Review: Bayside – Cult

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“I’m short on time but here’s my intention / To raise my voice and get your attention / And make a sound that makes me proud.” – “Time Has Come”

Bayside has been an underdog staple to the punk scene for over a decade. They’ve overcome more obstacles than most bands ever encounter, but have always pulled away from it all the stronger. Their sixth album, Cult is a powerhouse of punk that favors their trademark dark melodies and incredibly powerful lyrics.

While Cult doesn’t attempt to trace any new territory for the band, it’s a love letter to anyone who has stood by them throughout their career by showing them at their best. It’s explosive, surprisingly poppy, and delivers some of the best lyricism to come from Anthony Raneri.

The guitars chug away in the harsh tones that give the band’s dark melodic style that they’re known for. Small guitar solos fill the album, as the lead guitar meshes perfectly atop of the rough chords during the choruses (“You’re No Match”) or directly in your face (“Time Has Come”). Although the direct guitar solos tend to be in almost every song, they never feel out of place or unnecessary. Stylistically, it resembled the sound of Killing Time more than any of their other records, but that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Anthony Raneri’s vocals retain their signature pitch, which sounds like a slightly more refined version of Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. He teases the listener with hints of growls and occasionally nears the extremely high pitches from fan favourite “Devotion and Desire”. His voice tends to be hypnotic as it bounces in an odd near-monotonous flow that keeps you attached.

Naturally, the lyrics tend to be darker than most punk bands of the genre. In “Stuttering”, Raneri addresses the issue head on, as he sings “Cuz I’m the voice of the depressed / And that’s what everyone expects / Give the people what they want and it hangs over your head”. While a majority of the songs seem to be depressive and almost aggressively vengeful (“Pigsty”), there’s a playfulness to it that doesn’t bring the listener down.

While there is a consistent style for each song, the writing is near perfect. There aren’t any songs that drag the album down or feel like they could be filler. Personally, I’ve thought that Bayside’s past releases (aside from Killing Time) were a bit scattered, in that they had several amazing songs surrounded by hit or miss rock songs.

Cult manages to find every element that made Bayside’s best songs work and is arguably their best album to date. You owe it to yourself to listen to one of the best records by one of the hardest working bands on the scene.

4/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

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Review: Issues – Issues

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Before you’ve even read a word of this review, you’ve likely already made up your mind about Issues. The Atlanta-based metalcore newcomers are undoubtedly one of the most polarizing scene bands in recent memory, and there’s a good chance you’re reading this to confirm a stance that you’ve already taken.

In truth, there may not be a conclusive answer about the aesthetic legitimacy of Issues just yet. But does their self-titled debut full length at least offer us a conclusive answer about who the band is?

Once again, the answer is a bit tricky. Their debut Black Diamonds EP picked up where the core members left off after their departure from Woe, Is Me, with a dash of nu-metal and hip hop elements thrown in for good measure. Issues is a whole other animal, rife with influences from post-hardcore, nu-metal, R&B, hip hop and pop, all blended together in a furious mix. The results are quite conflicting.

At their best (“Sad Ghost”, “Stingray Affliction”, “Never Lose Your Flames”), Issues find a wheelhouse for combining their sounds in a way that sounds fresh, exciting and pleasing to the ears. At their worst, (“Late”, “Life of a Nine”, “Personality Cult”), the band sounds over processed, amateur and pandering to a few too many audiences.

The rest of the time, Issues is somewhere in the middle – not necessarily heavy, but too aggressive to come across as strictly pop. Instead, they waver back and forth, never putting their foot down, inevitably leading to awkward transitions and corny breakdowns that seem to only come as a reminder that the band is signed to Rise Records.

To say that there’s a little something for everyone on Issues would be a bit misleading. Instead, the final product is more akin to the idea of too many cooks in the kitchen. Tracks like the R&B/pop-rock inspired “Tears on the Runway Pt. 2” transition awkwardly into the faux-heavy sound of “The Settlement”.

Other tracks like “Late” have the gall to revive the Nintendo-core sound that we all agreed to forget ever existed, while “Old Dena” brings back the uninspired nu-metal DJ interlude courtesy of Tyler “Scout” Acord. These moments almost parallel the feel of any number of mixtapes your friend made for you in high school.

So Issues is bad, right? Well, not totally. Whether you like his style or not, the consensus on clean vocalist Tyler Carter seems to be a relatively positive one. Even in the midst of the most convoluted moments on the album, Carter is able to right the ship with some of the catchiest hooks and fantastic melodies you’re likely to hear this year.

Take “Mad at Myself” as an example – the track is a messy one, filled to the brim with the aforementioned over-compensating genre-blending. However, Carter’s croon is undeniably memorable as he delivers one of the best choruses on the album. Even as he sings atrocious lines such as “I got this old girl, I know she’s trying to play me / She’s like a Honda, these days I drive Mercedes”, you’ll find yourself singing along once you’ve recovered from a heavy facepalm.

As the album wears on, Carter begins to outshine screamer Michael Bohn on nearly every track. Bohn starts off ferocious on opener “Sad Ghost” with the lines “Standing in front of this bed with some matches, watch it burn / I’ll pray my body burns, too”, and has scattered moments to shine. Unfortunately, so many of the songs cater to Carter’s pop/R&B style that a large number of his screams feel forced into place.

So what’s the consensus? Issues excels by attempting fresh new sounds, and the band deserves credit for trying something different, even when it falls flat. There are moments in which the band sound polished enough to stand alongside metalcore giants like A Day to Remember or Of Mice & Men.

The other side of the coin includes all of the usual suspects. Issues often comes across as cheesy, both in its lyrics and its sonic execution. There’s room for experimentation in this genre, but not by experimenting with everything at once. What results are a few gems when everything works right and a few duds when it all comes crashing back to reality.

If nothing else, Issues is fun and will have you singing along to its syrupy hooks well into the summer. If the band wants to stick around and rise above the rest of the now incomprehensively large pack, they’ll need to pick a sonic identity and stick to it.

For now, it seems fitting to consider their debut the good kind of bad. Or maybe the bad kind of good. How’s that for ambiguity?

3/5

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: The Crash Years – Cope

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The Crash Years’ new EP, Cope is a slow jog, but worth your time in every sense. It’s an album of piano heavy pop songs and ballads that don’t rush themselves, instead taking their time to fully flesh out into a heartfelt story.

Cope is an album that retains the grace and raw emotional pull of any great piano pop band. Piano is definitely the main instrument of choice, leaving the rest of the instruments to act as backup, pushing the melody forward. It creates an atmospheric effect that helps the lyrics to take center stage. What results sounds like a pleasing mixture of early Copeland and The Reign of Kindo.

However, the strongest points of this EP are also its most damaging. With every song a slow one, by the end of the album it feels like it begins to drag as some of the songs begin to blend together. Vocalist Joel Cox is a beautiful singer, however, showcasing his abilities on the album opener, “Intro”.

That said, if you need something soft to jam to, this EP is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s quiet and peaceful, but pumps enough life from the full band to grab your attention. Lyrically, the EP is very heartfelt and soothingly comforting.

The aforementioned “Intro” is a soft piano ballad that shows off the range of Cox’s voice in an infectious catchy pop melody. “Beyond the Trees” is a slow song with soft drums and strumming guitars that help showcase the vocals as he sings, “Tell me your story, leave the details / Tell me about your scars”.

“Cope”, the self-titled finale is a seven minute song that walks along prodding piano and faint guitar, keeping itself afloat with a harsh warlike drumbeat as it slowly ramps towards a satisfying ending.

The Crash Years’ Cope is a soothing refresher from the scene that makes itself a very humanistic piece that is easily relatable. While the aim of the EP is to create atmospheric piano pop, it doesn’t vary itself enough to particularly stand out. What it excels in though, is being a gorgeous distraction from the louder releases on the scene that will hypnotize you in melody. If you were a fan of Copeland, this is an EP that you should be listening to.

3/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: Neck Deep – Wishful Thinking

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As the first LP from a relatively new band, Neck Deep’s Wishful Thinking is a record that will securely mark their place in the scene. It’s a fiery mixture of emo and pop punk, like a blend of the best elements of the early iterations of Taking Back Sunday and Blink 182.

There are many elements at play here, for better and worse; for every gorgeous guitar riff, Wishful Thinking also never quite lets me forget that I am listening to a band’s first record, as it tends to tread familiar territory.

Neck Deep’s debut album is a rocket of work, chugging out strong hooks and catchy lyrics. While it tends to adhere to the standards we’ve come to expect from the pop punk genre (fast drums and popping guitars) there are enough elements of the slightest crunch of hardcore to give the songs a darker edge.

The guitar work, though, is simply beautiful. Song after song is impressively written as the lead guitar chokes through smooth lines atop a bed of rough chord work. It reminded me of the poppier aspects of Circa Survive balancing itself against Blink 182’s ferocious punk.

If you need proof, look no further than “Staircase Wit”, as the fluid guitar work opens the song and weaves its way through the chorus, dancing off of the rippling rhythm and working similar to backing vocals. Lead single “Crushing Grief (No Remedy)” is quick and instantly recognizable, with racing guitars and thunderous drumming.

While the album feels above par lyrically, it does manage to sound somewhat generic. While they maintain a fierce punk stand of defiance and harness damaging choruses that are begging a crowd to shout them, they also tend to be vague in terms of content. Nonetheless, while vocalist Ben Barlow does a tremendous job taking the music to task, his singing style is similar for each song, rarely pushing himself as far as it seems he might. He adds a staggering power to the songs, but it’s unfortunately less varied than it could be.

Wishful Thinking is a memorable debut meant for impressively loud live shows and delivers on everything you want from a pop punk album. Every hook is well written and energetically crafted and nostalgic. While it tackles the scene with the energy necessary to turn heads, it feels like Neck Deep are straddling the line of what we expect from the genre instead of attempting to break into new territory all their own. However, whatever the faults may be, this isn’t an album to be missed, and will absolutely keep you listening again and again.

3.5/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: A Day to Remember – Common Courtesy

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A Day to Remember is pissed off. This probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, since the band has made a massive career off of the angry chugga-chugga breakdowns and ambiguously aggressive lyrics that have come to define what is currently considered the metalcore genre. In a lot of ways, A Day to Remember helped shape and mold that very formula that has been carbon copied relentlessly.

But this time, it’s different. This time, A Day to Remember is pissed off for all of the right reasons. This time it feels genuine.

That’s not to say that they weren’t somehow genuine or honest in the past, but there’s only so many “Nobody takes us seriously!” and “Everyone is against us!” songs that one can handle from a band that an outrageous number of people seem to love. If a messy lawsuit with their label, Victory Records, and the real possibility of the band’s career dissolving before their eyes is what it took to light a fire under the Ocala, Fla. band, then so be it.

What resulted from the fallout is the best album of the band’s career.

Common Courtesy is surely an A Day to Remember album and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. What it does do is add a touch of authenticity, a dash of aggressive motive and a lot of maturity to an act that could have easily gone stale. Instead, the band produced an extremely focused and diverse album that will not only please their current fan base, but win over a few of the rest of us in the process.

Produced with the help of Andrew Wade and Chad Gilbert and released completely by themselves, Common Courtesy starts off with a full dose of the A Day to Remember sound you’re familiar with, turned to 11 and polished to near perfection. “City of Ocala” and “Right Back at it Again” are obvious choices to open the record, providing a punch of aggression and melody and even featuring the tongue-in-cheek humor the band seems to pull off so effortlessly.

The real treat begins during the quiet bridge in “Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail”, when a suddenly somber and mature Jeremy McKinnon bears his struggles and fears. When McKinnon sings, “I reserve my right to be uncomfortable / I reserve my right to be afraid / I make mistakes and I am humbled / Every step of the way” it’s a welcome breath of fresh, honest air.

It doesn’t stop there. Tracks like “Best of Me” and “Life @ 11” allow McKinnon to reflect even further upon his doubts and uncertainties. The band even pulls off the elusive believable ballad with “I Surrender”, a track that throws the metalcore handbook out the window in favor of a truly appealing and listenable alt-rock song. In fact, the softer moments prove to be some of the best on Common Courtesy.

Not to worry, there’s still plenty of head-bangable tracks like “Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way” and “The Document Speaks for Itself” that allow the band to chug out the their feelings towards Victory Records and will surely be mosh pit favorites. The fact that these moments are confined and appropriate is proof enough that this band is expanding its palate and branching into new and welcome territory while not completely losing what made them appealing to so many in the first place.

It’s hard to be mad at A Day to Remember at this point. They fought the man and won (for the meantime), released their best album yet (by themselves, with little promotion and no physical copies) and managed to expand their sound in welcome and unexpected ways. Admit it. You enjoy Common Courtesy. As well you should. Let’s hope that there’s more where this came from.

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.

Review: Hellogoodbye – Everything Is Debatable

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Hellogoodbye have returned with their third album, Everything is Debatable. The record is a continuation of their last CD, Would It Kill You? with the bouncing pop of acoustic guitars, but with a revival of the synth that was a signature sound for the band through their first few releases.

Though the synth makes a noticeable return, it’s toned down to mesh with the acoustic guitar rather than overpower the songs like it did on Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!. What results is a sophisticated sound resonating throughout each track with the soft pop that the band has been writing for the last few years and the techno beats of a Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Everything is Debatable is the slowest and jazziest album Hellogoodbye have put out. The frantic pop of past songs like “Finding Something to Do” is toned down to create a much more stabilized atmosphere. Each song is more of a jam created to make people dance more than anything. There’s also a wonderful piece spanning three tracks where each song bleeds into the next starting at midway through the album.

Forrest Kline’s lyrics hold true to the album’s title, as he frequently contradicts his opinion throughout the writing. In the opening track “And Everything Becomes a Blur”, he sings, “Of all the friends you made along the way / Every single one will pass away”, then in the next verse sings, “All the friends you made along the way / Every single one is here to stay”. Nothing monumental, but it’s a nice swing through thought that often comes into conflict with itself without feeling ambiguous or pointless. Although the lyrics sometimes debate themselves verse by verse, it adds a bit of variety to an otherwise standard but catchy pop song.

Title track “(Everything is) Debatable”is an 80’s style dance song, and one of the more upbeat tracks on the album. It includes an deep baseline reminiscent of the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger. “Summer of the Lily Pond” is a slow jazz track that begins a three song set that bleeds each track together into one piece and includes several muted trumpets and what appears to be a baritone sax. What will be a a fan favorite live, “The Magic Hour” has Kline swooning like Buddy Holly over popping xylophone synth.

Everything Is Debatable is easily one of the best releases from Hellogoodbye and cements their acoustic pop style as what they were meant to play. Although the synth and techno has made a return, it has been refined so that it isn’t the focus of the music. Instead, it helps to fuel a dance album that doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to stay away from feeling generic. Hellogoodbye have found their style and a maturity necessary to keep a band known for pop songs from relevant.

3.5/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: AFI – Burials

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Fans of AFI’s brand of punk know that the band tends to outdo themselves with each new release, and that no two records sound exactly the same. However, their newest release, Burials, isn’t so much a forging into new territory as it is a culmination of everything the band has done over the last decade. Burials is a brilliant mix of Crash Love’s sonic pop, Decemberunderground’s electronic rock, and Sing the Sorrow’s dark, gothic punk.

Burials is an exercise in craft for a band that no longer needs to prove themselves to the scene as much as they need to entertain themselves creatively. The album is a slow build up that allows the songwriting room to breathe. It’s not as loud or as punk as most of AFI’s releases, and it’s not meant to be. This is an album that toys with your expectations.

The opener, “The Sinking Night” is a return to form of the short intro songs from Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground, drawn out into a two minute ballad. Lead single “I Hope You Suffer” is a toxic rock song that sets the tone for the record: deliberate, quiet, and all at once explosive. An underlay of Blaqk Audio-esque piano floats over the bass guitar, booming at brain shattering levels, to create an exposition and atmosphere not seen too often. “The Conductor” has a haunting guitar melody that begs to lead crowds singing out loud. The last few songs though harkens back to Sing The Sorrow days with gritty guitar riffs Davy’s dark lyricism.

Once again, Jade’s guitar mastery is second to none, as he plays well enough that it seems like there are two guitarists. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect is Davy Havok’s lyrics on this round, as they’re much more straightforward for the most part and lack some of the goth poetic qualities that made earlier releases so intriguing. However, Burials is a moody juggernaut that brings AFI back to their signature dark rock. Once again, AFI proves that sometimes experience is the better fuel for art than experimentation.

4/5

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 yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.