Review: Crossfaith – Apocalypse

Originally published by Fortitude Magazine – http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk.

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2006 saw the birth of Japanese electro-metalcore pounders Crossfaith. Since their inception they’ve developed a sound previously under-used in their native land, bringing their bleeping malice to the world at large. The charmingly pigeon grammar on their Facebook states that they ‘played in front of almost 10000 audience’, which is, indeed, many audience.

Leafing through the record, and indeed the band’s back catalogue, Apocalypse is a consolidation of their work to date. Where previous record The Dream, The Space was very much a guitar-centric metalcore record with some keys slapped on it, Apocalypse has been purpose-built in a more technological framework. On first impressions, what the band have gained in songwriting cohesion they have lost in sound. Everything is more balanced, but a good deal of thickness has been removed as a result. Luckily, a new EP (Zion) has come out since then, which addresses the balance, putting the meat back in, so this appears to have been a bedding-in period.

Crossfaith’s main USP is the extreme blending of many, many genres from the last few years. Apocalypse does contain its fair share of Dubstep, with Terufumi Tamano’s electronics squelching away nicely. Stack this against the modern metalcore, upscale techno and hardcore influences worn so clearly on their skin, and you have the recipe for an unequivocally modern band.

Tracks like Eclipse and We Are The Future are floor-opening rompers, and the boys are all giving it the beans. Though the opening of Gala Hala(Burn Down The Floor) goes a bit nu metal, and (otherwise) standout Counting Stars contains those awful yelped clean vocals so beloved of the metalcore scene, the band believe every second – Ken and Co. charge at each track like madmen.

However, that lack of density in production really starts to show the more you press on, and the dynamics really suffer for it. Countdown To Hell should have been crushing, its opening riff extending a Japanese finger to the Swedish masters, but it just hasn’t got the legs. Ken’s vocals start to grate a little towards the end, until the jaunty bounce of Outbreak provokes him into dialling it back a bit. A serious screamer with plenty of power, his true strength is watered down by a lack of dynamics.

Crossfaith are a likeable, committed, driven and talented band with a lot to offer, but this record offers only partial glimpses as to their potential majesty. The tracks that are good are properly good, but hamstrung by the band’s limitless insistence to change direction as much as possible. I can’t help but feel that a little time spent honing their identity would be hugely beneficial, as there’s nothing here to surpass the precedents set by the seemingly infinite number of bands existing in this style.

Proper band, not living up to their potential. Come on guys!

Review: Farewell, My Love – Gold Tattoos

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As a grown man of nearly 33, I could scarcely be the most suitable candidate for reviewing this record. That being said, a record is a record, so here we go.

Farewell, My Love are a ‘theatrical rock’ band from Phoenix, Arizona. With their intent to be a ‘hill of hope in the flood of life’, and attributing their raison d’etre and ascension to their fanbase – referred to as Lovers – they present themselves as being humble and endearing in the extreme. At this stage, let me get the comparisons to My Chemical Romance and Avenged Sevenfold out of the way. Yes, the quintet are quite clearly using the tailor next door to the MCR boys, and the guitar work has much in common with Gates and his mob, but there’s something else.

Ryan Howell’s insane voice is certainly noteworthy, and while his trapped-in-something shrieks are likely to come in for a lot of stick, I must admit that by Rewind The Play I was finding him truly engaging. Like Brian Molko and David Surkamp (look him up) crossing vocal DNA, some of the highs attained on this record are nothing short of inhuman. Every note is delivered with utter certainty, and if Howell is in character, he doesn’t break it.

 

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The orchestration of My Perfect Thing, a glorious throwback to the days before trying to out-scream the next spacer-fitted fringe-sporter, is weirdly likeable. A tribute to the fans in the front row, this track made their upcoming tour pairing with kid-bothering degenerate hate-targets Blood On The Dance Floor quite galling. F,ML have a great deal more to offer to the musical landscape; their attitude to songcraft and refusal to embrace the ubiquitous bursting-baby-bird screams of their contemporaries putting them some distance from the competition.

Bare-boned ballad Paper Forts has, amongst all the breathing-in (stop this!), some genuinely magnificent harmony work. Hearing Howell drop a few octaves – and the band taking a back seat to the piano for a bit – is disarming, and points to the band having an interesting future ahead.

Far from a long album, this is ten full tracks of the finest hand-crafted cheddar being doled out with some expertise. The short instrumental pieces are to be applauded, and closing the album with the mega-ridiculous Queen Of Hearts lets the listener know it’s really over. In short, taking this album purely as a musical exercise, it is finely tuned for maximum grandeur, the songs being given their own room to breathe in a constantly shifting, bravely ornate musical landscape.

Even if you’re not a girl ascending into womanhood, this is a boss album. The band believe it, the Lovers believe it, and I believe it. Yes, it’s wilfully absurd and yes, if the lads were in jeans and t-shirts it wouldn’t work, but the caliber of the writing is without question.

Great.

Review: Five Finger Death Punch – The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell Vol 1.

ffdp.jpgOriginally published by Fortitude Magazine-www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk
Going into this review knowing that it’s for Five Finger Death Punch is, in some respects, quite daunting…

A band with no shortage of rabid fans and even more rabid detractors, one must be aware of potential fire storms of internet hatred, with strangers around the world coalescing to question each others sexual orientation.

But let’s put the most disappointing part of the internet to one side. Yes, the wrestling advert music is still very much in effect, but there is more going on beneath the knuckles. This is a strangely bi-polar record, but when listened to closely makes absolute sense.

There are two clear halves – a man in genuine torment with himself, apologetic yet unyielding, acknowledging this trait as the core of his problems, and another man, utterly at war with the world. The pugilistic nature of some of the material presented here is almost sadistic, with ‘You’ and the truly moronic (and unnecessary) ‘Burn Motherfucker’ all but offering the listener out for a fight directly.

Some of the material on here is genuinely good. ‘M.I.N.E. ‘is both earnest and well-judged, played with a discernibly gentler tone than the cro-magnon thuggery displayed elsewhere. Here, Moody’s vocals are given full weight, and his power as a vocalist truly shines through. The over-dramatic vocal inflections posited all over the record cannot detract from the feeling that Moody would enjoy life a lot more making this sort of music over the chugging shreddery, irrespective of how competently it’s played.

The greatest surprise was ‘Diary Of A Deadman’, a spoken word piece with a bit of widescreen scope to it. No ‘fuck this/fuck that’, and with some top licks from Zoltan and Jason, this was very diverting. Confusing, however, was the inclusion of two of the tracks twice – ‘I.M. Sin’ and ‘Dot Your Eyes’– one with Moody alone and the others with guests (Max Cavalera, which was a bit of a shame, and Jamey Jasta). This smacks a little of padding, as there’s little to be got out of this superfluous act. Take the first versions out, and there’s still a solid 40 minutes of this to go round, which is plenty.

Five Finger Death Punch have shown a greater depth of field in their craft than I was expecting. Everything is played with the utmost precision, and though there are times when a great guitar tone is sacrificed to give the vocals room in the chorus, the production is excellent. Getting Rob Halford in on the opening track gives points, and the duet with Maria Brink is convincing. My complaint is only that the contemplative parts of the record outshine the boisterous, with that element feeling almost forced.

Perhaps the Punch are ready to evolve? With their softer moments infinitely tougher and more believable than Nickelback, I hope the next record takes a proper risk, and pushes the songwriting to a different plain, something that’s been so tenderly hinted at here. Moody is a vocalist of some considerable power, and it would be nice to see him and the boys push themselves a bit more. they’ve proven their worth on the heavy front – it’s time to move on.

Potent, but with heart.

The Preservation Of Childhood

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The Preservation Of Childhood

A few weeks ago, I was asked to compere the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary summer fair. It was surprisingly well-attended, and even though I was told that a good 15,000 people had been through the gates last year, I was truly taken aback by how many were in attendance. In amongst all the performances from local singers, ascending stars Sound Of The Sirens, local vendor stands, hand-made items and donkeys, I took the opportunity to take Dragon, my radio co-host and loyal companion, on a few walks round the site with me.

Though I was naturally conscious of being a bearded, adult male strolling round a busy country fair, cradling what others would see as a toy dragon, I felt sure in myself with my kindly, green pal. I found that, rather than treating me like a lunatic, or insanely creepy, those who were manning the stalls would smile and asked about Dragon, instead of being unkind. I found that if I talked about him sincerely, and make no apologies for his presence, the fact that I was not ashamed of having him with me meant that I wasn’t made fun of, something that would be all too easy to do.

During a conversation with Johnno the soundman, a gentleman some years older than myself, he divulged with some pride that his family have a pig called Arnold (although he did not initially explain that this was a toy pig, which was a bit confusing) that has been handed down between their three children, and gone on a number of family holidays with him. He had been photographed in the mouth of a T-Rex at the natural history museum, in the barrel of a gun on HMS Belfast, and his presence meant that Johnno and his wife acted in a child-like manner, as well as encouraging the family to take photographs. During this exchange, he warmed more and more to Dragon, which was not unexpected, but wonderful all the same.

As we age, responsibilities, family, and expectations both cultural and personal begin to take greater precedence in our lives. When we are young, those of us born into relative peace have the joy of being free from obligations, unbound by deadlines, and are able to go about our lives with little hemming our imagination. Our often irrational excitement can take any number of forms, from a pathological need to have a special t-shirt, to a pebble that we love, and any number of other incidental matters. This is something that permeates every single human being, in greater or lesser ways, irregardless of their upbringing, culture, geography, or spirit, and is truly fundamental.

One of the most important things that happens in our early lives is the acquisition, gifted or otherwise, of a special toy, generally – though it is by no means a hard and fast rule – an animal. People I have known and spoken to over the years have had monkeys, bears, rabbits, horses, or confusing half-animals that aren’t really anything, but the one thing they have in common is a huge presence in that individuals’ life, that sticks with them as they get older. The most scarred fighter, fearless soldier or bloodied surgeon can return to their childhood when presented with their Brownie, Flatty, Kessington, or Pom Pom, and the effect of this is something magical.

We are told, particularly in this day in age, that we’re supposed to be hard but understanding, compromising but fair, politically correct but not sensitive. Children get to be babies then adults, with little in between. This is predominantly because of our access to the internet, that limitless, unpoliceable cascade of information, and the unprecedented flood of thoughts, feelings and polemic that pummels our morality through the likes of Twitter. Though it is an obvious statement, we live under the illusion that everyone who thinks like us is alright, and that everyone who doesn’t is stupid and will never be anything but. A scalding missive or hurtful, clever soundbite is far more significant than any thought-out, considered approach, and scoring points off one-another is more desirable than being supportive or knowing anything.

Young children carry less of this blindness-they don’t sexualise things like adults do, or feel as much of a need to be backhanded and hurtful. I am reminded of the story of the two best friends – one black, one white – who shaved their heads so their teacher couldn’t tell them apart. They didn’t see their skin colours as being a divisive factor in their friendship, and while it took an adult to share it to the internet, the two boys acted in the spirit of good humour, not from a perspective of self-aggrandisement, point-scoring, or unkindness. These are traits at which adults excel, as they are instructed to leave their goodness behind, and become toughened by the world.

How much we must miss out on by having such an outlook. There is no definitive approach to life, no one way to live it. We are less forced into being normal than we are to not stand out. Hold your bear; hold your dragon, and remember being young. It will do you good.

My Mind Is A Travelling House

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When I moved to London, which is a story so complex and difficult that I shall tell it at a different time, I left behind ThirtyOne, which by this stage had begun to disintegrate. My departure signalled a painful end to what had been an extremely promising band, and my confidence was not what you’d describe as high.

Though I’d spent my life in bands and would continue to do so, the desire to be out front being the main man had left me, and I longed for a less precious role in my musical proceedings. Michael, with whom I had played for many years before, advised me that Henry, the bassist of his band, Conundrum In Deed, was leaving, and did I fancy the gig? I thought about it for a few seconds before saying yes, tooling myself up with a cheap bass, and learning their album, Gentlemen, which was in the process of being completed.

Aside from being the context in which I met Tom, who would later be part of the Strange Deeds triumvirate, Conundrum was my first gig on bass since The Paperback Throne, which was also the first band in which I sang harmony. Henry was a superb bassist, an eager, nimble young man who had grown up listening to prog almost exclusively, and whose raw talent had supped at the fountain of Chris Squire. Taking up his weaving Rickenbacker lines on my somewhat-less-subtle Stingray was a task, and it was to my own amazement that I could get anywhere near them.

I sang backing on this record, taking up full bass and second vocal duties on the next, Travelling House, though I sadly do not have a link to that.

Despite the extremely poor split of the band that occurred after this, and the subsequent ill feeling, I am able to stand outside of it, and see it as a record that did not belong to its’ time, being pitched somewhat further back than the period in which it was recorded. Nevertheless, of my time in Conundrum In Deed I am proud, though I truly wish it had ended differently.

You Can Do Whatever You Like My Luvrrr

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A meal in itself.

When my parents first moved to Somerset, I took the opportunity to drive my mother’s terrible Suzuki Jimny to Exeter, to see what it was like, and to check out Manson’s guitar store, about which I had heard much. At the time, which was around 2003, Glasgow had Sound Control, McCormacks, Merchant City Music, and CC Music as its principle guitar stores, and as Manson’s was in the exotic south west I felt I must check it out.

On the noticeboard, there was an advert for a singer, and as I had, at the time, planned to stay in the South West, I thought I’d give the number a ring. I spoke to some guy, where I discovered that my zeal for getting into bands didn’t match my ability to drive the best part of an hour and a half each way for practice, and the conversation came to a close.

Two years later, I had moved back to Glasgow, met the lady who would become my wife, been to Canada and moved back to the South West, to Exeter, where I once again found myself stood in front of the noticeboard, in front of the same advert. Though I’d forgotten all about calling it the first time, especially as two years had passed and I wouldn’t have associated it with the previous advert, I rang that number and spoke to the same guy. This time, we met in the Kings Arms, where I felt intimidated by the three large men who would shake my hand. The irony that the member who wasn’t there was 6’7″ is not lost on me.

Three years down the line, I found myself screaming my way through yet another set with this very band, having recorded a record called The Great Wide Hope. Released on Bored Stiff Records by Andy Dicker from Codex Alimentarius, it would go on to be special in Exeter, but nowhere else. We were extremely proud of it, and as it heralded my return to proper live performance following the extremely painful dissolution of my former band, Cat Kills Six, it was something of a crucial landmark.

It is presented below as both a show of what once was, and a sorrowful monolith, as the second record, The Widening, was never recorded, and is unlikely to be.

 

Strange Deeds Indeed

maxresdefaultIt wasn’t that long ago that I was playing with my chaps Michael and Tom in Strange Deeds. During recent discussions between Michael and myself, a record that we had made came back into my head.

This record was Strange Deeds’ The Memorandum, a record that, like all Deeds material, was completely improvised, and back to back. It contains six tracks of guitar playing I couldn’t have done on purpose if I tried, and indeed we both reflected on how remarkable this was. It’s one thing to sit down for weeks, maybe months at a time and carefully craft a predominantly instrumental record, but to bang the whole thing out in less than three hours with no arrangement or planning still feels like an achievement.

The musical relationship between Michael and I deserves its own post, something I will tend to in the coming weeks. These records, however, stand outside of us as musicians, in the sense that they existed only then, during those hours in Crown Lane and Muswell Hill studios in London, where we would pitch up with two Zoom hand held recorders, have a chat, then start playing. Whatever happened, after our practice time was up, we had a record.

Naturally, some of it was a bit guff, especially in the beginning as we found our feet. But, centred around Tom’s drums – without which we would have floundered, truthfully – we created a series of releases that were one take each, with no discussion before or during.

Of all the bands in which I have participated, and there are a few, Strange Deeds is the one of which I am most proud. We did one show, which was also improvised, at the Finsbury Arms, and released 8 records that were seldom heard outside of the three of us, but doing it just for the sake of doing it was the whole point. When I met Tom, Michael and I were playing in Conundrum In Deed, who were already completing their first album, and with whom we would do a second. He was a jazz trained drummer and pianist, a very quiet man, despite being built like a tank, and never played the drums harder than he had to. Without this detail, our recordings would have suffered immensely, especially as they were so primitive in nature.

Here it is then, The Memorandum, with some of the best track names we had going. There’s a lot of left turns, but for a record that willed itself into life on the spot, I’ve never topped it.

Hello There.

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My name is John Tron Davidson, and I am a musician, writer, radio presenter and bloke.

In the last 30 years I have performed in choirs, bands, as a solo performer in both the acoustic, electric, and noise fields, hosted open mics, sold headstones, presented radio broadcasts, written reviews, collected dragons, travelled the world and done my laundry.

Right now I present The Way Of Things  on Phonic FM with my buddy Dragon, every friday from 4-6pm, which is ace. I play guitar and sing for Light City Mission and The Lifted Chalice, as well as rapping in Asshole Butler.

On this blog you will find all my collected works, from as many bands as I’ve recorded with, along with reviews I’ve written, both for myself and Fortitude Magazine, as well as essays on topics like mental illness, something about which I am deeply passionate.

If you want to get in touch, please do so at johntrondavidson@gmail.com.

Enjoy.