The Contortionist - Language (2014)

March of 2013 was a jarring month for progressive metal fans, especially for those of Indianapolis’ own The Contortionist. Seeing John Carpenter – the vocalist/keys player – leave to start his family, many were left questioning the future of The Contortionist, considering how much Carpenter brought to the table in the writing process of the band. With 2014 came two new members, keyboard player Eric Guenther and Last Chance to Reason’s own Mike Lessard to sing. With that, The Contortionist began the arduous task of recording its third full length. Now, with new members (including ex-Scale the Summit bassist Jordan Eberhardt, who joined after bassist Chris Tilley left), Indy’s own prog geniuses show off their new face with Language.

The first track, “The Source,” shows off Lessard’s vocal ability in a very soft, ambient intro. This track is followed by the first single, “Language I: Intuition,” which is the best example of subtle technicality I’ve seen since early Cynic or Dream Theater. Drummer Joey Baca’s jazzy influences are shown off beautifully, and the guitars and bass are composed to form a very organic-feeling landscape in the mind. The band does a fantastic job of incorporating the groove back in through the follow-up song, “Language II: Conspire,” which is the heaviest track I’ve heard from The Contortionist since Exoplanet was released. “Conspire” truly shows off what Lessard brings to the table, and it is with no hesitation that I say he is a perfect fit for the band; his devastating screams only match Carpenter’s, and his clean vocals shine well above his.

“Integration” is up next. Guenther’s own unique keyboard style is shown off on this track, keeping with more effect-driven ambience to go along with the very discordant playing that accompanies the guitars in a beautifully symphonic way. It dwells into a very post-rock and jazz-influenced section that was greatly enjoyable; then it transitions into what I’d consider a focal point to the album: an incredibly heavy yet melodic section which feels like an essential The Contortionist moment – one you’d find in any of the band’s records. Afterwards is “Thrive,” which has a rather strong Between the Buried and Me feel in its transitions, though the song itself feels more relatable to newer Periphery.

The second single released, “Primordial Sound,” has a very soft and relaxing intro, which gradually builds in a TesseracT-like soft rock section, as Lessard’s vocal layering is shown off with a three-part harmony mixed in with his harsh growls. Following it is “Arise,” which is very groove-driven yet remarkably technical in its guitars. Though “Arise” is the second shortest song on the record, it is four minutes of instrumental brilliance behind Lessard’s soft vocal brilliance. “Ebb & Flow” opens and it feels like Tool took a soft turn up until the powerful guitar chords push through and the song continues to get heavier. Even through the softer section, this song feels the darkest of any on Language. It also brings back a lyrical theme from all throughout the record: “Drift with the ebb and flow / sink in the ebb and flow.” That thought also applies in how you listen to the album, for it is very groove-centralized, so you subconsciously bob your head and flow with the rhythm of it.

The final track, “The Parable,” comes in very softly. I’m afraid several metal fans might miss just how beautiful this part is; the atmosphere set here is to be commended because it sets up the riff and vocal pattern in such a way that’s almost Pink Floyd-like in execution. The song drifts back and forth between the album’s themes and ambience, and it leaves a very complete feeling once it drifts away, with a little anecdote of speech at the end to make you think.

Language completes everything The Contortionist started with Intrinsic, and then expands upon it tenfold. Lessard and Guenther are welcome additions musically, as they brought a life to this album Carpenter might not have been able to himself. I don’t speak hyperbolically about this album when I say it is the must-own record of 2014 because it does things for metal – or even music in general – that haven’t been achieved in decades. It's catchy, groovy, technical, sound songwriting all wrapped in one 48-minute masterpiece.

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Capsize - The Angst In My Veins (2014)

Hailing from California, Capsize is a five-piece melodic hardcore band with four releases under their belts thus far. The band's past few releases (Live A Burden, Die A Curse and I've Been Tearing Myself Apart) were both incredible, in my opinion, and the progression to The Angst In My Veins seems natural. Capsize's lyrical content has always been darker than most bands that play a similar style of music, but the members have also taken on a darker approach musically. This darker musical approach is particularly noticeable on The Angst In My Veins, the band's debut full-length record, which is set to release on September 30 through Equal Vision Records.

The guitar parts on The Angst In My Veins are, for the most part, heavily distorted and aggressive. Additionally, the degree of dissonance is one that isn't matched by many other melodic hardcore bands. The combination of heavy distortion and dissonance – as well as a somewhat muddy recording – may seem like a disastrous recipe to some, but it works in such a way that it perfectly fits the style of music that Capsize is playing; it's extremely raw, and it just feels real. Similarly, the vocal style matches up perfectly with the overall sound of the band, as the screams typically sound filled with anger or despair – and sometimes both.

While the record is clearly fueled by anger, it's not entirely a 34-minute onslaught of aggression. The guitarists display a fair share of melodic tendencies throughout The Angst In My Veins, as subtle – almost haunting – background melodies can be heard on "Linger" and "Endless, Emptiness," bringing to mind Counterparts' The Current Will Carry Us. "Calming, Crippling" and "Complacent," two of the fastest songs on The Angst In My Veins, were immediate stand-out songs to me because Capsize incorporates several melodic and catchy riffs on each track. "Complacent" also features one of the coolest breakdowns I have heard in a long time. In addition to the anger and melody heard on the aforementioned songs, there are also some interlude-type parts on a few other songs, which gives you a chance to catch your breath while still being mildly entertained.

After a few listens, all I could think was that this record sounds like a mix of Counterparts' two most recent releases. The more I listened to The Angst In My Veins, though, the more it sounded like Capsize – which brings me back to one of my first points: the progression. Capsize has been building up to this release over the years. The music has progressively gotten darker – while still maintaining the passion exhibited on the band's earlier works. The vocalist still has that same sense of urgency in his screams and the upbeat and pounding style of drumming has remained an integral part of the band's sound, so nothing has really been substituted; if anything, Capsize has just found a nearly perfect balance between aggression and melody. All of this being said, while these guys are doing their own thing, I guarantee that you will like The Angst In My Veins if you are a fan of Counterparts' The Current Will Carry Us or The Difference Between Hell and Home. Take that to the bank.

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The American Scene - Haze (2014)

The American Scene is a band from Berkeley, California...blah blah blah. You can find this on Facebook, so let's cut to the chase. About two weeks ago, my editor and somewhat Internet friend Steven asked me if I wanted to review this album. All I knew about The American Scene is that I missed its set when I got to the Suppy Nation Tour two hours late last year and that the band is, well, from Berkeley, California. I said "yes" because exploring uncharted territories without having to leave my house was tempting, post-grad life is an endless abyss and, obviously, having a press copy of an unreleased album easily makes me hella cool, right?

"Haze," the title and opening track of the album, sets up The American Scene's sound for the rest of the album; it's nostalgic and even ironically somehow futuristic sounding. Lyrically, the repetition of "I don't know who would want to live forever in this haze" is effective because it foreshadows the mood of this album. While "Haze" is as good as it can be, as far as opening songs usually go, it is the last 35 seconds of this song that really matter. The pure instrumentation is not necessarily anything innovative, but it is good enough that I will be damned if not at least one of your body parts has a motor reaction to it.

From the opening of "Royal Blue," the second track, it is easy to understand why this is the single that got the music video. For one, it deviates from the trademark nostalgia that attaches itself to the rest of the tracks on Haze. Though it is still as incredibly wistful or even more so than the rest, there is something in the beginning that just gives it a good feeling. Perhaps it is because it sounds like something that could belong on a movie soundtrack or it's the song that is most likely to make it on a slot of MTV2, which I don't mean as a bad thing; in fact, it is a great thing because the song never disappoints from start to finish. The chorus is just as good as the opening and the ending of the chorus, the trailing of "I was a royal shade of blue," does not take more than two plays to find yourself randomly singing it to yourself. The choice of shade of blue is clever as well because it points to a change in hues – a change in character – thus building on the mood of the album.

Like its predecessor, "Nails of Love" has a strong opening and one of the stickiest choruses; however, it builds more on "Haze," and I wish it had not. While the futuristic sound is, in a word, sweet – the passivity, in another word, blows. Although it is a given that this is clearly the sound The American Scene is going for, it still left me with this feeling that something needed to be powered up to make this song go from decent to really good. "4th and Broadway" features, hands down, the best first 10 seconds of any track on Haze – and that is saying a lot, considering The American Scene has shown a distinct craftsmanship for memorable openings. The song takes a much slower change of pace shortly after, which is not a bad thing because it is ultimately the chorus that makes this song. It starts off with a swiftly sung, "I couldn’t call you, so I was smoking cigarettes on our front porch last night...," then stretches and slows down with "It's hard to trim it down." Whatever the missed potential from the previous song's chorus was, the contrast of both music and vocals is executed flawlessly in "4th and Broadway."

"Dark Creak" did not have any particular lines that stood out to me and, while The American Scene are no lyrical geniuses, at least one or two lines in every other song on Haze easily stick. This song actually passed by me like a very low whisper because I could barely make out anything. That being said, as lyrically forgettable as this song is, it redeems itself in having great drumming parts, which made me think that this song was just one long drum sequence instead. Up next is "What I Could Gather." The range of vocals in the chorus is lovely (it reminded me of a mid-2000s pop rock band called Acceptance) – yet, in comparison to the other choruses on Haze, this one is not strong enough. It is the last minute of "What I Could Gather" that stands out, though; it is a full length instrumental. It's not as strong as the other shorter instrumental sections on the album, but it's definitely still pleasant to the ears.

"Over to You" features another really strong opening by The American Scene, and I really enjoyed the instrumental section in this song from 2:17 to 2:30; in fact, I actually felt overwhelmed when the lyrics started to come back and I wish the pure instrumentation would have gone on for longer. Following "Over to You" is "White Widow." I looked up what a white widow was under the impression that it might be something profound, but it's just a type of cannabis. I assume the title was probably chosen to fit with the whole hazy theme of the album, but whatever the reason, the title works at carrying on the relaxed ambiance of Haze. Like a lot of the latter songs on this album, "White Widow" was too slow and calm for my taste, but the drumming near the end made this song worthwhile to me; however, like in previous songs, it made me wish the part of pure instrumentation went on for a bit longer because it works really well.

The first 15 seconds of "Drone" caught my attention specifically because the loud, obvious clashing sound in the background threw me off and amazed me. As awesome as those first 15 seconds were, this song – pun very much intended – droned on for me. I think it would have been more likable had it been one of the first songs rather than one of the last tracks so that I would not have already expected it – which is exactly the problem. It is almost too expected that not even the decent chorus could save "Drone" from boring me. Closing the album out is "Brume." Apparently, brume is synonymous for haze, and it makes sense why the title of the last track mirrors the first. "Brume" is nothing special and it does not have to be because, like a lot closing songs, it is just there to sweep things up. I did appreciate the "This place contains no shadows / This place controls my conscience" parts, though. Both are very eerie in a good way – if eerie could ever be used in a good way.

Overall, Haze – even from the little I know and investigated from previous releases – is a solid release. While there are some hazy moments that could have been refined more (or even moments that just needed that extra 'it' factor to be great) and a few songs were borderline boring, this album definitely weighs out the sum of its parts, as there are some truly excellent moments of instrumentation and catchy choruses. It's at least worth a full listen and your $10, but what do I know? I got access to the press release. I'm cool.

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Free Throw - These Days Are Gone (2014)

When it comes to the ever-growing pool of new wave emo bands, Free Throw has always stood out a lot to me. Free Throw knows how to make very emotional music sound fun, while also displaying some very aggressive vocals throughout its two EPs, which is cool to hear in emo music. When the band announced the debut full-length record, These Days Are Gone, I was very curious to hear what had been created. I am glad to say the release was far above what I was expecting.

The record opens with “Such Luck,” a song that has a bit more of a darker feel than anything Free Throw has done in the past. The grungy first half eventually transforms into something very different for the band. The track sounds huge, which makes for a wonderful introduction. “Two Beers In” has the Free Throw vibe written all over it – but just on a much larger scale than the previous work. The playful vocal melodies that follow the guitar riffs make the first verse unforgettable. “Good Job, Champ” is a very upbeat track. The song even contains a punk beat, which is another thing Free Throw brought to the table on this record. It also contains a part towards the end that houses some of the most aggressive vocals on These Days Are Gone. “Tongue Tied” is full of riffy guitars and catchy vocal melodies. The backing vocals on this track really add a cool element to the chorus, and there’s even a little guitar solo action towards the end.

“Pallet Town” is a song that appeared on an acoustic split with the band Grandview. I fell in love with the acoustic version of this song, but I fell even more in love with the full band version because it contains some very impressive drum work. “An Hour Pissed” is a song that was released on Free Throw’s self-titled EP. The song is a personal favourite of mine, so I was a little hesitant with it being redone. The new intro adds a lot to this song, making it sound a lot bigger than the old version. Rerecording old songs can be tricky when it comes to old fans, but Free Throw had no issue with this one – and I feel other fans will feel the same way. “Kim Tastie” is the ballad of the record; it’s a very emotional song that you feel rather than just listen to, and its infectious melodies suck you right in. The next track, “How I Got My Shrunken Head,” is one of Free Throw’s biggest sounding songs. The musicianship on this one is just outstanding and, for being one of the shortest tracks on These Days Are Gone, this song really packs a punch.

Track nine, “Lets Get Invisible,” has a classic Free Throw vibe. Whether it’s the belting vocals, twangy guitars or energetic drumming, something is sure to grab your attention on this track. “What Day Is It, October?” has a little bit of everything. The song has calm elements, aggressive hooks and even shows off another punk beat. It’s a nice stew of everything that you heard in the last nine songs. The closing track, “Hey Ken, Someone Methodically Mushed the Donuts,” feels properly placed. The track builds up quite nicely, giving the listener a huge sendoff. The last half of this track is one of the most memorable moments of Those Days Are Gone.

Free Throw’s debut full-length record feels like a timeless one. To me, most of these new wave emo bands lose my interest quickly, but Free Throw is always trying new things. Whether it’s being more aggressive than usual or creating hooks that sound bigger than Top 40 pop songs, the band always seems to be pushing the boundaries of the emo sound. These Days Are Gone feels like it’s here to stay, and I can see many listeners adding this release to their list of timeless records they listen to on a daily basis. Free Throw makes a bold statement with this record, and proves this is not just another “emo-revival” band or record.

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Gallery: Our Last Night (09/03/14)

Our Last Night has always been a band on the move. In the ten-year career thus far, Our Last Night has made a steady climb to the success the band has reached now. Recently, the guys are quite literally on the move, as the whole band is moving from its hometown in New Hampshire to sunny California. Along the way, they booked a couple small shows, including one at Planet Trog in Whitehall, PA. I decided to attend this show last minute, and I do not regret the decision. The venue is essentially an extremely small warehouse attached to a giant laser tag complex. With only a small metal gate acting as a barrier and very little security to be seen, this proved to be an extremely fun and intimate show. Our Last Night played a long headlining set after a slew of local bands, but still managed to wrap things up before 9 P.M., so they could get over to the Sands Casino where they played an acoustic after show, which I did not attend. Check out some photos from the set below.


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