Author: Eric Norris

Matt Skiba & the Sekrets – Kuts

Matt Skiba & the Sekrets
Kuts

Superball Music
Street: 06.01
Matt Skiba & The Sekrets = Alkaline Trio + David Bowie

After garnering success with Babylon in 2012, Matt Skiba & the Sekrets have returned with a radically different approach from their debut. Kuts creates a late ‘70s darkwave essence that correlates perfectly with Skiba’s voice. Though the album is littered with brooding melodies, it’s not completely void of tongue-in-cheek, zero-tolerance advances—“She Said” comprises a catchy chorus that contains the lyrics, “Shut up you fucking know-it-all / I’ve had it with your shit / You don’t know when to shut your mouth and you don’t know when to quit!” “I Just Killed to Say I Love You” holds its own with its goosebump-inducing melodies and cryptic lyrics that make it a standout track. Kuts bolsters a sound of its own with its inclusion of synth-based melodies reminiscent of the Hunky Dory days of David Bowie combined with Skiba’s signature voice and heartbreaking lyrics. –Eric U. Norris

Royal Oi! – Bootboys and Hooligans

Royal Oi! – Bootboys and Hooligans

Royal Oi!
Bootboys and Hooligans

Crowd Control Media, Last PunkRocker Records, Rebel Sound
Street: 11.16
Royal Oi! = The Bad Engrish x Angelic Upstarts

Some badass skinhead music from across the pond? Hell yes! This four-piece shows some amazing vitality with their Scottish street music, hitting the pivotal points of the skinhead ethos. “Bootboys and Hooligans,” “In My Heart” and “Skinhead Loyalty” are mid-tempo anthems that will have all skins and hooligans locking arms and skanking in circles, and raucous gems like “Violence,” “Skinhead Warrior” and “Punx & Skins ‘Football, Oi! and Rock n Roll’” will have them throwing themselves at each other. Oi! is definitely alive in Glasgow, and the Royal Oi! stand fittingly at the top, honing their pride as Scots and as skinz. –Eric U. Norris

Slayer – Repentless

Slayer – Repentless

Slayer
Repentless

Nuclear Blast
Street: 09.11
Slayer = Venom x (Exodus + Testament)

“SLAYERRRRRR!!!” Honestly, do these guys even need an introduction? The heaviest, most brutal metal band of all time has returned with a pulverizing record. They have been through some colossal changes since World Painted Blood, and expectations were mixed, as this is the first album without the musical dexterity of riffsmith Jeff Hanneman. The album begins with their classic evil thrashing through the title track, gradually gets slower and sludgier through “Cast the First Stone” and “Implode,” and then works its way back to a rapid pace in the last third with “Atrocity Vendor” and “You Against You.” With everything taken into account, is Repentless a masterpiece or just a failed comeback? Truly, Slayer has done an impeccable job exploring new territory while staying true to their sound—it may not be as illustrious as Reign in Blood, but its spot in their discography is just as relevant. –Eric U. Norris

Eastfield

Eastfield
Another Boring Eastfield Album: A Rail Punk Collection

Creep Records/Violated Records
Street: 11.27.15
Eastfield = (Forum Walters + Buzzcocks) + The Clash

A misnomer if I’ve ever heard one: Another Boring Eastfield Album is anything but—it’s catchy, punchy and hones a classic ’70s Brit-punk vibe that’s armed with three-chord progressions, anti-ego attitudes and lyrics consisting of humorous remarks at anything that winds them up. Rather than bluntly rally against the socio and political issues that they reference, they stand on their firm belief that humor is the more effective tool to get their point across. In an album composed of 33 tracks, it’s surprisingly void of any filler. Aside from standouts like “Burt Reynolds Rides Again,” “Three Chords Good, Four Chords Bad,” “Beast of Bratislava” and “Eddie Watson,” each song holds its own sing-a-long chorus with comedic, succinct messages. –Eric U. Norris

The Dirty Nil
Higher Power

Dine Alone Records
02.26
The Dirty Nil = (PUP + FIDLAR) X (Fugazi + Smashing Pumpkins)

I think I figured out the dominant form of punk rock in the 2010’s – there seems to be a surge of bands that have combined the garage rock aesthetic of unpolished sounds riddled with distortion and amplifier feedback with the new age, indie weirdness that hipsters gush over. Enter The Dirty Nil, a three piece from Ontario, Canada who are the embodiment of this garage-tinged weirdness. Their debut album Higher Power contains an uncanny combination of disgruntled noise and hummable melodies – the guitar will be pounding with the immense weight of the onslaught of power chords, and will be switched out with equally sizable harmonies. The same can be said for the vocals – Luke Bentham has mastered the ability of maintaining a talented singing voice yet manages to not blow it out when he has to switch to raucous shouting of the archetypal punk vocalist.

As I have mentioned, the opposing sounds on this album make it a standout with every song different than the next. The first track, “No Weaknesses” opens, fittingly enough, with 13 seconds of static feedback before the eminent power chords kick in, followed by some pretty articulate drumming from Kyle Fisher, and Bentham’s style of vocals that go back and forth between shouting and singing halfway through each line in the sing’s verses. “Zombie Eyed” gives way more to the melody of Bentham’s vocals while Dave Nardi backs the verse with his bass with the guitar more/less taking a back seat until the chorus hits, and still isn’t void of amplifier feedback. “Wrestle Yü To Husker Dü” is a slower grungier track that teeters into a heartbreak-addled lyrical theme with an easy-to-follow chorus–”I don’t care about your man!” “Lowlives” stands on its own as one of the heaviest songs on this album–it evokes a metal sound with Nardi’s bass lines sounding awfully close to that of Lemmy’s– you mix it in with the heavy metal guitar crunch and it’s hard not to think that the music was penned while Motörhead was playing nearby. “Fugue State” is another standout as it is the fastest and also the shortest song clocking in at only 45 seconds, it pays homage to the hardcore elders of the early ’80s, who were notorious for playing songs under one minute that were no slower than 200 BPM.

Higher Power is a showcase for the ’90s garage rock revival that’s been sweeping throughout the punk genre these past few years–honing their influences of grunge, indie, alt. rock and metal. It’s an album that proved many of my first interpretations to be false–it took many twists and turns in its runtime, which gave it its personality and kept me listening intently for the unexpected. For a debut album, these guys have proven their deservedly recognizable talent and the production is as such that it is able to show off their musical animation and not just have it be pounding noise. If you’re a fan of distortion fueled alternative rock with crisp melodies that slice right through the proverbial wall of sound, tied in with heavy and, at times, fast paced  tempos, and vocals that walk a thin line of insanity and stability, then this album will satisfy.

PEARS-Green-Star

PEARS

Green Star

Fat Wreck Chords
Street: 04.01
PEARS = (Thought Riot x early Thrice)/AFI + Gorilla Biscuits + A Wilhelm Scream

Once during an interview I conducted with PEARS’ vocalist, Zach Quinn, he said that their new album was turning out to be “more Go To Prison than Go To Prison was.” PEARS’ debut album, Go To Prison, was written and recorded in the course of a few days and held all the marvels and raucousness of hardcore punk while still delivering something new—deservedly, it became an instant favorite among listeners, myself included. The conception of their follow-up album, Green Star, included a lot more of a thought process, with rewrites and song rearrangements, throughout the better part of two years—the exact opposite of their debut. The increases process behind Green Star can either highlight a band that is overthinking their artistry or a band that has worked their asses off trying to outdo their last effort. I’ve gushed over PEARS a ton since I discovered them last year and fell in love with them at first listen. I’m going to gush a little more, because Green Star is amazing—not only as a follow-up to the unparalleled masterpiece of their debut album, but also in showing off how they’ve enhanced their sound in the short time since its release.

PEARS have not lost any of their intensity, harmony, or sense of humor in their sophomore release—the first two songs (if you don’t count the 30 second intro track) are just enough to pull you in and allow this album to beat you into oblivion for the next half-hour. “Hinged at the Spine” stays mostly melodic while keeping a machinegun pace, then the preceding track “Cumshots” jumps into their signature sound of fast-paced, atonal riffing and Quinn’s rabid vocals that gives way to 3 part harmonies in the chorus and back to the snarling ferocity in about 30 seconds. Listening to PEARS is the musical equivalent of approaching a dog that seems adorable and harmless but will bite your hand off if you try to pet it—a fitting description for the song “I Love My Kennel,” when the music slows into sludgier territory in the last third while Quinn growls opaque, metaphorical lyrics. That same feral output traverses through the song “Anhedonia” (a re-recorded version from their previous EP, Letters to Memaw), with sinister riffing matched by equally terrifying lyrics, including a gang chant of “Give me death!” that sounds like it’s being shouted by a group of demented 12-year-old girls.

After the first half of the album, Green Star gives a few seconds to catch your breath with “Dizzy Is Drunk,” a 50-second piano interlude that shows off another skill that Quinn offered to this album. But don’t get too comfortable, because before you know it, you’re getting pummeled again: “Snowflake” (the teaser track that premiered before Green Star’s release) hones a Ramones-style guitar riff with atonal tidbits thrown in between each measure. “The Tile of St. Stewart” spends half of its running time concocting a hair-raising guitar buildup and equally creepy vocals whispering, “Have you seen him Mary? Complete the chain, weld it down. Have you seen him, Mary, clench his fists, the cringing clown? Soiled and overbearing, terrify the timid hearts,” before exploding into the chanting chorus: “Tile of St. Stewart! Are you guilty Stewart? Do your insides rot? Are you guilty Stewart? Become what Hell begot!” After more unhinged thrashing, it all gives way to another piano interlude, “Jump the Fuckin’ Ship,” which gives over 80 seconds of soothing harmony before setting up for “Great Mt. Ida”—the closing number that starts off fast and melodic in the first third, switches into more metallic riffing with downbeat breakdowns and closes with a buildup of rolling drums, ambient guitar sounds and Quinn’s final lyrics: “What we’ve held in our hands, gone with us, eternally absent, free. Take me.”

This album is good—really good! The time and effort Pears have put into Green Star really shows that they’ve done their damnedest in making an album that is rooted in its predecessor but also stands on its own. To reprise the aforementioned quote, Green Star really is “more Go To Prison than Go To Prison is.” (Urban Lounge: 05.29.16 w/ Subhumans) —Eric U. Norris

Corrosion Of Conformity
No Cross No Crown

Nuclear Blast
Street: 01.12
Corrosion Of Conformity = Poison Idea + (Houdini-era Melvins x Black Sabbath)

Many are familiar with Corrosion of Conformity. They’ve cut their teeth as Richmond’s hardcore heroes in the early ’80s, crossed over to the thrash realm in the latter half of the decade, and finally carved a niche out for themselves as a sludge metal band that wears their Southern roots on their sleeves while keeping their integrity firmly planted in the ethos of hardcore. It proved to be a formidable stronghold for them as, throughout the ’90s, the American South saw an overflow of stoner-sludge greats like Eyehategod, Solient Green, Down and Crowbar. However, COC were not swept under the rug as a hardcore band attempting metal—the addition of rhythm guitarist and eventual vocalist Pepper Keenan enabled the band to hone their craft and with it, pump out a trifecta of brutality: Blind (1991), Deliverance (1994) and Wiseblood (1996).

As much as fans revel in the height of COC’s success in the ’90s, they still can’t deny their arid artistry that followed them into the 2010s after Keenan took leave from the band in 2006, causing a hiatus until 2010. The band returned as a trio with original drummer Reed Mullin. Keenan would eventually return in 2014 after a stint in Down while COC put out their self-titled album in 2012 and IX in 2014, both paling in comparison to the days of Keenan’s driving riffs. Which brings us to 2018—No Cross No Crown is COC’s first album since Reed and Keenan’s return to the group. Obviously, there was a lot of buildup to this album, and for good reason—while the semi-reunion in 2010 was welcomed, it was clear that we weren’t going to get another Deliverance with just a portion of the classic COC lineup. Now, with said lineup in full force, does No Cross No Crown deliver on the hype?

After the intro track “Novus Deus” the album properly begins with “The Luddite,” which shows off Reed’s groove-based drumming, giving a very heavy and swaying feel to the album. “Cast The First Stone” features some tasty blues licks from lead guitarist Woody Weatherman, and “Little Man” goes heavy on the ZZ Top sound. Throughout the album, Keenan shouts most of his lyrics, which is probably a good thing—he still has a demanding presence with his sandpaper growls, but it loses me on tracks like “Forgive Me” and “Nothing Left to Say,” when he has to hit vocal melodies that sound close to a Zakk Wylde parody. While it sucks that his cleans can’t reach that same vertex they once did, I can at least take solace that his growls in songs like “Wolf Named Crow” still hold the same gravitas.

I won’t lie, I have a pretty major gripe with this record—the last half REALLY … DRAGS … ON! I’m not against songs or albums being long, but most of the latter half of the record went in one ear and out the other—which is a shame because I was getting into the music as it was playing but groaned at the fact that there were still five more tracks, each ranging from four to six minutes in length, that had yet to play. First, it feels like the title track is going to wrap things up with its atmospheric and quiet, more subtle approach, but nope! In comes the six-minute monstrosity, “A Quest to Believe (A Call to the Void),” with Weatherman taking the last minute and a half to stress some pretty impeccable soloing as the song and album fades out drawing to a close … but NOPE! The 15th track is a cover of Queen’s “Son and Daughter.” Just end already! The cover isn’t bad, but for an album that’s already pushing an hour, it should have been saved as a B-side to one of their singles.

If you’re a diehard COC fan, you’ll get about what you’d expect—it’s awesome to once again hear Keenan and Weatherman complement each other’s guitar playing, and while Keenan’s voice has noticeably aged, it isn’t unlistenable. And, on top of it all, there is an element of cohesiveness on this album that hasn’t been felt on a COC record in a long time. It may not be as sensational as their older work, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t a step in the right direction. –Eric U. Norris

Founders of Ruin
Movement I: Concept

Records of Ruin
Street: 01.12.18
Founders of Ruin = Meshuggah + After the Burial + Between the Buried and Me

Death metal on acid! At least, that’s how fans have classified Founders of Ruin. After hurtling themselves on the music scene in 2011, they took nearly decade to create a composite orchestration of finely-crafted guitar melodies, drumming that throws its share of curveballs, and a towering atmosphere that calls back to the works of Pink Floyd. Movement I: Concept is the first thread sewn into what will continue to be a series of concept albums.

“Morning Breaks” is a heavy opener with plenty of grooves to keep my head banging and a lot of layered guitar arpeggios to emphasize their technical capacity. “Reclaim” concerns itself more with brutality than technicality though its blistering riffs and cascading melodies. “Virtue” looms at a staggering 8:47—reminiscent of old-school Killswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying. It showcases Patrick Fontana’s unpredictable drumming and includes an infectious sing-along chorus that bleeds into a crushing breakdown as the guitar shreds through the rubble. However, the song’s length works against itself—as smoldering as it is, it kept getting side-swiped by yet another riff or solo that it gets more diluted with each passing minute and by the time “Concept of the Void” plays, I’ve grown so accustomed to the tossed salad of double bass and crawling arpeggios that it doesn’t pack the same punch.

It’s not an issue with the writing and musicianship of the band, as they do have enough personality to rise above the stigmas attached to technical/prog/djent bands. However, they still fall victim to monotonous production. I try to avoid talking about the technicalities of music, as there’s no way to truly know what goes on behind the scenes of an album unless you were there (and it’s not like I could do any better). Nevertheless, metal with multiple transitions and musical breaks lends itself heavily to balance and precision to make it flow more organically and for certain elements to be more emphasized and others to be downplayed. The production is so flat on this record that it doesn’t allow much inclination for natural flow, nor ample wiggle room for much to standout.

So, I’m split on Movement I: Concept. I do enjoy the actual music when it draws me in and I love the atmosphere it’s trying to build here. But, metal is an incredibly visceral genre, so much so, that you feel like you can reach out and touch the music, and it’s so easy for that emotion to drown in a digital cesspool of overproduction (or under production). I hope that Founders of Ruin’s preceding efforts don’t fall under the same shortcomings, as their talents need to be properly presented.—Eric U. Norris

VIZA
Made in Chernobyl
Architects of Melody
Street: 01.01.2010
VIZA = Gogol Bordello + System of a Down + Judas Priest
I bought the album Made in Chernobyl from VIZA when they were opening up for Gogol Bordello last August, and I fell absolutely in love with it. Their opening track ,“Trans-Siberian Standoff,” is a prime example of VIZA’s Eastern European folk sound with an equal representation of a classic heavy metal tempo and equally heavily politically themed lyrics, topped with a face-melting guitar solo from Orbel Babayan. Other politically themed songs include “Napoleon Complex,” which gives ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, and “Dynamite” which explodes with Stalin references. Though they have some tough, aggressive songs, they also show their emotional side mainly through “My Mona Lisa,” and also show how they can slow down the music and still keep you hooked with their lyrics in “Fork in the Road.” The album has an even mixture of gypsy punk, folk, and hard rock—they can be heavy, fast and aggressive, but also be slow, sinister, emotional and political, and overall, it kicks ass. –Eric Norris
Photos:
Substained | Vomit the Cross | Self-Released

Substained
Vomit the Cross

Self-released
Street: 02.01
Substained = Dark Funeral x Mayhem + Belphegor

You know, amid a market teeming with oversaturated and overproduced black metal trying so hard to sound innovative that it ironically backfires as redundant and boring, it’s refreshing that there still is a demand for the grimy, ugly, atrocious incarnations that call back to the days of Immortal and Celtic Frost. Salt Lake’s own Substained deliver such repulsiveness in their debut EP, Vomit the Cross. Blast beats? Check! Nearly indecipherable guttural growls? Check! Dissonant tremolo picking? Check! Lo-fi production to enforce that there is no watering down nor bloating of their raw brutality? Double check! With so much vitriol oozing out of their seams, there is no room (or need) for such frills.

The opening track “Heart of the Lamb” takes a few seconds to set the mood before the gauntlet of chaos is ushered in through Winters’ bloodcurdling scream while the guitars and drums allude to that classic, frozen Norwegian atmosphere. After six minutes of pummeling, I get my first glimpse of Substained’s ethos—they really fucking hate humankind! They depict us as no more than lambs being led to the slaughter. “Monotheistic Diatribe” is basically a fancy way of saying “Fuck your God!” And they find more than one way to slander religious oppressors, whether it’s as blunt as “Homophobic, religious cunts / Claustrophobic, sheltered fucks,” or lending more to the imagination with “To put belief in a heavenly afterlife / Over what is done to this world / A deathly aim to a heavenly cloud / While trampling life on Earth.” Lyrically, “Want No Part” is a discernible middle finger aimed at mainstream society, and they make sure that anyone listening gets the memo—“I want no part in what you offer / I despise you and your culture!” They flirt with differing elements of the metal spectrum as the guitar dissonance, sometimes, looms closer to death metal than that of black metal, but who the hell is going to notice?

Vomit the Cross is a solid debut EP from these guys. It’s got enough of the raw elements that will satisfy many a black metal fan, but also gives enough breathing room for their personality to stand out. Though the lyrics can be a little juvenile, at times, and their messages a little pedestrian, they have a lot of ideas that have the potential to flourish. Only the strongest of these ideas will be able to break through the permafrost landscape of black metal, and we shall see what comes through in their musical expedition. –Eric U. Norris