Vinyl Spotlight: Paramore – After Laughter

Every so often, our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, takes the time to talk about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality. Here’s his latest installment.

I collect and play vinyl year round, but there’s something about the fall season that just makes records sound better. Thus, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite albums from this spring is quickly becoming an autumn staple on my turntable.

Paramore’s After Laughter was a triumphant return for the band and a perfect pivot to syrupy synthpop. While quickly being lauded as one of 2017’s best albums upon its spring release, fans of the band had to wait to hear the record on vinyl as pre-orders weren’t available until mid-summer. However, just as with the four years between the band’s self-titled and After Laughter, the vinyl release was worth the wait.

Packaging and Presentation

Paramore helped soothe the wait for After Laughter vinyl by offering multiple variants for fans to choose from, including 1,000 records on teal marble, 2,000 on orange and white available only at Urban Outfitters, 4,000 on pink marble, and another 10,000 on black and white marble available at retail stores. Because of its consistency with the album art, I chose the pink variant and was pleasantly surprised by its brightness upon opening the record.

The gatefold packaging features animated artwork of the trio that matches the scattered shapes and colors of the album cover. However, there isn’t much to look at aside from an album art-themed sleeve to hold the record itself. After Laughter certainly stands out from the rest of the band’s catalogue in terms of artwork and matches the sound of the album, but this release could have included a bit more inside.

Sound and Quality

Album art aside, After Laughter is a pleasure to listen to on wax. I was reminded of Chvrches’ 2015 release Every Open Eye with its rich, layered synthesizers and deep bass lines. Both of these pressings are great examples of what can be accomplished on non-180 gram pressings. After Laughter sounds clean and crisp in this format.

I decided to first spin the record with several friends in attendance at our house, all of whom enjoyed the album and noted how smooth the band sounded. Only one track, the Aaron Weiss-led “No Friend”, garnered somewhat negative feedback. Already an odd fit on the album, Weiss’ vocals feel even more buried on this vinyl release, creating a disjointed feel before the album’s somber closing track, “Tell Me How”.

Still, it’s hard to complain about having one of the year’s best albums finally on vinyl. After Laughter is a beautiful, painful and complex listen and is best heard in full, making this a great format for the experience. If you’re interested in snagging a vinyl copy of your own, the black and white marble variant is still available through the band’s website.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Reflecting On: Chiodos – Bone Palace Ballet

By the fall of 2007, Chiodos had established themselves as one of the premiere post-hardcore bands on the planet. The band’s sophomore album, Bone Palace Ballet, fully harnessed the potential displayed on their debut and landed at #5 on the Billboard 200, transitioning the band from lively up-and-comers to a full-fledged headlining rock act.

Unfortunately for Chiodos, intervening years have hijacked the band’s narrative. Ensuing drama, inner turmoil, member turnover, news headlines, and the band’s own mystique have shadowed much of the music, namely the brilliance of Bone Palace Ballet. There’s an argument to made that it’s one of the most criminally underrated albums in scene history.

You can buy “Bone Palace Ballet” on iTunes.

Chiodos’ debut, All’s Well That Ends Well, was a firecracker of raw energy that put the band’s name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For their follow-up, the band channeled that passion into a more controlled and polished body of work while expanding on their sound in exciting new ways. It’s still easy to hear the band’s signature chaos across ripping guitar riffs from Jason Hale and manic keyboard lines from Bradley Bell, but several new tricks provided a world of new possibilities.

Just under a year after My Chemical Romance dropped their smash rock opera The Black Parade, Chiodos followed suit with their own dramatic display, capitalizing on frontman Craig Owens’ theatrical performance. Bone Palace Ballet is chock full of rich, over-the-top melody and drama, highly inspired by poems from Charles Bukowski and others. On All’s Well, Owens made a name for himself with a wild, spastic delivery, and while his screams carry even more power on Ballet, his purposefully over-dramatic vocal inflections would become his calling card.

Yet it would have been possible for all of this to fall flat if not for the swirl of unexpected sounds underneath. Blended into the mix were full orchestral arrangements that somehow made sense alongside crashing guitars and drums. A string section carries the first 30 seconds of “Life is a Perception of Your Own Reality” before Owens crashes through the door with, “I’d like to take this time to detach my jaw”. A myriad of horns blast along with the chorus of “Lexington. (Joey Pea-Pot with a Monkeyface)”.

Think on this: Chiodos juxtaposed ragtime pop with their own personal brand of convulsive post-hardcore and the resulting product was a smashing success. How many bands since have attempted to blend in these kinds of theatrics and come anywhere close to something as powerful as “Is it Progression if a Cannibal Uses a Fork?” The chances taken on Bone Palace Ballet allowed the band to explore new territory without it ever feeling like a jump of the proverbial shark.

Credit producer Casey Bates with helping the band find balance. At times on Ballet, it feels as if even one more additional instrument could bring a whole song crashing down. Still, for all of the fully-loaded tracks on the album, Chiodos still finds time to deliver some of their softest (“A Letter from Janelle”, “Intensity in Ten Cities”) and heaviest (“Teeth the Size of Piano Keys”, “The Undertaker’s Thirst for Revenge is Unquenchable”) songs. By the time Owens croons, “All the world’s a stage / I existed because I dreamed and, well, I dream no more” near the albums somber conclusion, it feels as though you’ve experienced every sound and mood a heavy rock album could hope to offer.

With Chiodos now decidedly disbanded, it feels like the conversation around the band focuses on squandered potential. I’d argue otherwise. Certainly, fans of the band would love to have gotten another album or two before they said farewell, but the quality of the output across their four albums is certainly undeniable. In fact, I’d hear an argument for any of the four releases as Chiodos’ best.

At the end of the day, though, Bone Palace Ballet stands as a beacon of the best parts of Chiodos – chaotic, melodramatic, fantastical. It’s still a spectacle to behold 10 years later.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Self-Destruction of Saves The Day

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The Chicago Bears lost their first regular season game this weekend. To be honest, I don’t know anything about football, but it’s a well-known inside joke that, although the Bears haven’t performed very well the last few years, their fan base continues to follow them relentlessly. The same can be said of Saves The Day.

Though most people know the band’s first few albums, their experimentation over the last decade has been met with enthusiasm from fans willing to listen to anything “Chris Conley and friends” create. However, the events of the Chicago Bears Block Party showed that even the most loyal fans have limits, and sometimes a band can damage the goodwill given to them by being obnoxious.

I love Saves The Day. They were one of my first obsessions in music. I’ve seen them almost annually for the last decade. At the Chicago Bears Block Party, they were the headline event with Lucky Boys Confusion (one of my more well known loves) performing immediately before them. Lucky Boys put on a stellar performance, per usual.

Almost from the moment Saves The Day took the stage, Chris Conley seemed off. From the slow build up to the first song (“All-Star Me”), to the point where the band was actually getting booed on stage, Conley was an example of nearly everything musicians are mocked for. Even now, a few days later, I can’t tell if it was the worst show I’ve seen, or the most entertaining. I don’t even know if it was because he was too inebriated or if it was some type of Shia LaBeouf ‘performance art’ horseshit. But I am worried for the future of Saves The Day. And Chris Conley.

***

Let’s start at the band level. Though the rest of the band played well enough, it seems like they barely played more than 10 songs (including the clusterfuck that was a 10-minute-long session of “A Drag in D Flat”) in a set that was over an hour long. About 20 minutes in, to say that the band looked annoyed would be an understatement. The fact that they continued to play at all, is merit to their professionalism as musicians.

I don’t know what was wrong with Chris Conley in Chicago, or if it is a bigger problem that is plaguing the group. The band actually said at one point that they had “drank all the free beer,” but this appeared to be something more serious. Between the continuous shouts of, “We’re alive! We’re alive!” and the non-stop references to how “crazy the world is and we’re all alive together in the cosmos,” it became far too easy to speculate about Chris’ state of mind.

I would like to say that the low point of Conley’s night was the off-key vocals or stopping to tune his guitar three times, instructing an already pissed crowd to “talk amongst yourselves.” It could have been when he stopped playing music entirely for nearly 10 minutes (I might be exaggerating, but not by much) to talk about how great it is to be alive while the crowd started booing him. Or that during one of his monologues, the crowd actually started chanting “LBC! LBC!” for Lucky Boys Confusion.

But none of that compares to the disastrous performance of “A Drag in D Flat”, a beloved song off of Through Being Cool. Even now, I am not entirely sure that this was the song they were even playing, because I was so focused on how fucked everything was. The band turned a three-minute pop punk anthem into a 10-minute sadness nightmare.

Though Chris seemed like he was about to sing several times, he instead proceeded to turn the song into an extremely long guitar solo and jam session, followed by him looking skywards, seeming to be lost in the continuous verse of guitar riffs from Arun Bali. Then he passed out.

I assume he passed out. I don’t know how else to describe someone toppling over, knocking the mic stand towards the crowd, and laying on the stage for about 30 seconds. The rest of the band continued to play, looking down on him until he returned to the guitar solo while lying on his back. When he got up, he stumbled around the stage and leaned on bassist Rodrigo Palma and Arun for support. This happened for what seemed like minutes at a time. The crowd (at least in my section) alternated between laughing at him and looking around nervously. One woman wondered aloud if “someone should get a medic.”

Chris Conley has always been quirky, which is what gives his music so much charm. Listening to any number of podcasts or interviews he’s been a part of shows that. His music harnesses an innocence interlocked with anger. Conley hasn’t been as angry in his last few recordings, and it’s healthy for artists to change over time, especially if it is towards a happier mentality. But this isn’t healthy, and I’m fucking worried about him.

If this is where Conley is in his life, I don’t know if I want to continue following the band. Everyone has a bad night on stage. Everyone experiments a bit. But there is something darker beneath the surface when a crowd of faithful fans start cheering for another band. At one point, the crowd shouted at the stage, “play a song!” Conley responded with “We can just talk. We’re just people, and we can talk to you.”

***

Saves The Day never make the same album twice. Conley even announced that this was the last show they were playing before going into the studio to record. I hope he is just worn out and blowing off steam before recording. Because if not, I have no idea how this entire process won’t be an absolute mess.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a musician wanting to banter with the crowd or give a message during their set. Usually, the music punctuates those statements into something meaningful. This was someone shouting the same nothing sentence over and over.

I don’t know where his mind was or how annoyed his bandmates were. I don’t know if it was an isolated incident or a more common problem. I hope it’s out of his system. I have a new fear that I never expected: that Chris Conley could ruin his own music if he’s approaching his own work like this.

As much as I have given to support this band over the years, I hesitate to say if I will see them live again if this is how they treat their shows. More than anything, I’m worried about Chris. That wasn’t healthy behavior for anyone. I hope he finds whatever he’s looking for and gets help if it’s needed.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and saw Saves The Day as his first concert ever. He drove three hours to see them, multiple times.

Reflecting On: Kanye West – Graduation

Graduation could easily be considered the weakest of Kanye West’s seven solo albums. That should tell you something about the music of Kanye West. When I want to sit and solemnly reflect on what it means to be a creative human being while wrestling with inner demons, I listen to Kanye’s masterpiece: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. When I have a house party and want to turn the vibe to 11, I throw on Graduation. That should also tell you something about the music of Kanye West.

Graduation is an album meant to be heard en masse, blasted through arena speakers. This is not Kanye’s strong suit. Nevertheless, Graduation is the best example we have of what an arena rap album would sound like, and the unlikely guiding light that provided inspiration for a new generation of hip hop artists.

The most common narrative attached to Graduation is that it hammered the final nail into the gangsta rap coffin. This is true. I, like you, purchased Graduation instead of 50 Cent’s Curtis on September 11, 2007, putting an end to the final gasps of a subgenre that had served a great purpose. In truth, gangsta rap had already received its notice by the time The College Dropout hit shelves in 2004, but because of the faux 50/Kanye beef, Graduation will always be remembered in this way.

But for true fans of Kanye West, this new album was more than just a cultural statement – it was a complete transition from the soul-inspired, backpack rap that permeated his first two records. Graduation is a frenzied party thrown by its creator in celebration of the fame and attention rightly garnered by those first two albums. Graduation is a true pop album, and as such, it includes the best and worst parts of the genre.

When Graduation is at its best, it allows us to roll down the windows, turn up the volume, and lose ourselves in indulgence and excitement (“Stronger”, “Good Life”). When Graduation is at its most thoughtful, it finds Ye digging at shortcomings that would spill into the heavy subject matter of 808s & Heartbreak and Fantasy (“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”). At its worst, Graduation devolves into reckless, nonsensical revelry and braggadocio (“Barry Bonds”, “Drunk and Hot Girls”).

With the hindsight of four more groundbreaking solo albums and a lifetime’s worth of controversy and public scrutiny, Graduation appears in a much different light than it did a decade ago. It’s a collection of songs by a man desperate for attention and adoration. It is also a collection of songs by a genius who began to show early signs of an unparalleled ability to tap into the in-the-moment cultural zeitgeist. Graduation was the perfect sound for 2007 – something that is somehow even more obvious when reflecting on it today.

As a pop album, Graduation excels in terms of electrifying production. As a Kanye West album, it finds ways to poke through the strobe lights and inflict us with conundrums. On the opening lines of the bass and synth-heavy “Flashing Lights”, Ye raps, “She don’t believe in shooting stars / But she believe in shoes and cars”. This is a clever nod to an old country song by Don Williams and a hilarious callback to West’s breakthrough smash “Gold Digger”. It is also an indictment on Kanye’s sometimes-fickle fan base.

Throughout Graduation, West creates these moments of sublime juxtaposition, forcing us to involuntarily dance as he wryly drops knowledge. When he turns trivial, well, who cares when the beats are hot? If an album like Fantasy is a lesson in picking up the pieces and evaluating one’s life journey, Graduation is the killer party full of dumb or embarrassing moments that still taught us a thing or two. Moreover, many of the album’s most frivolous themes take on a new light when dissected through the lens of Yeezus.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m glad we have Graduation, with its Daft Punk production, goofy artwork, T-Pain autotune, silly rhymes, and fleeting moments of brilliance. I’m happy because it’s a time capsule that marks a shift in our understanding of hip hop in the mainstream conversation. I’m happy because it continued an unlikely sonic progression in Ye’s career that persists to this day. But I’m mostly happy because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to listen to, even 10 years later.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Redemptive Colors of Kesha’s “Rainbow”

The first time I heard a Kesha song, I was with my kid sister. I remember laughing together at the whimsically dark yet silly lyrics, “Maybe I need some rehab—or maybe just need some sleep…”

This was back in the day when my sister and I would dance in front of our shared bathroom mirror to whatever DJ iPod played. Meticulously, we pinned and curled our hair as we danced. Delicately, we’d paint our faces with CoverGirl and Maybelline colors of cultural uniformity. And this we thought would make us stand out—beautiful.

You can buy Rainbow on iTunes.

Over the last several years, I’ve dealt with guilt over the example I helped set for my sister. How was I defining what it meant to be a woman? To have self worth? Seven years later, as I become reacquainted with Kesha through her new album Rainbow, I can’t help but revisit these standards that I had so wrong.

To set the scene appropriately, my knowledge of Kesha back in 2010 came only through the kitschy yet fun, often spoken verses shared on pop radio. I never dug fully into her artistic repertoire. Nor did I have knowledge beyond passing comments of the more recent hell she went through with infamous producer Dr. Luke. Until about a month ago.

My husband encouraged me to listen to Kesha’s single, “Praying”. To say this song demanded my attention is an understatement. The melodic power I was hearing begged me to sing the words I did not yet know, and yet the emotion behind the lyrics gripped my vocal chords to pained silence. From that moment, I could not help but get to know Rainbow and the history that made it.

Kesha’s long awaited reintroduction into pop culture is an opus of anthems for the outcasts—the repressed—the weirdoes. With every track, she celebrates individuality and tells the haters where they can stick it—in the most mature way possible. Tis a sonic spectrum as varied in color and mood as the refracted light of the album’s namesake.

Starting with “Bastards”, you almost feel like you’re sitting by the campfire with the carefree artist and her guitar as she encourages you to chuckle over how crappy life can be. You sing along and embrace that you can overcome it. Then, after an almost Beatles-esque, syllable-sing-along of a bridge, you jump to the poppy “Let Em Talk” to the country funk “Woman” to the synthesized “Hymn” to the power ballad “Praying”… If that’s not enough variety for you, just wait for that Johnny Cash sound of “Hunt You Down” or the Dolly Parton cameo of “Old Flames” or the silly guitar waltz behind “Godzilla”.

Photo Credit: Olivia Bee

Despite all this acoustic variety, Kesha’s themes are nothing but strong and consistent, and they speak of a newfound strength and consistency she wants to share. First off, it is damn good to be a woman, and we ladies do not have to have a man to feel strong. “Woman” was reportedly born from Kesha’s outraged response to Trump’s pre-presidency abomination of a comment about the fairer sex. The lyric content celebrates a woman’s financial independence, almost rebuking man’s involvement, spouting, “I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight”. Interspersed throughout the song are clips of laughter tracks, hinting just what Kesha thinks of men who think otherwise. Add to that her adopting parts of male anatomy as her own in “Let Em Talk” and taking on a female version of the traditional outlaw country song with “Hunt You Down”, and it’s obvious that Kesha has no qualms promoting women’s equality.

While frustration and anger are present in these lyrical undertones, Rainbow also paints Kesha as working hard to process past resentments in the healthiest way she knows how. From the Dr. Luke news alone, we have a small picture of the hell she’s been living. In “Praying”, Kesha lays it all bare without speaking a word of what actually happened. The song echoes with her justified anger, but instead of exposing “all the truth [she] could tell”, she dynamically closes the door on all that hate. She leaves the offender to find his own peace with the only one who can actually grant it. In “Learn to Let Go”, the track that immediately follows, we see Kesha transcend the victim mindset, taking her own advice that “Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment / Choose redemption; your happy ending’s up to you”.

When feminism is married to the awful things that can happen to a woman—whether in our world or in the tracks of an album—a woman cannot help but battle for and eventually celebrate her own self worth. On this third theme, Kesha most certainly delivers. And she invites all those who feel marginalized to the party. With the opening sing-along “Bastards”, Kesha strikes a chord with anyone who has felt “underestimated [their] entire life”, and reminds them not to let the jerks who give us that message win. “Hymn” lifts up the outcasts and the oppressed, singing praise to their perfection amidst life’s mess. Then, the album’s title track encircles the realization that “what’s left of [Kesha’s] heart’s still made of gold” and extends the invitation to anyone who needs the same self-realization to “come and paint the world with [her] tonight”.

All this weight, and yet Kesha is still able to embrace the silly side of her that had my sister and me bouncing around in front of the mirror seven years ago. (If you need proof of this, just take a listen to “Godzilla” and think on its impish genius.) Listening today, I wish my sis and I had been painting ourselves then with Kesha’s Rainbow palette. I wish we had realized earlier the promise that we are beautiful women—even, if not especially, in the messed up moments. But hey. There’s still time to paint the world a different color.

by Jennifer Hauck

jennifer_hauck Jennifer Hauck lives with her highly musically-inclined hubby in Indianapolis, Indiana. She loves puppies, coffee, Indian food, the stage and the lost art of snail mail. While she’s never been a formal music critic, she has studied and respects the power of the pen and still reaches for it occasionally.

Reflecting On: The Devil Wears Prada – Plagues

The Devil Wears Prada are the last band I can remember discovering in a magazine. For most of my youth, I was exposed to new music through a variety of print publications – Alternative Press, Spin, HM and many others. As a communications major and journalism nerd, the fading medium remained valuable to me even as new and exciting forms of online media began to blossom.

You can buy Plagues on iTunes.

On a particular summer day in 2007, I flipped through the new issue of Alternative Press and landed on one of those one-page features dedicated to up-and-coming bands. The RIYL section mentioned Underoath and I remember the write-up talking about how the band formed after the members were collectively inspired by The Changing of Times. I laid down the magazine, booted up my dinosaur of a laptop and navigated to the band’s MySpace page where I streamed “Hey John, What’s Your Name Again?” Soon after, I purchased a copy of Plagues at Best Buy.

I share this story because it’s the last time such a series of events would unfold in my life. It makes me miss the excitement that younger version of myself felt in those moments of discovery. It also reminds me how much fun I had in the fall of 2007 listening to that album.

The Devil Wears Prada were my first peek into the new wave of metalcore bands that had sprouted in the wake of my favorite band’s influence. While there are certainly a number of similarities between Underoath and The Devil Wears Prada, Prada were anything but a carbon copy – they were soon to be the flagship band for a burgeoning sub-genre.

Of course, growing pains were part of the process. It’s easy to poke holes in Plagues – the horror movie synthesizers, vocalist Mike Hranica’s spastic screeches and growls, the cheesy, br00tal breakdowns. Nevertheless, early signs of technical gifts were evident, particularly in Chris Rubey and Jeremy DePoyster’s guitar work and Daniel Williams’ drumming. Additionally, Joey Sturgis’ production style found throughout the album would soon spread like wildfire, making him the most sought after producer in the scene.

While Plagues would be far from the band’s best work (hand that designation to Dead Throne or the Zombie EP), it laid the groundwork for a sub-cultural shift across the Warped Tour scene and helped make heavy music decidedly cool. Not into having your bones rattled from bass drops and drop-D tuning? Just wait until DePoyster’s croon pierces through the speakers. The fleeting moments of melody across Plagues are impeccably placed and impossible to ignore. To this day, no one has been able to achieve that balance quite like The Devil Wears Prada.

Personally, Plagues offered a welcome soundtrack to a period of transition in my life. Having just moved halfway across the country to a new city with no acquaintances, Plagues proved to be a valuable friend and a fitting backdrop to my own wrestlings with faith. Behind the bright neon t-shirts and goofy song titles was a surprising amount of depth for such a young band. Plagues speaks to the fleeting nature of our existence and the danger of letting it slip away.

That commitment to conviction would prove to be a cornerstone that set The Devil Wears Prada apart from many of their contemporaries. Soon, the band’s intense focus on perfecting their craft would gain them acceptance in the greater metal community, allowing them to share the stage with heralded acts like Killswitch Engage, Slayer and Slipknot. In hindsight, Plagues was much more than a fleeting stab at cultural cache – it was an early chapter of a band with a lot more to prove.

I guess it makes sense to me that a band I discovered through my old school methods would become a torchbearer for a new generation of bands in the scene. It also makes sense that The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t be content with the ground explored on their early work, which was certainly powerful in its own right. For the band with the silly name and cool haircuts, the best was yet to come.

Still, I can’t help but reflect fondly on those days, flipping through Alternative Press and with Plagues blasting in the background, ushering in a new phase of my own musical journey.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Remembering Chester Bennington of Linkin Park

To the best of my memory, my first real feelings of depression surfaced sometime in early high school. By the time a friend handed me a burned copy of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory during my junior year, I had already acted upon impulses to harm myself. It was a strange and very lonely feeling – a presumed weakness in myself that I didn’t want anyone to know about. Words like “mental illness” and “depression” had never crossed my mind.

I share this because Chester Bennington’s lyrics on Hybrid Theory were the first to vocalize what I was feeling at the time. Maybe I wasn’t weird. Maybe I wasn’t crazy. Maybe I wasn’t alone.

The memory of this turning point made the news of Chester Bennington’s suicide all the more devastating. Depression is not biased and is not deterred by fame or status. It is a crushingly cruel disease that is far too often too easily hidden.

Like many others, I’ve been listening to a lot of Linkin Park lately, finding reminders of how deeply those early albums impacted me. In some ways, it’s odd that Chester’s voice became so meaningful to me. As an avid hip hop listener, I was initially attracted to the band because of Mike Shinoda’s rapping. While Shinoda’s voice gets the most airtime on those early albums, it’s Bennington’s painful howls that deliver the greatest impact.

Linkin Park would prove to be a gateway for me into heavy rock music. Chester’s screams weren’t grating – they were comforting in their familiarity. Those words and that voice encapsulated feelings that I hadn’t been able to vocalize. A few years later, I cried in my car on a campus parking lot after purchasing Meteora from a local Wal-Mart on the day of its release. I can still vividly remember hearing Chester’s cries on the chorus of “Somewhere I Belong” for the first time that day:

“I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long
(Erase all the pain ’til it’s gone)
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real
I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along
Somewhere I belong”

My interest in Linkin Park faded after Meteora as I began discovering a variety of new bands that also spoke my language. Having not paid the band much mind for several years, I attended one of their shows in Indianapolis in 2012 with a few friends who were big fans. That night, standing at the front of the stage with my camera, I was in awe of the band’s performance and reminded of how much Chester’s words had meant to me.

Listening to those songs over the past week have resulted in complicated feelings. I’m pained by the loss of someone whose struggle is so near to my own and many others. I’m frustrated in my lack of progress in my own battle with depression. I’m hopeful that, just maybe, there’s still light at the end of this dark tunnel. I’m thankful that Hybrid Theory was placed in my hands that day back in 2000.

Each time these kinds of tragedies strike, it’s a stark reminder to love those around us and talk to each other, even when it’s painful and uncomfortable. Remembering the music is easy. Reaching out for help or offering an ear can often be much harder.

So many of us were impacted by the words and songs of Chester Bennington –  it is truly a tragedy to lose him so soon. Rest in peace, Chester.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Wolves at the Gate: The Message of Rise Against

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I fell in love with Rise Against in the middle of college, during the height of the Bush era. To say it was similar to the political climate of today seems quaint, but I remember the boiling of my blood at the discussion of laws to ban gay marriage, of the sick feeling of being in war or watching the economy catch flame. The Sufferer & The Witness was the first album I had ever heard that took a deep dive into politics (not counting my beloved American Idiot). Appeal to Reason and Siren Song of the Counter Culture quickly became new favorites.

The band released three albums during the Obama years (counting a B-Side album). But I can’t say that I listened to them more than a couple of times, and I stopped listening to their older works almost entirely. I don’t have a reason – it could be that I had gotten tired of ‘revolting’, that they started to sound mainstream or the idea of revolutionary punk rock seemed old hat.

Wolves, the band’s newest release came out over a month ago. I picked up a copy on release day, and didn’t listen to it for weeks. Again, I don’t have a reason other than politics these days is a maddening topic, and the idea of listening to rebel songs when the entire world seems up in arms just feels draining.

I listened to Wolves on a road trip, once our other albums had run out, after I had read some ironically hilarious news about an unfortunate meeting the president’s son had last year. Wolves won me back almost instantly. The hooks were less alternative, and screamed of the raging punk aesthetic I originally loved about the band. More than that, it revived my interest in Rise Against completely. From their first album through Wolves, they are the only band I have been listening to, even the albums I never originally went back to. It’s as though I am listening to the band for the first time again.

So why the change? Wolves is a great record, and feels like a return to basics in many ways. There isn’t as much of an alternative edge to it as The Black Market, instead falling back to a more ‘classic’ style punk. The politics aren’t as razor sharp or as damning as they could be given the last seven months. Instead, this is all common practice, as vocalist Tim McIlrath sings , “Stand by to switch on / We fire on all pistons / We’re singing along but no one is listening / From dusk until dawn, we stay up to carry the flame”, on “Mourning in Amerika”.

Throughout their discography, Rise Against maintain the same themes they have had since at least Siren Song, which is railing against injustice and singing ahead of the army as it grows. During the Bush era, when the news made me red with rage, the lyrics from “Bricks” (Sufferer) rang with me: “We’re setting the fires to light the way / We’re burning it all to begin again / With hope in our hearts, and bricks in our hands / We sing for change”.

To say I was pleased with Obama’s America wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but the fire of anger didn’t burn in me. Rise Against’s fury and rebellion didn’t excite me, because it wasn’t needed. I became much more introspective, obsessing over new waves of punk like The Wonder Years. I rediscovered old favorites that I had set aside because they seemed childish when compared to the political climate (Homegrown and The Ataris). As the Occupy movement climaxed, and Black Lives Matter took to the streets, Rise Against felt redundant, almost unneeded. Why should I listen to rebellion when I am seeing it? Why listen to anthems against oppression when it seemed like Obama was more or less on my side?

Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been as into the band as I had been in youth, but it felt like Rise Against weren’t as effective or as evocative during progressive times. The fight doesn’t seem as just, because the message is already being heard. But in the Trump era, it seems like every hour there is something new to be mad about or annoyed at, someone else perverting the country while the rest of the world leads. There is constantly something else to laugh at because sometimes, that is all that’s left.

All the while, Rise Against sang on.

Perhaps it is personal opinion, or a minor slump in their writing or just that songs of rebellion sound petty when the world seems like it could be on the upward tick. It would have been simple, maybe even beneath them to attack the Trump administration with the rage and venom that Rise Against is fully capable of. Wolves doesn’t go out of its way to attack in the same way that “State of the Union” (Siren Song) does, or tackle hard topics like euthanasia (“Injection”, Sufferer), which poked at the heart of morality.

Where Wolves finds its strength is reminding us that although this administration may seem extreme, it is still just politics. But the country seems awake now and ready to resist. Wolves feels like a culmination of the message the band has spent their career leading the march towards. For a band nearly two decades deep, the album seems to relish in the basics. The guitars are loud, but practical. Sonically, this could have been any one of their earlier albums. The production is flatter than Sufferer or Endgame.

The difference is that is that for what feels like the first time in my lifetime, the country is actually standing at attention and actively watching the world. The message doesn’t have to be as cutting or dramatic, because the people are actually pushing back. Whereas a rallying cry on older albums felt like wishful liberal thinking, lyrics like, “We are the wolves at the gate, our numbers growing everyday, yeah ./ You can’t fight us all, no / You can’t fight”, (“Wolves”) feel more charged and dangerous than they ever could have before.

The Russia scandal and sea of constantly updating news makes a song like “Bullshit” something that has a weight it wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. “But this is bullshit / It’s finally coming into focus / You’re lying and I think you know it but you’re too afraid / To face the storm you helped create / Yeah, this is bullshit / And did you think I wouldn’t notice? / Cracks in your theory are showing like a broken vase / Your grip around me dissipates”.

I meant to review Wolves when it came out, but I just couldn’t; the idea of investing in anything remotely more political than necessary just seemed like masochism. But this album isn’t a political hit piece. It’s a reminder that Rise Against have preached the same message for years about not tolerating injustice and recognizing the fight for culture. The difference is that this time, it seems like the country is listening. I am listening.

And on they’ll sing.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just watched his cat throw up on a pillow… Cuz why make sick on something easy to clean?

Superet: The Best Band You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s something you hear for years, but it appears to be an inevitability: no matter how much you try, it’s just harder to get into newer bands when you get older. It’s something that has had a slow build-up in me for the last few years. There are a crazy amount of up-and-comers that have potential, but at 30 years old, it takes more than teenage angst to catch my attention.

Another inevitability is the feeling that the best albums you’ll ever hear are already behind you. There are some magical works of art that come out every year, but it has been half of a decade since something has shattered my world the way that The Fratellis’ Costello Music did when it forced me to park my car and finish a song because I couldn’t focus on anything else. Nothing has fueled my system with the energy of hearing Green Day’s American Idiot, or truly found my soul like The Wonder Years for so long.

But every now and then, you find something truly amazing.

A month ago, I attended the Chicago show for Dreamcar, the supergroup of AFI’s Davy Havok and the members of No Doubt filling out the rest of the band. It was truly a great show. But what I took away from it, arguably more than anything is that a month later, I am still reliving their opening band’s set, even though I literally only know one of their songs.

Superet is a band I had never heard of before that night. They took the stage as the only opening band, with two keyboards on either side of the stage, and fuzzy haired vocalist Matt Blitzer sporting a tight jacket. From the very start, they shattered my world.

The only way I know how to describe their sound, from memory, is that it was as if Jack White had penned his own version of Costello Music. The energy, the hypnotic percussion and the attitude paid off in ways that would seem hacky for a lesser band. It’s as if the indie rock of 2006 had been maturing like a fine wine, finally exploding with the craze of Hot Hot Heat and the temperament of Jon Fratelli.

No instrument or talent felt wasted. Guitarist Isaac Tamburino jumped instantly from guitar to tambourine to keyboards and back within a single song. Every song was more impressive than the one before it, with one breakdown reminding me of a more frantic rock version of the second half of Motion City Soundtrack’s “Time Turned Fragile”.

It took a long time to realize just how obsessed I was with the band, mostly due to noticing just how often I was Googling their name for a release date of any music. Currently, there is only one single, “Pay It Later”. It was my least favorite of their songs, and my current play count for that song alone is nearing 60 after just a few weeks.

It’s a relief to find a band that reaffirms your love of music from time to time. Age can wear down enthusiasm, but it can never kill it. And I am enthused. I am hunting for any information about an EP, or an LP, or even another single.

I truly believe that a band that is, with one single, represented by the same press company as Green Day and Panic! At the Disco (literally the only information I could find other than a Facebook page), Superet is on the verge of becoming either one of the most talked about under-the-radar bands out there, or one of the biggest.

Check out the band’s new seizure-infused video for “Pay It Later” and get a free download of the song at their site. Just thought you should know.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago is a creep. Really, what a no good person. Throw apples at his face if you can.

Reflecting On: Paramore – Riot!

I was sitting in my first apartment at a TV tray, which served as a desk for my old, rickety laptop, when I first heard “Misery Business” over a pair of shitty $10 headphones. Although far from an audiophile’s dream scenario for such a moment, I immediately understood its importance. I can’t remember if anyone else was in the room, but I vividly remember saying aloud, “Paramore is about to be the biggest band on the planet.”

I bought Paramore’s debut album All We Know is Falling because of the recommendation attached to the shrink wrap of the CD’s jewel case. Copeland vocalist Aaron Marsh made a similar proclamation on that sticker to the one I would make two years later in my apartment, and it was enough to provoke an unexpected purchase. I ended up loving that album with its raw production and youthful energy. Even then, with all of the apparent promise attached to the band, it was hard to foresee what would come next.

You can buy Riot! on iTunes.

A decade later, I’m not 100% certain that Riot! is Paramore’s greatest achievement, but I won’t argue with anyone who feels that way. It’s undeniably one of the most explosive and important albums to come from the scene and the defining example of the sound of an era.

I drove an hour and a half from Enid, Oklahoma, to Oklahoma City on the day of Riot!’s release to purchase the CD at a Hot Topic and enjoy the album from front to back on the drive home. I remember being immediately struck by David Bendeth’s production, which had literally taken the band to a whole new level. I also remember being surprised at the diversity of sound throughout the record’s 11 tracks. “Misery Business” will forever be attached to Riot!’s success, but this album is still a goldmine of hits.

Nevertheless, it was that first single that changed everything. It was hard to go anywhere in the summer of 2007 without hearing that unforgettable opening riff or Hayley Williams’ chorus of, “Woah! I never meant to brag”. Add in an unforgettable music video, striking bright colors attached to the album’s marketing, and the unrivaled energy of the band’s live performance, and Paramore had concocted the perfect cocktail for success. Riot! would move one million copies within a year before eventually going double platinum.

Just a few months prior, Fall Out Boy had appeared to set the standard for scene bands on the big stage with the release of Infinity on High, but were suddenly rivaled in the most unexpected of ways by a band that would outlast the rest of their competition. One of the things that makes Riot! so unique a decade later is that the band has actually gotten much better since the release of its signature album. Good luck naming an active band from that era that can make the same claim.

Yet for all of the excitement surrounding Riot!’s success and, sadly, the ensuing inter-band drama that would become intertwined with Paramore’s narrative, it’s important to acknowledge the uphill battle that Paramore, and more importantly, Hayley Williams, have climbed amidst their continued success.

In a scene that has consistently been plagued with persistent sexism and misogyny, it’s difficult to look back and not grimace at some of the painful conversations surrounding Paramore in 2007. Still, Williams persevered and undoubtedly impacted the community around her in ways that are still blooming. There’s much more work to be done, but the call for elevating women’s voices in the scene continues to rise, often led by Williams herself.

Riot! is not only a hallmark album for the 2000s pop punk scene, it’s a testament to a voice that refused to be ignored. Only 18 years old at the time of the album’s release, Williams commanded our attention with confidence and drive well beyond her years.

I love Riot!. I still own and wear the t-shirt I bought along with the CD that day back in 2007 and remember my initial excitement every time I put the album on. However, I cannot express how delighted I am that it was only the beginning of what was to come – the music and the progress.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.