E.P. REVIEW: Hello Clarice

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Hello Clarice are a two-piece alternative rock band hailing from Los Angeles. The group consists of Jonah Michea Judy on lead vocals and Andrew Amsden on guitar. Their music is a fusion of various alt. rock styles with elements of 90’s grunge bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden along with aspects of Radiohead, Placebo, Breaking Benjamin and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus thrown into the mix. They are far more than just the sum of the influences, achieving a unique sound of their own on this EP, their first released material.

The EP consists of five tracks and leads off with the first single, Arms of The Fall. Starting with echo-drenched guitar, a brooding musical landscape unfolds setting the scene for the distinctive and evocative lead vocals of Jonah Michea Judy.

Fans of the film Silence of The Lambs will probably recognize the line that has inspired the band’s name, and it’s a suitable moniker as there is a definite darkness to both the lyrics and the musical moods they convey. This saturnine quality gives their music a gripping edge and is captured in such sombre lines as “I think I might have set myself up for a plunge to a hopeless place.” It’s an understated but very powerful opening track and a good choice as lead single from the EP.

Second track Longshot is another memorable song with a darkly surreal lyrical vibe that makes it feel like the musical equivalent of a David Lynch film. Starting with a haunting guitar figure, the music casts a hypnotic spell with the unsettling lyrics of the chorus leaving their imprint: “Daisy wears a white plastic fox mask…..now you’re just another signature on my cast….”. It’s this kind of evocative, poetic imagery that seems missing from the modern rock lexicon but Hello Clarice pull it off with consummate style. A real grower.

The third track Anymore is relatively lighter after the sturm und drang of the first two songs, based around a chord progression on strummed acoustic guitar. However, despite the relative levity of the sound, the nihilistic refrain of the chorus shows its still very much the same band: “Maybe I don’t care anymore….”. There’s a fine build up section after the second chorus featuring strong backing harmonies.

Fourth track Abrasion also starts with acoustic guitar but that acts like a Trojan horse as this is the heaviest song by far on the EP. After an intense, claustrophobic verse it breaks out into a colossal Soundgarden-style chorus augmented by a barrage of razor-edged low end guitar chords. Jonah Michea Judy sings with a Cobain-esque conviction at the top of his range and Andrew Amsden gets to really showcase his guitar skills, from Hendrix-like funky wah wah rhythm to a fantastic guitar solo that lifts the track even higher.

Final song Wake Me is a return to their signature sound; lush lead guitar lines working in perfect harmony with the lead vocals and another anthemic, memorable chorus that brought to mind the epic high points of Pearl Jam’s Ten album, Jeremy and Alive. Lyrically, it maintains the dark romantic beauty that is one of their great strengths: “As we’re dying please pretend with me the light still burns between us in our hearts….”. A suitably poignant and cathartic ending to proceedings.

Overall, this is a hugely impressive EP that sets the bar high for the future and deserves to make a major impact on the alternative rock scene. With consistently excellent songs that run the gamut emotionally and the X factor of Jonah Michea Judy’s charismatic and compelling vocals, Hello Clarice have got everything it takes. I’d be surprised if I hear a better rock EP this year and I, for one, eagerly await future material from them.

 

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10   

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Bound By Gravity by Paragon Theorem

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https://www.facebook.com/paragontheorem

Paragon Theorem are a five-piece hard rock band hailing from Hartford, Connecticut. Their music is a fusion of various kinds of hard rock, grunge and metal. Their many influences range from classic hard rock like Guns N’Roses, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin to grunge bands like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden as well as modern rock/metal such as Deftones and Breaking Benjamin.  They’ve been releasing music for several years, and before this album they released Bare Your Soul in 2013 and Inkwell in 2015, building up a strong fanbase in the process.

This third album, Bound By Gravity, consists of eleven tracks. It gets off to an incendiary start with the powerful low-end chords and muscular drum sound of Singularity. It also has some very modern elements, with guitars put through some futuristic sounding effects. On top of this colossal wall of sound, the compelling, raw and distinctive vocals of Brian Moore soar over the music and his style/tone brought to mind Layne Staley from Alice In Chains plus elements of the late, great Chris Cornell (Soundgarden/Audioslave).

An effective vocalist is perhaps the important ingredient in the genre of hard rock/metal as it has to be a voice that can cut through a heavy barrage of guitars, bass and drums. Fortunately, Moore is exceptional and blessed with a fantastic vocal range. Featuring an anthemic chorus, lyrically Singularity is a very apposite and timely song about the consequences of science interfering with nature: “There’s a price to pay if you want to live forever, swap veins for copper wires, just trade in your heart for a shiny new battery…”.

Second song The Bottom swaps the societal for the deeply personal, an upbeat rock/metal track with angst ridden and brutally honest lyrics about struggling with deep depression: “Gotta find the bottom before it defines me, gotta find the bottom before it becomes six feet..…”. It features another excellent lead vocal performance along with some very effective Alice In Chains-style vocal harmonies. The guitar solo by lead guitarist Steve Delesdernier is superb, really letting rip near the end. Another instantly memorable hard rock anthem.

Next comes the title track, based around a blistering, meaty guitar riff. It’s another philosophical, existential song that reflects on the human race as the result of the blind process of evolution and the laws of physics: “No more than chemicals in a radiation bath, we’re all here together but we perceive alone….still just animals, no apparent path….”.

Invoking mythological characters like Sisyphus and Prometheus add further intellectual weight to the words, showing Paragon Theorem are a fair bit smarter then most of their contemporaries. The music melds the complex with the simple and effective, combining intricate riffage with a huge, chanted chorus.

Butanna shows the first example of variety in their sound, starting with crystalline acoustic guitars. It soon develops into another rocking track that depicts the bitter end of a long romantic relationship, as evidenced by the opening lines: “It’s not enough to say six years were wasted, they’re nothing but worthless memories…”. It contains one of the most instant vocal hooks on the album (“So long! So long! I do not wish you well!”) as well as some stellar, phenomenally fast lead guitar work.

Fifth track Combustion maintains the consistent high quality of the songwriting, this one standing out by virtue of the Avenged Sevenfold-esque dual lead guitar harmonies which really lift another strong chorus. Lyrically, it has a positive and defiant message to convey through lines like, “Nobody here can escape, nobody can get away, doesn’t mean that we should lay down and throw the towel in…”. The drumming of Josh Ingraham on this track deserves special credit, with some furious double-kick work in certain sections.

The Heist gives us a bigger glimpse of their more gentle and sensitive side. It’s a finely crafted ballad based around delicately picked acoustic guitar and lyrically tells the tale of Bonnie and Clyde from the first person perspective: “No, I can’t tell you why we make the choices we make, oh, I can’t tell you a lie, I think it might be the bags of money!”. The following APB is another song that displays their musical intelligence, with some fantastic triplet-based guitar lines overlaid over straight 4/4 to give the track a progressive metal feel.

Eighth song Charade is an entertaining track that opens with a spoken word monologue before launching into a hard hitting rocker that made me think of Faith No More’s Angel Dust, with its constantly shifting rhythms and complex arrangement. Lyrically, it’s a visceral takedown of someone who has turned out to be a fake: “The man with two faces masquerading as a God, with a homemade crown, he is…the Charade“. Again, some brilliant stacked guitar harmonies lift the music to another level.

Ninth song There is another fine example of their acoustic balladry, this one bringing to mind the more folky elements of Led Zeppelin through some very melodic and intricate guitar figures. It’s a refreshing change of pace after the juggernaut momentum of the previous tracks. This sound continues with the intro to Marvel, which then develops into their more signature style and another of their five minute epics. The nuanced contrasts in the arrangement mean this song rewards repeated listening.

The final song Wanted closes the album on a highly emotional and moving note, a heartfelt acoustic ballad featuring a captivating lead vocal from Brian Moore. It is reminiscent of the finest Aerosmith ballads, though with a greater emotional depth in the lyrics: “Bare your soul, show me everything you are…don’t be afraid, show me you every single scar…”. The Spanish sounding classical acoustic guitar lends a nice sophistication to this wonderfully sculpted song, ending the album quite literally on a high note.

Overall, Bound By Gravity deserves to be recognized as one of the best hard rock/metal albums of recent years. With an array of versatile musicians and blessed with a first rate rock vocalist, Paragon Theorem also excel at consistently writing memorable choruses with lyrics that stand up to analysis. The result is a hugely enjoyable musical journey that runs the gamut in terms of emotional range and subject matter.

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10            

Alex Faulkner

 

Pre-order the album HERE

E.P. REVIEW: Living In A World by Machine Modified

MACHINEhttp://www.machinemodified.com

Machine Modified are a three piece alternative hard rock/metal band hailing from Alberta, Calgary in Canada. They consist of vocalist/guitarist Matt M. Mattie, bassist Steve Dean and drummer/backing vocalist Jake Webb. They cite their influences as Nirvana, Breaking Benjamin, Silverchair and Bush amongst others. I would describe their sound as mixing 90’s style grunge rock with more metal elements, always with a focus on the song overall.

This six track EP Living In A World is their debut release and a great introduction to their music. Opening track Kingdom Under Fire gets this off to a blistering start, one of the heavier, more metal tracks on the EP. After a powerful intro, the music is propelled forward by a diamond cutter metal riff which turns into pure power chords guaranteed to get your head banging.

Matt M. Mattie has the right voice for this kind of material, somewhere between Kurt Cobain and Josh Homme from Queens of The Stone Age. As with any self respecting metal track, there is a lengthy scream towards the end which adds to the impact. I Am Gone maintains the same metal elements but has more focus on the vocal melody plus Jake Webb’s aggressive and exciting drumming is also more to the fore.

Earthquake is a great highlight of the EP with apocalyptic, other worldly lyrics and a powerful chorus: “This earthquake, this volcano, this planet Earth world as they know…”. It is particularly strong when backed up by harmonies, reminiscent of how Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl combined for Nirvana. This track also brought to mind the similarly epic Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, more in terms of vibe than musical similarity.

Shook The Pain is a distinct contrast and a fine track, the lightest track in terms of sound. It features acoustic guitar and showing their ability to craft well structured songs. It’s about dealing with suffering, captured by the melodic memorable chorus which effectively switches to their heavier sound: “I shook the pain, and I took the blame and I watched as it faded all away….”. A nice showcase for Mattie’s expressive vocals and the concise solo works well.
She’s My again balances metal and rock structure to great effect, the rolling guitar chords slightly reminiscent of Blew from Nirvana’s first album Bleach. As the title implies, it’s about a girl, though this is lyrically probably the simplest here. Last but not least is the title track, which is much more profound. Starting out with a heavy vocal sample, the lyrics explore the overall effects of religion and intolerance in society: “Living in a world, hate is the way…we tend to tell lies, what the devil taught them to say…”. It ends with a haunting string outro to close an excellent EP.

Overall, this is a very impressive debut release from a band who have clearly honed their craft and forged their own style through the combination of various metal and rock influences.  There’s room for a higher quality of production that might help them commercially, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the songs. It’s great to know that good rock music is still being made and I look forward to hearing their first full album.

Alex Faulkner

 

VERDICT: 8.4 out of 10