Review: Hydrograd

Afternoon altrocklifers! I’m currently away enjoying myself at Bourne Free pride festival, but luckily for you I took some time out on Friday to review the latest record by five piece Iowa band Stone Sour.  Excitement for the band’s sixth studio album, Hydrograd, started to build back in April with the release of lead single, Fabuless.  You can watch the music video here:

The album itself opens with a cheeky “hello, you bastards” at the beginning of introductory instrumental track YSIF, which summarises Stone Sour’s alternative rock style in a two minute package.  Great riffs, churning bass and inventive drum fills form the meat of the track, with electronic samples, distorted backing vocals and gentle piano adding something a bit special.  Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Corey Taylor is front and centre throughout the record, and that makes sense: Stone Sour is very much his baby, the long-running side project to keep the Slipknot vocalist occupied.

I can understand why Stone Sour decided to release Song #3 as the second single for the album.  It’s easily one of the best – and most radio friendly – on the record, with fantastic lyrics, great drums, and a fantastic guitar solo wrapped up in a fairly punchy four minute package.

Speaking of Taylor, his vocals are just as strong as ever throughout this album.  He switches between melodic verses, occasional crooning, and jarring shouts with ease that betrays his experience.  Since the departure of Taylor’s Slipknot co-member Jim Root back in 2014, this is the first full length record with new lead guitarist Christian Martucci, and he fits into the line-up extremely well.

Hydrograd features fifteen tracks and clocks in at around an hour long, which more than makes up for the four year wait since the second half of House Of Gold & Bones Part Two was released.  Honestly, there are a couple of more generic tracks which could have been shaved off the track list without negatively effecting the album, such as Rose Red Violent Blue (This Song Is Dumb & So Am I) and the country inspired St. Marie.

Overall, if you consider yourself a fan of Stone Sour, then I think you’ll be pleased with their latest musical offering.  Is Hydrograd as ambitious as their two part concept albums?  Maybe not. But the fact remains that this album is a solid alternative rock offering, full of strong single-worthy tracks accompanied by a number of more chilled ballads.  So whilst their latest record doesn’t quite reach the dizzying heights of House Of Gold & Bones Part 1 & 2, it’s still a great offering in its own right.  I mean, let’s be real, is Corey Taylor capable of producing anything other than fantastic?  I think not.

Highlights: Knievel Has Landed, Song #3, The Witness Trees, Thank God It’s Over, Mercy, Somebody Stole My Eyes

Review: How Did We Get So Dark?

Today I’m extremely excited to review How Did We Get So Dark?, the second full length album by Brighton rock duo Royal Blood.  This band burst onto the scene in late 2014 with the release of their eponymous first album, and their latest record is its highly anticipated follow-up.  The band released its first single, Lights Out, back in April, and you can watch the brilliant music video here:

Now on to the record.  The album opens with the title track, a strong opener with undulating bass throughout the verses and grungy riffs adding depth to the chorus.  It features a great outro, with fantastic drum fills and staccato backing vocals repeating the album name over and over again, which adds a creepy vibe to the song.

Then follows the lead single, Lights Out, arguably one of Royal Blood’s best tracks yet, with a catchy chorus easy to sing – or shout – along to, and a fantastic bass solo.  Next is the album’s second single, I Only Lie When I Love You, a grungy track positively dripping with swagger and attitude.  The lyrics discuss relationships and break-ups, which are a consistent lyrical theme throughout the record.  But then, isn’t love and loss present regularly in everyone’s lives?  Vocalist Mike Kerr’s voice remains as strong as ever, switching between sounding soft and emotive and louder, on the verge of shouting, with ease.  Plus, the drumming throughout the record, provided by Ben Thatcher, is masterful.

Hook, Line & Sinker is this album’s Ten Tonne Skeleton: it’s hands down the best song on the record, with fantastic catchy lyrics and imaginative instrumentals unmatched by anything else the band have put out.  It was pretty difficult for me to list my highlights of this 10-song album, because the entire record is fantastic, but Hook, Line & Sinker is truly on another level.

To me, How Did We Get So Dark? is reminiscent of Biffy Clyro’s work: the drums layered with additional percussion and higher pitched backing vocals draw parallels to their Opposites and Ellipsis albums.  Plus, the bass towards the end of Lights Out has a distinct Black Chandelier vibe.

Recently Royal Blood explained to NME that they took inspiration from David Bowie to create this album, but to me it seems clear that their influences are many and varied.  This band have been compared to Queens Of The Stone Age and Muse amongst others, and their latest album sounds like they’re trying to live up to those massive comparisons.

Overall, this record is dark and moody, and a fantastic follow-up to their first album.  My only criticism is that, at 35 minutes long, there isn’t nearly enough of How Did We Get So Dark? to keep me occupied until Royal Blood release their next album.  This band are a fantastic example of home-grown UK talent, and I’ll be following their future success very closely.

Highlights: I Only Lie When I Love You, She’s Creeping, Look Like You Know, Hook, Line & Sinker

Review: The Haze

Pulled Apart By Horses are an indie/alternative rock four-piece from Leeds.  Formed in 2008, the band have put out three full length albums over the years.  On Friday, the band released their fourth record, The Haze.  Hype for this record started building in November with the release of the lead single, The Big What If.  You can watch the video for the track here:

The record opens with its title trackmade up of grungy riffs and raw shouty vocals which demonstrates the band’s gritty rock ‘n’ roll sound perfectly.  The Big What If follows, and its fun tongue-in-cheek lyrics such as “I pray to my own toilet bowl that I won’t be swallowed whole” demonstrate that Pulled  Apart By Horses aren’t the type to take themselves too seriously.

One of the running themes of the record is the band’s up tempo, high intensity style which makes The Haze’s listening experience endlessly exciting.  You never quite know whether an awesome drum fill, wailing guitar riff or snarled vocal hook is coming next, and that’s what makes the album so interesting.  There are also plenty of catchy shout-along choruses to be found as well, demonstrated perfectly by Flash Lads and My Evil Twin.

There are a couple of slower tracks to be found on The Haze as well, such as the meandering Lamping which is full of la-la-las and starts out with a cool, trippy intro of birdsong and synths.  It’s the longest song on the record clocking in at just under four and a half minutes long, but I reckon the track needed that amount of breathing room, and the rest of the album is punchy enough that Lamping is a welcome change of pace.

Back in 2015 Pulled Apart By Horses’ original drummer, Lee Vincent, left the band and was replaced with Tommy Davidson, and I honestly feel like the new drums have injected a new lease of life into the band.  From an outsider’s perspective it seems to me that the line-up change forced the band to approach writing for The Haze in a new, fresh way.  Frontman Tom Hudson explained in interviews that the band recorded the album back on an isolated farm in Wales, and it seems like this helped them to focus solely on creating a kick ass record.

Highlights: The Big What If, Neighbourhood Witch, Lamping, My Evil Twin

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: 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

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

Essential albums you need in your car

Hi altrocklifers! In massive life news, I officially got my first car this week, and I feel like I’m one step closer to becoming a responsible adult.  It’s a cute little navy blue Ford Ka, 11 years old, and named Lzzy after one of my favourite vocalists, Lzzy Hale (cringey, I know).

Katie sat in her new car on her driveway
Isn’t she cute??

Naturally, as a music lover the part I was most excited about when I got the car home was filling the glove box with CDs.  I haven’t driven it much, which isn’t surprising considering I haven’t passed my test yet, but here are the albums I’m looking forward to listening to on the road.

Slaves – Take Control

I love this record, and the aggressive riffs and lyrics means shouting along is a great way to channel any road rage without crashing the car or giving other drivers the middle finger.

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Blossom

I always think it sounds badass when a car blasting punk music drives past you: that’s what I’m aiming for when I play this record.

We Are The Ocean – Ark

This record is great for long drives, especially at night: plenty of big choruses to keep you awake, and some more mellow numbers for stretches of empty road.

A Day To Remember – Bad Vibrations

This is, so far, my favourite album released this year, so of course I had to put it in my car to maximise the amount of time I spend listening to it.

Pure Love – Anthems

Frank Carter’s discarded project produced one of my favourite all-time records.  You can’t beat a car sing-a-long to tracks like Handsome Devils Club or Bury My Bones.

Bastille – Other People’s Heartache Part 3

If I fancy listening to electronic music, this EP by Bastille is always one of my top choices.  My favourite track on the EP is Remains, featuring the beautiful voices of both Rag N Bone Man and Skunk Anansie.

Foals – What Went Down

This album always manages to keep me occupied and entertained during boring, stop-start town driving.

What are some essential albums or tracks on your car playlist?  Let me know your on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Review: Echoes

It’s only been about a year since the release of Ones And Zeros, but Young Guns are already back with a new record, released last Friday.  The band have said that they wanted to make up for a long period with no releases by putting out two records in quick succession, but I’m not sure if this has worked out for them.  In my review of Ones And Zeros I said that I didn’t think the record would top their second album, Bones, for me, and I still stand by that.  I’m interested to see if Echoes will succeed where their previous album failed.

The album starts with lead single Bulletproof, a track which features electronic elements as well as proper guitars, and a fantastic chorus which reminds us of how impressive vocalist Gustav’s voice really is.  You can see the music video for the track here:

This is followed by title track Echoes, which demonstrates that the increased electronic elements from Ones And Zeros are still part of Young Guns’ sound.  There are more beefy guitar riffs in this track, however, which hark back to their earlier days and heavier sound of the past.  Said heavier guitars are found throughout the record, including during Careful What You Wish For and Mad World.  These heavier tracks interspersed with electronic intros and effects helps each song to stand out from the rest, and the overall effect is pretty special.

The pace of the record slowed down slightly with Awakening, a more relaxed track with one of Young Guns’ trademark soaring choruses, and Living In A Dream Is So Easy, a wistful and emotionally charged number.  The intro to Buried quickly returns the record to its previous high energy.

I’ll be honest and say that I went into this record with fairly low expectations.  I was disappointed by last year’s release, so I became a little worried that the band were creating music in a style outside of my preferred genres.  After giving Echoes a good listen, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ones And Zeros was an experimental prototype in the lead-up to their latest album.

I really enjoyed Echoes, and I think that the band have balanced alternative rock guitars and drums with electronic elements to create a sound that really works.  In truth, I found it difficult to write up my little ‘highlights’ section because I really enjoyed most of the tracks, and they all had features I found interesting or unique, so it was harder to pick out favourites.  Does this album top Bones, though?  To be honest, Bones became a very important album to me during a difficult time in my life, so it will always mean more to me than anything else Young Guns put out.  I do think that Echoes is musically on a par with their second album, and it’s fantastic in its own right, but the meaning I’ve given to Bones probably means it will always top any other music they put out.  #sorrynotsorry

So to conclude, if you were disappointed by Ones And Zeros the same as I was, I suggest that you give Young Guns another try and listen to Echoes.  I’m certain that you wouldn’t regret it.

Highlights: Bulletproof, Careful What You Wish For, Paranoid, Buried, Afterglow

Review: Cold World

Following Of Mice & Men’s previous album, Restoring Force, propelled them firmly into stardom, the Californian five-piece have returned with their latest effort.  Promotion for Cold World begun with the release of lead single, Pain, easily the heaviest song they’d released since The Flood era.  This raised expectations amongst fans hoping for the band to step away from more electronic influences and return to their hardcore roots.  You can watch the slightly freaky music video for Pain below:

Pain was followed by two more tracks, Real and Contagious, which were similar in style and tone to Feels Like Forever, with more clean vocals and less aggressive guitars and drumming.  Real included clean vocals from Austin Carlile, which is a new direction for the vocalist, and one I’m not sure I’m a fan of.  His voice sounds a little nasal in places, which I don’t really enjoy, so maybe he should leave the clean vocals to Aaron Pauley in future.  This mixture of singles led me to believe that Of Mice & Men plan to head further from their hardcore roots, but let’s see how I feel by the end of my first listen, eh?

Cold World opened with the slow atmospheric track Game Of War, which I personally felt dragged on for maybe a minute too long, as it didn’t get me excited to begin listening to the record.  However the pace soon picks up with the 8-bit sounding intro to second track The Lie, followed by the emotional single Real, the chorus of which packs a solid punch.

There are some points within Cold World, such as the intro and outro of Contagious and the filler track , which have electronic influences that remind me a little of Linkin Park’s earlier albums.  Others, such as the chugging verses of Like A Ghost, remind me of Slipknot’s latest record, and to me The Hunger shares similarities with Stone Sour’s sound.  To me, the band’s homages to their inspirations and favourite artists are apparent.

Lead single Pain sits in the middle of the album, and for me marks its high point.  I can understand why Of Mice & Men chose this track as their lead single, as it’s definitely my favourite on the album – and the heaviest.  Lyrically the album varies: some tracks are pretty emotional and poignant, others, such as Relentless, have pretty cheesy and overdone sentiments.

I had very high expectations for Cold World, considering how much I loved the band’s previous record Restoring Force, and my first impressions are that I don’t think Of Mice & Men have managed to better their previous effort. Sure, there are some fantastic tracks on this latest record, but there are also a significant number which could have easily slotted into the Restoring Force tracklist.  I’m a bit disappointed by the lack of growth in the band, but this doesn’t mean I love the Orange County boys any less, and I’m hoping to see them live in November where I’d enjoy hearing some of their new tracks performed live.

Highlights: Like A Ghost, Pain, The Hunger, Transfigured