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The Stillwinter – En Souvenir de Toi

En Souvenir de Toi by The Stillwinter

The first thing that’s going to come to mind when listening to The Stillwinter is Horse The Band. That’s not to say these guys are a ripoff of HTB, but if you like Horse the Band (and you should), then these guys are definitely worth checking out.

“Apres La Morte” starts things off channeling that HTB vibe, with a wild mix of eight-bit high-energy synth pop and probably at least a little bit of alcohol. This is not music to sit and study Economics with, this is a party mix.

Tracks like “Superbro” are slightly more conventional, with an approach closer to a bands like My Chemical Romance (but less crappy). “My Valentine” similarly calls to mind that same emo/post-hardcore sound, but is far more fun – in a “re-mixed by rabid chipmunks” sort of way. “Savior of Lies”, on the other hand, is a pretty straightforward post-hardcore rocker and somehow manages to mix the emo sound with their own Casio-tinged style into something surprisingly poignant.

“Through the Flames” may be the one real misstep. Abandoning their light-hearted theatrics for what should be a touching ballad, they fail to pull it off – you’re left waiting for the punchline.

The Stillwinter succeeds in doing something that not enough performers even attempt – they’ve made something unique. This disc is not going to appeal to everyone. But for those who get their hands on this and get to check these guys out, this is a nice little souvenir to add to the well-rounded music collection.

-Late

En Souvenir de Toi

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 3.5 stars
***1/2

At No End – From The Rust

At No End - From the Rust CD cover

At No End have made clear one thing from the start: they want to bring straight up, no nonsense hardcore and pummel you with it. In that, they have failed. “From the Rust” doesn’t follow in the tracks of their 2010 release, “Urban Holocaust” – it goes right around it and blazes a totally different trail.

Fear not, the guys haven’t gone soft or suddenly gone all James Hetfield and started writing songs about rehab or anything – although “Godless” continues their trend of thoughtful lyric writing that is all too absent in a lot of hardcore. Tracks like “Blindside”, “Venomous Blood” and “From the Rust” are straight up thrashers that call to mind Testament and Slayer’s glory days of thrash. But while the whole album makes no qualms about the band’s hardcore roots, the other influences are a lot more present than in past efforts. “One Blood”, for instance, has an uncharacteristically sludgy open before breaking forth into an almost anthemic rager.

That may be the one thing missing from this album, there’s no hook like the title cut from “Urban Holocaust”. “Whorer” and “Carcasses of War” come close but, to be fair, “Urban Holocaust” may have been the baddest hardcore anthem ever to come out of the Midwest – so it’s kind of hard to fault the guys for that. What this album lacks in that one monster hardcore anthem, it more than makes up for by showcasing just how good these guys are. Tracks like “Despised” (probably the standout track on the album) do one thing that not a lot of hardcore bands do – it showcases these guys as musicians. Kenny Easterly’s drums on “Snap”, Tommy Packard’s riffing on “Serial” (was that a solo I heard? on a hardcore album??), the punishing low-end opening to “World Ablaze” are just things you don’t get on standard hardcore fare.

This may not be the archetypal hardcore album that “Urban Holocaust” was, but that simply shows that the evolution of At No End’s sound is…well…at no end. This is forged by years of refining their style and hewn from the streets…and the rust.

-Late

From The Rust

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

Pennenga (demo)

“Standing in Starlight” kicks off a quick four song sampler from Pennenga.  The track has a strong 60s vibe to it, which calls to mind the likes of the Beatles, but a cheaper amateurish version of that iconic sound.  That’s not to say there’s no talent here.  At times, Pennenga has a refreshing lilt to his voice which belies his range.  The problem is that he doesn’t seem interested in sticking to that range in which he is most effective and ventures early and often into other approaches, which come across as flat.

“Shakespeare” is a bouncier track with a jazzy beat that arguably could have been something.  The change in tone from the rest of the songs speaks to varied musical influences and a strong creative desire.  But there’s a time to be creative and a time to work with what you have – not what you wish you were.

“Here Comes the Rain” drives that point home.  At its core, it’s a light, bouncy pop rock number that could serve well at the beach or just chilling around the backyard barbecue.  But there’s a desire in there to make it more by adding cowbells and other gimmicks that take something that is admittedly a cookie cutter track and making it seem more vapid.

Finally, “Travel With Me” could be the standout track.  It’s sincere, it’s heartfelt, and it’s written by someone who knows exactly what he’s trying to say and really seems to feel it as he’s both singing and (presumably) writing it.  It mostly works, although he again reaches for too many emotions by trying to change his voice instead of just working with it, within himself.

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 1.5 stars
*1/2

The music is creative.  It has a heart that is often all-too missing these days.  But it’s unrefined and unfocused.  Could it be more?  Certainly, if this were more than the side project it seems to be.  If Pennenga worked on his craft as much as he clearly works on his songwriting, there would be something to work with.  For now, though, it’s a flat exercise in little more than karaoke.

NorseLaw – Moon Hunters

NorseLaw - Moon Hunters CD cover

One word that doesn’t typically come to mind when discussing NorseLaw is “compromise”. Personally and musically, this is a dude who know what he wants. It’s ironic, then, that compromise and an intermittent lack of focus are the two things that hold the Moon Hunters disc back the most.

“Dungeonlurker” starts with a haunting acoustic intro before transitioning awkwardly into a blistering thrash track. The transition is a bit haphazard but once the track settles in, the riff is solid and calls to mind some of the classic thrash of the 80s with enough melodic interludes to call to mind Dio and the like. The track continues to go back and forth between the melodic and the intense, though, and has a hard time finding its footing – it comes across as jumbled and unfocused. “The Demise That Came to Sarnath”, though, comes in and is everything that “Dungeonlurker” wanted to be. At times chilling and at others scorching, this is a track that really draws the listener in and is the standout track on the disc.

The remaining three tracks play pretty much the same: solid thrashers that occasionally lose their way. “Unmerciful Gloom” features some overly contrived falseto vocals that, with NorseLaw’s voice, are really not needed and distract from what is otherwise a solid track. “Moon Hunters” is a stripped down rager that is a no frills assault on the listener. When it slips into its creepy little bridge, it does so without missing a beat and stands alongside “The Demise That Came to Sarnath” as the twin pillars of the disc. “Howl of the Direwolf” opens slow and haunting before again beating the listener into submission. Again, this is another one that works and shows that you can have the best of both worlds.

Moon Hunters isn’t without its warts and could benefit from some more critical editing, at times sounding like a vanity project style showcase. The good news is that there’s a whole lot here that’s worthy of showcasing. This may not be the next great metal album of our time, but NorseLaw is on the hunt and the nothing can focus that inner savage beast quite like the moonlight. Check this out and stay tuned. NorseLaw once created then conquered the world of Viking rap and has laid claim to punk and thrash as well. Another word that doesn’t come to mind when discussing NorseLaw is “quitter”, and this disc shows that the Viking metal scene will soon belong to NorseLaw as well.

-Late

Moon Hunters

Rating by Larry McCloskey: 4.0 stars
****

In Fear and Faith- Self Titled

In Fear and FaithI had the privilege of getting to check out In Fear and Faith this past summer, and after the show was more than pleased to hear they had a new album coming out in the fall. Fast forward to the present, and here we are with the new self-titled album in hand, and after listening to it, I can say it was worth the wait.

IFAF deliver a solid record full of catchy hooks and choruses on nearly every song. No filler material here. The keys are more than impressive all throughout the record. On more than a couple of tracks, you could swear that there’s a whole orchestra playing behind the band. The guitars aren’t really insane and over the top, which fit the whole mood of the album perfectly. They are there, you can hear them and they sound great, but they play so well with everything else going on that it doesn’t take away from anything.

And while all this is amazing, it’s the vocals of Scott Barnes that make the album what it is. His clean vocals are nearly always sung in his trademark high pitch vocal, but it’s not so over the top that it’s annoying. He knows what he needs to do with his voice and does it very well. His screams aren’t nearly as good as his singing, but he plays the whole give and take brilliantly with his sound. Great job in that department.

If there were a complaint to make about anything, it would be the length of the piano track “Enigmatic”. Not that it’s a bad song or anything. It’s honestly really nice to hear, I think I just wanted more of what the band was throwing out before this track was put in. If this is the only complaint I can make, it’s not really that bad then!

Overall a solid release by a really underrated band. I don’t think it’s the band as much as the genre. With the whole post-hardcore thing, everyone tends to be lumped together and sound the same. What IFAF did was throw in a lot of keys and the whole orchestra sound to kind of take it over the top, which I think only helps define their sound more. You’ll listen the fourth or fifth time and still hear something that you hadn’t heard before. A really fun record if you like the post-hardcore sound.

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