Posts Tagged ‘ alternative rock ’

Album of the Week 36-2018: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog


A twisted riff, an overall gloomy vibe, haunting vocal harmonies… Opening track ‘The One You Know’ leaves very little doubt that we are listening to Alice In Chains. This could be interpreted as a lack of originality, but since Jerry Cantrell and his cohorts single-handedly developed and perfected this style, why bother doing anything else? Especially since ‘Rainier Fog’ finds the Seattle-based band doing their own thing so well. Though it lacks the urgency that their comeback album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ and their masterpiece ‘Dirt’ had, it is more memorable than its predecessor ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’.

When original lead singer Layne Staley died, it took Alice In Chains surprisingly little time to find their footing with William DuVall. As a result, the band sound really comfortable with their own style this time around, especially in jam-oriented tracks like the Zeppelin-esque ‘Drone’. That also means the miserable darkness of songs like ‘Frogs’ and ‘Down In A Hole’ is not quite reached here, though the absolutely gorgeous closer ‘All I Am’ does come close with its somber acoustic basis and eerie electric touches. Due to its powerful dreary harmonies in both the vocal and the guitar department, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’ is another song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Alice In Chains record.

Though good enough, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ was short on true highlights. By contrast, ‘Rainier Fog’ has a few songs that immediately stick, the title track being one of them. It moves from a typical Alice In Chains mid-tempo rocker with a great chorus to a cathartic tranquil middle section that truly highlights the dual lead vocals of DuVall and Cantrell. Furthermore, ‘The One You Know’, the particularly powerful ‘Red Giant’ and – surprisingly – especially DuVall’s composition ‘So Far Under’ have all the trademark Alice In Chains elements in place without having the band sounding like they are on auto-pilot.

One area where ‘Rainier Fog’ truly outshines its predecessor is the ballads. Initially, all but ‘All I Am’ seemed to suffer from the same flaw as the ones on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ – being good, but unremarkable – but repeated spins bring out their qualities. ‘Maybe’ fluently goes through several moodswings and ends up being one of Cantrell’s best ballads by sheer unpredictability, while ‘Fly’ is a rather typical Cantrell ballad, though its chorus and guitar solo are delightfully climactic. Even the relatively upbeat ‘Never Fade’ manages to be highly convincing, with great performances by both DuVall and Cantrell, culminating in what is easily the most unforgettable chorus on the record.

Like most of Alice In Chains’ albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ is a bit of a grower. It appears to be immediate at first spin, but there are too many subtleties here to play it once and then toss it aside. Fortunately, the album has plenty of replay value. Aside from the incredible songwriting – this is Jerry Cantrell, after all – the great production does wonders as well. Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and even Mike Inez’ bass isn’t buried beneath everything else. With Alice In Chains’ style being as distinctive as it is, ‘Rainier Fog’ is unlikely to draw new listeners in, but it is indispensible for people who loved them before. It might even surpass their expectations.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

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Album of the Week 28-2018: NoGoD – V


Within the visual kei realm, NoGoD is a bit of an anomaly. With a sound that is a lumpless blend of modern hard rock and heavy metal, they don’t really fit any of the trends that exist in their genre and because they are not a cast full of pretty boys – they are fronted by the clownesque Dancho – their fan base is largely male. With that different take on Japanese rock music, NoGoD is certainly a band to check out for those who are usually discouraged by the visual approach. And there hardly is any better place to start than ‘V’.

Though NoGoD is mainly known for energetic, riffy songs with rather upbeat choruses, ‘V’ is notably darker in tone than any of their other albums. It is also slightly more metallic than their other works, though the catchy bits are almost all arena-worthy in their sing-along glory. The first half of ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophia’, the fourth part of a suite that stretches out over four albums, has a stomping 5/4 beat that many of their peers would not dare to attempt and the awesome ‘Sabbath’ is probably the darkest NoGoD song yet. Coincidentally, it is also one of their very best.

In more familiar territory, ‘V’ also shines just a little bit brighter than the rest of NoGoD’s discography. While earlier albums had masterpieces like ‘Kamikaze’, ‘World Ender’ and ‘Kakusei’, ‘V’ just rolls on without ever losing steam. Sure, the more punky, upbeat songs ‘Kane wo Narase’ and ‘Pandora’ feel a little odd atmosphere-wise, but that is easy to accept on an album that also has fist pumpers like the anthemic ‘Stand Up!’ and ‘Zetsubo Bye Bye’. The album is even bookended by two tracks that are surprisingly riffy; the guitar work in opener ‘Utsushiyo Horror Show’ and closer ‘Tosohonno’ is almost speed metal in nature.

Dancho’s voice is the thing that seems to spark most debate amongst people who are not sure if they like NoGoD. While that is understandable – the fact that he is almost exclusively in full-on passionate mode does not account for a lot of dynamics – Dancho is probably the factor that makes NoGoD stand out in a scene full of Kamijo and Gackt soundalikes. I like him a lot. Dynamics and subtlety are built by the tastefully layered interaction between guitarists Kyrie and Shinno. Kyrie even has one of his many acoustic solo pieces here in the shame of ‘Yume No Awa’. A perfect little break between intense songs.

Although the criticism that the visual rock scene is full of bands that blindly copy each other in terms of musical style and appearance is justified, once in a while a band pops up that can truly deliver in terms of originality and playing. While NoGoD doesn’t really do anything new, the band doesn’t really sound like any other band inside of Japan and outisde. And they still don’t, despite the fact that their recent albums lean towards modern rock a little too much. If you like great riffs, passionate vocals and a tight rhythm section with a thick bottom end, NoGoD should be right up your alley.

Reccomended tracks: ‘Sabbath’, ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophy’, ‘Stand Up!’

Album of the Week 22-2018: Garbage – Garbage


When I was a kid, Garbage was one of the few modern rock bands on MTV that would not cause me to immediately change the channel. They intrigued me. That was in part because of Shirley Manson’s voice and – I reluctantly admit – appearance, but their music was undeniably atmospheric and unlike anything ever done before or since. It was still modern rock, but it was not as bluntly unmelodic as the nu metal bands that were big at the time, nor was it as self-pitying as American radio rock. And despite the strong productional focus, the songwriting is simply excellent.

More than twenty years later, Garbage’s self-titled debut still holds up. That in itself is a testament to the band’s compositional brilliance. Often in music history, embracing new technology dates a production considerably. Garbage’s practice of incorporating electronic beats and synthetic sounds into the foundation of a rock band still sounds fresh and, surprisingly, in no way dated. This approach combines the best elements of densely layered productions and a live band and the results are often hypnotizing. But it’s not a trick; even the relatively straightforward songs that would have worked with just the band playing still sound convincing.

In the latter category, we find the insanely memorable and borderline self-parody ‘Only Happy When It Rains’. The chord progression is simple, but not predictable, especially with its insistent chorus providing a perfect contrast to its more morose verses. ‘Dog New Tricks’ is another strong electrorocker with a great chorus and a focus on guitars and drums. A majority of the other more straightforward songs are a little more laid-back, including the massive hit singles ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Queer’. This approach really suits Manson’s voice, which sounds seductive when it has to, but also occasionally excels in brilliantly suppressed anger.

At other times, ‘Garbage’ proves that spending a lot of time on your production does not necessarily result in overproduction. The darkly brooding ‘As Heaven Is Wide’ probably illustrates this best. Its combination of tribal rhythms, fuzzy bass line and electronically tinged bridge should not work in a rock context, but it does. It is also the best example of Manson’s subdued aggression. The more intimate ‘A Stroke Of Luck’ is less propulsive, but just about as good. It has also been provided a perfect juxtaposition in the shape of the more outspokenly aggressive rocker ‘Vow’, one of the brightest shining gems on ‘Garbage’.

Confusingly, ‘Garbage’ is as much a product of its time as it is timeless. An album like this more or less could only have been thought up in the ninteties, but it was so far ahead of its time that it will probably still sound contemporary ten years from now. That in itself is something that not many artists can claim and will become rarer as more and more musical territory is no longer uncharted. For Garbage, their debut album was so revolutionary, that they had a hard time trying to equal it both in terms of success and overall quality, though they came close several times and are fortunately still artistically relevant to this day.

Recommended tracks: ‘Only Happy When It Rains’, ‘As Heaven Is Wide’, ‘Vow’

Album of the Week 11-2018: Buck-Tick – No. 0


With Buck-Tick on a surprisingly high second career peak from their 2005 masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’ onward, a new album is always something to look forward to. Especially considering how good 2016’s ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ was. And while ‘No. 0’ isn’t quite as good as its predecessor was, there are a couple of new winners in Buck-Tick’s oeuvre to be heard here. The gothic-tinged first single ‘Babel’ is one of them, but ‘No. 0’ is anything but a return to the dark goth sound of ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’. Instead, it feels either like a logical continuation or an update of ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’.

Compared to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, the electronics and samples are a little more pronounced on ‘No. 0’. They are nowhere near as prominent as they were on Buck-Tick’s nineties albums, on which they tend to dominate the productions, but those looking for more of the live sound that could be heard on albums like ‘Tenshi No Revolver’ or ‘Memento Mori’ may scratch their heads in bewilderment. These days, the electronics are a part of the songwriting process rather than the production process and as a result, they hardly ever become overbearing. The electronic rocker ‘Gustave’ and the ballad ‘Moon Sayonara Wo Oshiete’ are borderline though.

‘No. 0’ has a couple of notable peaks. First of all, there is the triptych of the exciting electrorocker ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘, the beautifully dramatic ‘Ophelia’ and the driving “live Buck-Tick meets electronic Buck-Tick” of ‘Hikari No Teikoku’. The latter has a wonderful chorus opening up the climax of the track, while ‘Ophelia’ really profits from its supreme dynamics and Atsushi Sakurai’s unique emotional vocals. The album ends on a high note as well: the aforementioned ‘Babel’ is a sublime catchy gothic rock song, ‘Guernica No Yoru’ a gorgeous minimalistic ballad that leaves Sakurai plenty of space to excel and ‘Tainai Kaiki’ rounds off the album in an upbeat atmosphere.

Before, after and between those songs, Buck-Tick explores the possibilities of their sound. Guitarist and electronic enthusiast Hisashi Imai first and foremost. The aggressive cyberpunk sound of ‘Igniter’ is an obvious Imai contribution, while ‘Nostalgia -Vita Mechanicalis-‘ and opener ‘Reishiki 13 Gata Ai’ have a menacing vibe that is the trademark of the guitarist. ‘Bisshu Love’ features the type of defiant eroticism that Buck-Tick has become known for through the years. By contrast, the songs that guitarist Hidehiko Hoshino wrote are generally more traditional rock songs, though the synth-driven electronic rocker ‘Barairo Jujidan -Rosen Kreuzer-‘ is atypical for him.

Though Imai’s fascination with noise and electronics gives ‘No. 0’ a slightly more electronic edge than its predecessors, it is another typical Buck-Tick album compositionally. The songs may come across a little more chaotic than usual initially, but they feature some tight writing and some excellent hooks for Sakurai to work with. I will be the first to admit that his deep, heartfelt voice is one of the main reasons why Buck-Tick appeals to me, but they have been releasing great albums for quite some time now and ‘No. 0’ certainly fits that pattern. Highly recommended to open-minded fans of visual kei, J-rock, gothic rock and nineties U2.

Recommended tracks: ‘Babel’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘

Album of the Week 44-2017: Marillion – Seasons End


When original singer Fish left Marillion, it was considered the end of an era. However, it was also the beginning of a new era. Steve Hogarth, who still fronts te band to this day, has an emotional depth to his voice that Fish just did not have, allowing the band to branch out even further away from the strongly Genesis-inspired neo-prog of their earliest work. Along with its predecessor ‘Clutching At Straws’, ‘Seasons End’ can be seen as sort of a transitional phase. Not because of the singer change between the albums, but because it signals Marillion’s shift towards the most emotional progressive rock created to date.

Most of the music had already been written before Hogarth, himself a great composer, joined the band, so it’s not too surprising that ‘Seasons End’ is stylistically similar to ‘Clutching At Straws’. The record has a dark, passionate vibe, with occasional lighter or more upbeat moments keeping the darkness from becoming too overwhelming. The ‘Incommunicado’-rewrite ‘Hooks In You’ is the most obvious example of this, but the opening one-two punch of ‘The King Of Sunset Town’ and ‘Easter’ is remarkably positive as well, even though the lyrical contents – about the turmoils in China and Northern Ireland respectively – are at times quite bleak.

As usual though, Marillion shines brightest in their darkest moments. Especially the finales of the original vinyl sides are nothing short of incredible. The moving ‘Seasons End’ has been built upon a haunting clean guitar line by Steve Rothery – who still has the most beautiful clean guitar sound in the world – and features bone chilling performances by both Rothery himself and Hogarth. Closing the album is ‘The Space…’, Hogarth’s first major compositional contribution to Marillion along with ‘Easter’. This synth-driven masterpiece works its way through multiple climaxes and features some incredible vocal work.

Despite those closers being the undisputed highlights of the record, most of Marillion’s albums are remarkably consistent and ‘Seasons End’ is no exception. Each and every one of the seven other songs are worth hearing. ‘Berlin’ in particular is a bit of a beautiful suite of shifting moods and building intensity. ‘Holloway Girl’ and the surprisingly short ‘After Me’ both start out as moody ballads and gradually turn into something more bombastic, while there are excellent performances by everyone involved all around. Steve Rothery in particular truly delivers. He is easily one of the most tasteful and melodic lead guitarists in contemporary music.

Though the singer change would spark an endless “who’s better?” debate, it was exactly what Marillion needed around the time ‘Seasons End’ was released. The album was an essential step in refining their own sound and evolving from their neo-prog beginnings into a truly progressive rock sound that encompasses various influences from the alternative pop and rock field. And even more importantly, ‘Seasons End’ shows that Marillion consists of a group of excellent songwriters that can do more than just play their instruments really well. They can carry a memorable tune much better than many other bands in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Seasons End’, ‘The Space…’, ‘Berlin’

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