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–The Holy Warheads: Gravity (Honyock Records, 2017) Local West Michigan Artist Spotlight

•January 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

–The Holy Warheads: Gravity, Honyock Records, 2017 (Local West Michigan Artist Spotlight)

The Holy Warheads are lighting up the city. Rest assured, this cliché is no mere hyperbole stemming from the sheer awesomeness of their name. Their live shows, for instance, are always destructive, incendiary, nuclear even. Sonically, this Grand Rapids-based quartet transcends narrow sub-genre restrictions with their melodic and original brand of hard rock. But, yes, their band name is still really cool.

 Fronted by the prolific Joe Henry — also guitarist with zany hardcore-punk rockers The Westside Rebellion, as well as his inimitable singer/songwriter solo act American Zombie Inquisition — The Holy Warheads deftly tread that fine line between punk rock, classic hard rock, and grunge. Yes, I said “grunge,” the once ubiquitous sub-genre that reached its melancholy zenith over 20 years ago. Indeed, one can hear as many references to SoundgardenPearl Jam, and Temple of the Dog as the Sex PistolsAC/DC, or Social Distortion.

On Gravity, The Holy Warheads’ new mini album, the quartet has melded all these disparate influences into five catchy, mid-paced, and deep-grooving tunes. Henry’s unique, deep-register voice is the clear focal point of their music. His strong vibrato and pristine tone brings the stirring vocal melodies to life. Bassist Kevin Keefer (also of G.R. instrumental metal gods Knives Are Quiet) provides the driving bass foundation; the sheer power of his filthy, picked bass tone cannot be overstated. Meanwhile, guitarist Ivan Hannah’s minor-key, octave-based riffs, and wah wah-drenched leads (ala Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready) invoke the aforementioned grunge overtones. Drummer Brent Riva muscles through this holy war with power and groove.

If there’s an obvious standout on Gravity, it is the stunning title track. A favorite of their live shows, the slow-and-deliberate “Gravity” opens with a punchy, accented bass riff, followed closely by hooky riffs from Hannah. By the time Henry bellows out the chorus, good luck retrieving this ear worm from your brain. Opening cut “Blood” is a brisk track that features Keefer’s aggressive picking and yet more infectious vocal melodies. “Salt,” another clear-cut highlight, showcases Keefer’s slowly-galloping bass line and simple-yet-melodic guitar work beneath Henry’s serpentine, emotive vocal lines.

In truth, there is nary a weak moment on Gravity. From the emotional, often socially-conscious lyrics, to the catchy choruses, to the moody musical textures — these Warheads are Holy indeed. Also, don’t forget to give them a shoutout on Facebook and a listen over on Bandcamp, or at a West Michigan rock club.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1.) Blood 2.) Salt 3.) Gallows 4.) Monsters 5.) Gravity

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–Game Zero: Rise (Agoge Records, 2015/16)

•December 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–Game Zero: Rise (Agoge Records, 2015/16)

Sometimes – once in a blue moon — a classic song will just appear out of nowhere. The timeless, irresistible riffs and melodies seemingly rise from the ether straight into one’s head and heart. Then, perhaps five-to-ten years down the road, the now ubiquitous song will be heard in grocery store aisles and movie theater restrooms everywhere. This song is so incredibly good that no one could possibly grow sick of it. 

The craft of songwriting is rarely this simple, of course. Just don’t tell that to Italian hard rock band Game Zero regarding their fantastic single, “The City With No Ends.” This track is extremely well-crafted and memorable, it is no surprise that it was featured as the showcase song in the 2016 Italian animated film, East End. “The City With No Ends” is indeed a special tune; from its biting main riff, punk/ska-like verses, incredibly catchy chorus melodies and swirling harmonies, and concise-yet-tasty guitar solo. Yes, this song is that good – hyperbole be damned. 

That is not to imply, however, that Game Zero is merely a one-hit wonder or anything of the sort. Many other tracks on their debut album, Rise, provide sing-able and headbanging moments for fans of modern hard rock and metal. The band, who hail from Rome, play various styles and consistently skirt the thin lines between post-rock, modern mainstream metal such as Avenged Sevenfold and Volbeat, and groove-oriented nü metal ala Disturbed or Godsmack. This diversity always sounds natural within the context of a song, rather than schizophrenic or gimmicky. That seamless stylistic blend makes Rise a consistently enjoyable listen – though “The City With No Ends” remains the definitive standout. 

Game Zero – Mark Wright, rhythm guitar/vocals; Alexincubus, lead guitar vocals; Domino, bass; and Dave J., drums – indeed get off to a promising start on Rise. Generally speaking, this album should mostly appeal to fans of a myriad of hard rock and metal styles, as opposed to sub-genre elitists. Game Zero sound comfortable driving in the mid-tempo lane, as in the Volbeat/Stone Sour-esque “It’s Over” and “Don’t Follow Me.” They accelerate the pace somewhat on “Time Is Broken,” which features a syncopated main riff, palm-muted guitar rhythms, and a catchy vocal melody in the chorus. “Lions and Lambs,” with its aggressive main riff and choice leads, is another clear highlight. On “Look At You,” Game Zero prove fully capable of going full-on speed metal/pop-punk with success. 

This band is at their best when they utilize all the musical dynamics at their disposal (“Crimson Wine,” “Close Your Eyes, “The City With No Ends”). While Rise doesn’t feel staid or formulaic, Game Zero might consider including more variation in their song structures and tempos to increase excitement. Also, Wright’s vocals are solid throughout, but his nasally tone may prove an acquired taste. That said, it is refreshing to hear a new modern metal act utilize solely clean singing rather than the ubiquitous and obnoxious screaming-and-yelling “heavy vocals” favored by so many young acts today. 

Overall, Italy’s Game Zero deliver a promising debut with Rise and a Song of the Year candidate in “The City With No Ends.” Visit Game Zero online here or on Facebook. – Jonathan Kollnot 

 

–Slumlord Radio: Too Pretty for Tijuana, 2015, Honeyock/Silver Maple Kill Records (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

•December 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–Slumlord Radio: Too Pretty for Tijuana, 2015, Honeyock/Silver Maple Kill Records  (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

Nothing is ever new under the sun, right? At least, that’s how the pithy old adage goes; generally speaking, though, it rings true in this digital-media age of musical oversaturation. With thousands and thousands of bands and artists out there to be viewed, streamed, and downloaded, listener fatigue is understandable and common. That mythical combination of originality and old-school cred, however, is not so commonly found in today’s heavy rock scene.

That’s what’s makes Slumlord Radio such a joyful revelation. The high-energy Grand Rapids-based band (“via Stockholm Sweden”–Tommy Erickson’s onstage opening banter) have been playing their unique brand of hard rock since 2010. They’ve made a name for themselves locally and regionally with their kinetic, humorous, and exorbitantly fun live shows. With Slumlord Radio, one hears an uncanny conglomerate of hardcore punk, stoner doom, sludge, classic metal, and yes, even some power pop. Slumlord’s sundry stylistic concoction works extremely well, though, because the songs are well-crafted, memorable, and catchy as all get-out.

Anchored by singer/guitarist Tommy “Capt. Hollywood” Erickson, Slumlord Radio is as prolific in the studio as they are active on the stage. They already have several releases under their belts, including three albums of new material. Their latest full-length, 2015’s Too Pretty for Tijuana, sounds like Metallica and Motörhead married Black Sabbath and gave birth to the Ramones and Iggy Pop. Erickson delivers the crunchy sonic wall of guitar riffs throughout, while drummer Matt “Rattlesnake” Claucherty and bassist Mike “El Ace” Todd maintain the jammable — yet often danceable — grooves.

Take the video single, “Bullwhip,” a raucous mid-tempo groover that features a crunchy riffs and an infectious chorus: “If you started a cult, I’d be the first to join.” Indeed. Next up, “Debonair Dolomite” grinds along in a fuzzed-out, slow shuffle. Tony Iommi and Crazy Horse-era Neil Young would be proud. Erickson’s raspy-yet-tuneful vocals, coupled with some perfect-for-SNL cowbell, complement the muscular riffs. The headbanging “Southpaw” opens with some brooding clean arpeggios before unrolling a deliberate, stomping groove that is sure to please fans of Sabbath and Black Label Society. 

Other highlights include the slowly galloping quasi-title track, “Tycoon,”  (“You’re too pretty for Tijuana!”), the metallic stoner doom of “Choke 66,” and the  harmonized guitar workouts on prime display on “Fort Knox (2015). Overall, the inherently catchy riffs and vocal melodies hold Slumlord Radio’s disparate musical elements together like Krazy Glue. My only complaint is the whole thing ends a bit too quickly for Tijuana.

Checkout their new 2017 single and video, “Holy Smokes,” which is as entertaining as it is hard-rocking. Don’t miss Slumlord Radio on stage or on Bandcamp, either; by far they are the most original and fun Stockholm band that’s not from Sweden one will ever hear.–Jonathan Kollnot

–Tracklisting: 1). Intro 2.) Bullwhip 3.) Debonair Dolomite 4.) “Southpaw 5.) Intermission 6.) Tycoon 7.) Choke 66 8.) Fort Knox  (2015) 9.) Outro

Slumlord Radio (2017): Tommy “Capt. Hollywood” Erickson, Vocals/Guitar; Matt Claucherty, Drums; Mike “Ace” Todd, Bass; “Dangerous” David Flynn, Guitar.

–GALACTIC COWBOYS: Space In Your Face (1993)

•November 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

–GALACTIC COWBOYS: Space In Your Face  (1993) 

The 1990s was a challenging time for heavy metal. For those of us old enough to remember those dark ages of musical misery, that is one major understatement. Hard rocking MTV superstars of the ’80s were breaking up and being dropped from labels right and left amid the alternative rock and grunge onslaught. Beloved arena-packing icons such as Iron MaidenJudas Priest, and Dio were now relegated to touring small clubs and theaters in the U.S.; we fans, meanwhile, were reduced to digging for mere scraps in the suddenly nonexistent metal sections of record stores. Then, about five years later, the explosion of the “nu metal” movement/plague sounded to me like the final death knell for decent musicality in general. No, I spell my delicious popCorn with a freaking “C”– thank you very much. 

Yet, arising from the ashes of this musical holocaust, a few phoenixes soared high above the desolation and laughed. Houston’s Galactic Cowboys were one such act, a truly unique band that took their eternal quest for creativity and experimentation almost as seriously as their embrace of bizarre silliness. From the moment I first watched the video for “I’m Not Amused,” their first single, on Headbangers Ball, I sat there bemused — and, also, a bit amused. Here stood these four zany longhairs in the desert playing this insane smorgasbord of a metal tune. This song alternated between acoustic Mariachi strumming, bludgeoning thrash riffs, bluesy harmonica solos, full-on speed metal, and gorgeous vocal harmonies that would have made The Beatles jealous. But rather than sounding disjointed or merely schizophrenic, “I’m Not Amused” was original and captivating. My GC fandom was launched. 

Now, choosing a specific Galactic Cowboys album to showcase is no simple decision. Their self-titled 1991 debut is no slouch whatsoever, featuring such inimitable crossover favorites as “My School,” “Someone for Everyone,” and of course, “I’m Not Amused.” Their third record, 1996’s Machine Fish, finds the GC boys branching out into some more modern soundscapes. It took some getting used to, but it’s a grower. But on Space In Your Face, they sound the most comfortable in their own skins. The GC sound is more focused and crystallized without losing one iota of their unique charms. Let’s dig into Space

On Space In Your Face, the Galactic Cowboys — lead vocalist Ben Huggins, bassist Monty Colvin, guitarist Dane Sonnier, and drummer/”attempted keyboardist” Alan Doss — burn all their solid rocket fuel on intense and compelling songs. Sonnier’s guitar riffs juxtapose a bluesy swagger with aggressive thrash rhythms, while Huggins’ acoustic parts provide the dynamic counterpoint. Colvin, who’s also GC’s principal songwriter, plays lively, picked bass lines with a tone that is downright filthy. 

Huggins’ lead vocals are pleasant and warm in a glam-metal sort of way; think of some RattW.A.S.P., and perhaps Don Dokken thrown into a blender. Doss, for his part, delivers a ferocious hardcore punk intensity from the drum stool. This diverse package is enveloped by a giant bow of catchy pop-rock choruses and gorgeous vocal harmonies. 

Opening like a juggernaut, the brief introductory title track, with its swirling interplay of intricate thrash rhythms and jarring meter changes, raises the listener’s heart rate to dangerous levels. This segues into the driving first single, “You Make Me Smile,” an appropriately catchy and schizo sister track to “I’m Not Amused.” Next up, “I Do What I Do” is a dynamic diamond; its contrasts between the cleanly-arpeggiated verses, sublime chorus harmonies, and exhilarating Metallica-esque excursions are some of GC’s finest moments. “Circles In the Fields” is a straight-ahead thrashing ode to crop circles, and the band spares no spit nor venom in the purely belligerent rocker, “If I Were a Killer.” 

Some of Space’s most melodic moments are also its most endearing. Take, for instance, “Blind,” a lovely, mid-tempo quasi-ballad that never loses its metallic crunch. “No Problems” is a beautiful and harmonious tribute to personal perseverance and gratitude. 

On “Where Are You Now?,” the album’s crunchy, almost sludgy closer, Huggins nostalgically ponders the fate of old high-school crushes. As the band stomps through a looping culminating riff, the listener hears Colvin cold calling a few ex-female classmates. Sylvia, the first young woman he calls, is pleasant and polite, if ultimately clueless as to who Monty Colvin from High School is. “But you’re not a country band?” He’s much less lucky with his second caller, however: “Look! I don’t know who you are, and I don’t appreciate this. So don’t call back!” Ouch. 

But there’s a silver lining to this tragic tale. The Galactic Cowboys have reformed after nearly 20 years apart. Expect their brand new album, Long Way Back to the Moon, out Friday, November 17th. Now that really makes me smile — when it’s said and done. –Jonathan Kollnot 

–Tracklisting: 1.) Space In Your Face 2.) You Make Me Smile 3.) I Do What I Do 4.) Circles In the Fields 5.) If I Were a Killer 6.) Blind 7.) No Problems 8.) About Mrs. Leslie 9.) Where Are You Now?

–Knives Are Quiet (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

•October 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Knives Are Quiet: Self-titled ep (Local West Michigan Spotlight)

Very few bands, regardless of their locality or stature, possess a truly original sound. Many bands conspicuously ape one or two of their favorite artists or sub genres, while others may try to mash so many different styles into a song that it sounds like a convoluted porridge of musical slop. No, not so appetizing. 

Then there’s Knives Are Quiet, a band that epitomizes the descriptor, “unique.” This instrumental heavy-rock trio from Grand Rapids, Michigan has been active on the scene for several years — they also have left their footprint regionally with past shows in Indiana, Toledo, and Chicago. But perhaps what most separates KAQ from their local contemporaries is their brilliant combination of ethereal atmospheres, hypnotic grooves, and headbanging riffs amidst a colossal wall of sound. 

I first experienced the inimitable KAQ live show back in August of 2015, when they were playing with the excellent West Michigan hard rock/metal act Apostles at Mulligan’s Pub in Eastown, Grand Rapids. Naturally unsuspecting of the forthcoming musical extravaganza, waves of gorgeous guitar arpeggios — enveloped in the warmth of reverb and digital delay — soothed my ears. Suddenly, crunchy, palm-muted riffs pummeled my senses; Kevin Keefer’s downright filthy and cleanly-picked bass lines served as the perfect harmonic foundation. The drums, meanwhile, provided straightforward grooves while including enough tasty fills to keep things hopping. This KAQ initiation was emotive and unique, and the band immediately became one of my favorite local acts. 

Needless to say, Knives Are Quiet — currently featuring Keefer, guitarist Mike Glover, and drummer Jeremy Gish — always deliver on the live front. Hard rock fans also can get a potent taste of the KAQ live experience via their 2014 self-titled ep. Dynamically combining elements of U2Pink FloydKing’s XBlack Sabbath, and post-punk bands, songs such as “House of Cards” and “Path of Cinders” shine with irresistible grooves and shimmering melodies. “Diving Bell,” the haunting middle track on the CD, simply needs to be heard to be appreciated. 

Fans of instrumental hard rock need to check out Knives Are Quiet on Facebook or in a Midwestern venue immediately — if not yesterday.– Jonathan Kollnot 

–R.E.M. Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

•October 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This review marks a return to my classic albums series, focusing on some of my all-time favorite records from the 1970s through the 2000s. The albums may be obscure or famous, mellow rock or extreme metal; the common thread being that they deserve more recognition, and that they are of outstanding quality. Now, on to the 1980s and R.E.M.’s darkest, most enigmatic hour. 

R.E.M.’s music has always hovered somewhere in the ether of my life’s soundtrack. Much like an early-morning fog, or tufts of cottonwood fluff floating in the breeze, it covered and colored my musical subconscious. Between my dad’s frequent spins of Document on the old red Econoline’s tape deck, or osmosis from the ubiquitous MTV videos, I just couldn’t escape R.E.M.’s influence. They were not close to my favorite band, and they sounded absolutely nothing like my beloved hard rock and metal. But there was always something there. 

Gradually, my vague respect for the jingle-jangly Athens, Georgia boys evolved into bonafide fandom. My first deliberate foray into R.E.M.’s back catalog occurred in the form of the Green CD that I would frequently check out of the high school library; specifically, the haunting and moody “I Remember California” rarely left my head. Concurrently, Automatic for the People hits such as “Everybody Hurts” and “Nightswimming” satisfied that angsty adolescent emo itch. 

But exploring the early albums revealed R.E.M. at their most vibrant, energetic, and uplifting. The Murmur debut is one bopping, jingle-jangly party of a pop-rock record; likewise, the sophomore effort Reckoning continues where Murmur left off, albeit with an even more confounding lyrical and vocal performance from Michael Stipe. Anchored by Stipe’s soothing, if nasally, voice and guitarist Buck’s driving, cleanly-arpeggiated riffs, R.E.M. seemed like an unstoppable –and incorrigably optimistic — rock band. Then, in 1985 Fables of the Reconstruction hit the streets, and fans immediately immersed themselves in a much darker version of the R.E.M. sound. 

From the opening strains of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull,” contemporary listeners must have felt as if Charlie Daniels’ patented Devil had indeed been up to some fresh mischief down in Georgia. This tune begins with Buck playing deliberate arpeggios and chiming harmonics that reverberate like a mournful church bell. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is a downright slow, almost doomy dirge that features one of Stipe’s most haunting and provocative performances. When he wistfully sings in the chorus, “Step up, the sky is open-armed/when the light is mine/I felt gravity’s pull,” one can sense a profound spiritual revelation, even if the meaning is still pretty confounding. Bassist Mike Mills’ trademark gorgeous vocal harmonies, coupled with new touches such as lush orchestration, clearly reflect a newfound sense of maturity and experimentation for the band. 

So, does the rest of the album continue in this emotionally-charged manner? Yes and no. “Maps and Legends” increases the pace and APMs (arpeggios-per-minute) a tad while maintaining the contemplative vibe to the vocal melodies. The crawling, funky groove of Mills’ bass riff propels “Old Man Kensey,” a particularly moody tune awash in Buck’s ethereal chimes and Stipe’s dreamlike, plaintive singing. “Wendell Gee,” another more experimental track, finds R.E.M. embracing uplifting folk-rock, replete with banjo and campfire harmonies. 

But make no mistake, Fables… still provides plenty of upbeat, bounce-around rock tunes. On “Driver 8,” Buck’s staccato intro riff serves as the perfect foil for the song’s acoustic major chords and intricate interplay of vocal harmonies. The bombastic and downright funkified “Can’t Get There from Here” showcases the rhythm section of Mills and drummer Bill Berry at their best; “Green Grow the Rushes,” by contrast, is a wistful folk ditty that’s features one of Buck’s most infectious riffs. “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” might seem like a standard up-tempo rocker until that tense and slightly dissonant chorus appears. 

Perhaps this sophisticated and fantastic masterpiece of an album is best epitomized by “Good Advices,” a straight-forward jingle-jangler that lacks one single non-catchy moment. “At the end of the day/I’ll forget your name/I’d like it here if I could leave/and see you from a long way away. ” Who can not occasionally relate to such singular, indelible moments in one’s life? Indeed, contrary to another line from this tune, home is not “a long way away” as long as this glorious book of Fables… is upon the fingertips. 

–Tracklisting: 1.) Feeling Gravity’s Pull 2.) Maps And Legends 3.) Driver 8 4.) Life And How to Live It 5.) Old Man Kensey 6.) Can’t Get There From Here 7.) Green Grow The Rushes 8.) Kohoutek 9.) Auctioneer (Another Engine) 10.) Good Advices 11.) Wendell Gee

–Jonathan Kollnot 

–Prototype: Seed demo (Retro Review, 1996)

•September 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

(This review was originally published in Kollnot Music #3, Summer 1996. Occasionally I will be revisiting some of my old reviews that I recently found in storage. I figure it’ll be fun to see how opinions change over time and to take another look at some great 1990s releases. Kragen Lum is now well known for his work in Heathen and his long current stint as lead guitarist for Exodus.)

Perhaps you are one of the lucky 1,200 who own a copy of the classic Lifeforce CD by California thrash legends Psychosis (not to be confused with the band on Massacre Records). If so, you remember what a fine collection of aggressive and powerful, if derivative, thrash it was. It had a similarity to Testament with the straight-ahead riffs and clear yet undefined vocals. Now, the duo of Vince Levalois (vocals/rhythm guitars) and Kragen Lum (lead guitar) have returned with their 1994 demo from Prototype. 

Prototype have combined their thrash roots with progressive touches, creating a vibrant, emotional, and inspirational piece of work. While they still play aggressive thrash metal, complete with Levalois’ raspy but enjoyable vocal style, these three songs bury the Psychosis material into a sea of beautiful atmosphere and dynamic moods. The songs on Seed border on the slower side, whereas Psychosis always indulged in fast tempos. A strong contrast between arpeggiated progressive guitar textures and the crunchy riffing of Lum/Levalois creates songs that are constantly moving, changing direction, and surprising. Lum’s lead guitarwork is particularly impressive, especially on the standout “Shine,” and the musicianship of all four members is superb. “Seed” and “Dead of Jericho” continue in a mid-tempo vein,and the demo is complete. 

Lum/Levalois probe complex issues like Christianity and corruption, presenting them in an interesting light. The biblical references in their music are hard to ignore on “Dead of Jericho.” “Seasons will follow/the death of the land/governed by spirits/the sons of Abraham.” The Christian themes are more critical on songs like “Cold is This God” from Psychosis. Kragen explained that they write about religion because it interests them, and the lyrics are sung from the point of view that Christianity has problems and contradictions. (The original review ended with pricing and old contact info for Prototype, including such quaint technologies as a snail-mail address and an aol.com email. 😁)–4/5

–Jonathan Kollnot 

 
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