Sunday, July 27, 2008

There Is No Excuse After Death For Your Ignorance During Life.

Focal Point is a spirit filled hardcore band out of Elk Grove, California who (from what I can tell, so correct me if I'm wrong) released one album during a crowded period for the hardcore scene. I can't find much information about the band, but it should be stated that Ryan Clark played guitar here before joining brother Don with Training For Utopia and eventually Demon Hunter.

"Suffering Of The Masses" is not a bad album, but not unique enough to stand out in an over-crowded hardcore scene. The album begins with a sombre acoustic guitar intro of "Inception" which nicely sets the underlying mood of the rest of the CD. Strategically placed acoustic passages throughout the album is one of the unique features, since acoustic guitars are not often used in the hardcore scene.

"When I Die" kicks in with mid-paced riffing and bleak undertones. "Homicide" adds a darker edge to the heavy crunch. "Broken Bonds" gets a little faster with some pummeling riffs and screeching guitar work.

"Enraged" starts off slow and melodic and is moving before bringing on the crunch at mid-paced speed. "No Return" is aggressive with some riffwork and is solid and heavy. "Upright" adds an element of thrash into the riffs and a touch of groove. It also features the closest thing to a solo here.

"Deception" is melodic and mid-paced and honestly, fairly standard fair. Though the spoken part is nice. The title track starts off melodically with a bit more speed and some nice guitar work. The album closer is the instrumental "Attainment" which uses melodic riffing with electric guitars to ease us gently out of the album.

My favourite track here is "Neglected" with has some unsettling guitar screech mix in with their heavy riffs adding a darker edge while retaining some melody. A bleakly memorable tune with some good crunch.

After several listens I've come to enjoy the album and its epic hardcore structures. The songs range from 3 to almost 6 minutes which in itself is unusual for hardcore, yet I don't feel this album is at all metalcore.

The riffs are solid and the overall sound carries an epic darker feel, akin to Unashamed and later period Focused. I do feel the album suffers some from weaker production mostly in the muffled drums which carry the punch they should and an overly bassy sound. I would have definitely liked to have seen further material by these guys, because in the end this was a pretty solid start.

However, Ryan Clark has moved on to bigger and better projects in Training For Utopia and Demon Hunter. Two very different bands with strong albums.

That said, I'll be taking a look not at either of the previously mentioned bands, but instead at Frank's Enemy starting with their self-titled (aka Not Silent) album.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Seek The Mind Of God ...

On Focused's 1st album, the band is raw, heavy and at times chaotic. Their follow up album is slightly more focused with slicker song writing and a stronger sense of melody. The hardcore edge is not lost due to Tim Mann's aggressive narrative.

"The Hope That Lies Within Us" starts off with a thrashy, aggressive approach on "Empty". The mid paced riffs complement the gruff vocals and quiet reflections. This is my favourite track here as it reminds me most of "Bow".

"Red" is a bleak mid-pacer with touches of melody and "Killing Years" is a heavy crunch that quickens with thrashy flourishes. "No One" has thrash tendencies with a more aggressive edge that clings to melody.

"Consumer" is a little faster using off-tempo riffing akin to Helmet to create a meaty mid-paced chugger. "Evasion" and "Dead Sky" are both slower mid-paced chuggers that suffer because of the similarities. They are not much different though "Dead Sky" is a little more upbeat.

The album closer "Hurts To Ask" is the speediest track here with a punky vibe.

Although this album is pretty solid, I find the songs are not as memorable as "Bow" and the production is weaker. The guitars are a little thinner and don't pack the same punch. The melodies though nice take a bit of the edge of the aggressive, but I do find Tim's vocals refreshing. He has a great style that works with the music.

Coming up next is one more spirit-filled hardcore band before I move onto other styles.

Stay tuned for Focal Point.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

As I Walk Through The Valley Of Death ...

With this weeks review, I encountered the age old question of what came first. The band name or the band. I can just hear the crowd at a concert for these Orange County boys saying to one another ~Wow, these guys are unashamed, who are they?~ ~Why they're Unashamed~~I know, they are bold with their Christian message, but who are they?~~They're Unashamed~~ I know ...~ And so on.

Unashamed are exactly that. They are one of the founding fathers of Spirit-filled hardcore scene. The lyrics are bold, profound yet avoid being too preachy. As in my previous review of Unashamed's first album "Silence" I coined the term angry feel good music to describe this scene.

As far as hardcore goes, Unashamed are the rawest and heaviest of the spirit-filled bunch. On Unashamed' sophomore release the band stays true to form. "Reflections" starts with a crunch on "Meet Us Here" which comes at you aggressively with hook-laden guitar riffs.

The title track is similar in its approach while "Everlasting Father" adds a touch of groove to their head-smashing riff work. "Strength Within" continues the mid-paced attack with flourishes of thrash mixed in. "The Dividing Wall" is speedy thrash-infused that slows to a crunch towards the end.

One of the things I like about Unashamed is the darker edge they bring to their music which sets them apart in the hardcore scene. "What Will Become" is bleak and dark with some killer riffs. "The Agony Of Deceit" takes the darker edge and creates a reflective feel with some acoustic bits.

"Turn" is faster and heavy with a broodiness that seamlessly transitions into my favourite track, the spitfire "Sustained" (which was also included on "Silence"). "Sustained" is pained in its approach and venomous with a slow crunch. It's dark and passionate.

"Gateway" features some fine heavy riff work and "Separated" , the heaviest song here, crushes at variable speeds. The album closer and close second for fave is a popular Praise song "Awesome God" which is a blast with heavy guitars and gang chorus's presented with punk-like intensity. A great version of a simple, yet passionate tune.

Unashamed are no longer together, but they have left a pair of heavy, aggressive hardcore albums that are brutal and stand the test of time. It's odd hearing positive, moral messages over top such angry music, but hardcore is all about passion and conviction and Unashamed have that in spades.

Up next I'll take a look at Focused' second album "The Hope That Lies Within". Till then check out my review of their first album "Bow" here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

We've Forgiven You, So Forgive Yourself

On August Burns Red's 2nd full-length "Messengers" we get much of the same style though the bands influences are not as readily upfront. This album seems more focused on brutality and aggression then their previous effort, yet continue with the strong melodies.

"Messengers" starts off with the chunky, aggressive "The Truth Of A Liar" whose melodic elements are blasted apart with black metal intensity. "The Eleventh Hour" has the same black metal flourishes as does "Black Sheep" which adds a haunting element to the style.

"Up Against The Ropes" takes their melodic crunch to the level of death metal and "Back Burner" takes the death metal to bone crushing heaviness.

"Composure" is still kept despite the blistering blastbeats thanks to its moving melodies. "Vital Signs" are clear with The Chariot style choral bridge creating a powerfully majestic song.

"The Balance" is heavy and melodic, much like As I Lay Dying whereas "An American Dream" is heavy, fast and brutal and seamlessly transitions into the melodically moving "Redemption" which closes the album off and is one of the stand out songs here.

My favourite song, though, is "The Blinding Light" whose eerie intro leads into an intense black metal flourished tune both fast and emotionally melodic all the while staying heavy.

It seems to me that August Burns Red have found their groove in that both these albums are not too different yet not entirely the same. "Thrill Seekers" is more atmospheric (and heavy and melodic) and "Messengers" is aggressive (and heavy and melodic).

If you like As I Lay Dying, Misery Signals or Between The Buried And Me, then August Burns Red is a perfect fit.

Up next I'll take a look at Unashamed's "Reflections" album. Feel free to check out my review of their first album "Silence" here.