Review: Safe In Sound

Lower Than Atlantis are a British four-piece rock band who are celebrating ten years since their formation this year.  It seems fitting, then, that Friday marked the release of their fifth studio album whilst still riding the wave of success following their self-titled fourth record.  Hype for Safe In Sound began back in August of last year with the release of  Work For It, and excitement built steadily until the album dropped this week.

Jumping straight into the review, it’s obvious from the first track that more effort has gone into post-production on Safe In Sound than on the band’s previous records. A number of tracks feature either autotuned or artificial echoed lead or backing vocals, or programmed drums or clap sound effects.  Plus, Boomerang is probably the most heavily produced track in Lower Than Atlantis’s discography. Overall I think these added electronic elements have paid off: they certainly help each individual track to stand out from the rest of the record, and the end result is an extremely polished album with few rough edges.

However, the band’s ability to write catchy choruses and creative riffs layered with guitar solos has not been compromised.  Drummer Eddy Thrower has taken his playing to the next level, with a number of inventive drum fills peppering the record.  Another thing that hasn’t changed over time is lead vocalist Mike Duce’s signature velvet-smooth voice.  Lyrically the record still discusses similar themes to previous records, which shows that even though their sound might have changed slightly, Lower Than Atlantis are still, at their core, doing what they do best.

My Safe In Sound highlight is by far Work For It.  It’s probably the heaviest track on the album, and it’s whoa-ohing chorus is perfect for crowds at gigs and festivals to shout back at the band.  I also love the lyrics to Could Be Worse, which discuss every day stresses and struggles that everyone listening can relate to.

The last few tracks of the record seem to lose their way a little bit.  I Would and Money are tracks chock full of lyrical cliches, and to me it feels like there wasn’t a massive amount of thought or effort put into the songwriting.  I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore is a pretty downbeat track, which seems out of place on the record.  Thankfully, Safe In Sound ends on the high note of A Night To Forget, a great party track with an uplifting chorus.

Overall this record is hit and miss, and although the hits do outnumber the misses, I had higher expectations for Lower Than Atlantis’s fifth record.  I think the band struggled to find the right balance between their rock/hardcore roots and pop influences, and because of that the record was slightly confused.  Safe In Sound was overall enjoyable, but I hope that their next record has a more cohesive sound.

Highlights: Long Time Coming, Work For It, A Night To Forget

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Review: All These Countless Nights

Deaf Havana are an English five piece alternative rock band who have been performing and producing punchy rock tracks since their formation in 2005.  All These Countless Nights was announced last August during the band’s performances at Reading & Leeds Festival, and the excitement for the album has built gradually over the past five months.  The single Trigger was featured as Daniel P Carter’s Rockest Record on his BBC Radio 1 show, and you can hear the track here:

All These Countless Nights is the fourth full length album to be released by Deaf Havana, and I’m very excited to hear how the band has progressed over the past 12 years.  Their sound has shifted over the years, from hardcore guitars and harsh screamed vocals, to a more lighthearted rock vibe with 100% clean vocals and big stadium-filling choruses.

The album opens with Ashes, Ashes: it begins with a deceptive acoustic introduction before singer James Veck-Gilodi’s vocals pick up passionately and the drums and lead guitar kick in.  The “whoa-oh”ing backing vocals help to build layers of atmosphere, as does the delicate piano playing within the verses.  The record then leads into Trigger, easily one of the strongest songs on the record with a chorus full of emotion and drums more complex than you might expect from a song of this genre.

One of my highlights of the record is L.O.V.E, a moody ballad discussing the darker side of love with an electric guitar solo from Matthew Veck-Gilodi and a great instrumental running from about the three and a half minute mark onwards.  It’s the longest song on All These Countless Nights, clocking in at almost five minutes in length, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been dragged out; more that the instrumentals and vocals have been given the breathing room they need to create the biggest impact.

Each track contains features which help them to stand out from the rest, from Fever’s grungy guitars, to the fantastic guitar solo in Pretty Low, to the acoustic-led Seattle.  But what does stand out to me as a whole is the band’s ambitions and desire to succeed, grow and reach more fans than ever before.  Whereas previous records sung about regrets and sadness fuelled by booze, songwriter James takes these feelings and looks forward more optimistically than ever before. If Deaf Havana continue to produce cracking records like this one, they’ll surely reach the success they deserve.

Having listened back to some of Deaf Havana’s older tracks to refresh my memory, I’ve found that vocalist James’s voice has improved and strengthened massively over the last 12 years.  He wasn’t the band’s original front man, but he’s definitely settled into that role now.  His tone is great, and I’d argue that he’s much better at conveying his feelings through the sound of his voice than ever before.  Some older Deaf Havana fans much prefer the band’s earlier music, but to disregard their more recent records is to disregard how much these guys have grown and improved as musicians.  If that also includes changing their sound, then so be it.  I certainly think the band have changed for the better, resulting in All These Countless Nights, their strongest album yet and another contender for one of the best records of 2017.

Highlights: Happiness, Fever, Pretty Low, Seattle, Pensacola, 2013

Review: Modern Ruin

This Friday, punk legend Frank Carter returned with a new release from his band, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.  Their debut LP, Blossom, was one of my favourite albums of 2015, and even before then I’ve followed Frank Carter’s career since his days as the front man of UK punk band Gallows.  Anyone who’s followed altrocklife for any length of time probably will have realised how much I love this man’s work, so you can bet I have huge expectations for the latest album, Modern Ruin.  Promotion for the record kicked off with the single Snake Eyes all the way back in June of last year, and you can watch the provocative music video here:

Now to the album.  Modern Ruin kicks off with the acoustic track Bluebelle, named after his frankly gorgeous pet dog.  The pace picks up with Lullaby, with its bass led verses and Frank’s signature voice belting out the chorus.  Just after hearing the first two tracks, one named after a pet and the other written about Frank looking after his daughter Mercy when she was ill, makes it obvious that Frank’s love for his family is a significant theme of Modern Ruin.  This is a nice shift in pace from The Rattlesnakes’ previous record, which featured tracks overflowing with hate and anger.

Already this record is much more melodic than their previous effort: Frank still uses screams and harsh vocals for effect, but they are much less frequent in Modern Ruin than they were in Blossom, especially in the verses.  This is pretty evident in track Vampires, which is much heavier on harmonised backing vocals than previous songs.  Does this make Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes any less punk?  Arguably not: Modern Ruin still has the same attitude as its predecessor, but it’s definitely the more mature and refined album of the two.

One of my highlights of the record is the riff heavy outro of God Is My Friend, followed by the explosive 56 second long Jackals.  Guitarist Dean Richardson and drummer Gareth Grover are forces to be reckoned with, and their performances on this album are outstanding.  Each track is a perfectly wrapped parcel, which gets its message across in a succinct and punchy way.  For me, the most aggressive track is the title track, full of harsh vocals and incredible riffs, and its intro reminds me slightly of Paradise from their previous record.

If anyone was expecting an identical copy of Blossoms in The Rattlesnakes’ latest release, they were totally off the mark.  One thing I know about Frank Carter, following his career from classic punk band Gallows, to Brit-rock duo Pure Love, and now to The Rattlesnakes, is that the man is anything but predictable. He makes exactly the music he wants to make, rather than what is expected of him, and that falls under my definition of punk pretty nicely.  I absolutely cannot wait for my preordered Modern Ruin book to arrive, so I can flick through all of the behind-the-scenes photos, and get the CD in my car pronto.  Even though it’s only January, I can already tell that this record will be a serious contender for the best album of 2017, because it’s absolutely blown me away.

Highlights: Snake Eyes, Vampires, Acid Veins, Thunder, Neon Rust

Review: Night People

After three years of silence, on Friday the Surrey five piece You Me At Six returned with their fifth full length album, Night People.  Their previous record, Cavalier Youth, was definitely a mixed bag for me: it contained excellent rock tracks such as Room To Breathe and Fresh Start Fever, but also contained soft pop fillers like Be Who You Are and Carpe Diem.  However, after hearing the upcoming record’s lead single, also titled Night People, my faith in You Me At Six was restored.  You can listen to the track and see the music video below:

The album begins with its title track, which certainly does the job of setting the tone for the rest of the record.  Its bass-y groove and simple yet effective chorus sounds like Night People is set to be a stadium or festival main stage pleaser.  The pace is picked up with the short but punchy Plus One, then slowed down again for the ballad Heavy Soul, with its trademark emo lyrics and yet another powerful chorus.  I’m only three tracks into the album, and I can already tell that vocalist Josh Franceschi has pushed his voice on this record, which has definitely paid off.

To me, Night People is a defiant album, telling You Me At Six’s naysayers that the band has no interest in anything doubters have to say.  One of my highlights is Take On The World, the title of which gives away its message, and the lyrics are a love letter to the band’s fans who have stuck with them through thick and thin.  I would also argue, however, that this record shows that the five-piece have found their niche.  They’ve managed to perfect the formula for creating crowd pleasing, arena-filling singles, as well as making a name for themselves on mainstream radio which of course brings them more success.

Another highlight is the moody Spell It Out: the gentle undulating guitars and emphasis on Matt Barnes’ bass give the track a dark atmosphere, before building up to a huge crescendo of chugging riffs and an understated yet effective guitar solo.  The record closes with another emo ballad, Give, which I’m certain will become a fan favourite.

After listening to this record in full, I found that I didn’t struggle to pick my stand-out tracks: each song has its own punchy chorus, catchy guitar riffs and inventive drum fills which demonstrate the band’s musical talent and ability. I don’t think Night People shatters any preconceptions, or really surprised anyone with its content, because I don’t think You Me At Six have done anything particularly inventive across these ten tracks.  But as I said before, the band have definitely perfected their formula for success, and as long as they continue to create solid rock tracks like they did within this record, I think there’ll be plenty more success to come.

Highlights: Heavy Soul, Brand New, Swear, Make Your Move

altrocklife’s top 5 albums of 2016

Hello altrocklifers! Today marks the last blog post I will be writing in 2016, and I thought the best way to conclude the year would be to round up the best albums released over the past twelve months.  Going back over my posts written throughout this year, as well as trawling my iTunes library to keep track of all the albums I’ve purchased, gave me a real nostalgia trip.  This year has been brilliant for rock and alternative music, and with new music from You Me At Six, Mallory Knox, Lower Than Atlantis, Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes and more planned for release next year, I can’t wait to see how 2017 will be even better.  Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are the best albums of 2016.

The Stage – Avenged Sevenfold

Without doubt, The Stage is the album that had the biggest impact of 2016.  It was released as a surprise with very little promotion or marketing, and it did a great job of shaking up the world of rock and metal music.  As I said in my review of the album, anyone who was expecting a sequel to Hail To The King was proven wrong, as Avenged Sevenfold’s latest record harked back to their City Of Evil days and showed that the Californian band are anything but predictable.  Hopefully this record influences other bands to produce the music they love, without pandering to the mainstream audience and without giving a thought to what their fans or critics might think.

Bad Vibrations – A Day To Remember

When I originally reviewed this album back in September, I wrote that Bad Vibrations was going to be a competitor for my favourite album of the year.  Three months later, that assertion still stands true.  It’s not often that I can write an album review without any negative feedback, but A Day To Remember’s sixth full length album was one of the minority I listen to that get a 100% approval rating.  I’m constantly listening to this record: whether I’m doing my hair and make-up, or if I’m chilling in my bedroom, or I’m in my car head banging on the go.  I genuinely think this is one of the best records released all year, and I really hope I can see the band perform some of these tracks live next year.

Take Control – Slaves

When Slaves found mainstream success with the release of their first album, I was worried that the band would fade into obscurity or change their sound.  Thankfully their second record, Take Control, is just as fun and aggressively punk as its predecessor.  You can tell from the band’s music videos, such as the one above, that the Kent duo are having a brilliant time making music, and I’m having just as much fun listening to them.

If I’m The Devil… – Letlive.

I was the first to admit when reviewing this record that I’ve not listened to a lot of music by letlive.  I’d heard a few singles, sure but I had no idea what it would be like listening to one of their records from beginning to end.  If I’m The Devil… is an album bursting at the seams with anger and passion, but with a sound evolved enough from previous releases to demonstrate their progression as a band.  In my opinion, letlive. are one of the most underrated bands out there at the moment, and if you’ve not listened to their music extensively, then I’m sure that their latest album will have you hooked from first listen.

Death Of A Bachelor – Panic! At The Disco

This record was released in January 2016, and to me it seems like it’s managed to stick around and remain popular and in the public eye all year.  Even though Panic! At The Disco have abandoned their emo roots and become a one man pop band, I think Death Of A Bachelor‘s jazzy sound and vintage 1950s aesthetic has a mass appeal which seems to have won over even old school fans.

What were your favourite albums released this year? Let me know on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Battles

In Flames are a Swedish group who were formed back in 1990.  Their sound started off as metal, but the group was one of a few who pioneered and developed melodic death metal as a genre in its own right.  Over the years the band have released twelve full length studio albums, the first five of which came under the banner of melodic death metal.  However their sixth record, Reroute To Remain released in 2002, marks the band’s shift towards more alternative metal.  Its clear listening to the band’s latest album, Battles, that the band has stuck to that more alternative sound, and gained more mainstream success in the process.  You can hear the first single from their latest record, titled The End, below:

Battles opens with Drained, a great track with awesome riffs throughout and a really catchy chorus.  I had no idea what to expect listening to this record, as I’ve never followed In Flames as a band, so this was a great initiation for a newcomer to the band’s sound.  This is followed by above single The End, which features a cracking guitar solo and female choir-style backing vocals which give the track a real atmosphere.

Lyrically the tracks switch between more introspective lyrics surrounding the songwriter’s personal life and his place in the universe.  In the same vein, I like how some tracks are very melodic with great clean vocals and electronic elements, and others, like Through My Eyes, have chugging riffs and harsh vocals which hark back to In Flames’ melodic death metal past.  Each track has a catchy chorus which helps to tie the album together.

For me, the highlight of the record is the epic seven-minute long Wallflower, a complex track with prog metal influences and lyrics discussing the challenges which come with growing older and reflecting on past mistakes.  This song is absolutely massive and it honestly ended too soon for me.

Battles is a 14 track record, which is a pretty hefty offering that demonstrates that the band still has a lot to offer, even after multiple line-up changes and a massive change of sound.  After listening to some of In Flames’ older music, I can understand why their fanbase is so conflicted: their sound is very different now to how it was back in the ’90s and early 2000s.

Overall, considering I went into reviewing this album completely blind, I’ve really enjoyed listening to Battles.  I’m much less into more classic metal than I used to be in my younger teenage years, so that explains why I liked this record more than I liked what I heard of In Flames’ older music.  I’ve always been a sucker for a monster chorus with catchy repetitive lyrics, and this album has those in droves.  There are also plenty of electronic elements, interesting backing vocals, creative drum fills and guitar solos to keep me interested and listening intently.

So if you’re into In Flames’ older, pre-2002 music, this album probably won’t be for you.  However if you liked the band’s newer releases, Battles is the logical follow-up to their 2014 record Siren Charms.  Now that I’ve been introduced to In Flames, I’ll be following them much more closely in future.

Highlights: Drained, The Truth, Here Until Forever, Wallflower, Greatest Greed

Review: The Stage

Following the surprise release of a new track earlier this month, Avenged Sevenfold decided to pull a Beyoncé and drop a new full length album with no announcement.  The Stage is the band’s seventh full length album, and the first with drummer Brooks Wackerman.  You can see the music video for the album’s title track here:

Going into reviewing The Stage, I was unsure how I’d feel about the record.  Musically it seems like the album will have a similar sound to City Of Evil, which could be a good or bad thing.  I’m hoping that Avenged Sevenfold will have taken those vibes and given them a more modern twist.

The record opens with the title track, which is a great way to begin the band’s concept album about artificial intelligence and the breakdown of society.  If you didn’t get the meaning behind the lyrics immediately, watching the video for the track above will clear things up for you.  This is followed by Paradigm: the chorus, guitar solos and complex drum fills of which make it obvious that this record has moved on from the more classic metal stylings of Hail To The King. 

Even though the record is pulled together by M. Shadow’s signature vocals, Johnny Christ’s undulating bass and Zacky Vengeance’s backbone of guitar riffs, each track has its own influences from all sorts of musical areas.  These additional touches are demonstrated by the addition of brass during Sunny Disposition, to the chugging opening riffs of God Damn, to the choral backing vocals during Higher. 

There are a couple of ballads on this album, as is to be expected from Avenged Sevenfold.  Angels is a grade A ballad, but the guitar solos starting at around two and a half minutes and again at around the four minute mark managed to sneak in and completely blow me away.  The layering of vocals towards the end of the track give it an incredible, almost cinematic atmosphere.

The feel of The Stage is absolutely massive and theatrical, and in my opinion it’s 100 per cent what the band needed to put out following Hail To The King.  If you’d asked me to guess what this album would sound like, I would not have come up with this in a million years.   Another reason for this is that the drumming on Hail To The King was very classic and more simplistic to reflect the style of the album, however Brooks Wackerman’s drumming is much closer to The Rev’s than Arin Ilejay’s is, which makes the album fit much better into their discography than their previous album.

Avenged Sevenfold managed to keep details of the album under wraps very well, and that air of mystery really boosted the hype for this record when it dropped on Friday.  Another reason for the hype is that The Stage is the band’s longest record to date, and includes their longest ever song, the epic Exist which runs for almost 16 minutes.  You definitely get a lot of bang for your buck with this record.

To be honest, I don’t think Avenged Sevenfold will be making many new fans with this record.  I think half of its charm is that it hails back so beautifully to City Of Evil, and even their self titled album and Waking The Fallen in some tracks, which shows that even though the band have grown massively over the years, they haven’t forgotten their past.  This charm will be totally lost on new listeners.  Plus, I think the band’s attitude, theatrical style and love for putting on a big performance definitely comes through much more on this record than they did on Hail To The King.  I do think that existing fans will enjoy this record as much as I do, and I absolutely cannot wait to see some of these tracks performed live when I see Avenged Sevenfold play in Nottingham in January.

P.S. I didn’t mean for this review to sound so negative about Hail To The King: I do love that record, but I’m so much more excited about The Stage as I was for their previous album, and it’s difficult not to draw comparisons.

Highlights: Sunny Disposition, Creating God, Roman Sky

Review: Who You Selling For

New York rock band The Pretty Reckless have returned with their latest full length record, only a two years since the release of their album Going To Hell.  Hype for Who You Selling For started to build with the release of the first single – you can watch the video for Take Me Down here:

To me, this track was less heavy than the band’s previous releases and had some pop and even country vibes, so it definitely piqued my interest to hear what the rest of the album would sound like.

Immediately Who You Selling For takes a surprising turn, starting out with the piano-led introduction to The Walls Are Closing In/Hangman.  However the track quickly picks up with a lot of emphasis on bass guitar and the bass drum, and layered backing vocals give the track an atmospheric, grungy feel.

My impression that this album could end up sounding more pop than previous records was shattered by the second track, Oh My God, with its impressive guitar-led introduction and vocalist Taylor’s gravelly voice layered overtop.  The worry that The Pretty Reckless are turning into a pop band, thankfully, seem unfounded.  However, there are definitely country and blues elements to be found throughout Who You selling For, and these are most apparent on tracks such as acoustic-guitar led Back To The River.

Some of the songs that really stand out from the rest include the fantastic bassy groove of Prisoner, the riff heavy Wild City, and the chilled out Bedroom Window.  This record is made up of a strong collection of songs, most of which have enough individuality to stand out from the rest.  This mix forces the audience to really pay attention to what each song has to say.

Lyrically, to me, the album seems to take a lot of influence from more classic rock and metal.  Taylor sings about religion, young women heading to “the big city” and trying to avoid the vices and temptation there, and making deals with the devil.

To conclude, I reckon that fans of The Pretty Reckless will be pleased with the band’s lyrical maturity and progression of their sound over the past couple of years.  Sometimes I find it hard to believe that Taylor Momsen is only two years older than me, because her lyrics and rough-around-the-edges voice may suggest she’s older to those who know nothing about the band.  There’s definitely more to Who You Selling For than meets the eye, and I look forward to listening to the record a few more times to pick up on anything I missed the first time around.

Highlights: Oh My God, Prisoner, Living In The Storm, The Devil’s Back

Review: WALLS

To me it seems like Kings Of Leon have been around on the music scene forever.  The band of brothers (and a cousin) have been making music since 2000, and their sound has evolved from grungy alternative rock to become more indie and acoustic.  Kings Of Leon started promotion for their latest record, WALLS, earlier this year with the release of the single Waste A Moment – you can watch the video here:

Public opinion of the band’s sound has shifted over the years, with many fans critical of their more easily accessible, and in turn more mainstream, recent records.  To me it sounds like their more chilled out vibes, first explored in Come Around Sundown, then followed up in Mechanical Bull and now their latest record, will be here to stay.  If I’m in the mood for more chilled out, acoustic tracks, Kings Of Leon are my first choice of band to listen to.

Anyway, back to WALLS, which was released on Friday.  The record opens with Waste A Moment, arguably the most popular single from the album with a monster chorus, and is quickly followed by the slower, bass-y Reverend.  The album doesn’t fall into a predictable groove, however: Find Me picks up the pace with quick-fire guitar riffs and a big chorus, and Conversation Piece features sweeping strings which adds something special to what could have been a simple ballad.

Lyrically this album is pretty downbeat and introspective. Vocalist Caleb sings about the death of a friend on Muchacho, which wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to a country and western film.  The album’s title is an acronym standing for ‘We Are Like Love Songs’, and as the title track discusses how difficult it is to move on when a relationship fails, this title is definitely appropriate.

I’ve really enjoyed Kings Of Leon’s past releases – and I still do, to be fair – so it’s safe to say that I had pretty big expectations for WALLS.  To me, this latest album is the logical follow-up to Mechanical Bull, and the band have become even more chilled, which I didn’t think was possible.  I reckon that now the Followill lads are onto their seventh album, they’ve probably just stopped caring what critics and fans think, and decided to make the music that they want to.  If that means more relaxed indie vibes from them in future, then I’ll be happy.

Highlights: Reverend, Over, Eyes On You, Wild

Review: Take Control

It’s only been a little over a year since Kent two-piece Slaves released their debut full length album Are You Satisfied?, but it seems like Laurie and Isaac are set on taking over the world with their iconic grungy punk.  Take Control, released on Friday, contains fourteen tracks interspersed with two skit tracks, which makes the record a solid little parcel jam packed with bangers.  The album was introduced with the lead single Spit It Out: you can see the low-fi video here:

The album opens with the above track, followed by Hypnotised which keeps up the fast pace and crashing drums.  Consume Or Be Consumed, featured on Thursday’s round-up of the month’s best singles, features slower, grungier guitars, additional keyboard effects which add something a bit special to the choruses, and quieter vocals rapped over the track, including a rap verse by Mike D. of Beastie Boys fame.  Even within the first three songs of the album, it seems obvious to me that the punk duo have freed themselves from the constraints of more traditional old school punk, and allowed themselves to experiment a bit more with their sound.  That’s a solid amount of development between records.

Lyrically the album discusses issues with tax fraud and classism within the upper classes in Rich Man, troubles in the romance department in Angelica, and dwelling on past mistakes in Spit It Out.  There are also some lighthearted tracks such as Fuck The Hi-Hat, which at the end of the day are just a bit of fun.  That’s one of the things I like about Slaves: by taking every day issues and coating them in unapologetically British punk and straightforward language, their music is something everybody can enjoy.  Unless they’re not into punk music, I suppose.

Slaves have stretched their musical muscles during tracks such as the slower paced Lies, which is almost a ballad by their standards, and one of the longest songs on the record.  Steer Clear also stands out with its electronic drums, synth-infused choruses and female backing vocals adding to the chilled vibe.  In fact, much of the second half of the record is made up of slower tracks, which helps to demonstrate that these guys are nowhere near one trick ponies.

I was a little worried that Slaves would be one hit wonders, bursting onto the scene then slinking away as suddenly as they appeared.  Thankfully, following this record it seems to me that the twosome are taking this music lark seriously, and I certainly hope that the band will be around for a long time.  If you enjoyed Are You Satisfied?, then Take Control needs to be on your Christmas wish-list, or just go ahead and order it now if you don’t want to wait that long.

Highlights: Rich Man, Lies, People That You Meet, Same Again