The Days Before Empires, left to right Devon Arend, Brad Witherstine and Billy Page. Photo courtesy of the band’s official Facebook page.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
As the seeming endless pool of unique original talent continues to pour out of every corner of the MahoningValley, one trio is bringing the raw intensity of unrefined punk rock to the forefront.
The Days Before Empires, a new-to-the-scene three-piece punk outfit hailing from the likes of Salem, Ohio, is stripping it back to the bare bones of rock and roll. Consisting of Guitarist Brad Witherstine, bassist Billy Page and drummer Devon Arend, the trio take a simple yet powerful approach to their music. And while most major rock acts are racing to the controls of Auto Tune and ProTools, these Northeast Ohio punks just want to make pure, unfiltered rock and roll.
“We want to bring the raw energy of rock and punk back into focus,” said leader singer and guitarist Brad Witherstine.
Taking influence from Americana-punk act The Gaslight Anthem, contemporary punk masters Against Me! and Hot Water Music, and classics like Black Sabbath and Bruce Springsteen, The Days Before Empires look to make real music with a real message. Much like those whom they draw inspiration, the band have a knack for sonic blasts of energy with substance. Rather than worrying about what exactly it is to be punk in today’s musical climate, the band focuses on delivering powerful and heart felt anthems.
“It has to come from the heart. That’s where the best art begins, from the heart,” said Witherstine.
“Anything that really goes against the norm, that’s punk rock. Going your own way and doing things your way,” added Page.
Formed in 2011 by Witherstine, the band has evolved out of several incarnations and lineups. Witherstine and Page spent the next few years finding their sound. After parting ways with their founding drummer, the group’s final lineup was rounded out with Arend slamming behind the kit. As stated on the band’s official Facebook page:
“Arend brings a tight and aggressive drumming style to the mix.”
These points are proven with the bands live performances. Songs like “Holding Ground” and “Something In the Night” deliver the intensity of punk in a manner like that of Social Distortion, with thought-provoking lyrics that echo Against Me! On “Radio Streets,” a Gaslight Anthem-meets-Springsteen fist-pumper is employed, indicating that band’s capability of captivity it’s audience.
With a unique blend of originals and adapted covers, The Days Before Empires have already begun their assault on the scene. With highly anticipated live performances schedules for Chipper’s in Austintown, Ohio on March 15 and Fernengels Tavern in Salem, Ohio in Aoril, the buzz is continuing to build for the these new comer punks. However, as those who’ve witnessed their fury in the flesh, The Days Before Empires never disappoint.
One sure way to ruffle a metalhead’s feathers would be to call a Black Metal band Death Metal, or visa versa. However, some acts have managed to successfully transcend the genres of extreme metal, and maintain a continuing sense of artistic integrity and admiration. And few have be able to do so quite as well as Poland’s Behemoth.
No strangers to controversy, Behemoth have brought their Black Metal themes and influences into Death Metal for their tenth LP, simply titled The Satanist. The Satanist comes five years after their last effort, the epic and genre-spanning Evangelion. Since then, the band underwent a series of unfortunate setbacks including lead singer Nergal’s diagnosis and treated for leukemia, as well as drummer Inferno undergoing appendix surgery as well. However, by 2013 the band reconvened to record one of the most devastating and apocalyptic albums in modern heavy metal.
The Satanist is a record that is thematic in tune with some of the ideals of modern Satanism; rejection of the idea of a god and that the individual is at the helm of their existence. Behemoth are no strangers to such themes, as throughout their career they have observed the ideas of both Paganism and the occult as primary sources of lyrical inspiration. Often times, their message has been misunderstand and they have been the target of several religious and pro-Christian protest groups, especially in their native Poland.
Controversy aside, The Satanist is a shining example of how diverse, innovative and thought-provoking extreme music can be. Beginning with the eerie opening track, “Sound Your Trumpets Gabriel,” a barrage of super heavy riffs swarm the listener like maggots to a corpse. “Furor Divinus” and “Messe Noire” continue the sonic brutality before the slow burning “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer” descends into blast beats and grind riffs. Lyrically, the following tracks, “Amen” and “The Satanist” begin to ease off the brutality and offer a more introverted perspective. Finally, on the closing “O Father O Satan O Sun!” an almost bluesy guitar solo hits before a final tidal wave of smashing Death Metal riffs, like the last moment of tranquility before the violent storm begins it’s assault.
The Satanist is an overall solid record for two reasons; the first being that musically, it shows a band maturing gracefully without showing signs of slowing. The drive is still intact and although the sound is slightly more refined, it gives many wannabe American metal acts a run for their money. This is heavy done heavy! The second reason would be that thematically, The Satanist is in many ways both provocative and inspiring. It lifts lines from the Bible as well as Pagan literature and folklore, while also bringing several different philosophical ideas to the table. Overall, it’s an album worth listening to for its lyrical content alone, as much of Behemoth’s back catalog is as well.
All in all, The Satanist defies many notion of what extreme metal “should” be by breaking down stylistic barriers and doing so in an insightful manner. Whether it’s Death Metal, Black Metal, Blackened Death “ProgCore” or whatever you may fancy, this is METAL at its finest.
David Gilmour performing with Pink Floyd during their Space Rock era circa 1971.
By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
Experimental rock evolved into Psychedelic rock with artists like Syd Barrett in the 1960’s. After his departure from Pink Floyd, new lead guitarist, David Gilmore, helped solidify another subgenre offshoot and the 70’s brought progressive and psychedelic rock outfits such as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind to the foreground as they evolved into Space Rock. Space Rock which was characterized by increased instrumental passages (especially on keyboard/synthesizers) inspired by the science fiction themes and soundtrack music of the day and/or astronomy.
Delia Derbyshire, famous for her composition of the Doctor Who theme song was also a premier influential composer of other music within experimental genres in addition to being a great captivator and sonic painter of the beyond for incidental music in TV and film. Brian Eno, known as both a composer and a rock songwriter, was a major player as well. As for pop/rock songwriters they began to follow suit and added elements, but it is perhaps the lyrical themes that became the most influential, which became evident in other subgenres of rock such as folk rock (Donovan, Cat Stevens) and glam rock (T. Rex and David Bowie, whom worked with Eno.) In fact, the enchantment of space travel and the science fiction that British kids were being raised on became paramount in David Bowie’s most successful records, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from MarsandSpace Oddity. And as Pink Floyd declared themselves Space rock in the70’s, Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme could be often heard in some variation on the synth parts in performances of “One of These Days,” from 1971’s Meddle.
More and more pop and mainstream radio rock was also being affected. Even before Gilmour made the decidedly Space rock turn with Pink Floyd after Barrett’s Psychedelic/early Space rock departure, the Beatles, the Stones, and the Steve Miller Band wrote songs with similar themes. Indeed, it became a cultural phenomenon more than a musical one. Perhaps the race for space during this period in history influenced this tendency.
Just like with any political movement in history, cultural and artistic history is often the victim of bandwagon mentalities and the genre suffered a marked decline in popularity until the 90’s with the exception of being cleverly evolved and disguised within Progressive rock (Rush, Yes) and Art rock.
Nowadays, although it is a more reputable descriptive term for many acts, the term only seems to be used by bands that decidedly use it. Other common descriptions indeed make it obvious that there is a blur in the experimental subgenres. The Flowers of Hell, Comets on Fire,and Flotation Toy Warningall of which who employ the old elements of 60’s/70’s Space rock in their own original ways. Seattle band, Lazer Kitty has a wonderful sound and a performance video of theirs can be seen below as well as a few other tracks that chronicle pivotal points in space rock.
Pink Floyd – One of These Days
Pink Floyd – Careful with that Ax, Eugene
Gong – Flying Teapot
Gong – I Never Glid Before
Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
The Verve – Slide Away
Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
Lazer Kitty – Hyperion
In addition to this list other Picks of the Week that were played on air for this subgenre can be found on the Raw Alternative’s Facebook Page.
Nine Inch Nails circa 1994. Photo courtesy of www.rollingstone.com.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
By 1994, a paradigm shift took place in popular music, particularly that of rock and roll. Alternative music went mainstream, and Gen X music was at the forefront. Where acts like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and AC/DC that once reigned supreme had now fallen into parents’ record collections. New acts like Nirvana, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam were among the crop of new “rock heroes,” all containing the same punk rock ethos and anti-establishment philosophies. And at head of this movement in 1994 was none other that industrial crossover act, Nine Inch Nails.
Lead primarily by the project’s mastermind, Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails had firmly established themselves within the alternative scene by the early 90’s. Taking influence from industrial pioneers Ministry and Skinny Puppy, and infiltrating alt-rock audiences like that of Jane’s Addiction and The Cure, NIN had carved out a very particular niche in the scene. Their debut, 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, along with show-stopping performances at the inaugural Lollapalooza Festival tour, had landed them a large crossover audience between the industrial and alternative scenes. However, it would only prove to a glimpse of what was to come.
After the release of the Broken EP in 92, NIN clearly proved to be the darkest and heaviest of their peers with still a glimmer of commercial appeal. After breaking from their former label, TVT Records, Reznor and co. landed on the relatively new Interscope Records. Their new found freedom would prove productive, as the music had taken a turn in a much darker, menacing, and ultimately more satisfying direction for Reznor.
Relocating to Los Angeles and renting the infamous house where the Manson family had murder Sharon Tate and her entourage nearly two decades prior as a recording studio, NIN’s follow-up was shrouded in darkness and mystery from the get-go. From these sessions, The Downward Spiral was conceived and birthed. Where Pretty Hate Machine was still minor key yet up tempo and laid with pop hooks, The Downward Spiral was bleaker and far more experimental in sound.
The Downward Spiral is one of the heaviest albums ever made, yet has little to do with metal in a traditional sense. Sure, grinding distorted guitars are present and strung throughout. But the overall sound, the wailing atmospherics and layers of indefinable samples, only add to the noise, creating a mood that is often heavier than metal itself.
Opening with a sample from George Lucas’ THX 1138, the album kicks off with the industrial-metal slammer, “Mr. Self Destruct,” setting the angst-ridden and nihilistic tone of the album. After descending into pure noise, the drum and bass lead “Piggy” creeps a bit slower but equally effectively into the psyche of the listener. Reznor lifts the “God is dead” mantra of Nietzche as a line in his bleak railing against Christianity and organized religion on “Heresy,” and offers one of the most memorial slamming percussive assults ever recorded on the punk-ish “March of the Pigs.”
The album then takes its first of two dynamic left turns, going into the danceable Goth anthem, “Closer.” One of the only songs on The Downward Spiral to feature a notable hook, “Closer” may have had the naughtiest one of all time: “I want to fuck you like an animal, I want to feel you from the inside.” Despite this, the song became an unexpected hit, and the highest charting single for the band for the next 11 years. A very artistic video was directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) and featured heavy overtones of the juxtaposition of sex and religion in various manners. An edited version became a hit and went into regular rotation on MTV.
The album continues the angst and nihilism, painting the picture of an individual who is strung out, finished with love and religion, and in the throws of madness and addiction. Tracks like “Ruiner” (featuring one of the best guitar solos of the era), “The Becoming” and “I Do Not Want This,” indicate the character’s transformation, slipping further away from who they once were. The controversial “Big Man with a Gun,” pokes fun at male misogynist portrayals in pop-culture while reaching a new extreme of sonic and lyrical torment. The quieter and peaceful instrumental, “A Warm Place,” breaks the wall of noise only briefly before leading into the creeping “Eraser.” The sludgy Godflesh-like “Reptile” best portrays the anguish in Reznor’s voice before leading into the title track, leaving the listener to question whether the album’s character had actually committed suicide or just slipped completely,
Finally, it concludes with the second and final left turn, the relatively quiet and folk-sounding “Hurt.” Somber and gentle, yet painful and confessional, “Hurt” provides a look through the eyes of an addict, who as Reznor had explained is “left with only themselves at the end of the day.” The song would prove to be a popular hit among NIN fans, but would even see a far broader and unexpected audience when it was covered by Johnny Cash in 2003 as one of the last recordings he chose to make before passing away.
Despite its overall intensity and austerity, The Downward Spiral had helped break Nine Inch Nails into the mainstream. A few months following it’s release, the band took part in the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, playing live to an estimated 5 million viewers and 100,000 in attendance. Their popularity soared, and the following Self Destruct tour, as well as the Outside tour with David Bowie only expanded their reach. By the end of the decade, The Downward Spiral would go on to sell over 5 million copies.
The pressure for a follow up proved to be a bit overwhelming for Reznor at the time. As he succumbed to the demons he addressed on The Downward Spiral, Reznor spent the most of the latter half of the 90’s battling depression and addiction. It would be 5 long years before The Fragile was released, and the music scene had drastically changed. The core audience was there, but the mainstream attention had mostly disappeared. By 2005, Reznor had kicked his demons once and for all and released the mega successful With Teeth, bringing the band back as one of the most important acts of the alternative and industrial genres. Their success would continue as the release of three more albums followed through the end of the 00’s. In 2013, Nine Inch Nails released their eighth album, Hesitation Marks, to positive reviews. The band, now 25 years into their career, still remains relevant and powerful despite entering into what’s quickly being considered classic rock.
20 years after its release, The Downward Spiral still holds up, and will still ruin your day if listened to in its entirety, almost like the Dark Side of the Moon for Gen Xers. It’s influence has stood the test of time, and it still remains a key gem of the band’s now massive discography. Tracks like “March of the Pigs” and “Reptile” are still staples at live shows, and it’s hard to find a “Greatest Albums of the 90’s” list without seeing it in a relatively high position. The underground appeal is still in tact as well, with an array of new post-hardcore, post-industrial, metal and Goth acts citing it as a key influence. And at the rate NIN are going these days, more of their records are bound to reach the level of iconography The Downward Spiral has.
(Crosses) †††, Chino Moreno and Shaun Lopez. Photo courtesy of www.altpress.com.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
For many Deftones fans, frontman Chino Moreno can do no wrong. He has one of the most recognizable and hypnotic voices in alternative rock/metal next to Maynard James Keenan, and has fronted the aforementioned genre-spanning, multiplatinum act for the last two and a half decades He’s also dipped his hand into a number of interesting work outside of the band over the years. Interesting to say the least…
Aside from dozens of guest appearances, Moreno has fronted three acts other than the Deftones. In 2005, he formed the dream pop outfit Team Sleep, embracing his love for The Cure and post-punk. However, it’s been in recent years last we’ve seen Moreno at his busiest. After release the successful Koi No Yokan with Deftones in 2012 and performing with the supergroup Palms just last year (see past reviews), Moreno now takes a step into electronica and “witch house” with his new project, †††(Crosses).
Formed with childhood friend and Far guitarist Shaun Lopez and milti-instumentalist Check Doom and drummer Chris Robyn, ††† released their self-titled debut record via Sumerian Records in February. The record itself have received mixed reviews, but an explosive performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and a healthy buzz among underground rock fans have garnered the band some serious attention.
One thing Moreno has yet to do is repeat himself. †††dabble into the Witch House genre, a style coined over the last several years that employs elements of dark ambient, electronic, industrial, experimental hip-hop and noise. While the clash of sonic textures are present, most of the tracks on ††† are more pop-structured, albeit experimental, which isn’t typical of Witch House. They sound similar in ways to new Nine Inch Nails music, and none of the tracks exceed four and a half minutes, leaving them easy to digest individually.
The tracklist does however flow into itself on ††† and the music feels like one long piece, a trademark of Witch House. It kicks off with “This Is A Trick,” featuring Loaded frontman and former Guns N’ Roses member Duff McKagan on bass. Songs like “Telepathy,” “Bitches Brew” and “Nineteen Ninety Four” clearly establish the sound on †††, with slamming and brutal bass riffs and a thick atmospheric heaviness. Other tracks like “The Epilogue,” “Frontiers” and “Option” provide a more eerie vibe, and sound a bit more in tune with something Mike Patton would conjure up. Overall, the album flows seamlessly and is best listened to in it’s entirety or at least in chunks.
†††and Deftones have little in common other than Moreno’s voice and signature dramatic song writing. They create a heaviness out of glitched samples and wailed noise, whereas the Deftones utilize heavy down-tuned riffs for their space rock atmosphere. Still, fans will most likely embrace †††for most of the same reasons; it’s deep, brutal and it simply rocks! One can play White Pony and ††† back to back, and still feel most of the same sensations. Overall, another win for Moreno.