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Friday 9 June 2023

Reviews: Extreme, Foo Fighters, Envy Of None, Carry The Torch (Reviews By Rich Piva, Alex Swift, Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Extreme - SIX (earMusic) [Rich Piva]

The other day I finally picked up the classic Extreme record Pornograffitti on vinyl. When it came out in 1990 it was one of the albums (tapes) I listened to most that year, learning that record from front to back over the couple of thousand times I have listened to it. When I spun it on vinyl for the first time the other day, I still, after all this time and all those listens, had to stop in my tracks and marvel at what the band, especially Nuno, created over those thirteen tracks. This is why Extreme will always have a place in my heart and in my collection.

So, a new Extreme record is absolutely welcomed with open arms, and since I have comfortably weaseled my way in as the late 80s early 90s band’s new records reviewer guy, the new one, SIX, fits perfectly for me in all aspects. I know, given some of the later career material, that this is not going to be the gigantic spectacle that their second and even their third albums are, but I have really enjoyed the later career records and especially loved the singles that were released ahead of time from SIX. Those singles are well produced and not over the top like Extreme can get sometimes, which bodes well for SIX.

Well, when SIX is good, it is excellent, but it goes the other way too, as this turns out to be a mixed bag for the band, but fortunately the positives outweigh the negatives, create a strong, but uneven sixth record from the veterans of the 80s rock scene.

Right off the bat, the trifecta of the first three tracks is awesome, especially the solos on Rise and #Rebel. Banshee is a kick ass rock song that fits perfectly with the two previous tracks. So, we are off and we are rocking, no problems so far, even if Rise sounded a little bit like Fallout Boy, but it is catchy as hell, so I can’t complain too much. Extreme is from the era where the ballad comes next, and the kind of cheesy but wonderfully so Other Side Of The Rainbow delivers, and we finally get to hear Gary try to hit some higher notes, because up to this point he is almost undistinguishable in his delivery, with a more whiskey soaked voice that made me have to check it was him upon first listen of the single. Rainbow also brings us some of the trademarked harmonies which made me love these guys (and Saigon Kick) so much when they arrived together on the scene.

I mentioned mixed bag, and in that one for the dumpster I would put Small Town Beautiful. Please don’t comment on this that I only like the rockers, because Hole Hearted is one of my top twenty songs of all time. Small Town Beautiful is just a weak track, where Gary almost sounds like he is struggling to sing. This would be the fifth or sixth single back in the day when the record companies tried to keep a hit record alive by releasing another ballad, but it ultimately failed, sort of like Song For Love when it was released back in 1992. One thing that does not suck about this song is Nuno’s work, which goes without saying and could be my comment on every track on SIX. I don’t love the next track either, The Mask, which has a weird, almost grungy vibe to in, and I am not sure what Gary is going for with his vocals. It is once again catchy, but I think this could have been a B-side that didn’t make the cut, even if I love the Sure Know Something like ooohs on it. But yeah, that solo, and they let Nuno sing a bit too, so its not all bad.

Speaking of grungy vibes, I really dig Thicker Than Blood with a killer riff and a nice bit of heavy to it, even if the chorus is a bit much. Wait, does Save Me open with a riff right out of the Alice In Chains playbook? Yup. Even the background vocals have that vibe. I can’t get over how different Gary sounds in many parts of this album. This track is killer and may have saved them back in the early 90s when Seattle killed the scene. Hurricane is the obligatory acoustic track where Gary and Nuno get to harmonize and go back and forth on vocals, and I am here for it. X Out follows, and it has a very 90s alt rock feel to it, with a funky synth beat leading the way. It is fine, but another on of the tracks that could have been left off to make this a very streamlined all killer no filler album. But that solo…

The true crime of SIX is Beautiful Girls. When I saw the track list for SIX I said to myself that there is no way the would have the balls to do a Van Halen cover. Well, they didn’t, but with what they did instead they should have, because the less said about this track the better. The only thing I will say is that this is the only song where Gary really sounds like Gary. The closer, Here’s To The Losers, does its job well, harkening back to the (official) closer Song For Love from Pornograffitti, even if the song does sound like Train.

This album would have been a nine if we could just have edited some of the bad ideas. Here is the ideal track list in my eyes:

1. Rise
2. #Rebel
3. Other Side Of The Rainbow
4. Banshee
5. Thicker Than Blood
6. Hurricane
7. Save Me
8. The Mask
9. Here’s To The Losers

I left The Mask on because if I cut four songs SIX would be too short but give me that track listing in that order and I give you one of the best albums from a late 80s early 90s band releasing music today. I am very happy to have new Extreme music and I am especially happy to get to hear Nuno rip it up, even on the tracks I felt could have been left off. Overall, SIX is an uneven, but enjoyable record that I will go back to, but maybe in my order instead. 7/10

Foo Fighters – But Here We Are (Roswell/RCA) [Alex Swift]

“It came in a flash. It came out of nowhere” runs the first line to Rescued – the opening song on Foo Fighters new album. It’s one of many lyrics on the piece that is evidently inspired by the band’s reaction to the tragic and untimely death of their drummer Taylor Hawkins in March of last year. Even the white artwork adorning the album seems evocative of the theme of the absence felt in response to the death of a loved one. There are no references to their late brother by name, but his presence in each of the band members minds, inexorably shaped the creative process of this record.

It’s a popular myth that great art comes directly as a result of tragedy; a tale that I find harmful, as creators do not need to suffer to create amazing work. There are, however, many beautiful records reflecting the process of coming to terms with loss and heartbreak. But Here We Are is one of those records. It’s not so much a picture of musicians who have been stirred by tragedy to create something spellbinding, as it is one of friends, who have made something that reflects but transcends their experiences, made relatable and emotionally moving, not because of, but in spite of everything they’ve been through.

Commanding with a lively rhythm, under you is evocative of the determination that went into creating these songs. “I woke up and walked a million miles today. I've been looking up and down for you. All this time it still feels just like yesterday, that I walked a million miles with you” the opening lines reflect, the repeated use of the motif ‘you’ on this song and the smouldering Hearing Voices being the closest we get to an acknowledgement of the specific circumstances surrounding the record. No one could have blamed Dave Grohl and co. for writing something reflective of their experiences and their experiences alone. However, while the emotions are specific enough as not to be vague, they tread the line between specificity and relatability in a way that makes them pertinent to all manner of heartbreaks.

“I gave you my heart, but here we are!” our frontman bellows against soaring guitars on the album’s title track, his impassioned vocals lending emotional weight to the already ardent performance. Still, with the almost dismissive title framing everything, we’re told a lot about the intention behind the melodies – these are not songs wallowing in grief, but anthems of acceptance. Nowhere is this more evident than on The Teacher, where across ten minutes of mercurial atmospherics, and carefully considered progression, we’re given insight into the process of grieving and growth that comes with having something we took for granted disappear from our lives. The songs name is also a reference to the profession of Dave Grohl’s mum, who also died in the past year. With its combination of quiet consideration and zealous resolve, the album serves as much as a tribute to the fallen as it does as a document of recovery.

To clarify, I consider this to be Foo Fighters most expressive and musically powerful work in years. Still, I must admit that this album is far from flawless. You may have noticed in particular that I have not been spending much time talking about the musical compositions on the record, which are far from bad, as each of the band members exceeds in their respective roles. What makes this a challenging listen for me however is the production, or, more specifically, the over-compression. This ranges from just being a minor annoyance on the songs I’ve already mentioned, to absolutely ruining songs like The Glass and Beyond Me.

While the instrumentation often reaches to convey a euphoric outpouring of passion, or else a layered and textured dance through the stages of grief and acceptance, the impact is often dulled, with the instrumental parts often blurring into a haze of noise that obscures the individual contributions of each of the band members, and making Dave Grohl’s voice the most, and sometimes only, discernible sound in the mix. I understand that in conveying a sense of confusion in the wake of loss, a hazy effect can help to capture a sense of dislocation. Rather than creating a wraithlike, or otherworldly effect however, the sound design holds the experience back from its very real potential.

Irrespective of the qualms I have with this album mixing, this – like most Foo Fighters albums – will sound amazing live. And as these songs make their way into the Foo Fighters live set, they will become ongoing tributes to Taylor Hawkins, and anthems to comfort audience members, who will use them as songs of catharsis, to help deal with adversity in their own lives. May the experience of seeing these songs live, or – in the case of the band – performing them, serve as a means of healing. May they become a declaration, if you will, that we’ve suffered, we’ve endured pain and been through the process of coming to terms with trauma. We’ve walked so far “But here we are!” 7/10

Envy Of None – That Was Then, This Is Now (Kscope) [Matt Bladen]

Exuding some great 90’s vibes, Envy Of None’s debut album was an atmospheric trip-hop meets rock record, featuring the all star line up of Alex Lifeson (Rush), Andy Curran (Coney Hatch), solo artist Maiah Wynne and producer Alf Annibalini. The dream-like vocals of Wynne coming from that New Age/chillout music style of the early 90’s with some alternative rock riffs and the understated but amazing guitar playing of Lifeson. As I said it was full of 90’s influences and this new EP That Was Then, This Is Now sort of solidifies that idea with an EP of one new track, two tracks that only appeared as bonus songs on the debut and a couple of remixes too. 

It’s supposed to be an EP to show where they’ve come from and where they’re going next, recorded/remixed while writing and recording for album 2, it’s last track That Was Then, which has significance as it indulges in pulsating electronica, woozy ambience and some proggy guitar leads, all of which are telling of what to expect. Former bonus tracks Lethe River, is hooked on a repeating electronic drum pattern, as is You’ll Be Sorry, the former with some Saint Etienne meets Tori Amos, the latter Alanis Morissette meets Garbage, and both are very good. 

As for the remixes, Dog’s Life gets a lustful Depeche Mode-like throb, as Dumb gets weirder than the original as industrial music textures are added for a bit of NIN or Laibach. A fun bridge between full lengths, That Was Then, This Is Now proves that Envy Of None are more than a one-off. 7/10

Carry The Torch - Delusion (Sliptrick Records) [Mark Young]

Swedish death-thrash Carry The Torch drop their second full length with their influences nailed to the mast from the start.

Children Of The Purge starts off with some deep growls and really shows the thrash influence straight from the get-go. This is some promising stuff right here. Its tight, full-on riffs and is completed with some melodic flourishes but without forgetting what we are here to do. Delusion hits like re-invented The Haunted, mixing the riffs with another solo break that fits and brings in some triplets in amongst some melodic trem picking. 

I love it that they are keeping it low in the initial opening salvos whilst dropping some atmospheric motifs at the end here. Clear View Of The End slows that pace right down, amping up the heavy and Lazarus brings us back on track with some class down-picking. They know how to build and arrange and again another solo that is spot on.

Carry The Torch opens in the same as Lazarus before they put the foot down and have a tear up. This is fast, angry and is meant for the stage, weaving its way through different tempo’s without losing that feeling of movement. The Fathomless Deep lighter guitar booming into an almost heavier than lead riff that feels as though it should be used as a warning sounder for ocean going vessels. Its here that a kind of fatigue sets in, Where Dead Saints March is a mid-paced stomper and has got riffs again but drags just a little too much and saps the energy for me.

Filtered picks up things, channelling a touch of ATG but staying in the lower-end and is a head down belter with some great rhythms running through it and El Nino wisely keeps that pace going in order to maintain the momentum built on Filtered but again could have been shorter. As We Drown possessing all the right ingredients but is guilty of trying to put too much into it which really takes away from what was a promising start to it.

Until The Lights Take Us has the job of finishing things up and comes in at a handy speed with some impressive riffing and stomps around as you would expect of the final song. Had the preceding songs been a little shorter than this would have probably been the highlight of the album.

I sound as though I’m just picking for picking sake. I’m not, the songs are good, and in the case of Lazarus and Carry The Torch respectively they are very good but there could have been a bit of ruthlessness in some of the song lengths. They feel longer than they actually are and making them slightly shorter would make them hit harder (IMO). Looking at the structures it feels like they have tried to put too much in with certain tracks but overall, it is still a strong effort for their second release. 6/10

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