are pained yelps of agony that roar and above the guitar fray compliments of Mike Haliechuk and Josh Zucker. The song’s labyrinthian meandering is unavoidably intriguing as Fucked Up brings a controlled fury to the song, meshing a wall of fuzzed-out guitar and a torrent of despair-riddled screams. Bassist Sandy Miranda and drummer Jonah Falco are buried somewhat in the mix but make their presence heard on the second track “Strix”. “Strix” sounds like night sweats set to music, a terrifyingly relentless bombardment of the senses. Both heavy and intricate, Fucked Up maintains the spirit of their earlier work but add yet another wrinkle to their perpetually challenging discography. “Mashhit” begins with a throbbing backbeat and viciously evolves into an overwhelming experience with Falco sounding as if he is swinging a pair of baseball bats behind his kit. “Mashhit” gives the impression that the song with fall into unbridled chaos, but before the inevitable crash occurs, it ends and leaves the listener wondering what might have happen if Fucked Up decided to add more time to the already damaging effort. Fittingly, the band concludes with a cover of “The Aquarium”, a fascinating and haunting instrumental that perfectly wraps up a mesmerizing experience.

HUMANS ETCETERA - Part of Being Human (Nefarious Industries

Christopher Henry is a very busy man. The singer/songwriter, currently residing in China, has several projects happening concurrently, and was the mastermind behind the majestically titled outfit, Fuck Your Birthday. However, Humans Etcetera is an outlet for his diverse, experimental side and this is the eleventh album under this moniker. Henry plays a noisy brand of asymmetric rock, yet “Trick in the Book” starts the record with a blustery but somewhat straightforward approval. However, the record quickly moves into darker, less traditionally structured pieces, including the grunge-noise intensity of “No Refund” and the off-putting musical dichotomy found within “Lovebirds”. This track features an understated throbbing bassline, sporadic keys, a haunting vocal delivery, and fleeting swaths of metallic guitar force. There are moments when Henry plays with aspects of conventional rock with quick, cheeky touches, as one hears on “Treelined”. Featuring bouncy guitar riffs and pseudo psychedelic features, the song expertly straddles a line between mainstream and daring. There are unexpected twists thrown at the listener, including the highly distinctive instrumental “Bored” which features intricate guitar permutations and free form insouciance. “Ask Someone for Help” and the solemn “No Reply” have more traditional song structures with ephemeral bursts of fury and the latter committed thoroughly to more boisterous riffs. “Gone” has a swagger that separates itself from the rest of the record as it sounds like a sophisticated punk anthem before the bottom completely drops out in the middle of the track only to have the bombast return in earnest as the song closes. “Gold Coast” wraps up the album with serene beauty. An anfractuous piece, the song concludes a rather unruly record on a hushed note of serenity. This is an intriguing listen and a collection of glorious songs.

SOUL DISSOLUTION - Sora (Viridian Flame Records;

Using the Japanese word for “sky”, Belgium’s Soul Dissolution play deeply emotive black metal that is lush, powerful, and pained. Akin to the finest work by Austere or Thy Light, the five songs on Sora are largely glacially paced, blackened doom with chilling vocal despair and clean, majestic guitar playing. The one exception is “Sora II” which begins with a chunky bass line before effortlessly dissolving into a whirlwind of symphonic guitar and blasting drums. The mysterious Jabawock handles all instrumentation and lyrics (although Threnos is also listed as the band’s drummer), and each oeuvre overflows with delicate, penetrating, and highly erudite musicianship. The vocals of Acharan are replete with raw pain and despondency as he offers beautifully phrased lyrics. Each song is merely a number, and “Sora IV” includes the mesmerizing words, “Rain falls on colorless skin/Releasing the burden nested within/Tormented by failure and dull apathy/Now grazing the surface of pure entropy”. When black metal is done properly, it has the capacity to transplant the listener into an abyss of swirling sorrow accented by an evocative beauty, and the work of Soul Dissolution is impossible to turn off mid-record. Sora is a collection that must be listener to in one sitting with each devastating note washing over the listener with somber intensity. The stunning nine minutes of “Sora III” are highlighted by the use of a haiku within the midst of a devastating wall of force created by this threesome. At times, Soul Dissolution sways into the realm of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, but there is a diversity to their work that allows them to wander throughout various regions of stark metal fury. It is undeniable that this brand of extreme music is a distinctive sub-genre that is not for everyone; however, for those with the ear for the sublime splendor found within this mesmeric band, Sora is a towering achievement.

ANTHROPHOBIA - Live at Nitro Bar (

In full disclosure, I have been an Anthrophobia fan since I first saw them as a college student in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the 1990s. I always admire the dynamism and power that Frank Phobia exerts on stage. All these years later, Frank and his friends show absolutely no signs of slowing down, and Frank Phobia is fighting the aging process with everything he has. This live release is a lot of fun to listen to, but to be fully experienced, I strongly suggest looking up this show on YouTube. The energy of Anthrophobia is infectious and impressive; all four members, rounded out by Phil Williams on guitar, bassist Rob DoJoseph, and drummer Dickie Delp rip through a dozen songs with limited breaks in between tracks. Leaping and headbanging furiously, Phobia leads his mates through metal-tinged punk gems such as “Half Annihilated”, “Grind”, and Dirty”. The songs are bare-bone slabs of guitar-driven rock with no frills and no association with any sub-genre. Opening with “Below the Surface” and “Vanishing”, Anthrophobia unleash their rousing and groove-heavy anthems. Anthrophobia is a band that places a premium of their sound and not an image, as the guys look like they just walked in off the street; no costumes, nothing flamboyant, just four old pros who love what they are doing, and it shows through every second of the show. Williams is a skilled guitarist, alternating between heavy riffs and more intricate guitar solos, while DoJospeph plays a heavy-handed bass, striking it viciously during “Mercury”, while Delp holds each track together. As one watches and listens to the show, the smell of the club almost wafts through the speakers and the grime of the floor is matched by the filthy beauty of Anthrophobia’s playing. It is impossible to not admire and even adore what Anthrophobia does, for it is the purest form of rock on the planet-unfiltered, unpretentious, and an unreal amount of fun. If this uncompromising fourpiece are ever anywhere near your hometown, just drop all other responsibilities and go as it will restore anyone’s faith in rock n’roll.


Chelsea Spear eases us out of summer with a new three-song single, and it is as glorious and refreshing as the first crisp, autumn morning. “Linden Street” is emblematic of what Spears does best, which is to create sweetly heartbreaking songs. The gentle nature of the piece is emphasized through the lyrics as Spear has an uncanny ability to focus on the smallest of details to illuminate and personalize the scenes she paints with words. As she references a “pin-pricked Polaroid” and an inside joke to a song title, the audience is sitting with her, half-smiling and trying to hold down the pain. Closing the track with the lines, “One day it will please me to remember you/And I might want your old words back”, there is delicacy to Spear’s brand of melancholy that exposes a raw humanity in a poignant and brave manner. Digging deeply into the world lost pop-rock gems, Spear does a marvelous ukulele cover of “Erica’s Word” from Game Theory. Taking the bounce out of the original and focusing solely on the story, the song takes on a greater depth. This is another aspect of Spear’s musical courage that I so admire-she takes great chances on the covers she selects, as I certainly never imagined hearing a Game Theory song when I woke up this morning. While the opening duo of anthems were exceedingly strong, “Castles in the Air” is the closest Spear has come to achieving perfection. Inspired by a documentary called “Shirkers”, the song details a highly manipulative relationship; one of power and control brimming with aspect of sexism and racism. The film was the story of three teenagers from Singapore who shot a traveling movie, made with love and innocence, but perhaps not much formality. Georges Cardona was the man who acted as a supposed mentor for Sandi Tan and her friends, but ultimately disappeared with their labor of love. At times referencing scenes from the film, one does not need to see “Shirkers” to grasp how the song illustrates an age-old story of manipulation and misplaced trust. When Spear states, “your castle’s now a tomb”, the song closes with a mixture of anger and resentment. The music of Chelsea Spear may appear to be quite simplistic upon first listen, but there is remarkable depth found within, and no one should lose sight that this broad swath of emotional tension is created by only a woman and her ukulele.

CELEBRATION SUMMER - Patience in Presence (A-F Records

Celebration Summer make 2022 sound like 1991, and that is a wonderful achievement. Named for the legendary Husker Du song, Celebration Summer play a brand of richly melodic punk with big hooks and intelligent lyrics, placing politics in the forefront of their work without ever becoming dogmatic. Rather than merely shouting their views, the band weaves sharp slices of energized punk around tales of disillusion and frustration with a country fractured and aimless after the disruption of all previous norms during the Trump years. Each track clocks in around three minutes in length, long enough to make a point but Celebration Summer never become self-indulgent. At times, Celebration Summer even flirts with pop in “Take My Love”; while the song is still rugged, the towering chorus offers a nice diversion. The brief “Silly Me” stands out as a driving piece of sleek punk that does not lose its bite despite the rounded edges, compliments of the guitar work from vocalist Nate Falger and Dan Hauser. Bassist Greg Raelson kickstarts “Fraud” with an energized bass intro and the song maintains the same level of intensity throughout its duration, driven by drummer Glenn Boysko. The largest departure for the band is the six minute “Against the Gun”, a sprawling gem dedicated to the exhausting frustration connected with living in a highly damaged America. The track retains a steadfast angst over the six minutes and reveals the heightened talent of this band. This band has garnered great press in the DC area and deserves to be known far beyond the suburbs of Northern Virginia.

ICEAGE - Shake the Feeling: Outtakes and Rarities 2015-2021(Mexican Summer Records

Iceage is a Danish band that sounds as if they could have easily walked off the streets of middle America-their brand of rock is gritty and free from flash. Beginning as a noisy, post-punk act, Iceage continue to refine and reintroduce new sounds as they mature as a band. Singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt delivers each work with a controlled passion, making efforts like “Sociopath Boogie” and “I’m Ready to Make a Baby” both engaging and fun. “All the Junk on the Outskirts” rattles with an infectious energy as the song’s breathy vocals interact perfectly with the ethereal guitar playing from Johan Wieth. Casper Morilla must be noted as well, but his presence is somewhat limited here, having only joined Iceage in 2019. There are interesting moments throughout the collection that illustrate the divergent musical avenues Iceage is willing to travel; “Namouche” is an understated noisy sound collage, while “Lockdown Blues” (“I have the Covid-19 lockdown blues”) has a heartfelt, familiar structure that borrows from acts ranging from the Stones to the Strokes. The deliberate pacing of “I’ll Keep it with Mine” and “My Mule” are anchored by bassist Jakob Pless and especially Dan Nielsen who hold the songs together as each sound like they could potentially detonate but never do so. I was an introductory listener to Iceage when this collection came my way, aware of the evolution of this band, but without the intimate knowledge many other fans have. To that end, I found myself captivated with “Order Meets Demand”, a clattering mass of dynamism that plays with tempo but reverts to a jangly distortion reminiscent of 90s indie rock. For those who have long followed Iceage, the talent on display here will not surprise, but for those less erudite concerning these Danes, Shake the Feeling is a highly satisfying primer.

MYCELIA - In a Late Country (Eclipse Records

When a band references the idea of a “concept record”, people typically run away screaming, and when one looks back upon rock’s history, that reaction is understandable. Zurich’s Mycelia attempts something bold and quite different on In a Late Country; first off, the band labels themselves as “djent metal”, an eclectic blend of improvisational, free-form chaos and finely-honed intricacy that is extraordinarily challenging to play. Mycelia takes inspiration from a variety of styles, including dark, brooding industrial bombast, death metal, and sinewy math metal. In a Late Country tells the story of a young man attempting to find his girlfriend as his local government is forcibly relocating people due to overpopulation. The metaphors about loss of freedom, the expansion of governmental power, and the eventual genocide these actions bring is quite overt, but that does not make the listening experience any less enjoyable. I am listening to Mycelia for devastating riffs and interesting interpretations of extreme music, not for a Newberry Award. The record opens with “Prologue” which helps to sets an unsettled tone before “Rude Visitation” punches the listener in the side of the head with a Front 242 style industrial assault. However, one does not fully feel the true intensity of Mycelia until “The Beginning of a Long Hangover”; the track meshes the fury of death metal with tuned down palm muting and the crippling nature of free-form experimentalism. Mycelia alternates repeatedly between death metal style growls and performances played with blazing speed with mid-tempo efforts featuring clean vocals. The latter is heard on “Cryostatic Clubbing”, which includes lyrics about forgetting “where you put your sex clone” and being reincarnated as a “seventh century poet”. This is juxtaposed with “Cryostatic Clubbing-Part 2”, which returned to a harshly mechanized death stomp. A similar one-two combination occurs when the emotive “Librarian and the Flock of Birds” is placed immediately after the technical death monster that is “Towards the Melting Library”. “Through Memory’s Eyes” is a furious anthem that borrows its love of anarchy from the mighty Dillinger Escape Plan, while “Two Numbers” returns to the band’s appreciation for intricate and occasionally overwhelming waves of swirling force and dense metallic guitar riffs. Mycelia even throw in a little slam metal on “Conversing Terrorists”, and “Across the City” brings together all the band’s styles, from industrial mechanization to neck-snapping thrash. One must credit Mycelia for always challenging the listener; “In a Gas Station at the Outskirts of the Meth Desert” is a face-shredding act of violence set to music, while “In a Gas Station at the Outskirts of the Meth Desert-Part II” begins a dance track before once again launching itself at an unsuspecting audience. The closing “My Own Private Spot of Snow” is both heartwarming and terrifying as a tale of genocide is contrasted with gentle piano and a character detailing his first experiences with snow. The record concludes with these two characters seemingly not believing that a genocide is happening in front of them yet wondering if it could be true. There is not a happy ending here, and the lesson to be gleaned is obvious; namely, that people do not react to atrocities before it is far too late. This is a smart and challenging record, both lyrically and musically, and Mycelia should be praised for the courage they display here.

PINEID - Blue Doom (Sympatry Records

It is fascinating to listen to Pineid, a band that is willing to push the boundaries of what post-metal and punk can be. Descriptions like prodigy and genius are often bantered around far too liberally, beset upon those not fully deserving; that is not the issue here. The four members of Pineid include two Grammy winners; guitarist Jamie Kime and bassist Pete Griffin who both play with Zappa Plays Zappa. Drummer James Pope credits Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra on his resume and vocalist/guitarist Jeff Sites was the voice of Butchers. When this much talent is placed in the hands of producer Toshi Kasai, the result is exactly as one would expect-a sparling, majestic, collection of dense, richly textured songs that weave stories about a multitude of life’s frustrations. Building songs around highly intricate guitar playing and sophisticated song structures, Pineid blend aspects of prog and doom metal seasoned with the fluidity of jazz. Each of the songs on Blue Doom are works of complex brilliance that are delivered with ease, usually well over six minutes in length and overflowing with a torrent of ideas. “The Tick” has aspects of serenity woven into a darker soundscape as the band crafts a moody, highly gripping anthem. The same is true with “Everything to Now”, another brooding and richly engaging effort that possesses wiry beauty. Pineid injects subtle shifts in tone, making “The Gift” more menacing as it concludes, while “Open” vacillates with dazzling variability. “Gros Ventra” plays out like an emotional soundscape before the closing magnificence of the nine-minute title track. Pineid is a musician’s band in the sense that those who are players themselves will listen to Blue Doom and find themselves entranced by the virtuosity of the playing. For those of us without a shred of talent, just allow yourself to be decimated by what you hear and do not hurt yourself by trying to figure out how the members of Pineid do what they do.

SEVENTH STORM - Maledictus (Atomic Fire Records;

To begin with, I am not a significant fan of pirates, whether they come from Somalia, sea shanty lore, or Disney, I just never gravitated to tales of the high seas. Therefore, when this epic collection of nine expansive tracks opens with “Pirate’s Curse” and closes with “Cursed Sea”, I thought I was in for a long ride. In terms of time, Maledictus is a very long ride, as nearly every song is a six- to eight-minute-long exploration of traditional metal augmented with the flavors of Portugal, the homeland of Mike Gaspar, drummer and founder of Seventh Storm. Gaspar, a former member of Moonspell, brings much of that band’s sense of grandeur to the work of Seventh Storm. Each track is a sprawling, richly textured piece of storytelling set to fluid guitar playing and a dense low end. “Saudade” is poetic in its structure, borrowing elements of traditional power metal and touches of thrash and ethereal atmospheric components. The result is a complex yet richly harmonious song that reflects the remarkable talent found within this line-up. Vocalist Rez is not a metal screamer, but a man with extraordinary control over his style who never pushes his voice but instead allows it to co-exist seamlessly within the tempest of music around him. Whether he stands alone with only a brief piano interlude behind him or a raging, highly combustible assault, he is a dynamic singer in full control of his talents. Guitarists Ben Stockwell and Josh Riot are prominently featured throughout the record, and their playing drifts from the mystical to the head-banging, with “The Reckoning” acting as the finest example of the latter. While the song does feature understanded keys woven within the mix, it is also a track that illuminates each member’s abilities, as bassist Butch Cid works in perfect tandem with Gaspar to formulate a punishing foundation for the effort. With seven of the nine songs clocking in at over six minutes, this is not a simple record to have on as background music; Maledictus needs to be listened to quite intently with an appreciation of the breadth of ideas found within each piece. “Inferno Rising” includes a wide range of emotions that match the ebb and flow of the song’s tempos, as the work includes moments of subdued introspection and equally furious demonstrations of musical virtuosities from Stockwell and Riot. At times, Maledictus smacks of a concept record, and that is partially true in the sense of that sentiments of loss, personal growth, and seeking redemption exist as thematic commonalities, but each song is its own unique monster. To that end, the thunderous “My Redemption” includes the heaviest and speediest riffs of the record, even borrowing slightly from the unforgiving world of death metal for fleeting blast beats before constructing a lush, deeply emotional soundscape that provides the song with an incredibly mature musical and lyrical arc. Completing the record with the eight-minute “Haunted Sea”, Seventh Storm finalizes a fascinating and even scintillating musical journey. Fans of bands ranging from Opeth to Tiamat or even Solitude Aeturnus will readily embrace this.

WOLFBRIGADE - "Anti-Tank Dogs" EP (Armageddon Records; Agipunk Records)

In twelve minutes, Woflbrigade singlehandedly bring back the spirit of legendary D-beat hardcore while also demonstrating how this style, when done the right way, never loses its intensity. The title track and “Brain-Ruler”, the opening one-two punch and kick to the stomach, combine aspects of Discharge, GBH, and Filth is Eternal and slam them into a devastating example of unforgiving punk. The opening pair of efforts are owned by vocalist Micke Dahl, bassist Johan Erken, and particularly drummer Tommy Storback, as Woflbrigade delivery is a muddied torrent of rage and disgust played with an age-defying level of intensity. This Swedish outfit has been making music since Bill Clinton’s first term and has watched the world change in unimaginable ways; however, their allegiance to a pure form of non-conformist, angry, and intelligent hardcore has never changed. The closing “Necronomium” adds a little metal into their sound, with guitarists Erik Norberg and Jocke Rydbjer given the opportunity to drive the song. What makes a band like Woflbrigade able to enjoy the longevity they have is because the members know how to write quality songs; the works here have huge hooks and melody. This is a lesson that rising bands should heed; speed, aggression, and venom are all worthy traits for any great crust band, but there is nothing wrong with writing a hook. Great stuff all around here!

FLATLINERS - New Ruin (Fat Wreck Chords)

Toronto’s Flatlines return with New Ruin, a record that embodies the frustration, disillusion, and fury felt by so many. Living in a time that promises instantaneous entertainment and happiness, it is impossible to ignore the desperation and self-destruction that is enveloping the world right now, and New Ruin taps into these sentiments. The record begins with the explosive “Performance Hours”, a tightly wound ball of angst delivered with flawless precision by twenty-year punk veterans. Vocalist Chris Cresswell knows to strain and push his vocals to the brink before adeptly pulling them back to offer a profoundly emotive performance, and the song is representational of what Flatliners do over the course of eleven perpetually interesting anthems. The bass line from and chorus from “Rat King” will not leave your head for days, while “Top Left Door” begins rather innocuously before morphing into a drunken party with a grimy, honky-tonk swing. Surrounding Cresswell is Scott Brigham, and his work provides greater musical girth to efforts like “Oath” and the ridiculously infectious “Souvenir”. Bassist Jon Darbey and drummer Paul Ramirez clearly steer the ship that is the Flatliners, for some songs adopt the sentiments of fury-infused post-punk and then other glide deftly into the world of glorious hooks. The abrasive “Tunnel Vision” demonstrates both of these two divergent styles within one track, as the song pummels the listener before quickly and effortlessly shifting to a soaring chorus highlighted by animated gang vocals. The expansive closer, “Under a Dying Sun” offers a more musically somber conclusion to a dynamic record from a band that is seemingly finding new life and new energy after two decades together.

KAL MARKS - My Name is Hell (Exploding in Sound Records

Boston noise merchants Kal Marks nearly fell into oblivion like the rest of the world in 2020, but fortunately, founder Carl Shane cobbled together a new line-up and kept this machine rolling forward. The result is My Name is Hell, a panoramic collection of passionate musical force. When Shane declares that “my life is a freak show” on the record’s opener, his disgust is palpable, but he does not wallow solely in rage, and the diversity of the songs on My Life is Hell makes it an engaging listen. “Everybody Hertz” is driven by the pummeling bass work of John Russell and is a tightly wound ball of intensity that juxtaposes nicely with “New Neighbor”, a song that is largely mid-tempo and spray-painted with noise until the final half-minute. As “New Neighbor” concludes, the demonic explosion that is Carl Shane’s voice is equal parts terrifying and glorious as it is burrowed in a mass of force that reveals the impact of second guitarist Christina Puerto has upon the new Kal Marks structure. Shane is a master storyteller as well, capturing mundane details and adding them to a mosaic of suffering. On the concluding “Bored Again”, he describes a scene in which he is “Bored again, staring at the ceiling fan, drinking orange soda, and I’m bored again. I’ve never felt so alone, wake me up when it’s over.” Dylan Teggart is the proverbial glue on each track, as his flawless drumming provides a thunderous stability to each song, whether it is the vicious “Debt”, or the meandering emotional journey that is the title track. Kal Marks constructs delightfully off-kilter rhythms that morph into something quite harmonic, as one hears on “The Future” and “Shit Town”. Buried deep on the record is "Mr. Dictionary (A Satire)”, a gem to not be overlooked. Propelled once again by Russell’s bass playing and Shane’s otherworldly yelps, the song is a raw, abrasive gut-punch that maintains a level of perpetual intimidation. I think it is one of the many stand-out pieces on My Name is Hell which is itself a welcome return to a dynamic act.

DAWES - Misadventures of the Doomscroller (

There is an old expression that everything in life is cyclical, and so the feel-good vibes of 70s AOR soft rock are alive and well in the music of Dawes. I guess if people really miss the sounds of Poco, The Little River Band, or the Alan Parsons Project, go find Misadventures of the Doomscroller. The songs are very lengthy, very easy on the palate, and include greatly extended musical interludes that splice together 90s jam bands and 70s experimental self-indulgence. One such example is “Everything is Permanent”, for the effort includes guitar and piano cascading lovingly into each other creating a breezy summer song that would make Christopher Cross jealous, albeit accented by lyrics that are quite funny in a very sneaky way (“he said the virus didn’t exist”). However, one must be very much in a “Yacht Rock” mood to sit through this entire record. “Someone Else’s Café” and “Comes in Waves” both hum along gently borrowing heavily from Steely Dan, which is obviously meant to be taken as the highest compliment, but at nine minutes, “Café” seems to wander too much, and I found myself getting lost. Yes, the collective vocals are inspiring and stunningly gorgeous compliments of guitarist and singer Taylor Goldsmith, but Dawes strikes me as an outside summer festival act with at least a quarter of the crowd listening from their boats anchored near the stage. The jazzy swing of “Ghost in the Machine” and the highly descriptive language of “There’s a Joke in There Somewhere” clearly illustrate the remarkable talent possessed by the members of Dawes, rounded out by the rhythm section of drummer Griffin Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber, along with Lee Pardini on piano, but I am curious as to whom this is being marketed. Is Dawes going to tour exclusively fifty-five and over communities? They will speak to Phish fans looking to finally move on, but I am genuinely confused as to why individuals of such ability would willingly recrate some of rock’s most bloated years. The closing “Sound that No One Made/Doomscoller Sunrise” also takes its time crawling to another nine-minute lifespan, and I began looking for the laser light show inside the planetarium located within my head by about the three-minute mark. I should probably apologize to the members of Dawes-each player is remarkably skilled and the songs are intricately constructed and preformed with loving attention to detail; I just could not fully get grasp this.

PROSPER OR PERISH - Shroud of Serpents (

This Philadelphia outfit has been around for over fifteen years, but they bring about a very contemporary sensibility to their brand of extreme metal. Prosper or Perish have undergone a multitude of line-up changes, but the members playing on Shroud of Serpents perfect a balance between richly melodic, Gothenburg-style death metal, similar in nature to The Black Dahlia Murder, particularly on “Goliath, Come Forth”, and more furious, metalcore screams. Vocalist Steve Stanley is a terror on eight of the ten tracks here, only taking short breaks on the instrumental interludes “Parallel Reveries” and “Solace and Surrender”. Shroud of Serpents is commanded by the guitar duo of Eric Benites and Austin Perez, and they make an immediate impressive on “Ironborn”, a thrashy opener that also possesses an unmistakable groove, and “Wolves and Snakes” which reveals the band’s ability to mesh technical intricacy with raw brutality. Bassist Chrissy Duffin and drummer Armen Koroghlian make their presence felt on each track as well, but especially so on the vicious “Fit for Vultures” and “Nothing Above, Nothing Below”. Prosper or Perish do not shy away from integrating a wide array of metal styles into their sound, as “Death Bares a Familiar Face” features flesh-ripping shrieks from Stanley that dance along the edge of black metal, and both instrumentals offer fleeting serenity that also displays the more refined aspects of the playing from Benites and Perez. While the earlier years of this band has been fraught with shifts in personal and the redefining of their musical vision, the songs on Shroud of Serpents paints an intimidating picture of metal’s bright and punishing future.

SCREECHING WEASEL - The Awful Disclosures of Screeching Weasel (

The summer of 2022 just became infinitely better with the surprise release of a new Screeching Weasel record. Maintaining the same line up as Some Freaks of Atavism, The Awful Disclosures of Screeching Weasel is fourteen songs overflowing with energy and limitless harmonies, but also more lyrics that reflect the times in which we all find ourselves stuck. The opening “Six Ways to Sunday” concludes with Ben Weasel aggressively shouting, “burn it down”, and that level of intensity never wanes across the scope of the record. With only one effort, the closing “Tell Me Your Lies”, clocking in at over three minutes, Weasel, accompanied by Mike Hunchback and Mike Kennerty on guitar (Kennerty also produced Awful Disclosures), Zach Brandner on bass, and Pierre Marche on drums sound remarkably tight and locked-in, clearly using the time indoors over the past two years to harness a razor-sharp delivery accented by the band’s typically acerbic wit. On “In the Castle”, the line “we’re never going out again” rings with a particular bitterness, while “All Stitched Up” could easily find itself nestled somewhere on My Brain Hurts. One surprise is the addition of keys and piano from Ben Weasel’s son. This is first heard on “Kill the Cure” and really shines on “Hey Diana “. The fast-paced energy of “Dead Alive”, including the disclosure, “I can’t pretend to care”, rattles with a collective enthusiasm that sounds as genuine today as it did over thirty years ago. Weasel is a master storyteller and a lyricist not afraid to critique himself and finds the holes within his own personality; on “Pandora’s Eyes”, he admits that he “can’t bring myself to face her like a man”, and dares to travel down a pop-oriented direction on the lyrically despondent “Gates Life High Your Heads” (“all your gods have faded”). In their own distinctive manner, Screeching Weasel has always been a band that addresses the ugly side of relationships, and “Just Another Fool” is yet another sterling example of this. Revolving around bitter lyrics that spew forth a simmering disgust, Weasel barks, “All the men you cut to shreds, you tore right through them one by one and left them for dead”, as the track rages and Weasel’s son adds just the exact amount of organ to accent the effort. Reflective of punk rock itself, Screeching Weasel refuses to fade away. Awful Disclosures is a strong return to the roots of Screeching Weasel while also demonstrating their continued evolution and dare I say, maturity.

IVAN NAHEM & EX->TENSION - Crawling Through Grass (

Ivan Nahem is one of the great minds in American post punk, his band Ritual Tension was and continues to be among the brightest of stars in that genre and should be a prototype for young bands looking to forge a more distinctive musical path. However, with that as context, one cannot get farther away from the angular, frustration-fueled work of Ritual Tension than Nahem’s latest release, Crawling Through Grass. Nahem described the record as “yoga music”, and while he said there really is no such thing as “yoga music”, I would say he just invented it. Crawling Through Grass is a seven-song collection of stunningly lush and gorgeous soundscapes that completely remove the listener from their current reality and bring them to a place far more beautiful. Incredibly soothing and warm, every song is hauntingly serene beginning with “Only Waking”. That title is fitting, for listeners will feel as if their eyes are just opening to a new day with a ray of light shining through upon their beds. Soft, genteel, and sinewy, each song is its own distinctive journey with its own unique accoutrements such as the soft bells heard on “The Exaltation of Nothing” or the ghostly spoken word contribution of Helen Nulty on “Rainy Day Whispers”. The intriguing “Shikantaza” includes vocal interludes from Nahem and Jadwiga Taba, but “Google Translator” is also given a vocal credit. The song washes over the listener as it wafts majestically, constructing a world unto itself with a combination of fragile, atmospheric musicianship and soft acoustic guitar. Each song is delicate and hushed with “The Sea, The Beach, The Jungle” opening with the sound of waves crashing upon the sand before fading into an evocative keyboard performance by Nahem. “Wheels Within Wheels” is an especially fascinating song, as portions of an interview with poet Joe Cohen (conducting by Helen Nulty) are woven into the song’s ethereal beauty. The collection completes with the meandering “51st St Savasana”. Bringing Nulty back for fleeting, manipulated samples of her voice within a nearly symphonic backdrop, the song takes on the aura of a film score. This is music to save for the worst of days or when peace of mind feels impossible to find. Ivan Nahem continues to challenge listeners and find new forms of musical expression.

HULDER - The Eternal Fanfare (20 Buck Spin Records

Hulder is the one-woman black metal machine known legally as Marliese Riesterer, and everything she creates is astoundingly brilliant on The Eternal Fanfare. Black metal has always been a controversial style of music, and not just due to its image and themes; black metal fans seem to constantly find themselves bickering over which bands truly embody the spirit and nature of the genre. To this end, Hulder captures the most raw, powerful, and captivating aspects of this oft-maligned sound. Hulder, who takes her name from a mischievous and seductive creature that lives within the woods of Norway, opens the EP with “Curse From Beyond”, a song replete with haunting keys and cherubic vocals that are both enthralling and unnerving. As the opening three minutes fade, the listener is nearly decapitated by “Burden of Flesh and Bone”, a scathing gem that invokes the style of Darkthrone, Immortal, and Taake. This Pacific Northwest outfit brings the darkness and despondency of a Scandinavian winter home on “Sylvan Awakening”, a song that embraces all the qualities of black metal I find so enchanting: it is disconcerting, ethereal, and deeply personal. The five songs are uniform in their intensity but also remarkably distinct from each other. The down-turned fury of the title track is a masterstroke of tormented beauty and blasphemous elegance. Riesterer’s voice is scintillating and profoundly haunting as it rises above the waves of violent splendor created beneath it. This proves that one need not live near a haunted forest next to a fjord to perfectly encapsulate all that black metal should be.

GREYLOTUS - Downfall (The Artisan Era

This Baltimore outfit plays physics-defying technical metalcore that is a swirling storm of remarkable intricacy and relentless ferocity. Above all else, Greylotus is a scorching metal band and their love for speed and brutality is celebrated across all nine tracks on Downfall, even when there are fleeting moments of serenity. The closing moment of “Chiaroscuro” includes whispered lyrics that a dramatic juxtaposition with the extreme din that defines the majority of the song. Bringing in elements akin to bands like Despised Icon, Ion Dissonance, and even Dillinger Escape Plan or TNTLLY, Greylotus play with song structures, twisting and morphing each song into a labyrinth of guitar acrobatics, staggering low-end precision from drummer Matt Tillett and bassist Drewsif Reynolds, and raw, guttural vocals. Guitarists Ben Towles and Sanjay Kumar use wizardry to construct riffs that morph seamlessly from fierce and austere to delicate and lush, while vocalist Lee Mintz is incredibly expressive, barking, growling, screaming, and howling lyrics that are poetic and insightful. Greylotus is a band of supremely gifted virtuosos who could craft twelve-minute opuses with ease, but they choose to focus their creative rage into songs that are tightly wound and perpetually on the precipice of explosion. Even as the intro to “Hoarfrost” is lush and gorgeous, one knows the technical assault is imminent, and the song quickly becomes among the heaviest works on Downfall. The title track is a melting pot of equally glorious and punishing ideas, with the track featuring head-crushing breakdowns, soaring vocals, and even atmospheric touches. While “Currents” and the crippling force of “Shadow Archetype” reveal this band’s ability to lay an audience to waste with sheer musical barbarism, their affinity for experimentalism shines through on both efforts, clearly differentiating Greylotus from others that dare walk this path. The symphonic “Azure Rain” concludes the record and epitomizes Greylotus’ desire to challenge audiences and push technical metal to a higher plain. Metal played in this style runs the risk of sounding clinical and surgical with the artists demonstrating extraordinary skills at the expense of humanity; Greylotus does not fall into this trap, as they play with obvious passion, bringing a level of humanity into their flawless performance. This is an overwhelming collection of songs from a band with abilities.


Chelsea Spear is a woman and her ukulele. She is also known to the world as Travels with Brindle, and her new three-song EP, Ivan, is another gift that we probably do not deserve. Her music is quite pretty and deeply heartfelt while remaining deceptively simple. Spear started playing her ukulele on Boston-area busses, but the world is lucky that her work is now more accessible. The opening title effort is a heart wrenching take on modern relationships that exist solely within a virtual world, as Spear’s says, “Wish I could be who you saw on the screen, but our words are all I have.”. The stripped-down nature of the music allows for Spears’ insightful, often quirky lyrics to take centerstage. “Eleven Eunices” is a delightfully odd piece, noting how one Eunice still has braces, while another has veneers, and still another speaks Chinese. With limited instrumental accompaniment, listeners can celebrate the remarkable voice Spear possesses. The concluding “Why Must I Be Sad?” is both highly introspective and more than a little despondent, with Spear asking, “With rows of dandelions growing all around me, why must I be sad?” It is always refreshing to encounter work such as this, for Chelsea Spear plays music solely for the love of creativity, and the world needs more of this right now.

SENTIENT HORROR - Rites of Gore (redefiningdarkness

If the past two years of misery has been good for anything, it has provided bands of all styles new fodder for lyrics and inspiration. Perhaps no genre benefits from such suffering more than death metal. New Jersey’s Sentient Horror have prided themselves upon reflecting a classic death metal sound since their formation in 2014, but Rites of Gore truly resurrects the finest elements of the first wave of classic death. Building songs around punishing but memorable riffs, the band blends the melodic aspects of the significant Gothenburg sound with the same qualities introduced by acts like Morbid Angel, Monstrosity, and Bolt Thrower. The galloping guitar structure of “Swamp Burial” is indicative of death metal’s formative years where brutality was given greater priority over technical complexity. The members Sentient Horror are each highly talented, led by guitarist/vocalist matt Moliti, but the foursome does not simply force-feed listeners a wild concoction of loosely connected guitar interludes; instead, this collection of tested metal veterans formulates efforts that are both combustible and hook laden. Jon Lopez is a dynamic player whose solos are electrifying, but on tracks like “Splitting Skulls” and “The Grave is My Home”, he and Moliti formulate grooves that swirl around the low-end dynamics of bassist Tyler Butkovsky and drummer Even Daniele. Moliti’s guttural growls spit out lyrics inspired by the negativity and joylessness that so many have felt, and I cannot help but to hear elements of early Gorguts and The End Complete-era Obituary throughout these works. “Till Death do us Rot” is a furious mass of blunt force trauma which I hope inspires the kids in the pit to put down their phones join in with the fun. The band’s ability to shift tempos while maintaining a commitment to dark harmonies is incredibly impressive throughout all nine originals. Rites of Gore is rounded out by a furious cover of Entombed’s “Suppose to Rot”, which is an ideal choice for this band, as Sentient Horror has the skills necessary to honor the song while also making it characteristically their own. With a great appreciation for death metal’s history, Sentient Horror should appeal to those who have been listening to death metal since its inception along with the kids finding it for the first time.

BASHFORD - Greener Grasses (Big Neck Records

Bashford’s bio describes them as “a grunge band from Madison”, and perhaps no truer words were ever written. Greener Grasses takes listeners back to the early 90s and sounds like what would have happened if Nirvana recorded In Utero with Bleach’s budget. As “Gateway to the Underworld” came on, I was suddenly transported back to college radio, and I love this sound as much today as I did thirty (!) years ago. Every track is a blazing piece of fuzzy guitar and impactful vocals pushed to their physical limits, compliments of Luke Peltonen. Bashford occasionally varies tempos but stays true to a very authentic feel throughout the record as they smash their way through ten tracks. The dense “Serendipity” makes a particular impression due to the combination of bassist Dallas Reilly and drummer Tyler Kimpel; mimicking “Floyd the Barber”, the song’s intensity acts as a perfect representation of what this band offers. The darkness of the lyrics found within “Medication” (“It’s taking more and more to get me by/I try to run myself, but I can’t seem to hide/ Everything I love has been vast aside/How can I tell the truth when I’m living a lie?”) matches the song’s intimidating groove from this highly impressive act. I am fairly confident that the guys in Bashford were not alive when “Teen Spirit” killed hair metal and Eddie Vedder made the cover of Time magazine, so this is not plagiarism, but rather a true appreciation for a musical style that meshed honesty and non-conformity while placing greater emphasis upon authenticity over technical skills. Bashford taps into feelings of alienation and self-destruction on “Unrefined” and the speedy “Supermaniac”, with the latter noting, “All day long I’ll wallow in decay”. There is no escaping the classic Nirvana influence, again one hears it clearly on “Bitter Masses”, but do not hold that against Bashford, as it is refreshing to hear a band play abrasive music once again. Changing gears, as least lyrically, Peltonen offers life-affirming words of hope on “Still Here” while also delivering a skull-crushing riff (“I can teach me, I can reach me, I can be my own stamp of approval”). Bashford flirts with a more metallic edge on the closing “Patience”, a tone that did seep into grunge as well, as the record closes with roughly forty seconds of fun bass noodling. This is a tremendous ode to one of rock’s great responses to excess and artificiality, and a band like Bashford is certainly needed today.

GWAR - The New Dark Ages (Pit Records

When Dave Brockie, the infamous Oderus Urungus, passed away in 2014, I was among those who believed that the scumdogs of the universe in GWAR had shot their last stream of blood upon a crowd. However, for eight years, the costumed maniacs from Richmond, Virginia have persisted and now unleash upon the world, The New Dark Ages. White a particularly fitting title for the times in which we live, I cannot help but notice the hole left by Brockie. The record is another in the line of ridiculously tongue-in-cheek storylines, this time the release acts as a compendium to a graphic novel, GWAR In The Duoverse Of Absurdity, in which the members of GWAR battle evil incarnations of themselves. I understand that the band has released work since Brockie’s death, but vocalist The Berserker Blòthar, a former music professor, sings with a smoothness that does not fit with GWAR’s traditional musical attack and is more suited to a maiden or Priest-style outfit. Unlike Brockie’s blood-soaked growl, Blòthar has a voice that soars and features a range far beyond what Oderus brought to the band. Blòthar is a highly gifted vocalist, and while the members of GWAR are talented players-see them live if you doubt that claim-I want life-hating, Earth destroying lunacy, and The New Dark Ages comes across as slick and a touch overproduced. At its core, GWAR has always fit somewhere between true metal and more friendly hard rock, but the band leans much more heavily towards the latter on The New Dark Ages. Tracks like “Blood Libel”, “Unto the Breach”, and “Venom of the Platypus” exist in the realm of refined hard rock with just a metal sheen. The band excels when they embrace their thrash metal abilities on “Berserker Mode” and “The Cutter”, which includes guest vocals from Halestorm’s Lizzy Hale. Several the legendary members continue to contribute to the band, including Beefcake the Mighty, Bälsäc the Jaws O’ Death, and of course, Jizmak do Gusha, but there is something missing, and I am not only referring to Oderus’ massive phalanx. The closing ten-minute ambient noise of “Deus Ex Monstrum” just seems like an afterthought and does not add to the overall record. The New Dark Ages is a solid, but not distinctive metal record that if released by a band not named GWAR would quietly fade. While this may not retain the same intensity as previous work, I urge anyone who has not experienced it to go to a GWAR show; just do not wear anything you do not want permanently stained.

FUTURE KILL - Mind Tasters, Floor Wasters (Big Neck Records

The opening noise-fest of “Roger Shepard” sets in motion a fascinating collection of soundscapes from Future Kill. Comprised of a multitude of players, including three bassists, Kristin Mahoney, Roy Gardner (also on vocals), and Wayne Pain, along with three drummers, Kim John Larson, Jon Boi, and Seth Schultze, three contributing guitarists, Mikey Blackhurst, Jon Boi again, and Roy Gardner again, and it’s actually four in you count ilth, credited with a picture of an adorable cat, Kevin Neal’s saxophone, and Jim Veil, who brings “fun maker” and “various” to the band’s sound. Released in October of 2021 but recorded during the global nightmare of the Covid pandemic, the record embodies a sense of constrictive isolation and desperation. “The Trash is Fine” overwhelms the listener with heavy distortion, muffled vocals, and yet a highly infectious backbeat. Juxtaposing darkness with an enthralling delivery defines the art of Future Kill. Bathed in a suffocating wave of experimental noise loops and feedback, each piece seems increasingly claustrophobic. Regardless of length, from the fleeting “Werewolf vs. Robot” and “USA 2020s”, through the far more capacious “Eraser Head” and the title track, each work is masterclass in exploratory noise. Conjuring up acts ranging from very early Sonic Youth through Merzbow, Mind Tasters, Floor Wasters is a perplexing but richly engaging record. Future Kill is exactly the type of band I adore, as they challenge, antagonize, and ultimately destroy whatever limitations others arbitrarily place upon the concept of rock. The band dares listeners to hang with them throughout his entire ride, and it is well worth the journey.

THE HANDCUFFS - Burn the Rails (

The Handcuffs play a mixed bag of rock n’ roll that draws from a vast array of classic flavors that range from straight forward bluesy to shiny glam. “Love Me When You can” could have been a hit during the height of 70s AOR radio’s heyday with its soaring chorus, sinewy guitar compliments of Jeffrey Kmieciak, and warm vocals of Chloe Orwell. The rollicking piano of “Big Fat Mouth Shut “has a Queen-like quality, blending an arena rock aesthetic with wonderfully sarcastic lyrics (“And in the end, I hope we’re still friends…yeah, right”). “Let’s Name our Children” is a hilarious take on dating (“Let’s name our children even though we just met”), and the jazzy, swinging nature of “I’m Happy Just to Dream with You” has a Broadway show beat with incessantly upbeat lyrics matched by equally inspired rhythms. “Come On, Hey Hey” continues the vibe felt throughout the record, taking cues from Faces, or sounding like Patti Smith singing for Bad Company. “I Cry for You” is a sterling effort that emerges as a definite single that speaks the truth about relationships (“Love is real, love is true, love is torture”) and is carried by the highly skilled rhythm section of bassist Emily Togni and drummer Brad Elvis. As a special guest, keyboardist Morgan Fisher of the legendary Mott the Hoople contributes to “She Ain’t No Fluffer” and the aforementioned “I’m Happy Just to Dream with You”. The Handcuffs bring together the finest points of rock’s history and channels it into a more contemporary sound.


I cannot get enough of creations like this; Buffalo’s Night Slaves deliver two songs based on a 1926 silent Japanese horror film titled A Page of Madness. Before I ever heard a single note, I was in love with both songs, and luckily, these tracks are deserving of one’s complete devotion. In addition to their own rich histories, John Toohill and David Kane team up with Justin Rowland, and one has a perfect unholy trio of geniuses on this release. Benshi is two songs that blend late 70s Kraut rock a la Neu and, of course, Kraftwerk, with well-defined punk angst and a disturbing bit of sardonic glee. “Parade” has a little of sneaky fun to the song, as it oscillates like a score to a video game more than a horror film, and even includes a danceable quality to the groove. Woven within the pop nature is an unsettling quality that makes the track such an engaging piece. The trio mask the ominous nature of the song with an understanded sense of bliss, and this methodology is repeated on “The Way Out”. With the repetition of the phrase “I’m on the way out”, the song becomes unnerving because where exactly is “out” and who is leading the protagonist “out”? The keys that imitate the chime of church bells will give any listener chills, particularly if listening to this alone, at night, with high quality headphones/ear buds. The song finishes with “way out” being yelped and then suddenly silenced, abruptly concluding two stirring works. Not only do I want to hear more from Night Slaves, but I am currently scouring the corners of the Internet for A Page of Madness.

SAVAGE REPUBLIC - Meteora (Gusstaf Records

Apparently, the rise of vast dystopian nightmares around the globe has rekindled the fire and aggressive energy of one of the finest post-punk bands in history, LA’s Savage Republic. These critical legends open Meteora with “Nothing at All”, a two-minute slab of head-smashing, industrialized noise with muddied vocals and a thunderous beat. While not all of the music on Meteora reaches this level of fury, the general tone of the record is one of darkness and tangible frustration. “God and Guns” rails against hypocrisy and gutless conformity through a methodical dirge that radiates disgust. (“Stop hiding behind your god and guns/Your god isn’t better than anyone”) The density of the music makes the work of Meteora so punishing, but even when the band plays with their delivery, as they do on the surf-tinged “Bizerte Rolls”, Savage Republic maintains a dazzling intensity. The musical flair on “Bizerte Rolls” is reproduced on other instrumentals, including the Cure-like aura of “Newport ‘86” and “Bora del Voca”. The latter includes majestic piano playing nestled softly within the larger mix and reveals just how many stylistic tricks this band possesses. The expansive title track is particularly fitting, for the song is replete with a smooth bass line and sparse but evocative lyrics. The concluding “Ghost Light” is fittingly haunting and a perfect finale to the record; hanging ominously in the air, the song has a sepulchral nature that eases the listener out of a dazzling and sprawling collection of songs. If you missed Savage Republic the first time around, find this first and then launch into a crash course into their significant influence.

SOCIETY 1 - Black Level Six (

Despite having tragedy behind the creation of this record, there is so much to love about Society 1. Recorded before the tragic death of DV Karloff, Black Level Six is the soundtrack to an upcoming film titled The Altered Noise. Featuring a heavy COC vibe, Society 1 features guitar sludge played at varying tempos. The galloping “Bleed You Away” takes a classic metal structure and adds just enough chaos to formulate a glorious headbanging masterstroke, while “The Ghost Remains” is reminiscent of Alice in Chains’ more sensual and reserved moments. To that end, the band boasted of recording this record in a manner similar to Nirvana’s legendary Bleach record; namely, no overdubs, no studio tricks, just plug in and play. Recorded in four days and mixed in five (by Greg Hutson, no less), Black Level Six is a pristine piece of intelligent, daring musical force. One also must praise any band with the courage to cover a Beatles’ song, but not any track by the Fab Four but “I Am the Walrus”, an incredibly challenging effort to play sans psychedelia, and Society 1 does an incredibly impressive version. The stomp of “Altered Noise” and “Love is Dead” smacks of mid-90s heavy rock with the latter featuring a fleeting riff that reminds the listener of “Floyd the Barber” from the aforementioned Bleach record. What makes Society 1 such an intriguing listen is that every song has a distinct personality; there is a cohesive sound to what the band does, but the willingness to play with speeds and levels of intensity make tracks like “While You Mourn” and “Who Will Know” so captivating. While the former is a speedier track, “Who Will Know” is a dark, pummeling effort that also retains a shocking sense of melody. No filler exists across the fourteen songs here, as “All for You” and “As I Die” continue the band’s penchant for groove-happy power. Society 1 clearly harkens back to a time when rock was re-emerging from under mountains of hairspray, but while their sound is an homage to the early 90s, this is not a blind tribute to that era. Society places a distinctive spin on a much beloved and recognizable style.

TEMPLE OF VOID -Summoning the Slayer (Relapse Records

Summoning the Slyer is a perfect title for this devastating aural assault. Blending guttural death metal vocals from Mike Erdody with groove-laden doom, the band constructs songs with equal parts hook s and brutality. The record opens with “Behind the Eye”, a track with a fittingly apropos “Hell Awaits” style build-up until reaching an explosive high point that launches the effort at the jugular of the listener. As impressive as this song is, it merely sets the table for the staggering power of “Deathcrush”. A supreme demonstration of modern metal, Temple of Void balances memorable riffs with sheer force, as guitarists Alex Awn and Don Durr soar across this panoramic effort. Seemingly divided into chapters, the song’s expansive nature allows each member to demonstrate their skills. The rhythm section of drummer Jason Pearce and bassist Brent Satterly inject a propulsion of energy into all that they do, but it is most pronounced on “Deathcrush”. Temple of Void could purely overwhelm people with thunderous barbarism, but they instead choose to masterfully build songs of depth and intricacy. “A Sequence of Rot” is a methodical, brain-rattling gem of contemporary death metal as the band walks a tightrope between displaying technical prowess and retaining the foundational aspects of extreme music. With a pristine mix compliments of Arthur Rizk, Temple of Void is able to eschew the muddy production that often hampers a band of this style. “The Transcending Horror” is aptly named due to the ethereal nature of the lead guitar part that hovers above the looming darkness of the track like an apparition. Closing with “Dissolution”, the band adds a neo-classical style to their repertoire, establishing a daring juxtaposition between beauty and destruction. This is a brilliant record.

TIM KASHER - Middling Age (15 Passenger Records

Tim Kasher has chronicled the struggles and suffering of marriage and divorce better than any songwriter alive. From Domestica over twenty years ago to the Game of Monogamy in 2010 to now, the heat-wrenching work of Middling Age, Kasher takes life’s most intimate pain and makes it collectively therapeutic. The legendary singer/songwriter is harrowingly raw and vulnerable throughout these songs, a skill that one can trace back to Cursive, but with age comes a refinement of language and Kasher does not have a single wasted syllable here. Life after divorce is extremely difficult, especially if you are not the person seeking the split. On the opening “I Don’t Think About You”, Kasher says “I’m sipping from a snifter we received as a wedding gift/The other five were broken over petty arguments/Every time one smashed, you’d say our marriage was christened/I don’t think about you all the time”. It is a scenario such as that, painted with eloquence and slight humor, which makes all of Middling Age so powerful and relatable, particularly if you are of middling age yourself. Kasher is a brilliant storyteller who can find even the most fleeting moments of life’s experiences and turn them into a stirring emotional whirlwind. On “Up and Cut Me Loose”, he admits, “I was bored as hell with our old haunts, Now, there’s nothing more I want”. Surrounded by an extraordinary collection of friends and fellow musicians, including Laura Jane Grace on “Forever of the Living Dead”, Middling Age is a deeply inspired, vividly cathartic collection of remarkably beautiful songs carried only by acoustic guitar and Kasher’s voice. I struggled to get through “Whisper Your Death Wish” without blubbering onto my laptop for the first eight or ten listens, as Kasher taps into the most fundamental sense of loss and emptiness. The song tells the story of a couple whose relationship has ended, but neither one clearly wishes it to do so, and the song is accented by aching references to not losing the scent from the pillow and faking their way through happy hours. The song is devastatingly gorgeous and a distressing tale of two people who want their love to continue, but for reasons the listener can interject, it just cannot. The song tears your soul out of your body, but when Kasher sings, “I don’t want to see you suffer at my suffering/And you don’t want to see me suffer ‘cause you’re suffering/Can we make a pact to act/Like death just rolls off our back”, it solidifies itself for me as the finest moment of an extraordinary record. Like so much of the past two years, very little of Middling Age is uplifting, but it is a remarkable example of Tim Kasher’s seemingly endless array of lyrical majesty.

ABRAHAM - Debris de Mondes Perdus (Pelagic Records;

Switzerland’s Abraham is a band of devastating heaviness that is pushing extreme metal in a staggering bleak direction. The intensity of the music is palpable, yet there is a beauty to the darkness of Debris de Mondes Perdus, as well. The opening “Verminvisible” is atmospheric and haunting, a combination of black metal and shoegaze that comes to epitomize the disconcerting nature of the record. Many of the songs on Debris de Mondes Perdus are not built around a hook, but rather an intricate mixture of fear and power; Abraham is a band that produces soundscapes more than songs, as each track becomes a miniature six-minute world rather than a fleeting musical vision. Adding to the uniqueness of Abraham is the vocal style of drummer Dave Schlagmeister-his vocals are ethereal, matching the guitar tone and visceral nature of the music. “Blood Moon, New Alliance” is a thrash/grind masterpiece of raw, wildly emotive playing caked with a disturbing layer of grime. The track is a crippling array of abrasive vocals and furious playing. All of Debris de Mondes Perdus is an amalgamation of multiple forms of extreme music congealed into a mass of unfathomable force. “Maudissements” is a constant rumble of imminent destruction; just a rogue wave of a song that decimates listeners. The majority of the songs are six minutes and longer, with only “Our Words Born in Fire” clocking in under four minutes, but that song’s angular, scathing aura is highly uncomfortable. Each work produces a sense of being surrounded and trapped under the weight of the songs. The slightly more glacial pace of “Fear Overthrown” introduces a more prominent black-metal aesthetic, also heard on the brilliant “A Celestial Forest”. Abraham is a band that represents the next logical step in the evolution of metal’s more distinctive underground. If one is to believe that black metal represents the darkest personality trait of extreme music, then Abraham is equipped to physically embody the terror that such music can produce. The songs are noisy, dissident, and chaotic with a purpose-every note on Debris de Mondes Perdus is well crafted and maliciously deliberate. This is an expansive, exhaustive, and exhilarating listen.

JANE LEE HOOKER - Rollin’ (Ruf Records;

The supremely gifted Jane Lee Hooker takes the fundamentals of American blues and injects other forms of true American musical inventions, from rock to R&B and even gospel. The result of this spirited concoction is the stirring Rollin’, a superior and at times spiritual celebration of sleek and sophisticated blues played with great resolve and sensuality. The band includes an array of talented players who have spent time tearing up filthy clubs and sleeping on floors in still sweat-stained clothes. While raw punk aesthetic may not be heard on Rollin’, but there is still an edge to all that Jane Lee Hooker does, even the slide guitar on “White Gold” has subtle intensity. The honky-tonk swagger of “Runaway Train” is a gem near the conclusion of the record, exploding with the band’s double guitar barrage from Tina Gorin and Tracy Hightop. The band’s blazing rendition of Johnny Winter’s “Mean Town Blues” is a guaranteed live staple with a grinding take on this classic. “Lucky” starts with vocalists Dana Athen’s breathy voice accentuating each syllable she delivers, and the track’s deliberate grooves embodies the band’s ability to play with the emotions of the listener, bringing them to the precipice exultation before slowing down and repeating. The glorious sound of Rollin’ allows each player to be properly represented. As Athen’s voice is instantly the main attraction, guitarists Tine Gorin and Tracy Hightop shine throughout the record, offering a combination of blazing riffs along with exquisitely bluesy-soaked harmonies. The rhythm section of Mary Z (who, along with Hightop, played in The Wives, one of the most tragically underappreciated bands in punk history and I loved everything they ever did) and “Lightin’” Ron Salvo help solidify each work, such as the tale of loneliness and longing (“Drive”) and the swing of “Weary Bones”. Every song from Jane Lee Hooker creates a new atmosphere, from the haunting “Jericho” to the heartbreaking yet rollicking “All Good Things”. The ocean of talent in Jane Lee Hooker culminates in a sterling record of expert musicianship and exactly the kind of sophisticated wake up that rock so desperately needs.

WEREWOLF JONES - Premium (Big Neck Records;

There are certain musical locations that have a district sound, and Detroit is among the front of the line in terms of instant recognizability. Full of grit and pugnacious angst, the city has spawned a legion of genre-shaking acts, and Werewolf Jones follows in the footsteps of giants. The opening “Careless” is a raw meeting of The Dirtbombs’ energy and Death’s proto-punk intensity. Aaron Cohen’s bass plays a prominent role on most of the pieces here, while Adam Hunter pushes his vocals out to a dangerous ledge. “Jobless” is a grimy slab of inspired punk rock led by Hunter’s Cobain-like guitar tone and Heath McManus’ bombastic drumming. “False Prophet” captures an early 90s indie rock vibe, as if the song was being released on a hand-printed and numbered seven-inch single, made with love in a kid’s bedroom. The song’s fuzzy guitar and waves of distortion are celebrations of superb noise, and this is also heard on “I Got It All”. Hunter creates riffs that violently tear across the musical landscape while also retaining a notable groove, as one hears on the abrasive “Escape Me” and cutting “Taste of Metal”. I truly fall for the pure speed and hardcore force of “Fixing”, a ninety-two second blast of rage. Werewolf Jones has a dazzling record with Premium, and this is a band of incredible promise.

KLAZO - Demik Dementia (Big Neck Records;

This duo plays raw, basement tape-style punk that pushes the enthusiasm and paint-stripping energy of the Germs through a grimy meatgrinder. The result is a mass of fury that sounds like the Stooges’ Fun House merging with the lo-fi groove of Deep Valley. The opening title track a torrent of Rob Yadautas’ blunt guitar and storming low-end decimations from drummer Jesse. With only one of the eleven tracks lasting more than two and a half minutes, the intensity comes in bruising bursts, and is encapsulated by “Fast N’ Loose”, a song that sounds as if the band is playing through a hurricane. “Too Many People” is a seventy-two second detonation of noisy garage punk buried in a wall of distortion, with Yadautas screaming about how there are “too many humans”. “J.R.A.” mimics the other tracks on the record but is just slightly slower in tempo which allows for a groove to emerge. Most of the work on Demik Dementia, including the relentless “Fantastic Plastic” and “Clones in Chrome”, is hyperactive, borderline untamed punk angst wrapped in a blanket of hazy anger that is the musical equivalent of a twenty-car pile-up on a slick highway. Blurred in guitar haze, Klazo combines the fearless nature of Negative Approach and morphs it with reckless fun of The Damned to bring classic punk aesthetics into a modern age. While Klazo could pass a (much louder) 1960 garage act, their commitment to vehemence makes them a dynamic band.

SCIENCE MAN - Nines Mecca (Swimming Faith Records;

This riotous Buffalo outfit plays ten blazing songs with nothing beyond two and a half minutes. The entirety of Nines Mecca is a tohubohu born in fire and unleashed upon a world that needs them. Science Man brings smart, intense hardcore that mashes noise, post-hardcore, and old school influences on “Cinema C.E.N. S.”. Beginning with a brief squall of feedback, the song becomes scathing aural abuse that is profoundly enjoyable. There are no pauses, room to breathe, or guitar solos here, as the record simply decimates the listener. The galloping “Super Charger” is furious but not without a great hook buried within the din. On top of the speed and aggression is a subtle darkness woven into each song, best heard on the musical miasma that is the instrumental “Adventure Spit”. The guitars on “The Wait” and “Birth of a Mountain” are played with a skirr and are both particularly vicious slash and burn tracks. John Toohill is the genius behind Science Man, and hopefully this Western New York powerhouse gains greater recognition.

CRISIX - Full HD (Listenable Records;

This Barcelona outfit plays a bruising collection of scathing thrash with all the energy of youth but with the skills of a far more veteran band. The members of Crisix were clearly listening to their uncle’s 80s metal cassettes, but they never become predictable due to their ability to alternate tempos just enough to keep songs interesting, along with a technical skill that makes Crisix a pivotal piece of the new thrash canon. “Extreme Fire Hazard” includes a classic galloping riff along with devastating gang vocals (also heard on “Speak Your Truth”) and a relentless low-end assault upon listeners. While speed has always been the hallmark of any good thrash act, Crisix does not simply attempt to break land speed records. Rather, the guys understand how to write a strong hook, such as the bombastic title track and “The Many Licit Paths”. Crisix famously released the “Pizza Ep” in the midst of a pandemic, which led to twenty different Spanish pizza shops using the band’s logo on pizza boxes, so Crisix has a rare trait for metal bands: a great sense of humor (“Macarena Mosh”). To their credit, Crisix did not allow a little issue like a global pandemic hold them back, as they released their own film, a video game, and even a cookbook (Speed Metal Kitchen of Doom). Channeling the raw edge of Vio-Lence and Dark Angel, while concurrently imbued with the fun of Municipal Waste, Crisix is a band that hopefully finally gets to the States to unleash their fury and talents.

TREASVRE - Stick the Knife In (

There is so much to love about Treasvre, a San Francisco-based act that may be synth-driven, but is certainly not devoid of guitar. “Run Away” is built around a surprisingly chugging riff and the cherubic vocals of Sabrina Simonton (also playing synth) and bassist Samantha Peña. “Letting Nature Take Its Course” is a noisy amalgamation of heartfelt, personal lyrics addressing the anxiety felt by so many during the pandemic that led to life changes, and in the case of Peña, for the better. Drummer Evan Dulaney propels the effort forward, accompanied by the guitar efforts of Jason Zaru and Julian Balestrieri. The pseudo-dance hook of “Face in the Crowd” masks the desperation of the lyrics and the huge riff that concludes the work is among the finest highlights of a sterling record. The title track begins much more innocuously before erupting into a densely powerful chorus, led by the exceptional duo of Simonton and Peña. Addressing a breadth of emotions, Treasvre experiments with fragility and resolve without ever sounding musically disjointed. The closing “I Just Want to Be Loved” has a tone that matches the effort’s sad sentiments. Once again anchored by an understatedly dense riff, the combined voices of Simonton and Peña providing exceptional dynamic range. Treasvre is a band with a truly distinctive sound, blending a multitude of ideas and influences into a gloriously new approach.

DIE! DIE! DIE! This is Not an Island Anymore (

The opening wave of guitar squall and wall-rattling basslines of the title track sets the pace for an aggressive, abrasive record that blends noise, shoegaze, and raw punk into an amalgamated mass of raw power. This New Zealand trio pushes musical bounds throughout this record, from grindcore level fury to distortion fueled math rock. Led by the vocals of guitarist Andrew Wilson, there is an anger within the walls of everything Die! Die! Die! Creates, but it is not void of hooks. Granted, one must search to find them, but buried within the occasionally indecipherable chaos lies very astute songwriting. Original bassist Lachlan Anderson returns to the band, which is rounded out by the maniacal drumming of Michael Prain. The fifty-five seconds tempest “Takaparawhau” is a ball of clamor that will remind many of In Utero-era Nirvana, but all of this sounds like Steve Albini’s dream of what a band would sound like if he could create one in a lab to unleash upon 2022. “Losing Sight, Keep on Kicking” is a blinding force of metallic guitar and harsh vocals that someone produces a chorus that forces itself into one’s mind and lives there for a while. The angular, jagged guitar work heard on “8 Months in the Lighthouse” allows each member to take centerstage throughout the track. The thunderous work of Praid somehow rises about the din created by Wilson, while the duo steps back and gives Anderson his own isolated fury. Collectively, the band word with the tightness of Don Caballero or Arcweldr, crafting beauty from destruction on “Vanish (But That’s my Hometown, Marcus)” and “Never Tire Looking at the Sun”, the latter of which has a searing riff and majestically distorted screamed vocals, accented by saxophone compliments of Nathan Haines. The throat-ripping vocals “Imagine Spending So Long Making Other People Feel Like Shit” is the perfect conclusion to a record that presents a simultaneous dichotomy of disturbing and exhilarating.

THE DISTRICTS - Great American Painting (

Rob Grote leads the trio The Districts through nine dreamy, quasi-Cure indie pop, reflecting upon the beauty and ugliness that is America in 2022. The lush, majestic vocals bely the darkness within several of the songs, including “Revival Psalm” and the delicate “Do It Over”. The band has a pronounced skill to produce music that hangs wistfully in the air, such as the beautiful “Long End”; with its pronounced drumming and fragile riff, the track has a breathy, endearing quality. “White Devil” begins with a thicker guitar riff and evolves into a rollicking piece of driving rock n’ roll powerhouse of a song reminiscent of the Plimsouls or Material Issue. “Outlaw Love” kicks off with a subtle garage vibe as a throbbing bass drum and ethereal guitar riff fill the air before Grote enters with his luxuriant vocal approach. “I Want to Feel it All” is a different type of journey, as the song features what sounds like mechanized drums and a staggered, breathy lyrical delivery before once again finding a warm groove that envelopes the listener in an infectious chorus. There are varying personalities to The Districts, as they can be playful and highly up-tempo, or somnambulist, but regardless of approach, everything they do is extremely engaging.


Mickey Leigh has been kicking around, making great music for six decades and his expertise shines through each track here. Variant of Vibe is perfectly titled, as each song presents a variant of rock n’ roll with a straightforward, earnest nature. Leigh is the brother of the immortal Joey Ramone, and there are traces of that band’s ear for pop woven within grittier song structures. “No Fun Anymore” is a classic, rattling gem that borrows from Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers with its penchant for a big hook and harmonious vocals. Leigh bounces all over the musical map, from the downhome country of “Standing in the Dark”, the delicious pop-punk of “Oh Christine” and “Spanish Eyes”. Sophisticated and smart, this is the type of record that can only be made by someone with more war stories than tattoos and more riffs than social media posts. “Where the Truth is on Trial” is a mid-tempo reflection of the sad reality of the world today where indeed, what should be accepted as truth is all too easily discarded. “Lost in Space” has Ramones-like tempo, slightly borrowing “Pinhead” for a riff, and a shared affinity for hypnotic harmonies. This is not a Ramones tribute band, but a delightful compendium to the best qualities of the diversity of rock n’roll.

NEQUIENT - Darker Than Death of Night (Nefarious Industries;

The term “nequient” means unable to do something, but this Chicago outfit has all the talents necessary to devastate listeners with blackened, metal-punched hardcore. Bands of this ilk can often become repetitive, but not with Nequient; on Daker than Death or Night, the band alternates tempos from furious grindcore energy (“Death Bridge”) to slightly slower and thicker anthems (“Wrongs”), all the while remaining singularly focused on crafting punishing yet musically sophisticated extreme hardcore fury. The metal influence shines through repeatedly here, with “Worshippers of the Apocalypse” and “Eradicate the Malignancy”, two song titles that could easily become band names with illegible logos, if they are not already, bringing together the worlds of noisecore, grind, and death into one flesh-shredding eruption of blunt force musical trauma. Shifting between raw screams and guttural death metal growls, vocalist Jason Kolkey is a monster, raging his way through ten blistering tracks. However, the work of drummer Chris Avgerin is simply jaw-dropping. On “City Killer”, Avgerin plays like he has eight arms, supporting a song that is simply an eruptive masterpiece as rhythm section partner Keenan Clifford delivers thunderous basslines that help drive each of these roaring pieces. “Bootlicker” is equally flammable, blending D-beat crust punk with aspects of more technical metal, thanks to the superior playing of Patrick Conahan. For those seeking something new within the metal underground, Nequient should satiate every need, as these guys take a multitude of influences and grind them (quite literally) into a destructive wave of violence. This is amazing.

ONCE HUMAN - Scar Weaver (Ear Music;

Ever since the ominous chime of a church bell introduced the world to Black Sabbath, metal has continued to evolve, and Once Human continues that trajectory. Blending traditional elements recognizable to all metal fans, particularly a pummeling low end and virulent vocals, Once Human also laces their songs with industrialized, contemporary features. The latter makes sense when one learns that Logan Mader, formally of Machine Head, is a founder of the band. Aspects of Mader’s previous band is heard throughout Scar Weaver, perhaps in no finer form than the crippling title track. Abrasive and incredibly aggressive, much of Once Human’s work is a lesson is musical decimation, but not without a sense of melody buried within the ruins. Vocalist Lauren Hart has a truly remarkable vocal range; her guttural yelps and growls could put her out in front of any death metal band, but her soaring clean vocals are exceptional. “Where the Bones Lie” is a debilitating effort, but the ferocity of song is more greatly intensified when Hart alternates her delivery. Taking an aim at contemporary political frustration, “Deadlock” is an angular, complex work that again displays the guitar acrobatics of Mader while also celebrating the reach of Hart’s voice. Surrounding the two focal points are second guitarist Max Karon, drummer Dillon Trollope, and bassist Damien Rainurd; the additional muscle provided by each makes efforts like “Deserted” and the galloping rumble of “We Ride” hit with even more pronounced savagery. Once Human takes pieces of thrash, the technical brutality of death metal, and the sheer creativity that has defined the vast expanse of twenty-first century metal and bands and churns those ideas into a simmering cauldron.

SWEAT - Gotta Give it Up (Pirates Press Records;

Everything about this band, starting with the vocals of Tuna Tardugno, works perfectly. Sweat injects a new life and increased level of musical proficiency into hardcore across ten blistering efforts. This LA outfits brazenly carries itself with swagger more than teen angst and plays riffs that harken back to more traditional street punk but can also deliver blasts of pure adrenalin-infused viciousness with frightening ease. The head-smashing “Machismo” (Dull my patience. Sharpen my disdain. You can ooze machismo but stop driving me insane”) is among the finest representation of the band’s wide repertoire of aggression. “Bastard” and “Hard Grunge” are both imbued with a subtle bluesy quality that captures something distinct about Sweat: this is a band designed to be loud and destructive, but quality song crafting is truly at the heart of what they do. “Life/Death Complex” is a highly combustible effort that straddles the line between sophisticated musicianship and sheer brutality, while the eighty-nine seconds of “Mental “is a geyser of force that tramples anyone unfortunate enough to be in its path. Launching out of the gate with “Hit and Run”, Sweat is the musical equivalent of Mike Tyson’s adage that everyone has a plan until they are hit in the face-one may prepare to listen to Sweat with certain expectations, but those sentiments are instantly destroyed. The closing “Poor Execution” perfectly encapsulates the band, as Sweat blends speedy hardcore with thick riffs into one crushing mix. I am very happy that this one found its way to my hands.

OMNIBAEL - Rain Soaks the Earth Where They Lie (

The opening “Mind is a Mess” is a glorious assault on the senses with devastatingly aggressive noise that would have Masami Akita smile. The shrieking, agonized yelps make the song beautifully nightmarish, as blasts of guitar squall slash through the track. The low, ominous rumble of “Last Days” brought me back to early noise masters like SBK, Throbbing Gristle, and Can. Dense, monolithic, and terrifying, the song’s claustrophobic nature envelopes the listener with a sense of unavoidable doom. “Last Days” could be the score to the greatest horror film yet to be produced. The screams buried within the waves of noise on “The Repetition” is both an exhilarating and unsettling listen. Layering distortion, guitar squall, and a steady but disconcerting beat, accented by pounding blasts of fury, the song morphs into and expansive ball of noise. As the listener waits for a detonation that never comes, “The Repetition” becomes a staggering and nearly exhaustive experience. “Nothing Tastes better Than Deceit” is a punishing slab of industrialized grind mirroring the best of Godflesh’s work. “Rung Keep” feels like a respite, as it is four and half minutes of subdued noise that does not allow the listener to feel settled, but it, along with “Sound of the WW2 Story” offers only a temporary departure from the aural assault of the previous works. “Flowing Backwards” slowly builds upon itself to produce a thunderous mass of force. If pain could be manifested in the form of music, it is Omnibael. I am fascinated by this record from the opening second, and with subsequent listens, I hear more intriguing arrangements. Concluding with “Shut Out the Light”, Omnibael blends the harsh outer limits of black metal with the lawlessness of noise music. As “Shut Out the Light” fades quietly, it acts as a sullen conclusion to a thrilling and uncompromising record.

WAIT - The End of Noise (

The spectral brilliance of Wait’s The End of Noise is due largely to the band’s core members-Max Phelps and Charlie Eron. Both former members of tech-metal superlatives Cynic and Defeated Sanity, the pair hooked up with Alex Weber of Malignancy to construct a soaring work of ethereal, sophisticated metal. Manipulating tempos with staggering ease, the seven pieces of The End of Noise are seamlessly linked in sound and tone, but also highly distinct. While the songs are meandering, fleshed out efforts of complex musical visions, the record does not surrender harmony, nor is this a contest to insert as many riffs as possible into one track. Wait produces music that explodes upon itself with stunning intensity that may speak to experienced and highly skilled musicians (i.e. the opposite of me) more profoundly than less refined fans. By no means is Wait too challenging to enjoy, but the exceedingly difficult level of technical strength may leave some speechless. The labyrinthian “Reviere” featuring the line “nothing matters at all” and the otherworldly “Earth’s Last Orbit” soars with staggering power and grace. Heavy and meticulous, Wait’s songs are all a controlled burn. The songs never feel like they will spin out of control, but the polyrhythmic nature brings listeners to the edge of chaos. “I Climb Downhill” hammers away at the listener, but the song is more symphonic than sinister. The closing “A Path to Travel” is over eight minutes of pristine playing that is both erudite and features deftly refined abrasive edges. This will excite listeners about the future of metal.

THE DOLLYROTS - Down the Rabbit Hole (

The Dollyrots have been consistently good for over twenty years at a time when most bands cannot provide twenty solid minutes. Down the Rabbit Hole is a sterling collection of rarities, B-sides, and covers that gives a wonderfully comprehensive look at this band’s mastery of punk-pop. The covers are wildly entertaining, including a scorching version of Nirvana’s classic “Breed” and Kelly Ogden spitting honest vitriol on the band’s interpretation of Lisa Loeb’s ubiquitous MTV hit “Stay”. From injecting ever more harmony into Bowling for Soup’s “High School Never Ends” to adding speed and fury to The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron”, Down the Rabbit Hole is a blast of a listen. The band also pays tribute to some of the best punk in history with Rancid’s “Ruby Soho”, “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones, and “Punk Rock Girls” from the true masters of the genre, the immortal Queers. There are other moments of levity, as The Dollyrots do a shockingly faithful version of “Earth Angel” from The Penguins and a rollicking version The Contours’ wedding favorite, “Do You Love Me?” In addition to the karaoke entertainment, there are also plenty of originals to satisfy fans old and new. The sing along nature of “Get Radical” and the bass-heavy “Rebel Angel” lead the way for me, but the energy of “Too Much Fun for My Health” and the soaring “oh-oh-ohs” that kick off “Little Miss Impossible” are as close to perfection as any band of this style could ever hope to achieve. I was introduced to the Dollyrots with “Because I’m Awesome” and have been a devoted fan ever since that gem, so I love having this treasure chest of unique mementos from the band. A powerhouse of enthusiasm live, the tracks included on Down the Rabbit Hole capture the band’s intensity and contagious fun-loving nature. After almost two years frustration and anger, let 2022 be a year in which The Dollyrots bring some enjoyment into our lives with a tour, and bring a number of these covers along for the ride.

SHOTGUN FACELIFT - Dakota Blood Stampede (Eclipse records;

It cannot be easy to be Shotgun Facelift. The band hails from the ultra-conservative North Dakota, where I can imagine that groove-oriented metal accented by slight metalcore touches are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Despite the limitations of their surroundings, this five-piece has been hammering away with their own brand of extreme force for nearly a decade now, and Dakota Blood Stampede is a masterwork of modern metal. Vocalist John Huber screams, barks, and growls his way through ten bruising efforts that were recorded live in the studio with all the members jamming together at the same time. The result of that method is a record that does capture a genuine energy on the furious opener “I Am” and the circle pit inducing “Five Dollar Bastard”. Not surprisingly, the band is driven by a dual guitar approach from Damian Goulet and Matt Person who place “Bury Me” and the thrashy title track on their shoulders and generate brain-rattling yet memorable riffs. Shotgun Facelift is not looking for technical excess, but simply want to decimate any club they play and make the heads bang. The guys will succeed in making the kids move with the thick grooves one hears on “From the Dirt” and “Mark of Cain”, two of the rowdier tracks included here. Bassist Curt Decamp and drummer Jody Smith build an impenetrable wall of aggression throughout the record but truly shine on “Famine” and “Pull the Trigger” which answers the question of what Hatebreed would sound like if they tried to imitate Morbid Angel. There is nothing revolutionary happening on Dakota Blood Stampede, but a song like “Open Place to Bleed” is a thunderous blast of twenty-first century metal. Shotgun Facelift are an amalgamation of various styles and influences, and I enjoy what these guys are doing for their sound varies but never sounds disconnected. Hopefully, for their collective sake, the band finds a new state to call home.


Sullen Guest is my introduction to the world of Lithuanian doom metal as I must thank my intrepid editor for seeing that description in the opening line of the band’s bio and sending this my way. Addressing the stages of grief with Phase, Sullen Guest create atmospheric blackened metal that incorporates doom and death metal qualities without delving fully into the realm of DSBM (Depressive Suicidal Black Metal for those of you with decent self-esteem). The opening “Come with Me” is a cathartic listen with multiple swings in tempo, penetrating vocals, and a rattling riff. The song’s monolithic sound, defined by raw, buzzsaw guitar and haunting screams, also features a fleeting yet lush bass solo and a soaring guitar bridge. This is not standard black metal and Sullen Guest clearly enjoys the challenge of defying standards. “Voice of the Subconscious” begins with an eerily low growl which sets the tone for the rest of the panoramic nine and half minute opus. Like its predecessor, “Voice” introduces varying moods into a labyrinthian tableau of death-like metal that moves deliberately but not at the glacial pace usually associated with doom metal. “Assent” begins with a brisker rapidity before sliding into a more traditional doom configuration. With a guitar tone reminiscent of Slayer’s “South of Heaven”, the band marches towards impending doom with an understated beauty. I cannot quite make out exactly which stages of grief are specifically addressed in the songs, as they all sound tragically depressive, but this is a fascinating release. Sullen Guest should appeal to those who appreciate more intricate and sophisticated metal.

TOUCHED BY GHOUL - Cancel the World (

It is fitting that Touched by Ghoul recorded Cancel the World at Steve Albini’s studio, as the opening “Better Than Me” is an explosion of nervous energy wound tightly into a ball of delightful ferocity that embodies everything that brilliant noise rock should be. Amid the chaos throughout the record, guitarist/vocalist Angela Mullenhour manages to supply strong vocal harmonies over the top of metallic riffs supplied by both she and Andrea Bauer. The sludgy “God Hospital” is anchored by a galloping riff of dense force tempered by deceptive tempo changes. There is an extraordinary amount of talent within this band’s scintillating din, along with courage to greatly alter their delivery. “Lost at the Costco” dramatically lowers the abrasiveness to produce a shockingly melodic pop song that is still highly anti-pop. While angular guitar and cutting vocals will garner the lion’s share of attention for Touched by Ghoul, the power source for the band is found in the rhythm section of bassist Alex Shumard and drummer Paige Sandlin; the duo propels the mid-tempo groove of “Sitcom” as easily as producing the thunderous backbeat for the eruptive title track. Disjointed guitar noise appears on many of the efforts here as Touched By Ghoul borrows from darker 90s indie noise, but the band bobs and weaves between acidic noise and refined, orthodox song structures. One of the finest examples is “Yacht Problems” which rumbles with a crushing arrangement with Mullenhour demanding “tell me you love me” as a skull crushing groove carries the track. This was ironically recorded just before the world was indeed cancelled due to the seemingly unending pandemic, but it is the perfect way to begin your 2022.

BODY/DILLOWAY/HEAD (Three Lobed Records

The nearly seventeen-and-a-half-minute long opener to this stirring work is beautifully obtuse noise music. A mass of tape loops, hushed buzzing, and muzzled mumbles mesh to craft a mesmerizing piece of visionary art. Aaron Dilloway is a highly productive artist, and for this assault upon the senses he works with Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, and the product harkens back to the wonderfully bizarre constructions of acts like Grey Wolves or Intrinsic Action. The start/stop, heavily garbled noises are perpetually disconcerting, and there is extraordinary depth to the noisy salad of experimentalism presented here. The din grows progressively louder and more distressing, leading the song to sound increasingly claustrophobic and suffocating. Bits of guitar riffs slash and hack their way through the dense haze, manufacturing a uniquely distressing sensibility. The final three minutes are the musical equivalent of taking one’s final breath with the acceptance that death is imminent; all anyone can do is close their eyes and drift into the unknown. The conclusion to this song is somehow both soothing and eerily somber. “Goin’ Down” is quite lush and nearly majestic in nature, particularly when compared with its predecessor. However, the song’s vast openness is fascinating and its complex arrangement. The song acts a cleanser before “Secret Cuts”. The final piece of the trilogy emphasizes guitar noise more effective than the previous two efforts as Gordon’s unearthly vocals are overheard jutting in and out of the mix. The soundscape leave’s the listener increasingly disorientated and striving to figure out exactly what is swirling around inside one’s head. This haunting work is an enigma of a song, as it has a tangible psychedelic quality, but at the ten-minute mark there is an eruption of guitar squall that chillingly and suddenly falls silent. The concluding two minutes is a soaring mind-altering experience in which those in the song’s path are sent twirling into an abyss. What lies with the darkness is a mystery, but the excitement of this record is the desire to find out.

STEVE CONTE - Bronx Cheer (Wicked Cool Records;

Known to most through his work with the New York Dolls and Michael Monroe’s band, Steve Conte has more recently become somewhat of an anonymous legend to a new generation of fans through his musical work on television shows, particularly the ultra-hip Cowboy Bebop. Bronx Cheer has many components of classic proto punk, especially the scorching “Liar Like You”, a two-minute firestorm of speedy guitar playing straight out of Stooges’ Detroit. The trashy, late 70s sleaze of “Recovery Doll” is both a tribute to early rock n’ roll with its doo-wop backing vocals, but also an homage to a New York City when Times Square was dangerous and not family friendly. The bluesy romance of “Wildwood Moon” swings briskly as it tells a tale of innocence and love that ended too quickly. The subdued “Flying” is emotionally gripping and couples perfectly with “Guilty”, as both songs employ a more deliberate tempo and beautiful backing vocals from Sophia Ramos, LaJuan carter, and Nicki Richards. “My Degeneration” is another blues-drenched gem and may also be a subtle nod to fellow Wicked Cool Records stablemate, Jesse Malin, who led the criminally underappreciated DGeneration in the mid-90s. Andy Rouke of the Smiths and Blondie’s Clem Bourke act as the rhythm section on “Gimme Gimme Rockaway”, a flawless closer to this loving tribute to New York. A seamless mix of punk, blues, and no-frills guitar rock, Steve Conte will teach some and remind others of what true rock n’ roll sounds like.

THE HUSHDROPS- The Static (Pravda Records;

The Hushdrops have been a Midwestern favorite for quite a while; the Chicago band is highly regarded in their hometown, which makes this record all the more bittersweet. Drummer Joe Camarillo passed away at only age 52, and the two surviving members of Hushdrops, Jim Shapiro and John San Juan, wanted the record to act as a loving tribute to a talent who left far too early. The result is a sprawling collection of highly catchy, skinny-tie 70s-era power pop. “Monday” explodes out of the speakers with a crisp, richly harmonious arrangement that sets the stage for the remainder of the record. Songs vary in terms of length and intensity, with the instrumental “The Lummox” and the tongue in cheek fifty-six seconds of “Carrie’s Got Acid” proving that the guys can have a little fun. However, the strength of Hushdrops is poignant songwriting with highly descriptive lyrics, such as those heard on “Psychic Space” and the lovely “The Sweetest Pium”. Each song was recorded live and “Tomorrow Takes the Sun” and “Jenniffer’s Grandpa” are the finest examples of this, with the latter, also the most raucous of the bunch, possessing the energy of a young bar band playing their first gig. There are moments in which terrible tragedy can become celebrations, and while this may be the last music the Hushdrops create, the record is a beautiful encapsulation of the love of songwriting that exudes through each track, particularly the 60s-inspired, feel good energy of “One of the Guys”. This is for those who love authentic rock n’ roll that is not afraid to hold hands with touches of 90s alternative.

SKUNK’D GUNK - Cassette Compilation (

I get up in the morning because of compilations like this. Apparently, Skunk’d Gunk is a yearly release, but sadly, this is my first exposure to it, and that makes me sad because now I must find out what I missed out on for the past several years. The one band I recognize here is the indominable Human Adult Band and their closing “Ceased to Exist” is a bruising wall of noise wrapped in distortion and run through a bass cabinet to result in a dense, rib-smashing work of brilliance. I have always found a Brian Jonestown massacre vibe with this band, and I am so happy they were on this. (Of course, it makes sense-this compilation is released through the band’s own label) The other acts associated with this are equally engaging, albeit not quite as crushing. There is a pair of eerie, fascinating experimental noise efforts from Stefan Christensen (“Hiss Reflection”) and Psriens’ “Redux”; both works walk a twisted line between warm and chilling, quiet and off-putting. I found myself becoming uneasy as the songs wafted around me and the feeling was amazing-the finest compliment I can bestow upon this collection is that I want to hear more from every band on it. The fleeting three-minute samples are not enough, for it is very clear that the songs included merely begin to reveal the limitless abilities possessed by the artists involved. The off-kilter noise of Drums Like Machine Guns (“Guitar Center 2”) and Jim Schmidt’s “Ten Pictures” push the boundaries as to what defines what proper song structure should be, and both brilliantly manipulate tone and form to create wholly unique pieces. I was particularly intrigued by the delicate ambient noise of “Knock” by Syko Friend, as the song hovers wistfully and leaves a profound impact despite its fragility. The gutsy, folk punk of “Tripping Hazard” by Wasnt Wisnt is a wonderful transitional track from the garage punk fury of the earlier songs to the highly expansive experiments that define the latter part of the record. The opening salvo of “It’s Alright” by Big Blood and “Villain” by the Nolls are the most conventional of the songs here, but the former has a mind-numbingly heavy bass lined and vocals delivered from the bottom of a distortion pond. A similar vein is heard with the Nolls, as the band clearly invested in fuzzboxes, as the noisy waves of “Villain” will drown children and unsuspecting adults. I wish these compilations could be monthly.

BIG D AND THE KID’S TABLE - Do Your Art (Side One Dummy Records With a cover inspired by the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle, Big D and the Kids’ Table give the masses their first record in eight years. Do Your Art rattles with suspiring speed and angst at times, but this is largely another healthy helping of the band’s feel-good ska. The bounce of “Too Much” smacks of an autobiography as David McWane admits that people often said, “that boy is too much”, while “Sociopath” may be the melodic song one will ever hear with a topic that sounds like a female Ted Bundy. The busy noise of “Metal in the Microwave” is a fun injection of speedy fury into an otherwise lighthearted anthem. The Doped-Up Dollies, a band fronted by Brianne McWane, highlight a trio of track on the record, including “Beautiful Way”, a majestic and gentle piece that floats effortlessly. Big D and the Kids’ Table have an uncanny ability to craft sinewy and richly textured pop songs constructed around ska hooks. “Strong and Fair” is a bubbly effort that jangles with pure joy and is a perfect contrast to the third piece of the triumvirate, “Forever a Freak”. With “Freak”, a blazing tempo is imbued with classic 50s rock elements including a raucous sax solo and dazzling female backing vocals to create a number that sounds like it could thrill the teeny boppers on Bandstand. This is the secret of Big D; as much fun and as adorable as some of these songs are, the band is also fearless in its craft, as “You Buggin’” proves. Working with legendary noise artists, Melt Banana, the song is forty-nine seconds of intelligible chaos that is sheer genius. There are even a few B-movie breaks, such as “Teenagers from Outer Space” and “Baby Ruth, Zagnuts, Zero, Chicken Dinner, Bit-o-Honey, Snickers, Milky Way”, with the latter acting as a flawless introduction to “Militant Humorist”, with its perfectly sardonic lyrical content and smooth rhythms. I know the members of Big D and the Kids Table have been very busy with various projects over the past few years, but eight years is far too long in between releases.

RISE AGAINST - "Nowhere Sessions" EP (Loma Vista Records

Chicago’s stalwarts bring six songs to this EP, with three songs coming from the band’s most recent release, June’s Nowhere Generation. “Talking to Ourselves”, “Broken Dreams, Inc.”, and the aforementioned title track are surrounded by a Misfits cover (“Hybrid Moments”), a stab at CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, and a scathing version of their 2008 effort, “Savior”. The band’s voice, Tim McIlrath, described this as a “live expansion” of the work that was released to much excitement earlier this past summer. The songs are louder and bolder, are reflective of the talent Rise Against has, and are sure to create interest in Nowhere Generation from those who did not grab it upon its initial release. The songs from that full length that are featured here roar with energy, and Rise Against craft smart, biting tracks that tackle issues of loneliness, boredom, and complacency for those sitting in study hall or are decades beyond such woe. My only question concerning this is simply, why? Rise Against fans will certainly love it, but three tracks from the album, an old gem and two covers is really geared for the most ardent of followers. I enjoyed all six songs particularly the bruising “Broken Dreams, Inc.”, but I am not fully sure as to why this was done.

DAN VAPID AND THE CHEATS - Escape Velocity (Eccentric Pop Records;

Not surprisingly, Dan Vapid and the Cheats deliver a brand of harmonious punk-pop with huge hooks that will instantly remind many of the legendary bands with whom Vapid has performed. This is a man who cut his teeth with some of the finest acts of the genre, including the immortal Queers, and his expertise shines through on Escape Velocity, but Vapid does not shy away from serious topics here. “Burning Questions” has the protagonist considering the reality of her existence while “Runaway Jane” features a woman finally fed up with life as it currently exists and wants desperately to start over again. Contemporary frustrations are captured on the insightful “Middle America” and “Cyber World”, and the record collectively explores issues of separation and loneliness, two dominant emotions over the past eighteen months. While “Runaway Jane” is my favorite, “Guilt and Relief” confronts the stresses of a relationship that is dying and ultimately reaches an emotional crescendo in which it must end for the emotional benefit of the people involved. “Robots” laments how technology will replace all human workers, and how we gaze upon the future with hope, but we are having our futures decimated by our own advancements. Relationships and their difficulties dominate the lyrical content of Escape Velocity (the title itself is a reference to leaving a disastrous situation), and the tone is quite mature. This is not a story of the boy getting dumped at the prom, but two adults coming to understand that what they thought was real has collapsed and they must move forward independently. “Bitter and Sour” embodies the pain of feeling trapped amid a life choice from which there seems no escape (“I don’t wanna live my life bitter and sour”). Fittingly, the record closes with “Midnight Blue”, a song caked in country dust and a tone that Hank Williams would appreciate. It is an appropriate way to close a warm and richly fulfilling record.

THE STONE EYE - South of the Sun (Eclipse Records; www.eclipserecords)

There is a lot happening with The Stone Eye. This Philadelphia based stoner-sludge-garage-power rock outfit is incredibly impressive. Each song is a labyrinthian excursion through a maze of guitar warmth that wraps the listener up and refuses to let go. The aural journeys one takes across the sprawling majesty of South of the Sun is akin to finding out what would have happened if the Grateful Dead lived long enough to play with the Sword. Sinewy guitar playing is heard throughout, but “Witches and Raptures” and the stunning “Ethereal Visons” exist as two remarkable tributes to the skills of Stephen Burdick and Christian Mechem. Their delicate, intricate, and often bombastic interplay carries each song, but Wolfgang Noll’s bass work and drummer Jeremiah Bertin are equally integral to what this band achieves. Swaying back and forth between heavy, grunge-inspired fuzz on “Hallway House” and “Gone Away” to atmospheric dreamscapes on “60/26” and “Aleutian Summer”, The Stone Eye is a band that musicians will begrudgingly admire only because they are jealous of what this four-piece can do, and fans will stand with mouths agape at how only four guys can sound like a small army. There is a delightfully playful peculiarity to this band that makes each song its own unique adventure, and they have a dazzling mastery on display on the trippy “Prescence of the Mind”. Many bands adopt a loud/soft dynamic, but to do so without sounding trite is incredibly impressive, and The Stone Eye borrows from 60s psychedelia, Zappa’s free-form genius, and injects angelic vocals that cascade lovingly to formulate a creation that is wholly unique. Imagine Sleep channeling Captain Beefheart and one has a sense of what is bubbling here. This was a true surprise, and I am so lucky to gain exposure to this, as this is a reminder that there are bands out there still pushing rock’s boundaries.

SNARES OF SIXES - Moonbladder (

When my intrepid editor includes a note that this release will satisfy my desire “for something weird”, I am intrigued. When I suggested to a dear friend that she listen to a thirty-minute song called “Moonbladder”, and her response was an instantaneous, “absolutely not”, I knew I had a gem before me. James Walton, performing here as Snares of Sixes, is a wildly talented visionary, and I have long appreciated his work with Agalloch, but I never knew about the vast depths of his creative visons. Assembled with a team of friends (including Don Anderson of Agalloch, Peter Lee of Lawnmower Deth, and Lauren Viera of Dreadnaught) at various global locations, “Moonbladder” is nearly a half hour in length, and it is a wild ride. With aspects of ambient, noise, and chilling samples, the song is a broad tableau of experimentalism and uneasy brilliance. James Plotkin mastered this nightmarish whirlwind, and it is fitting, as there are subtle nods to the aural trickery mastered by Merzbow and Sunno))). Walton has created a work that reflects the mysterious power of the moon, a celestial being that has much control over our earthly realm, but Walton imagines the moon descending “into our forests and oceans”, he said, creating a musical vision that is both warm and inviting, and shockingly unnerving. Opening with a low rumble of heavy distortion that approaches ominously like a train approaching a victim stuck helplessly in a disabled car, the song announces its presence with a shroud of darkness and foreboding. The tension grows deliberately throughout the opening moments of “Moonbladder”, with a glacial pace that mimics a horror soundtrack. By the ten-minute mark, one is transported into a dreamlike state with ethereal beauty and subtle yet jarring bits of din. The shimmering sound collage that dominates the middle portion of the voyage is truly lush and mesmerizing; an absorbing departure that creates a sense of calm that washes over the listener. As the song progresses into its final third, a subtle drumbeat becomes more pronounced, then quickly dissipates and a slow, rolling, musical fog rolls in to create a sense of confusion and claustrophobia. During the twenty-fourth moment, chilling, child-like voices are heard buried within the swirling mass of multi-instrumental daring that makes me happy that I listened to this in the afternoon with the sun streaming through my windows. Alone at night or in a darkened room with powerful headphones is probably the best way to hear this, but once the ghostly children appear, I need my daylight. The closing three minutes features a majestic male voice that dominates the landscape of this incredible achievement. Challenging yet undeniably fascinating, “Moonbladder” is an intriguing powerhouse of a piece.

SCOTT VON RYPER - Dream State Treasure (Tri-si-ent records/Silver Door Records;

Scott Von Ryper first gained notoriety with the Australian duo The Back Ryder before joining The Jesus and Mary Chain as their permanent touring guitarist. After decades of writing, touring, and releasing music, Von Ryper emerges with his first solo record, the appropriately titled Dream State Treasure. A sprawling eight song collection of warm and highly emotive works, the lush musicianship and engaging lyrics make Dream State Treasure a richly engrossing experience. “Over and Over” hums like a forgotten Oasis song, as it is both richly melodic and densely lush in its production. A similar chord is struck on “Goodnite Goodbye”, a delicate piece whose subtle intensity is particularly memorable. With minimal instrumentation, the song’s sound-similarly heard on “Devil’s Son”-is enthralling. With most of the work propelled by poignant lyrics and piano that sets a somber yet captivating mood, Von Ryper has a brusque, breathy vocal style that allows each word to hang in the air like a lyrical apparition. The funeral procession pacing of “Lucifer” is one such example. While moving methodically along on piano, the song’s closing two minutes are highlighted by extraordinary backing vocals and drumming that brings a depth to the song’s already unique sound. The aptly named “Pulse” radiates greater intensity than its counterparts as it rattles along with fuzzy guitars buried neatly within the mix. The diaphanous “Oh My Lord” and the closing “Reckoning” are harrowingly beautiful, with the latter encased in a somnambulist state with genteel piano and haunting vocals working together in an enchanting yet unnerving congress. The unsettled loveliness of the two closing efforts captures the times during which the record was recorded, with early ideas budding in 2018, but the record truly coagulating during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The songs on Dream State Treasure are like so many of us during the past yar and a half: wandering but not lost and despondent but not lifeless. A fascinating combination of darkness and splendor, Dream State Treasure is a stirring debut.

KIRA - S/T (Kitten Robot Records

For those of a certain age (i.e. old), Kira was the incredible bass force with Black Flag as well as playing alongside Mike Watt in dos. Her more recent career has involved dialog editing for films and television, with projects ranging from A Star is Born to Game of Thrones. However, her new collection of songs is a daring journey in which Kira is the focal point of all the efforts. Much of the work is mesmerizing minimalism, a sound reflective of the work she does in Hollywood. The ethereal strings on “Avoiding” are particularly moving and reflects what Kira hopes to achieve; a collection of haunting, delicate works that still hit with an emotional ferocity. The opening “Silence” is indicative of the entire record, as it is given ample room to breathe. There are plenty of quiet moments throughout Kira’s collection in which silence is all one hears. Kira does not feel a need to fill each second with sound, as she is content to allow her voice, her subdued by stimulating basslines, and simple but powerful drumming to drive “Trance”. Her voice can take a wispy, forlorn tone or a dramatically heart wrenching conveyance, but the lyrics are delivered with a spoken word aesthetic. On the jazzy closer, “In the Quiet”, Kira declares, “A wave overtakes/a sadness awaits/erases the calm”, and the pain is tangible. The sinewy “Unsolicited Advice” is captivating in its serpentine nature, both understated and impactful. Perhaps “The Ghost” best captures the nature of Kira’s work; it is a song crafted during periods of solitude and isolation, and it is as stirring and devastatingly solemn. The song, like the entire record, is a robust work from a highly gifted songwriter with more than a lifetime of experience. Kira also knows that much can be said in only a few well phrased lines-others should take note.


The core members of The Shining Tongues were the central components of The Infinite Three who decided to continue playing music together after the tragic death of drummer Paul Middleton. The survivors, Daniel Knowler and Sam McLaughlin, create a collection of impassioned, modern folk with a lot of help from their friends on the stirring Milk of God. Blending a wide array of styles, from shoegaze to ambient (“Humming Dissolving”), the record is a complex journey through loss and reemergence. “Undefiled Absorption of Supreme Bliss” is a delightfully noisy effort that captures the wide range of emotion one hears throughout the collection. The bluesy folk of “Buildings” is reminiscent of Automatic for the People-era R.E.M. and is the perfect single to introduce fans to what this band can achieve. “Rice” is a straightforward alterna-rock effort which more chiseled guitar playing, but it still retains the down-home qualities one hears throughout Milk of God. The closing “Make Us eat” has a dark, droning aspect even when the guitars go electric for the gripping conclusion. This is beautiful music that is born of pain and loss; the cathartic nature of the songs is palpable and is a tremendous tribute to a friend.

THE HIGH 70s - Glitter Box (

This is simply amazing; the High 70s bring the sweat and swagger of 70s rock n’ roll and run it through the modern meat grinder of twenty-first century Los Angeles. “Accidents Never Happen” is so infectious that it should have a Covid variant named for it, as The High 70s borrow liberally from a classic dawn-of-the-80s goth sound and inject a silly amount of energy. Imagine the Sisters of Mercy on molly and you have the start of what The High 70s can bring. Vocalist Chris Williams has a true Iggy Pop vibe on all that he sings, and he keeps a snarky snarl even when tracks like “Astro Van” gets a little bluesy. The title track of Glitter Box could easily be a hold over from Ziggy Stardust Bowie, as guitarist LJ Scott channels his inner Mick Ronson and “Hemlock Girl” grinds along with a strong bass groove and accents drummer Princess Frank. This theme of bass happy bounce continues with “Invisible Wall”, a song that emphasizes The High 70s ability to make songs both melodic and dark. The angular post-punk of “Natural Selection”, a song on which Williams’ barks, “do your fucking job” is particularly impactful, and the gritty, Detroit-style proto-punk of “Secrets” is my favorite track of the bunch. The longer, ethereal “We Have Nothing to Lose” is quintessential Joy Division moodiness that moves powerfully and dramatically. The High 70s are a glorious trip back to the future of rock and will remind people of the days of grimy LA talent.

MENTAL TORMENT - Ego: Genesis (Metallurg Music

This Ukrainian band blends the most atmospheric aspects of black metal with the skull crushing brutality of death metal into a mass of thick, punishing gruel. The lush piano that opens “Acceptance” is a marvelous rouse for the musical inhumanity that is found once it subsides. “New Days Old Wounds” continues this bleak path of bombastic dread, and the band draws ethereal similarities to depressive black metal stalwarts Nocturnal Depression and Woods of Desolation. The emotive “Untitled” hits with great ferocity perhaps of its glacial pace. The mix of doom/sludge metal heaviness, along with atmospheric black metal ambiance, and death metal vocals create a viscous mass of terror. The expansive musical tableaus of each of the seven songs are both exhilarating and intimidating, and Mental Torment are not averse to a few dynamic tricks, such as those one hears on “Black”, as guitars are given a unique tone and are nearly playful in their experimentalism. “Oblivion” is led by majestic keys, and the songs finishes with a pummeling two minutes, and rightfully draws this cinematic metal record to a close. The band remains largely anonymous but do a little sleuthing and find out about these guys.


The Cocktail Slippers have not released a record in seven years, and it is no wonder the world is such a divisive, disastrous mess; this is a band that brings pure fun and limitless energy into rock n’ roll. The Oslo outfit blends a wide array of styles to formulate a pristine collection of infectious pop-influenced punk that has a few rough edges as well. The one constant component of what the Cocktail Slippers do is enjoy themselves. The effervescent nature of “Be the One” cascades of out the speakers, as the Slippers tap into a Donnas-style groove, channeling the Ramones via Slater-Kinney. Emphasizing melody over mayhem, Shout It Loud is a party that everyone remembers, and nothing was broken. “Say My Name” is reminiscent of Shonen Knife’s finest elements, and even when they slow the pace on “You and I”, the song retains a gritty authenticity and heartfelt lyrics (“Can’t help feeling that our love is not a lie”). I am particularly taken with the bubblegum goodness of “She Devil” and the dreamy “Too Good to be True”. Both tracks include huge hooks and display the band’s ability to tap into a pop fetish without abandoning their more raucous tendencies. Perhaps the most shocking moment is the closing cover of Deep Purple’s “Hush”. Played with a scorching level of intensity, the Cocktail Slippers take the classic rock radio staple and make it a pit-inducing musical punch to the jaw. “Night Train” and “Like a Song Stuck in My Head” are a return to a sound that resembles what would happen if the Dollyrots met the 5,6,7,8s at three in the morning in a coffee shop. All of Shout It Loud is a delight, and I really do not want to wait another seven years for new music.

CRISIX - "Pizza" EP (Listenable Records;

I really needed this; Crisix is a monolithic blast of classic crossover fury. Hailing from Barcelona, Crisix blends ferocity with a sense of humor, like a European Iron Reagan. It can be a struggle for many metal bands to let loose and have a few laughs, but Crisix blends their animosity with a few jokes along the way. “World Needs Mosh” crushes everything in its path, capturing the Bay Area thrash of the 80s and should certainly inspire some murder in the front row. The Jurassic Park-inspired “Raptors in the Kitchen” is fifty-five seconds of pure DRI speed and abrasiveness, while “No Tip for the Kid” is blazing thrash gem work that nods to guitar player BB Plaza’s days as a pizza delivery guy. “Tough to Cook a Song” is equally loud as its three companions but features samples from a metal-themed cooking show, proving that neck-snapping metal can be delivered while smiling. The band’s greatest skill is their ability to support each song with thunderous playing; it is certainly fine for thrash bands to enjoy themselves, but without the musical chops, the music can quickly slide into parody. Such a fear is not the case with Crisix-this collection of skilled maniacs will be laughing all the way to the pit.

ASTORIA STATE - "The Suffer, The Salvage" EP (

The trio Astoria State deliver very melodic modern rock with a handful of classic emo characteristics throughout the six songs on The Suffer, The Salvage. Danny Resnick and Jesse Carroll met each other in conjunction with a Red Jumpsuit Apparatus tour and the two j oined forces to write songs and form their own unit. Joined by bassist Cameron Horst, the music Astoria State alternates between burly guitar and ethereal harmonies. The opening “Damage” creates a template for the EP as Resnick’s powerful vocals mesh with an impactful loud/soft structure, resulting in a song that ebbs and flows with pristine effectiveness. Resnick delivers deeply personal lyrics that expose a sense of vulnerability within the bombast (“You know we’re in this together/forever and always through the good and bad days”). In the manner of bands like Cursive and Taking Back Sunday, the topic of love is not taboo on The Suffer, The Salvage, as Resnick ruminates about whether it is better to have known love and thus pain, or to have remained alienated from such feelings (“All in all it’s not so bad/Only drinking when I’m sad”). Both “Leave it to Me” and “War” are buttressed by a panoramic structure that creates a dynamic musical environment. “War” takes the listener through the struggles of a relationship, noting, “we’re bending at the break just like before”. Both songs also build their choruses around massive hooks as Astoria State create expansive works with great depth and usually do so in three minutes. The Suffer, The Salvage subtly implements a late 90s/early 2000s sound to craft songs that are a refreshing shift away from rock’s contemporary malaise.

DAVID DUCHOVNY - Gestureland (GMG/King Baby)

It is always easy to snicker when celebrities release musical ventures, and to be fair, many have not helped alleviate this skepticism. From William Shatner to Bruce Willis to America’s never-ending nightmare Kim Kardashian, many have tried and either stalled or completely imploded. Gestureland is David Duchovny’s third record in six years, proving that this is more than a passing infatuation with music but rather a skill the legendary actor is looking to hone. No one is going to confuse David Duchovny’s vocal range with Robert Plant, but Gestureland has a wide array of strong elements. The no-frills, late-night bar rock of “Nights are Harder These Days” opens the record and I wish other efforts followed its Stones meets Crazy Horse blueprint, but Duchovny wanders down a path of folksy Americana for much of Gestureland. “Holding Patterns” and “Everything is Noise” have subtle beats as their foundation, but without a forceful guitar presence, Duchovny’s vocals become the primary focus. While his skill as a vocalist is certainly commendable, and well beyond anything I could ever try, Duchovny has limitations as a singer, and this is evident on the gentle “Chapter and Verse”. Throughout this reserved work, Duchovny sounds as if he is reading lines for a character to which he is not fully committed. The X-Files and Californication star does not embarrass himself at any point, but as the songs become increasingly subdued, the onus to carry the track falls upon Duchovny. The warm “Stay Until” is replete with touching lyrics of heartbreak, but it stalls musically and does not reach its full potential in its current construction as a stripped-down ballad. “Tessera” suffers this same fate; as genteel strings waft, Duchovny strains to express the breadth of the song’s emotion. Much of Gestureland is quite haunting, including the piano kissed “Call me When you Land” and “Sea of Tranquility”, and it is intriguing to think of what these songs could be if the hands (and throats) of more practiced singers, as the latter could easily be a lost Springsteen gem. This is not a poor attempt at all by a man who inspired Bree Sharp to ask “David Duchovny, why won’t you love me”, but instead, is another reminder of how difficult singing and songwriting truly is, and why is it an astounding gift to possess.

PINK TURNS BLUE - Not Even Trying (Orden Records

Pink Turns Blue first emerged in 1985 and in 2021, their brand of stirring post punk, accented by glittering guitar and deceptively emotional vocals, is desperately needed. Singer Mic Jogwer delivers his lines with a level of monotone disengagement, capturing a darkness within the opening title track. As a steady bassline throbs behind him, Jogwer laments how it appears that people are “not even trying to save our world”. When he states how he is “getting ready to go now to the other side”, there is a chilling detachment reminiscent of Ian Curtis. “So Why Not Save the World” and “I’m Gonna Hold You” are tales of frustration and alienation from the contemporary world, with the latter song depicting the act of escaping into love as one’s only source of hope (“Now I wanna take care of you/I wanna hold hands with you…those bad days are gone”). With swarths of guitar cutting across the song’s landscape, “I’m Gonna Hold You” is reminiscent of the Cure of their creative peak. Reubi Walter and Paul Richter surround Jogwer, and Pink Turns Blue and the trio channel their anger into stirring works of sorrow that also include messages of inspiration and melancholy beauty, particularly heard on “You Still Mean so Much to Me”. The members of Pink Turns Blue are infuriated with what they see around them, but there is no resignation in their words. “It Fades Away” may not be brimming with optimism, but this song of despondence is juxtaposed by “Never Give Up”, a work celebrating the virtue of determination amid a bleak reality. “Summertime” hums with a sparkling warmth constructed by masters of emotionally penetrating darkwave, and “Brave New World” emphasizes the fragility of the world and the fear that can naturally produce. Pink Turns Blue emerged in the midst of the Cold War, a period of history that somehow feels quaint when compared to the current environment of terror, climate change denial, and the increasing threats against human rights in numerous forms. Nothing on Not Even Trying will make listeners feel like everything will be alright, but that is the point; people need to wake up and act, and this record is a brilliant call to arms.

JOSIE COTTON - Pussycat Babylon (

Josie Cotton is a legend. Even if her career had ended with the Valley Girl soundtrack, it still would have been enough to solidify her as a dynamic performer thanks to her legendary hit, “Johnny, Are You Queer?” Luckily, Cotton never stopped making music, and Pussycat Babylon is either a record of delightfully melodic fury, or perhaps delightfully furious melody. Either way, this collection of electro-punk rattles between aggressive and refined, experimental with pleasingly accessible, and does so always with a grin. “The New Hong Kong” has a sexiness offset by a playful innocence that embodies the breadth of visceral reactions Cotton’s music can create. Other efforts, such as the rocket-propelled energy of “Recipe for Disaster” and the title track will make all the heads bob and the bodies move. The mischievous “Stop Iggy Pop” and “All I See is the Face of Bruce Lee” capture pure dance-pop sweetness, and while “If a Lie Was Love” possesses a more serious nature, it remains passionately energized. “Super 8” adopts a quasi-R&B vibe, and this sultrier approach is matched by “Hey Now”. Closing with “Hi, I Like You”, Cotton puts away some (but not all) of the synthesizers and replaces the keys with guitar strings to generate a punky track to finish off a fun and intriguing record. Pussycat Babylon is highly caffeinated, wildly infectious, and undeniably fun.

JOEY CAPE - A Good Year to Forget (Far Wreck Chords

Like so many people, Joey Cape, a punk rock stalwart with Lagwagon, had a devastating 2020. For Cape, he saw the death of his father, the dissolving of a twenty-year marriage (“a long way back from a twenty-year nap” he states), and a bout with Covid. This pain manifests itself throughout A Good Year to Forget, as he notes on the title track, “Remember when you earned your keep, now you drink yourself to sleep”. The songs are poignantly heart wrenching, particularly the jarring body shots of “The Poetry in Our Mistakes” and “It Could be Real”. The latter is a man reflecting upon how one finds a meaningful relationship and doubting the ability to do so. Ultimately, the despondency of the song is softened by a glimmering sense of hope that the protagonist can indeed find something powerful. For those of us who are searching and perhaps even lucky enough to have found someone we hope can complete broken lives, Cape’s words are an extension of the humanity one feels throughout each effort. The haunting chords of “We Might Be Wrong” gives the song a low cloud ceiling of sorrow, as Cape’s voice drips with despair. “Under the Doormat” is filled out by more prominent drums and a richer guitar tone without minimizing the suffering within a collapsing relationship (“I’m not the enemy/I know you’re not the enemy”). Cape is a powerful storyteller, honest and unafraid on “Check Your Ego at the Door” and “Fictional”, as the latter critiques the pseudo reality of social media posts (“I wanna be like them/They never have to pretend their pleasant dreams/my nightmares”). “Come Home” is a deeply moving closing track whose abrupt ending is both jarring and cathartic, thus encapsulating the emotional power of the record perfectly. A Good Year to Forget uses one man’s agony to perfectly paint images of far-reaching suffering, and does so majestically.

QUICKSAND - Distant Populations (Epitaph Records

Quicksand has faithfully maintained a sterling reputation and fervently devoted fans since the early 1990s, and Distant Populations supports why both of those traits remain true. Quicksand’s music is timeless, somehow celebratory of their origins while also sounding decades ahead of their time. Moody, heavy, and wildly emotive, the opening “Inversion” references “distant populations you never even see” and sets the musical and emotional bar for the next ten tracks. The opening riffs of both “Lightning Field” and “Colossus” hit with devastating force, and instantly lock in with the band’s instantly recognizable groove from Sergio Vega and Alan Page. Massive in scope, “The Philosopher” is the finest embodiment of Will Yip’s production; the song resonates warmth while still sounding like a monolithic block of force. Walter Schreifels has always written lyrics of depth and purpose, and a year of frustration and social isolation gave him ample time to detail the disturbing irony of the “connectivity” of modern life on “Rodan”, noting “share the same existence, doesn’t make a difference”, and “Phase 90” looks at life through the lens of a man who, like so many, is easily diverted (“Trying to finish the book I was reading/Put it down for too long/got distracted by other things”). In short, Distant Populations brilliantly illuminates the sad truth about contemporary life-we all seem to have too many disruptions in our collective attempts to be “in the moment”; in reality, so many lives have become diluted through screens and despite the ability to have instant communication, people have lost the ability to connect. It is the perfect record for the disaster that has been and seemingly continues to be the past eighteen months. If there really is no hope for a return to life as it once was, at least Quicksand can be the soundtrack to the end of history.

ACID TONGUE - "Blossom EP" (

On the opening “Home”, Acid Tongue-also known as Guy Keltner and Ian Cunningham-somehow mesh aspects of garage rock and 70s AOR radio. The result is a pristine, glittering piece of sing-along progressive yet accessible indie pop that captured my attention and refused to surrender. The rousing chorus of “All my friends are finally back home” is delivered with relief and contentment, as the track exudes a truly genuine hopeful nature. Collaborating with different colleagues on the four efforts, Blossom is connected through the happiness that is woven throughout the release, but each of the collaborator brings a unique set of skills to the already exorbitant talent of Acid Tongue. Libra jumps in on “Home”, and Calvin Young is a highlight of “All Out of Time”, an effort strengthened by strings reminiscent of ELO’s heyday. The flirtation with 70s disco-hugged pop rock becomes a full-blown relationship on “Rock n Roll Revelations”, a soaring anthem replete with slick production, boundless soul and thoughtfully critical lyrics (“Ain’t no angels nowadays, they didn’t like out backwards ways. And we’ll all be punished now. Ain’t no use is askin’ how”). The concluding “Take Me to Your Leader” is given greater musical girth through the presence of Death Valley Girls, and the chanting of “USA, Play all day, Love Our Way in the USA” is both dripping with sarcastic bite and playful innocence. Acid Tongue is a nearly impossible band to adequately capture, this making them deliriously fun. Blossom is a musical witches brew of funk, pop, soul, rock, and psychedelia, all imbued with a defiant spirit of non-conformity. My advice would be to ignore any fight to figure out the best label and simply enjoy what is a band that is an incredible amount of fun.

FEROCIOUS DESIGNS - A Matter of Time (

Recorded on GarageBand over the better part of the last decade, singer-songwriter Brian Kelley is the man behind Ferocious Designs. Kelley has been writing songs for over thirty-five years, but as he noted, “between the pandemic and recently turning 50”, the time was right to finally release properly recorded and produced songs unto the world. The opening “What a Time to be Alive” was initially inspired by the continued bickering among world leaders concerning climate change, but more recent global events place a new level of gravatas into the words. The five songs on A Matter of Time are largely piano-based pop efforts with touches of controlled progressive rock. Kelley offers extremely personal lyrics, reflecting upon the current state of the world through the eyes of a man with enough years lived to accurately note how greatly times have changed. This theme is highlighted on both “Get Back in Line” (“The world keeps on passing you by/But you refuse to let go/Of some sense of values imagined/From a long time ago”) and “Years Go By”. With a clear line of influence from the 80s pop of Genesis and Simple Minds, this pair of songs truly embody the lessons Kelley is offering to listeners. The closing pair of “Lay it on the Line” and “You and Me Against the World” are decidedly more expansive works, coming in at over six and minutes respectively. As someone from within Kelley’s age group, his affinity for 80s pop acts such as Naked Eyes, Spandau Ballet, and even Johnny Hates Jazz was wildly apparent throughout A Matter of Time, but this reaches a climax on the closing duo of tracks. The New Jersey-based performer returns to the role of sage warning those who will listen on “Lay it on the Line” (“Life's not worth living if you don't take a stand and champion the causes of your fellow man”) As one world expect, “You and Me Against the World” is a classic tale of a relationship attempting to defy the odds in a cold world. While not the most original of ideas, Kelley’s gentle piano and understated percussion creates a poignant musical bed. For fans of nostalgia that is easy on the ears, Ferocious Designs has a name far more intimidating than its music.

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS - Hologram (Dedstrange Records

A Place to Bury Strangers, the product of Oliver Ackerman and his fascinatingly dark view of a world that is only getting darker, returns with Hologram, a blistering collection of ear-splitting post-punk, ambient chaos. Many bands are loud, but A Place to Bury Strangers rattles with a fury across the five songs of Hologram that defies traditional definitions of volume, constructing a din that represents the angst, confusion, isolation, and defeatism of the pandemic. The songs are abrasive, frantically intense, and relentless in their ferocity. The opening “End of the Night” bounces with a warm dance groove before evolving into a mass of noise accented with heavily distorted vocals and a claustrophobic sensibility. This same sense of dread and discomfort comes across on “I Might Have”, a biting anthem fueled by heavily distorted guitar that blends punk, grunge, and space-rock psychedelia into one swirling mass of terror. The brief “Playing the Part” is a bit of a respite from the twisted metal that dominates the earlier efforts, but yet, the song also possesses a dense melancholy that exudes despondency in a beautifully poetic manner. The tangible melancholy of “In My Hive” is conveyed through Ackerman’s vocals. While largely monotone, there is still an extraordinary reservoir of meaning and depth of purpose annunciated in each syllable. His delivery is haunting and penetrating, becoming an extension of the music itself instead of hovering above it. The closing “I Need You” is chilling; with elements of early Cure, the song’s mystifying nature straddles the line between the beautiful and the nightmarish, encapsulating APTBS perfectly. I am mesmerized by the closing anthem to what it an exhilarating musical experience; A Place to Bury Strangers is intentionally not easy, and the concluding wall of noise that crashes upon the listener may overwhelm some, but for a band that has repeatedly built upon previous success, Hologram is, thus far, the pinnacle of what APTBS can achieve.

THE WIND-UPS - Try Not to Think (Mt. St. Mtn Records

The Wind-Ups will be a full band now that (seemingly) the world is crawling back to some form of what normal can be. However, until that time, the Wind-Ups is really just a sole player, Jake Sprecher. Over the course of eleven songs, Jake only hits the two-minute mark twice, bringing forth the most elementary, and therefore best, aspects of punk’s incipient stages, namely Johnny Ramone-inspired guitar buzz, Stooges haze, and Television’s love for atonal beauty. All of these glorious traits shine through on “Lockdown”, a raw, stomping track that lasts a whopping three and half minutes. Sounding this work are quick gut punches of blistering speed and deceptive harmony. “Cat in the Hat Hat” and “Much to Do” truly sound like something Dee Dee Ramone wrote but forgot to show the other guys, while “I Wish You Would Call” connotes Johnny Thunders attempting to figure out Phil Spector’s legendary “Wall of Sound” by himself and missing a few knobs, but the earnest, gritty nature of the work is triumphant. The biting “Drinking Bleach” rattles with garage punk adrenaline, blending one part Candy Snatchers with one part Jay Reatard, and “Jack Green” is the best hidden gem on a record overflowing with priceless works. Go find this immediately and see them when they tour before we’re all sent back into our holes again.

THE ’94 KNICKS - "T2 EP" (

The ’94 Knicks play a style of music reminiscent of that great team's style on the floor of the Garden; it is gruff and a little chaotic at times, but there is also a symmetry that works perfectly. “(note to self)” embodies this aesthetic, as squalling guitar noise introducing both the track and the EP, as shared vocals of Sam Braverman and Inna Mkrytcheva fight to be heard above the fray. Borrowing from 90's grunge and an appreciation for off-kilter pop, the song captures the ’94 Knicks. Mkrytcheva’s vocal refrain of “you leave it up to me/I’ll give you everything” is both sultry and vulnerable, again transfixing the listener as the band creates a flailing dichotomy of tone and tenor. A similar dynamic is heard on “Mermaid Parade”, as Braverman delivers a dead pan, monotone vocal performance as swirling harmonics and a bombastic low end, compliments of the bass and drums detonating around him. The furiously driving guitar riff that impels “M.A.D.D.” is the perfect accoutrement to Mkrytcheva’s scathing lyrics, as she declares “so do your worst, I did it first”. The ’94 Knicks create intricate noise, as each song is a whirling ball of force and power that is abrasive and aggressive, but supremely thoughtful. The lyrics of “People You may or May Not Know” are slices of suffering, tragedy, and confusion written with magnificent empathy. The refined pop elements woven gently into the song act as a buttress to the darker aspects of the effort. “People” is my favorite of the five songs here, due to both the sheer emotion of the playing and the heartbreakingly powerful attention to details one hears in the lyrics. “7 Years (Pt. I and II)” is a clattering effort that takes listeners back to early 90's Sub Pop and unvarnished garage punk fury. “Seven Years” is the ideal representation of the collective EP, as the track is delightfully obtuse, surprisingly heavy, and ultimately unforgettable.


This band has been on my radar for years and I am routinely impressed by all their creativity, but I was truly caught off guard by Butterfly 3000. Delicate, lighter than air psych pop bubbles over with joy, at least musically speaking. Lyrically, Butterfly 3000 is a journey about introspection, self-analysis. and in some cases, struggle. Butterfly 3000 marks another stage in the evolution of this wildly talented Australian outfit, and the joyful headspace one hears on “Shanghai “is infectious, as it swings with a smooth R&B style while a lush groove cascades past. “Dreams” includes the lyrics, “I only wanna wake up in my dreams/I only feel awake in the night”; upon first glance, these phrases may strike one as innocent or even playful, but it is obvious that there lies an omnipresent darkness within the psychedelic ear candy one hears. This is not so much a song about being happy in one’s mind, but rather absconding from the world into which we wake each day. Much of Butterfly 3000 feels like an escape from the drudgery of existence, and “Blue Morpho” truly embodies the richness of the band’s progressive sensibility, as the song meanders peacefully, while the effervescent nature of “Interior People” masks the poignancy of the words (“I got a sensory roadblock/I’m in a binary mind lock”). “Catching Smoke” features expansive synth loops and profound solipsism (“Everybody here is catching smoke, looking for the ephemeral, riding on a yellow-bellied brown snake, sipping on hedonism”). Written during the high point of the pandemic, the video game-like mannerisms of “2.02 Killer Year” is highlighted by the words, “Is it enough that we’re a speck of dust, speeding through avoiding stuff?” The concluding title track is a stately finishing statement, as a message of hope and guarded optimism rings, “Hope you don’t let this world crush you, for it’s beautiful out”. Pristine and beautiful, Butterfly 3000 is an intriguing listen from a and clearly fearless in its desire to challenge itself and its audience.


Lost Symphony is the band that allows both sides of a person’s brain to meld together perfectly; scathing guitar work and destructive metal intensity coincides with deftly played classical music. This might sound trite at first, or another desperate musical crossover, but rest assured, Lost Symphony are neither of those two things. Not only is this a work of pure adoration for both styles of music, but it is also a collection of supremely gifted players demonstrating what happens with a gathering of virtuosos decide to make music together. Richard Shaw, Marty Friedman, Nuno Bettencourt, and Alex Skolnick are among the staggering talents who handle a series of guest guitar responsibilities, and there are numerous other luminaries making appearances as well, including Dave Ellefson, Friedman’s longtime comrade in Megadeth. “Acceptance” and the deeply impactful “Bargaining Depression” are sprawling, operatic, anthemic works of grandiose majesty whose emotional breadth comes through the powerful of instrumentation of not only the instantly recognizable names to metal fans, but especially the work of Siobhán Cronin, whose electric violin only intensifies the ferocity ad depth of the songs. Never without a sense of humor, the cheeky title of “Decomposing Composers” is the moniker of a blazing work of dynamic speed and texture. The song roars at blinding velocity with Cronin acting as the pace setter, while drummer Paul Lourenco is given ample room to display his talents. The intricacy and the beauty of the songs will leave mouths agape and people speechless. Benny Goodman and his brother Brian are the masterminds behind this idea, with Brian tackling the imposing responsibility of crafting arrangements, while Benny is also producer and multi-instrumentalist. Surrounded by other permanent members Cory Paza on bass, and Kelly Kereliuk on guitar, Lost Symphony is a cooperative of boundless skill and an equally fearless vision.

2ND GRADE - Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited (Double Double Whammy Records

On my initial listen to 2nd Grade’s “As Long as We Can Talk About it”, I was immediately longing for my days on college radio, for Pete Gill’s vocals harmonize with the innocence and joy of a child, as surf-style pop pulsates and wafts blissfully. This is the type of DIY indie pop that invigorates listeners and proves that songs recorded in a carpeted bathroom at a friend’s house can convey emotion one cannot recreate in a million-dollar studio. Gill, a lyrical savant who was homeless and broke in 2018 and filled his time renting swan boats and writing dozens and dozens of songs, crafts delicate nuggets of life’s fleeting moments. “Superglue” is transfixing effort about finding that perfect counter-soul (“I spent most of my life drifting in and out of lost-and-founds/But you complete me/ Like I never knew that I was broken until you came along with your superglue”), and “Work Til I Die” may only have two lines of words (“Work til I die/But spend my free time with you”), but song’s simplicity emphasizes its beautiful adoration of its subject. The majority of the work clocks in under two minutes but still make an impact despite the brevity; only the sardonic “Held Back” is fully developed at over five minutes, although the concluding moments include Gill’s hilarious reading of the list of credits for the recording, production, and even the catalog number of Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited. Somewhat heartbreaking nature, (“All the other kids are off for the summer/All the other kids were cut slack/All the other kids are off getting dumber/I’m being held back”) jangly guitar playing from Catherine Dwyer and Jon Samuels explode into bursts of raw power accented by the drumming of Will Kennedy and bassist Jack Washburn to capture a sound reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub’s pinnacle. While the fully produced songs are sterling in nature and tone, there is an endearing quality to Gill’s acoustic demos. His voice resonates powerfully, and the stripped-down nature allows for each syllable to be fully appreciated as the raw versions are imbued with Gill’s ability to capture complex feelings of longing, love, and disappointment in only a handful of statements.

THE CATENARY WIRES - Birling Gap (Skep Wax Records

If a chain is catenary, it hangs under the assumption of its own weight, and the songs on Birling Gap are emotionally weighty, sophisticated pop songs that resonate with the warmth of genteel, late 60s psychedelia. When Amelia Fletcher asks, “Can’t things stay the same?” on the closing “The Overview Effect”, her childlike tone strains as she answers her own question with the next line, “can’t stay the same”. The shared vocals between Fletcher and guitarist Rob Pursey connote early Mamas and the Papas. One could easily imagine Phil Spector working with this English five-piece, as the dual vocals of Fletcher and Pursey perfectly balance each other, making efforts like “Always on My Mind “and “Mirrorball” both sweet and poignant tales of love in a rather hardened world. “Mirrroball” opens with a Herb Alpert style horn, and is lyrically set in an “80s disco” and while Fletcher acknowledges that it was “not cool”, she also notes that “we both paid to be there”, offering a subtle self-deprecating humor to a song about falling in love. Once the couple at the heart of the song see each other, there is a revelation (“Found out the song is about people lost and lonely/ I’d heard it but I never knew/ Found out the song is about something real/but only because of you”) The ethereal nature of each track offers ample room for the songs to breathe, and the five members work in ideal tandem, particularly drummer Ian Button and his rhythm section partner Andy Lewis on bass. While keyboardist Fay Hallam sprinkles an influence upon every song, the Button-Lewis duo establish an especially solid foundation on “Alpine” and “Liminal”, with the latter embodying the definition of pristine pop. “Canterbury Lanes” borrows early Bee Gees and meshes it with 5th Dimension harmonies and subtle late-era Beatles studio symphonics, allowing the band to display all their talented wares. “Like the Rain” is a delicate, acoustic effort carried by Fletcher’s richly touching vocal delivery and haunting lyrics (“We talked for years, our phobias and fears/spent so much time in our own minds/ it’s over”). Catenary Wires merge the most refined aspects of classic Mersey Beat and Haight Ashbury sounds and produce a stirring pop record from a seemingly different era that sounds particularly needed now.

DOG PARK DISSIDENTS - ACAB For Cutie (Say 10 Records;

This dynamic duo of Zac Xeper and Jon Greco deliver five highly distinctive blasts of politicly savvy, socially conscious, and at times, quite funny tracks that range in style to searing hardcore to spastic electronica. “Pronouns” features lyrics that are certainly direct (“say the goddamn pronouns motherfucker/Or I’ll cut your eyes out”) while a flesh-melting riff shreds through all fifty-eight seconds of this scorching opener. The door that Pansy Division kicked open almost thirty years ago is hacked to pieces with an axe by Dog Park Dissidents, as they weave messages of support for the LBGTQ communities on “Class Struggle” (“Queer lib is class struggle/Unless you’re living in an airtight bubble”). A more melodic slab of punk, “Good Boy” addresses the protagonist’s “Puppy”, reminding him that he’s “a good boy” in a song of soft, compassionate love (“When living in this world make you uneasy, I will be here to caress you sweetly/ And remind you that you’re incredible/When it gets loud in your head, listen to this instead”). Puppy returns on the strutting “Bad Dog”; replete with a nearly bluesy swagger, the tracks reveals yet another side of this remarkably intriguing act. However, as much as I hope to someday be in a circle pit as the previous four efforts are played, I must admit that the dance-club inspired “RuPaul’s Frack Race” is my favorite effort of the bunch. Sardonic, biting lyrics (“Yas, Queen, sashay to the guillotine”) are spat out over the top of an infectious groove accented by scintillating guitar. I am so happy this was sent my way-it could be the soundtrack of my summer.

HURRY - Fake Ideas (Lame-O Records;

If you were never able to get “Stacy’s Mom” out of your head, wrap your mind and arms around Hurry. Fake Ideas is a sterling collection of pristine power pop heavy on the hooks and light on the intensity. Hurry brings listeners a ten-song collection of heartwarming guitar fun that occasionally turns the amps up to a solid eight (“Doomsday”), but much of the work glides effortlessly along a steam of smooth vocals and easily palatable riffs. The opening “It’s Dangerous” (“Baby, it’s dangerous to feel anything so strongly”) is a smile-inducing blast of ear candy, matched by the bubblegum bliss of “Slogging Through the Summer” and “Where You Go, I Go”. Matt Scottoline has an ideal vocal style for this brand of emotionally driven work; his voice reflects a wide array of sentiments, from vulnerability to optimism on “How to Cope” and “Keep Being Yourself” respectively, while “Oh, Whitney” will be the theme song for every post-pandemic summer love. He is joined on guitar by Justin Fox, whose solos add a controlled burn to many of the tracks, included the trio listed above. Drummer Rob DeCarolis and bassist Joe DeCarolis are occasionally lost a bit in the vocal and guitar centric mix, but their time keeping skills are integral to the construction of the cascading harmonies that dominate Fake Ideas. Underneath the breezy melodies lies a layer of difficult personal exploration, as Scottoline acknowledging his own anxiety throughout the lyrics. The dichotomy between painful and pretty makes Hurry more than another pop-happy indie rock. When having friends over for that long-awaited barbeque, Fake Ideas is the perfect summer record; it is fun, easy on the ears, and will not upset anyone in the crowd.

KILLER CRUSH - S/T (Outloud Records/Laptop Punk Records)

Killer Crush describe themselves as two friends from New York and Germany, but do not include much of a bio. However, after a little internet sleuthing, Vincenzo (@sirvincenzothe1st) and Luarenz Ebert (@laurenz_182) are the duo who dabble with a wide array of sounds and styles. “Wait” opens the record with a tight emotional grip and a level of tangible aggression, which is quite an achievement for a folk song (“I wait for you, I wait for us, too”). There is frequent dichotomy among the efforts on this self-titled release, a ten-song collection that was initially intended to be an EP, but eventually grew into a full-length as ideas continued to flow. “Street Light” rattles in the vein of classic indie rock, features a driving bass line, and lyrics that address a confounding relationship peppered with words of hope (“If you stick by my side/we’ll be invincible”). The permeating sorrow of “Make the Rain Go Away’ is matched by “September Rain”; apparently rain truly inspires waves of depression among the duo in Killer Crush, as the latter is a heartbreaking lament about a failed relationship (“I brush my teeth and start to think of you/ if only I could find a way to turn back time/ so I would never have to miss you right here by my side”). The band’s ability to swing from morose and sullen to impassioned and rollicking is captured on “My Love is Gone”, a pop-kissed blast of guitar-led alterna-rock, and “French Kiss”, a spritely track comprised of guitar verve and words, this time, of adoration and longing (“No matter what I’ll do/my heart keeps wanting you”). “Maria” is a warm, tender tribute to a summer love, highlighted by the poetic nature of the message: “There are moments when I’m thinking of your eyes and presence/ and your picture-perfect smile of an angel/I’ve never felt like this before”. The band bares their souls musically and lyrically, and after nine such anthems, it is fitting that the record ends with “Love Song”, a celebratory work about finally finding authentic love (“There’s something about the look on your face/That makes me forget all the internal pain/I need you to know/I want you to know”). This is a sentimental and poignantly affecting listen from a band that taps into 90s indie, bubblegum punk-pop, and even touches of 60s harmonies to create a wonderfully moving experience.

UGLI - Fuck (

When a band names their album Fuck, one can safely assume that mainstream acceptance is not Ugli’s primary goal. However, Ugli should not be written off as a band merely attempting to shock people. The buoyancy of the opening “House Pet” is initially jarring as I was expecting music that would be loud, destructive, and yes, ugly. Instead, the members of Ugli sonically investigate the origins of grunge and incorporate cascading waves of fuzz and distortion throughout their work. “When I was in Love” is one such voyage; a five-minute piece of self-reflection (“Joy is so complicated and alien to me”) driven by the penetrating voice of Dylan Durante, whose guitar work is bolstered by that of Andrew Iannarelli to create a wall of hazy power. Ugli writes songs that are the antithesis of their moniker; the tracks are fully developed, fleshed out, and explosive. Yes, there is a punk aesthetic to what this four-piece attempts, but the adroit musical finesse one hears on “Mourning Coffee” is staggering. The song is ultimately brought to a rousing climax with Durante emoting “I don’t ever want to die/ I don’t ever want to be alive”. “Superball” bounces like Bossanova-era Pixies with Durante feverishly yelping, “Hey waste space!”, and although “Why be Pretty?” utilizes a classic loud/soft structure, there is a deftness to the work that prevents redundancy. Along the way, drummer Teddy Paulin sounds like he is swinging baseball bats behind his kit, and bassist Lucas Gisonti generates a warm backstop of sound. The closing “Naegleriasis” is an eight and half minute opus that begins as genteel blanket of serenity before erupting into a thunderous force. The song’s second half features saxophone and trumpet woven neatly into the fray as a deluge of distortion-laden guitar leaves Durante fighting to keep her vocals above water. While I initially found the title of the record disconcerting, Ugli has beautiful music to offer here.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM - Blood in the Water (AFM Records;

For nearly the entirety of their career, Flotsam and Jetsam have been “Jason Newsted’s first band” before he famously joined a moderately successful San Francisco act named Metallica. This is tragically unfair, as Flotsam and Jetsam are far much more than just another thrash act from the era of dirty, white, high top sneakers and jean jackets with back patches, for they have always been a highly skilled unit capable of crafting intricate and punishing metal with intellect to match their musical barbarism. Blood in the Water has a classic F&J sound led by vocalist Eric Knutson whose voice has evolved and aged gracefully, soaring on the opening combination of the title track and “Burn the Sky”. This one-two opening salvo is an announcement that this current Flotsam and Jetsam has the same energy and hunger as thirty years ago, but with age comes increased confidence and dexterity. For those who remember Doomsday for the Deceiver, much of Blood in the Water will sound refreshingly familiar but not redundant. The galloping “Brace for Impact” channels classic West Coast thrash in both title and tempo (and coming from Arizona, Flotsam is close enough), while “Cry for the Dead” could easily have been found on No Place for Disgrace with its tempo manipulation and six string acrobatics from Steve Conley and Michael Gilbert. “The Wicked Hour” is stylistically among the record’s finest moments, a rousing slab of sleek thrash force that is matched by “Too Many Lives”. The latter is a showpiece for bassist Bill Bodily and drummer Ken Mary, as the two build an immovable foundation for a song that explores a breadth of metal’s dynamics, with a wall of sound building around and then falling upon the listener. “Grey Dragon” is pure speed and authentic metal imagery as Knutson’s voice both ascends majestically and growls fiercely while Conley and Gilbert unleash a vicious double guitar assault. What connects all the work is F&J’s ability to find a hook in the midst of the fury; each song has a memorable chorus or bridge that allows the work to be both technically superior yet accessible to those without musical skill (i.e., me). The songs remain equally impressive as the record moves towards its conclusion. As the only song under four minutes, “Undone” is a ripping blast of blunt force musicianship that is centered around a warm, harmonious chorus that fits ideally within the bed of fury that is the rest of the song. Blood in the Water is not a comeback, nor is it a trip down the alley of metal nostalgia; it is the pronouncement from a band who is finally on the cusp of broad success decades after it was initially deserved.

CHOICES MADE - Reason for Conflict EP (Cursed Blessings Records;

As if there are not enough reasons to love our well-behaved neighbors to the North, Canada now gives the world Cursed Blessings Records and its crop of scalding punk, highlighted by Choices Made. Living above the giant meth lab that is the United States has clearly gotten to these guys, as their brand of hardcore is ferociously straightforward, authentic, and furious. Only one third of tracks on this six-song EP reach two minutes in length, but Choices Made stuff an extraordinary amount of anger into small spaces. The punishing hook of the opening title track merely sets the stage for neck-snapping, fist-throwing hardcore with vocalist Josh as a significant surprise. Eschewing the more traditional guttural growl, Josh adopts a clean vocal style and emphasized melody. These traits give “Greed” (“Don’t let desire turn into greed”) and “Nothing Without” shocking harmony without diminishing the intensity of the playing. “Don’t Waste My Time” captures the finest aspects of Hatebreed’s metallic hardcore, as guitarist Steve delivers a patulous riff while drummer Mike and bassist Andrew control the tempo to craft heavy, sing-along choruses that will get the bodies flying. “What’s Your Plan” has traces of Anti-Flag’s sharper edges and political intelligence, as Josh notes, “Make it count/Things need to change/We won’t survive/ With this divide”. However, the band sums up the theme of the record and a perfect lesson for everyone on the closing “Sideroads” with this piece of advice: “Let’s change course and be decent humans”. It would be nice to see that happen, and even better if can be done while listening to Choices Made.

FRED LEE AND THE RESTLESS - Sleepwalking in Daylight (Lövely Records;

If one did not know the history of Fredrik Lindkvist, singer for Swedish hardcore giants Totalt Jävla Mörker, one could never imagine that Fred Lee was Fredrik. Adopting styles ranging from 1950s and 60s Americana folk to classic rock, and even a little country, Sleepwalking in Daylight is a honky-tonk record for those who do not even know what honky-tonk means. “I’ve Tried” and “These Times are so Fucking Dark” are two anthems that may sound inspired by boots scootin’ across a floor, but there is still a subtle punk layer heard beneath the twang. The latter is a rather frustrated, despondent take of the world’s current condition, and Lindkvist is not hesitant to air his grievances about global politics from his home in Sweden, even if many of his observations may hit close to home here in the US. On “Capitalist Market”, down tuned guitar accompanies lyrics such as, “Twisting the truth with corporate fake news” and the singer proves that punk frustrations can be expressed in a multitude of styles, as long as the angst is genuine. A boisterous, anthemic, classic rock approach belies the understated aggressive tones buried within “Weight on My Shoulders” and “Devil’s Chokehold”, while the fleeting “You Were Anyone but Not Anywhere” is a warm burst of classically structured folk that is a pseudo love song (“I have a mind for you to clear, my dear”). Singing as alter ego Fred Lee, Lindkvist sings a song of home by channeling the Newport Folk Festival on “New Sweden”, blending his penchant for sharp lyrics and equally pointed musicianship. Closing with the musically genteel but emotionally gripping, “A Letter to a Friend”, Lindkvist announces, “I tried to get better because I don’t know how/Been such a wreck for too long now”. This one is worth doing a little homework, for understanding about the origin of Fred Lee makes this record all the more engaging.

GUIDED BY VOICES - Earth Man Blues (

By the time anyone finishes reading this article, Guided By Voices will most likely have written, recorded, and released another collection of songs, but the band’s staggering thirty-third album is a rollicking collection of vaguely connected efforts. An ambiguously conceptual coming of age album, Earth Man Blues sees Robert Pollard and his mates crafting efforts about the life of Harold Admore Harold, but honestly, the story here takes a backseat to a number of inspired anthems that see GBV having fun with their traditional, lo-fi rock genius. The meandering “Dirty Kids School” blends Americana and garage rock into an amalgamation of all that GBV is, namely a band that constructs rich harmonies where other bands would see only barren land. The guitar driven, traditionally styled “Trust Them Now” and the bluesy “Sunshine Hello Girl” are two of the finest moments, with the latter opening with jangly Sixties riff before launching into a dirty blues lick that screams Out of Our Heads-era Stones before concluding with a flurry of controlled psychedelia. The melancholy “The Disconnected Citizen” reflects just as the title describes, the terminally frustrated and bored American who seems unfulfilled and detached from everything; while this is not Robert Pollard attempting to make a truly defined political statement, one can argue that it is as close as GBV will ever do. The alt-country “How Can a Plumb Be Perfected” rolls gracefully through the air with Pollard’s vocals offering controlled angst and esoteric ruminations that may or may not be about an actual plumb. Thumping groves dominate “Test Pilot” and “Ant Repellant”, two of Earth Man Blues’ grimier works and two of my favorites, with the later sounding like a forgotten gem from the Heavy Metal soundtrack. The record closes with “Child’s Play”, ninety-seven seconds of energized, highly engaged guitar fun that ends abruptly and leaves the listener both somewhat confused and delighted, essentially embodying GBV’s career. Earth Man Blues is exactly what people come to expect from GBV, which is an intriguing batch of songs that may or may not mean what one initially believes but are worthy of multiple listens.

BEASTWOOD - Long Road to Ho (Coffin and Bolt/ Golden Robot Records;

If you can recall the world when going to a club was a regular activity, I need you to remember the smell of the unwashed bar, the stickiness of the floor, and the unapproachable men’s room in your favorite hangout. Beastwood is that scenario set to music; a loud, sweaty mass of pure hedonism and debauchery. This four-song EP begins with “Electric Gangbang”, and that should let anyone listening know what Beastwood is as a band. The songs are overflowing with big, crunchy riffs and a thunderous low-end. Long Road to Ho is a collection of bruising, punch-throwing, no-frills rock that should accompany the sound of someone being thrown down a flight of stairs. The aforementioned “Electric Gangbang” and “Denim Venom” take Black Label Society’s brand of classic metal fury tinged with whiskey-soaked blues and add deep Southern sludge. “Girls of Gold” actually includes the beautifully tongue-in-cheek lyrics “thank you for being a friend” and “you are a pal and a confidant” and is so heavy it may raise Bea Arthur from the dead. The closing “Degenerated” is a crushing cover of the Regan Youth classic (also famously remodeled by NYC legends D Generation); although Beastwood slows the tempo down a bit, the chorus hits with equal ferocity as the punk masterpiece. This is a fun stopgap release until the band’s next full-length, and this will keep fans feeling excited for this band’s future.

LOU BARLOW - Reason to Live (Joyful Noise Records;

I am feeling a little overwhelmed writing about Lou Barlow, as his career is one of the most important in the history of indie rock. From Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. and Folk Implosion, Barlow has left an indelible imprint upon forms of guitar-rich, emotionally powerful music. Reason to Live is an acoustic record that crackles with Barlow’s easily recognizable voice and insightful lyrics. Recorded at home in Massachusetts, Barlow strips away the distortion of his earliest work for ta beautiful intimate recording. “In My Arms” has its origins in 1982 and finally sees a proper release as the opening track of this dazzling collection. The title track includes Barlow’s adroit storytelling talents (“When they make demands/we’ll be holding hands/as strong as any wall that stands”). “I Don’t Like Changes” has a country-tinged buoyancy also heard on the infectious delight that is “Love Intervene”, both songs exuding a tangible warmth and sense of happiness that defies that standard impression that Barlow has been a dour old soul since his late teens. While the angst of “Over You” rattles with genuine angst, Barlow comes back with “How Do I Know”, a quick blast of acoustic pop. Numerous tracks on Reason to Live are fleeting in length, but anyone who is a fan of Low Barlow knows how the man can do quite a bit in a scant amount of time, and there is not a wasted second throughout the record. “Thirsty” has a driving riff that hits with a surprising level of intensity (“only blood can really quench me”) and stands out within a collection of authentic serenity. A song titled “All You People Suck” is certainly an homage to profound frustration, but the song’s gentle splendor allows for the listener to truly embrace the lyrics and understand that the target of Barlow’s ire is a very specific faction within society (“all you people suck/ you’re the ones that don’t believe/ that were all connected”). It should not surprise that Lou Barlow has constructed a record of staggering beauty during one of the ugliest years in history, and Reason to Live is a celebration of Barlow’s life lessons and exquisite songwriting prowess.

BOB LORD - Playland Arcade (

Movie and television scores are at their best when they create tension or romance or levity without the viewer actually realizing the impact of the music in the moment. Bob Lord has that level of dynamic musical ability; the songs on Playland Arcade are quirky, exciting, or eerie, and each form is equally intriguing. “Fry Doe” begins with a funky bass line and saunters along confidently, propelled by a heavy low-end boogie. One of the most enjoyable moments comes early with the Devo-esque bounce of “Yo Soy Miquel”. In addition to maxing out my knowledge of high school Spanish, the song is delivered with a genuine effervescence that could match The Muppet Show in terms of innocent fun. However, Lord is not interested in making a bubbly romantic comedy on Playland Arcade, as evidenced by the off-putting “Night Sweats”. Blending an unnerving piano riff with subtle ambiance and an increasingly boisterous guitar riff, the song sounds like the perfect accompaniment to a long-awaited sequel to Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The thirty-five seconds of “Lobster Role” is reminiscent of the opening credits of The Love Boat (I apologize for references that are most likely far older than those reading this, but that is why we all have Google, kids), and then the record takes a unique twist after the haunting silence of “Intermezzo”. While “Skee Ball” blasts by in a scant twelve seconds, “Wyoming Vice” hangs around for three and half minutes, highlighted by genteel woodwinds that produce a lush and bucolic sensibility. While relying more upon synth, “Tenderly” creates a similar atmosphere as the aforementioned “Wyoming”, as gentle keys and calypso inspired guitar playing waft ever so gracefully through the air. “Fanfare for a Losing Team” instantly reminded me of classic NFL Films productions, as it possesses all the bombastic exuberance necessary for a highlights package to celebrate a team’s season, even if they went 1-15. The closing “Siege” places the listener inside a fast-paced video game with its speedy groove and hyperactive structure. The song will bring many of a certain age back to the days of waiting in line with a pocket full of quarters hoping that your favorite game would open up soon. Bob Lord’s Playland Arcade is somehow complex and accessible, intricate and fun; his juxtaposition of so many themes and ideas make this a wilder ride than a round of drunken Mario Kart.

HAMMERHEDD - Grand Currents (

None of the three Ismert Brothers are even twenty, and yet Hammerhead plays a polyrhythmic, claustrophobically dense brand of metal that defies their ages. The songs across Grand Currents are lengthy, highly complex blasts of churning, blistering ferocity offset by moments of pristine clarity that interweave Gojira style interplay along with the galloping riffs of classic Metallica. Hammerhedd compose pieces that average roughly six minutes in length, most likely outlasting the attention spans of their peers, but within these expansive tableaus one finds myriad of ideas that flow together seamlessly without ever treading upon redundancy or self-aggrandizement. The punishing “Drone” is a barrage of force as guitarist/vocalist Henry barks over the crushing grooves constructed by brothers Abe on bass and drummer Eli. Two fleeting instrumentals (“~hpnocurrents~” and ~intuition~”) briefly offer a reprieve from the band’s skull-battering playing, but these two breaths merely enhance the devastating nature of the overall record, as best heard on “Foundation”. Blending the musical dexterity of System of a Down with the sheer barbarism of Unsane, the song is a concussion set to music. The concluding “Hypothermic Peace” is an eleven and half minute opus of soaring finesse laced with abrasive power. I guess one can maintain this level of energy for this length of time when still in your teens, but the song is a staggering achievement that incorporates prog, classic power metal, and subtle atmospheric touches that make this listen equally exhausting and inspiring. It is difficult to hear Grand Currents and not come away thinking that these three virtuosos have a bright future.


PRIMAL AGE - “The Devil is Hidden in Shadows” (WTF Records

France’s Primal Age play a vicious and visceral form of metal-baked hardcore, and “The Devil is Hidden in Shadows” is a tease for the release of Masked Enemy, their latest full length, on June 11th. Within the same tent as bands like One King Down, Knuckledust, or Indecision, Primal Age swaddle raw, impassioned vocals around tightly wound guitar riffs and a bruising low-end. The architecture of the song is not going to sound revolutionary, but the delivery is impeccable and with lyrics that explore a straight edge lifestyle without preaching, Primal Age boldly announce their return. Maintaining a career for over two and half decades in the world of hardcore is not easy, but these European stalwarts show no signs of slowing down, and if this is any indication of what will be found on Masked Enemy, Primal Age has perhaps the most intimidating record of the summer on the way.

USELESS ID - Most Useless Songs (Fat Wreck Chords

With a career spanning over twenty-five years, Useless ID undertakes the daunting task of compiling a retrospective of their finest moments. Naturally, there will be fans disappointed that their favorite track is omitted, but Most Useless Songs achieves exactly what such a collection should; one hears the evolution of a band, particularly their twenty-fist century work. Useless ID can be a bouncy punk-pop act as vocalist Yotam Ben-Horin says, “Baby, please come home because I miss you and all I want to do is kiss you” on “Night Shift”, or the buoyant “It’s Alright”, but can easily shift gears and elevate the angst and replace shine with grit. The crowd-favorite, set-closing “State of Fear” opens the record and acts as a perfect primer for what this band produces, and this fury remerges on “Into the Exquisite”, one of the two new offerings on this panoramic “best of”. The grizzled punks from Haifa, Israel made a home for themselves on Fat Wreck Chords at the dawn of a new century and “Turn up the Stereo” and “Symptoms” are reflective of the classic Fat Wreck sound; namely, a penchant for clever lyrics, crunchy hooks, and infectious choruses. The majority of Useless ID’s catalog is punk played with an appreciation for, but not a blind devotion to, pop aesthetics and this allows the band to flow seamlessly between up-tempo fits of optimism and blasts of more serious intensity (“How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and “State is Burning”). Yet, at their core, Useless ID write punk songs for a broad audience, as “Dying Love” and “New Misery” are deeply relatable to those both in and outside of the pit.

THE HAMILTONES - Dracula Invitational, 1791 (

When one thinks of Buffalo, New York, many ideas may come to mind: people jumping through burning tables as members of the now infamous and somehow still overexposed “Bills mafia”, chicken wings, or maybe even the disastrous presidency of Millard Fillmore. However, most individuals would not jump to surf-punk, but the Hamiltones are here to change that perception with Dracula Invitational, 1791. Acting as a soundtrack for a film that may or may not be fictional, the trio delivers a sinewy mix of tasty Ventures-inspired, feelgood guitar energy matched by the delicious, experimental weirdness that embodied acts like Man or Astroman? and Aqua Velvets. With subtle keys but very pronounced bass, The Hamiltones bash more furiously than many in this genre, particularly on the contradictory titled pair, “What if we Don’t Eat the Musicians?” and “No, Let’s Eat the Musicians”, and the menacing tone of “Oh No, We’ve Made a Terrible Mistake”. The five different “Night Court” interludes are a time for listeners to get up and shimmy, an innocent cleansing of the palette during a record in which a cloud horror film dread is always palpable. The closing “And We Are All Dracula’s” instantly invokes ‘Gloria” from Them, which is fitting as that band’s moniker was also the name of a classic horror film about monster ants. What any of this has to do with the potential release of a low-budget and equally lo-fi Dracula film is largely beyond me, but the Hamiltones will provide more fun than many of us have had in a long time.

THE RUMJACKS Hestia (Four Four Records

From the Pogues to the Tossers, to the Dropkick Murphys, the blending of Celtic musical beauty and punk ferocity can generate truly electrifying music when attempted by the right hands. If one has not already done so, add Rumjacks to the small list of acts who master this style. The band’s fifth record, Hestia-the Greek goddess of the home and certainly a representative of where so many of us have been stuck for the past year-is a blast of heartfelt, poignant tracks played at a neck snapping pace, leading off with “Naysayers”, a track even accented by a lush ska groove. The guys have kicked around for a dozen years, but the addition of Mike Rivkees on vocals has made Rumjacks feel like a brand-new band, and the energy here is overwhelming. The title track and “Through These Iron Sights'' march with a strong and steady beat before the latter erupts into a torrent of blinding speed and pugnacious guitar riffs from Gabe Whitbourne. Hestia plays with listeners’ emotions across the fourteen songs, as “Rhythm of Her name” and “Light in My Shadow” are personal tales of youth indiscretions and the reality of reflecting back upon them so many years later. “Sainted Millions” is such a perfect pub drinking song that your local nun will start throwing back shots without pergaps initially understanding the complex emotional fabric woven within the song’s tone, and “Lizzie Bordon” does a wonderfully accurate and energized retelling of that legendary murder. I certainly hope Hestia and lessened travel restrictions help to make this Australian gem celebrated in America.

OH THE HUMANITY (Hellminded Records

I would like to imagine that Herb Morrison, the legendary radio broadcaster who cried this iconic phrase during the explosion of the Hindenburg, would appreciate the scathing yet melodic punk of this Massachusetts five-piece. Oh, The Humanity bring an assortment of musical backgrounds to their blistering full length, seamlessly blending the intense with the melodic and accenting the tracks with heartfelt lyrics of hope and the tragic realization that life passes by more quickly than we ever want to believe “Never Worse” is the embodiment of what the band can do; the song is an explosion of raw guitar force that transcends three chord punk, compliments of Chris Dileso and James Silvio, with a driving rumbling bass line from Andy Hakansson. As the verses commence, the song adopts a more subdued nature, allowing vocalist Kevin Athas to being fully heard when he admits “I wish I felt better, but I’ve never felt worse/ Always hoping for the positive and thinking I’m cursed/ Outside I’m fine, but inside I’m dying”. The chorus becomes nearly buoyant as drummer Chris Santoro pushes the song forward, and the effervescent nature of the hook is a wonderfully creative mask to shield the sorrow found within the track (“My punishment for all of this is knowing every night when I close my eyes to get some rest/I’ll toss and turn all night knowing that you’re right”) While “Everyone in Gainesville (Looks Like Someone I Know)” gives a sarcastically funny albeit truthful account of the life of a punk band on the road, with tales of too many beers, too much secondhand smoke, and concerns about surviving long enough to make it to the next show, “Perspective” reveals a more mature side of Oh, the Humanity. One can feel the sense of apprehension in Athas’ voice as he says, “My life is perspective, it’s been changing over time/ As I age, I wonder how much do I have left? When will time catch up with me?”, all the while punishing riffs churns around him. The speedy “Altruism Born of Suffering” speaks to the stark differences between what kids expected life to be and the reality faced by adults, as Athas sums up existence by noted, “We’ve got our whole short lives to get ready to die/ But when we look back/ We want to know that we left our marks behind”. The members of Oh, The Humanity flirt with metal throughout the record, consummating the relationship most obviously on “Dreamer”, a thrashy track of barreling force that again demonstrates profound lyrical introspection that matches the song’s intensity. Oh, The Humanity may have saved the best for last on the closing “LHDM”, which according to the chorus, is an acronym for “live hard, die slow and/or live sad, die miserable”, and the emotional punch delivered by this song is devastating. The longest track of the punch, all fie members here shine, as the track is fleshed out with a longer guitar solo, more subtle shifts in tempo, and poetic turns of phrase that so eloquently capture the reality of living with feelings that are often beyond one’s control regardless of the attempts made to contain them (“It’s so much easier to loathe the sunrise than appreciate another day to be alive”). Oh, The Humanity deliver an emotionally taxing and incredibly cathartic record that illustrates how intellect and insight can be calling cards of great punk rock.

ASSERTION - Intermission (Spartan Records

William Goldsmith, who played drums in Sunny Day Real Estate and Foo Fighters, the latter of which I hear great things and there is a feeling they might be big someday, leads Assertion, a thunderous trio that generates serpentine blasts of sophisticated guitar rock. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Tamminga and bassist Bryan Gorder join Goldsmith, and from the opening compelling riff of “Down Into the Depths”, Assertion is a heartfelt return to a time when the phrase “alternative music” meant something special and unique. Each track is a tightly wound mass of stringent power with Tamminga’s voice deftly ebbing and flowing within a thunderous mix. On the brilliantly titled “The Lamb to the Slaughter Pulls a Knife”, the band experiments with loud/quiet dynamics in a method that makes that style seem fresh and invigorating with Tamminga howling “stay wide-eyed” with a chilling intensity. The anxious energy of “Defeated” grabs hold of the listener as one perpetually awaits a chaotic crescendo that never arrives; this is not a disappointment, but rather a demonstration of the band’s ability to masterfully control pacing and therefore the emotions of a song. Subtle use of feedback and distortion act as warm accentuations on the powerful “This Dream Does not Work” (“And after all of the trouble and all of the pain and all of the things you've done/Why don't you disappear and let it all fade away”) and the equally impassioned “The Lonely Choir”. Both songs are representative of Assertion’s ability to create musical edging; the songs reach a point of potential detonation but maintain a modicum of composure that allows listeners to take in eloquent lyrical phrasings. The heavy low-end of “Pushed to the Limit” hits with a particular ferocity and is similar to the start/stop intricacy of “Supervised Suffering”. The latter truly allows Goldsmith to shine as the force of his playing meshes wonderfully with his finite precision, and the result is a song of masterful agony and heartfelt pain. (“Calm down now my baby girl I’m here/And wipe the tears from your beautiful, big brown eyes/No one’s gonna keep you away from me”) The closing “Set Fire” is a somewhat ironic ending to Intermission, as the song remains a very genteel work with hushed vocals and a slow resting heartbeat even as Tamminga speaks the words of “set fire and burn this thing on down”. Borrowing from Thom Yorke, he conveys a world of emotion in merely a handful of sullen words. Assertion is a band that will remind listeners of the power found within well-crafted guitar rock. Go find this.

DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 - Is 4 Lovers (Spinefarm Records

Death From Above 1979, or as their birth certificates state, Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger, have enjoyed a fascinating career of starts, stops, brilliant works, extended hiatuses, and now a new record that continues to see the band’s dance-punk esthetic evolve. The noisy squall that opens “Modern Guy” morphs into a polyrhythmic dark wave effort with heavily distorted vocals and hook that is mirrored by the following “One + One” (“One plus one is so romantic/Let's do something about it”). The two tracks offer a dazzling pair to open Is 4 Lovers and mark the largely aesthetic of the record; namely, loud yet danceable efforts that often sound like there is an underlaying maniacal quality. Replete with a throbbing bassline and furious tempo, “N.Y.C. Power Elite part 1” is a roaring effort that captures DFA1979’s highly unique sound and style. Since first emerging from Toronto in the early 2000s, Keeler and Grainger have witnessed legions of bands incorporate electric components into more traditional rock structures, but DFA remain the band who truly perfected this melding, and one hears this perfect marriage on the hyperactive, overly kinetic energy of “Totally Wiped Out”. However, proving that their songwriting continues to be impossible to truly categorize, Is 4 Lovers fittingly includes “Love Letters”, a song with a far slower tempo but richly engrossing lyrics, “How I’d love to say/”Let me count the ways’’/But it’s not quite right/I can’t see the light/When you’re outta sight/So I try to write”. Closing with the mid-tempo grind of “No War”, Death From Above 1979 declare that they are once again back.

PAT TODD AND THE RANKOUTSIDERS - …There’s Pretty Things in Palookaville (Hound Gawd! Records

One of the great qualities of Pat Todd and his Rankoutsiders is that do not look to do anything more than play old fashioned rock n’ roll. From the opening bar-band energy of “All the Years #1” and “Hello to Mystery”, to the Stones-like blues boogie of “Turn Back the Hands of Time”, a 1970 gem originally performed by Tyrone Davies, the guys blend downhome grit and grime into contemporary rock with a decades-old feel. This is a band for small clubs, cheap liquor, long nights, and brutal hangovers, with “True Romance” and “I Will Lie To You” providing the perfect soundtrack. Todd’s voice, first immortalized in his two decades with the Lazy Cowgirls, is raspy, heartfelt delivery that spins excellent yarns about love, heartbreak, and life’s other sources of pain. Supported by a wild band of Rankoutsiders, guitarists Nick Alexander and Kevin Keller, bassist Steven Vigh and Walter Phelan on drums, the band functions as one collective, beer-drenched entity. Devoid of studio tricks or overproduction, “…there’s pretty things in Palookaville...” is a classic rock record made in an age in which such simplicity is usually shunned. Pat Todd and the Rankoutsiders are indicative of the entire Hound Gawd label as the band tells great stories with sincerity, plays with tenacity, and is not concerned about becoming influencers.

GRANDE ROYALE - Carry On (The Sign Records

If you like your rock n’ roll played with speed and intensity, but life is busy and you only have about two and half minutes to give to a song, then Sweden’s Grande Royale is your band. Carry On opens with “Troublemaker”, a two-minute explosion of buzzsaw guitar and ferocious low-end rumble, led by vocalist/guitarist Gustav Wremer. Wremer and his mates - second guitarist Andreas Jena, bassist Samuel Georgsson, and drummer Johan Häll - bring garage rock fury and mesh it with a fatal case of harmony on the bluesy “Staying Dry,” the subtle sleaze of “Let it All Go,” and the scorching “One of a Kind.” Grande Royale plays down stripped-down, bare-knuckle rock that avoids anything but the music’s most necessary requirements: speed, attitude, and absolutely no frills. This is the kind of band that shows up for a show, plugs in, takes fifteen seconds to tune and then just launches into the set and burns the place down to rubble. “Ain’t Got Soul” and “Bang” are two more furious efforts that are anchored by a strong love of melody. Grande Royale is another example of a band dispelling and crushing the myth that rock n’ roll is dead; the genre may be hurting a bit, but it is anything but gone. As long as bands like Grande Royale exist, rest assured that there are kids with guitars in basements right now trying to figure out three chords and a hook. Everything about Carry On is fun and gives home for a mask-less world soon because these guys would be amazing in a small live venue. Until then, play this as loudly as possible.

SKEGSS - Rehearsal (Loma Vista Records

When the opening “Down to Ride” enters my ears, I am initially convinced that I am listening to the Australian answer to the Strokes. With jangly guitar, a rich sense of melody, and robust energy, the song rattles with infectious enthusiasm. However, these traits are found scattered across the baker’s dozen worth of songs on Rehearsal; Skegss also experiment with groove-laden surf vibes and offer poignant acoustic works in addition to their love affair with rock’s more foundational elements. “Valhalla” is a rollicking blast of whimsical musicianship with a memorable hook and classic 50s surf riff than would make the Ventures jealous. “Picturesque Moment” shuffles like a classic pub drinking song should and tells a story accented by sardonic lyrics about drinking and having fun, while “Fantasising” is a soaring anthem with Ben Reed’s impressive range on full display. The band, rounded out by bassist Toby Cregan and drummer Jonny Lani, captures snapshots of life’s happiness and disappointments on the heartfelt “Fade Away” as Reed affectively delivers my favorite lyrics of the record, noting, “Sometimes I feel nothing but hurt in my chest/ Almost thinking more is less/But deep right down I know that it's not true because I know that I have you.” Skegss built a reputation throughout Australia for their grungy, pit-inspiring playing, and while I admire those traits greatly, it is the band’s sweeter moments to which I am more fervently drawn. “Running From Nothing”, “Curse My Happiness”, and the gorgeous closer, “Empty” (including the teary-eyed words, “You’re more than my mate/You’re more than my soul/ And we get to make our life/What it is as we grow old”) are insightful and inspirational honest works of emotional vulnerability. There is much to evaluate here, as Skeggs can be three bands in one on Rehearsal, and someone is destined to find a style to enjoy. Although the band has been an Aussie favorite for quite a while, this is their introduction to America, and a highly impressive one at that.

ATRIA - Moonbrain (Gold Robot Records;

Travis Atria is frighteningly talented and Moonbrain is ten pieces of irrefutable evidence. The opening bombast that kicks off the title track quickly gives way to an ocean of sweeping, gorgeous playing that has influences from the finest aspects of jazz, funk, and soul. The record is a sensuous, inspiring collection of songs that revolve round a theme of love and hope at a time when it is most needed. Moonbrain sounds like a record from a different world and a different time; “Love Theme” could easily be found on any mid to late 70s soundtrack with its silky chorus and gently pulsating groove. The gentle “Suite-What’s the Word Coming To?” is another elegant song that sparkles with its lyrics about the power of love (“So much beauty in the world/love is the only perfect truth”) and Atria’s sense of confusion about the global state of our lives. Atria uses biblical language on “Lucky” by quoting several beatitudes, reminding people that the meek shall inherit the Earth” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” over the top of a buoyant groove. The funk-pop off “Shine” shimmers with a massive wall of blissful funk that resonates with joy. Atria’s songwriting prowess is staggering, as each effort is intricate and musically complex, but he also allows each work to breathe. This ability to balance airy and sonically dynamic creates a dichotomy of smooth, effortless sounding grooves and boundless energy. The lustrous “Jazz Cigarette” glides effortlessly with a pristine beaty, while the malleable musicianship of “No Name Street” has a Zappa meets Mayfield sensibility. This is brilliant.


Great Shakes may feature players from Belgium and Netherlands, but they sound like the kids next door breaking into the local skate park. Theis self-titled released initially saw the light of day in 2019 but is now repackaged on cassette, and if this one was not on your radar screen two years ago, make up for lost time now. The two songs are warm, harmonious efforts with rousing gang vocals and introspective lyrics. The opening “The Flood” is among the fiercest songs of the bunch and instantly grabs the listener by the throat. The song’s chunky riff and punk adrenaline blends perfectly with the aggressive melody put forth by the four earnest members, and yet Great Shakes prove to be much more than any one label. Beginning with “Summertime Alone”, the guys allow their pop tendencies to shine as the song, replete with soaring “woah-ohs”, blends Social Distortion with Get Up Kids. “November Star”, “Confessions” and “Falling Forever” are each slickly delivered, speedy nuggets of discretely intense punk-pop and inspired group vocals that will get the kids singing along at live shows (remember those?). The latter’s chorus takes the finest qualities of emo’s second generation and releasing them in one cathartic explosion. There is a string of powerfully energized punk anthems, beginning with “Ordinary Life” and lasts across the final six songs with the closing duo of “Never Gonna Die” and “Say Goodbye at the End” as a serendipitous combination of punk angst and a ferocious sugar rush. More than standard pop-punk, Great Shakes melds 90s emo elements into a contemporary sound that should hopefully get more attention the second time around.

SPEED STROKE - Scene of the Crime (

Hard rock that sides into the realm of glam metal often faces an instant backlash of criticism and dismissal. To be fair, these reactions are not fully unjustified due to the legacy of the hairspray, make-up, and eventual predictability of Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. The guys of Speed Stroke never experienced the self-indulgence of Hollywood in the 80s because they are far too young and the band also hails from Italy; however, Scene of the Crime could easily share space with anything from BulletBoys to Firehouse to Steelheart. The mandatory power ballad arrives with “No Love”, the centerpiece of the record, with nine other guitar-driven rockers surrounding it. This style has a special place in my heart, as Shout at the Devil was among my gateway drugs into the world of rock n’ roll at age ten, so I really cannot batter what Speed Stroke is doing. The minute-long intro that creates tension before the eruption of the opening riffs of “Heartbeat” should make people smile as this not music designed to change the world, end racial strife, or settle humanitarian crises. This is light-hearted escapism, and frankly, bands like Speed Stroke will be a blast to see when masks come off and the world allows itself to breathe and have fun again. The sleazy grooves of the title track and “Red Eyes” combine with the band’s effervescent energy to become unavoidably enjoyable. Speed Stroke is a guilty pleasure of a band, a secret you share with only the closest of friends. The bluesy accents one hears on “After Dark” and “Who Fk’d Who” sounds like Junkyard collaborating with Bang Tango, and if that is appealing, then get out there and soak in all of the excesses. The record draws to a close with the midtempo “One Last Day” that sets up the more aggressive closer, “Hero No.1”. While some listeners may find this passé or cliché, and it undoubtedly is at times, the larger lesson to be taken away from Speed Stroke is that for all of the proclamations that rock is dead and no one plays guitar anymore, these guys are happy to bring back a time when seemingly everyone did.


Seventeen-year-old Troy Donohue from Rockstar Racecar was clearly bored during his time in quarantine and decided to create a little “heavy metal side hustle” with his brother Wolverine on drums and Gerry Griffin on bass. The songs are standard, hard-driving metal fare but I was caught off-guard by the appearance of the immortal Ross the Boss from the mighty Dictators and Manowar on “Chained to the Cross”. Ross lends his guitar prowess to the track which addresses Donohue’s disillusionment with the promises made by faith (“Why is everyone different? Why can't we be the same? Answer me, why'd you put everyone Under a different race and name?”) The Thin Lizzy-esque “Nuclear Burn” assists Trojan Warfare in the quest to cover the most battle-tested metal themes; namely lawlessness (“Outlaw”), ancient mythology (“Helen”) and obviously, mass destruction with the push of a button. Donohue is an old soul, as the work of Trojan Warfare borrows more from Aldo Nova than Spirit Adrift. “Falling” is a plodding, mid-tempo effort with a thick groove and easily memorable chorus, while “Freitag” ditches the distortion for a stripped-down, clean sound and is a warm, pop-influenced track. The ten-minute opus “Lost in Space/Another Day” sounds like Moon Tooth re-recording Kiss’ Music From the Elder, blending prog metal with theatrical qualities. Trojan Warfare throws a wide array of styles and sounds at people here, and while it may sound a touch disjointed at times, the central trait is that this is a lot of fun.

CAMERA - Prosthuman (

Camera has only existed for a little more than a decade, yet their sound captures the timeless elements of Kraftwerk, Can, and other leaders within the signature “Krautrock” movement. The vast majority of Prosthuman is simply instrumental and allows listeners to be swept up the mechanized precision of the songs, but to Camera’s credit, there is a boisterous humanity felt within each track. The opening “Kartoffelstampf” includes subtlety abrasive guitar soaring above a beautifully hypnotic beat that sets the tone for the record. The band plays dramatically with tone, and the fluidity of their playing shines most brightly on “Alar Alar” with its pseudo-reggae rhythm and delicately eerie keys. Michael Drummer remains the one constant in Camera after the departure of two critical pieces from the band, Steffen Kahles and Timm Brockman, the latter of which was a founding member. However, undaunted, Drummer built a new Camera with the additions of Tim Schroeder on synths and guitarist Alex Kozmidi. Prosthuman is imbued with profound emotion across the ten panoramic tracks, as “Freundschsft” and “Chords4 Kurz Vor” are glimmering works of surprisingly genteel musicianship with elegant keys wafting gracefully across a tableau of sound. This less invasive tone is counter-balanced by more aggressive and experimental works, notably the sneer of “Schmwarf” and the serenity of “Überall Teilchen Teilchen Überall”, a song kissed by aspects of traditional Middle Eastern rhythms. There is no one descriptor one can place upon Camera other than to say the songs on Prosthuman are refined and consistently intriguing. While much of the record was recorded in isolation, there is not a tortured darkness to the work of Camera’s new record, but rather glimpses of beauty that provide hope for a better future. The extraordinary emotion woven into the songs makes Prosthuman a fascinating listening experience.

FUORIUSO - Teenage Disease (Volcano Records)

If all this time away from people has taught me anything, it is that I desperately need more sleaze in my life. To fill that harrowing emptiness is Italian rockers Fuoriuso, a band dedicated solely to having fun and writing some filthy riffs. The songs on Teenage Disease are not concerned with global pandemic, humanitarian catastrophes, or political discord. With titles like “Money Money”, “Sex Slave”, and “Alien Girlfriend”, Fuoriuso is LA’s Sunset Strip via Bergamo. Lucky and Van Toxic founded and continue to lead Fuoriuso, and the band stays true to guitar happy slabs of rollicking, old time rawk. However, they have a refreshing brashness as their version of The Doors’ classic “Love Me Two Times” takes the song from a Vietnam-era protest song and drops it into Faster Pussycat’s rehearsal space. The harmonies on “Wake Up” and “Sinners and Bells” cannot be ignored, particularly on the later, as it borrows as much from the Beach Boys as LA Guns. The title track surprises as a mid-tempo effort that flirts with power ballad tenets, while the bluesy “Lost” conjures up Junkyard’s accessibility. The subdued piano ballad “Slowly Walkin’” and the Black Crowes’ inspired “Back in Town” began to sap the vitality from the overall record, but Fuoriuso bounces back with a timeless hard rock formula on “Everyone Lies” and the aforementioned “Alien Girlfriend”. Both of these efforts have a classic stomp and a raucous energy that allows Teenage Disease to finish on a strong note. There is nothing groundbreaking happening here, but Fuoriuso makes music for a filthy night out that provides endless stories and an equally crushing hangover, not sophisticated discourse. This is a band that many people need-just lighten and enjoy yourselves, will ya?!


Sometimes a band packs a huge amount of power into a scant amount of time. Omega Glory, the new(ish) project of former Kill Your Idols leader Bran Meehan, delivers an EP of three songs in roughly four minutes. With Meehan playing all the music and vocalist Sean McCann excoriating his throat, Omega Glory is a metalcore band wrapped in a death metal tortilla and then deep friend in crust. In other words, I love this. “Rule 12” devastates the listener without giving a warning, and its blueprint of a tsunami of down-tuned force is followed on both “Trap Doors” and the fleshed-out “Sama” that clocked in nearly ninety seconds. The lyrics are brief but powerful, much like the EP itself. McCann screams “I’ve lost the will to resist/ The tides and the rising sun/Face down and carried out/Drag me deeper I don’t want to be found” on “Trap Doors”, and this sense of despair and anguish surmises the band’s approach. This may not be a particularly large sample size, but these songs provide the interested with all they need to know.

DEAD REGISTER - "Don’t Fail Me" EP (AVR Records

The name of this EP can either be a plea for support and help or a dire warning marking one’s potentially final chance. When one listens to the music of Dead Register, the latter seems more plausible. The dark, ambient shoegaze created by husband and wife duo M.Chvasta and Avril Che is simultaneously menacing and stirring, as “Don’t Fail Me” is enveloped by a dreamy haze while Chvasta’s voice digs through the beautiful din. Methodical and crushing, the music of Dead Register is what might happen if the guys in Ride listened to Sleep for six straight months and then decided to record. Surrounding the title track of the EP are three live efforts and a very cool remix of “Failed”. I am amazed at the intimacy one hears on “Ender”, a tumultuous dirge of dark wave terror, and Justin Broadrick would be impressed with the devastating opening of “Circle of Lies” before the song’s initial devastation wafts into a more serene, albeit no less intimidating, delivery. “Fiber” is a glacial entity of a song, rumbling with devastating bass and squalling, expressive guitar playing. The song feels like it overwhelms the players themselves, and the concluding scream encapsulates the emotive nature of the music. The work of Dead Register is monolithic and crushing yet also rife with beauty. The ability to balance such distinct extremes is a tribute to the collaborative talents of Che, Chvasta, and drummer R. Garcia. As the walls fall down around us, I want Dead Register playing.

THE MERCY KILLS - "New Rule" EP (Golden Robot Records

This Australian export instantly took me back to the glam-sleaze fury of D Generation and The Black Halos with ripping guitar work and limitless energy. This five-song EP was originally recorded in 2010 but fits in perfectly with where the band is in 2021, and what the world desperately needs. “I Wanna” opens the EP with a stomp which flirts with blunt, industrial force that anchors a sparling chorus. The song is rousing introduction to a band that roars with ferocity and hits with shocking power. The grime drips from “Go” and the title track as vocalist Mark E. and Nathalie Gellé share riffs thrusted along by the rhythm section of bassist Jen X and drummer Josh Black. The Mercy Kills straddles the line between classic rock song structures and punk angst across each track, resulting in a mass of force that is also fiercely melodic. The soaring vocals of “So Many Times” are matched by an equally aggressive musical bed that downshifts slightly for a slick chorus before returning to its original power. A similar density is heard on “New Rule”, and the song’s metallic heaviness is a direct result of the jarring structure constructed by four undeniably talented players. “Fall” has an intro reminiscent of Ministry’s “N.W.O.” and is voluminous wave of dark harmony. I am at a complete loss as to why this band is not huge by this point; everything about The Mercy Kills, from their look to sound, to songwriting embodies all that rock n’ roll should be and sadly rarely is any longer. With an impressive back catalog and an even more staggering collection of acts for whom they have opened, The Mercy Kills are a band ready to be moved to the front of the line of those who still prove that authentic rock n’ roll lives.

CARNIVAL CRASH - It is a Happy Man (

For anyone familiar with Ritual Tension - and if you are not, you should be - should recognize Carnival Crash. Led by wildly talented Ivan Nahem, the band had a tragically brief shelf life, but their contributions were plentiful and celebratory. The band’s fugacious time together resulted in two critical record sessions captured in this seven-song compilation. The opening “Tell Tale Heart”, a track originally released in 1982 by Ivan under the name “Ivan X” as the B-side to “Edge of Night”, is a bold blast of first generation post punk. The song features an unsettling beat accented by jarring guitar, blending Joy Division’s darkness and shards of New Wave’s energy. “Edge of Night” is a rumbustious anthem that is centered around a heavy low-end groove from John Griffin and elevated to greatness through Norman Westberg’s distinctive guitar squall, a talent which he brought to Swans after the demise of Carnival Crash. It is easy to find one’s self lost in the emotive, atmospheric din the band creates, but one cannot overlook Ivan Nahem’s vocals. While his drumming shines through on “Method 1”, his singing is integral to completing the trenchant noise-rock brilliance of Carnival Crash. Whether coming across as simultaneously imposing and thoughtful on ‘Edge of Night” or reserved and grounded on “Nostalgia”, his delivery completes the mystical nature of the band. Listening to It is a Happy Man is more than a return to the gritty streets of New York City at the dawn of the 1980s, for it is an education about where rock was at that time. The first generation of punks had burned out and New Wave was already showing signs of fading away, therefore bands were free to experiment wildly and ignore any particular label or genre expectations. Carnival Crash meshed controlled chaos with touches of beauty to redefine rock’s limitations at the time. It would be nice to see that type of courage rewarded today.

LOCKED IN - Not Dead Yet (Epidemic Records;

This blistering five song EP marks the return, after seven years away, of Locked In, a scathing hardcore act hailing from Perugia, Italy. The guys do not waste any time on Not Dead Yet, as “Scandal” instantly splits skulls with barrage of metallic hardcore played with a fervor that reflects seven years of pent-up frustration. The blueprint for each track is similar, but within the huge riffs wrapped around a punishing low end and ferocious vocals that occasionally include call and response portions, are a few subtle surprises that gives Locked In a uniqueness within the genre. “Viper Field” taps into the best of Hatebreed’s qualities with a great groove and passionately emotive vocals, but I am most taken with the suddenly clean vocals that emerge in the middle of “Dying City” before the song returns to a torrent of blunt force. The subtle shift in tone Locked In displays on “Dying City” emphasizes the band’s talents and clearly illustrates that this is not merely an homage to American hardcore but rather, a distinctive interpretation of the artform. “No Faith” is a thunderous, adrenaline fueled rant that will delight all fans of Terror and Agnostic Front, while the explosive “Godspeed” concludes the EP with a continued blending of clean and abrasive vocals into a refined mixture of metal and hardcore without stumbling into any of the redundant trappings that can plague metalcore. With a new line-up and an abundance of energy, I doubt it will be another seven years until the next Locked In release.

RITUAL TENSION - It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End (;

Ritual Tension is a band with its roots firmly planted in the punk, no-wave, and noise scenes of the very late 1970s in San Francisco before moving to NYC in the early 1980s. The brothers Ivan and Andrew Nahem led the band and Ritual Tension remained an adorned East Village staple of musical daring and individuality, including their deconstructed version of “Hotel California”, until 1990. Now, thirty years after their final performance, Ritual Tension has returned, this time sans Andrew, as a trio on the experimental and wonderfully noisy It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End. Without the presence of Andrew on guitar, Marc Sloan’s bass dominates the record, particularly on the rattling “Come Back, Come Back” and the claustrophobic “DanceMF”. Woven within the seven originals are two bold and extravagant covers, “Manic Depression” from Jimi Hendrix and MC5’s “Shake City”. The former may make some discomfited with its disentangling of the original, while the guys slow the tempo and intensify the density of the latter. The concluding “Her Big Night Out” is a fascinating piece of rousing storytelling, as Nahem’s vocals paint a surrealistic tale of one woman’s search for individual deliverance (“Cuts here middle finger-jeez it’s really bleedin’/Well she’s coming up the stairway, comin’ down the hallway/Openin’ it up as she leans against your door jamb”) while Sloan and drummer Michael Shockley create a supremely controlled wave of tumultuous beauty. Ritual Tension never abandoned their artistic interpretation of what punk rock can be, and It’s Just the Apocalypse, It’s Not the End is a free-flowing and fearless display of confidence from a collection of players who have refused, thankfully, to surrender to any expectations other than their own. The world needs more from acts like Ritual tension right now.

RLND - Zealand (Sell the Heart Records,

I am not good in math. In fact, I am terrible, so when I listen to a band like RLND (pronounced Roland), I am back in the last row of math class feeling intimidated by the material and awe-struck by those who understand it. RLND is an instrumental, staggeringly talented metal band that blends Tool’s heaviness and creativity with the free-form fluidity of Animals As Leaders to produce nearly an hour of crushing music. Zealand is punishing at times and then equally delicate before returning to ferocity, and that is the blueprint of each song. What I admire, in addition of the musical dexterity of the players, is the band’s subtle humor found on songs titles such as “Keith Sells…But Who’s Buying?” and “Kurt Loader”. The record was actually recorded in the band’s death throes, as drummer Keith Grimshaw and guitarist Joe McClune were suddenly left without bandmates and seemingly without a future as RLND. Fortunately, two friends, Alex Winkley and Sam Zuerner, heard what the previous four-piece had created and eagerly joined. Therefore, Zealand is both a eulogy and a resurrection, and that type of dichotomy is a perfect metaphor for all this band does. “Terry Grosse” begins with a musical sucker punch to the chops before suddenly hiding; the song then lays in wait until the victim has been subdued and is then launches an assault once again. “Public Chiefs” hears RLND blend noise and surgical precision accented by a skull-crushing riff that acts as the centerpiece of the effort, a song structure that one hears on the title track as well. Perhaps the heaviest song of the bunch is the shortest; at only two and half minutes, “Basilica Gel” is, on average, a solid five minutes briefer than its counterparts, but the track starts with unnerving quiet before a rumbling doom metal funeral dirge takes over. While every song among the seven is impressive, RLND saves the best for last with “Specifically Arnold”. The song blends every possible style of metal into one spr awling wall of intensity. At more than twelve minutes, the song takes on a more powerful meaning when one learns that RLND believed the band was ending with the conclusion of the recording of Zealand. “Specifically Arnold” sounds like a band that does not want to say good-bye and will play until the lights are turned off and everyone has gone home. Fortunately, with the band’s return from the brink, this music will live on and perhaps will even be performed live.

SWAPMEAT - Being a Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bills (

This Arizona outfit sounds like the product of a sloppy one-night stand between Nashville Pussy and Supersuckers. Being a Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bills is a loud, raucous punk record fried in bacon fat and dipped in tobacco juice. The majority of the songs-initially recorded in 2016 and early 2017-are quick bursts of guitar angst. There is not much musical depth here, but sophistication is not the point as Swapmeat is the soundtrack to a lost weekend, not an intellectual debate. While I admire the clamor of the chaotic “Super Destroyer”, the groove of “Rolling Blacktop” hits more fiercely. The dirty riff of the title track captures the rugged, down-home sensibility of this band’s devotion to rock’s most primal intensity. “Rock n’ Roll” is the standout work here, as it delivers a ferocious, hardcore-influenced blast of fury that has a massive hook and a direct message. (“Lose your mind/lose your head/rock n’ roll, rock n’ roll”) As the record progressed, the songs became increasingly fiery, particularly “V is for Victory” and the bruising “Nose Bleed”. At least 2020 helped get this brought to the public, as quarantine allowed it to be mixed and properly released. This may surprise people that it is from Arizona and not Alabama, but this is all fun.

CRO-MAGS - 2020 (Mission Two Records;

Most of us cannot have 2020 end quickly enough, but at least the Cro-Mags will help take out this miserable year with a scalding EP. The six tracks on 2020 are fuming blasts of sheer disgust that are the musical equivalent of the scenes of anger, destruction, and madness that adorn the cover. Even when the band omits lyrics, as they do on the bruising conclusion, “Confusion”, the legendary act speaks volumes. The opening “Age of Quarantine” builds slowly over the course of the first ninety seconds before unleashing the classic Cro-Mags musical barbarism that has made this band a stalwart of American hardcore. The soaring melody that accompanies the grinding low end of the title track makes it an equally engaging and punishing work as Harley Flanagan continues to push the sound of metallic hardcore forward on “Life on Earth”, a guitar-fueled punch to the face that resonates with the energy of the band’s earliest releases. The jazzy opening of “Violence and Destruction” belies that song’s eventual ravaging power, as Cro-Mags lock into a ferocious hook. The intensity flows seamlessly into “Chaos in the Streets”, a track that could easily be the soundtrack for the year, and its sing-along gang vocals-style chorus is guaranteed to make the song a crowd favorite whenever the guys can play in front of crowds again. Incredibly, the EP is exactly twenty minutes and twenty seconds long thanks a few seconds of crowd noise. Whether intention or some bizarre form of dystopian serendipity, 2020 is devastating experience, and that fits the year perfectly.

TRANSIENCE - Chaos in Harmony (

After merely a minute of the opening “Apocalyptic Hypocrite” from Long Beach, NY’s Transience, I am transported back to the mid 90s when emo was fresh and the world seemed so much simpler. The harmonic vocals of Damien Ellinghaus are the perfect accompaniment to the rugged guitar riffs he provides with Kevin Guaranda as the band blasts through five songs on this impressive EP. Ellinghaus stretches himself as a singer and tests the strength of his vocal cords on “Spin Cycle”, the most aggressive effort of the bunch with lyrics that are daringly honest, with the front man stating, “You’ve heard my lies a million times/It goes the same way as before”. I am most drawn to the rich melody and self-deprecating lyrics of “The Failure of Momentum” (“A constant stasis, the basis of psychosis/ A real quick Google search will be my diagnosis”). The song is built around a highly controlled yet highly inspired start/stop structure with bassist Jon Antonik and drummer/drum programmer Luigi Rueda revealing themselves to be a sophisticated duo. “Prima Facie” follows suit with another blast of intelligent modern punk that balances abrasive and refined with expert skill, as a menacing guitar hook punctuates the song’s stark lyrics (“The evidence shows that we’re going to die/ And maybe that’s just for the best”). The closing “Fix You” a poignant, highly impactful anthem about one’s personal demons and learning to live with the pain brought upon by others. The track is a perfect bookend for a very strong release that flows exceptionally well. Each track tells a powerful story and is its own three-minute novel. There are few, if any, happy endings on Chaos in Harmony, but Transience is comfortable in exposing how they, like so many of us, live with far more questions than answers.

TOWNSHIP - Life Starts Tonight (Tee Pee Records

Township is a collection of guys who clearly grew up as devotees of classic rock radio, and I am sure they were told on numerous occasions that their station of choice was the “home of rock n’ roll”. The love of blue-collar rock is apparent on the slickly produced, energized guitar boogey that is the centerpiece of the opening title track. Guitar histrionics are heard throughout the record, channeling acts ranging from Boston to Grand Funk Railroad to Zeppelin, but the problem is that nothing here sound uniquely original. Township comes across as a highly skilled group of players trying to return to a bygone era rather than bring more traditional sounding rock into the twenty-first century. “Garden of Our Love” has a guitar/vocal interplay reminiscent of “The Wizard” from Black Sabbath, and while every band reference thus far is a truly transcendent act, Life Starts Tonight feels like an homage rather than a distinctive work of original thought. The opening title track may be the strongest effort of the bunch, as it retains a pop hook that is distinctively reflective of the band and not their influences. Townships’ groove oriented 70s rock flirts with the blues on “Starlight, Motor Grease, and Beer”, and the four channel their inner Bachman-Turner Overdrive on “Ancient Creatures”. There is an interesting backstory to this record, as it was recorded in 2009, but due to shifts in musical directions led by drummer Greg Beadle, frustrations among members, specifically Beadle and singer/guitarist Marc Pinansky, the band saw a series of departures amongst its members. Combine all that with a lack of finding a foothold within the industry and eventually hooking up with a record company that promoted the band’s older work instead of announcing them to the world with Life Starts Tonight, the guys endured a complete dismantling of the act. Within a year, Beadle and guitarist Matt Smart were gone and Township would later rechristen themselves Family Township and roll on with a new line-up. The release of Life Starts Tonight marks the closure of that chapter of the band’s career as well as perhaps an act of reconciliation by Pinansky who felt slighted by the band’s commitment to more driving rock n roll. “Through the Fog” cuts a meandering path over the course of roughly six minutes and invokes huge arena rock tricks that connotes images of a drummer with a huge gong behind his kit and maybe miniaturized Stonehenge models descending down from above the band. This is not a parody band in the least, as every member is a sterling player, but the songs too frequently sound dated and stilted. Family Township has new music coming soon so by releasing Life Starts Tonight, the Boston-area outfit can truly move beyond their previous incarnation and forge a new path.

PETER BLACK - I’m Gonna Cheat as Much as I Can, This Is The Hand I'm Dealt (

I must admit, sheepishly, that I dd not recognize the name Peter Black, but a bit of digging into his backstory, and I became even more ashamed. Better known to the world as “Blackie” from the legendary, saucy Aussies the Hard-Ons, Black is a punk rock lifer who has shared stages with bands both huge and unknown since he was barely out of middle school. He continued to record in various forms throughout the first half of the twenty-first century with both the Hard-Ons and Nunchukka Superfly, but the last decade has been committed to solo work. Not only is Black a talented songwriter with a sense of melody that draws inspiration from his self-described “hero”, Paul McCartney, but he is limitlessly creative; in 2016, pre-pandemic lockdowns, Black recorded a new, fully fleshed out song every day of the year! With that type of output, it is not the least bit surprising that I’m Gonna Cheat as Much As I Can is released in tandem with If This Is The Hand I’m Dealt, two records on one day with two entirely different aesthetics. Cheat is a mannerly collection of airy pieces layered with sophisticated harmonies while Hand is a straightforward acoustic release; both are equally inspired and reveal the varied talents of Peter Black. The ethereal “Then I’m Gonna Lick Your Toes” has a sweeping majesty that one may not instantly associate with an act such as toe licking and “Incident at Rozelle” is a buoyant arrangement with Beach Boys-type euphony. Black is supported by an array of gifted friends, including drummer Joel Ellis, longtime Hard-On Ray Ahn, keyboardist/producer Jay Whalley (who truly shines on the closing “Unfurl”), Lauren Friedman, and Heather Shannon. “I’m Not Looking for a Hug” has a great sing-along stomp while “Sky with Diamonds” is a shimmering blast of hook-happy guitar rock that equally harkens back to 60s pop and 90s indie jangle as Black speaks the truth, “and some cliche's aren't cliched after all and some memories not memorable at all.” There are subtle hints of Black’s punk-pop history on the swirling “Steering Wheel Went Soft in My Hands” and the galloping pace and rich “woh-wohs” that dot “Safety Net”, but the music one hears on Cheat is largely serene and overwhelmingly beautiful. Intricate but still highly accessible, Peter Black proves that his affinity for, and ability to produce, precise pop is limitless.

SCARY HOURS - Margins (Pyrrhic Victory Records)

Ryan Struck is a one-man hardcore whirlwind on Margins, a politically charged assault upon the ugliness and hypocrisy that emerged over the past four years but had been long festering. The opening “Worthwhile Victims” sings (screams, really) of asylum seekers in cages, babies in cribs made of chainlike fencing, and “Bible-thumping bigots” over a bed of searing guitar. What I find the most impressive about Struck’s work is the sneaky sense of harmony he injects into each track, particular on “Normal’s Not New”. As he roars about economic disparity and free market, the chorus has a hook that is indefinably melodic. There is a boldness to Struck’s work as Scary Hours from both a lyrical and musical sense, as he successfully covers “How Low Can a Punk Get” from punk godfathers Bad Brains. There is always a risk in covering legends, but this version retains the original fury but is much more than a color by numbers style homage. “Cost of Living” is a rightfully dark blast of angered hardcore with a devastating breakdown and thick guitar riff that channels the best of bands like Cro-Mags and Sick of it All. “Russian Cousin” shifts gears slightly and returns to a less brusque form of guitar post-punk with a blazingly quick chorus. The closing “Shell Beach” is nearly twice as long as any of other tracks, clocking in at nearly five minutes. This expanse of time allows Struck to place all of his skills on display, from rumbling bass lines to cleaner vocals, and put forth a song of greater complexity without becoming repetitive. The desperation of the times detailed is heard in the pained nature of Struck’s vocals and the eight songs on Margins truly are a soundtrack for the angst and fear that will continue to infest the country, even if the occupant in the White House has changed. .

CRUSH LIMBO - Purveyors of Mayhem (

Colm Clark is Crush Limbo and his exhaustion with the past four years of Trump’s assault upon the fundamental ideals of democracy are exorcised on Purveyors of Mayhem. This is an enjoyable listen due to Clark’s ability to balance sardonic lyrics and glimmering pop, but the record allows for a deeper exhale knowing that this pseudo-autocrat has been gloriously fired, an announcement met with global celebrations. “Play-Doh Monarch” and “Despot and the Damage Done” open the record and leave nothing to the imagination about Clark’s sentiments concerning the now former “president” of the U.S. Featuring phrases such as ” cognitively failing” and “morally bereft”, along with the question, “Did his mon and dad simply overween?”, the songs are bubbly encapsulations of the horror show that unfurled over the past four years. The sparse synth of “Narcissistic Prima Donna” provides the song with Devo flavoring as Clark utters playful lyrics (“I wanna, I wanna, Ivana, I wanna”), and “Toxicity Testosterone” summarizes the administration perfectly, as Clark states, “Gonna fight you tooth and nail for that skin on bone/As I rage tweet from my mobile phone”. The title track invokes airy, 70s AM pop as genteel guitar accompanies lyrical depictions of the cohorts involved in the promulgation of this cult, “Perpetual victim on a grievous parade/Yet many still pick him to lead the charade”. “Codependency” may include the finest summation of contemporary America, as Clark, surrounded by a mildly psychedelic 60s vibe, offers the line, “We love easy answers because the tough ones won’t do”. As one ponders recent events, it is incredibly fitting that the last words one hears on the record is “the witch is dead”, and Clark’s Purveyors of Mayhem, while heavy on humor, offers a sobering assessment of one of America’s darkest and most befuddling periods.

REFUSED - The Malignant Fire EP (Spinefarm Records

Refused have a long tradition of releasing an EP after each record and "The Malignant Fire" proudly continues that institution with four thrilling new tracks and the impressive “Malfire”. Having reshaped post-punk in 1998 with The Shape of Punk to Come, the band has continuously looked to push the boundaries of how music can be both furiously intense yet melodic. The grinding riff of “Malfire” and vocalist’s Dennis Lyxzen wildly emotive delivery about “wolves at the door” make it easy to understand why that song is the focus of the EP. While each of the four-pack of new works is equally impressive (the bass-heavy groove of “Organic Organic Organic” I find deliciously pummeling), the standout effort is undoubtedly “Born On the Outs”. The track utilizes the primary riff of Swedish House Mafia’s “Greyhound”, and the guys of Refused crafted original lyrics to accompany it, and created something entirely new. The riff is instantly recognizable and hypnotic, but the ability to take an EDM classic and contort it into an explosive blast of metallic guitar punk elevates Refused above other bands who may attempt such a crossover. The frenetic pace and energy of the closing duo of “Faceless Corporate Violence” and “Jackals Can’t be Bothered to Dream” make this duo a punishing pair to finish off this fleeting treat. “Faceless Corporate Violence” is a brazenly raw, viciously abrasive effort that demonstrates how Refused transcends genres to produce extreme music with an intellectual component. The song opens with Lyxzen’s screeching the title before the band instantly finds a muscular melody, demonstrating a sound that has made this band unique for over two decades. This EP was initially slated to be released before the band’s most recent tour, but we all know what happened. Regardless of challenges caused by a global pandemic, Refused still find a way to unleash their distinctive brans of ferocity.


The opening track, “Jack of Fools,” channels “Norwegian Wood”, and sets the stage for a record of 60's folk-rock played with extraordinary honesty and reverence for the original vendors of this style. Everything about the record, from the cover art of an isolated Spencer Cullum standing solemnly with his name adorned in Woodstock-era font, through the production, captures a tone from a very different world, best heard on the fragile “Imminent Shadow”. London-born but currently Nashville-based, Cullum has a warm voice that is powerfully soothing as he spins poetic lyrics into beautiful yarns. Even when he decides to eschew lyrics, the work does not lose impact, as the eight minute “Dieterich Buxtehude” captures the atmospheric beauty of that composer’s Baroque style. The gentle keys of “My Protector” sounds like Pink Floyd at their most blithe, and the closing “The Tree” has elements of Dylan woven into its tender delivery. I would certainly not find myself running towards a record of this ilk, but Cullum’s talent is beyond refute-he has a gift for ethereal psych-pop that brings 1965 into 2020.

ALPHA HEX - Alpha Hex Index (

This Buffalo outfit has been kicking around since 2014, and Alpha Hex Index is a collection of assorted blasts of quaking, angst-filled guitar with more than a few no-wave noise touches to keep this wonderfully unnerving. “Not the Universe” is replete with angered vocals and equally piercing guitar squall that combine to create a boisterous ball of off-kilter post-punk. The rattling “Enskin” is the embodiment of this band; two minutes of intensity wrapped around sprawling, self-destructing riffs that somehow never fully unravel, and incredibly emotive vocals that introduce elements of math rock with more serrated edges. There is an undeniable art-school experimentalism to this, but each song has a foundation steeped in the best elements of guitar punk, as heard on the soaring “The Goods”. “#572920” is a fleeting interlude that acts as a bit of an intermission, and within the “second act” of the record is my favorite of the bunch, the antagonistic “Wrestles Snakes” and its rugged structure and noise-rock qualities. “#1D2951” is another few seconds of subdued improvisation which recedes silently before unveiling the fearlessly bellicose effort “Spiral”. The helical nature of “Third Man” makes it one of the record’s most musically impressive works, and a demonstration of the limitless creative that exists within this band. With members currently occupying spots in a variety of other Buffalo-area acts, it is uncertain if Alpha Hex is a full commitment or another imaginative side project; regardless of intent, this is an exhilarating ride.

COFFIN APARTMENT - Full Torso Apparition (Silver Stature Sounds;

I am the first to admit that some bands just have me at their name, and Coffin Apartment is one such act. To make this experience even more fulfilling, the seven songs waiting for me on Full Torso Apparition were mix and matched masterpieces of chaotic grindcore, sludgy, droning metal, and bursts of crusty death metal with majestically placed flair. Coffin Apartment is proof that the universe can bring geniuses together right when the world needs them the most. Johnny Brooke had witnessed the end of his band A Volcano, and he soon got together with former Same-Sex Dictator drummer Justin Straw. Bassist Brody Mennitto (former Toim) came on board and the twisted brilliance of Coffin Apartment was born. The suffocating riff that anchors “Scavenger of Regurgitation” is augmented by a devastating bass line and pained, wildly emotive vocals. The entire record is a celebration of metal’s most ferocious and unhinged moments, resulting in a melting pot of brutality and aggression. The atmospheric noise that concludes “The Process of Dehumanization” is the perfect combination of ethereal and anxiety-inducing, with the latter including a series of well-placed soundbites from religious hypocrites before launching into a ferocious mass of blackened death that concludes with a wild cacophony of noise. The ability for this band to balance varying elements of extreme metal with jazzlike time signatures makes the listener’s head spin as furiously as bang. “Derelict Paradise” incorporates a Mayhem-inspired groove with power-violence style singing and garnishes it with slashing cuts of noise until the song ever so deftly fades into a mollifying interlude. Slowly rebuilding in both intensity and scope, Coffin Apartment closes the final forty-five seconds with a flurry of vehemence. A similar construct is heard on the opening “Treacherous Tongues”, a track that hits with the subtlety of a brick to the face while meshing hardcore punk, death metal, and the energy of Converge before taking a breath in the heart of the tune and gearing up for a pummeling conclusion. The raw speed and jaw-dropping brutality that opens the majesty “Transient Exuberance” is remarkable, and the guys again indulge in a free-flowing, bass and drums led interlude before returning to finish off what is left standing. Only the two minute “A Quagmire of Filth and Shame” assaults unsuspecting ears without a significant shift in tempo, and the song is a fierce barrage of crushing ferocity. Full Torso Apparition is not an easy listen, but it is utterly remarkable and is another significant step forward in metal’s’ evolution as a genre. I may have found my highlight of the year and my survival guide to the next lockdown.

JULES SHEAR - Slower (Funzalo;

At sixty-eight, maybe Jules Shear is starting to slow down, but it is difficult to tell from the beauty on display with Slower. The man perhaps best known for penning hits for Cyndi Lauper and the bangles, along with masterminding the idea for MTVs Unplugged series, some can certainly argue that hear has not enjoyed the success he deserved. Slower is a gentle, heartwarming collection of piano-driven ballads that illuminate the warmth of his still strong vocals. Joined by John Sebastian on harp for the opening “Sugar All Day”, Shear articulates each word with a penetrating intimacy. Much of Slower allows listeners to imagine that Shear is sitting at a piano in a tiny, out of the way club performing only for them, especially the poignant “Today Like Tomorrow”. Songs such as “It Came Down from Heaven” and “It’s Love” are reminiscent of Warren Zevon’s most expressive moments, as delicate musicianship and beautiful poetry hold hands over the course of four elegant minutes. Shear’s sense of humor is readily apparent on the sardonic “Smart” and “Feels Like Fall”, a Leonard Cohen style tale in which Shear states how “it feels like fall/but it’s spring”. The refined playing of “One Pretty Please” and “Until Now” (with the later acknowledging that the singer is indeed “slower”) are tender works of a masterful storyteller. Spinning tales about relationships and forthright introspection, Slower is a stirring work from a master still finding new methods of expression.

SCREECHING WEASEL - Some Freak of Atavism (Monona Records)

Atavism, by definition, is to revert to an ancestral action or quality, and one can say that Ben Weasel does just that here. This is not a concept record or anything esoteric; instead, SW returns to what the band is always best at doing, which is of course, snarky, pop-slurped punk songs about love, frustration, and the general stupidity one finds in life. The opening “She’s Not Your Baby” is a MXPX-esque warning to would-be controlling tough guys out there as Ben instructs, “She’s not your baby, little man” if “this is the one you want to marry”. Naturally, to some, this will be Ben Weasel lecturing about how to treat women which may arouse some angst, but all I know is this record is a declaration that Screeching Wesel wants to once again hold a master class in pop-punk brilliance. While there are some speedy, quick hits like the rambunctious “Brain in a Jar” and the rockabilly feel of “Problematic”, Some Freaks of Atavism also contains “Bleed Through Me”, a four minute, hard driving effort with a big chorus and rollicking guitar. Failing at love remains a central theme of Ben’s life as “Crying Shame” captures Joe Queer’s aura (“That ain’t nothing but a wedding ring/ a piece of metal on your finger/no one cares”) and “Never Been in Love” which may either be a song of regret or boasting (“I’ve never been in love/I haven’t got the time or inclination”). At their core, Screeching Weasel has always been able to offset punk’s energy with an injection of harmonies to soften the edges without falling into a sugary abyss, and “To Hell With You” and “Dead By Dawn” are the finest examples of this skill. I was truly hoping that the latter was a Deicide cover, but when Ben declares, “tonight I’ll swallow your soul”, one hears a subtle nod to the legendary Evil Dead II. The lanky kid who made BoogadaBoogadaBoogada over thirty years ago may have grown up, declaring himself a “twenty-first century man” in “God Help Us”, but the fundamental instincts of Screeching Weasel return triumphantly on Some Freaks of Atavism, and we are the beneficiaries.

WITCHSKULL - A Driftwood Cross (Rise Above Records

I will happily admit that when a band called Witchskull lands in my inbox and the opening track is a CTE-causing blast of rumbling sludge and psychedelic metallic riffs called “Black Cathedrals”, I am instantly transported back to middle school when pentagrams, backwards messages, and the symbolism supposedly found on the covers of Ozzy records had me heart and soul. This entire record brings me pure happiness, and if this quarantine never lifts, at least I can go insane listening to one of most glorious metal records I have heard in a long while. The thunderous nature of the opener is merely an appetizer for the darkness one hears from this bombastic Australian trio. Yes, the Sabbath influences are obvious and plentiful, such the menacing gallop of “Nero Order”, but the groove of “Baphomet’s Child” cannot be merely imitated by listening to Vol.4 on repeat; there is a purity to what these guys do that makes them more than a collection of heavily bearded (two-thirds of the band, anyway) veterans yearning for the 70s. Guitarist/vocalist Marcus De Pasquale has a vocal delivery as distinct and dominant as his guitar playing, most prominently heard on the lumbering juggernaut, “The Silent Place”, while bassist Tony McMahon simply devastates people on both “Black Cathedrals” and the tsunami of blunt musical force that is “The Red Altar”. Collectively, Witchskull prove that speed and ferocity does not always translate into truly heavy music, for the scream that announces the chillingly fierce hook of “Nero Order” will keep listeners up at night. “The Red Altar” is a monolith of a song moving at a glacial pace that allows the listener to hear each bone shatter and ultimately smell their own rotting body before finally succumbing to the pain. The fury of each song is held together by the perfect time keeping of drummer Joel Green, who spent time in Australia’s legendary speed metal beasts, Armoured Angel from the late eighties into the mid-nineties, and his pounding strength impels the speedier, deflagrated nature of “Dresden”. Sleep-meets-Cathedral style stoner rock dominates the ironically warm tone of “March of Winter”. The closing title track is a towering wall of fuzz-out force that envelopes all in its way through a sinewy song structure and obstreperous concluding two minutes. Bang the head that does not bang while listening to this, but if that does not seem like fun, have a couple of edibles and watch to see where Witchskull’s journey takes you.

(D)JURET - De Få Som Kan Se (

Literally translating to “animal” in Swedish, Djuret is a very different type of punk animal. The music is everything one would want in a punk act-the songs are aggressive, fueled by huge guitars, and have a plethora of gang vocals. However, there are instantly noticeable differences about this band that extends far beyond the Swedish language delivery. The work of Djuret are anthemic and fleshed out in a manner that separates De Få Som Kan Se from other punk works. “Trîtt” contains pummeling drums compliments of Könas and an abundance of sing along segments that have the resounding energy of a crazed soccer stadium due to the combined vocals of Förman Fred, Trädgårdslyktan, and Martin Sven Martinsson, the last of whom also delivers spoken word to the opening “Tellus Ab” without sounding the least pretentious. “Piller” has a ska-style breakdown peppered by precise injections of guitar noise while still surrounded by chorale vocals and stirring guitar from Fed. Additional percussion and synth touches are added by Ämil Hednamannen and Dolph, respectively, and nothing done here seems out of place. The alternative version of “Piller” blends aspects of folk, punk, and even the symphonic dissidence of Scandinavian black metal into a nine minute, richly tumultuous, aural stew. This is guaranteed one of the most unique releases of the year as multiple art forms collide in a fascinating experiment that shatters expectations and ignores traditional boundaries.

THE DREAM SYNDICATE - The Universe Inside (Anti Records,

I am always intrigued by bands that play their music in a fearless manner; often, this means that these artists create music that dare the listener to stay with them, challenging the traditional constructs of what songs should be. The Dream Syndicate certainly throw down the proverbial gauntlet on the twenty-minute opener, “The Regulator”, setting the stage for a swirling, exhilarating journey through five expansive works of musical brilliance. While the band first raised eyebrows and generated confused gazes from those ill prepared for their musical visions in the early 80s, Steve Wynn and longtime counterparts, Dennis Duck and Mark Walton will certainly have The Universe Inside met with furrowed brows and gaping mouths. Despite only containing five songs, The Dream Syndicate treats listeners to roughly an hour of music that is highly non-conventional and yet traditional, psychedelic and still grounded. The luxuriant soundscapes that define “The Regulator” are created through sinuous musicianship, led by the indomitable Steve Wynn, but it is the accompaniment of saxophonist Marcus Tenney and sitar from Stephen McCarthy that make the song such a treasure. Blending Eastern flavoring with soaring electronic jazz and controlled experimentalism, the song is a complete listening experience more than a singular song. The title track is a fittingly morose effort, moving with greater deliberation driven by restrained noise compliments of Wynn’s guitar and his soulful vocals. The subtle alto sax woven so beautifully within the effort gives the song a sensuality and profound emotional power. “Apropos of Nothing” features a more conventional arrangement, but even here, The Dream Syndicate plays with the parameters of pop by infusing subdued dissonance and ambient touches into the song’s vast expanse. With dashing sax work, a jazz-funk bass line, Latin American-inspired percussion, and a serpentine nature that hurdles towards a noisy crescendo before calming its nerves once again, “Dusting Off the Rust” is reminiscent of Miles Davis’ most brazen and inspired moments on Bitches Brew. The Dream Syndicate is a band of visionaries and virtuosos, two adjectives one hears too infrequently today. The Universe Inside is just that; a cosmic, sprawling demonstration of lush poetic beauty. After nearly fifty minutes of extraordinary playing, I am saddened to come to final effort, “The Slowest Rendition”. Gentle and celestial, kissed by elegant sax work and Wynn’s Lou Reed-esque spoken lyrics, the closer is a tender farewell to a record of exquisite grandeur. It will difficult to be moved more profoundly by another work this year.

STRFKR - Future Past Life (Polyvinyl Records

Strfkr, the labor of love from Josh Hodges with the delightfully cheeky moniker, returns with more airy pop sweetness. The record has a winding narrative in regards to its creation, as Hodges collaborated with Mathias Janmat and David Hoogerheide, two strangers who became friends while Hodges was in Amsterdam. The pair was introduced to Hodges through a mutual acquaintance who happened to be staying Hodges pace while the singer was in Amsterdam. Once back home in the States, Hodges took the ideas and skeletal songs structures to bandmates Shawn Glassford and Keil Corcoran, and the result in Future Past Life, a collection of danceable, disco-esque dance pop with a tangible Euro flair. However, while keys float across songs like “Never the Same” and “Second Hand” like apparitions in the one room in the house the previous owners never told you about, the band also demonstrates how acoustic guitars were the building blocks for these songs. The duo of “Better Together” and “Budapest” (the latter featuring fellow Polyvinyl pals Shy Boys) has far more pronounced guitar playing and the keys act as accompaniment. What makes this record work is that each song, regardless of form or tone, works and ultimately succeeds in its goal of creating infectious, albeit sugary, dance music with just enough atmospheric touches to provide Strfkr with an instantly distinctive sound, as if the Pet Shop Boys hung out MGMT. The fragile “Palm Reader” comes and flees quickly as Hodges chokes out the fading message of “just be honest with yourself” around minimalist playing that acts a powerful departure from the upbeat tempos that dominate the record. The band provides an intriguing paradox of sentimental, and at times profoundly meaningful, lyrics wrapped around silky compositions with a production quality that results in a dazzling sheen, best heard on tracks like “Dear Stranger” and “Sea Foam”. “Pink Noise” flirts with shoegaze and softened noise, but still retains a cheerful keyboard riff as the centerpiece, proving that the band takes chances but does not sacrifice their true mission. “Cold Comfort” concludes the record on a false cloud of serenity, for th ere is a highly uneasy nature to the song as the keys sound more ominous than relaxing and the understating loop of noise offers a inescapable feeling of claustrophobia. This final effort was my favorite of the bunch as Strfkr moved away from blissful keys and tuned them down to create musical anxiety. The uncomfortable atmosphere remains after the song fades, and illustrates to me how Strfkr can offer a wide array of musical options to an equally diverse audience.

THE BLACK WATCH - Brilliant Failures (A Turntable Friend Records

This is the eighteenth (!) record from The Black Watch and I have no idea how I missed the first seventeen, but Brilliant Failures is a fine introduction to this band if you are like me and have apparently lived under a large rock for the past two decades. The Black Watch’s sound is a largely dreamy approach to lush pop songs hugged tightly in the arms of jangly guitars and soulful vocals compliments of John Andrew Frederick, who also happens to be a professor of film and literature. The title track includes the line, “all you’ve ever known is brilliant failures”, and despite the use of the term “failures”, there is still a positive quality to the phrasing, solidifying the belief that one learns best from the missteps in life. The ability to find hope in the midst of despair reflects the musical beauty of Brilliant Failures in general, as The Black Watch examines a wide array of pop sensibilities here. “Twisted Thinking” sounds as if the Replacements decided to quarantine themselves for a year with only the Smiths catalog for companionship, while “Crying all the Time!” has a rougher approach that is more aggressive than its counterparts, but still fits majestically within the expansive ocean of sound one hears within. The songs are breezy, often ethereal slices of precisely detailed anthems of profound emotion, best heard on the trippy pop aesthetics of “Red Dwarf Star” and the late 80s/ MTV’s “120 Minutes”-era characteristics of “Mind You Know”, a song that also includes my favorite lyrics of 2020 (“Being happy isn’t easy/It isn’t easy being happy”). “Hodophobia” has a soaring energy that accompanies its hazy vocals and folk-pop structure, accented by gentle waves of guitar, while “One Hundred Million Times Around the Sun” somehow possesses both a dusty stomp and a pristine serenity. A similar tone is heard on “What I Think”, a song that throbs along at a bristling pace matched by immaculate production and a strong delivery. “The Personal Statement” has a despondent beauty as Frederick captures Robert Smith’s poetic melancholy with hints of psychedelic qualities. There is a nearly limitless amount of aspects to love about this record; it looks like I have a lot of music to catch up on concerning The Black Watch.

FIRE IN THE RADIO - Monuments (

The third release from the Philly-based four-piece radiates energy from the opening blast of “Let’s Get to the Start”. Each song is a controlled explosion of guitar-driven indie rock goodness with just a pinch of pop sweetness and cleaver lyrics (“gravity has always pulled me down” from “Gravity”). Japandroids’ Jesse Gander handles the production of Monuments that offers a bit of insight into the flawless constructs of Fire in the Radio. Each instruments shines and shimmies with infectious hooks, and the band meshes rythym driven alterna-punk with rich harmonies, particularly the glimmering “Rewind”. Monuments brought me back to the 90s as memories of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, the Doughboys, and Manic Street Preachers came flooding back; however, Fire in the Radio take that foundation and injects a modern kick in the vein of bands like Beach Slang and Surfer Blood. With each track hovering around three and a half minutes, Fire in the Radio never wear out their welcome or overuse an idea; in fact, efforts such as “I Said” and “Breaking” leaves the listener desperately wanting more. The stampeding “Ex-SF” proves that the band has the capacity to rattle some walls as they tap into a Jawbreaker-style vibe, and the song’s intensity is magnified by its juxtaposition with the more sullen “This is My Document”. “Sing, Sang, Sung” is a classic break-up song with the cutting line, “Will you miss me when I’m gone/You say we will move on”. I adore this, and Fire in the Radio perfectly embodies the potency of the golden era of indie rock and play with outstanding talent. This will cheer people up as we all attempt to figure out how to exist within the confines of our homes.

LOST ROMANCE - Strum It Again (

The ability to play truly effective power indie-pop is a fine art and one hears a great representation of this style on Strum It Again from New Brunswick’s Lost Romance. Each of the eight songs are rollicking, guitar-fueled anthems about broken hearts, frustrations, and yes, lost romance, but nothing about them is formulaic. Instead, guitarist and vocalist Gerry Perlinski has complete control over his voice and never pushes himself beyond his boundaries, thus keeping the songs neat packages of well-constructed, grounded rock n’ roll. There is an authenticity to this that cannot be forged, and efforts such as “Heart On a Wire” and “Turn Away” bash away with forthright energy. When Perlinksi says, “It tears you apart from the inside” on the aforementioned “Heart”, one also hears an indomitable rythym section of bassist Dan Haag and drummer Mohamed Amine Smires. This roaring pair provides ample muscle throughout the record. While the songs may address affairs of the heart that lean towards one’s sensitive side, the stories of emotional pain are contrasted with a smash and grab musical philosophy that highlight the poignant “Come Down” and the gritty rumble of “I Want You”. The fuzzed-out tone of “State I’m In” takes me back to mid-90s college rock with a distinctive Archers of Loaf vibe, while “Face to Face” is a slickly delivered slab of jaunty guitar pop, and when the refrain of “let’s go!” hits, it is impossible to not get fired up and sing along, even if you are currently locked away in an effort to escape a global pandemic. A positive energy permeates Strum It Again that is uplifting and fun without minimizing the band’s ability to also grab listeners by the shoulders and shake them. Lost Romance borrows from successful formulas of the past but delivers those ideas through their own distinct lens.

THE GUNGANS - Meesa Meesa Meesa (

For those of you who are too young, too cool, or too scarred to remember, the title of the Gungans release is a reference to infamous Star Wars character Jar Jar Binks, who was a member of the Gungan species. His role in the Star Wars prequels and the irreconcilable damage wrought by this CGI nightmare should be saved for another time (or revisited by traveling back in time about twenty years), but what cannot be denied is the delightful madness of Grim Deeds, the mastermind behind this side project. As a man who has written songs on topics ranging from divorce to public suicide to a eulogy of Oderus Urungus from GWAR, and even co-wrote and recorded “So Listen, Ben” with a certain Jersey-based fanzine editor, it is not a surprise that he would attach his skills to a culturally maligned, albeit highly acrobatic, side-kick from possibly Lucasfilms’ lowest moment; I only add the caveat “possibly” because the interaction between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen may still be worse. Still, “I Love Jar Jar Binks” is only one song. For the rest of the album, we’re treated to ten rapid-fire, easily memorized blast of sugary, punk-pop heaven. Every song is equally great, but there are some that are more equally great then others. Screeching Weasel/Mr. T Experience riffs run rampant throughout Meesa Meesa Meesa, but particularly buoyant rhythms and appropriately light-hearted backing vocals highlight “Action Figure Collection” and “He’s a Brony”, a loving homage to that distinctive slice of male humanity “obsessed with My Little Pony.” “I Love Jar Jar Binks” wraps itself around a tightly wound riff and a lyrics of true independent thought by declaring “I don’t really care what anyone else thinks/I Love Jar Jar Binks”, and is followed by the delightfully goofy “I Want to be Japanese” (“I want to read more manga everyday”), a track similar in tone and tempo. The Gungans pick up speed for the closing trio of tracks, particularly the Ramones/Queers surf-punk vibe of “I’m a Cretin” and “Laptop Punk”, a song that acknowledges that as “a middle-aged dad” with a “real day job”, it can be tough to be in band, so just Grim has to accept the fact that it is cool to “have fun just writing songs at home”, even if he does so with a “hand me down iPad”. Grim Deeds possesses an ability to both celebrate and properly mock the importance of pop culture and his talents shine brightly once again with The Gungans.

MAYFLOWER MADAME - Prepare for a Nightmare (Only Lovers records

Oslo’s Mayflower Madame introduce themselves perfectly with the opening chords of “Prepare for a Nightmare,” as coarse, haunting tones instantly transport listeners back to the nuanced dark wave of Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. Trond Fagernes has a voice reminiscent of Peter Murphy as he emotes his lyrics with a sense of controlled torment on “Vultures” when he states, “I’m cynical, I’m sick of it all, how did it come to this?” as atmospheric keys from Kenneth Eknes float around his words. A steady, low throb is the fuel for the vast majority of the work here, including the stunning, mid-tempo trauma, “Swallow” (“When you see me tremble at the end of the rope/When you see me stumble at the sight of hope”). The band’s crescendo may be the highly apropos “Ludwig Meidner”, as the song’s stifling nature is reflective of the menacingly tense work created by the legendary Expressionist, with Fagernes’ repeating the ominous line, “I’ll be dancing on your grave”. The band began rehearing in a nearly abandoned industrial building, and one can hear the emptiness and despondency of such conditions throughout the record. The circuitous nature of “Never Turning (In Time)” surrounds the listen with a blanket of suffering and impenitency (“You’re my favorite time to kill/the last flight before my body dies”), an aura also felt on “Sacred Core”. The latter includes a shoegaze pace and ambient vacuity with a terrifying promise from Fagernes, “I’ll get you back at whatever cost”. Mayflower Madame proves that there is beauty in terror and majesty in discomfort; the band never allows the listener to relax, for this is music to be experienced more than simply enjoyed. The songs penetrate those who hear it as brief streaks of guitar delivered by both Fagernes and Håvard Haga intermittently scorch the air, ethereal keys and evocative poetry permeate the atmosphere, and exist to be repeatedly played, analyzed, debated, and the meanings about which will likely never be fully agreed. “Goldmine” is a tale of embittered romanticism (“I gave my heart away to an endless charade…I caught you stealing from my goldmine”) played with just a hint of greater pop efficacy, while “A Future Promise” includes a nuanced hook and places Fagernes on the outside of the action. He is the omniscient narrator here, noting how “she’s sick of giving in/she’s got no patience, she just wants to win”, taking listeners through the tale of one woman’s desire to break free of a failed “romantic notion”. Depending on one’s outlook on life, this could be either the best or very worst band in the world with whom to self-quarantine right now, but personally, this will help me fight through the current pandemic. A band like Mayflower Madame only intensifies my hatred of this virus, for I want this band able to travel to the States and bring their poetic destruction to fans here in a live setting. Indefinably lush, gorgeous, and profoundly moving, Mayflower Madame reinforces all of my cynicism about romance and relationships in one glorious ten-song collection.

TRUPA TRUPA -I’ll Find (

Building upon the success and magnificence of their previous release, Of the Sun, Poland’s Trupa Trupa return with I’ll Wait, a shimmering work of psychedelically charged indie rock. The opening “Fitzcarraldo” is a living musical dichotomy, somehow simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. The song is based on a film directed by Werner Herzog about the real life escapades of Peruvian rubber kingpin Carlos Fitzcarrald. This constant convergence of the lush and the haunting, not to mention the wildly interesting historical references made by the band through these tracks, makes I’ll Wait a scintillating and intellectually challenging listen. Grzegorz Kwiatkowski emotes the refrain, “all the way to the end of the line” (from “End of the Line”) in a manner that conveys both a childlike sense of playfulness as well as a subtle mania that demands repeat listens. Initially thrust forward by the nimble bass playing of Wojchiech Juchniewicz, the song seamlessly slides into a subdued, atmospheric realm with a tone that conveys a nursery rhyme gone terrible awry. There is a sense that something terrible is about to happen, but it is impossible to predict what exactly or when. “Invisible Door” initially strikes the listener as a 1970s psyche-pop effort as heavily compressed, almost whispered vocals meander above a bed of solemn musicianship. The song’s perceived simplicity masks a depth that reflects Trupa Trupa’s musical mission; namely, to create music that is at times claustrophobic and unnerving but always engaging. The closing title track is musically suffocating, and waves of ethereal controlled noise force Kwiatkowski’s vocals to swim against the tide while he commences with an internal battle, first declaring “I’ll find” before being told by a second, but still his own, voice, “no, you won’t”. The song is replete with nightmarish elements seemingly lucid and incomprehensible. Trupa Trupa’s willingness to address the realities of global hate, particularly the rise in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, gives their music an additional gravitas, but the strength of any band must be songwriting, and these four are supremely gifted.

Read Rich Quinlan's interview with Trupa Trupa here...

THE CARVELS NYC - "Late Night Heart" EP (Die Laughing Records

The Carvels NYC, one of America’s great treasures, return with three more blues-drenched explosions of swinging, punk-inspired rock n’ roll. With their focus on rollicking guitar, wailing saxophone, and Lynne Von Pang’s distinctly powerful voice, Carvels NYC sound like a band from a different era but are urgently needed now. The title track of the Late Night Heart EP invokes images of clean-cut kids dancing on American Bandstand with its 50s doo-wop structure and clever metaphorical lyrics, but it still hits with an undeniable ferocity due to the always steady playing of drummer Steve Pang. The same holds true for “Bitter Pill”, a dirtier sounding effort in which von Pang brazenly addresses the failure of a relationship and refuses to apologize for anything by noting, “I am a bitter pill/ that got caught in your throat”. Danny Ray provides flawless sax work throughout each effort, and he plays with an intensity that provides both swirling blasts of force but also a soulful depth as well, reminiscent of Fear’s angst-riddled “New York’s Alright if you Like Saxophones”. “Out in the Streets” is the most conventional track of the three, as the song steamrolls along with von Pang perhaps never sounding more dulcet in her vocal delivery and guitarist Brian Morgan given a greater chance to shine. A wondrous addition to the band is former King Missile bassist RB Korbet, as her backing vocals are noticeable across the trio of tracks, but perhaps more prominently on the closing “Streets”. The Carvels NYC craft another flawless collection of musical enchantments; from song configuration to attitude to production, the "Late Night Heart" EP is a delight.

SUNTITLE - "Pure Forever" EP (Know Hope Records)

This South Jersey outfit have refined their skills over the past year or so with a seemingly endless string of opening slots for big name acts (Knuckle Puck, Set It Off, X Ambassadors), and that work led to the creation of a stirring four song EP in the form of "Pure Forever." The opening “Big Jawn” is a kick to the teeth of guitar force that breathlessly meshes into a dreamy, shoe-gaze track accented by powerful drumming and impassioned vocals. “Squirrel Hill” adopts a similar sensibility with Joe McGarvey and Kyle Fisher’s heavily distorted, droning guitar majestically interwoven with powerful vocals (“Sorry that I’m not sober/Just for a minute/II guess I missed it”) and understated low-end prowess from Peter Bariexca and drummer Dan Mattera. The fleeting title track is the most unique piece of the four, as minimalist playing wafts elegantly past the listener as McGarvey asks the poignant question of “Why can’t I be pure forever?”. The band returns to a classic 90s alterna-vibe on the closing “Milligram” as Suntitle blends start/stop symmetry with intensified singing, a massive hook, and a richer grove. The song is deceptively heavy and truly stands out following the subdued quiet of “Pure Forever”. There are many interesting aspects to this band, and if the quality of this EP is any indication of what the future holds, their time as an opening band will be short-lived.

LORD BUFFALO - Tohu Wa Bohu (

This is truly unlike anything I have heard before and will be impossible to forget. Blending elements of dark atmospheric, nearly metallic qualities with contemporary folk, Lord Buffalo makes music that is majestic, moving, and at times, frightening. The opening “Raziel” includes an introduction that one should not listen to alone; the first three minutes are an approaching storm from which one cannot escape, and then the voice of Daniel Jesse Pruitt appears and completes the unsettling soundscape. The vast majority of the tracks are expansive, meditative tableaus of musicianship that can be equally dense and ethereal, effortlessly shape-shifting within seconds. The enchanting title track brings the listener into a realm of melodic chanting as piercing guitar slashes through the sky. Harkening the experimentalism of acts ranging from Slint to Xiu Xiu, Lord Buffalo is a demanding listen that requires one’s highest level of attention and focus. “Heart of the Snake” creates psychedelic headspace while connoting images of vast plains and dusty, barren lands. There is tangible beauty in all that Lord Buffalo produce, from the bouncy, fuzzy, folk-kissed pop of “Halle Berry”, a song accented by angular, muscular guitar riffs and a grandiose refrain of “say hallelujah”, to the spacious, hovering “Kenosis”, an apparition of a song that conveys a penetrating sorrow. The vastness of the songs allows Lord Buffalo to create several anthems within one; even the aforementioned “Kenosis”, while largely a work of gentle exquisiteness, includes searing violin that viciously lacerates the latter portion of the track. Every attempt to introduce noisy characteristics into otherwise tender anthems works perfectly-nothing sounds out of place or forced. There is a highly intricate method to Lord Buffalo’s madness, and these songs are built in the manner of how would care a sculpture; there is a solid base and the ornamentation is added in layers to create an elaborate masterpiece. The closing “Llano Estacado” rattles with a scintillating, looping cadence that grips the listener in an embrace that is disquieting. Lord Buffalo does more than play music-they construct listening experiences.


When I first found speed metal, many, many years ago, it was Rigor Mortis’ blazing “Foaming at the Mouth” found on The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years soundtrack that instantly caught my attention and now, over thirty years later, it is still among my favorites. I mention this as Rabid Flesh Eaters openly pay a lovingly heavy homage to the fellow Texas legends on R.F.E., including the final recordings of legendary vocalist Bruce Corbitt. Throughout R.F.E., the band honors the proud past of Rigor Mortis with updated versions of three scalding RM classics, “Die in Pain”, the enchanting instrumental “Welcome to Your Funeral”, and the all too timely “Contagious Contamination”. While this trio of tracks are my personal favorites for both musical and nostalgic reasons, one should not undersell the intricacy and heaviness of the other five songs found on R.F.E. The expansive “The Fall” is over eight minutes of elaborate, classically delivered metal on which vocalist Ricky Wilson displays his remarkable range and guitarist Mike Taylor formulates challenging riffs without overwhelming listeners. The band’s ability to experiment with tempo and volume make the song an intriguing musical journey that could only be achieved by truly battle-tested and accomplished players. The title track is perhaps the most poignant moment on the record as Wilson exchanges vocal responsibilities with Corbitt, and the late RM/Warbeast singer delivers his lines with a fury and passion that makes his passing all the more morose. Rounded out by John Hill on bass and drummer AJ Tate, Rapid Flesh Eaters boldly and proudly wave the flag of pure speed metal that punches quickly and with blunt force, but balances this assault with dizzying song structures. Rabid Flesh Eaters is not simply mimicking the blueprint of Rigor Mortis; the music on R.F. E. is committed to commemorating both Corbitt and Mika Scaccia, the former RM/Ministry/Revolting Cocks guitarist who passed away in 2012. Scaccia once worked with Rabid Flesh Eaters, and the desire to honor two tragically fallen metal forces flows though the eight songs on R.F.E. This is ideal for those looking for traditional metal free from breakdowns or feet-flying pits.


ERIK CORE - Last Call (

I had no idea folk music could be this much fun. Imagine Tom Paxton singing for the Circle Jerks and one can begin to place a big toe in the wild musical pool that is Last Call. Released in early 2019, this is a mandatory listen for people (or fools) like me who missed it upon its initial emergence and is a wonderful primer before Erik Core releases a new collection in 2020. Blending country forthrightness, hardcore energy, and metal ferocity, Core, supported by buddies Al Stingle and Josh Mendoza, blasts his way through eleven songs about living hard, nearly going too far, and somehow being smart enough to see the lessons in past mistakes. The relentless vivacity of “Wild Fire” is matched by the scathing “Rock Stars”, whose refrain of “Don’t believe your rock stars/making all their profits/selling you their dreams” just drips with years of frustration. When the trio slows the pace down, as they do on the dusty “Last Call”, there is a melancholy realism that can only be truly expressed by those who have lived what they write (“Hoping for a better tomorrow/Wishing for a better today/Knowing that even as these words are spoke/Another set of eyes closes for good”). “Freedom of Spirit” retains a hardened Southwestern vibe, while the uproarious “WTF” is simmering mix of combustible angst and sardonic wit about the rampant spread of “heroin in the Midwest”. The band’s greatest skill is that while they have all clearly cut their teeth playing aggressive music (Core founded Gunpowder), the songs on last call are varied in length and intensity level, with “After the Fog” moving deliberately as Core speaks of “tassel dancing peepshows”, “Sandinista, rum drinking partner”, and a “full time demon fighter”. This is an intriguing listen, but the overwhelming high point for me was the expansive, beat poetry nature of “High Noon”. An explosion of authenticity about the suffering faced by so many of the ignored in America, the song takes the listener into jail, the agony of waking up strung out, “covered in piss, puke, and shit”, dying to be saved but not seeking salvation. The track is a masterpiece of fearless writing performed with painstaking strength. I cannot wait for the next record from these guys.

JONNY POLONSKY - Kingdom of Sleep (

Jonny Polonsky has had an amazing life; as a teen, Black Francis plucked him from an ocean of musicians fighting to be noticed, and he went on to perform with Maynard James Keegan in Puscifer. Throughout the years in between and around these events, Polonsky has played with everyone from Neil Diamond to Tom Morello. On Kingdom of Sleep, the Brooklyn native makes richly atmospheric, and at times, even futuristic sounding music on a record that plays out like one metaphysical experience. “Ghost Like Souls” is a majestic work of with truly other worldly sounding vocals delivered with fragility over a lush, keyboard-driven soundscape. “The Weeping Souls” rattles with a poignancy matched by a visceral sensuality woven within its indie pop/folk structure. (“Oh what can you say after you cry yourself to sleep/And there are no tears left to weep”) It is difficult to avoid using the term “dreamy” to describe the work of Polonsky, but the term is fitting on “No Tears” and the delicate eroticism of “You Turn Me On” (“Let me taste you again/I won’t waste a drop of you”) as breathy vocals hover like a low cloud ceiling above emotionally charged and haunting musicianship. “Aenerone” returns to the meditative dance grove first introduced on “Ghost Like Souls” and is equally beautiful as the opening track. Ethereal keys waft effortlessly into the closing “Willing Eye”, a jangling nugget of heartfelt emotion. The entire record is achingly beautiful and a testament to this man’s boundless experimentalism.

THE GLOOMIES - Are We Getting Better? (

The Gloomies often live up to their name aesthetically, although they may take their moniker from an obscure collection of blue aliens from the Care Bears carton. Regardless, Andy Craig leads The Gloomies through a collection of songs that are warm and lush haunted by fragile vulnerability. On “DNTGTBTTR”, the vocalists admits, “I miss the way we felt when we were young, magic everywhere, screaming in your ear”, acknowledging a sense of loss and a woeful plea for redemption. Even the fleeting DIY “Voice Memo”, of which there are three, take the listener into the band’s creative process and the burgeoning beauty of the ideas that dominate this stunning record. “Sick Like You” hoovers elegantly with intricate guitar playing, and the gorgeous “Mess We Made” is a serene ballad with ghost-like backing vocals of delicate beauty. The fittingly titled “Calm Now” is an ideal closer, as the song is played with refined musicianship that is mesmerizing in its lavish splendor with Craig’s voice sounding as if he lost at sea. The Gloomies are an intriguing band and the work on Are We Getting Better is an impressive illustration of this band’s vision.

ACID TONGUE - Bullies (Freakout Records

Seattle’s Acid Tongue is a fascinating combination of classic indie rock stylings and an unrelenting DIY spirit. This conjures images of the heyday of the 90s indie rock explosion, particularly the title track as Guy Keltner announces how “rich kids are bullies” in a falsetto whose innocent sound belies the pain the song exposes. This dichotomy of complex, emotional sorrow and ethereal, musical deftness is expressed on “Jenny Lewis” with the scathing line, “our love is just another inside joke”, and the mid-tempo crawl of “Liars” as Keltner admits, “they don’t tell you it ends like this”. Acid Tongue delivers music that is both somehow highly sophisticated and instantly relatable, like reconnecting with old friends who have changed but still retain much of their old charm. The crawling pace and self-deprecating honesty of “Sometimes” is a heartfelt confession that will be undoubtedly relatable (“Love is a strange world/Love isn’t kind/making me crazier, time after time”). When Keltner declares “bad medication is not the only thing you hide” as he opens the bouncy, nervous “Walk Don’t Run”, he introduces a twitching, infectious effort that perfectly captures the unease of the world in which we live. The driving bass line reverberates with a slickness of 1970s studio chic but somehow still captures the ethos of a garage band playing together for the first time. Keltner, who is accompanied by a wondrous band of skilled players, including primary partner Ian Cunningham, have compiled a collection of heartfelt, occasionally desperate tales, but rather than feel sad about how dark times may be, Acid Tongue tells us on “Forty Years” that, despite it all, “we might as well enjoy the ride”. Not bad advice.

JAH WOBBLE - A Very British Coup (80 Proof Records

One may see this as a Public Image Limited reunion of sorts, and the timing is perfect. Jah Wobble, John Wardle on his birth certificate, was PIL’s bass player who famously exited the band in 1980 under scurrilous conditions before releasing his own solo record Betrayal. Forty years later, the need for unique takes on failing British culture and stale pop music coincide on “A Very British Coup”, as Wardle is joined by former mates Richard Dudanski on drums and guitarist Keith Levene. The song is a delightful mixture of atmospheric pop, throbbing bass, understated but impactful drumming, and Levene’s soaring guitar playing. The riff carries the track, seamlessly blending metallic touches with soaring beauty as Mark Stewart (Pop Group) takes the helm vocally and provides a string of sarcastic observations about a nation on the verge of departing the European Union and embarking upon an unknown future with far more economic and social questions than answers. Phrases such as “sordid sentimental, sick souvenirs” and “hypnotism by the radio” are woven within elements of dub step, post-punk, and jazzy disco. Accompanied by tape loops and even Chinese harps, the song is a universe of varied sounds and styles meshing together into a gloriously beautiful condemnation of contemporary England. Only the Brits could be so sardonic and lovely at the same time. Regardless of your interest, or lack thereof, in English politics, this should be required listening, as it brings together legends with decades in their pasts who create something that sounds entirely new.

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