Hard Rock

Eternity In Your Arms – Creeper

Release Year: 2017

Rating: 8.5/10

Rock music has gone through numerous changes since its inception, but somewhere along the way, it lost its theatrics. Rockstars no longer seem larger than life, mysterious, or alien. Creeper is here to change that. These theatrical punks from Southhampton, UK are taking you back to the days when rock music was a spectacle. Not only is their music over the top and filled with Gothic drama, they’re creating a mythos and extend an offer to join their Creeper Cult. With dark imagery, a healthy dose of punk rock, and a dash of theater, these punks are making rock music fun again.

Creeper is all about theatrics. You can hear every ounce of drama, camp, fear, and desire in their songs whether it’s from the music or frontman Will Gould’s vocals. Their songs are like mini-macabre plays circling around themes of love, death, loss, loneliness, and frustration. The album itself is a loose concept record based on the characters Madeline, The Stranger, and James Scythe, which were first mentioned on their second EP, The Callous Heart. While the story is easy enough to pick up after a few listens, it doesn’t make or break the record. You could easily listen to it without realizing the songs are connected. In the end, the story doesn’t really matter because everything else about the album is so damn good.

The opening track “Black Rain” perfectly captures what Creeper is about. It has a gloomy, Gothic intro featuring a brief mysterious monologue before exploding in a mass of shredding guitars and crashing keys. The best part is the big chorus which sounds like a choir from the depths of darkness singing “And in the rain/I screamed your name.” It has an awesome anthemic quality; you can easily picture a stadium singing this song. Though it’s one of the album’s highlights, there are moments where it reminds you of My Chemical Romance’s “Helena.” It’s forgivable, though.

Poison Pens” doesn’t let you relax for a second with its pummeling drums, doom-laden bass, and rapid guitars. It’s a hyper punk track that’ll get you moshing as soon you hear “Our love is dead!” screaming in your ears. The bridge gives you a chance to catch your breath when things slow down and Gould sings “I fell like an angel for you/now I do the deeds that devils do” sounding sinister and ready to strike. The off the rails pace and AFI-inspired gang vocals make it one of the most thrilling tracks on the album. “Suzanne” is another high energy track with a similar punk edge full of morbid imagery. The song instantly hooks you with its rallying cry of “now now now now!” along with the Meatloaf-esque hooks. These over the top vocals are part of their campy appeal and helps them stand out in the deluge of forgettable punk rock bands.

Hiding With Boys” is another insanely fun song that shows off a bit of the band’s glam-rock influences. This one is more upbeat and doesn’t have as much of an edge as the other tracks. The hook of “hiding with the boys in your bedroom” has an infectious melody and is just fun to sing at the top of your lungs. The music is kind of playful and the extensive keys give the song more of a classic feel, as if you heard it before, which isn’t necessarily bad.

But just when you have the band figured out, they switch gears showing another side to themselves. “Misery” keeps its gloomy nature with the subdued acoustic guitar accompanying Gould’s fragile vocals slowing things down considerably. With just Gould and a guitar, for the most part, it’s the most honest track on the album. The Gothic nature of the band shows up in coy lines like “I wrote down a list of coroners/their names, their office phone numbers/to pronounce dead the thing we had” and the hook “misery never goes out of style.”  Near the end, the music intensifies and Gould’s vocals are more pronounced and powerful as if he’s found the will to go on despite all the bad things happening. This shift nicely changes things, keeping the song from getting dull.

Creeper gives us another intimate moment with “Crickets,” sung by keyboardist Hannah Greenwood. Unlike most of the record, this song has a hint of a country vibe, especially with the accompanying violin in the background. Greenwood absolutely kills the song with her pretty, yet gritty vocals. You can feel her ache as she sings about the end of a relationship. The song is an unexpected treat from the band. Not only do these songs give us a break from the onslaught of raging guitars and dark matter, they show how the band can go beyond their comfort zone. They’re not just another band keen on loud guitars and screaming vocals.

While most of the songs are fun, catchy, and stand out, the two low points of the album are “Down Below” and “Winona Forever.” These songs aren’t bad; they’re both upbeat and fun like the other tracks with their sing-a-long hooks and bouncy rhythms. They’re just not that memorable compared to the rest of the album. The band quickly gets back on track with “Darling” and “Room 309,” which continue the trend of raging guitars, big hooks, and lots of drama. Here, it’s hard not hear their musical influences. You can easily pick up traces of AFI, MCR, Misfits, and Alkaline Trio. Is this bad? Not really. It’s clear they’re inspired by these bands, but at least they avoid sounding like cheap knockoffs.

Creeper excels at bringing camp and theatrics to their music, which is part of the reason it’s so much fun. Everything feels over the top from the music to the lyrics, which would sound cheesy anywhere else. The huge dramatics come out the most during closing track “I Choose to Live.” Here, they rip out a page from Queen’s book and feature larger than life music with a booming chorus. One of the most personal songs on the record, it deals with overcoming life’s struggles. Gould starts out singing softly as if defeated. But as we crescendo, his voice gains strength until he’s shouting “I choose to live” at the top of his lungs. It ends the album on an oddly positive note, letting you know no matter what you’re going through, you’re strong enough to survive.

Eternity in Your Arms is a hodgepodge of all the bands Creeper loves and has been influenced by. While they are mostly inspired by punk rock, you can hear traces of emo, glam, pop, and, dare I say, country. This is what helps them stand out. These elements are found all over their songs, keeping the album fresh and exciting. Featuring big hooks, lots of gang vocals, and a touch of Gothic and emo tendencies, their songs are grandiose, a spectacle even. It brings you back to the days when rockstars were meant to be bigger than life or aliens from another planet altogether. Sure, what they’re doing isn’t necessarily breaking genres, but man is it fun.

Saying Goodbye to HIM

HIM announced they’re done. No more albums or new music. I guess it’s a breakup but I hate thinking about it that way. “Breakup” is such a negative term. There’s no bad blood here. Rather, they felt it’s time to move on. Part of me is sad, but I’m also happy for the band. Music is overwrought with bands who probably should’ve called it quits a long time ago *cough* Queen *cough.* In our minds we never want our favorite musicians to stop making music, but there’s a point where it gets sad. New material doesn’t hit you the same way or they keep writing the same songs. Suddenly, their tour stops are a greatest hits package. It reeks of desperation. HIM could’ve kept going for another 10 years if they wanted. Instead, they’re going out on their own terms. And I respect that.

When I heard the news, I was nowhere near tears like I was when The White Stripes broke up. But it still hit me hard. HIM has been with me for a long time. They don’t mean as much to me as The Cure or Green Day, but I still love them. They’ve brought me so much happiness with their music. They’re a band I would often forget how much I liked. I wouldn’t listen to them for months and when I finally did, I’d go on a binge trying to soak up every melancholy thought and note.

What I loved about their music is how they made melancholy and darkness seem okay. Frontman Ville Valo even made it sexy with his sultry vocals. Many of their songs talk about love and death, but it never made you sad or depressed. Instead, it was comforting. They showed that it’s okay to embrace these feelings sometimes.

I also liked their songs for their poetic nature. Sure, some of them are a bit over dramatic, but a good number of them are thought provoking and beautiful. Songs like “The Sacrament,” “Funeral of Hearts,” “For You,” and “When Love and Death Embrace” are downright gorgeous. They still impress me to this day. Songs like these helped me push myself as a writer. Their lyrics often influenced my writing, which I started getting serious about when I discovered them.

Like most fans, I was initially attracted to the band for Valo. No doubt about it, the man is sexy. Something about him is mysterious, which made him more attractive. He’s like the stereotypical new guy in town that’s brooding and spends a lot of time in coffee shops. Over time, I came to appreciate him as a singer. He’s got an impressive range; he sounds sweet and beautiful with the high notes and downright diabolic with his flourishing baritone. I’ve always liked his singing, but I really fell in love with it when I saw HIM live. They’re not the most energetic performers; they don’t dance around or anything like that. Yet, there’s such a fire and passion behind their live shows. They play as if it might be the last concert they’ll ever do. And Valo often has no trouble pulling off his vocal acrobatics in front of a crowd. Most importantly, their shows are fun. Hopefully, I can jam with them one more time before they leave.

The end of HIM is saying goodbye to an old friend. There are times we didn’t speak for a long while, but when we reconnected we picked up where we left off. They’re familiar and comforting, always there when I needed them. I’ll miss them, but at least I can visit them again with all the wonderful music they’ve given us in the span of 26 years. And I’ll never forget how I actually got to speak with Valo for an interview. He was every bit as charming and sweet. It was an honor to speak with someone I’d been following so long. I never thought I’d get the chance to speak with an artist I like so much. So, thank you, HIM, for letting me explore darkness with you and all the memories and fangirl crushes you gave me. I’m happy my friend convinced me to give you a listen 13 years ago.

XX

Not the Actual Events EP – Nine Inch Nails

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 7/10

When Trent Reznor announced last year that we would indeed get new Nine Inch Nails music, I was ecstatic. Throughout the year, Reznor shot down any rumors of new NIN material. After months of speculation, he finally gave us new music. It’s not a new album, but it’s a taste of what’s to come. But rather than being a release that displays his best work, it’s more like something to shut up NIN fans and let Reznor work in peace.

Though trying not to make comparisons, the opening track “Branches/Bones” sounds like a leftover from Hesitation Marks. It’s brief, but the upbeat rock oriented music is similar to material from Reznor’s previous album. It kicks off the EP with a rush of energy thanks to the non-stop guitar riff that plows through the song. The music is loud and jarring sounding like it’s being played through blown out speakers. The track is decent at best, but it’s not that notable. At least it’s decent at kicking off the EP.

All the songs are solid, but very few of them stay with you afterward. “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” are good, but don’t grab you by the throat and pummel you like other NIN tracks. The only song that stands out is the eerie “Dear World.” Whether it’s the synth groove or the creepy opening vocals with Reznor singing “Yes, everyone seems to be asleep” this was the only song I actually remembered from the EP. The song has dark undertones as if something horrible is about to happen. Reznor’s monotone manner and the cold, robotic music makes it seem like something from an 80s dystopian film. There’s also a hypnotic air to it. The way Reznor speaks quietly seems like he’s trying to put you under a spell. It’s one of the coolest and unnerving tracks on the EP.

One thing the EP excels at is creating this dark, claustrophobic feeling. Songs like “She’s Gone Away” and “The Idea of You” have gritty music that puts you on edge. The former has a slow droning drumbeat as if ushering in some unforeseeable doom. And the way Reznor’s wails after the chorus gives it a haunting atmosphere. Everything in the song sounds so foreboding. The latter song has quiet vocals as if Reznor’s on the verge of breaking. Then chaos unleashes during the chorus when everything clashes together for a destructive mood.

The closing track “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” continues the musical trend of impending doom. With the booming, fuzzy music it sounds like the end of days is coming. Just like with the rest of the EP, the music is the high point of the song. It instantly draws you in. The singing and the lyrics are where things get weird. The chorus of “break through the surface and” is fine on its own, but for the verses, Reznor does this weird spoken word style. Instead of being smooth, it sounds like a random rant. His flow goes against the music making it disjointed and off-putting. Near the end, the music and singing clash together creating a jarring wall of noise. It’s another solid song but doesn’t really hit that sweet spot for NIN fans.

Reznor’s always been a master of electronic music and it’s no different on this release. Each track has gripping music and is a mix of cool grooves with cold, metallic sounding electronic soundscapes. It’s the highlight of the EP. The same can’t be said for the lyrics which are forgettable. In his time, Reznor has crafted some of the most anguished filled, aching, and heartbreaking songs. Little of that is on display here. The lyrics seem meaningless and difficult to pinpoint what he’s trying to get across. Lines like “Still can make out pieces with the opening sewed shut/Yeah, parts of me are slowing down, time is speeding up/Spiders crawling everywhere, infected Japanese” (“Branches/Bones”) come off as forced. As if he’s trying too hard to be poignant and unnerving. They’re not as engaging or thoughtful as they are on past NIN releases. Hell, even the lyrics on Hesitation Marks are better. This makes it seem like Reznor rushed out this release to stop fans from asking about new NIN music.

The EP is solid, but does it really jump out at you? No. The songs don’t punch you in the gut like we expect from NIN. If anything, they’re fairly decent rock songs with some electronic elements. The EP isn’t terrible, but it’s far from Reznor’s best. There are bits and pieces of past NIN releases in the song, like elements of The Fragile, but few of them leave an impression. You’ll find yourself struggling to remember most of the songs after listening to it a few times. Very little about it is notable and there’s little to say about it. The strongest point is the music, but the lyrics fail to be engaging. For fans longing for a NIN release, this isn’t going to satisfy them for long. Still, it does make me excited for what NIN has in store for us. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for more new music.

Notable Releases of 2016

2016 may not have been music’s finest year, but there were a lot of good albums I played on repeat. While not all of them were notable or amazing, there were plenty that stood out for different reasons. So here are my picks for other notable releases for 2016.

Album that Caught me Off Guard:

Electric Warlock Acid Witch – Rob Zombie

When I heard Rob Zombie was dropping a new album, I reacted with a “meh.” Seeing as I didn’t care for his last few albums, I had low expectations for this one. Educated Horses was a big disappointment, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is bearable, yet forgettable, and Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is hardly worth remembering. My disdain for the new album grew when I saw the lengthy album title and tracklist featuring songs like “Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO.” But when listening to it a revelation dawned on me: this is fucking great! This album is Rob Zombie getting back to basics: weird songs, tons of samples, and rocking the fuck out. There are some misses on the record, like the sludgy “WURDALAK,” but it’s a rousing ride from start to finish. Zombie keeps it short and simple as he pumps out bangers like “Get High,” “Get Your Boots On,” and “Teenage Rock God.” Some of the songs are reminiscent of his past stuff, but it still gets your heart racing and head banging. Even the songs that are just okay are still gripping instead of boring filler like on his last records. Listening to it again I couldn’t help throwing devil horns in the air even though I was by myself on the couch. It’s loud, aggressive, weird, freaky, groovy, and kick ass, everything a Rob Zombie album should be. It’s a proper return to his aggressive roots, which he seemed to move away from in later years. And best of all, the album is fun as hell. It reignited my faith that Rob Zombie can still make killer music. Can’t say the same about his movies, though.

Underrated Album of 2016:

Alas Salvation – Yak

Once I heard Yak’s brand of chaotic, psychedelic rock on their 2016 debut, I knew it would be one of my favorite albums of the year. They almost went under my radar, but I barely caught them thanks to an assignment for another music site. What instantly grabbed me was their energetic, destructive vibe. Listening to songs like “Victorious” and “Harbor the Feeling” makes you picture them breaking everything in the room while they’re playing. It felt like I was hearing chaos incarnate when listening to the album. Half the time it’s unbridled noise and audio insanity, but I loved every minute. To keep the album from getting repetitive or dull, Yak plays with different sounds, like the psychedelic tinged “Use Somebody” or the Spaghetti Western isolation of “Smile.” Tracks like these made for an unpredictable, exciting ride. If there was one album that got me the most excited and left the biggest impression on me, this was it. I can’t wait to hear what else the band has in store for us in the future.

Album I Tried to Like But Couldn’t:

I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are so Beautiful yet So Unaware of It – The 1975

Get out the pitchforks right now. Yes, for some reason, I couldn’t get into this album. I was intrigued by The 1975 when I saw them perform “The Sound” on The Tonight Show. Since they’ve received mass praise from practically every outlet, I decided to check them out. While I liked songs like “Love Me” and “A Change of Heart,” the rest did nothing for me. It seems I like the 80’s, danceable side to the band, not the slow, drawn out, ballads that permeated the second half of the record. I listened to it several times, but came away with the same feeling; it’s long and too slow for my tastes. It just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would. This doesn’t mean I think The 1975 are a bad band or that the album sucks. It just wasn’t for me and I still don’t get what all the hype’s about.

Album of the Year Runner Up:

The Dream is Over – PUP

It was really hard picking album of the year and it came down to PUP’s second album and what I ultimately picked. PUP’s self-titled debut kicked ass. It showed off their punk nature and chaotic drive, but also showed the band can do more than just scream and be loud. They pushed that to the breaking point with their sophomore effort. With such praise heaped on their first album, it would’ve been easy for them to cave under pressure and release something that was tolerable. For this album, they somehow managed to top themselves. Everything about felt rawer, fiercer, and even more emotional in some places. I love how songs like “DVP” and “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You (I Will)” are pure destruction and aggression. Yet, songs like “Pine Point” and “Sleep in the Heat” both haunting and gut wrenching. It’s easy for a punk band to be loud and brash, but few of them can get out of their comfort zone and make emotional songs that still kick major ass. So much passion, drive, and heartache comes out of this album, it’s hard to take in all at once. It’s an excellent follow-up proving the band didn’t get lucky the first time around.

Well, 2016 is finally over. Let’s hope more awesome music in 2017. What albums are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Above – Mad Season

Release Year: 1995

Rating: 8.5/10

Sometimes an artist gets the urge to do something different that doesn’t necessarily fit in with their established work. This is where side bands come in. Some are amazing. Others are questionable. Layne Staley and members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees felt the urge and formed the supergroup Mad Season in 1994. Supergroups pose their own problems, like sounding too much like their main bands. Mad Season ensured this wasn’t an issue with their stellar, diverse debut album Above.

What makes this album remarkable during an era where grunge infiltrated everything is its diversity. Some results are better than others, but this project allowed everyone involved to play with different genres. We hear this right from the beginning with “Wake Up.” It starts with a low, muted bass like its rumbling in your stomach. The rest of the music slowly builds up with a jazzy vibe. As the song gets more intense, the guitar grows bluesy, especially the solo that adds fire to the song. Layne’s vocals are outstanding here. He switches between a haunting croon to intense screaming. Surprisingly, the result is beautiful.

River of Deceit” has a country/folk sound with the prominent acoustic guitar taking over the track. The song is mellow with Layne singing sweetly, but it has some dark connotations. One of the heaviest lines is “My pain is self chosen,” which can be linked to his struggle with drugs. The song is inspired by his personal life and The Prophet by Khalil Graban. It shows how fragile Layne could be at times. “Long Gone Day” is one of the odder moments on the album. The opening bongos, twinkling music, and occasional saxophone makes it sound like a lounge song from the 70s. As the song goes on, the band continues to mix different genres and sounds making it hard to pinpoint. It’s unexpected, even on this album, but it stands out from the other tracks for an unexpected, great song.

The band may play around with sound on the album, but there are more straightforward rock tracks as well. Several of the songs stem from psychedelic rock, like the smug “I’m Above.” Everything here is louder, heavier, and more intense than the previous songs. The most notable element is the thick guitar riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath. “Lifeless Dead” has a similar mood with dirty fuzzy guitars blasting throughout the song. Again, it has that 70’s rock vibe; everything is bigger and better. The dizzying “I Don’t Know Anything” follows a similar vibe as the aforementioned tracks. What makes this song different from the others are Layne’s trance-like vocals and the mechanical pounding near the end. All of these songs are heavy and aggressive enough to fit in on an Alice in Chains record. It serves as a break from the experimentation on the record. It also lets listeners know there were no plans for abandoning their roots.

The last two songs, “November Hotel” and “All Alone,” are atmospheric experiences. The former is completely instrumental. It has soft, mellow music with thumping percussion adding a rumbling beat. This is broken up with ambient noises that sound like a cold wind blowing. Midway through everything explodes and turns into a psychedelic jam session. It constantly shifts moods and sounds before coming back to its mellow music. It’s a strange musical roller coaster. “All Alone” has very few vocals and what sounds like a pulsing organ. The light, ethereal structure of the song and Layne crooning “We’re all alone” makes it sound like an otherworldly hymn. It’s a fitting, yet somber way to end the album.

Above is a great record because of its diversity. These are all musicians known for their work in grunge music. This band gave them the opportunity to go outside of their comfort zone and do something else. And it showed they could do more than play fuzzy guitars and scream. The integration of blues, jazz, and psychedelic rock make for an album that’s exciting, but mellow. There are times when they let aggression through, but for the most part, it’s a slower, emotional record. Staley also shows immense talent both as a songwriter and a vocalist. Though his work has seen more appreciation over the years, he still seems to be overshadowed by a certain grunge artist. The album is a gem from the 90s you should check out, especially if you’re an Alice in Chains fan.