Review: Frank Iero and The Violent Futures – Barriers

Frank Iero’s passion for rock music shines through his solo work more than the heavy mood would have you believe. Barriers, Iero’s third solo album, celebrates rock music. The album is moody and constantly blitzing with wild energy. He sounds raw—similar to some of the best emo releases of the mid-2000s. Barriers sounds like a lost masterpiece from a decade earlier, but isn’t dated in the least. Iero doesn’t have to work too hard to craft his own identity from past work with My Chemical Romance and Leathermouth. Barriers is an album that overcomes every obstacle to stand tall on its own, possibly as Iero’s best solo release.

You can buy or stream Barriers on Apple Music.

Each new interpretation of his solo career has refined his sound and not shied away from the gloom that helped define him as a musician. The guitars are fuzzed, but still release a hard melody. Iero’s writing channels the best aspects of rock and focuses it down to a grungy tip. It allows the album to be a cohesive collection while adding a massive variety to the sound.

Opener, “A New Day’s Coming” mixes blues and a gospel-heavy keyboard with heavy, raw guitars. The chorus of “Fever Dream” rages with simple power chords, reminiscent of classic-era Green Day. Meanwhile, “Moto-Pop” rages with metal inspiration from Black Sabbath. Iero and fellow guitarist Evan Nestor are clearly relishing their ability to play whatever they want.

Bassist Matt Armstrong (Murder By Death) provides a hard, dark mood throughout the album (“Medicine Square Garden”). Keyboardist and backing vocalist Kayleigh Goldsworthy adds just enough to crank the effect of Iero’s demons throughout the album. She hides like an angel or a demon haunting Iero’s highs and lows (“Six Feet Down Under”). Former Thursday drummer Tucker Rue adds an energy to the album that keeps the music charged even in more somber moments (“No Love”).

Where Iero impresses the most is in his vocals. The wild change in singing styles throughout the album keep each line engaging. The preference to get the emotion out, even if it means falling flat, lends a haunting urgency to each line. Clean, lazy singing on “A New Day’s Coming” is inspiring. Slurred, charged shouting during “Young and Doomed” channels a blend of AFI’s Davy Havok’s eccentricity and Thursday’s Geoff Rickly’s angst. Meanwhile, singing through gritted teeth, grunge whispers and hedonistic shouting, “Fever Dream” is wave after wave of unfiltered energy thrown at the microphone.

Barriers is a thick album. There’s certainly an argument that it could have benefitted from being a couple tracks shorter. However, Iero’s passion for music shines through each track. Although it’s hard not to compare him to a few legendary bands he was a key part of, Iero has forged a solo career defined by the freedom to lay waste to expectation. Barriers is Iero at his best—doubling down on a genre he helped forge and paying homage to rock music from every region of the genre.

4/5

Photo credit: Mitchell Wojcik

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 stepped in a puddle this morning. Now he is known as “Dumb ol’ Wet Foot.”

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Review: Story of the Year – Wolves

It’s no secret that this has been a challenging year in the music scene. 2017 has been harsh and unforgiving, this seen particularly in the loss of several major figures in alternative music. Returning from a seven-year hiatus, Story of the Year tackles these issues of mental health and feeling alone, as well as fatherhood and feelings of mediocrity, in their latest album, Wolves.

You can buy Wolves on iTunes.

The album begins with a haunting minute-long instrumental intro which sets the stage well for what appears to be a concept album. From almost every standpoint (lyrically, musically, compositionally) Wolves is full of surprises. When you listen to Story of the Year, you expect morose lyrics surrounded by an equally moody soundtrack, but this album finds a new lightheartedness. Story of the Year haven’t lost their signature sound, but they’ve definitely matured.

In an interview with Fuse, front man Dan Marsala went through the album track by track, offering a bit more background into the stories that compose Wolves. Two of the tracks are about Marsala’s family, which is not generally a theme we find in this genre of hard rock/punk. It’s refreshing and new – something this scene, filled with sad songs about breakups and ordering pizza at 2 a.m., needs desperately.

His lyrics are the same as any fathers would be: worrying about how to raise his kids in this crazy world and how to provide for them. Both tracks, “A Part of Me” and “Give Up My Heart”, are beautifully written and meaningful but still hard-hitting and don’t sound anywhere close to the lullaby you would expect from someone writing about his family.

The album was recorded independently, a path many bands have been taking and using successfully. They used Pledge Music, and the amount of merch and exclusive content for backers is actually insane. (There’s still some items available, as well as copies of the album, for sale on their Pledge page.)

Much of the album was produced by Aaron Sprinkle of Tooth and Nail fame, and honestly, I can hear his input all over the record. He’s very sonically talented and always finds new and exciting ways to elevate the projects he works on.

For as many great moments as you’ll find on Wolves, there is certainly filler as well, including the three tracks leading up to the album closer. While it’s certainly brave of Story of the Year to come back with such a lengthy album, you can feel the effects of the seven-year layoff, as well. That isn’t to say there’s a lot of bad tracks, it just feels as though some might have fit better on another album or on a collection of b-sides.

The biggest surprise on Wolves is probably the final track. Story of the Year really went with the “go big or go home” approach with this closing song and it’s some of their most impressive work. There’s a spoken word piece thrown into the middle that solidifies the concepts in this album and ties everything together really well. The instrumentation in the final track is also impressive; the band really pushed themselves musically, which offers a counterpoint to the aforementioned layoff. Sometimes a little time off is necessary if a band is to come back and create another set of songs.

One final theme in this album is the band’s struggle with whether to reunite and release new music. When you’ve been a band for as long as Story of the Year (17 years, to be exact), it can be easy to grow monotonous, simply treat it as a job, and lose the passion for the creative process that was once so appealing. After a break, the band is back and seemingly stronger than ever, and Wolves is a beautiful testament to both human struggles and the joy that overrides those.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: He Is Legend – Heavy Fruit

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If you’re a fan of the sound of He Is Legend’s music, don’t get too comfortable. The Wilmington, North Carolina, rock band has made a career out of sonic swerving and switching lanes amidst chaotic traffic, refusing to land in one spot for too long. Nevertheless, each respective landing seems to produce its own, individually lauded product, the most recent of which is perhaps the band’s finest.

It’s been 10 years since He Is Legend released their frenzied full-length debut, I Am Hollywood. That album fit the time will – a fast-paced post-hardcore adventure that sat neatly on the shelf next to contemporaries like Underoath and As Cities Burn. Those days are long gone, and truthfully, the band is all the better for it.

Heavy Fruit, the band’s latest release, follows a hiatus and shares some similarities with its predecessor, 2009’s It Hates You. While that album served as a primer for a band embracing its Southern hard rock roots, Heavy Fruit expands on that notion from every conceivable angle, taking sludgy detours and using various metal influences as building blocks to add to the band’s repertoire.

Like every He Is Legend release, there’s something bubbling beneath the surface throughout the record, but on Heavy Fruit, the band appears content to let a moment simmer without forcing a boil over. Opener “No Visitors” serves as exhibit A and finds the band slowly sludging forward for nearly two minutes before vocalist Schuyler Croom takes the reigns with a soaring, melodic chorus, singing the shadowy lines, “Some say that’s the sun in a disguise / and he’s in the sky tonight / One day you can worship who you like / but you’re on your own this time”.

Throughout the album, the band transitions between faster, pop influenced numbers (“This Will Never Work”, “Smoker Scoff”) and slower, brooding tracks (“Miserable Company”, “Bethozart”) almost effortlessly. Heavy Fruit is truly a collection of the best parts of He Is Legend compacted into one solid front-to-back experience.

Croom takes each of these opportunities in stride, utilizing his cryptic delivery while adding in a new layer of vulnerability that, until now, hadn’t been put to tape. On “Be Easy”, Croom uses a gentle faltsetto atop a bouncy southern guitar lick from Adam Tanbouz, revealing even more vocal prowess than we knew existed. On the album’s lead single “Something, Something, Something Witchy”, he unleashes what may be his most explosive and melodic chorus to date.

On “Time to Stain”, the band try their hand at soft, dark radio rock and succeed triumphantly. Croom bares his broken soul on the track, singing, “I hope I cross your mind / You’re on mine all the time / I hope you find what you need / I swear it’s me”. Not quite what you’d expect from someone who has made a career crooning about vampires and witches, but a much appreciated diversion from fiction.

Heavy Fruit is a slow burn, for certain. The over-the-top moments and neurotic madness are limited here, requiring a patience not typically expected from a He Is Legend release. Nonetheless, listeners who spend some time getting to know the record will come to appreciate the band’s restraint and shape-shifting ability from track to track. Heavy Fruit is an album that deserves to be experienced from start to finish, truly a greater whole than the sum of its parts.

It’s impossible to know what lies ahead for He Is Legend, which is surely part of the allure. In the meantime, they appear to have nearly perfected their own unique brew of rock and have released one of the best records thus far in 2014.

4/5

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.

Review: Life on Repeat – Blacklisted

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Everyone wants to go out with a bang, but it’s a task much easier said than done. Salisbury, Md. rockers Life on Repeat are attempting to do just that, announcing the release of their new album Blacklisted on the same day that they announced their disbandment. After the album’s release and four farewell shows, the band will be no more, which is unfortunate since Blacklisted is the band’s best work to date.

This final album hits hard and fast from the opening notes of “Karma Calls” and doesn’t take its foot off the gas pedal. Life on Repeat manages to avoid the current scene formula by excluding any ballads or acoustic tracks and simply exploring a multitude of hard rock styles over the course of ten songs. Although this choice can lend itself to repetitiveness, the band manages to switch things up enough to keep the listener interested.

Frontman Patrick Purves’ vocals soar throughout Blacklisted, especially on the album’s best track, “Cut Open”. Not only does he have a knack for writing extremely catchy choruses, but the melodies are spot on throughout. What he lacks in depth of content, he makes up for in memorable hooks that will have you singing along. Blacklisted isn’t an album that will have you digging deep, but it’s certainly a stereo-blaster and a celebration of the band’s time on the scene.

Guitarists Andrew Baylis and Zach King both shine as well, knowing when to push the songs and when to let Purves carry the weight. Their styles transition from post-hardcore to nu metal to straight up radio rock with relative ease. Tracks like “Atypical” and “Vanity” are heavy rock numbers you could imagine hearing alongside certain radio heavyweights while “This Conditioned Lie” and “The Conscious Goodbye” have moments that sound as though they belong on Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight.

While one might expect these transitions to be jarring, they never feel too out of place. You could argue that Purves’ screamed vocals are unnecessary and a bit forced, or that Blacklisted isn’t ambitious or forward-thinking enough for a proper farewell album, but these are small gripes. The truth is, Blacklisted is snapshot of Life on Repeat – who they were and where they were headed.

Blacklisted likely won’t land on most people’s best of the year lists and doesn’t shatter the mold of the hard rock genre, but it’s a worthy sendoff and a proper glimpse into the band that was Life on Repeat. Much like one of their contemporaries, Conditions (a band that also recently decided to hang it up), Life on Repeat was about connecting with fans and empowering them along their journey. This final album captures that sentiment and manages to have a pretty good time in the process.

3.5/5

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.