Carrie Underwood feat. Ludacris | “The Champion”

champion carrie underwood

So yeah, this happened.

The queen of country finally decided to make a bland Top 40 pop song with even blander lyrics (“I’m a fighter like Rocky/ Put you flat on your back like Ali”). The premier vocalist of this generation is utterly wasted on this pap.

And Luda? He fucking does the each-letter-stand-for-X thing for his verse (“The ‘I’ is for integrity, innovative career”). Also a waste of talent. Goddammit.

Not even a Patriots-less Super Bowl can justify this vapidity.

Album Review: Havok | ‘Conformicide’

havok new album review

The movement known as ‘re-thrash’ – i.e., new metal bands that are bringing, or attempting to bring, thrash metal back into popularity – was pronounced dead four years ago by Invisible Oranges. In the piece, it’s observed that Havok’s 2012 EP Point of No Return might be one of the then-last “notable piece[s] of work” to be on author Joseph Schafer’s iPod.

Interestingly, two months to the day after that column ran, Havok released their third (and, up to that point, best) record, 2013’s Unnatural Selection. It continued their mix of Metallica’s penchant for serpentine riffing and Slayer’s no-bullshit songwriting, the latter of which dominated their first two records and a good chunk of their third.

So here we are with their newest offering. That Conformicide is Havok’s fourth LP is fitting because it’s their …And Justice for All. Which is to say: Conformicide is their most ambitious, their most political, and their most self-indulgent work to date. It’s also the pinnacle of the entire re-thrash scene because Havok succeeded where many of their peers failed: striking a balance between being memorable and being ferocious. Thanks to riff after fantastic riff, surprisingly hook-y songwriting, and the most nimble rhythm section in modern metal, Havok crafted a 57-minute love letter to thrash’s heyday.

At least part of the credit goes to the fact that the band’s current lineup – vocalist and guitarist David Sanchez, lead guitarist Reece Scruggs, bassist Nick Schendzielos, and drummer Pete Webber – ellipses any past iteration. The quartet’s ability to interlock as a single unit throughout the record is a wonder. To wit, the space formed from the darting riff that opens album centerpiece “Ingsoc” is expertly filled in by Webber’s agile ride work, before doubling it on kick drums alongside Schendzielos. Or take “Circling the Drain,” where Sanchez and Scruggs defer to the galloping interplay between bass and drums to carry the song forward that includes a funky (!) middle section allowing Schendzielos to be the star for a few seconds. Even when Havok revs up to hyperloop speed (“Masterplan”) or slows down to ride a slick groove (the unfortunately named “Peace is in Pieces”), or when do both in the same song (“Intention to Deceive”), its members know when and where to accent every section of every song.

And as with many (metal) songs in 2017, these ten are often political in nature. Most of the topics covered are standard fodder for metal – political correctness, government corruption, war, societal manipulation by the media – but are nonetheless sold purely on the basis of Sanchez’s raging snarl. Despite being clichéd, a line like, “The fighting will never cease/ As long as it is still profits over peace” works because Sanchez’s cornered animal delivery feels honest and relatable. Even when he spends three (!) songs on religion, metal’s favorite punching bag, you can’t help but side with his blunt force lyricism: “It doesn’t matter to you/ That he’s a power-tripping maniac/ ‘Cause he’s got you convinced / People of other faiths should be attacked”.

Perhaps an autopsy on (re-)thrash is unnecessary, then. Much like Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic and Warbringer’s Woe to the Vanquished, Conformicide confirms thrash metal in 2017 can still offer superb records that can stand next to any other metal subgenre brethren. Hell, Havok even showed the Big Four how it’s done by making an album that’s an order of magnitude better than any recent release from those icons. Havok made not only the year’s premier thrash record, but one of the year’s high-water marks in all of heavy metal. It’s gonna be difficult to top something this impressive, but as long as Havok’s next effort doesn’t have a song called “Unforgiven” on it, there’s still hope.

Thirty Seconds To Mars | “Walk On Water”

30stm new music

Jared Leto loves two things: majestic arrangements and Tony Robbins platitutes,. That is made painfully clear (again) on “Walk On Water”. Leto writes choruses designed to be shouted back to him by the masses, and this does not fail that goal. Whether Leto trying to sell self-help (“Do you believe that you can walk on water?/ Do you believe that you can win this fight tonight?”) is supposed to empower the audience or the other way around remains unclear. This will be stuck in your head after a one listen, so choose wisely.

Interview: Fibonacci Sequence

I did an interview with Milwaukee locals Fibonacci Sequence for Milwaukee Record. They do instrumental prog, and they are really nice guys.

To enter the world of Milwaukee’s Fibonacci Sequence is to enter a world whose backstory includes two Chads (“Chad 1” and “Chad 2”), a producer/musician named Chris Kringel, and a current bass player being confused for a different bass player named Dave Burkowitz (no, not that one).

The unconventional project is a progressive instrumental band founded in 2006 by guitarist Mike Butzen, keyboardist Jeff Schuelke, and drummer Tom Ford. After releasing the We Three Kings EP in 2009 and their debut LP Numerology the following year with Kringle on bass as a guest, the band added bassist Chad Novell in 2011 to round out the official lineup.

An astute listener will pick up several progressive influences. Some are obvious (Genesis, Pink Floyd), some are not (Boston, Phish). The most common sonic touchstone and most frequent comparison is Liquid Tension Experiment, the instrumental metal project from members of Dream Theater.

Fibonacci Sequence doesn’t get sick of being compared to other bands, though. In fact, they say they even see it in a positive light. “At least we’re getting attention,” Ford says. Novell has an even more optimistic outlook. “I don’t ever get sick of comparisons,” he says. “I think the worst part is, people don’t know what to compare us to. A lot of times, the only reason that we get compared to LTE is because there’s not a lot of other instrumental groups out there. But if you wanna compare me to those guys, okay. That’s a huge compliment.”

But however you want to describe it, Fibonacci Sequence’s music is certainly their own. Numerology is an hour-plus journey during which you’ll discover both their songwriting talents and their sense of humor. The band members are self-aware enough to know who they are, that what they do can be seen as pretentious, and that multi-part instrumentals don’t exactly blow up on the radio.

“It gives us a great niche—instrumental prog,” Ford says. “The chicks just love it.” But he’s also quick to point out that instrumental music gives them an added challenge as composers. “If you look at songs with lyrics, the lyrics build and change and the band can repeat the same theme behind it,” he says. “We always have to advance musically.”

As for why they’re an instrumental band, it’s quite simple. “I think it just evolved through the music,” Ford says. Outside of the band, Ford is a songwriter and lyricist himself, but he concedes that “this music just did not speak to me lyrically.”

Beyond that, the music is certainly challenging enough, both for the listeners and the musicians involved. “I wouldn’t wanna try to write lyrics or vocal melodies over this stuff,” Novell says.

“That might be why we are a little bit more cinematic in terms of music,” Ford explains. “I’ve always told people when they ask us to describe what we do that it sounds like movements of an orchestra or a soundtrack, that kind of thing.”

Fittingly, their upcoming sophomore LP, Cinema Finis, was inspired by the band’s love of cinema. “One night, me and Mike [Butzen] were texting back and forth trying to figure out a better concept because music was already coming,” Ford says. “Somehow the conversation steered towards the word ‘cinema’ and then, it just popped in my head. What about a theater that shows a film where your life flashes before your eyes?”

There’s a literary component, as well. Schuelke is the author of the accompanying story, the first three parts of which are on the band’s website. The tale, called Encore: A Cinema Finis Story, tells of a theater manager who’s about to lose his business until a mysterious benefactor offers to save it from financial ruin, on the condition that the manager allow the benefactor and his partners to renovate the theater in order to show a special film.

The story doubles as Schuelke’s own social commentary of sorts. “One reason movie theaters are going under is because people are Netflix-ing or torrenting,” he says. “They don’t go to the theater anymore. So this is my love letter to days gone by, when we all sat around a turntable and listened together. The theater represents that.”

As with progressive music, the band takes its time with writing and recording. “If you watch the campaign video [for Cinema Finis], I had to edit it because it says the album will be coming out in 2015,” Schuelke says. “That’s how long this process has been.” Following the record is a documentary chronicling the album’s making. “It’s coming out hopefully in January, which probably means June,” Schuelke says.