Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Hail Sagan “Dark Cloud”

Hail Sagan frontwoman Sagan Amery

Sometimes, when searching all over for new music to feature here every week, I come across a find that is close to home, and such is the case this week with Los Angeles-based band Hail Sagan, who consists of vocalist Sagan Amery (the band's namesake, I am guessing!), Powerman 5000 guitarist Nick Quijano, and a rhythm section called “The Nothing”.

Mixing sounds of gothic rock, punk, and alternative, the video for the song “Dark Cloud” is a rallying cry against abuse, harassment, and bullying. The video shows images of the band rocking out on the song while Sagan sits at her crystal ball, which invokes images of people screaming, crying, inflicting self-harm, and replaying incidents of abusive situations. At the end of the video, The Nothing is seen approaching the victims with the same dark skull masks that they wear, seeming to suggest that the people in the video are therefore empowered and are not alone anymore. On the band's YouTube and official website, information to contact various centers such as the National Suicide Hotline and the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be found.

To listen to more of the band's music or to purchase official merchandise, visit the official Hail Sagan website.

Special thanks to Demas Miller.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Album review: Thrillkiller—Showdown (2016)

Showdown album cover

Album: Showdown
Artist: Thrillkiller
Genre: Pop-metal/hard rock
Tracks: 10
Total time: 39:58

Continuing to progress at rate so fast that you wonder if these guys are super-human beings, in less than a year's time, Baltimore's Thrillkiller has already released an EP, and now their first full-length album is dropping like an atom bomb on the world of music, determined to obliterate the competition until there is nothing left.

With the addition of Sebastian Ochoa and Boma Jack (the latter joining after the album was made; so drums on Showdown are courtesy of Matt Bittman), Thrillkiller now has a lineup to round out their sound and continue making good on the promise that was so evident on the Time EP. The band's core members, Rob Bradley and Maxim Sobchenko, are still present and have added 6 more songs to the ones we remember from Time. Not only does Showdown follow up on the promise that Time hinted at, but completely doubles-down and ups the ante to dizzying heights.

“Passion Killer”: Just as on Time, this is Showdown's opening track, and why fix it if it ain't broken? This is a quintessential opening track, complete with tasty guitar licks, a toe-tappingly satisfying rhythm section, and a hooky chorus that is sure to get you up and moving. This is a perfect track to set up the rest of the album, so buckle up and rock out!

“Showdown”: Goddamn, this track is so sexy, for lack of a better word. It's got this groove to it with a gritty edge, and then along comes a smooth, seductive solo courtesy of a saxophone! That's right, you read that correctly: a saxophone. Thrillkiller manages to take a saxophone and make it sound completely at home in a hard rock song, something that many bands have tried but very few have pulled off with more panache.

“The Storm”: Another track where Maxim shows off his mad riffing skills. Like I said before, this song sounds like something that would be in a James Bond movie or some sort of action/mystery film. It's got this churning cadence to it that invokes feelings of suspense or tension, along with dramatic vocal flair that keeps things interesting, and a guitar solo that is so smokin' that you'd better keep a fire extinguisher nearby!

“Living in Infamy”: Now here is a song that has that zip to it that makes you want to snap your fingers and bob your head (or headbang really hard, depending on how you prefer to express yourself). Everything on this track is a hook: the verses, the chorus, the music; every part of this song is designed for one purpose: to be a complete earworm that sticks in your head for as long as humanly possible.

“The Fever”: This song is so hypnotic, it just pulls you in and before you realize what has happened, you're completely hooked by the time the mantra-like chorus wraps itself around your soul.

“A Reason”: A touch of power metal melody and electronic-pop smoothness, I can see this being a favorite among many. It's already a favorite for me. The song is intense without being heavy or fast; it's mellow without being complacent or predictable. Maxim gets in touch with his prog side on the solo, and Rob's voice sounds huge without taking up all the spotlight. This would be a perfect choice for a single; it's not too in-your-face with the heaviness, nor is it so poppy that rock fans would be turned off.

“The Believer”: Thrillkiller is revisiting their metal roots a little with this one, which is just fine with me. Rob is spitting his vocals out so fast that it almost sounds like he's rapping, which is an awesome contrast to his high notes. If there are mosh pits at Thrillkiller shows, it might be a good time to start one when this tune starts playing.

“In Too Deep”: This song is my jam. I said it. Seriously, I fucking love this song. I would marry it if I could. This song has hooked me from the start and I still love it. I still turn it up whenever I hear it, and it still gets stuck in my head instantly every time I hear it.

“Time”: This is another song that I can see being a huge hit at live shows; it's perfect for a crowd sing-along or a show closer. Just listening to it makes you want to pump your fist in the air and headbang your ass off. Another song that is so fucking catchy that it's going to stay with you long after you've stopped listening to it.

“A Social Disease”: This is where Thrillkiller pulls out all the stops and reminds everyone that for all their pop/jazz/blues/funk influences, they are still a rock/metal band at heart and are going to make sure you remember it before this album is over. A fast-paced song with a lot of kick to it, and then a guitar solo that almost sounds like it came out of a surfing movie! As a native Southern Californian, I can definitely appreciate that. And holy shit, those piercing high notes Rob hits towards the end of the song are positively epic. What a perfect closing track!

Overall opinion: Pick your musical poison, and Thrillkiller taps into it in ways you don't expect. Combining elements of ’80s AOR, hard rock and metal, along with pop, blues, funk, and R&B; Thrillkiller is putting it all together with finesse. For being in existence for less than a year, they already sound better put-together than a lot of bands out there who have been at it for years. Very few bands come charging out of the gate sounding so fully evolved, so if this is what Thrillkiller is capable of on their first time out, then we can expect to hear even better things from them. As someone who listens to a lot of music (both signed and independent), I would put Showdown up there with some of the signed acts who put out great albums this year. I would even go as far as to say that Thrillkiller would positively bury some of those bands! Not only does Thrillkiller possess high-caliber musical talent, but they have high quality standards as well. This is no hastily put-together demo with a couple of promising ideas that peep through. You can tell that Thrillkiller is a band that puts their best foot forward in all they do, and you aren't going to hear anything from them that isn't their best work. This is one of the best debut albums I've heard in a while, if not the best debut I've heard this year. At any rate, Thrillkiller definitely gets my pick as the best new band of 2016.

Thrillkiller band photo

For more information on Thrillkiller, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Rob Bradley and Maxim Sobchenko.


This article was brought to you by Super Shops: “Because everyone deserves performance!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Beyond Forgiveness “Dust to Dust”

Beyond Forgiveness band photo

It always pleases me to see how much the femme-metal scene is growing in the U.S., especially in the symphonic metal genre; so when a new talent crops up from the States that specializes in my favorite brand of music, you bet I have to give it a listen!

Hailing from Colorado, Beyond Forgiveness is bringing back the dark gothic sounds of early Within Temptation and Tristania, complete with dueling vocals between the guttural growls of male vocalist Richard Marcus, and the high, operatic lilt of female vocalist Talia Hoit.

The video for the band's song “Dust to Dust” is laden with wintry gothic imagery: Talia walking through a snowy landscape until she comes to an old castle-type manor (it's a real location, called Bishop's Castle). There is lots of snow, which is probably a subtle reminder that the band is from Colorado! As soon as Talia's voice is heard, the music is almost cheery and Christmas-like, with the gentle chiming of bells in the background. As the song progresses, we see the band performing inside the manor, beneath the high cathedral ceilings. You can see the frost coming from their breath, it is so cold! There are also shots of Talia wandering through the old castle, standing by a balcony in a long white coat, or singing outside as guitarist Greg Witwer rocks out on his guitar beside her. About midway through the song, Richard comes in with his brutal vocals, as he stands outside in the falling snow. Towards the end of the video, the 3 male bandmembers are seen walking through the snow without Talia. All in all, a very well-put together video.

For more information on Beyond Forgiveness, visit their official website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Secret Rule “The Savior”

Secret Rule band photo

While searching the world over for new music to share with you each and every week, I came across a little gem from Italy called Secret Rule, who might just have gotten their name because they are the best-kept secret, and they rule! (Yes, that was my lame attempt at a joke.)

All kidding aside, this female-fronted power/symphonic-metal band has got quite the guest roster for their upcoming album! With musicians such as Sonata Arctica's Henrik Klingenberg and ex-Delain bandmember Sander Zoen performing on the album, and guest musicians from Serenity's Fabio D'Amore, Delain's Timo Somers, and Within Temptation's Stefan Helleblad; Secret Rule boasts a musical guest list that is the envy of many a band on the scene.

The first single from the band's album Machination is a track titled “The Savior”, and it's a musical mix of all these different influences: the upbeat, pop-laced melodies of bands like Delain and Amaranthe; crossed with the powerful, gothic-influenced majesty of bands like Within Temptation; and topped with the dark heaviness of bands like Sirenia. Vocalist Angela Di Vincenzo is more of a straight-up power metal vocalist than she is operatic or classically-trained. Her voice may not have the bombastic strength of a typical power metal vocalist, but the vocal harmonies are much more reminiscent of a power metal style, and she pulls them off with finesse in her sweet, slightly-accented tone.

The concept of the video is also rather straightforward: the band plays in a dark warehouse-type area, along with clips of a storyline involving a mysterious hooded figure searching through the woods for his lost love (whom we see only in gray, shadowy flasbacks). So as to not ruin the ending with spoilers, I will just politely suggest that you watch the video to find out whether the character in the story ever found it.

Secret Rule's album, Machination, is available June 24th via Scarlet Records.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Kosmik Vortex “Black Laces”

Photo courtesy of Francis Blot

Over the years, writing for sites like Sonic Cathedral, I have heard seemingly every type of female-fronted metal band under the sun. From traditional heavy metal to progressive rock to nu-metal to gothic rock, the femme-metal scene has grown, branched out, and created their own sub-genres. So just when I thought I'd pretty much heard it all, along comes France's Kosmik Vortex to pleasantly surprise me, and to remind me that there's still so much music out there that I haven't heard yet.

Described as “psychedelic rock opera”, the music of Kosmik Vortex is what would happen if Black Sabbath had recruited a classically-trained female singer instead of Ozzy Osbourne, or if Janis Joplin had chosen to sing opera instead of the blues (in fact, vocalist Julie Del├ętoile bears somewhat of a resemblance to Janis!). It's what happens when the trippy vibe of the ’60s meets the symphonic metal theatrics of the 21st century. One might not think that the two sounds would go well together, and admittedly it's an acquired taste; but the more you listen, the more interesting it becomes.

In their video for “Black Laces”, the band rocks out (looking very much like hippies that have time-traveled straight from Woodstock), while Julie belts out her glass-shattering high notes. The band plays a jam in the middle of the 10+-minute tune that would have made Jimi Hendrix proud, as Julie dances to the groove. Kosmik Vortex are definitely bringing back the spirit of the ’60s, with a modern twist. I thought that symphonic metal had covered every sub-genre out there, but apparently Kosmik Vortex has singlehandedly created a new one of their own.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Britta Phillips “Daydream”

Photo courtesy of Shelby Duncan

Since this is a new feature, then I can probably be forgiven for showcasing the same artist in less than a month's time. Then again, if music is good, then it can never be shared enough, right?

So then, in honor of “Jem's” birthday on June 1st, I share with you the latest video from Britta Phillips. Unlike the video I shared last month, which was a cover, this is one of Britta's original compositions from her debut solo album, Luck or Magic. This song, “Daydream”, is exactly that: it is so chill, so dreamy, that you just want to drift off and get lost in imagination. The video is like this too, with its random tranquil images flashing across the screen: a blue sky, flowers, an open road...all set to Britta's vocals, soothing as a gentle breeze; pulling you in and carrying you away with its otherworldly charm. It is really a perfect song for stress-relief! I am seriously listening to “Daydream” after a very busy, hectic day; and it is so relaxing and calming to my frazzled nerves. In fact, after a day like I just had, I may have to give this a few more listens! Then again, even if I was having a good day, I still might have given it a few more listens (and then some). Although the song is called “Daydream”, its spellbinding appeal is perfect anytime.

Luck or Magic is now available on Double Feature Records.