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Friday, 9 November 2018

Reviews: Last Union, A.M, Vibrant Heels, Johnny Wore Black (Matt H)

Last Union: Twelve (Rock Of Angels Records)

Italian progressive metal band Last Union have debuted their first album Twelve. It features Dream Theater's vocalist (James LaBrie - Ed) on four of the songs if that entices you. As someone who hasn’t ever listened to a single Dream Theater song it makes me question why he’s on four of these tracks. Was Last Union really that concerned that their work wouldn’t hold up without him? Well if that was anyone’s concern, I can proudly say that you needn’t worry. Last Union has released an epic debut album that deserves the praise it is receiving. Putting my considerable bias in favour of female vocalists in heavy music aside, the music of Last Union is immediately catchy and memorable without being overly simplistic.

On the other hand, occasionally the intros into the song don’t seem to match the song itself, creating a strange dissonance. Nowhere is that more obvious than in The Best Of Magic, a song that has a wonderful intro and matching chorus but the verses seem strangely different. Of course, it is entirely possible that my lack of understanding is due to a difference in culture. This is my first Italian metal band after all. So I’m willing to give a reasonable amount of doubt in that particular criticism. After all it’s the only one I can actually think up. I honestly think this is a terrific piece of work. And like most music I enjoy, it took me a few listens to really understand what was going on and become invested. As catchy as this music is, it isn’t immediately digestible. If you invest a little bit of yourself in Last Union then you’ll get a lot out of it. 8/10

A M: Believe (Self Released)

Is there a reason why your mix is so guitar focused? I mean… I love it, I love the guitars in this music but do you think maybe turning up the vocals a little bit would be a good idea? Anyway on to the review, I feel that it’s important to mention early on that I weirdly like this album. I think it’s really enjoyable whilst also not being particularly nuanced or developed in the way that I usually like my music. As a lyricist I tend to be focused on the poetry of a song but a lot of music isn’t interested in being that. Sometimes music is just raw grungy emotion. That’s exactly what we have here. Raw emotion in song form, it’s basically the essence of being a teenager distilled into music. The riffs are repetitive but powerful, the mix is focused on the guitars because it’s punky as all hell and gosh darn awesome. I don’t exactly know how to fully articulate an opinion on this music. There are aspects that I’m not so fond of I suppose.

The vocals have been messed with and had a radio filter placed on top of them, they’re dull in the mix and the instruments aren’t exactly eventful but with those things in mind there is something incredibly engaging about these songs. I had an absolute blast playing these in the background whilst I did other things. Perhaps the best way to describe this album is as a more powerful form of elevator music, something to head band along to whilst you move through your day. If you’re a teenager looking to express yourself without words please give this a listen. I am actually very encouraged to see these guys live because I want to experience the emotion of their music in the room with them. If the band in question read this review, please contact me so I can buy tickets to your shows, I am so up for more of this. In summary: All the songs are banging, guitar focused tunes that deserve at least one listen through. 7/10

Vibrant Heels: Driven (Self Released)

Now this, this is my shit! Screaming into life with gutturally fried vocals and a ridiculously catchy riff the likes of which I’ve not heard since The Dead Kennedys Too Drunk To Fuck (catchiest riff ever written, screw you if you disagree), Vibrant Heels instantly made a fan of me with their opening song Royal Mud. I’ll be damned if I can hear what the vocalist is actually saying apart from the general gist but does that stop me from being heavily invested in what largely amounts to vocal noises with a guitar behind it? Absolutely not! I want this song playing when I’m driving everywhere. The awesome bass lines alone in Soak It Up are enough to appreciate this band. I wonder if it’s the seemingly punk inspired riffs that really make me appreciate this band? Everything this band is doing is worn on its sleeve. It’s straightforward, repetitive, catchy and therefore awesome. However by the fourth song is this album I did start to wonder if there was anything else to this band? It becomes slightly difficult to understand what’s going on with the lyrics when the vocals are so low in the mix and even more difficult when the screams kick in.

As much as I find this music viscerally engaging, my desire for something deeper in music is left sadly lacking by this. Maybe the lyrics are deep and truly profound but I can’t hear the damn things so I don’t really know. And on the subject of things that wear thin, would it kill anyone in this band to write a melody that doesn’t match the guitar riff or visa versa? I love the occasional harmonies that come straight out of a 50s doo-wop group but that’s about it for my appreciation of the melodies. Make no mistake this is yet another band that believes guitar is the most important instrument, I mean… I get it but it’s probably not true (side note: the guitars really are awesome)

I fear the reader will relate to my thought process far too well by listening to this album. I have a feeling this band would be better off releasing singles over albums so they don’t betray how one-note they can appear. With that being said, I’ll keep saying it, the guitars are amazing and perfect driving music. 5/10

Johnny Wore Black: Ultra Violent Light (EMP Label Group)

Johnny Wore Black’s album Ultra Violent Light isn’t my usual taste. As a critic it is expected that I can remove myself from opinion in order to critique the bare bones of the music I am given. And indeed that is always the attempt; to be truly reflexive and somehow compose criticism that transcends the public water cooler that the internet has become. So when I inform the readers of this review that I didn’t like this album as a whole, or indeed any of the songs individually, take that with however much salt is required to prevent ire towards my person. I found the folk style vocals of singer Jay Coen were admittedly talented and pretty but ultimately not what I look for in music of this genre. His style presents an almost passionless affect that left me waiting for every song to actually kick in. On the other hand, the melody lines, whilst not being particularly interesting, are repeated enough to remain lodged in your brain for a while. That being said, I thought the instrumental sections worked well and were well written. The drum lines are often simplistic but used to great effect in the songs. The guitars partner well doing a lot of the work that I usually expect the vocals to do in rock music. In searching for a way to summarise my feelings I turn towards my training in film and media.

The Kuleshov effect is a phenomenon in film that demonstrates the power of changing the mood of an image with the use of associated images. In this critic’s humble opinion, Johnny Wore Black implements this with their instruments; using them to create a different tone in a vocal performance that is often dull sounding. Nowhere is this compounded more than in Ultra Violent Light (great name), the eponymous track of the album. The vocals are so filtered and low in the mix that it falls on the instruments to bring forth the emotion required. Of course since I do not speak guitar, I am a little confused as to what emotion the band would like me to feel in this song. In this review I am unfortunately focused on the vocals and I believe that’s because I feel they reduce the power of the band. Clearly, talented musicians were involved in this but my inability to appreciate the vocal lines (and to be honest a lot of the lyrics) leaves me with mostly bored impressions of this band. Summary: Not my thing, but if you like it, that’s awesome. 4/10

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