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Quick Hits 12.15.14: Year End Lists

The question of whether to have separate best-of lists for major label releases and independent releases was recently explored on Twitter (by @TwilightFauna – give him a follow). I have pretty strong feelings about this and 140 characters just isn’t enough, so here you go.

There is a great disservice in separating major label releases from independent releases in best-of lists. The reasoning behind this is that it gives inherent bias to one side or the other – some people will immediately discredit the independent list just because it’s independent, and likewise for the major label list.

The point of my personal lists is to give readers a guideline on some albums that are great and warrant some attention. In my eyes, separating the lists tells independent acts that they cannot hang with the big guys. That’s absolutely not true. You’ll see in my future Best of 2014 post that I have a lot of independently released music sitting alongside some major label releases. My top album of the year is likely to be an independent release, but not because it’s independent – because it’s a freaking great album.

I don’t agree with the notion of separate lists, but what’s your take? Join in the conversation on Twitter (@UnScholars) or send me some email (theshrevest@unappreciatedscholars.com).

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Review: Goya/Wounded Giant – Split Release EP.

A split release can be a tricky proposition. Sometimes the bands on show can compliment each other, and while it’s no doubt a semi-collaborative effort, there’s surely an element  of competition between the bands. What usually happens though is one band shines and the other is left wanting. Unfortunately this is the case here, and Goya are the runners up.

Goya’s contribution is “No Place in the Sky”, which is a brave choice. Clocking in at 14 minutes, it’s an ambitious length of a song for any band, but there isn’t near enough going on here to justify the songs duration. Built around a hulking Sabbath inspired riff, it’s plods along at a snails pace and is somewhat of a letdown. It’s a slow burner that moves far to slowly to maintain much interest. There’s a decent solo part in the final third, but aside from that it’s an uninspiring effort.

Wounded Giant on the other hand offer two tracks, that show all the sides of their game. “The Room of the Torch” has a classic metal sound to kick it off before settling into it’s mid tempo groove, but the song speeds up near the middle which is the kick in the ass this record needed. “Dystheist” starts off with a huge breakdown section that features some tight double kick work and a scream along chorus of “All hail nothing, all hail no one” which I really enjoyed.

So of the two bands on display, I’d have a tendency to see whatever Wounded Giant have to offer. No offense to Goya, but if this song is what they chose that they felt might best represent them, it was a bit of a misfire.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C

For more information on this split EP, see here.

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Review: Edge of Haze – Illumine

Finnish melodic metallers Edge of Haze dropped this record last August, and while it’s an enjoyable listen it suffers from some of the same issues that I had with the Skyharbor record I reviewed recently.

The major upside to this record is that these guys are incredibly young and have created songs that belie their age. To get the downsides out of the way, this kind of metal can feel somewhat cold and disconnected especially in song length and lyrical content. A lot of the tracks sit in the mid tempo range and can fall into “meandering” territory. And lastly, they band are a bit too over reliant on the Disturbed style double kick/guitar stacatto which can be a tad repetitive.

But enough on the shortcomings, lets talk about what the band do well. Vocally, there’s a real dark 80’s vibe here in both the vocal effects that are used and the choice of the vocal melodies employed. This coupled with the tight playing and electronic elements, not to mention the polished production, gives the record a huge feel to it, and it’s plausible to imagine these songs being played at a massive outdoor festival.  The use of growled vocals is infrequent enough to have real effect when it is used, rather than outstay it’s welcome. Of the songs, “Unlearn” was probably my pick of the litter as it’s a faster track that stand out a mile from the rest of the slower songs on display.

Edge of Haze have the youth and the talent to create something monstrous down the road. As a foundation block, this is a good start, but they needs to be less reliant on the nu-metal trappings on show here and find their own unique voice. They’re half way there as it is, which makes the a band to watch for the future.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C+

“Illumine” by Edge of Haze can be purchased, and select tracks streamed, here.

Editor’s Note: I felt differently about this release than Kevin; however, I do have a slight bias. I’d have given it a B+/A-, and I hope to have a counter-review soon.

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Review: Thunderworks – Thoughts and Thunder

I kinda feel bad about what’s coming. This is a record that is the product of one man, Michael J Amari, who has spent time recording this record over a five year period, and I respect the hell out of him for this. But when I receive something to review, I’m going to be honest. It’s never personal, it’s always about the music.  Here goes.

Michael’s brand of thrash/death metal is unfortunately nothing special. He’s certainly a talented musician that could have many years success ahead of him, but it’s a case where he needs to build a band around him. While it’s admirable to go your own way, it comes across big time on this record that Michael is a guitar player first and foremost. The guitar parts are great, but the bass parts are rudimentary and the drum programming is a mess. The drum parts on show here don’t always fit the music on top of it, and there are some strange choices for fills, and a basic of drumming is to hit a kick drum with a cymbal (I’m sorry. I’m a drummer). Vocally, Michael has brought in a guest for the album in the shape of Brandon Leigh who does a decent job, but like the rest of the record, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before.

If this were a demo, these qualities could be somewhat overlooked, but if you’re charging $10 American, all your ducks should be in a row from the start. All credit to Michael for the effort that’s gone into this, but while he states in his bio that he couldn’t “find suitable band members to help him record”, it could be the very thing that he needs to help improve his next release.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: D

“Thoughts and Thunder” by Thunderworks is out now. For information on the band and how to purchase, click here.

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Review: Will the Thrill – Sorry to Disappoint Ya

No joke, when I saw the name of the artist and album I thought, “mustn’t have gotten any new metal this week, so it’s a bit of rap to change things up”. This is mainly because of a classic “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” scene where Will bestows himself with this nickname, and he and Carlton dance to Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache (Jump On It).

But I digress. Will the Thrill is the quest of one man to bring back the fun element of metal which dominated the 80’s before grunge kicked it right in the spandex covered arse. What Will presents is a bunch of songs that would fit in well in that decade, but in 2014 it all sounds a bit passe.

There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, Steel Panther have the market cornered in 80’s throwback hair metal. I don’t know where this record falls in the spectrum of serious vs comedy. The aforementioned Steel Panther are a parody, but bands like The Darkness and Airbourne did the throwback thing with tongue firmly in cheek.  Will the Thrill  presents itself rather seriously in terms of the music and the press release attached. A bit too serious for this genre.

In said press release, Will name drops a ton of influences, but they’re all infinitely better bands. Trouble is, while the musicianship is solid, the vocals are seriously lacking for the style that Will is going for. Hair metal needs a massive voice to really sell it, but it’s just not here.

The lack of originality is the final nail in the coffin of this release. I’m all for tipping your hat to your influences, but lifting stuff wholesale does nobody any favours. Talented musicians and solid production here is wasted on a style of music that’s been dead for twenty five years.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: D

“Sorry to Disappoint Ya” by Will the Thrill can be purchased here.

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Haujobb Announce New Album, Crowdfunding Campaign

German electronic music veterans Haujobb announced last week that they are releasing a new album, titled Blendwerk, in Spring 2015. Details are minimal at this time, but Haujobb are always reliable for an interesting listen. Blendwerk sounds like a perfect album title for the ever evolving act.

Additionally, Haujobb will be a part of the “Alliance of Sound” tour which also features Skinny Puppy, Youth Code, and Front Line Assembly (who are replacing the previously announced VNV Nation). Haujobb have encountered an issue with travel and are providing preorders of Blendwerk and a live album to fund alternate travel to North America for the mega tour. The campaign has already been successfully funded, but every bit helps for traveling musicians. Check out the campaign here.

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Review: Skyharbor – Guiding Lights

As per their description, Skyharbor are a progressive metal band. Unfortunately, just because a song is long doesn’t mean it’s progressive. As usual, I’ll disclaimer this review by saying yes, this is a talented bunch of musicians with a fantastic lead singer, but this to me feels like the movie “Inception”. Technically excellent, but a bit too long and with no real heart to it (coincidentally, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” was released this week and it looks like I’ll have the same problems with it, going on what I’ve read).

The album actually kicks off pretty well with “Allure”. An up tempo, loose number that sets the bands stall from the start. Soaring vocals, interesting guitar parts, and some fantastic drumming really got me hooked into this song. It’s during the second track, the wheels started to come off. Underpinned by a nu-metal riff from the off, “Evolution” settles into a mid-tempo slump that the album rarely crawls back out of. The only notable difference is the standout track for me, which was “New Devil”.

There’s only so much of ambient guitar and uplifting vocals that one guy can take though, and that was my biggest bugbear here. To go with that, it’s nothing I haven’t heard Devin Townsend or A Perfect Circle (on their first record) do before. What set these apart is the lack of fear in exploring the darker side of the genre. Skyharbor haven’t reached that point yet.

In saying all this, there’s a part of me that sometimes thinks I’m too dumb to get something out of music like this. Maybe I am, who knows. All I know is that Skyharbor, while proficient musically and production wise, have recorded an album that perfectly encapsulates the grandiose nature of the universe; it’s vast, occasionally beautiful, but cold.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C-

“Guiding Lights” by Skyharbor is released on November 10th. For more info on the band, click here.

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Review: Thy Fallen Kingdom – Fear the Hunter

This record from Singapore five piece, Thy Fallen Kingdom, is like something that was found in a time capsule from 1988. From the “Predator” inspired cover art, to the bands ludicrous logo, to the music itself, this reeks of 80’s thrash. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in playing music while wearing their influences on the sleeves, the band have compromised originality.

Things get off to a cliched start with the acoustic track “Mental Oppression” which leads into the first metal track proper in “Army of 1″. Over the course of the next eight tracks, we run the gauntlet of thrash tropes, which includes the “soldiers talking to each other” as the start of Operation B.E.A.S.T., through the riff loaded title track. My personal favourite is “Unchallenged”, mainly because the lyrics suggest that it’s a song about football (“soccer” to my American cousins). The production is crisp to match the playing style, and Rajuna’s vocals are very early Hetfield like high pitched shrieks, but it compliments the style of music perfectly.

So, what we have here is a decent, fun, if forgettable thrash record, but I’ll give the band some credit. Their enthusiasm is incredibly evident in the music (yes, you can tell), and their professionalism is through the roof. This is the highest quality band package that I’ve seen in a long time. These guys have the basics covered. Publicity shot, the music (obviously), the cover art, a press release about the album, and an EPK. It’s incredible to me how so many bands get this wrong. It’s simple stuff guys. So major kudos to Thy Fallen Kingdom for that too.

– Hevy Kevy

Unappreciated Scholars Review Grade: C

For more info on Thy Fallen Kingdom, click here.

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New Sister Machine Gun in Spring 2015

Sister Machine Gun has been gone for a really long time. Even longer than David Bowie was gone between Reality and The Next Day. That’s a mighty long time indeed. In fact, it all seemed a bit hopeless – Chris Randall, the lead force behind Sister Machine Gun even publicly stated circa 2007 that he never wanted to hear the words “Sister Machine Gun” again (I am unable to procure the link to this quote, and Google has failed me, but I know he said it somewhere.)

But a day and a half ago, Randall announced via social media that a new Sister Machine Gun album IS coming in Spring 2015 via WTII Records (https://twitter.com/Chris_Randall/status/529865733774512128?s=09). I freaked out so hard that I scared Katie, making her think something was majorly wrong.

But nothing is wrong, and whether it’s a throwback sound from the 90s, the less abrasive synths from the early 2000s,or something new entirely, Sister Machine Gun is an easy day-one-purchase, no previews needed.

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