The Federal Empire are for some reason described as alt-rock. I guess I can see the comparison, yet make no mistake, any roots in alternative that they may possess are firmly overshadowed by a propensity for squeaky clean pop production and an utter lack of soul or rhythm. The first acts I thought to compare them to are, Train and the Lumineers, except with even less of a knack for occasionally catchy songs crafting. There’s literally nothing here that you haven’t heard.
Opener Never Saw It Coming takes its lead from an archetypal acoustic riff, summer styled chorus that tries desperately to turn the song into a hit, and an irksome keyboard melody that only proved another obstacle in the labyrinth of persistent gloss I found myself in upon hitting play. The American Dream continues to create a suspicion that these…urm… ‘Artists’ have undergone surgical creativity-bone removal therapy, by pairing faux hand-clapping (an effect I’ll never see the need for) with pop-country (a genre I’ll never see the need for). Lyrically, the song poses as a takedown of consumerism, yet feels like an Instagram pose at the headquarters of every corporation they provide product placement for – ‘I smoke weed in bed in a Netflix nation, I want a burger with fries supersize my bacon, never gonna stop until I have it all’ they chant, the irony of the songs genre and overall presentation apparently lost on them. Bad Habits is more of the same poser, oh how unruly writing, which culminates in an unearthly exasperating rave chorus, presumably there to tick the box for another radio station. ‘I’m just bad news wrapped in clever pleasantries’ taunts one line. I think they’re flattering themselves: Nothing here is clever or pleasant.
It’s not entirely clear what on earth Good Man is supposed to be, except to say that it doesn't actually sound as if there are any actual instruments at play here. The studio filters and mixing techniques are even lathering the vocals in overdubs and flourishes so that the entire anthem feels assembled out of computer effects. The prize for the single worst track here goes The Way That I Do – proof that faking emotion is not simply the opposite of being truly heartfelt, but that there are levels of cringe achievable. That’s right folks, The Federal Empire cannot even fake a soppy love ballad with any sincerity, seen as the definition of ‘safe’ which this pop act adheres to, appears to regard any shred of plausibility or feeling like a potential threat to sales. As Doing Time sounds, the listener is left staring into a void of nothingness - for any fellow doctor who nerds out there its much like the untempered schism, except rather than inspiring or driving anyone to madness, it simply provokes an aching chasm of boredom in the mind of the beholder.
We end on a song called…oh for goodness, and we’re supposed to call this rock? *sigh* alright – More Than Just Friends, and in case you couldn’t tell it’s not a somber and ironic meditation on the way love exists in the modern world. If there is any level of hidden depth on this record, it's so very well smuggled beneath the ocean that it’s probably suffocated to death. And you know what? I’m just gonna say it, this is about the furthest thing from an alt-rock record I’ve ever heard. How it ended up getting a review on this blog I don’t know, but I’ll make one final verdict: The gods of rock will not be amused at so blatant a mislabelling! 2/10
Manam: Ouroboros (Rockshots Records) [Paul Hutchings]
Formed in 2017, Oroboros is the sophomore release by the Italian melodic death metallers. Following up their debut record Rebirth Of Consciousness, the new release is a concept album about alchemical initiation. Competent musicianship, fluid time changes and a decent blend of gruff and clean vocals, the band vary their style substantially, with influences that range from death metal to classical music and jazz. There’s the Gojira style shredding on The Enclosed Veil, and the Wintersun vibe of Storm, the personal tribute to Mother Earth and recognition of how humanity is destroying it, with explosive passages of speed interspersed with gentle string sections. Manam have captured the necessity for the mix of savage and melodic perfectly, with soaring soundscapes and dynamic scene setting. All music and lyrics were written by Marco Salvador (lead vocals and guitar) except for The Silver Bride which has music by Marco Montipò (bass and backing vocals) & Marco Salvador. The band is completed by drummer Nicola De Cesero, and rhythm guitarists Thomas Montefusco and Luca Mantovani. Labelling their music as spiritual metal may be a little ambitious, but there is enough within this album to make it an enjoyable listen. 6/10
Nite: Darkness Silence Mirror Flame (Creator-Destructor Records) [Manus Hopkins]
It’s difficult finding information on this San Francisco blackened heavy metal band, as they share a name with an electronic dance-pop duo, but from taking a peek at the group’s Bandcamp page, it appears Darkness Silence Mirror Flame is their debut record. This is a little surprising, as it sounds like it should at least be the second or third. The band has quite a developed sound for a first album, which is a great thing. The songs are much more innovative than their titles would suggest. Lucifer in particular is an impressive mosaic of ambient black metal and traditional heavy metal made to fit together perfectly. Similar description could apply to the other tracks as well. While many of them follow a formula, the album as a whole is not predictable, which sets it apart from a good chunk of modern black metal. 8/10
Alchemists: Chapter One Love (Tenacity Music) [Liam True]
Djent is an odd genre because you know it’s going to be the same as Metalcore, just more technical on the instrumental side of things. Which in some cases is a good thing, but Alchemists have just produced a record which, at best, is mediocre. I usually like some technical experimentation in Metal, but Chapter One Love is something that Tesseract or Periphery could have put out at the start of their careers. I’m not hating on the band, it’s just they’ve chosen a genre which is becoming more dull and just turned it into something it’s not. I don’t hate the record, by any means, it just does nothing for me. There a few bits here and there that I do like, like the interlude Venus On Fyre and headbanger track Satyre From Hubris with it’s blend of chugs and background elements make it stick out for me. Beyond that, it’s just an ‘Okay’ record with nothing else to give. Shame really, they could have made an impact, but have fallen short of anything. 4/10