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

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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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Album Review: The Black Dahlia Murder – “Nightbringers”

If you are a death metal fan, then you know The Black Dahlia Murder. They are one of the most successful and well-known death metal bands who has come into the scene in the last 15 or so years. The group is best known for their distinct sound from vocalist Trevor Strnad, his in-depth lyrical style, and powerful instrumentation to bring everything to life. “Nightbringers” is the newest album that the band just released and this is their eighth full-length album.

To start off, let’s dive into the instrumentation of the album. It is a The Black Dahlia Murder album so you will know what to expect if you are a fan. Everyone in the band is at their hight of their career. The first track, “Widowmaker” starts in an epic tone that any great album needs to grab the listener’s attention right away. Shooting down people left and right brings a brutal start. The drumming from Alan Cassidy is fast, but precise as ever. Laying down a foundation that drives the music with its intensity. Along with Max Lavelle doing some of the best bass work out of any previous albums in the band’s career. Usually, in metal, the bass gets drowned out by the vocals, guitar, and drums, but it is generally clear in many of the songs. The most notable aspect is the guitar work, which always has been one of the best parts of the band. Brian Eschbach is a good rhythm guitar player who provides a lot of support, both in guitar playing, but on back up vocals during live shows. He has been in the band just as long as Trevor who are the only original members of the band. The most exciting change is from Brandon Ellis, who is the newest addition to the band. Brandon is their new lead guitar player who has proven himself to be one of the best lead guitarists the band has ever had. He had big shoes to fill when Ryan Knight left, but he has been able to prove himself well. Trevor spoke about Brandon in an interview, “He is probably the most musical guy we have ever had in the band. The most educated knows the most theory and stuff like that,” (interview at Metal Wani). With that musical knowledge brings more than just knowing how to play guitar. You can tell in his riffs and especially the solos. The Black Dahlia has always had killer solos, and these are just as amazing as any other album. The title track, “Nightbringers” and “Matriarch” are excellent examples of some of the best solos on the record. The instrumentation of the album is not all speed and chaos but can be quite beautiful. After a powerful solo in “The Lonely Deceased” a beautiful acoustic guitar plays which gives a great atmosphere to the song and a different sound to compliment the track. Technical, melodic, aggressive, and beautifully crafted are the perfect words to use to describe their instrumental style with this record and any other album.

The meat to any artist to me is the vocal and lyrics. Trevor has always been one of my top favorite vocalists for extreme music. He does not use as much of a range as some others in this scene utilize, but his distinct sound is what is so remarkable. There is nothing like a high scream from Trevor. The screeching voice that is telling the darkest of stories adds so much horror to the album. His lyrics have always been phenomenal, but this album he outdid himself. Trying to go towards a more detailed and brutal take, he wrote one of the most brutal albums in the band’s history. Song topics range from necrophilia from the song “The Lonely Deceased,” a song all about a morgue worker having sex with the bodies at his disposal, with detailed necrophilia for the listener to imagine. A lyric from the song detailing the disgusting tale, “What happens on the slab dies in the morgue with me. In these walls my grisly playground. Where none rest in peace.” For the title track,”Nightbringers” is about death metal standing as the “villain” in the music world. Focusing on the conflict of religion, more specifically Christianity, being an opposing force against the music. An example of the lyrics being, “To hell you’re sold your souls for seven silver coins. And every child you’ve defiled. Religion hangs, and we are the tiers of the noose.” That is just one of the least offensive lyrics in that song, but you get a good idea of what it looks like when death metal tackles Christianity. Trevor writes some of the best lyrics in modern metal. Tremendous storytelling and does not overly repeat anything unlike many songwriters out there.

Overall, this is not a disappointment at all. If you love this band, then you will love this record. The Black Dahlia Murder create some of the best crafted and most consistent albums compared to any other artist. Every song is crafted with such care that any song can be the title track or be single. The only criticism is most of the album runs fast that it makes it hard to fully enjoy Trevor’s storytelling. More variety of sound would be appreciated, but overall it is the quality anyone would expect out of this band.

Final Score: 9/10

If you like the album and want to help the band out, here is a link to the album:

Image via Metalblade Records and The Black Dahlia Murder