Album Review: Disturbed – Evolution

Disturbed have always been a special band in my heart. They are my favorite band who got me into music. Sure, the group has some easy to spot flaws across their career, but they manage to deliver solid rock songs that great melodies and moving meanings. Now with the band’s new record, Evolution, they are trying to change perspectives to show they are growing. I thought I would never be that surprised by the quartet, but they manage to do more than just that. Many bands try to “evolve,” Disturbed shows how to change your sound while maintaining your identity. Rock and metal bands, pay attention to these pros.

To not scare away fans by allowing so many acoustic songs on the album, they have split it into two halves. One half is the traditional Disturbed style, while others might remind you of their hit cover of Sound of Silence. They don’t split it dead even; tracks vary throughout Evolution. You might get two or three heavy songs in a row then get a couple of softer tracks to calm you down, or make you cry. I was kept on my toes every second of the record, not knowing what will pop out of the shadows.

The record openers Are You Ready, and No More give a sense of the tone the heavy tracks are taking. A politically driven record that is perfectly timed when the world is on fire. Are You Ready is fast with some synthesizers to give for a Sickness feeling for old school fans. Much of the record gives them feeling by its aggression and use of electronics. It is 2018, so might as well use what tech giants have given us.

Speaking of aggression, two of the meanest songs are The Best Ones Lie and the bonus track This VenomThe Best Ones Lie is one of the most political songs off the album and one of the most in your face. The band has not released anything angrier since their 2008 hit IndestructibleThis Venom uses distortion while utilizing Mike Wengren’s powerful drumming to beat you down. The percussive nature and David Draiman’s vocals give This Venom a dangerous feeling.

Out of the many surprises found is Another Time. Not only do Disturbed deliver their most distorted song ever, but it also steers in several different directions that nobody can see coming. Prepare for a rollercoaster of a variety of methods for instrumentation.

The ballads are what knocks it out of the park and show Disturbed have evolved in more ways than one. A Reason to Fight is a rhythmic acoustic song that feels inspired by the band’s wildly successful Sound of Silence, while still feeling fresh. Some are more traditional in what someone might think of regarding an “acoustic song” like Hold On To Memories. Watch You Burn adds beauty to the beast by taking the regular Disturbed rhythm and aggression by turning everything upside down. The album closes (before going into bonus tracks if you choose the deluxe edition, which you better be listening to) with a somber and depressing note with Already Gone. Draiman delivers his most emotional vocal performance to date, making for a perfect balance from the explosive introduction with Are You Ready.

Usually, the biggest highlight tends to be Draiman’s animalistic vocals. Just like the previous album, Immortalized, he shies away from any of his iconic noises. He does nothing too different in the heavier tracks. He shines more so in the ballads, which was a significant focus for this record. While he is still his excellent self, I want to hear more zoo animal noises that I have come to love through the band’s vast catalog of music.

Draiman continues to deliver powerful lyrics that will move the listener emotionally and provoke from thoughts about the world. A Reason to Fight tackles addiction and depression. The main focus is the many people Draiman, and the rest of the hard rockers know who have lost their lives due to those issues. Already Gone maintains the statement after losing someone you love. Are You Ready, The Best Ones Lie, and several other heavier anthems discuss politics, something Disturbed has taken on many times throughout their career.

What shines through more than anything is guitar player Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren, and bass player John Moyer. Donegan explodes with experimental solos that will turn the heads of fans. Savior of Nothing, Are You Ready, and Another Time are some of his best solos in his career. Immortalized made for a great return for the band but lacked any superb solos from Donegan. He has always been the member to try different methods like bringing out pianos and synthesizers. Wengren shines with his tactical drumming skills that are the base for both the softest and heaviest tracks. Moyer’s explosive style stands out on several tracks, most of all on A Reason to Fight.

Fans will get familiar vibes from older styles from the band’s early work while getting a feeling from the direction from Immortalized along with brand new ideas. I am always ecstatic about a new record from Disturbed, but I was skeptical how much the band would change for Evolution, I was hoping for them to make drastic changes to keep their creative juices flowing. They put their money where their mouths are and proved the world that they are a creative force that cannot stop. New fans or old, this is a record that every follower of the group should run out to get because Disturbed are back and are taking over the rock and metal world.

Score: 9/10

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Image via Reprise Records

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Song Impressions: Fight the Fury – My Demons

John Cooper and Seth Morrison from Skillet have released the first song off of their new side project, Fight the Fury. The two have started the new band to explore their heavy metal roots to deliver fans heavier music than what Skillet can provide. Now they have given the world the first taste with My Demons.

The distortion is turned up to the maximum with a speed boost. With Cooper’s vocals in moments having a distortion along with the guitars gives a heavier sound than Skillet fans are used to from the two members of the Christian rock band. Alongside the new sound, the speed is faster than a typical Skillet song. Other than that, nothing here is too different.

The song starts with a distant voice from Cooper leading into the song building up into a heavy instrumental introduction. Seth’s guitar work is some of his most entertaining in his career. While we hear something different from the guitarist, the riffs are all simplistic along with the steady drums and bass.

The instrumentation varies plenty of times from the distorted introduction to the rhythmic chorus. Nothing is too impressive with a lot of basic playing from each member. The song mostly feels like the heavier side of Skillet that has been established from previous material, especially when the chorus hits. The verses the track can get away with feeling like a different band, but not by much.

Lyrically Cooper delivers an emotionally gripping track which remains his strongest ability as a musician. “I go to sleep with my demons / Creep in my head every night / They come to shred all my dreams,” is just a sample of Cooper going over the battle with his own personal demons. He has always had a straightforward style that gets to the point quickly. Sometimes being too blunt in lyrics or too metaphorical can come off as cheesy. With his vocal delivery and skills at writing, the song keeps its momentum to bring in a powerful punch.

Cooper has never been the best vocalist on the planet with his raspy voice. While I feel him singing softer showcases the flaws in his singing, the heavier sounds he can belt out work perfectly for his sound. The mix of raspy and aggressive is easy to distinguish who you are listening to, it is hard not to recognize his vocal cords screaming at you. The level of his power that he pushes out is something Panheads rarely hear from the frontman, especially in recent years.

I am not blown away by My Demons. The track could pass as something other than Skillet, but maybe it is Cooper’s voice that I am stuck on and comparing the two so much. Maybe with other tracks, we will hear a more unique sound that will distinguish the two bands. For now, Fight the Fury sounds like an enjoyable hard rock/metal band that is fun to hear, but nothing all that impressive.

The EP, Still Breathing releases on October 26. You can pre-order the album below:

Image via Atlantic Records

Album Review: Fit for a King – Dark Skies

Christian metalcore band Fit for a King have transformed themselves off of their last record, Deathgrip and have gone further down this road with a new release, Dark Skies. From basic metalcore to a blend of metalcore, deathcore, and some hardcore elements. The band has been able to make the perfect combination of bone breaking breakdowns to sing-along choruses that will be stuck in your head all day.

Dark Skies is a relentless record that starts off with a bang. Engraved and The Price of Agony are your typical songs to expect from the quartet in the best way imaginable. Hooks that will grab you right away along with catchy choruses that will stick with you even if you forget the title of the song. Engraved has some of the most killer bass lines that mix well with the tone of the guitar work to make for some heavy breakdowns.

The band sticks to the metalcore genre except for a few tracks, Backbreaker and Anthem of the Defeated, a more deathcore sound. The two songs are by far some of the heaviest songs in the band’s career. Full of fast riffs, speedy drumming, and heavy bass to make for some skull crushing breakdowns.

Almost any song you decide to listen to, just about everything is single worthy. That makes sense since the band has released so many of the tracks as singles with more music videos to accompany those songs coming soon. The only weaker song of the ten tracks is Debts of the Soul. A song that starts off somber, but goes into a heavy direction that didn’t fit well with the rest of the album. A solid track, but felt unfitting with its second half.

The instrumentation for the band has never been the most impressive. Simple riffs and breakdowns, but the band have matured in this aspect. Jared Easterling (drummer), Bobby Lynge (guitar), and Ryan O’Leary (bass) have been able to make the music sound more distinguishable from other bands in the scene. The band’s earlier material sounded generic in some parts, but now stand out more than ever. Now we still get more of the typical metalcore or deathcore sound, but with one guitar player and quality mixing, the instruments have a cleaner sound.

Ryan Kirby gives some of the best vocal performances in his career. Kirby with developing his cleans and continuing to bring brutal screams helps bring balance to the band’s sound. His most impressive moment is an over twenty-second scream at the end of Backbreaker, it is a must listen.

The band manages to tackle the darkest parts of humanity in their lyrics along with vocals to bring these words to life. Kirby discusses how divided the world is politically in The Price of Agony with powerful lines, “Taught to hate anyone that dare stand in our way / Taught to fight the system that keeps this evil alive and feeds their greed.” One of the heaviest tracks, Backbreaker goes into Kirby’s challenges with social anxiety by screams of this pain, “When your mind is stuck in a cloudy haze / Pressure pushes its way inside / No room to move, nowhere to hide.” The emotional Oblivion is about a fan who confessed a story to the band about his wrongs to his loved ones and wanting forgiveness. The lyrics,  “For so long, I can barely breathe / The grip of the guilt and the scars of my sins live on / They’re choking me,” echo this fan’s emotions.

With nine out of ten single-worthy songs that I would never dare skip, that is a solid listing of songs that can stand on their own. While being “single-worthy” is not the most important thing, it shows how far Fit for a King has come, and I can understand why they decided to make most of the album singles. While improvements could be made instrumentally regarding technicality, a heavy breakdown at the right moment can never be a bad thing. Kirby delves into some of his best lyrics to deliver emotion provoking songs that will pull your heart strings. Metalheads needing something with the right balance of brutal sounding screams and sing-along choruses should have no reason to pass this one up. Although the album had room for more variety, the record is full of high-quality material to headbang at any time.

Score: 8/10

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Image via Solid State Records/Fit for a King

Album Review: Erra – Neon

Erra has always been one of my favorite metalcore bands out there. When people talk about their favorites and mention the popular groups in this genre, I still have to suggest Erra for people to listen to. With the band’s change in sound and frontmen with their last record, Drift, I got reinvigorated by these changes. The previous record focuses more on melody and different sounds rather than breakdowns. The band has always gone out of their way to do more instrumentally than breakdown after breakdown, but this was a new step towards setting themselves apart from the rest of the metalcore scene. Now we got Neon, which continues the growth in this new evolution of the band.

Various sounds have experimented with instrumentally throughout the record, a staple in Erra’s sound. Most of the songs have a wide dynamic range in sounds that kept me interested throughout. Just like Drift, rhymic riffs, groovy bass lines, and nice beats from the drumming take the lead instead of breakdowns. The first two records in the band’s career had excellent melodic moments, but too many breakdowns sounded similar, especially on Augment. Here we songs that have more identity and more interesting focus. Don’t worry fans, there are still heavy breakdowns. Everything goes low in tone and is perfect to bang your head to.

With a lot of metalcore, the mix of screaming and clean singing needs to be right. Erra strikes a balance between heavy and somber unlike most bands in the genre. Jesse Cash’s cleans are beautiful along with his range. He can go soft or put in some powerful passion in his voice. Like every Erra record, he steals the show regarding vocals. JT is quite good as always. However, unlike previous vocalists, he does not utilize his range that much. Previously we would hear mid-range screams along with brutal lows and screeching highs. JT just sticks to the same mid-range sound throughout the entire record, just like Drift. I know he has the range, and I would love to hear him experiment with his voice. He keeps up with the melody and does his job, but a lot is missing from his parts. How these two vocalists team up is spectacular, especially on this album. Their voices come together wonderfully with interesting dynamics between the two.

Lyrics have always been excellent, and we can see the quality is still there. With each vocalist having powerful moments. In the mighty and imagery-filled Signal Fire one lyric says, “This bond could not be conceived without affection and faith to believe.” While in the emotional Expiate, the first verse ends with, “Where my thoughts are not friendly nor hopeful/This weak mind and body crumble.” The album is full of emotion and will hit hard with any metalhead. The lyrics have detailed imagery while having more ominous moments to let the listener think about what the song is saying. Erra has always had that mixture of detail and ambiguity.

I really do like the record, with each song standing firm on its own to the point that any song can be a single. Breach, the first song off the album, is one of the fastest and heaviest songs here. Then you can a somber ending with Ultimata. With everything in the middle having a mix of being melodic, technical, beautiful, or blunt with heaviness.

The two main issues would be JT lacking in expressing any range and the feeling that the album leans too much on the last record. While many elements are improved, and growth is shown, the record at times feels a little too close to Drift.

All in all, Erra have knocked out another great album for die-hard fans. Each song is great and stands on its own to be single material. On top of that, the album has a beautiful cover, which is always a big bonus for any solid album. With each album release, the band has room to grow in popularity and musical skill. Each member comes together to make some of the best metalcore and at times branches out of the metalcore shell by the focus being outside of constant breakdowns. This is a band I always recommend to people.

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Check out tour dates for Erra here.

Image via Sumerian Records/Erra

Album Review: Ghost – Prequelle

Ghost has become one of the most popular bands in recent years. They have exploded in the rock and heavy metal scene, especially with their 2015 album Meliora. The satanic rock group from Sweden has now released their fourth album Prequelle.

Prequelle is the band’s most diverse and darkest album to date. From dark disco music to your typical songs to expect from the group. The album has a theme of death and overcoming struggles to survive. The topics tackle historical events that overwhelmed humanity with death such as the black plague. The album ties together with current issues while not being overly political. The number of flavors within the record is vast while still maintaining what fans always loved about Ghost.

The starting instrumental track Ashes gives a haunting start to provide the tone of the album. Children can be heard singing and the instruments go to provide a melodic and disturbing start. This leads into the song Rats which goes with the same theme of Ashes. The song follows how much Europe was devastated by the black death. Rats has lyrics such as, “Them filthy rodents are still coming for your souls.” The song is more of a typical Ghost song that can ease their longtime fans into the album. After that, many of the songs get more experimental. From the dark disco track Dance Macabre to the synth and saxophone heavy instrumental song Miasma. As innovative as the album gets with the synthesizers, saxophones, and orchestras, everything works perfectly. I never got the feeling that anything was out of place. It can be scary when a band goes off the wall, but Ghost nails it in every way.

The album is full of heavy and beautifully melodic instrumentation. Rats and Faith are the closest to being the heaviest songs off of the record. With heavy riffs, fast solos, and a bounding bass and drums to give that heavy metal sound. While most of the album has a heavy focus on being more melodic and softer. The beautiful See the Light transitions to the rest of the album that takes a turn in an experimental direction. A highlight of that direction is Dance Macabre. The track has a dark spin on disco music. With lyrics such as “I wanna bewitch you all night,” along with the groove from the disco style should be a fan favorite.

Tobias has spoken about the lyrical content of the album with Blabbermouth in which he says, “What happens without going too political is the populations of all these countries become the children when the parents are fighting. It obviously affects everything — it affects the stock market, it affects the general well-being — so there’s this sort of pre-apocalyptic aura in our thinking. I think in the midst all these threats — either in the deeds of potential terrorists, to actual nations sending bombs overseas — you feel like you’re being attacked, or potentially could become attacked by anyone. If it’s not a warfare situation, it’s someone hijacking your identity,” He continues by saying,  “If you bumped into someone in Berlin in March 1945, he’d probably think that we’re done. It’s over. Same thing if you go to Aleppo, [Syria], you’d probably feel [that] that sort of Armageddon is happening right here. I think that especially if you think about the plague, the Black Death. When it hit Europe in the mid-1300s, it wiped out half of the population. That’s not every other person — it wiped out complete villages, and maybe that one peasant who was a bit too far off or a little bit too secluded, that was the only person that survived. Then you had other villages that miraculously lived, but that created a lot of shifts. After the plague faded out, it also led to a resurgence, and a lot of bloom, basically.” The themes touched on makes sense since the lawsuit filed against Tobias by several of his former bandmates. The survival of the band can be shown here. In the song See the Light the lyric, “Everyday that you feed me with hate, I grow stronger,” rings true to the band’s survival. Everything from the past troubles that the group has faced is behind them with this experimental and powerful record.

An added bonus to the album is the artwork. The style of the art looks similar to a medieval painting. A giant horrific monster is shown demolishing buildings. A man sits upon his throne on top of the beast. The use of color is beautifully done with mostly grey and red being the most prominent throughout the picture. Having an excellent album art does not impact the music, but it is an extra treat to people who already love the record.

Ghost has released their darkest and most unique album. The band has proved that their creativity is still pumping. I felt curious and a little worried when I heard there was a disco track or that I would listen to a saxophone. Knowing Ghost from their past work, I was skeptical. However, all of the changes work while maintaining their identity. This is a classic Ghost album with some changes to show the band has evolved. Ghost fans should come in with an open mind, but I feel confident you will love the album. I will say it here, this is arguably their best album right next to their 2015 record MelioraPrequelle is album of the year material.

Score: 10/10

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Image via Ghost/Loma Vista Recordings

Album Review: Parkway Drive – Reverence

In the past year, I have become quite the fan of Parkway Drive. I have been told to listen to them for years, and their 2016 album Ire got me hooked. That is still my favorite album by the band. With a mix of their new style and original sound, it was almost perfect. I went through the whole catalog of their music, and I like pretty much everything. Their previous albums range from good to excellent. Now their latest release is here, Reverence. Continuing the progression that they started with Ire, the band is in new territory.

I had high hopes for the first song that was released, Wishing Wells which was fantastic then The Void came which was also good. Prey is where all went downhill. I respect the group immensely for their experimentation and progression, I prefer bands doing so. However, this album as a whole does not do that well.

Instrumentally speaking, that is the most consistent aspect of the album. Parkway has always had a great sense of melodic riffs and heavy breakdowns. Something to satisfy anyone. Some orchestral elements can be heard on the album, and it sounds beautiful. This can be heard from the love song on the album called Cemetary Bloom. It would be more powerful if Winston were singing. Instead, his talking and low whispers do not fit that well at all. Having a violin, cello, and other similar instruments does not make for the heaviest of albums, but it works. The bass can be heard clearly throughout and can be really heavy at times with some new groove thrown in there. Everyone is on their A game to deliver a softer album, but a solid job on their parts.

Winston is a great screamer but has never been able to do much in the past. We hear him mostly talking throughout the whole album, maybe more than actual screams. His aggression to his voice is a nice touch but gets boring. It is the same issue I have with other bands who do this such as Whitechapel, who rely on it a bit too much. Well, just like Whitechapel, we do hear Winston attempt to sing in a few songs, but we will get to that in a moment.  His vocal delivery for talking and sometimes screaming has less raw emotion to some songs. Prey has an interesting meaning about power, but some of the lyrics and vocal delivery make it not feel as if there is much emotional power to it. A lot of different styles thrown in that does not work entirely. His singing in The Colour of Leaving is pretty good. I was shocked to hear it, and wonder why he did not do it for other songs. It might have boosted the other songs if he continued a bit more. The cleans are not great, but it works. From a few moments in Ire, we hear Winston have some moments where he is rapping. In Shadow Boxing is where he utilizes his screams, cleans, and raps. He can rap quite well, but the song itself falls short overall.

Lyrically, the album can have some inconsistent moments. All of the songs are quite powerful in what Winston has to say. Songs about grief over a lost loved one, power in corporations, and religious groups abusing children. The album has a level of pathos to it, but aspects that I have talked about before is what makes almost every song fall flat. The opening song Wishing Wells is by far the best song off of the album. A phenomenal start that holds a lot of power. Winston utilizes the moments to talk in a way that carries weight along with some brutal screams. The song is about having nobody or nothing to blame for losing someone you love. The pain is there and can be felt through the vocal performance and the lyrics. One lyric says, “So ask me how I’m coping, and I’ll smile and tell you: “I’m just fine” While down inside I’m drowning in the fucking rain.” I wish the rest of the album could give these emotions to me, but nothing really touched me in that way compared to Wishing Wells. To give an example of a lyric I did not care for was the chorus of Absolute Power, “The truth drops like a bomb.” It felt a bit cheesy when hearing it. Not much was done in the chorus to make it memorable. I did not hear some catchy chorus to sing along to, or that makes me want to have fun in the pit. Just like a lot of the album, it falls short of being quite good.

Reverence is the biggest disappointment of the year. I love Parkway Drive and respect the changes they made, but not everything worked. If there was more screaming and some work to some lyrics then maybe this would be better. The album is not bad, but it is not that good either. I love one song, and like two or three others. What hurts more is the album only has ten tracks, and most of them are not that good.

Score: 5/10

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Image via Parkway Drive/Epitaph Records

Album Review: Breaking Benjamin – “Ember”

Breaking Benjamin has one of the best track records out of any band in the rock and metal music scene. Each album has their own style to it with some advances to make the album feel fresh with the mix of the feeling of Breaking Benjamin. It is a bit of a formula, but it never gets old. Last week we got their latest album Ember.

Ember has to be one of the darkest and heaviest albums that Breaking Benjamin has ever made. The intro song Lyra is a beautiful instrumental song that sets a different tone from the rest of the album. Songs such as Red Cold RiverFeed the Wolf, and Psycho all prominently have a focus on singer Benjamin Burnley’s screams. While staying in the rock genre, they definitely dip their tows in something heavier that is closer to metal.

Instrumentally, the newest members of the band continue to grow as they put their spin on the Breaking Benjamin sound. Bass is clear, heavy, and at times has a groove to it that changes it up to some songs. Guitar work is that traditional Breaking Ben style that has a phenomenal melody while being hard driving with their heavier songs. Drumming being at beat in a beautifully well-done manner, while being crushing when the music picks up to be heavier.

The most notable difference for this album is how experiment Ben can be with his singing. His clean vocals on songs such as Feed the Wolf can change from beautiful and shave having an aggressive edge to his sound. Similar to previous albums such as Dear Agony, the beginning of Ember is leaning heavier while following songs start to slow down such as The Dark of You.

The overall tone is a lot darker and angrier than other albums. The Nirvana inspiration always lends lyrics to be more open to interpretation to the listener. The emotion is still there for more aggressive songs or more somber tracks.  Powerful lines from songs like Torn in Two, “I am torn in two. Hold on, hold on, we’re barely alive.” The lyric is from the song’s chorus which is always a staple to the band to me. The group still manages to make some of the best choruses that will stick in your head all day by the easy to follow lyrics and the excellent melody.

The band has their sound that resonates with each album, but they always manage to grow. The addition of new members from the last album Dark Before Dawn has worked in a way to give Breaking Benjamin a new life while maintaining their style at the same time. My personal favorite will always be Dear Agony, but Ember is now my second favorite album by the band. An excellent record that manages to mix beautiful melodies and hard-driving rock to deliver another nearly perfect album. Each song is excellent and stands out on its own. If you love Breaking Benjamin, then you will love this album. Haters of the group will not be happy since this is more of the same with some slight differences that show the band has grown as musicians.

Score: 10/10

Image via Breaking Benjamin/Hollywood Records

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