Review: Ellipsis (Deluxe)

Everyone’s favourite hairy Scottish man band, Biffy Clyro, returned on Friday with their latest record, Ellipsis.  Hype for the album started building with the release of their first single, Wolves Of Winter, an anthemic track which will certainly fill stadiums and festivals with energy – I absolutely loved it from the first listen. If you haven’t heard it, you can watch the official music video here:

Wolves Of Winter was followed by Animal Style, a more quirky track with an undulating melody and punchy chorus.  It took a couple of listens for the second Ellipsis single to grow on me, but now I’m a big fan.  One thing is for certain: Animal Style demonstrated that Biffy Clyro haven’t created a predictable follow-on from their previous album Opposites, and I’m expecting to be challenged and surprised by their latest effort.

On to the album itself: following Wolves Of Winter, which was an excellent choice of album opener, second track Friends And Enemies changes the pace.  It features a slightly slower tempo, electronic drums and claps, and feminine chants and backing vocals to change the atmosphere from aggressive and defiant to more peaceful and reflective.  There are quite a few shifts like this between tracks, meaning you’re never quite sure where the album is going next: I’m definitely a fan of Ellipsis’s unpredictability.

Biffy Clyro are well known for their acoustic ballads as well as powerful anthems.  Following Machines, God And Satan and Opposites, their latest addition to their emotional arsenal is Medicine.  It’s a very powerful track, with Simon singing very bluntly about his struggle with depression, and the melancholy chorus really tugs at the heartstrings.  Well, my heartstrings anyway, maybe I’m just a big ol’ softy.

Medicine is quickly followed by Flammable, a riff-heavy track with a lot of attitude, and the quick-fire grungy sounding number, On A Bang, which almost sounds like the big brother of Opposites album track Modern Magic Formula.  Even though I started listening to Ellipsis expecting the unexpected, the country twang of Small Wishes caught me by surprise, and to be honest it feels a little out of place.

I’d be very interested to hear some of the album’s slower tracks, such as Re-arrange, performed live.  Biffy Clyro are well known for performing without any bells and whistles and putting a raw, low-fi spin on their more heavily produced tracks.  There are quite a few electronic elements throughout Ellipsis, which would come as no surprise to fans of Opposites, so hearing these tracks performed simply by Simon, James and Ben would provide an interesting contrast.

To conclude, although some listeners will consider Ellipsis daring and unpredictable, others will describe it as directionless and confused.  My opinion falls under the former; maybe that’s because I’m a die-hard Biffy Clyro fan and have been for many years, but I genuinely think that their latest album is explosive.  The Scottish threesome (fnar fnar) have been able to produce intense proggy rock, whilst headlining festivals and topping the popular music charts.  Biffy Clyro are a band that have it all, and I hope their quest to push boundaries and produce more incredible music continues for a long time to come.

Highlights: Wolves Of Winter, Herex, Medicine, Flammable, In The Name Of The Wee Man

Review: California

blink-182 had a major challenge on their hands when it came to releasing their latest record, California.  Following the departure of Tom Delonge amidst a storm of controversy, their latest record had to prove that the band could survive and thrive without him, and with Matt Skiba as a replacement.  Lead single Bored To Death got the marketing for California off to a good start: if you haven’t heard the track yet, you can watch the video below.

There was a lot of controversy when Bored To Death was released amongst both old-school and newer blink-182 fans.  Some older fans found the track reminded them of the band’s earlier work, whilst others claimed that the title described how they felt whilst listening to it.  I’ll admit that I’ve never exactly been a die hard fan, but I can’t help but love their most popular tracks, and I believe that California has taken the band’s original spirit and polished their sound to suit their growing and maturing audience.

The fact is, without wanting to sound harsh, the members of blink-182 aren’t getting any younger.  To me it’s very inauthentic when older bands attempt to write the same songs as when they were teens and young adults, so a maturing sound and lyrical content is exactly what I want to hear from this band.  Hearing middle aged men – some of them parents – sing about high school drama really doesn’t do it for me, so I’m glad California has avoided this trope.  The band does sing about their younger years, but with a more reflective and nostalgic tone rather than attempting to imitate those times.

I really enjoyed the combination of Matt and Mark’s vocals throughout the album.  Matt doesn’t sound anything like Tom Delonge, but I think if blink-182 had chosen a soundalike replacement they would have received a lot of flack.  Plus, Matt’s credentials as vocalist and guitarist for Alkaline Trio meant that he fit right into the band’s trademark pop/punk-rock.

Admittedly, there are a couple of elements to this album that stick out to me, and not in a good way.  The heavy autotune on Mark’s vocals during opener Cynical feels totally unnecessary to me. Plus, there are a lot of na-na-nahs throughout which gives the impression that the band got bored of songwriting and used fillers to plug the gaps.  Whilst blink-182 are well known for their jokey immature humour, the penis and fingering jokes in Brohemian Rhapsody and Built This Pool aren’t my style, and fall a little flat.  What was I saying about the band maturing again?

I also think that California could have done with fewer tracks: the 16-song record clocks in at just over 42 minutes long, and blink-182 could have put their message across in 12 or 13 songs.  The tracks also aren’t particularly easy to distinguish from each other, but there are a few elements (such as gang vocals and heavily edited drums) which help some individual tracks, such as Sober and the title track, stand out from the crowd.  Songs that fit well together are also a sign of a well produced and cohesive album, so this isn’t an entirely negative thing.

Overall, my review of California is a mixed bag.  Whilst I like the band’s nostalgia, energy and more polished sound, it’s been over two decades since their formation and part of me wonders whether their punk-rock flame is starting to go out.  It’s possible that blink-182 just aren’t the band for me, so I’ll leave the final verdict up to you guys, my altrocklife audience, as I’d be interested to hear your views.  Let me know what you thought of California on my Facebook or Twitter page, or in the comment section below this post.

Highlights: Los Angeles, Kings Of The Weekend, Left Alone

Review: The Getaway

Photograph of the Red Hot Chili Peppers performing at Lollapalooza 2014
RHCP performing at Lollapalooza 2014. Photo Credit: conyfera via Compfight cc

I’m pretty sure every punk rock fan likes at least one Red Hot Chili Peppers Song. Whether you’ve actively sought out their music or just heard them on the radio or in a rock club, I would be surprised if you’d gone your entire life without hearing Californication, Can’t Stop, Under The Bridge, By The Way, Dani California or Give It Away.  On Friday, the LA brand broke five years of silence since the release of 2011’s I’m With You with their eleventh studio album, The Getaway.

The album’s release was preceded by single Dark Necessities; you can watch the video for the track here:

The record is opened with the title track: a chilled out, indie sounding number with emphasis on Flea’s bass playing and additional female backing vocals, before leading on to Dark Necessities.  I first heard the single on the radio, and it was obvious from the introduction that this was a Red Hot Chili Peppers song.  The band haven’t departed too far from their sound over the years, but by incorporating new elements such as piano and strings, The Getaway has an edge over their previous albums.

Goodbye Angels is a track with a big impact, and a strong competitor for my favourite song on the album.  The introduction builds gradually: it begins with acoustic guitar before the addition of drums, additional harmonising backing vocals and electric guitars. The resulting track keeps up the powerful pace alongside catchy repetitive vocals until the electric instrumental breakdown at the 3:30 mark, demonstrating the musical talent that the band still has to offer.

Penultimate track The Hunter returns to the album’s initial chilled vibe, with singer Anthony Kiedis’s more melodic vocals and a focus on the accompanying piano creating a more atmospheric sound.  This atmosphere continues into the introduction of the final track, Dreams Of A Samurai.

My main conclusion is that The Getaway is a much more cohesive album than previous efforts.  Every member of the band, including Josh Klinghoffer who only joined RHCP full time in 2009, have used their wealth of experience to create an ego-free album with a polished sound.

The album clocks in at almost 54 minutes long, which means there’s plenty of new tracks to get your teeth into.  The length of the album, plus the sheer amount of hard work and effort that went into The Getaway, makes up for the 5 year wait, in my opinion.

Overall, if you liked RHCPs previous albums you’ll definitely enjoy their latest release. Whilst on the whole it’s got a more chilled vibe than previous releases, The Getaway is just as enjoyable as the rest of their extensive discography.

Highlights: The Getaway, The Longest Wave, Goodbye Angels.

Review: If I’m The Devil…

Californian four-piece letlive. released their latest album, If I’m The Devil…, on Friday, and it’s an exciting post-hardcore LP with subtle hip-hop and indie influences to keep things fresh.  The release is their first since previous guitarist and percussionist Jean Nascimento left the band last year.  letlive. are well known for their experimental sound, and their latest LP certainly continues that trend.  The release was preceded by two singles; see the video for Reluctantly Dead below, which incidentally is one of my favourites from the album.

(By the way, the entire album is available to stream via Epitaph Records’ YouTube channel – pretty cool right?)

The album begins with opener I’ve Learned To Love Myself, a track with booming drums and subtle strings which add a real depth.  The first couple of tracks are fairly slow in tempo, but picks up with the soulful female vocals in the introduction to Good Mourning, America.  This track doesn’t shy away from discussing police brutality, an issue which has been prevalent in the American media for the past 18 months or so.

The title track is a slow burner, with an extremely atmospheric introduction that eventually picks up to match the tone of the rest of the album, reaching a crescendo during the second chorus. Final track Copper Colored Quiet is another atmospheric number, with female backing vocals adding a unique tone to the track; the song naturally winds down and brings everything to a close.

Throughout the album is underpinned by vocalist Jason’s unique voice, strong drumming and undulating bass.Whilst I haven’t followed letlive. religiously, I was a big fan of singles Muther, Renegade ’86, Banshee (Ghost Fame) and Younger when they were released, so going into their latest album I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Overall If I’m The Devil… is slower in tempo than previous releases, which means the album is more cohesive, in my opinion anyway.  This more relaxed tempo makes the album a more chilled listening experience, plus demonstrates that you don’t have to release fast-paced tracks to produce powerful music.

letlive. have a habit of producing albums full of heart, with lyrics that pull no punches whether on the topics of love, loss, family or politics.  Fans of the band’s previous releases will definitely enjoy If I’m The Devil…, and new listeners will find their latest release an excellent introduction.  There have been a lot of excellent releases so far this year, but I can see this letlive. LP shaping up as one of my favourites.

Highlights: I’ve Learned To Love Myself, Good Mourning, America, A Weak Ago, Foreign Cab Rides

Guest video review: Years & Years, Bournemouth International Centre

A note from altrocklife: Hey everyone! I know Years & Years aren’t the type of music I usually cover on this blog, but secretly I’m a big fan!  My fellow Bournemouth University student Lois Shearing from Faithfull Words went to see them at the BIC and reported back about their performance.

Years and Years are a three-piece band whose sound is described as ‘electropop’. They reached number one in March 2015 with their single King and had a number two hit with Shine. The trio’s début album Communion entered the UK album charts at number one, while shifting 9K copies in the US in its first week. Years and Years are noted for having one of the few openly gay front men in the pop industry.

Guest video review: Twenty One Pilots, Portsmouth Guildhall

A note from altrocklife: Hi guys! Unfortunately I was unable to catch Twenty One Pilots on their Blurryface tour, but my fellow Bournemouth University student Hollie Wong from The Cinema Planet reported back from the venue about their performance.

American rock duo Twenty One Pilots performed to a sold out audience of screaming fans at the Portsmouth Guildhall last week.

The Columbus-born band, formed of singer, pianist and guitarist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, closed the European leg of their Blurryface tour in the Southern city.

The duo was supported by LA four-piece Transviolet who readied the crowds with their electro-pop melodies.

With a dedicated following, queueing spanned what seemed like miles outside of the Guildhall and inside the atmosphere was no less electric.

The pair took to the stage, first performing their opening track, HeavyDirtySoul, from their third album, Blurryface. They went on to play a number of popular tracks including Holding on to You, Guns for Hands and recent Radio 1 Track of the Day, Stressed Out.

The group put on an incredible show for their adoring fans, particular highlights include the duo crowd surfing and playing drums on boards supported by the audience and lead singer Joseph appearing in the crowd during a brilliant rendition of Car Radio.

Twenty One Pilots certainly know how to put on a show; this up-and-coming duo are ready to crack the UK and after this unbelievable tour nothing stands in their way.

Video review: Enter Shikari, Nottingham Motorpoint Arena

On February 20th Enter Shikari played an explosive set in Nottingham, accompanied by The Wonder Years and the King Blues.  Their set list was made up of plenty of songs from their most recent album, The Mindsweep, as well as a lot of older tracks to keep old school fans happy.  But was their first arena tour too ambitious a step? I reported from the Motorpoint Arena once the encore ended.

Review: Nature Sounds

Take a look at my review of Nature Channel’s debut.

Scene Better Days

Before I start this review, I’d like to give major props to Nature Channel, who have managed to put out a full-length record in just over a year after their formation in Brighton. That’s no mean feat!

The album in question, titled Nature Sounds, opens with a bang. ‘Chet Baker’ sets the scene for a great punk rock record, full of crashing cymbals, aggressive guitars and shredded voices.

The album has a fairly lo-fi sound, which gives it a raw and grungy feel. The record is an unrelenting wall of sound that I honestly can’t get enough of. There’s a lot of focus on the drumming throughout, as well as loads of gang vocals and punchy choruses.

A few more pop-inspired tracks, such as ‘Loose Parts’ and ‘Give Me Happiness’, feature lyrics that could easily belong to a pop rock number – but with added passion. Then there’s ‘Blood…

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Review: Venom (Deluxe)

Last week, Welsh rockers Bullet For My Valentine returned to the scene with their latest album, Venom.  A lot of fans were disappointed with their 2013 record, Temper Temper, so I was interested to see whether the band have redeemed themselves.

Lead single No Way Out was typical BFMV for me – lyrically the track bored me, as it was pretty boring, unimaginative and predictable.  Matt Tuck’s lyrics have always been on the boring side, and haven’t really evolved since their debut LP The Poison.  If you want to listen to tracks with moody lyrics that hark back to heavy rock of the early noughties, then BFMV are probably the band for you.

Leading up to the release of Venom, the band said in an interview with Kerrang! that the record would be their heaviest yet.  Whilst I agree with that, I would argue that heavier doesn’t always necessarily mean better.

Now, I thought there were a few redeeming tracks on BFMV’s previous album that made it worth purchasing for me, but overall I’d argue that the band have been on a downward curve following their brilliant first three albums.  There are a few redeeming tracks on Venom too – take a look at my highlights list at the end of this post – but I think I may have outgrown the kind of music that they create.  Some of the tracks on Venom sound like they belonged on Temper Temper, which is never a good thing.

If you enjoyed Temper Temper then I’m certain you’ll enjoy Venom, but if you were less than impressed, like me, then I wouldn’t bother picking it up.  With the deluxe version of the record being 15 tracks long, I honestly struggled to find the motivation to listen to the entire thing, but I managed it so that you, my lovely altrocklife readers, wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate.

What’s your verdict on Venom? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter.

Highlights: Worthless, Venom, Skin, In Loving Memory (Demo)

Review: Blossom

On Friday, Frank Carter made a triumphant return to hardcore punk music with his new band, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes.  Blossom is an explosive debut record full of raw emotion.

The album opens with lead single Juggernaut, which when it was released was a great indicator of things to come.  Anyone expecting the Rattlesnakes to sound anything like Carter’s previous band, Pure Love, would have had those illusions shattered by this powerful track.

Frank Carter is probably best known for his stint as the front man of Gallows, who were well known for their loud and volatile sound.  While it’s obvious that the sentiments explored in Blossom come from a similar place, exploring anger, hatred and loss, The Rattlesnakes manage to make these feelings feel even more raw and visceral.

I wouldn’t want this entire review to focus on Frank Carter, though. Even though he’s the frontman of this incredible new band, without its fantastic musicians there wouldn’t be much to listen to.  The guitars throughout, especially in single Juggernaut, are fantastically powerful, and the drumming is as cymbal-heavy and up tempo as you’d expect from an album of this genre.

Blossom is fast paced for the first half of the album, but towards the end the tracks slow down a little and become more moody and reflective.  The change of pace forces the listener to pay attention, as it’s pretty difficult to predict where the record will go next.  Most of the tracks clock in at under four minutes long, which helps them to pack a more significant punch – it’s surprising how much anger The Rattlesnakes managed to force into each track.

If you were a fan of Gallows when Frank Carter was frontman, then The Rattlesnakes will definitely be right up your street.  If you’re looking for a brand new and explosive record to sink your fangs into (see what I did there? There’s a track on the album called Fangs and – oh never mind), chock full of human emotion with raw punk roots, make sure you get to a music store or online and pick up a copy of Blossom as soon as you can.  I, for one, cannot wait to get my mitts on a physical copy of it.

Highlights: Devil Inside Me, Loss, Beautiful Death