Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Music Reviews: Red Novella - "Failure By Design"

It's been a long couple years for Red Novella. The band has been working hard on their recently released debut full length, "Failure By Design", and playing shows to let people know they're still around after some internal issues saw a small line-up change occur. It was definitely worth the wait for the new album! The band is better than ever, and ready to unleash their fury on the world! But the question remains...are YOU ready for Red Novella?
"Failure By Design" kicks things off in high gear with "Won't Back Down". Intact are the twin guitar assault of Emo Manuel and Jay Lovell who flesh out each track with precision and accuracy. "Won't Back Down" is definitely a calling card for anyone that doubted the band's return as the leading force in the Chicago metal scene. This is a
great song to kick things off.
"Pieces" is another stand out track letting everyone know this is a new beginning and a fresh start. I can't help but feel that this whole album is coming from a healthy place...mentally, physically and emotionally. When singer Mike Perez sings the line "pick up the pieces and move on. No one wants to hear all your excuses." I wonder, is this a kiss off to a former friend? Maybe a lover? Maybe a former bandmate? The band leaves it open for interpretation. So we can make it what we want it to be. But it's a powerful track through and through.

With 2 maniac shredders in Manuel and Lovell, and a singer with the versatility and range of Perez, it would be easy to be lacking in the bass and drums. But that's simply not the case with Red Novella. This band has one of the tightest backbeats around in the form of drummer Jeremy Feinberg and bass player Jeremy Hooley. True meat and potatoes players who bring their A Game to this album, especially on the track "Ashes Fall". These 2 gentlemen are the glue that holds all the pieces in place and give just as much crunch and tenacity as the rest of the band. It's a true group effort in the highest regard.

If I could change one thing, and it's a small detail, I would ask for a more tracks. 8 songs left me feeling less than full. This has always been an issue with me when it comes to full on solid releases. It ends too soon and leaves me wanting more. Sure, I'm a greedy bastard...but I can't help it. When it's as solid and polished, both musically and lyrically as "Failure By Design", I want MORE! But, like the bands 3 song EP from a couple years ago, I think that great things are on the horizon for Red Novella...and like "Failure By Design", the wait will be, once again, well worth it.

5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Interview with Jamie Yorke and Dec Fox of Blame Bilston

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass guys. So, the new album, Yesterday Again, is officially out in the U.K. and will be out shortly here in the states. How has the response been to the new album? 

Jamie: I think the response has been great. We've had a lot of people sending us messages sharing their thoughts on the album and so far it's been really positive, so we're really pleased and we hope it continues. We just want to find a way of getting the album to reach more people!!

Dec: I think the response has been great, people close to us have a commented on how much they enjoy the album but also it seems to have brought new people in who appreciate our music to, which is really nice.

CM: How do you feel this album is different from your last release? 

Jamie: Well, I'd say the album is different to our previous release for a few reasons: 
It's better quality, better songs and since "Ta-ta For Now" I've recruited Dec on bass, who has written some amazing bass lines and we mesh really well. And we bounce off of each other, but before with "Ta-ta For Now" that was pretty much just me, so this time around it's been more fun! And overall I'd say the attitude towards the album was to record it at our pace
and not to cut any corners.

Dec Fox: I enjoyed Ta-ta For Now as I could see what Jamie was trying to achieve and I think with this album we're both pleased with the quality of recording and as well as the range of styles we've incorporated. For example, going from songs like Sunshine, Silly Little Black Bird, Strange Girl and Adolescence 

CM: I can still hear some old school alternative influences in your songs. Bands like Alice in Chains and especially Nirvana come to mind. Do you still look at those bands as major influences when it comes to songwriting?

Jamie:  When it comes to influences we often get branded for just sounding like a "Nirvana" rip off by people who obviously didn't listen to a lot of the "grunge movement". We have many, influences and yes it'd definitely fair to say Nirvana and Alice In Chains are a big influence, but we also have many others. We try to create a sound mixed with a lot of different elements from a lot of different genres such as Psychedelic, "Grunge", Punk Rock ( E.g The Germs ), and Hardcore punk. 

CM: Speaking of songwriting, do you find it easier to write songs now as opposed to early on? And do you feel you've both grown as a songwriters? 

Jamie:  For me, writing songs, is neither easy nor difficult. for me it's a release, if I didn't have that I think I'd probably implode haha. In an average week I write between 3-5 songs in that time span. and I think I've definitely grown, especially by having a full band behind me, who are all very competent musicians.

Dec Fox: I feel I have definitely grown as a song writer as me and Jamie both understand  the creative mindset behind each others songs, so we are able to make each others songs better, also now being in a band where we play a lot it has improved me as a musician and its made me work harder and be more willing to branch out into other styles

CM: You have some really powerful songs on this album in the forms of Alien Whore and RaPe ApE dEbAtE. Can we expect more heavy hitters like this on upcoming releases? 
Jamie: Definitely. "RaPe ApE dEbAtE" is literally the most metaphorical song on the entire record, its angry but at times, I think it's sweet. (Hear me out) It's gentle in an aggressive way. "Alien Whore" is a funny one, as when I wrote it, I had two ideas in my head a softer version or a hard punky version. After showing the song to Dec, we went with the heavier version and he wrote the bridge to that song as we felt it was lacking something. and we enjoy writing these heavy songs just as much as we enjoy writing our softer songs, so there fore we want to always incorporate both of our styles.

CM: You also have a pretty controversial track in What If God Were Gay. Here, in America, Homosexuality is more accepted than ever...except in the eyes of the Government who try and keep same sex marriages illegal. Personally, I have no issues with it. Where do you stand on same sex marriage? And how different is it in your native country as opposed to here in the states?
Jamie: "What If God Were Gay?" That's a track I've been asked about a few times and I don't do this often, but why not haha.  The song is literally me (and I'm sure the rest of the band word agree with me) just being pissed off with how homophobia can still be found in our current society. It's ridiculous. People are people, why can't we just let them be happy? And we are all for same sex marriage and over here they "say" it's fine. But we live in a very.."secluded" area in England, where racism and homophobia is still very prominent, which we are fully against.

CM: You have a lot to say in your music. And it's pretty deep material, which I find refreshing. Do you try and stay ahead with the times as far as socially conscience goes? Or do you just write from the heart?

Jamie: Every song I've ever written and will ever write is from the heart. It can be me dealing with a personal 
issue, or me just being pissed off about certain things in this world and example used before "homophobia". But it's not always about the lyrics. I like the music to reflect how I'm feeling as well. I personally like writing lyrics that are either metaphorical, or sarcastic as you can still say what you want to say, but no one knows which way to perceive it.

Dec: although I do not write vocals or lyrics the tone of the song I write tends to reflect the mood I am and it just comes naturally.

CM: With the release of Yesterday again, will we see Blame Bilston hitting the road for some tour dates in the near future?

Dec: Well we cannot wait to start playing regularly, but first we're sorting out a few logistical issues that are holding us back. We're also moving to a city with the band so at the moment this is taking up most of our time. But we're still playing a few local shows and then come January we'll be on the move up and down the country! 

CM: Will there be any new material by years end? And will we see any singles from the album released?

Jamie: It's hard for us not to release something instantly as all we do is work on songs together and so we'll definitely be releasing at least and EP or two before the years end. With regards to singles, we're currently trying to sort out a video for Adolescence and we did shoot a video for "Silly Little Black Bird" however we're still toying with the idea of releasing it.

CM: As always, it's been nothing short of a pleasure talking with you guys. The new album is amazing and I wanna wish you guys all the best in the future. Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass guys.

Jamie: The pleasure has been ours, thank you for listening to the record and for taking the time to speak with us. We look forward to the release in the states! Peace & Love - Jamie/Dec

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Music Reviews: "Sorry To Keep You Waiting: A Tribute To The Methadones"

Editors Note: Recently my record label, Infested Records, put out a compilation CD to pay tribute to one of Chicago's greatest punk bands, The Methadones. All the bands featured on this CD put their heart and soul into capturing what was so great about this band and their music. My old friend Teresa Spann asked if she could review the CD for Critical Mass. Without hesitation, I agreed. After all, she's the bands biggest fan and number one supporter of all things Dan Schafer. So, here it is! Enjoy!


A proper introduction might be nice.  My first tribute album was for the Kinks called “Give the People What They Want.”  I bought it because of the Briefs not knowing much about the Kinks.   The Briefs killed it and because of that album, I love the Kinks!  I’m not into most of the other bands on the record but the music made me want to know what the Kinks had to offer.  It’s was a good precedent for me for what a tribute album should be, good enough to like the bands on it and good enough to find out about the original band.

The Methadones were the first band that I loved.  I’m talking about the kind of love that makes you find their first album, and read the liner notes to see who they thank.  This love then has you buy the albums of those bands to see if they returned the thanks.  It’s a consuming love that has you hop in your car for what you think is a 2 hour drive to some never before ventured city which turns into a 4 hour drive into the middle of America but not bat an eye because it is your opportunity to see them live for the 2nd time that year after just meeting and seeing them play 8 months earlier (true story). When they recognize you when they walk in the venue a tear forms in your eye, then that love is validated and justified.

The Methadones music speaks to me and I’m listening to every single note so intensely that my ears hurt.  Dan’s sugar money voice, Pete’s metal thumping bass, Soucy’s maniac drums, and Mike’s sweaty guitar combine to into this artistic experience that challenges you to live better and be better at everything!  Starting as a side project with an original lineup that included B-face and Lumley, several albums had been recorded down the street from my place.  Although I complained often about residing in Indiana, I really didn’t mind living in Lafayette, because the Methadones had recorded here.  

I could prattle on about the Methdones, and I haven’t said hardly anything since they called it a day.  I lost my first love.  Nothing will ever replace it and talking about it is like pulling the scab off a wound trying to heal.  It hurts, makes it messy, and doesn’t heal quite right leaving a scar that isn’t pretty.  A tribute album for one of my most beloved bands isn’t going to be fair or objective.  These are terrible qualities for a review of something subjective.  It can’t be.  Messing with my heart is a dangerous undertaking and I will protect it with the utmost security but as long as you can appreciate where I’m coming from you know that it’s honest.  That’s what I think a good review should be at the crux.

I am thankful that I’ve seen at least five of the contributing bands live and was excited to see their names on the track list.  For some reason, Dan’s voice is the right pitch to make my insides melt with joy.  I love just about every single band that he’s been a part of and his musical quality is, for me, on level that’s really really hard to match.  Because of this, I didn’t hold back on some of the songs.   Please keep this in mind, because I’m am aware if you “don’t start none, there won’t be none.”  I volunteered to do this, but as their self-proclaimed biggest fan, I’m going to be the harshest critic.

Track by Track:

Solitude by the Fairmonts is choice start.  It’s the first song on Ill at Ease, the first album.  It’s a decent start.  Definitely makes me want to hear their stuff.

The Promdates are from Norway and I got to see them last summer when they were on tour with/as the Parasites.  I like these guys, their stuff is really good.  When I saw their name on the list I was stoaked because I talked to them about the Methadones.  I usually talk to everyone about the Methadones.  They did a good job.  Mess We Made is from Not Economically Viable; the lead singer said that this was his favorite album.  I’ve heard another band cover this song at a live show, this I like better.

Hygiene Aisle from Ill At Ease is my favorite Methadones song (if I had to choose) followed very closely by Ugly Things About You. I’m also aware that the person who contributed this song has been known as a racist.  I don’t want to people to think that I’m coming from predisposed criticism.  I don’t like this song, I think it sucks that this person decided to take a song that punches you in the balls by turning it into an acoustic wet willy.  Aside:  The Specials said it best: “If you have a racist friend, now is the time, now is the time for your friendship to end.”

On the Clock by Back Alley Riot, has the right amount of anger for this song from the Methadones/Copyrights split (the last album) and puts a smile on my face!

I just got to see the Young Rochelles at Insub this year for the first time and I think they are cool.  I hadn’t seen a singing drummer before in a pop punk band.  I don’t count the Jetty Boys because he does mostly backing vocals.  Their version of Less Than Zero from Not Economically Viable is exactly how a tribute song should be done!  

I was fortunate enough to start 2013 at a show where the Manges played this live.  It almost made me cry.  I love this song and the Manges!  I remember having my friends call me on the phone asking me why the Methadones were on MTV when Say Goodbye to Your Generation from Career Objective opened up some show that had nothing to do with music.  I was so proud!

Okay, there really can’t be enough said to how jacked it was that the DeeCracks couldn’t get into the US to tour.  A permission slip to do something you love is the dumbest thing ever!  I know plenty of people with a college degree that are complete idiots!  A piece of paper shouldn’t have that much power, yet we live in a world where it does.  It sucks and blows!  Yes!  I love that the DeeCracks played I’m About to Crack from Career Objective.  It’s like you knew it was coming, it’s in their name, duh.

Transistor Radio is my favorite song off of Not Economically Viable.  Jason Duarte’s cover is not bad.  I knew that is wasn’t bad when I instinctively started to sing along upon my first listen of the album.  I recently just met him as well (didn’t even know it either, I’m that person), what a nice guy!

Falling Forward came off of This Won’t Hurt was covered by Deyv Dee and Alex Rose.  This is my own bias, I didn’t like this song.  This song was on This Won’t Hurt and I was in denial about the end of the Methadones being an actual possibility.  The band had changed and I wasn’t going to admit that the break was coming.  This Won’t Hurt did hurt, liars!  The album has some really good songs on it, but in retrospect this was my own stubbornness ignoring the inevitable.

I don’t like the last Methadones album.  I would have been happy with the split with the Copyrights being the end.  It had some fantastic songs.  A nice sending off, but there were still some songs that needed to be put out.  The last album is untitled/self-titled and seems like it was one last hook up that was drunk and sloppy where you want to forget but you’ve got a gross rash that won’t go away so you can’t ever forget (not a true story, but you get what I’m saying).  Not to say that Braceface didn’t do a good job.  I just can’t be objective.

Far Away from the Skunk Muffins, makes me want to make sure I have a band tee with their name on it.  They did a really good job.

I love that in being a Methadones fan, I got to be exposed to other fans that love the Methadones as much as I do.  I get why Arielle is spelled two ways.  It’s a sweet tribute to a sweet lady.  I want to listen to original work by the Heartaches and Hangovers.  This song is pretty complicated with heavy vocals.  They did tried and did alright, but Dan has that sugar money voice so any comparison to the original wouldn’t be fair.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to plenty of Methadones shows where Dan didn’t seem to have a full bank on that sugar money, usually it was made up for by Mike jokes.  This song was just not that great.

I just saw the Parasites perform You Don’t Know Me Anymore live two nights ago.   It was way better live, like most music.  Parasites should have their own tribute if they don’t already.  Fantastic!

Whole Lot of Nothing by CHaMOMILE was a hard initial listen.  After a few more go rounds,  I liked it and was singing along.  This band should be good live, I have a feeling.

Suddenly Cool is such a good song.  I can relate to the lyrics and it’s loaded with pop!  The Piniellas did good work!

Already Gone by the Shallow Hearts was a decent effort but came up short relative to the other songs on the album.  By far, it was the weakest entry.  The beauty of the Methadones was that a song seemed simple but had lots of musical layers that weak vocals and soft drums will expose and make you feel kind of bad like a pedo in a trench coat.

I believe was kind of a surprise on This Won’t Hurt.  This song definitely gave way that a transition was already underway within the band.  The start was so angry with the middle finger to society and your boss but then the heart’s exposed and made you listen twice or three times to make sure that all that anger and unhappiness doesn’t mean that you don’t want to be loved and happy.  Frank Makak’s I believe definitely made me listen at least 3 times to make for sure, it’s good.

At first I was disappointed that there were no ladies that seemed to share my love for the Methadones, but Girlcrush gave a great rendition of Far Away.  It rocks just as well as the first and doesn’t leave any regret that this song is on the album twice.

Past Mistakes by the Aquaholics was by far the icing on an otherwise decent tribute album.  I like that it was instrumental; it meant I didn’t have to make the harsh vocal comparisons.

The album should make you want to check out the original Methadones, and definitely the bands that contributed!  I just hope that the Methadones know that they are well deserved of a tribute album and all the work done by everyone to make it came from a place of love and respect.  I love and miss the Methadones!
4 / 5 Stars

Monday, July 22, 2013

Interview with Back Alley Riot

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass guys. Can you give us all a little history on Back Alley Riot and how you got your start?

Back Alley Riot: Well, Danny, Matty, and Mike started playing together in a band called Graveyard Ruckus which was shortlived.  Graveyard Ruckus started as a side project of a band called Rosedale and eventually both bands ended and Back Alley Riot was formed after.  A couple bass players came and went due to commitment issues, but we finally found Russ and became a real family after.

CM: The bands latest release, "My Girlfriend's A Serial Killer", is an amazing EP. Just packed with so much attitude and amazing playing. How do you feel this EP compares to the bands first album, "Dead End Wine Mixer"?

BAR: Our first album was a blast to record, but it was before Russ joined the band.   Russ brings so much more to the table and we feel our sophomore release "My Girlfriend's A Serial Killer" is much stronger as a result.  Before the recording of MGASK we started our own studio and really got to take our time to achieve the sound we really wanted with that release.  We are aiming to achieve the same thing when we go back into the studio.
                    B.A.R. L-R Matt Jankiewicz (drums), Russell Katzenmaier (bass/vocals), Mike Nakis (vocals/guitar) and Danny Starks (guitar/vocals)

CM: When I saw you guys play live I was automatically blown away at how much energy and excitement goes into your performance. But once I listened to your CD's I have to admit you guys have a sound all your own. It's got a hint of outlaw country, a splash of rockabilly and plenty of punk rock excitement. So, I have to ask you guys who are some of your personal musical influences?

BAR: We have so many influences when it comes to writing music that it's tough to just pick a few, but the most influential ones probably would have to be Johnny Cash, Mike Ness, Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, Matt Freeman, and Johnny Ramone.

CM: When it comes to songwriting, is it a group effort or is there a primary songwriter in the band?

BAR: When it comes to writing our songs it is an open door policy and anyone can bring something to the table.  The majority of our songs are written by Mike as a country/rockabilly song, which is then brought to practice and everyone puts their own stamp on it.  The rest have either been written by Danny or co-written by Danny and Mike.  However on the upcoming release there will be songs written by each member and we feel they are some of the best tunes yet.
CM: The band has a brand new video for the track "Whiskey Over You". It's a really fun video and a great tune! Can you give us a little insight into the video shoot and how you guys chose this track to become a single?

BAR: Well, we have been approached at many shows by fans new and old stating that Whiskey Over You is their favorite tune and since we are avid whiskey drinkers it just made sense to make a music video for that song.  In fact we even have a fan who comes to shows and buys each band member a shot of whiskey after we play that song.  Now if we just wrote a song about ham sandwiches, we would be all set.
The video was a blast to shoot.  We got a bunch of our friends to come out (at 9am on a Saturday mind you), and we pretty much drank all day.  Danny and Matty had quite a few ideas they used for the video along with suggestions from Mike and Russ and a few friends who were at the shoot that day.  All in all it was a great collective effort on the whole bands part.  Both Danny and Matty have more ideas, so expect to see more videos from Back Alley Riot in the near future.

CM: The first 2 releases were independently put out by yourselves and sold at shows. But you recently signed on with my label Infested Records, and we will be re-releasing the first 2 releases in the coming days. Is there any new material in the works for either later this year or early next year that you wanna talk about?

BAR: We have about 6 new, unrecorded tunes or so that we've been alternating through at our recent shows and we have several more up our sleeves.  We are hoping to be back in the studio this summer/early fall to record a full length that we are hoping to release by the end of this year.

CM: The band recently made a trip up to WI for a show. Was this the first time out of town? And will we be seeing anymore out of state gigs in the near future?

BAR: Yes, we recently played Franks Power Plant in Milwaukee with the Wiscoholics and it was our second time playing that venue.  FPP is a great venue, the staff is awesome, and we love playing there.  As far as out of state gigs, we have played a few and we are ramping up to do many, many more.
CM: Is there a website that you guys wanna plug where fans can get some merch, news on upcoming releases and show dates?

BAR: Our website is where anyone can get ahold of us, find out about upcoming shows, or hear our most recent music.  We are currently looking into some redesign ideas to offer merch on backalleyriot.com, but we have quite a few items available at our Bandcamp page as well.

CM: Gentlemen, it's been a blast picking your brains and I'm stoked to see you play live again. Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass! I really appreciate it!

BAR: We appreciate you taking the time to talk with us and we're looking forward to everything in store for us at Back Alley Riot.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Concert Reviews: Rush live at The First Midwest Bank Amp, June 28, 2013

Rush is one of those bands you either love or hate. There's really no in-between. They've been compared to Led Zeppelin with their debut self titled album before going prog on us with their second album, "Fly By Night". Fast forward a few years, and the band went a little more mainstream with 1980's "Permanent Waves" and '81's "Moving Pictures". All the while they picked up die hard fans, mostly in the form of teenage boys and young men, who have stuck with them through all the highs and lows and highs again! So, it was no surprise to see a rather big turnout for the bands return to the First Midwest Bank Amp in Tinley Park, IL on June 28th on the second leg of the Clockwork Angels tour.

Going into this tour I was a little apprehensive. The band had let it be known that they would be bringing a string section on the road with them to play on select tracks from last years monumental concept album "Clockwork Angels", and I was a little nervous. Anyone remember Metallica's "S&M" album? Yeah...'nuff said. But at the same time I was kinda interested to see what other tracks they would pull out of their vast catalog of nearly 40 years of music, and how the strings would compliment the songs.

As the day grew closer I got more and more excited. Not sure what to expect from the 2 sets and nearly 3 hours of music by one of my all time favorite bands in the world. Let me tell ya, that first set was AMAZING! The band hit the stage at around 7:40 to a short intro film before going into 1982's masterpiece "Subdivisions", and off we were! The bands playing is just as tight and precise as it was 25 years ago. Rush is a band that always said that if they couldn't play at top performance, they would hang it up and call it a day. Glad to see that nearing 60 years in age, these guys still have their witts and chops about them.

This set featured mostly deep cuts and fan faves, which made me grin from ear to ear for the duration of the set. "Grand Designs", "Territories", "The Pass"...all personal faves of mine. But the real show stopper for me was "Analog Kid" from 1982's Signals album. A track that I have loved for as long as I can remember, but never had the chance to see them play it live until that night. The guys knocked it out of the park all the way. Geddy Lee sang and played his bass with a fierce intensity. Alex Lifeson's guitar riffs were spot on as always. And Neil Peart....well, what can you say about Neil. He's a master of his craft and consummate professional from start to finish.

There was a very brief intermission to get ready for the string section and a good chunk of CA in round 2. As the second set started, another short intro film was played to coincide with the CA tracks. After the film the band went right into "Caravan" and the blood started pumping again. The strings were not as bad as I was expecting. They gave a certain beefiness to the tracks, I must admit. And the string section really seemed to be enjoying themselves between songs as well.

"The Anarchist" and "The Wreckers" were stand out tracks for me at first. But once they went into "Headlong Flight" it was like a second wind for everyone involved. The band played with so much heart and passion that it really transcended into the audience and we were feeding on the energy in the place, full throttle!

As if all this manic energy in the room wasn't enough, the band surprised everyone when they brought out The Stanley Cup that the Chicago Blackhawks brought home earlier that day. I'm not a hockey fan, but I really thought that the band taking the time to share that moment with us was super cool! Geddy, Alex and Neil all took pictures with the cup before going into the classic instrumental "YYZ" complete with string section. YouTube footage can be seen HERE!

Closing out the night were 2 stellar encores in the forms of "Tom Sawyer" and "2112: Overture/Temples Of Syrinx/Grand Finale". We left that night with renewed energy and continued belief that Rush are still one of the greatest live bands to ever grace the stage. After nearly 40 years as a recording band, finally being inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year, and releasing possibly one of their greatest conceptual pieces with Clockwork Angels, I am STILL honored to be a fan of this band. And I hope we can keep them around for many more years to come.

Set list 1:
Video Intro (Gearing Up)
The Big Money
Force 10
Grand Designs
Analog Kid
The Pass
Where's My Thing (with drum solo)
Far Cry

Set list 2:
Video Intro (The Appointment)
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight (with drum solo)
Halo Effect (with guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Garden
The Percussor (drum solo)
Red Sector A
(Clockwork Angels String Ensemble exits)
The Spirit of Radio

Tom Sawyer
2112 Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
Video Outro (Office Of The Watchmaker)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Music Reviews: H.I.M. - "Tears On Tape"

For over 20 years now Finnish rockers H.I.M. have been unleashing their version of "love metal" onto the masses. Sometimes with extraordinary results. And other times just slightly missing the mark. The bands latest album, "Tears On Tape", is another gothic masterpiece with everything you expect from Ville Valo and the boys. Lots of heavy Sabbath inspired power chords infused with melodic, and sometimes melon collie lyrics about love, loss and death.

"All Lips Go Blue" has the H.I.M. stamp all over it. Complete with layered vocals in the chorus and Linde Lindstrom's wha wha shredding guitar solo. This is everything I love about this band wrapped into just under 4 minutes. When Ville sings "My heart, so violently beats along. Bleeding me to want to end it all." it makes me wonder how a song with such sorrow can rock so hard.
The albums first single and title track just drips with angst and beauty. It's a somewhat sad tune, but at the same time you just can't help but sing along. The wonderful piano playing of Burton really accentuates Ville's vocal approach to the point of perfection on this track. And the band, Linde, Midge (bass) and Gas (drums) never push the music over the edge here. Instead they give the song depth and texture where it's needed the most.

The album also has some major rockers as well in the form of "Hearts At War" with a sound that reminds me of "Wings Of A Butterfly" from the 2005 album Dark Light. It shows how well this band gels together. They never overstep or try to outshine each other. Instead they each bring out the very best in everyone else. The drum beat is powerful and when the bass and guitars collide it's so heavy that it could bring walls down with it's sound and fury.

Now, if I had to take something away from this album, it would have to be the 4 "instrumental" tracks. Where I can see how album opener "Unleash The Red" fits in well going into "All Lips Go Blue", I get lost with "Trapped In Autumn", "Lucifer's Chorale" and especially "Kiss The Void". I'm left wondering what the purpose was for 4 instrumentals that seem somewhat out of place on this collection of songs.

But even with that being said, I think "Tears On Tape" is a great album. It shows that H.I.M. are not ready to slow down just yet. They still have some great songs left in them. And as long as they keep releasing quality albums like this one, I'll keep listening and buying them.

4 / 5 stars

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Music Reviews: After The Fact - "Limit Break"

After a short break and some line-up changes, Ft. Myers, FL ska band After The Fact are back with their most ambitious album to date, "Limit Break". The album features 9 tracks of skank inducing awesomeness that will get you on your feet and slamming and singing along within seconds!

The album kicks off with "Sick As A Dog", with it's mellow groove and softy horns before picking up the beat and setting the tone for the rest of the album. This is a tight track with a great chorus about missing your significant other. We can all relate to that, right? I gotta tell ya though, missing someone has never been this much fun!

"Take A Hint" is another big sing along with lots of energy. But it also has a loving feel to it. The guy in the song is stuck on his girl and wants her to know he'll "never ever walk away" from her. The band gel really well together on "Limit Break". Not that they weren't a good band before. But time has been very kind to this band of fun loving goofs. The songs are more mature, but not in a "old timer" way. These guys can still have fun and grow as a unit and write songs from the heart without going sappy. Pretty awesome!
The band, Tim Tim (Guitar/Vocals), Big E (Bass/Vocals), Paul Kalugdan (Trumpet/Guitar/Vocals), (Jason Melcher (Drums/Vocals), Bruce Stokes (Trumpet) and Mike Requena (Trombone), have truly made the album of their career with "Limit Break". Solid playing, top notch songwriting and great production have manifested itself in an album that will stand the test of time and sound just as fresh and exciting 20 years from now, as it does today! I can't say enough good about After The Fact. This band has found it's footing in the music world and I can't wait to see how the band evolves with time. Gentlemen, you really made a fantatstic album! Congratulations!
5 / 5 stars

Monday, April 22, 2013

Music Reviews: Mug - "Stacked"

Mug are a talented band from Enfield, England who's latest album "Stacked" is 12 songs filled with big chords, major sing-along choruses and and lots of heart.

The albums opener "Repeaters" starts out kinda mellow and laid back...but quickly changes direction with rolling drums, thundering bass runs and a mean guitar tone that'll get you up and moving in seconds. Add to that lots of "Whoa oh oh" singing, and you have a monster of a lead off track. Brilliant!

"Riot" is another solid track with it's bass riff with guitar kicking in at just the right times. It's a great tune about citizens rioting in the streets who are "smashing in windows, burning down factories" while playing "pirate'"! From the sound of this tune and the angst lead singer Mat has, I get the feeling these guys may have partaken in the festivities as opposed to just singing about it.

Along with Mat, the band, guitarist Mark, bassist Mikey and drummer Mike play like their lives depend on it. These guys have the chops as players and songwriters to bring the house down when they play. Song like "Le Clench" and "United Kindness" prove that with the power, passion and intensity of a band possessed. You can tell this band believes in what they write about and are not just going through the motions. And that is what's gonna set Mug apart from others.

"Bottled Up" closes out this album with activist style folk acoustics and somber lyrics that remind me of the best Against Me! songs. But make no mistake, this band is it's own entity. With so much rocking on the first 11 tracks, it's a nice way to end the album. It shows range and promise. I am pleasantly surprised at how well this album comes together and holds you until the final strum of the guitar brings it all to an end. I am excited to see what Mug will do next. All in all this is the best album I've heard so far this year.

5 / 5 stars

Friday, April 12, 2013

Music Reviews: Pink Smoke - "No Party"

If you read this blog from time to time, you'll know I'm a sucker for great garage rock. And once again, I got turned onto another amazing band, Pink Smoke, who's latest release is called "No Party" and is out now on Jolly Ronnie Records

The album, actually it's being released on cassette with a download card for all of you who don't have a tape deck, has 12 tracks of fast beats, amazing riffs and plenty of attitude. The album kicks off with "E.T. Boy" with it's sing along chorus and na na na's, it's a fun track and good way to kick off an album. There's even an organ solo to solidify the bands garage rock influence and upbringing.

Other tracks like "King Of The Night", "Kicks" and "Breakdown" keep the momentum going with three chord chugs and enough sass to make you believe in the power of punk rock. When music is done right, it can make you feel like dancing, shaking and getting lost in the moment. And this album brings all of that and more to the table. The energy and excitement really come out on "No Party".
"Brain Dead Kid" is one of the best tracks on the record...not my favorite, but it's damn close. It reminds me of old '77 style NY punk rock. In your face and to the point, it's pure punk rock that you don't see alot of these days. Sonny Vincent and The Testors could have recorded this tune, it's THAT good! "(No) What I Said", IS the real gem on this record. The opening riff alone is worth the price of admission. This song is as catchy as a case of the clap. Solid playing all across the board. And the guitar solo is one of the best I've heard in a while. Great job guys!
Despite a crazy name, Pink Smoke bring their A game on "No Party". This truly is a great record. I'm not sure if the band has anymore material out there...but I'm gonna find out and pick it up if there is! But in the meantime, I HIGHLY suggest you all pick up "No Party" and see for yourself how kick ass garage style punk rock should be played!
4 ½ / 5 stars

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interview With Vatican Assassins

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass gang. For anyone new
to Vatican Assassins, can you give us a little history on the band and how you
got your start?

Joe: I started as a drummer back in Chicago where I’ve played in a handful of
bands since I was a teenager. After having little success with those bands I
decided to pick up guitar and start my own band and write my own songs. Vatican
Assassins is rooted in a band I started in Chicago called Spazz Attack. I moved
to Los Angeles in 2002 with Susie and after about a couple years forced her to
learn the bass so that we could start another band. In 2006 we recruited our
very close friend Scott to play drums for us and we started Pitch Black Murder.
Sadly, Scott passed away in 2008 and we were forced to reevaluate our situation.

Our good friends Sandy and Jason from Las Vegas volunteered to help us get back
on our feet and that is where Vatican Assassins were born. We played with Sandy
on drums and Jason on lead guitar up until 2011 but due to the long distance
relationship we found it best to part ways. In 2012 we found our current drummer
Armando and that is where we are today.

Susie: Well I don’t know if I was “forced” to play bass necessarily, haha! It is
true that I had never played bass before but had some experience on guitar and
piano. It was pretty interesting in the beginning, but I really fell in love
with playing it.

Joe: Susie really has become a solid bass player.

CM: How would you describe the band’s sound as far as musically and lyrically?

Joe: Musically I'd say we have an old school punk sound. It’s pretty simple rock
and roll. Nothing too flashy. Lyrically there is a lot of reference to politics,
life, all the things that piss us off or that we are passionate about.

Susie: I have a hard time coming up with a description of our songs and style
for people. I usually just tell them to have a listen. Joe usually writes about
some pretty serious stuff, I try to squeeze in some silly things sometimes when
I can get away with it.

CM: Who are some your personal musical influences and do you think those
influences come out in the bands songwriting?

Joe: We're influenced by punk rock pre-1990 mostly. Especially bands like Husker
Du, Naked Raygun, The Misfits, The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks... I could go
on but it starts to get complicated. I think you can definitely hear those
influences in our music.

Susie: Well I like a lot of different music it is really hard to make a list.
Some of my favorites are the same as Joe’s and I also love the Subhumans, The
Damned, PIL, Rudimentary Peni, The Smiths, The Briefs, and a million others. I
am sure that what people listen to always influences what they produce.

Armando: Some of my personal influences would have to be such bands as Swingin’
Utters, One Man Army, The Clash and a lot of 77’ punk rock. These bands have
influenced my drumming style greatly.

CM: Speaking of songwriting, when it comes to writing and arranging the songs,
is it a group effort or is there a primary songwriter?

Joe: I'll usually bring a partially worked out song to the band and we will play
around with it as a group for a few weeks at least and work out the structure. I
pretty much handle the lyric writing myself but there's been some solid input
lyrically from the others on various songs.

Susie: I would say Joe always starts things out, I would say he is definitely
not taking enough credit for his input. We contribute, but I think that Joe is
usually the one with the song ideas, then we do our parts. We do all give each
other feedback and discuss the arrangement for sure.

Armando: Joe primarily writes all the songs. As a new member of the band I look
forward to having input in some future song writing.

CM: The bands new self-titled EP is coming out soon on Infested Records. Is this
the band’s first release or is there more material out there?

Joe: Officially this will be our first release but we practically recorded a
whole album with Sandy and Jason that never saw the light of day. Some of those
songs were re-recorded with Armando and some went to the song graveyard. There's
also an abundance of recordings from the Pitch Black Murder days and from my
Spazz Attack days that relate to Vatican Assassins but I doubt any of that will
ever see any form of release. I'm going to keep those to myself and maybe create
a mystique or something.

CM: The name Vatican Assassins is in itself cool. How did you come up with this

Joe: Jason and I were brainstorming on some band names. I wanted to tie in my
Catholic school upbringing, which is where the Vatican part came from and the
Assassins part was pulled out of the dictionary. It just sort of hand a magical
ring to it as far as I was concerned. We also found it intriguing that while
searching the internet to make sure there were no other bands using the name, we
found a conspiratorial book by the same name. Considering Jason and I were
conspiracy nerds, we found the name quite fitting. Then, years later, Charlie
Sheen went crazy and called himself a Vatican Assassin and before you know it we
are getting hits on our Facebook page from people all over the globe. It’s
actually really funny, we've been friended by a monk and someone from Morocco or
something who's a Muslim. The name seems to attract all sorts.

Susie: That was all Jason & Joe.

Joe: Yes, Susie wants to have nothing to do with being credited for our band
name. She dreams of being in a local SoCal band called “Codename Hardhat”.

CM: Outside of local shows, do you get out and tour much? And are there any
plans for a mini tour in the near future?

Joe: We haven't really played outside the L.A. area except for some trips to Las
Vegas but we would love to start venturing out to nearby states. We've talked
about maybe trying to pull off a mini west coast tour and maybe some weekend
jaunts up to Northern California or something but our families and jobs don't
make it very easy. It’s a goal of mine to head out east and play in Chicago in
front of my family and friends. I've never really performed for any of them and
it would really seem like an accomplishment to me. Maybe we could open up for
Naked Raygun or someone (wink wink)

Armando: I really want to schedule a mini tour in Texas. I don’t know why I just

Joe: Maybe because you secretly want to be a cowboy.

CM: Is there a website you guys would like to plug where fans can get up to date
news on the new EP, get show dates and pick up some merch?

Joe: We have our Facebook site which is where we do most of our interaction
 but we also have a website that we are trying to keep updated. We are pretty diligent
about posting upcoming shows and we will be posting soon about the availability of
the EP and some stickers, t-shirts and other merch.

CM: Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass. I'm really stoked to get the
new EP out there for the world to hear. All the best to you 3 in the future!
Thanks again guys!

Joe: Thanks Chris. We appreciate you taking interest in our band.

Susie: Thanks Chris! Take care.

Armando: Thank you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Music Reviews: The Demerits - "The Demerits" 7"

I've always been a big fan of garage rock. Never made any bones about it. Something about that primal sound that you get from plugging your guitar into a fuzzbox and just winging it that makes the hairs on my arms stand up on end! And one of the best new garage rockers out there is The Demerits, who's new self titled 7" is out now on Mooster Records, is yet another reason to get excited for rock n roll again.

There are only 2 songs on this release, but it's 2 well executed blasts of awesomeness that make it just as exciting as if it were an EP or even a full length. And lets be honest, sometime less is MORE! "Shake It!" is a fun little track very reminiscent of B-52's without the camp. It's a distorted, fuzzed out magnum opus about letting go and well, SHAKIN it! It's a groove fest right out of the gate. Lots of fun. I love it!
The flip side is "In A Band", a song about writing tunes in the basement, being broke and not having a car...but it's alright, because their in a band! On top of being primal and simple, it's also showing you that material things don't mean squat as long as you're doing what you love doing! And The Demerits love what they do. And I love it too. It's short, simple and to the point. Perfect for everyone. Short enough that if you don't like it, it's over before you know it...and short enough that of you love it, like me, you can put it on repeat and listen to it over and over and over again and let it sink into your soul like good music supposed to do.
4 / 5 stars

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Music Reviews: Animal Train - "Sith Vicious" 7"

Animal Train have been around for some time now releasing a quite a few albums, EP's, 7" singles and comp tracks along the way. The bands style is very much in your face and aggressive. It's Austin style punk rock in the highest order. And now AT is back with it's latest release, the "Sith Vicious" 7".

The band is at it again hitting you between the eyes with short, fast blasts of music. They're relentless in their style and sound, but also very proficient in their ability to play and write music. And if you have a short attention spam like myself, this is the best style of music for you. Hit it and quit it...boom boom boom, and out the door! But don't let that hit and run style fool ya. This is a band that CAN play.

"Thin Thread" just jumps right out at you with fierce singing by CJ. She's letting it be known she's nobody's fool, and she'll play the game by her own rules! And fuck you if you don't like it! I LIKE that kinda attitude! The title track is just as powerful, but in a different way. It's more melodic with a sing along style that's very reminiscent of late 70's New York punk. you can hear the influence in the songs. But Animal Train is it's own entity. They're playing the kind of music they love and doing it their own way on their own terms. And isn't that what punk rock is all about?

4 / 5 stars

Monday, January 28, 2013

Interview with Jamie Yorke from Blame Bilston

Critical Mass: Thanks for taking to the time to talk with Critical Mass Jamie. For anyone new to your band Blame Bilston, can you give us a little history on the band and how you got your start?

Jamie Yorke: We roughly started back in late 2011 after I left my other band to focus on a more Punky/Alternative rock sound, which then slowly just progressed into a few live shows and from there we had more than enough songs for an EP, which latter on became our first EP called "Puke".

CM: The bands new album "Ta Ta For Now" has been released. Is this the bands first release? Or is there more material out there?

JY: Well as I stated before we released an EP titled "Puke" which has a slightly heavier sound to it, however if anyone's interested it is also up on our bandcamp page for free download. We've also released a single in preparation for the album, " How Are You?" which also featured a few non album tracks and a cover of "Snuff" by Slipknot, which is also available for free download.

CM: When it comes to song writing, is it a band effort or is there one primary songwriter in the band?

JY: All of our songs are written by me and then I bring them to the band, we jam them out and then if anything needs tweaking, we work on it.


CM: What are some of your personal musical influences?

JY: I'd have to say this is a tough one, because there are so many bands that have influenced me. However I'll try to limit the amount I'll say. Nirvana has to be the biggest influence on my music, just that raw sound and capturing the moment, to me that's what music is all about. Otherwise, Alice In Chains, Foo Fighters, Smile Empty Soul, I could list thousands of bands for you and we'd be here all day!

CM: Has the band ever gone out and toured around Europe? Or have the gigs just been local so far?

JY: Currently no. At this moment in time we're just practising and trying to get everything to sound perfect and then the plan is to do a "mini" tour round the uk over the course of several months.

CM: Once this album drops are there plans for a tour?

JY: As I stated before we're planning on going on a "mini" tour round the UK, however since the album was recorded we have numerous new songs, so we're going to see what happens from there and just keep playing a few local shows, testing the waters so to speak on how people react to the songs.

CM: Will we be seeing any more material this year? And comp tracks or 7" singles planned for this year?

JY: Well, we're thinking of recording another album, the tittle of which is all still up in the air. However we've recorded a lot of new demo's and so I think this year at least, 3 or 4 singles, another album and possibly an EP.


CM: Is there a website you wanna plug? Where we can get up to date news on new releases, gigs and merch?

JY: At the moment, we don't have any plans for a website as we're just trying to get a reputation on facebook and then maybe invest in a website. However all of our releases can either be found on YouTubeBandcamp and our Facebook page. With regards to merchandise we have been discussing it and just going through a few designs, so hopefully (fingers crossed) we'll have some merch out over the course of the next few months.

CM: Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass, Jamie. I'm super excited to see what the future holds for Blame Bilston. All the best to you in 2013! Thanks again.

JY: No, thank you! And remember go check out Infested Records!

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Music Reviews: Ulysses Cannon - "Ulysses Cannon"

    Ulysses Cannon play rock n roll with some real dirty blues mixed in for the hell of it. When I was contacted by the band for a review, I was a little put off by the name. I know, you can't judge a book by it's cover or crazy band name...but DAMN, was I surprised when I heard this 6 song self titled EP. It's full of soul and passion. It just oozes with heart and soul.

    Kicking things off is "Self-Induced Coma" with it's harmonica, tapping drums and light chord strum, it's easy to see this band was born to boogie. It quickly gains speed and power with amazing guitar riffs and rough and tumble vocals. Man, it's been a while since I've heard good old dirty blues like this. It'll get you out of your chair shaking your money maker in no time!

    The band, Mathew Stone (vocals/rhythm guitar/keys), Hiro Suzuki (lead/slide guitar), Chris Lavas (bass) and Matt Olley(drums), not only bring the blues to an explosive climax, they also have a soft side. And they show that on "Holding On". This amazing boogie woogie jam about working hard to make a better life for yourself...this just SCREAMS Black Crowes, which I think is just fine! I love the Crowes and I LOVE what UC does here. It's a song full of promise. It's just a beautiful song that you have to hear for yourself...don't take my word for it. Nothing I will say can do this tune justice.

    "She's In Control" is a bad ass blues jam complete with bottle neck slide and a South Side attitude. The blues drips off this track like in mass quantities. This is modern day blues that make me happy to be a blues fan. It's definitely a modern day spin on a classic style. It's part Muddy Waters, part early Almond Brothers, beefed up with ALL attitude! Damn right these New Yorkers got them blues hot and heavy.

    To say this band caught me off guard is being kind. This band knocked my socks off with their style, passion, power and intensity! Don't let the name fool ya...this IS the real deal! These 6 songs are just a teaser of what greatness is waiting up ahead. I see nothing but big things coming for this band.
    Go to the bands Bandcamp page and download the EP for free. Trust me when I say, if the keep putting out quality music like this, you won't be getting it free for much longer!

    4 ½ / 5 stars

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Interview with Cody Biroth from Explicit Bombers

    Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to talk with Critical Mass, Cody. I appreciate it. For anyone new to Explicit Bombers, can you give us a little history on the band and how you got your start?

    Cody Biroth: Well it all starts back in 2009, Dan Harness(Vocalist, Bass) David Harness(Drums, Vocals), and Tyler Brooks(Lead Guitar, Vocals) formed Explicit Bombers after having numerous other bands of different genres. It started off as a three piece, faster, more aggresive sounding hardcore punk. After Dan's songwriting starting melodic, due to his music influences changing, it resulted in wanting a more "full sound." So Dan recruited me as a second guitarist, and I now am a "co-vocalist" added as well.

    CM: The bands latest album "The End Of The World" is out now and available on Infested Records (shameless promotion). Is this the bands first release? Or is there other material out there?
    CB: It is our first full length, but we have released 3 EP's beforehand. Two are available at http://explicitbombers.bandcamp.com/. But no one is not available and no one else should have to listen to that ever again.

    CM: Who are some of the bands musical influences?

    CB: Several punk bands of many genres are obvious ones. But the ones that stuck out to us as a band are groups like NOFX, Bad Religion, Rise Against, The Offspring, and Green Day. We all like a lot of pop punk and Fat Wreck style bands, but different genres are there too. For Example Tyler likes several types of metal, I like classic country and blues, and Dan goes as far as R&B and Hip-Hop.

    CM: Now you guys are still young, but you play out quite a bit. Outside of Michigan where are some of your favorite places to play?

    CB: We actually only toured once two summers ago. But we are planning to tour AT LEAST once a year as of 2013. we've only played in Ohio, Wisconsin, and some town outside of Chicago. Wisconsin definitely liked us the most, so by default they win!

    CM: As far as songwriting goes, if there a primary songwriter in the group? Or does everyone contribute in the creation of the music?

    CB: Dan, who is lead singer and bassist. He writes just about everything. He's ridiculous with any musical instrument he plays. We all have songs we have each written, but Dan definitely is the one to take credit for 99% of our songs. But when he shows us a song, we will all put our criticism into it and add or remove bits and pieces here and there. I'm doing this interview because I wanna steal the spotlight for once, ha ha.

    CM: Will we be seeing any new material in the new year?
     CB: Yes! January 5th we are recording a 4 track EP titled "50%" Which includes two old songs re recorded and two new songs, serving as a teaser for our upcoming full length. That will be released sometime in February or March, depending on mixing.
    Our full length we plan to record late summer. it's gonna have 12 tracks including the two from the EP. The name of the album is still in the air. We are very excited to release this album and it will be easily our best work as of late!

    CM: Is there a website you gutys wanna plug where we can get up todate news on new releases, gigs and merch?

    CB: Oooo, advertising! Lemme give you a list!

    CM: Thanks again for talking with Critical Mass, Cody. It's great to see a young band with so much potential coming out of the midwest. All the best to you in 2013!

    CB: Any time Chris, it's been a pleasure! Thank you, as well for interviewing me! One more thing I'd like to add is if anyone reading this has any other questions, would like to book us, or would like to know our favorite sex hotlines, contact Dan Harness at deagles1@sbcglobal.net

    Once again, thank you Chris and to all that are reading! Stay true and keep to your scene!