Review: Millsted – Harlem

You may not have heard of them before, you may not know that they broke apart as a band for three years because of personal turmoil between band members and you might not have listened to their two previous releases (Umm….Yea in 2008 and The Great Adventures of the Gold Red Rocket in 2009), but I’m here to tell you that none of that matters! If you’re going to do anything tonight, apart from maybe getting some shut-eye, it should be checking out Harlem by noise-punk-hardcore outfit Millsted. With this 8 track LP, Millsted roar back to life and have exploded onto my radar because of their ‘fuck this shit’ attitude and bone-crunching, cacophonous sound. Seriously, dude, check them out.

So who are they? Millsted are a bunch of guys from New York, all with different backgrounds and influences to smash into this stellar release. Individually they are vocalist Kelvin Uffré, guitarists Christopher Carambot and Robert Dumé, bassist Samuel Fernandez and drummer Peter Belolli. Their influences are varied, from John Coltrane and Otis Redding to Black Flag and The Flaming Lips, but on this record a key inspiration is early 80’s punk. Regardless of their disparate influences, for the whole band the music is about soul, passion, brutal honesty and going against the norm.

In Harlem, Millsted succeed where so many others fail, really capturing the raw feeling and natural sound of a live show in a recording. The songs are meant to push you to the edge, they’re meant to make you feel uncomfortable; above all the sound and lyrical content show you that everything is not okay. Millsted capture the angst and anger other bands can only hint at, they pack it up and through HARLEM they unleash it on your ears in a furiously short burst (all 8 tracks together clock in at under half an hour – this is punk after all).

The LP rages into life with the instrumental ‘Perfume’. Belolli pummels along on the drums, driving the noise towards its grating conclusion, before second track ‘Coyote’ rips its way out. In its two-and-a-half minute run time all hell breaks loose in exactly the punkish way you would expect. We’re treated to relentless drums, rip-your-throat-out riffs and an unremitting assault from Uffré’s shredding vocals.

Millsted’s strength is in just how much hardcore they slam out in the package of punk, but they take the time to prove they aren’t a one trick pony in ‘Seafoam Lovers’. When I say they take the time, they take a long time, nine whole minutes, about 6 punk tracks worth of time! In fact, of all the eight songs on Harlem, the psychedelic wanderings of ‘Seafoam Lovers’ takes up about a third of the running time and they’re ballsy to put it there. They restrain themselves and surprise listeners by using their musical prowess to sculpt something of mystery and beauty, not just mind-smashing fury. It’s hypnotic rather than psychotic, but remains twisted and distorted, in tune with the whole record while sounding completely different.

Treat yourself, ‘Coyote’ is available as a free download over at Soundcloud, and Harlem is also available on all popular download and streaming sites (Itunes, Amazon, Spotify).

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Pale Angels – Strange Powers [EP]

Here’s a little treat for those of you who still hold fond memories of the hard edge of uncle Punk and not just his pleasant, bouncy nephew Pop-Punk. Pale Angels, the creation of Mike Santostefano (Crimes, ex-Static Radio NJ) and Jamie Morrison (The Arteries, Ssssnakes), apparently came into existence as Jamie and Mike threw together some live punked-up Nirvana covers in Florida. As long-time friends and touring partners, they must have known they were on to something, because they decided to go ahead and start life as a three-piece – even though they’d have an ocean separating them (Jamie is a Brit, Mike’s a Yank). But to be a three piece, they needed three people (yes, really) and that’s when Mikey Erg (Dopamines, Star Fucking Hipsters, and obviously The Ergs!) came into the picture. As if Mikey didn’t have enough to keep him busy. Well, the guys got together and bashed out the rough and raw Primal Play, 9 tracks of fist-clenched snare-snapping punk, but that’s not what we’re here to tell you about today.

Instead, Pale Angels gave us another taster of their grungey punk in the form of a four-track live session. Strange Powers was recorded in March with the Amsterdam Recording Company. Clocking in at under 10 minutes, as you’d expect from four punk songs, Pale Angels treat us to 3 brand new tracks and a cover of The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms. The ever busy Mikey Erg wasn’t available for this session, which is no surprise when you look at the long list of his commitments, so Reza Mirehsan of The Cut Ups sat in for him behind the drums.

With a certain amount of nostalgia, Pale Angels blend grunge and punk into a raw and fuzzy brew that is easy and enjoyable to drink down in one gulp. Packed with a reverbed and muddied sound, it is a turbulent journey that isn’t just a rerun of one of the good old fashioned punk roads. It’s up-tempo, it’s catchy and it still has edge: it’s a pretty damn good punk jam! I especially love how the live sound translates across the recording. The production doesn’t take too much away or add too much in, so you still get the feeling that you’re front row at a show – minus the crowd of punks around you (unless you’re listening to it with a rowdy group of punks).

I also got a lot of joy out of the cover of The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms too. The essence of the track is left unaltered, but it is given a gnarly facelift as part of the punk-grunge makeover. The distorted/distant vocals top it off and seal it in a package that can really get a punk’s feet movin’. The whole EP is manic, packed with punk jams and has the energy of a live show, so check it out!

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Speaking in Shadows – The Lies We Lead [EP]

A big welcome this week to Speaking in Shadows, formed back in 2010 in the depths of the Midlands (Nuneaton, in fact). Now releasing their new EP, The Lies We Lead, SIS have bashed and crafted together a mix of pop-punk melodies, with prominent alternative rock tunes while skirting on the boundaries of post-hardcore.

To kick off the EP, SIS deliver ‘Splinters’, an addictive and straight-up rock melody with powerful drumming and jagged guitar lines. You get great melodies, a bouncing rhythm and a deep, dark bass. The chorus is especially radio-ready in the dynamic opener. It’s odd to notice the whiney vocals on this track, reminiscent of Ian Watkins (if we’re allowed to speak his name with regards to music these days), but they only seem to sound so nasally on ‘Splinters’. This isn’t really a criticism, unless you really dislike that sort of singing, it’s just peculiar that it’s much more noticeable on this particular track.

Second up, ‘Technicolour Trainwreck’ has a similar energy, and comes out swinging with riffs and rhythms planting down a firm intro. There is a definite swagger to it and more of a pop-rock attitude, which only adds to the commercial sound the band seem capable of crafting – making it definite radio material with an anthemic chorus. The guitar work is pretty nifty here, controlling the pace and power of the song, while getting as catchy as the riffs get on the EP.

Then we get to ‘Misled Soldiers’… In terms of the song’s structure, it varies away from its predecessors, being more progressive, slowly constructing each element at a time. The track builds up an aura of darkness and the vocals even reach moments of unbridled anger, crashing into metalcore growls. Unfortunately, it’s not all good. ‘Mislead Soldiers’, an anti-war song, is lyrically poor. In fact, it’s not just poor; at times, it becomes pretty tasteless. In its anti-war sentiment, it is far too obvious and the track loses any power the instruments build up. It’s a rant for the sake of being a rant. Not clever, targeted, humorous or really hard-hitting. It has the same political worth as BFMV’s Scream, Aim, Fire. You know exactly what I mean. It may do well with the jaded teens who still think that ‘the man’ is out to get them, if they’re not too busy listening to Black Veil Brides, but when bands keep prattling on about how “‘we’ won’t accept ‘your’ lies”, it just becomes tiresome.

‘Breaking Silence’ rescues us from the depths of ‘Misled Soldiers’ with abrasive guitar riffs and full force intensity, which subsides to allow Smith to unveil the greatly improved narrative. It is predictable at times, but still different to those that went before despite the mass voiced chorus and feverish energy. ‘Moths’ goes even further away from the rest of the EP with the standard once-in-an-EP slowed drown track. I’m not being disparaging though, I was actually pleasantly surprised by SIS’s acoustic delivery. Offering something that is yet again quite different from the rest of the release; it offers up more sensitivity until the abrupt drumming brings in an explosion of raw emotion. Bringing in the drums and riffs at the end works perfectly, helping to convey the sense of overflowing emotion, especially when it’s juxtaposed against the tender acoustics up until their introduction.

Finally title track ‘The Lies We Lead’ finishes off the EP, but I’m not entirely convinced I like the way it does it. It sounds as though the band were going for a feel-good, uplifting summer song, but it sounds misjudged, too obvious and far too cringey for me. At times the lyrics get more creepy than catchy “Take off your clothes and be who you wanna be tonight”, which is a disappointing end to a mixed but impressive collection of tracks. I say ‘collection’ because all six songs are clearly crafted to stand on their own, musically and lyrically, as if each was considered to be a single, quite the way EPs seem to be going at the moment. It gives us a good indication of what SIS are capable of, a great smattering of talent from all areas, but leaves me hoping that above all, they graft the tracks together with more well thought-out lyrics in the future. If an album release is around the corner, it will be interesting to see how the variety of sounds and obvious potential is blended into a consistent whole.

3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Tigers Of Junction Street – s/t [EP]

Well don’t we have a lovely treat for your precious little ears today? And it comes in the self-titled package of a 5-track EP by Tigers Of Junction Street. Let’s dismiss of the mostly boring stuff first shall we? Who are Tigers Of Junction Street (TOJS)? They’re a five-piece from London and they’ll be releasing their nifty EP through Hoffen Records on July 28 (just in time for the summer holidays kiddies). They showcase the usual five piece set-up, consisting of two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and a singer; forming in 2010 on the back of a long-term friendship.

That’s quite enough of the bio shit, let’s get to the music! Even when you first listen to the EP, you can’t help but notice how well they band play, individually and together. Each guitarist, the bass, the drums and the vocals are all spot on, hitting each and every note while crafting some complex melodies together. Kudos to lead singer Josh Elliot, his vocal range is pretty impressive, if not a little high register for my taste (alas we can’t have Corey Taylor and Winston McCall spearheading every band can we?), but it complements the electronic-rock sound that TOJS seem to be flirting with throughout the five tracks.

The boys claim to draw influences from the likes of Coheed and Cambia, Periphery and TesseracT; I guess I can hear elements of that coming through. The opening track, ‘Incarnation’, kicks the EP off brilliantly with a contagious melody and chorus. It is by far the catchiest of the five tracks on the EP and it’ll stay with you for weeks after you’ve listened to it for exactly that reason. It boasts a lot of what modern rock should be about, up-tempo from the off and always in your face, it has riffs a-plenty and you’ll be humming “I’ll throw you away, I’ll come out swinging like the way you know I’ll play…” before you know it!

The whole EP experiments pretty successfully with jazz-elements too, treating us mere listeners to purposefully disjointed but well-crafted harmonics. In my albeit brief research into the band – looking on their social media – I did come across another review of TOJS which seemed at odds with my thoughts; in fact it was a pretty harsh and scathing assessment of the release. ‘All the songs sound the same… they have great complexity but lack originality and emotion…’ you get the point. Why do I bring this up? Because I really couldn’t disagree more!

‘The Deception’ is a good move onwards from ‘Incarnation’, raising the rock-game at the loss of some of the more pop-like melodies. It brings in more gritty riffs, moving in a heavier/darker direction – even if its intro sounded like a retro video game (more signs of the electronic rock malarkey I mentioned). After slowing the song almost to a stop – it would be a stop if it wasn’t for the gentle vocals – the guitars and drums really kick back into life, the ranging riffs being a total pleasure to listen to. ‘Cold Winter’ tries to slow the tempo, showing that the band can craft something more sombre, as it carries on the pursuit of the darker territory.

Even the ‘Interlude’, which may seem a little out of place on an EP, was well formed and a pleasure to listen to! All in all, what TOJS provide isn’t a small mission statement, it’s a smorgasbord; a sampling of everything they are musically capable of. Rather than being a statement of intent, it is a mini finished article. What we’ve got here is a bitesized album and you should check it out!

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Dead Inside – Millions Dead [EP]

Dead Inside are a brutal beatdown/deathcore four-piece heralding from the fair lands of Nottingham and as they creep into their second year of existence, they have released their second EP Millions Dead. What can you expect from taking a listen to these folks? Well, imagine any beatdown and deathcore you have heard before, because Dead Inside haven’t yet found a way to make a niche that is unique enough to call their own.

Opening track ‘For Every Infant In A Body Bag’ is slow and ominous, mixing in elements of death and half-stepped hardcore. From the outset it is clear that the band aren’t aiming for a polished production sound, which is good because too much deathcore gets watered down by being overproduced and polished until it goes flat. No, that isn’t something you could accuse Dead Inside of. Their raw emotion is evident in every crunching guitar chord, in the sardonically growled lyrics (which are pretty mordant on their own) and in every slow crash of the drums.

What is crafted here is straight-up angry and aggressive, without any need for merely implied emotions. If the gory design isn’t proof enough for you, upon hearing Daniel’s screamed vocals and the punishing – but perhaps drawn out – breakdowns you are left in no doubt, Dead Inside want this to sound as violent as possible. The guitar is even tuned to Drop E, making the sound emitted through the EP all the heavier.

The EP’s second track, ‘Deicide’, delivers on any expectations left by the opener, but without ever really going beyond those expectations. There are plenty more crashing cymbals, guitar crunching and blistering vocals, but there is the feeling of predictability around it. What may have once been hard-hitting lyrics, “If there was a god / He would have to beg for my forgiveness”, sadly just make me feel even more uninspired by the music. I’m happy to hear bands use their music to question, criticise and say ‘FUCK YOU’ to established conventions, but this just sounds like shitting on religion because it’s ‘the hardcore thing to do’.

Even in the delivery of the strong and raw breakdowns, there is no dramatic or dynamic change of pace to lead the breakdown in and in some sense the entire songs become a breakdown – which kind of removes the need of or interest in a breakdown altogether. The EP feels at best a little safe and at worst wholly unimaginative in terms of what the band deliver. You won’t hear anything here that you couldn’t find somewhere else on the radar; it sounds generic and expected after the first few chords, bringing nothing new into the genre.

If you’re into this genre, then you might wonder what I’ve been chatting on about as you should get some enjoyment from this release, but there is not much crossover appeal for fans of other metal. As someone who usually leans more towards metalcore or something a tad more melodic, I found the slower, heavier nature of the music a bit laborious. So it falls very short of making any big statement within the metal world and there isn’t anything on this record which will set this band apart from the majority of beatdown bands out there. BUT, as far as performing within a genre goes, this band are definitely solid and perhaps it’s all we should expect from a band that is still in its infancy, so I’ll withhold any strict or unfair judgements, until next time…

2 out of 5 high fives!