Category Archives: review

Album Review: “Nightingale” by Thirteen

Thirteen found me on Twitter and sent me one of those DM’s promoting their latest album “Nightingale”. I decided this would be my next album to review.

Thirteen is a hard rock band based out of DC and formed in 2015. Self-described as a cross between Black Sabbath and Guns n’ Roses, not to mention a plethora of other old school influences, the band formed out of a desire to keep hthirteennightingalealbumartard rock alive (long live rock!) and bring its legacy to the masses. Part of that quest manifests in their 2016 release “Nightingale”, which I understand is not only their debut album but won Best Hard Rock Album. While I wish they wouldn’t keep describing themselves this way as it did create some bias I feel I can get past it. Let’s dive in…

The album opens up with the eponymous song. While I see why they opened up with this song (more on that later), and it certainly has a strong Black Sabbath influence to bring in listeners, it probably wasn’t the strongest way to open. The vocals capture Ozzy’s voice very well with the way he sweeps his pitches and is atonal and his pitchiness. The rest of Thirteen captured the elements of those part of Ozzy’s solo career with simplistic composition and strong guitars. It certainly brings some atonal aspects that add some great dissonance, but it doesn’t seem to build up to anything. Tension is abound, but what should build up to a fantastic moment putters out. Based on the lyrics that focus on the speaker losing a loved one upon seeing the speaker’s dark side it may be an artistic choice to present it that way.

Leading into “In Her Mind” we get more of the same, only with more 90’s aesthetics. The song opens up with a basic drum line that’s compressed, a popular 90’s motif, along with references to femme fatale figures (Cleopatra, Medusa, etc.) and the Viper Room (while still around, the 90’s are definitely when folks remember it the most), and living fast and dangerously (which is probably why the Viper Room was referenced). I personally feel like the lyrics could have been reworked without sacrificing the rhythm structure. At times the lyrics feel a bit contrived with rhyming in order to fit this and at times the imagery suffers for it. I’ll use the example of the line “eyes like Medusa”. Are they insinuating her gaze turns people into stone? If so, how does that “see through you”? Is that how she “gets people in her mind?” The imagery doesn’t add up. Despite poorly constructed lyrics I found everything came together to provide a strong bass line that compliments the risky aspects of the song along with the rattling noise as if to suggest the “she” in the song is like a rattlesnake. I can only presume the woman in this song is the same one referenced in “Nightingale”, which is certainly an interesting aspect. I could see a different story unfolding, if that’s the case. Regardless I think folks will love this song and play it on their night out.

Next on the track is “Insanity” and it does change up the tracks up to this point. It doesn’t feel completely like 90’s hard rock and the lyrics seem to have a coherency to them to where the verses actually transition smoothly into the chorus. The minor keys add a somber tone to the lyric content of living fast combined with drug abuse. The short length of the song also adds a sense the subject of the song will soon (or is about to) hit a wall with fast lane life, whether intentional or not. One thing that I really enjoy about this is the vocalist is gritty and melodic and not forcing anything. I honestly get the feel this was easier for the vocalist to handle than trying to emulate Ozzy. There is also a great balance of guitars with the drums. The bass doesn’t overpower and the drums provide the structure that was missed in the other songs. The accents synchronize with the vocal accents resulting in stressing where the listener needs to find meaning. This is a song that not only I can foresee getting air time, but I think is more natural for Thirteen as a whole.

The album returns to the 90’s aesthetics with “El Diablo”. Guitar distortions, atonal tones, and ornamental interludes fill the song alongside demonic and dark imagery. One thing this song does which I enjoy is break away from the 90’s aesthetics with Spanish guitar even if it’s just to bookend before breaking into the 90’s theme again. I wish they did more with the Spanish elements instead of cramming it into the beginning. It felt contrived without it being more dispersed. Speaking of dispersed…

I’m not sure “I Let Go” was the right song to follow. It’s a slow, sentimental piece about missing love and possibly placed here as a juxtaposition of the wild nature of “the devil” to sentimental, tame elements of “the angel”. Ultimately it jars the pace of the album and doesn’t seem to contribute to that flow. Regardless, the song has many redeeming attributes. The acoustic aspects are very melodic and, when paired with the atonal vocals, sometime add to internal chaos felt by the speaker. While this is certainly one of the stronger pieces of the album, where one sees it start off as a rather flat piece in composition and then build into something more complex with layers of static sounds and eventually deviating from atonal to more harmonic chords, I feel like it’s missing something. I’m not quite sure what it is, though, as this is certainly another piece where I can discernibly say that is a direction Thirteen should take.

The album really deviates from everything it’s presented to the listener with “Dark Star”. Well, they keep the dark themes and tones of their music and that part works out. One sees when listening to this song why it follows the previous song: it’s down tempo and seems to follow the theme of endings. At the same time it’s hard to get behind this song as a music critic even though I personally enjoy it. The transitions are clunky at times, though the clunkiness pays off in lyrics like “to pull the trigger”. It feels like there’s supposed to be a theme and variation led by the drums, especially with the use of high hat, but I’m not sure where it leads. I also have personally a hard time with the pitch here. I’m all for atonal and singing that sounds off but isn’t, but the vocalist was trying to hit notes below his range. I could see where missing the notes could convey the idea of someone on a losing streak, but for me it was distracting.

Next up was “Time”, which was another song I felt was out of place on the album. I can see why it was included, but at the same time it didn’t fit the themes of the rest of the songs. It’s certainly a love song, one with lots of sentimental ideas presented and more major chord progressions than the other songs. It was also slightly more complex than the other songs, albeit subdued, in that the guitar riffs were slightly drowned out but still audible while everything else was simplistic. I appreciated the complex riffs but in trying to mix it with the other phrasing in the other parts made it awkward. This is one of those songs where letting each part shine will really drive the emotions behind the song.

Thirteen goes back to their similar themes and aesthetics with “Romeo’s Kiss”. At times the song reminds me of Mountain and I enjoyed that aspect. I was conflicted about this song in terms of rhythmic composition. On one hand I wanted this song to be more chaotic since we’re hearing about the perspective of a person spiraling out of control. This was encompassed well during the interlude as well. On the other hand I felt the off rhythm attributes didn’t pan out in my mind. It mostly occurred with parts where the end rhyming occurs (there is a reason I have issues with end rhyming. Part of my problem is forcing it to work with an already determined meter, and it ultimately doesn’t mesh. It’s a lose-lose situation). That said, there were some possible production issues with this song. I can’t tell if it’s my headphones but the kick drum’s levels felt like it was turned up too high during recording at times. In general it sounds like there were some difficulties with low ends on this song as it sounds really compressed or like someone hitting a mic. It’s odd as I don’t notice this anywhere else in the album prior.

Other than production deviations “Satin Doll” provides structurally something a little different. It provides no real transition between the different styles, so we get a bookend of driving guitar rhythms paired with a marching tempo then suddenly break into legato, melodious parts. At one point during the interlude these parts sort of combine but it’s still a little awkward without a transition. The lyrics are a bit better, and I personally like how it uses more ways to rhyme, such as slant rhyming and alliteration (“precious pain” followed by “love is just a game” comes to mind). The imagery, however, was still kind of weak. When I think of dolls I don’t think of them “drowning in a sea”. As a hard rock band there’s a lot of fun to be had by subverting the tough veneer with something like a doll. I personally would have tried to work that to something like “sewn up with whips and chains” or something to that effect. It still upholds much of the sexual and dangerous tension permeating the album. It also adds to the idea of the speaker going for more of the same when it comes to the female object of his desire: a figure that is somewhat femme fatale but equally damaged. As for the production I’m starting notice a bit of the same distortion issue with the drums and actually a bit of the vocals. This leads me to believe something wasn’t properly filtered during recording or levels were up too high. I’m not sure if this is some sort of artistic intention, but it comes off more as distracting from the song rather than something that adds to it.

The album ends on something of an ultimate bookend with “The Siren”, compared to the album staring off with “Nightingale”. Where the album starts off with losing a lover who couldn’t stand to see the speaker warts and all, we see something of a finale. We see everything from the album in this one song, from atonal gritty vocals to melodic tones about sexy dangerous women serving as a psychopomp through the underbelly world of the album. This is something that should have been prevalent in the entire album, or at least started off the album. It offers a lot for the listener and it keeps the hard rock influences without letting them overpower the band’s own creative forces. This is the song that delivers a punch to the eardrums that the listener thanks the band for providing.

Overall “Nightingale” is certainly a plethora of some early material. I understand the desire to bring hard rock back into music, but there is so much more for Thirteen to use than 90’s era hard rock. It has a rich history and one that is facing many challenges currently, namely with the demand for more complexity in music. I’m confident Thirteen can and will rise to that challenge. When they quit letting their influences completely dominate such as in songs like “Insanity” and “The Siren”, and possibly a bit in their songs like “Satin Doll” Thirteen delivers powerful chords tempered with melodic, yet biting lyrics. That said, Thirteen’s lyrics and composition do need some work. The composition will work out in time, again, when the band is willing to take the forefront of their own artistic image. I already see that in how they present something of a story of two (former) lovers whether intended or not and other themes of how love and risk can be intertwined. This no-bit critic will love to see how Thirteen develops their artistry and grow from here. Perhaps they’ll even spread their wings to fly like a bird.

Rating: 2.2/4

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Opeth Builds a World of Nostalgia and Trance

Opeth has made waves in recent albums as longtime fans noted a change in theircreative direction.  Any time Opeth is mentioned it provokes the debate of whether or not it’s for the best.  Regardless Opeth still knows how to synthesize a visually appealing aesethetic and a set list bound to appease even the most stringent fan.

I won’t deny that there is a major difference between Opeth’s older music and their newer stuff.  It’s obvious.  Their newer stuff has more pronounced jazz and rock elements and subdued more modern aspects of metal.  I feel like much of it is a nod to music from the ’70s.  Given I really enjoy music from that era I see it as a boon.  What did make it feel like a ’70s throwback were the psychedelic visuals and emphasis on red and yellow lighting.  It certainly harkens to a different period, and I question the meticulous attention to detail.  There seems to be a clear purpose in going this direction but I can’t figure out if it’s for artistic or personal preference. 

 As for their older content it stands strong in its own merit.  Ot was amazing to watch the audience dynamic go from a subtle rocking out (at least compared to the rest of the night) to the same frenzy found with the other acts.  When the older songs were played the frenzy came out.  It even led to a few hilarious moments where Mikael Åkerfeldt demonstrated just how well he can handle hecklers.  That is the first time I saw anyone handle hecklers with deft and poise.

Opeth was able to handle more than just hecklers and visuals. The set list itself was created in such a way where the audience truly gets lost in the musical experience.  It may be the answer to my earlier ramblings about why the meticulous recreation of ’70s aspects.  I’ll be honest it was just as easy for me to get lost in the moment there as it is for me to get lost in ’70s music.  It may just be about creating an experience rather than any particular aesethetic.

Whatever the reason Opeth provides powerful music tempered by melodic tones.  In doing so it provides the audience an experience that permits not only getting lost in the music but a sense of nostalgia and, for me, lots of enjoyment.

Technique- 4

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total-10

The Devin Townsend Project Brings a Tour de Force of Social Awkwardness 

This isn’t my first time reviewing The Devin Townsend project, but I will start it off probably the same way.  My bias in favor of them still stands.

Musically The Devin Townsend Project offers a plethora of styles, all of which deliver with tenacity and artistry only matched by a frontman who pokes fun at his own idiosyncrocies.  The powerhouse vocals tied together earth shaking drums and rolling bass lines deliver the poetics found in prog metal with the gritiness found in extreme metal.  This isn’t easy to pull off, and sometimes the timing was off due to excessive banter or missing the high notes.  Despite overdoing it to the point of hindrance that over the top embellishment added to the songs and brought something to folks already familiar with the work. 
 Not only was it more engaging, it was obvious the years of experience brought a clear command of audience interaction.  Whenever it seemed like he was losing the audience Townsend found a way to rile them up again, be it singing along, counting down to “March of the Poozers”, or cracking jokes about being out of place and a dad possibly out of his element.  Any mishap was handled by distracting the audience so well I didn’t even catch it (I only know it happened because he admitted to it, so kudos for getting one past me).  Even the sound quality was a far cry better than last time, which I would expect from a decent venue and incredible sound engineers.  

There was something that I felt was a little off about this area: the set list.  I honestly expected more from the “Transcendence” album, though I welcomed hearing music from “Z2” and older albums.  I also didn’t expect to hear songs like “Deadhead” so soon in the set list (that song was fourth if I recall).  I surmise that it had to do with the flow of the energy, which this set kept constant.  Regardless everyone had a good time, myself included.  

Technique- 3.65

Presentation-3

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0.25

Total-9.9

CS Luxem Shines Their Light (And It Didn’t Help My Migraine)

CS Luxem broke the monotony of ambient music in the night with their combination of music and social awkwardness. While it seemed odd it came together for an interesting show that provided the only fresh air that was in The Replay Lounge by that part of the night.

Luxem provided a nice break from all the ambient music with their combination of doo-wop paired with a strong bass line. Adding off-key vocals and some synth elements to the mix does max it interesting, though at times it felt a little hokey. I felt like at times there was too much in the mix that it was a bit of overkill, such as too strong of a bass line or too much reverb that seemed to serve no purpose. On a more positive note they remind me of a grittier 10 CC.

As I’ve said with other bands that night I’m giving some leeway about their performance as I couldn’t see the stage thanks to a tight crowd. I’m going to give them even more leeway because I started to feel ill and left in the middle of their set. I feel because of that they didn’t get a fair review without it, especially when I left it seems they really started to play their finer songs. What I did get to note was while sometimes over the top musically CS Luxem also delivered equally goofy stage antics. At times it came off a part of the act, but it also felt a little contrived as if trying to mask something.

The audience enjoyed the antics, though, and showed it with lots of cheering. Sadly this section is pretty sparse, which adds to why I’m giving them leeway. It’s not their fault, but at least the audience got to enjoy them.

As I’ve said CS Luxem combines doo-wop and synth with goofiness. What little I did review shows that while a bit rough around the edges can provide something unique and a bit reminiscent of 70’s and 80’s music. I hope to give them a more complete review in the future.

 

Technique- 2

Presentation- 1.5

Audience Interaction- 1

Brownie Points- 0.75

Total- 5.25

 

Tycho Alba: Similar but Not Quite Like Tycho

Coming all the way from Colorado to grace The Replay Lounge is Tycho Alba. I’ll admit I couldn’t help but make a horrible wordplay on the artist Tycho in the title of this article. In reality the only similarities they share are something with Tycho in their names and tend to create ambient music.

Tycho Alba captures ambient music vibes and mixes it with atonal vocals (though I suspect at times the singer just missed the pitch) and synth elements reminiscent of 80’s electronic music. At times they varied on this by pulling from disco or jazz (and in one song power chords) in order to create a sound that I can only really describe as both playing into ambient music and a new wave revival. They also go as far as to create dissonance within their music while not compromising the tranquility of the music. One song in particular featured a very staccato rhythm with the smooth, connecting elements of ambient melodies. However, one of the pitfalls of ambient music is its monotony, and Tycho Alba can’t escape it. There were times where the songs sounded too much alike where, had they been played consecutively, I would have figured was a long song. However I think this band’s aware of this pitfall and at least came prepared to keep the audience’s attention.

As I’ve said in other reviews I find it hard to review an ambient performance. The point of the music is to be relaxing and trance-like. Playing at a venue that tends to be lively proves challenging, especially for music that provides a relaxing atmosphere. It can put a show at odds with the surroundings. These guys were able, from what I could see without a crowd, show some enthusiasm with their music They also joked a bit with audience and engaged further with special effects. At least, I think fog machines fall under special effects. Either way they used it, and boy did it release a lot of fog! The audience didn’t seem to mind, though.

The audience, in fact, seemed somewhat engaged. As I noted they gathered closely around the stage so I had a hard time watching the performance. There was a bit of cheering and applauding throughout, and it seemed fairly consistent with the exception of one or two songs. As I said, playing ambient music live can be tough, especially at a lively venue.

Overall Tycho Alba are able to add to ambient music by incorporating at times very dichotomous elements. Even though they still fall into the trappings of performing ambient music at times they still manage to captivate the audience as much as the genre is capable of doing.

 

Technique- 2.5

Presentation-1.5

Audience Interaction–1.5

Brownie Points-0.5

Total-6.0

Overkill: 2/19 at The Granada

I’ll admit at the risk of whatever minuscule cred I had I was excited to learn Overkill was still around, as I thought they kind of faded away into obscurity. I was intrigued to learn they were touring and would end up in my neck of the woods. Then again, I’m usually intrigued when the midwest isn’t overlooked. These thrash metal veterans have been around since the 80’s, which is pretty much when thrash began. Overkill managed to avoid one of the things that more established bands suffer: a performance that’s caught in their glory days and presents a stale act. What I caught on stage was a band who didn’t act as some relic to the past, but ones who understood their history shaped who they are as performers.

This band manages to keep the old school elements of thrash metal while still keeping it fresh. It had the typical elements of thrash metal such as blast beats, fast tempos and, well, thrashing guitars. Where they tend to deviate from old school is they are willing to play with tempo and overall structure of the song,. It doesn’t randomly play in either a fast or moderato tempo as thrash metal tends to do. The lyrics, while a bit heavy on the end rhymes at times, delivered the right cadence and tone to match the genre. The music overall was paired with an electric performance.

These guys know how to put on a show. They were able to relate to the audience about their previous time stopping by the area and made it seem memorable. They also reminisced a bit about their time as a whole, but worked it in as a segue to other songs or psyching up the audience rather than ramblings of veteran musicians. This showed me how much thought and experience they have to balance that old school status without it appearing they’re trapped in nostalgia. They did, however, do some stuff that I didn’t like.

Overkill likes to build suspense, and I don’t know if it was because I knew what they were doing or if they overdid it that annoyed me. To me if felt like constant waiting. I was waiting for the set the finish checking things, I was waiting for the fog machine to deliver the right amount, I waited for the frontman to return to the stage after leaving during the interlude, I waited even more for the band to arrive on stage in the first place. I felt impatient and was wondering at some times how long I’d be left waiting again. I think, however, whatever the reason I grew impatient the payoff with the audience was enhanced despite my sentiment.

Everything about this band surged the audience into a frenzy. They were ready to thrash by the time Overkill hit the stage. It even got crazier with a few audience members sending questionable liquids flying. It got so out of hand the band had to ask people to calm down and lay off the flying liquids. Naturally a sex joke was made from it and laughter ensued. This showed me how much influence Overkill had and were aware of it. That is rare to find in a band, even experienced ones. By the end of the set the audience was calling for an encore. If it was an encore or planned manipulation I couldn’t say, but the audience felt like it was one and loved it.

Overkill has taken years of experience as musicians and performers to create an act that is still powerful and emotionally charged. In combining those experiences and willingness to be open to the audience they know the audience will be open to them and enjoy themselves. I’m not sure I can repeat myself anymore so I’ll cut to the score:

Technique-3.75

Presentation-2.75

Audience Interaction-3

Brownie Points-0

Total- 9.5

Nile: 2/19/17 at The Granada

I’ll admit when I first researched Nile and found out they’re a metal band that blends Ancient Egyptian aspects I had my doubts. Based on my personal experience such combinations don’t work out well. It tends to be hoakey or the synthesis is clunky and incomplete. As a Kemeticist with a strong bias I knew it was going to make me a hard sell. When I saw Nile perform, however, those doubts faded and the bias moved in the other direction.

One of things I really appreciate is their blend of Ancient Egyptian aesthetics with metal in a way that felt natural. While most recognize their combination of passages from Ancient Egyptian works, namely the Book of the Dead, I recognized other elements commonly associated with Ancient Egyptian music may have sounded like (no known Ancient Egyptian musical notation survives, so most of the elements of Ancient Egyptian music are guesses). Such elements where instruments mimic the sistrum (I didn’t see one in use, so I’m assuming cymbals were used instead) really tied it together with sparing use in ways that aren’t overbearing and don’t compromise the metal aspects. I personally appreciated how it was a true blend of ideas rather than Ancient Egyptian music randomly interjected into death metal. Everything was meticulous with drawing emphasis to the Ancient Egyptian passage. The rhythm even emphasized certain phrases with accents or employed dissonance to create the necessary build up really complimented the overall work. This is probably the only way Nile deviates from the Ancient Egyptian aspects, as Ancient Egyptians were really big on balance, and anything that could promote discord was avoided. It still works.

Musically Nile really blended the Ancient Egyptian aspects with metal, but on stage they’re metal. I’ll admit the Kemeticist in me hoped they would greet the audience with “em hotep”, but that would be impractical and hamming it up a little. Regardless of my desires Nile still showed a lot of love for the audience. They made a point to not only give a shout out to Overkill, but to Whoracle and pretty much everyone. It even felt like sincere appreciation. They certainly needed grace as, like Whoracle, their songs were subjected to the lights flickering at seizure-inducing rates. They worked with it and brought not only typical metal fanfare of headbanging but fist pounding and getting the audience as excited as they seemingly were.

Nevertheless the music and stage mannerisms were well received by the audience. Almost from the very beginning of the set Nile had the audience wrapped around their little finger. There were metal horns, headbanging, moshing, and just all around moshpit frenzy during the first song all the way to the last. I feel like at any point they could have even persuade the audience to do anything they desired. I can’t remember the last time I saw metalheads act like that at a concert, if ever. I’m genuinely impressed.

Biases aside Nile blends elements that are diametrically opposed elements in a way that brings out the best in both. As performers they deliver in stage persona and energetic enthusiasm that permeates the audience. Here’s how they scored:

Technique: 3.5

Presentation: 2.75

Audience Interaction: 3

Brownie Points: 0

Total: 9.25