By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: Idle Shades
Album: The Time is Now
Release Date: 3/3/17
For nearly a decade, Youngstown punk outfit Idle Shades have been carving a unique niche across the scene and beyond. With several high-profile performances across the region, opening for national acts such as The Atom Age, Koffin Kats and former Misfits leader Michael Graves to name a few, the punk power trio have successfully won over a wide audience that’s continually expanding. By delivering a classic Punk sound with hints of Alternative and Post-Punk influence ever-present, they have latched onto and perfected a much-varied sound with broad appeal. Now, heading in 2017 at full throttle, Idle Shades are ready to unleash their sophomore full-length album, The Time is Now!
With a knack for infectious hooks, and a sound encompassing the strongest elements of 90s So-Cal Punk, combined with the occasional bouncing Psychobilly rhythms or The Damned-esque Post-Punk atmosphere, Idle Shades truly stand apart not only among the Punk scene, but the greater regional scene as well. The Time is Now is proof of this. It’s a collection of 12 meaty tracks that clearly indicate a band not only owning their finest qualities found on their debut, Picture Perfect, but pissing all over what made them great before, and taking it up several notches.
The Time is Now is a cohesive yet varied collection of material from a band continually reaching new creative peaks. Opening with the rousing “Prove Me Wrong,” a driving yet sparse riff leads the verse before building into a massive hook-heavy chorus. From there, the somewhat gothic sounding riff of “Dream” opens one of many of the album’s standout tracks, full of thumping bass, slick riffs and more massive hooks.
From there, tracks like “Listen,” “Worst in You” and lead single “Greater Picture,” find Idle Shades in familiar territory, combining personal and heartfelt lyrics, accompanied by a sonic attack that drives the point straight to the listener’s gut.
By The Time is Now‘s mid-point, more shining gems surface. “Problems” features a mean riff with a slamming rhythm, while “Walking Away” and “Turn and Run” provide more Punk fury, with… you guessed it… more hooks that will stick with you for days! The album concludes with the driving “Moving On” and climactic “Losing Hope,” were vocalist/bassist Angelo Scordo sings a message of urgency: “We never really take the time for the things we need the most, for the people, time keeps passing by and can’t help but start losing hope, until it’s too late.” This type of urgency concludes a general theme found across The Time is Now.
All in all, The Time is Now is the sound of band not only feeling comfortable in their own skin, but taking themselves to new heights. Idle Shades have successfully delivered an album that not only engages the listener, but demands repeated listens as well. It also feels like a natural progression for a band on a trajectory. Standout tracks include “Dream,” “Worst in You,” “Problems” and “Losing Hope.”
Physical copies of The Time is Now will be available Friday, March 3, as the band will be taking the stage at Cedars West End in Youngstown, OH for it’s official release party. An early digital release can be purchased and streamed via Idle Shades’ official Bandcamp.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: Nervous Aggression
Album: This is Ragecore
A great amount of noise has been made down in East Liverpool, Ohio. A group of punks have been studying their surroundings. And through the power of their ferocious, gut-punching music, they have turned their rage outward, aiming at a society on the verge of collapse.
Nervous Aggression are such punks up for the challenge. With their latest release, This is Ragecore, they carrying the old school Hardcore ethos as a badge of honor, while raising a voice for a new generation of disenchanted punks ready and willing to take a stand!
Clocking in at around only 10 minutes, This is Ragecore is a straight kick-in-the-teeth through six tracks. From beginning to end, the EP is an unrelenting blast of rage and, oddly enough, hope. Kicking off with a blast of Hardcore Punk found on opener “Attack” and leading into “Your Band Sucks,” Nervous Aggression quickly establish a raging declaration of independence from a scene that seldom has the balls to engage current events with such unflinching intensity.
From there, the protest anthem “No Justice No Peace” directly reflects the times, with its title being chanted in protest over and over by the track’s end. “Offensive Noise” perfectly sums the band’s growing reputation toward “the man,” while “Heroin is Ugly” confronts a dark epidemic plaguing much of the band’s home turf. Featuring a rather rousing guitar solo smack (no pun intended) in the middle of the song, climaxing with “Why have all my fucking friends died!” giving a real glimpse into an issue faced by the loved ones of the disease.
Nervous Aggression concludes This is Ragecore with the sonic blast that is “We All Go.” A track that hints at resistance, and that resistance is hope.
All in all, This is Ragecore leaves you foaming at the mouth, wanting more. Despite it’s shirt runtime, it feels like stepping in the pit and sharing the rage with your brothers and sister. It’s pure adrenaline! And a must have for fans of classic Hardcore Punk like Black Flag, Bad Brains and Circle Jerks. Standout tracks include “No Justice No Peace,” “Heroin is Ugly” and “We All Go.” The EP can be purchased via Nervois Aggression’s official Bandcamp.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: The Apocalyptic Fist of the Black Death
Album: Volume II: Born of a Broken Jar
Hailing from the Cuyahoga Valley, experimental metal act The Apocalyptic Fist of the Black Death provide an avant-garde approach to modern extreme metal. Through the use, and misuse, of odd time signatures, samples and bone crushing riffs, they have stamped out a often-attempted-yet-rarely-successful niche. With a sound and approach falling somewhere between The Dillinger Escape Plan, early Mastodon and the Mike Patton-led Fantomas, the band fully and equally embrace experimentation and brutality, sacrificing nothing in between. Their live shows are proof of this.
Recently, AFOTBD dropped their sophomore EP, Volume II: Born of a Broken Jar. On this release, the band have successfully expanded upon their earlier work, while showcasing their signature sonic intensity. In a nutshell, there is no sophomore slump!
Volume II: Born of a Broken Jar opens with the brief but mood-setting instrumental, “Haunted.” With a beautiful and eerie minor key piano piece, mood and atmosphere are immediately established, lending the perfect segue to the first full track, “The Whole in Things.” This proggy little number gets right to the point, with a barrage of slamming riffs that aim straight for the jugular. The drum and guitar work immediately catch the ear, as their interplay and odd rhythmic structure are utterly infectious.
From there, “Charlie Murphy’s ‘True Hollywood Stories'” is packed with blast beat-to-chugging riff/drum interplay, with a grinding riff that commands your attention. Finally, the EP closes with perhaps its most ambitious track, the ten-minute “Born of a Broken Jar.” Grinding, chugging riffs lead off the track, before an almost blusey, Zappa-esque lick takes the track in a more groove-heavy direction. By it’s middle, this track gets very interesting, breaking down with a quieter, Middle Eastern guitar lick, reminiscent of the more ambitious moments of Nile, before building itself back into a soaring and slamming conclusion.
It’s safe to say that The Apocalyptic Fist of the Black Death are, without a doubt, among the most ambitious acts to emerge from the Northeast Ohio music scene, of really, any genre. With Volume II: Born of a Broken Jar, the already forward-thinking act have pushed their own envelope, creating a small but loud statement with the confinements of an EP. It leaves you on the edge of your seat, desperately craving more.
Key tracks would include all of them because well, there’s only four, and they all stand out quite well. However, the massive crescendo that is “Born of a Broken Jar,” the EP’s final cut, is nothing short of a masterpiece, that only gets better with repeated listens. All in all, a must-have for fans of experimental, heavy, progressive music.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: Third Class
Album: Virginia’s Playlist
Release Date: 1/1/17
For nearly two decades, Northeast Ohio’s Third Class have dazzled audiences from across the region and beyond with a fierce passion. With an intimate and immediate delivery, Lee Echard Boyle and Co. consistently hit the mark with songs that boast as much dry wit as they do emotion. On their latest offering, Virginia’s Playlist, the Indie Rock mainstays craft a heartfelt, touching and often cynical story that takes the listeners across time and space, with all of the whirlwind emotions in between.
With Virginia’s Playlist, Third Class have taken their unique brand of quirky Indie Rock and Folk Pop and have sprinkled in subtle hints of Americana, Garage Pop and Baroque Pop for a 20-track massive opus. Not only is this perhaps their most ambitious record to date, but it serves as a refreshing reminder that the band is still searching, still hungry and still eager to push the limits of their songwriting one step further than the next.
Kicking off with the tongue-in-cheek “College Radio,” Third Class come out swinging in a charm all of their own. “We’re college radio but no one plays us, We never played a show where people paid us right, And in our pinky toe we’ve got more talent than you could ever know, Your bass rig towers high,” is a part cynical, part facetious, slightly-ambiguous look at either the local scene, or perhaps a parallel to the greater music scene in general.
A swarm of lush acoustic guitars and strings dominate “Radio to Cassette,” before the piano-driven “The World Sounds Like Poetry,” and the folky “Being and a Ball,” draw from personal reflection. From there, “Kiss You Until You Bleed,” “Lonely for You” and “Crying in the Dark” drive home the sincere melodramatic love songs that are trademark of Third Class. Somewhere between the brooding of Neil Young and the bluesy swagger of Springsteen, the songwriting carves its own niche of pure lyrical poetry.
The Neil Young-esque “Hardwood Sky” and the Baroque Pop of “Lonesome Dove” change the pace slightly, leading off the climatic second half of Virginia’s Playlist. “Colors of You” and “Better Mood Today” take a page right from White Album-era Beatles songwriting with a quirky baroque piano taking the lead on the former and a more subtle approach on the latter.
As the record draws to a close, tracks “Me and Wally” and “Witch Hunt” paint the melancholy picture of a summer sun setting of the reckless abandon of youth. Closing track “Sweet Potato” is a soaring glimmer of hope lead by a beautiful and frantic piano that fades off into the sunset.
Virginia’s Playlist is not a record you should put on at a party, and perhaps that is its most endearing quality! It is a record that demands your full attention. Best experienced by a few full uninterrupted listens. Third Class have crafted a record of continuity, a record that once heard in its entirety, it sticks with you. It is also evident on this record that the band have not hit their plateau in songwriting. Standout tracks include “Radio to Cassette,” “The World Sounds Like Poetry,” “Hardwood Sky,” “Grow Up in Portland,” and “Witch Hunt.” However, Virginia’s Playlist will leave the best impression if listened to from start to finish.
Virginia’s Playlist is available directly from the band at thirdclass.net.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Album: Perceptions of the Damned
Since 2011, Northeast Ohio Death Metal mainstays Psyclosarin have been offering up their unique take on the genre. With enough massive riff and slamming grooves to bring any mosh pit to its knees, the band have carved themselves a special niche on the scene. With dozens of high profile performances at notable venues such as the Agora in Cleveland, Psyclosarin have set the stage as one of the leading forces in a new generation of Extreme Metal.
With their latest release, 2016’s Perceptions For the Damned, Psyclosarin take the overt brutality of classic Death Metal and sprinkle in a slight but significant touch of the atmospheric drone of Black Metal for a refreshingly exciting collection of very heavy songs. Similar to the approach taken by acts like Behemoth and Vader on recent releases, Psyclosarin favor neither style over the other, but sacrifice nothing, keeping up with straight-forward yet extreme ethos of the hybrid sub-genre, Blackened Death Metal.
Perceptions of the Damned opens with the rousing title track. A true Death Metal Slammer complete with grinding riffs overtop blast beats for an unrelenting pulverizing track with a middle section vaguely reminiscent of Powerviolence and a closing guitar lead-to-final refrain that climaxes into the highest reaches of hell.
From there, the slow opening of “Limb from Limb” does nothing to prepare for the insanity that’s to follow. Crashing into a wall of chaotic, frenzied riffs, the track introduces some more Black Metal riffing styles for some serious textured sonic torture. “Thrown to the Wolves” offers more gigantic riffs while “All Hail None,” the undoubted standout of the first half of Perceptions of the Damned, boasts another wall of massive guitars, but the real moments of genius hit just two-thirds into the song, as the song begins to shift into an unexpected slamming groove.
“Sever the Cord” begins with an interesting melodic swarm of guitars, taking a brief but welcomed left turn, before igniting into another nuclear assault of riffs and chaos. The Thrash-like riffs that hit by the middle of the song are also a definite highlight! “Born to Burn” showcases more of what Psyclosarin seem to do best, with twin guitar attacks shifts from Black to Death Metal-style riffing seemlessly. The album closes with the Thrashy “Rampage,” with riffs that rival the most technical and brutal moments from Machinehead.
All in all, Perceptions of the Damned is an unrelenting, ugly collection of songs that rarely comes up for air. Amidst the chaos, there are several moments of genius and some really well-crafted material that comes across to perfection. The production does great justice, by balancing the harsh technically to where nothing sounds sacrificed; a rare feat in the age of extreme digital compression. This record is Psyclosarin coming into their own, and serves as an exciting landmark of what’s they’ve done and where they’re heading. Standout tracks include “All Hail None,” “Thrown to the Wolves,” “Born to Burn” and the title track.
Watch the official music video for “Limb from Limb” by clicking here.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
A great perk to following a local music scene is the undoubted authenticity of hungry musicians. At nearly every turn, in every local venue, there are new and unique artists, experimenting with the future or improving on the past. Those who put in the blood, sweat and tears, especially while maintaining a family and a day job, is nothing short of impressive. But it’s the passion that keeps the scene alive.
Such passion can be unlocked in the music of Spy Convention. As one of the Valley’s most intriguing newcomers, Spy Convention consist of two local doctors, Asif Khan and Zafar Sheik, who, by near accident, decided to take their passion for music to the next level.
“We met by chance at a school function for our kids about 3 years ago, and one day Zafar came over with his family,” said Khan. “There was a guitar sitting in the house, he picked it up and started singing. I was totally impressed and shocked! I had no idea he could sing. We only started writing together in January of 2015, and wrote ‘You Are Not Alone.'”
Featuring a refreshing blend of Post-Punk and early Goth/Darkwave, tracks like “Baltimore” and “Gravity” channel The Psychedelic Furs and Echo and The Bunnymen, while “You Are Not Alone” hints at Interpol’s more updated Indie sensibilities.
With their first batch of singles, Khan and Sheik carve out a unique sound that’s both reminiscent of the past yet feels like the present.
“We both have influences that are quite varied. However, we think everybody has a connection with the music they grew up with and, being of a certain age, that 80s sound resonates with us. It’s kind of in our minds so it naturally comes out in the songwriting process,” said Khan.
Khan indicated that both Indie and Alternative music have both played a crucial role in their musical development.
“As fans of music in general, we have a tendency to search out new music, and there’s always lots of great music being made. We’re fans of indie and alternative bands so all those sounds we’ve heard from the 80s to the present is just a part of us,” said Khan.
With the music of Spy Convention relying heavily on atmosphere, covering such music depth as a duo can get tricky. However, Khan said that both him and Sheik have found a rhythm to crafting their sonic structures.
“We do everything ourselves, drums, guitar and bass primarily by me, and vocals synth by Zafar,” Khan explained. ” Zafar writes the music and lyrics as an idea for a song. We get together and start throwing more ideas out, very simple piano lines for example, and it starts to blossom from there. Our approach is to layer instruments together to get a full sound.”
He also indicated that it’s important to be their own worst critic and to keep it honest in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
“Occasionally we will scrap an entire song and start over if need be. This happens rarely but needs to be done if we don’t like it. We also made it a point to criticize without any ego involved. If something is horrible, we say it,” said Khan.
He added that most importantly, they have to be having true fun in order to keep it worthy of their efforts.
“We started the project first as a diversion with no real expectations. We still really don’t have any expectations. It’s fun, and ZERO pressure. We have kids and lives that demand our attention, so music is purely an escape,” he said.
With the Post Punk Revival of the last decade or so, artists as diverse as Interpol, The Killers and Death From Above 1979, along with relative newcomers like Cloud Nothings, Health and Soft Kill, have in their own unique way, channeled the likes of 80s greats such as The Cure and Joy Division, but have expanded on those ideas to varying levels of success, both artistically and commercially. Spy Convention have focused on, if not perfected, the atmosphere of the era while giving it a new spirit.
Khan said it’s the impact of the song that transcends both genre and era.
“It’s not a style or genre necessarily, but the song itself. If you connect with the song, that’s what really matters,” Khan said. “We both love Interpol and The Killers. We don’t really focus on longevity of bands, but we appreciate the song. The song is what stands the test of time. There have been one-hit wonder bands and everyone latches on to it because it’s a great song. Nothing else, more or less.”
He explained too that what he found in the music that inspires him also had the ability to move him, and that good music lasts because of its ability to do so.
“What is it about that music that connects with people? Maybe it’s the simplicity of the music, like the driving bass line, or a well written vocal line that allows everyone to participate, sing along. Was it the production? It could have been current events. It’s hard to say, but for a song to move millions of people is quite amazing, and powerful,” he said.
Heading into 2017, Spy Convention looks to hit the stage, and is currently in the process of auditioning live members to round out a live lineup.
“We have desires to play live and are currently auditioning musicians,” said Khan. “Ideally, we’d love to play live in 2017; we’ll see what happens. We aren’t looking for much, but all the attention is great. We are grateful people like the songs and we’ll just keep writing as long as we can and have fun doing it.”
A full-length release is in the works for the next year as well.
“Our next phase is to complete an album of 7-10 songs,” said Khan.
Spy Convention have released a slew of singles, some of which have been in regular rotation on The Homegrown Show on 93.3 since August 2016. Those tracks, along with a cover of INXS’ “Don’t Change” and Rush’s “Time Stand Still,” can be streamed exclusively on the band’s official Soundcloud page by clicking here.
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