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Music Reviews: Joey Stuckey, Tangent Plane, Onslaught, Havok, Ruled by Reason, and W.A.I.L.

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Another week, another diverse selection of music for review. A release that struck me with interest but doesn’t exactly qualify for this column is Brian Futch’s And Then There Were Songs, heartfelt and heady mellow rock.

CD reviews

Joey Stuckey: The Shadow Sound

First of all, what is striking about this guy is that he is blind. Learning to play the guitar as well as this guy does it with two eyes is hard enough, blind is another matter entirely. This is jazzy rock that could possibly considered a bit mellow for this column, except for the fact it is so good. The vibe is a bit like Dave Matthews with a tad more edge. Then again he could always be able to fill Jeff Healy’s place in our hearts. There are a few tracks on here that stumble into Healy’s pop territory, while the rest of it will please the more snobbish fans of the blues.

There is a diverse collection of tracks on here ranging from the very jazzy noodling to some edgy rock. There is a hint of pop here as well but always on the musicians terms. He has a Kansas alum along for the ride, violinist David Ragsdale, who has also done time with Smashing Pumpkins. Quite a few people are touting this guy and it’s not that hard to see why. This is certainly a release that will attract those who like a touch of jazz with their rock.

Tangent Plane: Project Elimi

This is rather odd progressive power metal that often drifts into the art metal realm with mixed results. It’s heavily keyboard laden music, which is not that surprising as the main mind behind it all is Ralph Swan, the keyboardist. The most difficult thing to get your head round with this band is the lead singer, whose singing makes it seem that English is not his strong point. The words come out, mostly not mangled, but there seems to be little emotion or emphasis behind them.

That said, musically there is quite a bit to sink your teeth into. If you are into the odder end of the prog metal genre, then this band might be to your liking. Clearly this is a band with a fair amount of talent. It just seems to be one that is in search of a song or two. There is nothing that really leaps out at you and grabs you. This is a competent prog metal release, but nothing more than that. It shows a great deal of promise and this surely is a band to watch in the meantime.

Ultimately, this sort of music has to convince you to get involved, and this release fails that test. Almost there, but just not quite, and considering the talent in the genre, they need to step up its game.

Onslaught: Sound of Violence

Folk metal this ain’t. It’s head down old school like it’s the ’80s proper British thrash. These guys exist to show the new kids how it’s done. They have managed to take the modern recording techniques and meld it with face-melting thrash. There is nothing on here that is the slightest bit clever, melodic or deep. “Born for War” could have been recorded at any time in thrash’s history and would have been perfectly apt. If you want the perfect thrash song, then this song sums it all up nicely.

The band is known for its live show and this album seems to have perfectly encapsulated that raw power. Seen by some as ’80s also-rans, the band seems to have taken its second chance at the brass ring seriously. As far as I am concerned, this may in fact be the best song of its career. It hits all the rights notes and feelings, but never sounds predictable or a rehash of old glories. If you like your thrash pure and in your face, then you could do far worse than seek out this release. If you ever discounted this band, then it might be a good time to give them another shot.

Havok: Time Is Up

Unlike Onslaught. this lot is a bunch of new wave of American thrash upstarts. They have been around since the mid-’00s and seem to wish they were in the Bay Area circa the mid-’80s rather than being a bunch of guys from Denver. That said they do an awesome job of channeling the best of the golden age of trash. There is a strong hint of some of the German masters of the art of thrash as well. Much like Iced Earth combines the best of Euro power metal and its American cousin, this band do the same with vintage thrash.

Granted, the band does wear its influences on its sleeves like a badge of honor. And old school purists might find this band a bit overly perfect and technical with their instruments. Words like clinical and predictable come to mind at times. This is by no means a bad thrash album in any way shape or form. I am betting this bunch deliver it live and are adored on the festival circuit destined for Wacken as often as they want. The new wave of thrash has a very hard job convincing the metal masses they are just paying homage to what came before. This release is a perfect example of that difficulty.

Ruled by Reason: The Dawning of Dystopia

No this is not a band of Ayn Rand fans singing her praises. This is the band debut and its modern sounding but quite good fun. They come across at times like a modern Fates Warning with screamo vocals. There is quite a bit of technicality on here and they are not afraid of a bit of melody when it’s necessary. The bumf on the band claim it’s extreme metal, but I can’t really hear it. This is just a modern sounding metal done very well by a band that knows talent shines through.

The title track sets the done for this eight-song release. Rather than pushing your patience as often happens on this sort of debut, the band knows that less is better on first introduction. While this sort of metal is not for everyone, I certainly have had my quibbles with it, but this never gets boring. The band is not trying to out-extreme anyone else, they just aim to play damn good modern metal as well as they possibly can. “Look to the Stars” is quite a pleasant little ditty that is more modern prog than it is extreme metal. If you want some good fresh metal, this would be a good place to start. What a great debut.

W.A.I.L.: S/T

This is really weird, but oddly compelling deep dank stoner doom metal. It’s heavy in its intensity, but not necessarily the delivery. The opening track has the heaviest and most intimidating piano you will hear outside a horror film. This makes some stoner doom bands sound like a bunch of chirpy hippies. If you want gothic doomy filled misery, there is not much more down than this. The name of the band is Wisdom though Agony into Illumination and Lunacy, which is overall rather daft. Then again in the context of this band’s music, it’s almost apt.

The epic soundscapes of dread this lot produce is the aural equivalent to the cobwebs and decay you would find in some passageway hidden for centuries in some obscure part of the world. In each song there is a trip through whatever bleak place they were thinking of when writing the song. This is Black Sabbath at its bleakest taken to the nth degree. Unlike many of these bands who merely produce unfathomable noise, there is something oddly endearing about all of these tracks. They are however only for the truly aurally brave.

Well, that is your bunch for this week. As always, stay safe and rocking out there.

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