Dinosaur Pile-Up Signs With a New Label and Drops Enjoyable Fourth LP

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

Dinosaur Pile-Up is an alt-rock band from Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. They debuted with three well received EPs in the late 2000’s before dropping their first full length album, Growing Pains, in 2010 with charted in the UK. They quickly signed with SO Records and releasing the follow up, Nature Nurture just three years later and supporting it with a tour that brought them to the United States for the first time. Eleven Eleven dropped in 2015, their third full length studio effort and final partnering with SO before landing a massive signing with Parlophone Records. With the much larger label, Dinosaur Pile-Up has access to the highest budget they’ve ever had for an album, a massive growth from their debut which was recorded in at home. With this budget, they’ve recently dropped their fourth studio LP and, for the most part, it’s a blast.

Like any good rock album, one strong feature of the record comes in the form of its lead guitar. Matt Bigland brings a handful of creative ideas to tracks like “Back Foot,” and “Black Limousine,” meshing noticeable, smooth melodies with chaotic, garage rock tendencies to make for quite a few impressive moments. For many listeners, this detail may fall by the wayside because of louder, more commanding elements, but no rock record is complete without strong guitar work.

That being said, Bigland is far more impressive in his duties as the band’s lead vocalist. His range and energy make cuts like the opener, “Thrash Metal Cassette,” and the title track infinitely listenable. He’s so clearly having a great time and it comes through in virtually every second of music. Not to mention, his screams are quite impressive, especially for the genre.

Even more addictive than Matt’s work as the frontman are Mike Shells’ fantastic drums. Virtually every track is impressive, but a few of my favorites include “Stupid Heavy Metal Broken Hearted Loser Punk,” and “Black Limousine.” Throughout the LP, Mike is exactly the kind of drummer this genre demands as none of his rhythms are particularly eye-popping but all of them bring an explosive style that takes each track to a whole new level. The drum kit is also particularly well mixed, which brings me to the true highlight of the album.

The production on this album is excellent. The new label’s money is well spent hear as the album carries a perfect balance between the sharp, tight mix and the messy, ringing instrumentation. The sharp cut off on “Pouring Gasoline,” is a fantastic example of this. On the other hand, there are a few creative moments like the surprising use of radio effects on “Round The Bend.” It’s this strong production throughout which elevates every track and even saves a few poor ones.

However, unfortunately, I do have quite a few complaints with this LP. Perhaps the worst quality comes in a few cringe-worthy lyrics on later cuts like “K West,” and “Professional Freak.” This is especially disappointing as lyrics on earlier tracks are quite strong. Additionally, several tracks on the latter half of the album just don’t carry their weight and seem to drag a bit. 

All in all, Celebrity Mansions is a fun listen. It brings back much of the alt-rock and pop punk styles of the early 2000’s with a bit more precision and maturity as well as some very strong production. However, several lyrical and melodic moments don’t quite live up, causing the album with a runtime of only just over half an hour to feel bloated.

Celebrity Mansions is an enjoyable project, but falls short of being anything more.

4/10

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Defeater’s Self Titled Return is Brutal Yet Heartbreaking

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

Defeater is a melodic hardcore band from Boston. They debuted in 2008 with Travels which tells the story of a young man born in New Jersey near the end of the second world war. This family and the circumstances surrounding them would go on to be the focus of the entirety of Defeater’s discography with each album expanding the world and introducing a litany of new characters, some acting as sequels and others as prequels. In addition to the sprawling narrative, the band’s unique ability to mix hardcore instrumentation with a keen sense of melody makes them one of the most interesting bands in the modern metal scene. They officially parted ways after the 2015 release of Abandoned, but announced in early March that they would return with a self-titled fifth LP.

From the opening track, “The Worst of Fates,” the most prevalent highlight of the band’s sound is clear, that being Derek Archambault’s vocal performance. Throughout the album, especially on cuts like the aforementioned opener or the more subtle “Desperate,” Archambault brings an intensity that can’t be ignored. Under that roughness, however, there’s a genuine vulnerability through which he imbues every story and character with a gruff sort of humanity. It’s a brutal scream, but heartfelt all the same.

Beyond this, Archambault’s lyrics are once again enthralling. Of course, the story telling and conceptualism of the album is every bit as excellent as expected. On tracks like “List & Heel,” or “All Roads,” though, he goes above and beyond in painting vivid imagery and writing with a truly cinematic eye. Along with its many other functions, this album is the fifth installment to a long series which deals with the same family and, in that department, it succeeds wildly.

Instrumentally, the record is a masterwork. Perhaps the most noticeable piece of the puzzle is Joe Longobardi’s drum work. On cuts like “Mother’s Sons,” or “No Guilt,” Joe transitions between complex rhythms and lightning quick fills and does each incredibly well. He has an excellent ear for timing and despite rather predictable time signatures and somewhat weak production, his work shines through as a definitive key to the band’s impressive sound.

Another great element is Jake Woodruff’s grinding lead guitar. While a few of choices are a bit questionable, his contributions to tracks like “Stale Smoke,” and my favorite song on the album, “Debt/Debtor,” can’t be ignored. His drowning style provides a more solid counterpoint against some of the album’s most driving, fast paced beats and he has a talent for writing hooks. On a few cuts, his leads provide the catchiest moments on the album in addition to laying a more layered atmosphere.

My favorite aspect of the band’s sound, though it may not be as immediately noticeable, is founding member Mike Poulin on bass guitar. He grants a heaviness to songs like “Atheists in Foxholes,” and “Hourglass,” and he’s to thank for much of Defeater’s fantastic sound. The chugging, rhythmic bass stands as the foundation of nearly every melody and it is, in many ways, the glue that holds the album together.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Defeater combines all of this for an epic, creative finish in “No Man Born Evil.” This track embodies much of what makes this album so good with a ringing lead guitar, thundering bass, and explosive drums underscoring an unbelievable performance from Derek Archambault which brings to life a harrowing storyline. It’s the perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

Defeater’s self-titled come back is almost everything fans could’ve hoped for. We get to return to the dark, gritty world which they’ve created over the past decade, guiding by great writing and wonderful performances from the entire band.

Defeater is a riveting story of struggle which packs a punch of brutal instrumentation and heartfelt lyricism.

8/10

Catfish and the Bottlemen Stay True to Form For Better or Worse on Third Release

The Balance is a fun project full of great efforts that just can’t quite break the atmosphere of its own uninventive creation.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are an indie/alt-rock outfit from Wales. The debuted with 2014’s The Balcony which went platinum shortly after its release. Prior to their debut, the famously cut their teeth playing in the parking lot before larger bands’ gigs, and that experience very clearly informed much of their commanding sound. After the massive success, the launched two tours and dropped The Ride as a follow up LP in 2016, which went gold. The back to back strong releases netted the band a spot as an opener on Green Day’s Revolution Radio tour in 2017. In January of this year, Catfish and the Bottlemen released a new single and announced the release of their third studio record, The Balance. It’s finally here, and it’s mostly meets expectations.

One strong addition to The Balance that wasn’t nearly as prevalent on previous releases is a string of excellent bass lines. On tracks like “2all,” and “Basically,” Benji Blakeway is given the front seat, melodically speaking, for much of the runtime. His parts are well written and he performs confidently but, of course, the tone of the bass can’t be ignored. The thickness that Blakeway along with, presumably, the production team achieved is fantastic, and it brings another level to his work.

Additionally, Bob Hall’s drums are quite the asset. On a cut like “Fluctuate,” he finds a danceable rhythm and delivers it throughout, where as on “Mission,” his bombastic style guides the group extremely well through multiple timing and style changes. His style is nothing revolutionary in rock music and he rarely shows incredible speed or complex rhythms, but there’s something to be said for reliable simplicity, and that is delivered in spades.

Of course, this is a rock album, and so it’s nothing without the guitars. Luckily, Johnny Bond, the band’s newest member, holds this down quite well. Here, Catfish seems to have improved the most over previous efforts as they’ve found a consistent tone and style which works well with their sound. Tracks like “Sidetrack,” and “Coincide,” feature driving and catchy riffs that will remain in a listeners head for quite a while. 

The album’s strongest points, however, are Van McCann’s vocal performances. From the opener, “Longshot,” to the closer, “Overlap,” and even cuts throughout the middle like “Encore,” McCann brings a confidence and punk energy which is, frankly, more that what he has any right to. His range is quite impressive and, thanks to a handful of grin-worthy one liners, he’s charming enough to carry the record through most of its rough points.

All this being said, I am left with a few complaints, one of which I’d expected before ever hearing The Balance and had hoped the band would be able to mitigate better than they did. Namely, this album can often be boring. It lacks and width whatsoever in its instrumental pallet, and each cut comes in somewhere around the three to four minute range and is built on nearly a identical structure. This can often ignored thanks to strong performances and a magnetic frontman, but on songs like “Conversation,” and “Intermission,” the veil of talent just can’t obscure the numbers by which this album was painted.

However, that certainly doesn’t make the record unenjoyable. In fact, if you want to shut your brain off for a moment and enjoy some fun, meat and potatoes alt-rock, The Balance is the album for you. There’s plenty to enjoy, especially on the first few listens, and it’s worth checking out for any fans of the alt-rock scene that once ruled the world just a few years back. However, there just isn’t enough risk or creativity to be found here, and the record suffers for it.

The Balance is a fun project full of great efforts that just can’t quite break the atmosphere of its own uninventive creation.

5/10

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East of the Wall Returns After Five Years With a Strong Prog Rock LP

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

East of the Wall is a progressive metal outfit from Keyport, New Jersey. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 2006, which kicked off a fairly impressive career and expansive catalog. However, after their fourth full length LP in 2013, they seemed to fall off the map a bit, only releasing one EP in 2015 under Epistemic Records instead of their usual partners, Translation Loss Records. After a long hiatus and more than a few notable lineup changes, they’ve finally returned with their first full scale release in almost six years, NP-Complete.

Much of what works so well about this album is what one would expect from a prog metal band of this caliber, but there are a few surprises, namely in the production. The stereo imaging on this album is absolutely wonderful, and really demands a nice set of headphones. Take a track like the opener, “Tell Them I’m Sorry,” for example. The production work doesn’t quite jump out, but closer examination shows that not only is every instrument, especially the drums, extremely well mixed, but every sound has a direction allowing this album to really surround a listener. 

Another strength which is all too often ignored in the metal world is the excellent bass guitar work. From cuts like the hilariously named “Fast-Bang Pooper Doop,” to the later “Somn 6,” the bass is not only extremely well played, leaving the guitars side for some inspired melodic lines, but it’s also able to cut through the rather chaotic mixes and shine quite effectively. It’s often missing from even the best metal records, and so a strong bass presence is a welcome feeling on NP-Complete.

Of course, the staples of great progressive rock are still here. A multitude of electric guitars form the melodic front to nearly every track, even verging on some shoe-gaze inspirations at a few points. “Leinholder,” is an excellent example of the pure proficiency with which these guitars are played by nearly every member of the band and the track dances through strange signatures and quick riffs with ease. The closer and best track, “Non-Functional Harmony,” on the other hand, is more sparsely populated with a driving and well written riff.

However, while the guitars may be the muscles of this project, Seth Rheam on drums is definitely the backbone. Nearly every song incorporates complex rhythms, strange signatures, and remarkably fast fills, all of which Rheam does with relative ease. “Clapping on the Ones and Threes,” is a nice shining moment for the drums as Seth strikes a great balance between tight, sharp fills and explosive cymbal shots. “N of 1,” on the other hand kicks off with a fantastic drum solo which carries over into one of the best, most rhythmic cuts on the album.

All this being said, I do have a few loud gripes with the album. First and foremost, the vocals leave quite a bit to be desired. While there are a few nice moments like the brutal screams on “Somn 6,” but the majority of the album is packed full of incredible instrumental work and sub par vocals.

Additionally, the instrumental and overall sound pallet are a bit clean and safe for my taste. Nearly every guitar sounds almost pristine, and the majority of vocals are clean as well. When they do attempt to add other instruments, be they synths or a saxophone on the closer, it feels mostly out of step with the direction of the track. I can’t help but wish for a more daring, and perhaps more abrasive pallet.

Worst of all, though, the pacing varies widely, but leans on the side of slow and dense. This, of course, may not be an issue for the hardline prog-metal fan, and I myself can forgive some of it, but a track like “The Almost People,” illustrates this quite well as it just becomes lost in itself over the near eight minute runtime, with no discernible sectioning or direction.

Overall, I enjoyed NP-Complete. It can be a bit of a slog at times, and the lack of risks does catch up with the band at times, but for fans of long-form, jazz-influenced, technically challenging music, this is a treat.

NP-Complete is a fun listen for fans of progressive rock and metal, though it may turn off some outsiders to the genre.

6/10

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American Football’s Third Album is a Blizzard of Complex Emo Rock

LP3 is a luscious piece of math rock that deserves to be heard in one long sitting, and a worthy third entry to the American Football catalog.

American Football is an emo/math rock four piece from Urbana, Illinois. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 1998 which gained them quite a bit of underground buzz for their unique sound, impressive instrumental abilities, and garage-based aesthetic. Just a year later, they dropped their self-titled LP which is something of a landmark for the emo genre. The album is universally praised, and saw the band sore to new heights of popularity, even years after their abrupt split. Without any new material to follow up, the self-titled release achieved near mythic status. Finally, in 2016, 17 years after their debut, they released the much celebrated LP2. Thankfully, there was no near 20 year wait for the third entry, and LP3 has just arrived.

The record is immediately notable for a unique and broad instrumental pallet. The bells on the opener, “Silhouettes,” are fascinating, dancing across the stereo image and carrying a well written melody. On a cut like “I Can’t Feel You,” on the other hand, there are choruses of humming and marimbas being used perfectly in tandem the more traditional instruments for an almost other worldly feel. Most importantly, each of these strange and surprising instruments is perfectly integrated into the mix so as to avoid feeling like a gimmick.

Beyond this, though, the core instruments are fantastic! The rhythms and bass line on a cut like “Heir Apparent,” inject just the right amount of energy and variety into the song. Of course, they take a back seat to the lead guitar work which is the strongest driving force behind every track, never overpowering but always leading. This is achieved to perhaps the best effect on the closer, “Life Support.” American Football has always been respected, primarily, for their instrumental abilities, and LP3 leans into this heavily.

This all leads to a chilling and at times haunting tone. On “Every Wave to Every Rise,” for example, the band utilizes repetition and minimalism in a way that feels almost clinical, leaving a listener searching for any sense of warmth or melody. The thick layers of complex guitar lines add to this general disorientation, with the quiet but present harmonies and rare moments of conjunction bringing a sense of relief.

I also found myself quite blown away by the band’s ability to flesh out every idea they present. Take a song like “Doom In Full Bloom,” which runs just shy of eight minutes, which can often feel like a life time, particularly with soft rock acts like American Football. Instead, this cut is able to be at once luscious and completely frigid. The many interesting instruments hidden in the mix make repeat listens a treat, and the perfectly toned drums and virtuosic guitar refrains make it infinitely entertaining. Overall, it’s the best track on the album, and a testament to American Football’s abilities as songwriters.

This brings us to the album’s strongest point without a doubt, that being the production. It’s already an obvious achievement to helm such a wide variety of instruments, as is unmistakable on a song like “Mine to Miss.” The way bells and horns gently dance in and out of nearly every track is wonderful, and takes an experienced hand. However, even on relatively simple tracks like the lead single, “Uncomfortably Numb,” the stereo image swirls around a listener gently, almost hypnotizing. Haley Williams’ voice sounds excellent on her feature and the guitars seem to ring forever, only to be split in half by the sharpness of the snares. From the big and obvious to the small and subtle, virtually every aspect of LP3’s production is nothing short of perfect.

All said, this is a great album. While it doesn’t jump out to blow you away from the first moments, the subtle touches, wide pallet, and despondent tone make for a moving and cohesive listening experience. It’s not perfect as the vocals are only passible, save a few great features, and the pacing can seem unbearable to non-fans. It’s not for everyone, but if you love this brand of soft but complex emo rock, it’s a must listen.

LP3 is a luscious piece of math rock that deserves to be heard in one long sitting, and a worthy third entry to the American Football catalog.

8/10

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The Bouncing Souls Celebrate Their 30th Anniversary with Fun EP3

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

The Bouncing Souls are a punk rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey. They debuted in 1994 with The Good, The Bad, and the Argyle, and went on to release four albums throughout the 90’s, each finding some level of underground success. Though their catalog lacks any real mainstream hits, it does show every sign of a hard working, old school punk act with 10 studio albums and 15 EPs since their formation in 1989. After beginning with Chunksaah Records, they left to work with Epitaph for the majority of their output in the 2000’s but they’ve recently returned to Chunksaah for their most recent projects including 2016’s Simplicity, which is one of their best selling albums to date. With their 30th anniversary approaching, they’re adding to their extensive catalog with Crucial Moments.

The EP opens with the high energy title track which kicks off the tracklist in style. It’s essentially a straight forward, pop-punk cut driven by Greg Attonito’s impressively clean vocal. The drum fills are fast and exciting and lead guitar is extremely well played. The pulled back bridge, though quite cliche’d, is enjoyable and the crisp production makes for quite the opener, overall.

“1989” is a much more true blue punk track, all the way down to the terse, 90 second runtime. Instrumentally, there’s no dip in quality to be heard and, in fact, there is the improvement of a very well played bass line on the bridge and an entertaining guitar solo. Unfortunately, Greg’s vocals lack the grit needed to pull off this sound, and the song is at it’s best when he returns to his melodic style near the end. Additionally, the structure of this track is just awkward and it leaves quite a bit to be desired, ultimately.

“Favorite Everything,” follows, driven especially by an ear-worm guitar lead. Lyrically, its a fun love song full of quirky platitudes which are performed quite convincingly. Beyond this, the drums are, once again, excellent, aided by a great rhythm in general. The track’s biggest weak points are the transitions between sections. Choruses just seem to start and end with no noticeable change beyond lyrics, and the track as a whole bleeds together a bit by the end.

“Here’s To Us,” on the other hand, is easily the strongest showing on the project. The instrumental is explosive and Attonito’s vocals are his best thus far. The melody on the chorus is fantastically well written, though the lyrics are a bit juvenile, admittedly. It ends with a soaring guitar solo directly into an exciting passage of doubled vocals. It’s exactly the sound you want to hear out of this band and it’s delivered better here than anywhere else.

The band returns to the traditional punk sound again with “4th Avenue Sunrise,” this time with much better results. Greg defaults to a more charismatic, blues-tinged vocal style which fits the song much better and more importantly, this cut doesn’t feel nearly as incomplete. Each idea is presented and fully fleshed out while the high tempo retains the quick impact they’re going for.

“Home,” closes the album and it’s a relatively enjoyable finish. It features yet another excellent chorus which is very well performed by Attonito. The crunching lead guitars are pure pop-punk and explosive drumming brings the choruses to a head in a very satisfying way. Overall, it’s one of the stronger cuts on the project, not the least of which because of the very strong songwriting.

Ultimately, this is a fun collection of songs, though it’s lacking in more than a few areas. There’s really not a single track that isn’t enjoyable in some way or another. The tracklist is very well paced and the production is slick but full of life.

Crucial Moments is an ultimately enjoyable, if flawed celebration of thirty years of good music.

3/5

Hear the EP

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Mystifier Is Back With a Brutal Fourth Album

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

Mystifier is a black/heavy metal band from Salvador, Brazil. They debuted in 1992 with Wicca was a large part of the often overlooked Brazilian metal scene. With a handful of EPs and demos, they began to find some success worldwide and released their second LP, Goetia the following year. This was followed by a large scale tour and quite a bit of critical acclaim before the group split for a long hiatus. They returned in 2008 with their career defining third album The World is So Good That Who Made It Doesn’t Live Here which kicked off yet another large tour followed by yet another long silence as they’ve only sparsely appeared since the release. Sonically, Mystifier is, in many ways, a poster child for the kind of stereotypical, satanic black metal that newer bands only see fit to elude to. Now, after more than a decade off, Mystifier finally returns with Primal Black Magic Dynasty.

One of the album’s most interesting touches are the haunting and well placed atmospheric sounds that begin a few of the tracks. Perhaps the best example of this comes in the horrifying opening to “Witching Lycanthropic Moon,” which melds a wide array of nocturnal animal noises with a gritty, growling vocal to set a listener immediately into the hellscape that Mystifier is trying to create.

Yet another strength unique to Primal Black Magic Dynasty is the very well mixed and played bass guitar. In a genre which consistently struggles with allowing the bass to cut through the fog, Mystifier makes it sound easy. There are fantastic solos on tracks like “Heart Weighing Ceremony,” and “Demolish the Towers of the Sky,” but throughout nearly every song, the bass is not only loud and clear, but active and creative, adding to the dark scenery of the project.

Those scenes are quickly ripped to shreds, however, by the gut-wrenching guitar riffs that populate the album. From the last single and highlight of the entire record, “Six Towers of Belial’s Path,” to the later cut, “Soultrap Sorcery of Vengeance,” the guitars are extremely thick and driving, owing in part to excellent performances and in part to strong production choices. Most importantly, the tone and melody isn’t lost in the growl, but instead a near perfect balance is struck.

Vocally, the leads are about as horrific as one would expect from the gothic horror on the album cover. There’s a pair of vocalists trading lines between each other, one much thinner and piercing, the other lower and cacophonous. Tracks like “Thanatopraxy,” and “Al Nakba,” stand as strong showings for the pair, and while they aren’t perfect at every turn, there’s a power and passion that comes through on each effort.

Instrumentally, though, the most technically demanding parts are left for the drumming. From the opening title track to the later and darker “Church of the Molested Children,” the drumming is lightning fast and explosive. This isn’t uncommon for music in this genre, but it’s especially noticeable on this record.

Their best quality comes when they are all working together. Namely, the dynamic shift from brutal, high speed thrashing to melodic breakdowns and back again on cuts like “Akhenaton,” is exhilarating. Mixing in elements of more traditional heavy metal allows them to create moments that even a casual hard rock fan can enjoy before diving headlong again into the crushing blasts that characterize most black and death metal.

On the other hand, I do have my complaints, which mainly fall into three categories. The first of these is the lead guitar  which almost never seems to fit as none of the solos are particularly impressive and it constantly fails to make its way to the front of the mix. The second is is the instrumental pallet which, though somewhat wide, feels almost like a gimmick outside of the core instrumentation. All of this is made infinitely worse by my third and main complaint, which is extremely poor mixing, particularly in instrumental passages as the drums never quite fit and the rhythm guitar seems to drown out all else.

All this being said, I enjoyed this LP quite a bit. It’s good to hear such an early member of the black metal movement return to the scene with a strong effort.

Primal Black Magic Dynasty has plenty to complain about, but it’s a fun listen for fans of the more brutal side of the music world.

6/10

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