SINGLE REVIEW: Lina Luna by Thy Veils

Thy Veils are an ambient/electronica artistic collective founded by composer and Romanian ambient pioneer Daniel Dorubantu in 1995. Over twenty years Thy Veils have released seven studio albums and three live albums, garnering critical and public acclaim along the way.

Their music is a fusion of ambient, electronic and neoclassical music and they combine this with visual art to create immersive audio-visual performances with cutting edge techniques employed both musically and visually. Along with live concerts, Thy Veils have also made a musical science fiction film, Neoradiant, which featured filming from all over Europe with an entirely electronic soundtrack. Their latest project, begun in 2020, is NextForever, their most ambitious and futuristic work yet.

This track, Lina Luna, is an ambient electronica track that emerges in an atmospheric swirl of echo drenched vocals, gently pulsing and swelling synths and the mesmeric effect of the sound of water. Taking from their forthcoming album NextForever, it is a completed version of a previous song, Luna. It features the otherworldly vocals of Maria Hojda as well as a subtle but compelling bassline courtesy of Mircea Ardeleanu Jr.

Combined with Daniel Dorubantu’s rich compositional gifts, the result is a beautiful and hypnotic soundscape that gradually weaves a spell upon the listener, Maria Hojda’s echo drenched vocals floating and drifting over the ambient sonic haze. With elements of exotic Eastern melody giving it a mystical feel, the effect created by the end is an experience of transcendent euphoria, somehow outside time and space.

Overall, Lina Luna proves Thy Veils to be an exceptional ambient music and visual art collective, the various gifts of its numerous members creating an effortless synergy. For those seeking music with a strong, ambitious spiritual and mystical approach, Thy Veils could be exactly what you’ve been searching for. Lina Luna gives us a fascinating glimpse of their NextForever album, which promises to take their art to an even higher level.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: The Vrbs

The Vrbs are an alternative rock three-piece who formed in 2019, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They consist of singer/guitarist Jared Richard, bassist Paul Cingolani (both formerly of Audiobender) and the former percussionist from Weapon Eleven, Jeff Ham. Their eclectic music is essentially alt. rock with aspects of punk, metal, industrial, prog rock and shoegaze thrown into the mix. They have released their eponymous debut album this year, also split into separate releases as the Black and White album.

The double LP version of the album consists of fifteen songs (all written by Jared Richard) and gets off to an electrifying start with the vibrant Strokes-infused opener Take Me Home. Built around crunchy electric guitar, pulsing melodic bass and driving drums, the brooding vocal melody is set to a chord progression that flips from major to minor in a skilful manner. Jared Richard’s earthy and soulful vocals are just what is needed to round out a primal rock ‘n roll sound that channels 1977 style punk rock with the effortless cool of more modern rock like Kings of Leon and the aforementioned Strokes.

Say Hello is just as strong, featuring an impressive lead vocal from Richard in the upper part of his range, the song built around a meaty and infectious guitar riff doubled on bass. Paul Cingolani’s basslines never linger on the root note for too long though, weaving a constant melody that brought to mind Husker Du’s Greg Norton. The closing refrain “Say..say..say you’ll do it” shows Richard’s natural gift for catchy pop hooks.

New Drug opens with a superb drum groove from Jeff Ham that Tre Cool would be proud of. Indeed, the arrangement with its stop start guitars made me think of Green Day’s American Idiot, combined with the fizzy punk energy of The Ramones, Cingolani’s restless bassline this time recalling Paul Simenon’s early work with The Clash. It builds to another great chorus that lands instantly in the memory bank: “Cos I need a new drug, better than the old drug, I don’t give no fucks….”.

Paper Claims is more mid paced, a simple but effective three chord progression featuring some Bob Mould-style lead guitar work and a guttural lead vocal from Richard with acerbic lyrics: “It gets harder to ignore as I’m going down in flames…”.

Well I Do is an upbeat and very melodic alt. rock track with strong vocal harmonies and a succinct arrangement that show’s Jared’s songwriting craft. Jeff Ham’s rolling tom patterns and more bass pyrotechnics from Paul Cingolani help raise the music to a high level.

Without You starts out like a Pixies song with a simple descending bassline soon augmented with clean lead guitar. They take a leaf from the Pixies’ rule book of dynamics too, flipping to the more familiar distorted guitars and another strong vocal performance.

Scream For Me starts out with a brooding, hypnotic bassline and slick, hi-hat heavy groove. It sets the scene for a staccato vocal melody delivered in octaves, which creates a distinctive sonic texture. Gradually building in intensity, it culminates in a cathartic refrain of “Scream for me!”, providing one of the album’s most thrilling moments.

Under The Sea show’s the band’s more gentle side at first, starting out as a lilting ballad in 6/8 time. It clocks in at six and a half minutes yet doesn’t outstay its welcome, alternating with a heavier section featuring a superb, cascading guitar line. The lyrics are full of melancholy and existential angst, the tormented refrain, “What is it for?” soaring above a glorious concoction of noise to great effect. Rapid fire snare rolls and ascending guitar lines bring the music to an impressive crescendo and it’s another standout moment.

This is contrasted by one of the album’s heaviest tracks, Gravity, starting out with a pleasing dissonance and a brooding menace that made me think of Queens of the Stone Age. Jared Richard gives perhaps his most full throated vocal performance, enough to makes James Hetfield a little nervous. Jeff Ham is clearly enjoying himself on drums, laying down a cymbal heavy beat. This one shows their industrial and metal influences to fine effect, another arrow in their eclectic musical quiver.

The fuzz guitar and languid groove of Closer is reminiscent of the effortless cool of a band like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Richard suggestively intoning, “Can I stand just a little closer, dear? Maybe for a minute or two?”. A sultry, sexy track that really allows the music to breathe and build, featuring another solid performance from Jeff Ham on drums.

Hog comes out of the blocks with all guns blazing, another QOTSA-style hard rock track, Jared Richard giving a fine Josh Homme- esque vocal. The driving rhythms of the guitars locked in tight with the drums give the music a fierce energy and momentum which builds with mounting ferocity. This one is a real grower.

Do You Remember? is another example of their more melodic side, a poignant descending chord progression forming the basis of the song. It soon hits its stride with a more familiar heavier style, Cingolani delivering a particularly buoyant and versatile bassline. Richard gives another performance full of conviction and fire in his belly, and it’s another gem.

Blow It Up is a highly entertaining burst of punk rock with lyrics that would need a few well timed bleeps for radio airplay. The catchy title hook makes it one of the album’s most instantly memorable tracks and there’s some fantastic lead guitar towards the end.

Run is the second of the album’s epics at six minutes, a moody minor key song contrasted with more familiar sections of emotive expression. It shows the band’s skill for large scale arrangements and musical sophistication, tied together by a great vocal hook and leading up to perhaps the album’s finest lead guitar moment, a searing solo that takes off into the stratosphere.

The album closes with Down The Mountain, which mixes descending and ascending melodies over which Jared Richard lays down a rootsy low end vocal. It is very much the grand finale and the album’s most ambitious arrangement at nine minutes long, featuring several sections that ebb and flow. As ever, the band know how to keep the energy and interest flowing, providing the apposite conclusion to this musical rollercoaster ride. “Turn it back around, there’s still time…” is the final refrain, which seems strangely profound in the times we’re living through.

Overall, this eponymous debut album from The Vrbs shows that the spirit of rock ‘n roll is far from dead. Consistently excellent throughout, this talented trio combine their influences in a way that sounds both traditional and modern at the same time, a neat trick. In Jared Richard, they have a talented songwriter and singer who has a perfect voice for rock, backed up by a superb rhythm section. With a wide array of styles incorporated into these fifteen songs, there’s not a dull moment and The Vrbs can undoubtedly lay claim to one of this year’s best rock albums.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Forever by Hitha

Hitha is an award winning singer, songwriter and recording artist from California. Alongside her music, Hitha is a teen activist and her Indian heritage has led her to become involved with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission on “Self-Reliant India” and “Save and Educate Girls”. She was also recently selected as a Young Ambassador for Unite4Good. Her mission of empowerment extends to her music and her collaboration with renowned producer Krunk-A-Delic led to the hugely successful track We Are Who We Are. This won several awards and racked up huge streaming numbers on Spotify.

This latest track, Forever, is taken from her self-produced album of the same name. It’s an uplifting pop/EDM track and, lyrically, a touching tribute to her father (in fact, it will be released on Father’s Day, June 19th). It sets an emotive mood with an intro featuring a “love you” refrain. Hitha’s strong and distinctive voice captures the attention on the first verse, while the lyrics capture the special love and bond she shares with her father: “Don’t need a princess gown, I’ve got the golden crown, I feel like royalty in your embrace…”.

It then builds up to the anthemic chorus, first driven by a pulsing kick then breaking into a punchy 2/4 beat, the catchy “I will love you forever, you will love in my heart” refrain making an immediate impact.

The synth riff between chorus and verse acts as another melodic hook and the track skillfully blends the structure of a pop song with a dance/EDM track to great effect.

Overall, Forever is more evidence of Hitha’s talents as a singer, songwriter and producer. Gifted with a beautiful tone of voice, her radio friendly vocals and production style means her commercial potential is huge. Combined with memorable melodies and an emotional message that many will connect with, Forever could well become Hitha’s biggest success yet.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Calmness In The Way You Move by Lyn Ventimiglia & Jessica Bell (from Unfolding Temporary)

Calmness In The Way You Move is a song taken from a pop/rock musical Unfolding Temporary, which is based on a script by Elena C. Lockleis. The musical is based around a college girl called Jane who’s struggling with severe mental health issues but finds herself falling in love with a classmate, Naomi. This reverses her seemingly irreversible decline and both the book and the musical address the issues of depression and anxiety in an open and honest way to bring these important problems of modern life to the forefront. The musical was adapted from the book by Jon Worthy and this track is sung by Lyn Ventimiglia and Jessica Bell. I recently reviewed another song from the musical, Still There’s Only Pain (sung by Jessica Bell), which you can read here.

This song, Calmness In The Way You Move, is another cathartic and highly emotive pop/rock ballad that opens with picked acoustic guitar and pizzicato strings. The first verse features the expressive vocals of Lyn Ventimiglia, who has an impressive vocal range and power. The lyrics depict the struggle to stay positive amidst the stresses of life: “I get a little nervous, I count in threes to cure it, I’m obsessive and overwhelmed at the same time…”.

But the excellent chorus, driven by strident piano, reveals the song to be about two young women falling in love, the core theme of the musical: “Are we on a date? I guess so, didn’t know what to think…I hope so”.

The second verse is sung from the other girl’s perspective by Jessica Bell , whose more gentle voice works as a fine contrast to Jessica’s. She also has her share of emotional troubles, singing of “the thoughts circling my mind” and hoping to find herself “one of these damn days…”. But then it circles back to their blossoming relationship: “I hope you understand how I feel, it’s all so natural with you here…”.

After the second chorus the two vocalists sing a line each to each other before combining on the line, “I like your vibe....”. We then get one last chorus sung as a duet, their harmonies entwining to great effect and providing the emotional climax of the song.

Overall, this is another very well written and performed song that captures the love between two sensitive and troubled young women. It would need to be seen in the context of the musical for every nuance and aspect to be fully understood, but it works as a standalone song featuring two standout vocal performances.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Dark Planet by Marc Lowe

https://www.marclowemusic.com

Marc Lowe is a composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist musician (guitar/keyboards/drums) currently residing in Tokyo, Japan. He’s very much a self-made artist as he writes his own music, sings and performs all the instruments himself, as well as producing it autonomously. He also films and produces his own videos, making him very much the embodiment of the versatile, highly creative modern artist. For several years he has been extremely prolific, releasing a considerable plethora of singles, EPs and albums.

This latest album, Dark Planet, is his third of 2022 and Lowe has stated he sees it as an artistic conclusion to a trilogy consisting of the albums The Way Out Is In (read my review here), Infinity for Beginners and now this final part. Consisting of eight tracks, it is unusual for a Marc Lowe album in that it contains several cover versions. However, these songs, originally by IAMX and the late Jeff Buckley, are very much reimagined by Lowe in keeping with the album’s overall theme.

Essentially, this transpires to be a stage of emotional healing and resolution after experiencing a troubled and painful relationship. Although, as the title implies, this album is also a reflection of the world at large, the global zeitgeist, and it’s worth noting that Lowe also managed to find time for another release between these last two albums, Nobody Wins (Pray For Ukraine).

The album opens with the first of two versions of North Star (Dark Planet mix). Consisting of just acoustic guitar, Lowe’s vulnerable vocal and ambient atmospherics, Lowe very much makes this IAMX song his own. He paints a desolate sonic landscape of emotional numbness, perfectly mirroring the lyrics: “I want flesh to bring me happiness ’cause I feel nothing….I feel nothing”. Amongst the unsettling backdrop we hear Lowe intone, “Do you still love me?” and this moment becomes a touchstone for the album’s overall meaning.

For those already familiar with Lowe’s work, emotional experiences in the present are given context within the framework of Lowe’s spiritual outlook and philosophy which incorporates elements of Eastern religions such as Buddhism. And so, after the raw pain depicted by the album’s opener, Temporal States Of Being brings us from the micro to the macro, a recurring feature of Lowe’s art.

Originally written two years ago with a different arrangement it is mostly an instrumental track, starting with the sound of inhalation and exhalation, a reference to meditation. It develops into a mesmeric concoction of subtle interweaving percussive patterns and a steady synth drone, full of Eastern mystical mystery. Musically, it seems to reflect the Buddhist concept of transcending time and space, the necessary detachment from earthly expectations and desires, which in Buddhism is the root of all suffering. From this heightened perspective, a spoken word vocal from Lowe emerges: “One is what one is…”.

Third track You & I is another cover version, though a radical musical reimagining is perhaps a closer description. It is based on the version of the song from Jeff Buckley’s posthumously released Sketches For My Sweetheart, The Drunk. This unique version mostly consists of atmospherics combined with an extraordinarily emotive and intense vocal performance from Marc, who delivers a masterclass in controlled falsetto.

As the track unfolds, there is a gradual increase in tension, reaching fever pitch by the end. Tellingly, Lowe changes some of Buckley’s original lyrics, which strongly suggests this cover is a reflection of a personal relationship important to Lowe. “Silver eyes” becomes “misty eyes” and ends on the poignant question, “What is the truth of you and I?

With the following (Please Have) Mercy, it becomes truly apparent that this album is about dealing with the aftermath of an intense love affair that has ended painfully. It is another reworking, this one of an IAMX song called Mercy. It feels the narrative natural successor to You & I, a stark depiction of heartbreak and emotional turmoil. Consisting of acoustic used both melodically and percussively (Lowe taps out recurring patterns on the body of his guitar, very effective) as well as another compelling lead vocal.

Here, Lowe again changes the original words to reflect his personal situation and so we find “submission” substituted with “suspicion”, “poetry” with “hypocrisy”. This paints a portrait of infidelity, confirmed by Lowe’s alterations to the spoken word section: “Were the lies from your lips just because you didn’t want me to realise? Was I the one you chose just to hurt me and fuck me up badly?”. The refrain, “did you fake it?” is stoked up to a torturous climax, gradually fading out to a bare whisper.

After such heartfelt and harrowing performances the spacious, mesmerising Inner States of Blind is the perfect contrast. Interestingly, it’s a track related to Inner States (of Mind), from The Sun Is Coming. Even more interestingly, that track was based on the You & I cover which Lowe decided not to release on the Sun Is Coming album. Starting out with just ambient atmospherics, Lowe’s Buddhism-inspired words float over the mix, intricate rhythms gradually emerging and then blossoming into a glorious beat.

Don’t Forget To Breathe (The Way In Is In) is another track that brings us full circle in the Lowe artistic universe. This one is a reworking of Unprecedented Times, the last track on The Sun Is Coming. This is interspersed with parts of The Way Out Is In, from the album of the same name.

These tracks seem to reflect a stage of emotional healing and recovery from emotional pain, through the soul development attained by Eastern spiritual philosophies such as Buddhism, a journey from conscious emotional pain into the still, subconscious realms attained through meditation and contemplation.

But then we resurface back to the conscious world and having to confront emotional wounds once more. With Tears Cried, this is a track that relates to Tear Garden (Praying For Me), from The Way Out Is In. Set to haunting, deeply moving piano, Lowe has stated it’s on one level a compassionate response to the situation in Ukraine. This changing focus from the personal to the suffering of others is the heart of Buddhist thought, namely compassion.

The album concludes with an acoustic version of North Star that, again, feels like the completion of an emotional transformation yet with pain still ever present. It’s also fiercely honest, with subtle lyrical changes from the original: “I’ve seen bad things” becomes, “I’ve done bad things”. This level of artistic honesty would feel too vulnerable for most artists, yet Lowe is a fearless explorer of the human soul.

Overall, Dark Planet is another fascinating sonic and spiritual journey, Marc Lowe combining his own compositions with unique reinterpretations of other artists’ music to great effect. It’s a powerful and painfully emotive work, depicting the dark states of mind following heartbreak, but also the transcendence of ephemeral emotion to attain a semblance of inner peace. Besides the personal aspects, Dark Planet is also a sensitive artist’s intuitive response to the global situation we find ourselves in and another step in Lowe’s impressive artistic progression.

VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Dark Planet was released on May 15th 2022 and is now available via all major streaming services (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube & Amazon Music, and more). 

ALBUM REVIEW: The Aftermath of 2016 by Trish Discord

Trish Discord is an indie/alternative artist from Queens, New York. Having had a lifelong love of singing, she began taking professional guitar lessons at college. This coincided with gaining two degrees in psychology, which creatively inspired her to incorporate mental health issues into her artistic work. Also being influenced by the Brooklyn songwriting scene, she eventually created her debut album, Is This My Mental Breakdown? Notably, every track on the album is dedicated to a different kind of mental disorder. Her emotive, heartfelt style has been compared to Evanescence and The Cranberries and Trish has performed on Indie Star Radio and Pistacio Argentina, as well as to a weekly audience through live Instagram performances.

This album, The Aftermath Of 2016, consists of ten tracks and is a depiction of internal struggles following the combined consequences of two key geopolitical events, a Trump Presidency and the controversial, historic Brexit vote in the United Kingdom following a national referendum. Both events created a deep political turmoil and the album can be seen as a reflection on the zeitgeist at the time as well as expressing personal issues.

The album begins with the superb 23, a strident album opener pitched somewhere in between electro pop and alternative rock. Beginning with an arresting intro of pulsing synths, Trish’s strong and distinctive come to the fore, bringing to mind Amy Lee of Evanscence at first. After a brooding, captivating verse her vocals are heavily affected on the bridge to great effect, the calm before the storm, then launching into an epic chorus.

You can hear the influence of bands like Linkin Park and Paramore in terms of the vaulting vocal melody, yet Trish has developed a distinct and unique sonic signature of her own. She has stated that this song is about avoiding problems and difficult situations such as the need to end a bad relationship.

Desire immediately makes a strong impact, a complex Rnb/hip hop infused beat combined with echo-drenched guitar and an anthemic Paramore-style vocal melody. Trish powerfully depicts an intense emotional state of over idealising someone and the anxiety of letting emotions run riot, building up to a fantastic chorus.

“Are my emotions running too deep?” runs the opening chorus line following up with the great line, “you can’t handle my eccentric mind….”. Just as good is the following Strife, directly about dealing with the effects of Trump and Brexit. It’s built like a Linkin Park track, based around a revolving four chord progression over which Trish lays down a mournful yet uplifting vocal melody. Over swirling synth arpeggios the words eloquently depict the perceived harm of the Trump era and the populist mindset: “Destroying progress with every touch, using groupthink as its crutch”. The perspective switches from the political to the personal with lines like, “Isolation is all I need…” and it articulates the despair felt by those who lean politically left during that tumultuous period.

I Can’t Wait To Forget You is entirely personal and perhaps the album’s most instant track. Alternating between a sparse verse and a stomping ‘four to the floor’ chorus, it’s about a deep need to move on from a tormenting relationship: “I can’t wait till you’re just a speck of time locked away somewhere deep inside my mind….”. Featuring a fantastic lead vocal from Trish and an irresistible vocal melody, it’s a definite highlight that marries music and emotion in a truly symbiotic way.

Take Me Away is another finely crafted track, this one about the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with not being able to get a visa while staying in London. It’s a song that many who saw their lives turned upside down will be able to relate to as well as containing another strong vocal performance. The nuanced production also deserves special mention, often bringing to mind the sonic sophistication and studio wizardry of Billie Eilish and Finneas.

Split is another album highlight and a very intelligently written track, both lyrically and musically. Trish has stated how the title refers to both a relationship splitting up and an internal split, a conflict between wanting the safety and security of a relationship and seeking something or someone else outside it. This is another very relatable situation and is musically mirrored by starting out as an electro pop before switching to a more muscular alternative rock sound, Trish delivering a vocal that rivals Hayley Williams at her finest.

In Another Life maintains the high standard, this one a Sliding Doors type theme about wondering how things might be in an alternative universe. There’s a bittersweet quality to Trish’s emotive vocals, imagining a reality where a special relationship had turned out differently: “Please tell me how I can change this feeling, because it haunts me every night…”. Building to a cathartic climax, it’s another memorable album moment that connects on a deep level.

Crashing is an interesting song in the way it cleverly and skilfully balances the melodic with the dissonant, hitting some unexpected chords in the chorus but making it work. It’s a song about being afraid to tell someone you don’t wish to continue the relationship, fearing their reaction. Trish cites bands as diverse as Arcade Fire and Paramore in inspiring this great track.

Musically, Red Sun is another good example of Trish’s undeniable talent for composing strong pop melodies but the subject matter is somewhat serious; this one deals with the speight of Californian forest fires and expresses an underlying anxiety about the climate in general. This message and feeling has become only more apposite in recent years.

The album closes with the hard hitting emotion of This Is The End, a brutally honest expression of someone confronting a toxic relationship and choosing to walk away: “This is the end, cos I have self respect….you treat me worse than your enemy..”. Within its brief duration, this track brilliantly fuses modern pop with alternative rock, with a compelling and intense vocal delivery from Trish, who sounds like she means every word.

Overall, The Aftermath Of 2016 is a consistently excellent album that is perfectly pitched between the genres of pop and alternative rock. Blending influences as diverse as Linkin Park, Paramore and Alanis Morissette, Trish stamps her own artistic voice across every song here to create an album that many will relate to. In fact, all the themes based around 2016 are more relevant than ever, making Trish Discord an important artist of these times.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Waltz by Niclas Tamas

Niclas Tamas is a composer and pianist from Scandinavia. Having begun learning piano at just four years old, this began a lifetime’s devotion to music though issues with stage fright ruled out musical performance as a career. He spent his teenage years composing and tried pursuing a career in IT, but the Millennium Bubble rendered him redundant and having to work as a taxi driver to make ends meet.

During this time he began working on a musical series called Music Landscapes, composed on the move using an IPhone. Unfortunately, he sadly suffered a stroke in 2014 but this led to working on Music Landscapes during his rehabilitation. This resulted in six hour long pieces which are available to listen to on Spotify. In 2017, he relocated to Budapest and began composing on the piano once again, inspired by Hungarian and Carpathian Basin folk melodies.

This piece, Waltz, is a composition in this style, written for piano and orchestra. In 3/4 time (naturally, for a waltz!), it immediately enchants the listener with a haunting melody that brings to mind the late Romantic composers such as Chopin, Saint Saens and Rachmaninov. Tamas’s gift for composition, in particular a gift for melody, is readily apparent and the way he takes the basic theme through some unexpected harmonic paths shows the influence of more modern composers like Bartok and Stravinsky, who were more inclined towards the unconventional and atonal at times.

With the right hand supplying the staccato melody, the left hand plays a rhythmic and harmonic role, augmented by subtle and sophisticated orchestration that again showcases his high degree of musical skill. The magical soundscape the music creates made me think of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and the modern film composer Danny Elfman.

Overall, Waltz is a beautiful piece for piano and orchestra by a truly gifted Scandinavian composer. Skilfully balancing and combining the highly melodic style of late Romantic classical composers with the adventurous, sometimes dissonant harmonies of more modern ones, Niclas Tomas has managed to forge a unique musical style all of his own. For classical lovers, I can heartily recommend that you take the time to discover and enjoy his music.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

ALBUM REVIEW: Deliver Hell by Reap The Light

Reap The Light are an American hard rock/metal band that formed in late 2020. They consist of a core duo, Reverend Kuzz (bass/guitar) and Orion Hellraiser (guitars/drums). Both members grew up on a steady diet of rock and heavy metal, though Reverend Kuzz was initially a published author. Wanting to write song lyrics, Kuzz decided he needed to work with an experienced musician, which led to working with Orion Hellraiser. Orion is a composer and produced from Mexico, his music mainly inspired by New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, thrash and heavy metal. Combining their respective gifts to write and record the songs, they collaborate with numerous lead vocalists, both male and female, giving Reap The Light a refreshing and versatile sound. Having completed their debut album, Deliver Hell, they are currently collaborating with Tim “Ripper” Owens on a song called Back To Bedlam.

This album, Deliver Hell, consists of ten tracks and clocks in at a hefty fifty minutes. Opening song Burn In Hell gets the album off to a blazing start, crunchy low end riffage duelling with a pounding, cymbal-heavy 2/4 groove. The sound is a potent fusion of late 80’s metal with more modern influences and this track features the lead vocals of Serouj Guidanian. His powerful voice fits the music perfectly, combining excellent Hetfield-style vocals with the guttural growls you find in more modern metal.

The opening lines are a possible commentary on the authoritarian behaviour of governments around the world in response to the Covid pandemic and those who willingly comply: “The stage is now set, your sheeple are all here, not knowing where they are, led by confusion and fear…”. Musically, it quickly emerges that Reap The Light are far more than good riffs, which are enough for some bands to thrive. Rather, this band know how to balance the forces of brute power with strong melodies, both vocally and instrumentally. They also have a real understanding of how to craft and arrange a song, a hurdle where many rock and metal bands fall.

With second track Fade To Black (not a Metallica cover) featuring Nathalie Estrada on lead vocals, the high bar set by Burn In Hell is maintained. Bursting out of the blocks with a Slayer-esque low-end riff over a fearsome 6/8 groove, Nathalie’s high register voice soars majestically over the brutal onslaughts of meaty riffs and exhilarating chord progressions. You can hear shades of Iron Maiden and Megadeth, the influence of Faith No More also apparent in the exotic, Angel Dust-style vocal melody.

Third track The Reckoning is a real album highlight, blistering drums and brooding bass underpinning a barrage of Iron Maiden-inspired riffage. Already sounding suitably apocalyptic considering the title, a feisty, full throated lead vocal from Jo Down completes the sonic fury. With an extraordinary range, his vocal gravitas gives a real edge to the ‘fire and brimstone’ lyrics: “The day of reckoning, fate has called your name, the day of reckoning, suffer in eternal flame….”. Featuring passages of lead guitar virtuosity and ferocious double kick work as well as an instant classic of a chorus, it captures Reap The Light at their very best.

The title track sustains the momentum with a gripping introduction, rapid fire double kick and syncopated snare augmenting razor sharp riffs that generate a fierce rhythmic intensity. This time Chris Lion takes the lead vocal helm, giving a compelling performance that lyrically could almost be the theme song for the four horsemen of the apocalypse: “Destruction falls like rain, chaos is here to dwell, never will we stop, we came to deliver hell….”. Special mention should go to the incendiary guitar solo on this one, which starts out as an angular and modal before hitting a delicious, bluesy sweet spot that shows some of their more classic/hard rock influences. The vocal harmonies delivered at an impressively high pitch are another highlight.

Maintaining a similar vibe that you might call the band’s signature sound, fifth track If I Give A Damn stands out for another fine female lead vocal, this one from Chloe Ozwell. How the band find so many talented vocal collaborators is anyone’s guess, but Chloe sings her heart out, expressing the painful end of a relationship. Hitting some incredible high notes at the end, the Ritchie Blackmore style lead guitar work is also worthy of mention.

Hollow is a distinct change of pace which shows the band’s sophisticated compositional craft and emotional depth. The band have stated that this album is about “overcoming depression, anxiety and loss” but this beautiful and poignant song captures some in a dark place. A delicate bedrock of piano and strings sets a melancholy mood, bringing to mind the cathartic epic rock balladry of Evanescence. The opening verse paints a dark terrain of the soul: “The walls are closing in again, I fight to keep my breath, the noise is so deafening trying to bring about my death….”.

However, this is music that always offers the hope of redemption, as epitomised by the words to the bridge: “Angels reach out to me, bathing me in light, I hear their songs of love and hope, my ally in this fight...”. A curious dichotomy is that while many rock and metal bands put their finger in the flame of life’s dark side, the aptly named Reap The Light have a recurrent spiritual undertone to their music and lyrics, which artistically raises them above their contemporaries.

Following the album’s most delicate music, it’s suitably pitched against the heaviest track here. Set to a moody, magnificent guitar riff that Metallica might be jealous of, it’s perfectly designed for a long haired audience to headbang to. Alex Atan continues the run of superb singers, performing a strong vocal near the top of his register. The excellent bassline deserves a mention, driving the song whilst staying highly melodic.

The Iron Maiden-esque gallop and dissonant riffage of Run Israel Run keeps the energy rush going, and is perhaps the track that purest metal fans will take to best, frantic and ferocious drums and equally visceral guitars creating a colossal wall of sound. Jesse Yrjola is the vocal hero on this track, his slightly unorthodox style fitting the Nordic metal vibes of the music.

The haunting intro to Descend to Madness is one of the album’s most affecting moments, developing into a Nothing Else Matters-style dark, epic ballad, at least to start with. The solemn strings that accompany the sky scraping lead vocal lend a quiet grandeur before the track explodes into more familiar metal territory. The switch between these disparate styles makes for very effective dynamics and it’s an understated gem that improves with every listen. Clocking in at seven and a half minutes, it’s the closest they come to progressive metal.

The essentially positive message behind this album full of emotional vicissitudes is showcased on the finale, Victory Is Near. Led by a charismatic and vibrant vocal courtesy of Elenora Dora, the track is an unrestrained and carefree metal anthem, the chorus a glorious middle finger to misery: “This pit of doom can’t hold me, my heart and mind are clear, I apologize for nothing, my victory is near….”.

Overall, this is a fantastic debut album from Reap The Light, a unique band that fuse the aggression and bite of 80’s/modern metal with consistently memorable hooks and choruses. Lyrically, again, there’s a tension created by the fusion of opposites, poetic and at times biblical language addressing particularly modern issues such as depression and anxiety. While the band fearlessly express life amongst the shadows, the ultimate message from Deliver Hell is to overcome everything life throws at you. Reap The Light are the real deal and are making music that captures the current zeitgeist whilst simultaneously rocking like a beast. They deserve to be huge.

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: Still There’s Only Pain by Jessica Bell (from Unfolding Temporary)

Still There’s Only Pain is a song taken from a pop/rock musical Unfolding Temporary, which is based on a script by Elena C. Lockleis. The musical is based around a college girl called Jane who’s struggling with severe mental health issues but finds herself falling in love with a classmate, Naomi. This reverses her seemingly irreversible decline and both the book and the musical address the issues of depression and anxiety in an open and honest way to bring these important problems of modern life to the forefront. The musical was adapted from the book by Jon Worthy and this track is sung by Jessica Bell.

The song is a highly emotive epic ballad that brought to mind artists such as Lana Del Rey, Taylor Swift and Sia. Featuring a powerful, sensitive vocal performance from Jessica Bell, the track is mid paced with a suitably melancholy vibe, from the simple but effective beat to the echo drenched guitar. This relatively minimalist musical bedrock allows the lyrical message of the song to come to the fore.

The first verse is a moving depiction of someone battling with depression and anxiety: “Doctor says take the pill, it will clear your mind, it will make you well….the problem is I’m not fixable…”. It builds up to the stately chorus, the words capturing the emotional torment of fighting against a mental illness: “I wanna feel happy not bad, just glad to be alive …”. The lyrics on the second chorus are more desperate, expressing a deep need to simply experience the regular things that make us human: “I wanna be normal, and laugh and flirt and lust and all the things between…but I’m falling down deeper and deeper…”. The recurring refrain, “I have so much pain” becomes one of the motifs of the song, which builds to a cathartic climax.

Overall, this is a beautifully written and performed pop/rock ballad dealing with the difficult but important issue of mental health. Being part of a musical, the song has more of a moving narrative than most pop tracks and the superb lead of vocals of Jessica Bell make the emotional drama feel very real. Still There’s Only Pain will perhaps become the flagship song of what sounds like a potentially classic contemporary musical.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

SINGLE REVIEW: No Means No by iLUMiNATiVE

iLUMiNATiVE is an independent rap artist hailing from Mullumbimby, born in Byron Bay, Australia. He spent his youth pursuing a professional sport career, taking the opportunity to rap at live events along the way. Describing himself artistically as a Woke spectrum rapper, he states he is “an advocate for freedom, freedom of speech, human rights, neurodiversity, natural medicines, Autism / Aspergers (ASD), universal law, spirituality and sexuality.” He has been recording music since 2005 and has released two projects: The Awakening and Kundalini Rising, which have both featured on radio stations around the world. In particular, the song Know Yourself from Kundalini Rising was the first song to make it onto a national mainstream radio super network in Australia. In 2021, he released his album The Spectrum, which featured the successful tracks Rejoice, Love Forever and especially Born Again, which has racked up 100k streams on Spotify alone.

This latest release, No Means No, is a hip hop/nu metal track that deals head on with the subject of bodily autonomy in the context of the Covid vaccines. From the outset the music grabs you by the throat, a cocktail of razor sharp guitars over a blistering hip hop beat. This lays the sonic platform for an incendiary rap delivery, the first verse a powerful assertion of individuality and free choice: “I am my own doctor and my own government”. As it goes into the chorus the perspective switches to the love of his children: “I would kill for them”.

The chorus itself is a mixture of fearless defiance and righteous anger at the way Covid vaccines have been used as a means of manipulation and coercion, with a terse expression of bodily autonomy: “No means no”.

The second verse expresses the encroaching totalitarianism of Big Tech which restricts our collective right to free speech: “Censorship and shadow banning….” as well as directly addressing the social pressure to be vaccinated with a barely tested new technology: “Get vaxxed? I ain’t having that….”. The third verse rams the message home in style (“Resist the mob”) and the track closes out with the infectious title hook.

Overall, No Means No is a superb hip hop/nu metal fusion track that has particular power for addressing perhaps the most contentious subject of our era, Covid and the mRNA vaccines. The result is a killer track that confronts the elephant in the room that most other artists are too scared to address. With an impact that brought to mind Eminem at his peak, this could be the track that sends iLUMiNATiVE into the stratosphere. Unless it’s censored, of course….

VERDICT = 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Listen to No Means No HERE