All posts by Mark Stoneman

About Mark Stoneman

Mark is a twenty-something guy with a love for virtually things all music, having been brought up with the likes of Deep Purple to Fleetwood Mac, and through the golden era of early 2000s rock. With this in mind, an obsession with finding new and wonderfully cathartic soundscapes has led to looking for what delightfully captivates, while always looking ahead for the next amazing artist.

[Album Review] A Perfect Circle – Eat The Elephant

It starts slowly.

A swell of thousands of excited voices in unison, then quelled gently by Maynard’s solitary introductory vocal, “from dehumanization to arms production, we hasten this nation towards its destruction.” A sweetly sinister music box melody and Billy Howerdel’s moody guitar work, it’s already enough; the audience’s attention is entranced in anticipation, the intimacy is infectious, and the stage is already set for Stone and Echo’s Red Rocks Amphitheater.

“Power is power, the law of the land.

And those living for dead will die by their own hand.”

But just hang on a second, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is peeking round the corner now. That sullen piano line and wonderfully somber vocal always had something twisted-ly captivating about it. “You may say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.” And the show’s only just begun…


Like many, ‘The Outsider’ caught me. Can’t be considered surprising; the roar of the vocals and Howerdel’s guitar riffage in full onslaught on my senses, it was absolutely my kind of music. “Disconnect and self-destruct, one bullet at a time”. A Perfect Circle’s signature hit that most know had my attention immediately and completely, but it didn’t stop there. Before long it was the sparse, beautiful ‘Orestes’, or the tense introductory bass leading into ‘Weak and Powerless’s eclectic electric guitar licks and pitter-patter percussion. Mer De Noms and Thirteenth Step had the kind of allure that meant you had to listen closer, pay more attention or simply risk missing the point, and the momentum lead neatly into 2004 cover album, Emotive. But this was where things came to a close, for a while. With Keenan’s responsibilities towards Tool and Puscifer, and Billy Howerdel focusing on solo project Ashes Divide, A Perfect Circle spent fourteen on-and-off years mostly absent from the scene, save for touring appearances, the greatest hits album Three Sixty, and of course A Perfect Circle Live: Featuring Stone and Echo, in 2013.

The appearance of Eat The Elephant (and it’s thoroughly perplexing artwork) was, at the very least, a little surprising. Sure, the members of A Perfect Circle are not entirely known for taking themselves too seriously, Maynard James Keenan in particular being especially guilty of this; the Puscifer project is filled to the brim with sarcastic references to a number of taboo subjects, even naming their debut studio effort V Is For Vagina, while Tool’s various sexual allusions are relatively self-explanatory. Despite this, taken at face value, Eat The Elephant’s artwork is just plain peculiar, but it’s important to note that it is, of course, everything it was intended to be; take into account just how violently juxtaposed it is by pre-release single ‘The Doomed’, a track stylistically backed by huge Billy Howerdel guitar riffs, furious percussion, and beautifully utilized music box chimes and haunting atmosphere.

Lyrically, ‘The Doomed’ spends much of its time being a polar opposite to the ridiculousness of the strange figure that inhabits Eat The Elephant’s artwork, instead engaging in a full-frontal assault against social inequality, “what of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?” And yet, much like the artwork, ‘The Doomed’ is loud, in your face, and catches your attention. It faces the “elephant in the room” problem of the lyrical content head on, with Maynard James Keenan vocally toeing the line between vulnerability and enraged frustration, with the track’s ending boiling point culminating in an eruption of frantic drums and Keenan delivering a final aggressive roar of “fuck the doomed, you’re on your own.”

To say that Eat The Elephant has immediately painted itself as somewhat confusing to the wary, inattentive listener, is probably accurate enough, but this really is only just scratching the surface of what the album has to offer. Indeed, to completely polarize things right from the very beginning, Eat The Elephant’s introductory title track is the album at its most unexpected; ‘Eat The Elephant’, a track once in connection with none other than Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, is a jazz song. A sweetly delivered, mellow, beautiful jazz song. Gently swaying back and forth in fluttery percussion and light piano keys, Maynard James Keenan croons away with not a hint of guitar distortion in sight, “without you to remind me, just begin.” And begin it does, the track bleeds softly into the more traditionally ‘A Perfect Circle’ track, ‘Disillusioned’. Moody, reverb-heavy guitar work and euphoric atmospherics swell gorgeously behind Keenan’s tentative vocal delivery, lyrically the track reflects on societal disconnection and calls for a change; “time to put the silicone obsession down, take a look around, find a way in the silence.”

Continuing onwards, Eat The Elephant’s ever-contrasting stylistic approach keeps things moving forward intriguingly, the tense, overbearing nature of ‘The Contrarian’ deceptively welcoming at first, an elegant introductory harp rippling through the mix, before Keenan’s rather disturbing vocal delivery plunges the track into far more harrowing atmosphere. Lyrically the track focuses on the fear of an individual rejecting the popular or socially accepted; “beware the contrarian” – beware the one who rejects the norm. Considering the tone of ‘The Contrarian’, this is then completely uprooted by the far more uplifting direction of ‘So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish’, a track that borders on the likes of vibrant, U2-esque guitar tones and euphoric vocal delivery, taken into far more cinematic territory and lyrically describing itself better than anything that could be written here; “Hip hip hooray, for this fireworks display. Mind and body blown away, what a radiant crescendo.”

And so, the album strides forward, delving into some unexpected territory while still maintaining a level of what should be expected from the band; ‘TalkTalk’ effectively acts as a richly blended result of the heavier Mer De Noms elements with Thirteenth Step’s more mellow direction, while ‘By And Down The River’ incorporates more orchestral instrumentals alongside Billy Howerdel’s warped, flanged out lead guitar tones, reminiscent at times of the likes of Riverside’s Piotr Grudziński, and Maynard James Keenan’s vocal delivery setting a longing, mournful stage for the track to explore. ‘Delicious’ mixes acoustic riffs in with some of the more conventional electric guitar riffs of the album, with Howerdel utilizing a chunky overdriven tone and Keenan delivering some of his more sarcastic lyrical content of the album.

Now, while piano instrumental ‘DLB’ drifts by and allows for a moment to breathe, reflection seems to certainly be the focus for just a few moments; it’s a rather sombre two minutes as the track gently progresses, the mood is low and things are calm, yet feels uneasy. Exactly why this is the case, becomes apparent the instant ‘Hourglass’ enters the fray. Abruptly usurping the poignant mood of its predecessor, ‘Hourglass’s abrasive synthesiser work, robotic vocal processing, and heavy bass has the track sharing far more similarities with the likes of the band’s iconic ‘Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums’, or the more industrial side to Keenan’s Puscifer.

Overall, it’s easily one of the boldest offerings seen on Eat The Elephant, a final punch into stranger territory before the album is lead neatly into the penultimate ‘Feathers’, a return to the wailing guitar textures of ‘Disillusioned’ and ‘The Doomed’. Again, ‘Feathers’ sees much of the refrained side to Keenan’s roar, far less reliant on the kind of delivery that makes “fuck the doomed, you’re on your own” rip through the mix, Keenan instead croons and aches as the track continues, before Billy Howerdel once again takes to the enthralling reverb-heavy lead guitar work that he so effectively brings to light, before closing gently on a last piano section and one final whisper; “may they become, may they all be feathers.”

Taking in the broad scope and gorgeous soundscapes Eat The Elephant so lovingly embraces isn’t something that happens quickly. It takes time, attention, and a little bit of patience. At heart, the album is by no means rushing things – it’s taking every step with exactly the amount of focus it needs. Closing track ‘Get The Lead Out’ essentially acts as the epilogue to what stands as an absolutely outstanding body of work; a strange, seven minute sample-heavy track, wandering softly with no real aim or reason except to just take a moment. To breathe. Despite carrying the statement of “chit chat, chit chat, ain’t got time for that”, it starts slowly, builds gradually and with care, swelling for a moment before Keenan quietens things again. Eat The Elephant simply adores this kind of approach, allowing time to digest the “elephant”, and this ultimately results in some of the band’s most brilliant material to date. It’s been a very long fourteen years, and it’s been well worth it.

“What a radiant crescendo.”

Ben Howard Releases Second New Single

In anticipation for the release of his third full length studio album, Noonday Dream, English singer-songwriter Ben Howard has released his second promotional single from the album.

Noonday Dream, due to release June 1st this year, will be Howard’s first offering in four years, following the strongly positive reception earned by 2014 studio effort, I Forget Where We Were, having recently announced the new album with the release of lead single ‘A Boat to an Island on the Wall.’

The second single, titled ‘Towing The Line’, continues Howard’s trademark mellow acoustic rock direction, beautifully textured instrumentation, and sombre vocal delivery, easily likely to earn Ben Howard another soft spot in the hearts of fans.

Check out ‘Towing The Line’ on major streaming services Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and more.  

A Perfect Circle Unveil Fourth New Single

American rock band A Perfect Circle have released the fourth single from their much anticipated upcoming studio album.

The album, titled Eat The Elephant, is scheduled to be released April 20th and will be the band’s first studio release since 2004 cover album, Emotive. Featuring a far more mellow approach stylistically, Eat The Elephant sees the Billy Howerdel/Maynard James Keenan-led project shedding much of the harder Mer De Noms rock edge, aiming for gorgeous instrumentation, stunning guitar textures, and an overall more mature direction musically.

The latest single, ‘So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish’, aims for a more optimistic approach compared to the more sombre tones of ‘Disillusioned’ and ‘The Doomed’, featuring vibrant, U2-esque guitar work, and an uplifting vocal performance from Maynard James Keenan.

Check Out ‘So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish’ here:

Missed Eat The Elephant’s Third Single, ‘TalkTalk’? Listen here:

Scars on Broadway New Single/Album Announced

After a lengthy silence, Los Angeles alternative metal/hard rock outfit Scars on Broadway (founded by System of a Down member Daron Malakian) have announced their first new material in a decade.

Following the 2008 debut, Scars on Broadway, the band’s scheduled 2012-2013 sophomore album suddenly failed to materialize, with the band entering a six-year period of almost complete silence, and official social media outlets listing all of the project’s dedicated members (aside from Malakian himself) having departed or absent from the band. Following the apparent abandonment of the project, Malakian embarked on further live performances with System of a Down, alongside performing with Los Angeles group Millenials and appearing on Linkin Park’s sixth studio effort, The Hunting Party (on the track ‘Rebellion’).

Now, a decade since the release of their debut studio album, the band (re-branded as Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway) have finally broken their silence, with Daron Malakian announcing via social media a brand new Scars on Broadway single due to be released on April 23rd, as well as their long awaited sophomore effort due at a later unconfirmed date.

Whether the album will feature the formerly teased track ‘Guns Are Loaded’ is yet to be seen, but in the words of Malakian himself regarding the new music; “oh it’s true. It’s damn true.”

Listen to Scars on Broadway’s Hit Track ‘They Say’ here:

[Album Review] Ledger – Ledger EP

Getting dropped in the deep end of joining an established popular act and being expected to keep pace while having suddenly made it big very, very quickly, can probably be figuratively compared to being hit with the force of a freight train. Having relocated to the US at the age of 16, and initially filling the role of bassist for Wisconsin act The Spark, English drummer Jen Ledger was recruited at just 18 years old in 2008 to replace Skillet’s retiring Lori Peters She was brought into the group during the huge wake of the success achieved by 2006 studio effort Comatose. Immediately going on to perform live heavily with the veteran Christian rock act throughout the Comatose Comes Alive tour, Ledger’s newly found fame within Skillet could have very easily been overwhelming, but as was demonstrated throughout the live performances and on to following 2009 studio effort AwakeLedger’s appearance clearly wasn’t just to fill a role: she had been fully embraced, the band very much welcoming her with open arms.

Indeed, Awake’s ‘Hero’ and ‘Awake and Alive’ were immediately singled out as hugely popular highlights for the album, Jen Ledger’s backing vocals on the tracks being noted by many to be a refreshing addition to the band’s repertoire, providing a lighter contrast to frontman John Cooper’s generally harsher rock vocals. With fans being so receptive to Ledger’s presence, it came to little surprise that 2013 studio effort Rise saw more prominent utilization of the drummer’s vocal abilities, with the ballad ‘Fire and Fury’ in particular displaying a far more balanced duality between Cooper and Ledger.

In keeping with the ever-supportive nature of Skillet’s following, and having now spent 10 years performing with the band, the announcement of Jen Ledger’s solo project (simply titled LEDGER) was met with the same reception: the fans were hungry and couldn’t wait for more.

Generally in keeping with Skillet’s catchy rock choruses and hard-hitting, guitar-heavy anthems, LEDGER’s debut six-track EP Ledger gives the initial impression of treading fairly familiar territory; lead single ‘Not Dead Yet’ fits in very neatly alongside Skillet’s more symphonic ‘Not Gonna Die’ or riff-heavy ‘Back From The Dead’. This doesn’t completely surprise, considering the EP was produced by bandmate Korey Cooper, but the overall style leans a little more toward the likes of ex-Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm. Indeed, compared to Skillet’s slightly more polished approach, the lower end feels a little more bass-heavy, the guitar distortion buried deeper into the mix, and Ledger’s explosive percussion essentially acts as the primary driving force for the track, complimented by the occasional uplifting piano line and Jen Ledger seeming completely at ease taking on sole vocal duties. In short, despite some similarities, ‘Not Dead Yet’ proves that there is personality to be found here; this isn’t simply just another Skillet record.

Continuing forward, Ledger’s second track ‘Warrior’ remains rooted in the rockier side of things, boasting exactly the kind of defiance you would expect of its title. Amidst the agitated call-to-arms lyrical direction (“this is the sound, the sound of the warrior”), a cocky guitar riff and rather mesmerizing vocal layering at times, ‘Warrior’ builds upon the personality established with ‘Not Dead Yet’ and immediately takes things one step further. With Ledger again taking the opportunity to further establish her newly found freedom vocally, John Cooper’s guest appearance thankfully does very little to detract from Ledger’s lead, instead being complimentary and fitting in naturally with the track. Closing track ‘Iconic’ similarly does plenty for the more rock-centric side of things, heavier percussion and chunky power chords in full abundance to boost the energetic EP.

Shifting things into more electronically-driven territory, middle acts ‘Bold’ and ‘Foreigner’ trade the guitar-driven riffage for a more pop-centric approach. ‘Bold’ in particular instead embellishes things with minimalist digital instrumentation and the atmosphere that comes with it, a style that wouldn’t at all be out of place on the likes of Lights’ latest offering Skin & Earth. Vocally, it’s another well-executed instance of Ledger really flourishing in her own creative space, the fuzzy synthesizer-laden ‘Foreigner’ approaching things with a little more attitude, contrasted by ‘Bold’s sweetly delivered pop vocals. Both are solid offerings, but it’s really through Ledger’s fifth track that the EP touches on something really special. Fueled by the kind of melancholy that made Evanescence’s ‘My Immortal’ so captivating, Ledger’s piano-driven ballad ‘Ruins’ is at heart a display of honest vulnerability, dropping the far more defiant delivery of ‘Warrior’ to allow Ledger the chance to open her heart a little. Honestly, it’s quite beautifully done.

Overall, Ledger is successful in what it wants to be. It’s an energetic opening act for a solo artist with clearly a lot to offer, while still allowing the influences of Skillet (and producer Korey Cooper) to play their part stylistically. As a whole, it’s certainly well produced, but there’s a slight underlying rawness here and there that gives the instrumentation a little more room to breathe, a little less polished compared to Skillet’s Unleashed, and this easily adds to the personality of the EP. As for Jen Ledger herself, her vocal abilities have clearly had the chance to develop since the early offerings of Awake; there’s a certain maturity throughout the likes of ‘Bold’ and ‘Ruins’ that makes things just that little bit more intriguing, and it’s worth noting that the band’s support toward Ledger throughout the process has been incredibly commendable, welcoming the ambitions of an individual within the band with open arms and supporting those ambitions with everything they have to give. Ultimately, it’s obvious LEDGER is exactly the kind of project fans can rally behind, and they’re going to want a whole lot more of it, too.

[Album Review] Scandroid – Dreams in Monochrome

From Take It & Break It Vol. 1-3, through to The Complete Cellout and Space & Time (Expansion), Klayton (known more commonly under Celldweller, Circle of Dust or Scandroid) has always been rather enthusiastic towards the idea of a damn good fun remix album. Perhaps due to how openly electronic rock lends itself to being broken down and built back up from scratch, or simply as a result of the creator’s own charismatic approach to the remixes themselves, a fervent attitude has steadily grown from the initial remix contests of early Celldweller releases, Klayton’s own founded label FiXT becoming something of a popular hub for eager, lesser known artists, looking to stand out amongst others by taking part in what ultimately boils down to sharing a labor of love.

Scandroid is absolutely no different in this regard; fondly referred to as something of a “love letter to 80s music”, studio efforts Scandroid (2016) and Monochrome (2017) embrace all that is retro and neon in the modernized synthwave venture, easily Klayton‘s most playful personality among his multifaceted creative endeavors. And, keeping in line with what has been rapidly becoming something of a tradition for major FiXT releases, the well received Dreams of Neo-Tokyo soon swiftly came to light, serving as the remix counterpart for debut album Scandroid, with Dreams in Monochrome later announced to be following in the wake of the project’s sophomore effort.

Now, the thing to bear in mind when considering any form of remix is rather simple; Take It & Break It? Absolutely, but whether or not the track is taken in a direction that shares overall similarities with its original incarnation, or instead is transformed into something virtually unrecognizable, can be either a huge positive or overwhelming negative. Yes, it’s obvious to say it, but it’s how the remix is handled that ultimately effects the outcome, and if Dreams of Neo-Tokyo did anything right, it was certainly how well the material was handled. Take Dance with the Dead‘s stellar ‘Neo-Tokyo’ remix for example; adding a far more rock orientated spin to the track alongside an absolute blast of a guitar solo, the track’s calmer original counterpart re-emerged as the kind of track that wants to hit, and hit hard. Or perhaps look no further than Waveshaper‘s ‘Eden’ remix, taking things back to a far more reserved level, disregarding the electric guitar distortion and opting for an immersive, gorgeous synthesizer-laden soundscape. It’s exactly this approach that made Dreams of Neo-Tokyo such an enthralling addition to the still young Scandroid project, a labor of love becoming an adoring labor of many.

Very thankfully, it’s apparent almost immediately that Dreams in Monochrome is continuing this frame of mind, and as soon as Michael Oakley‘s ‘Afterglow’ remix begins, sweet, popping synthesizers and eventual electric guitar riffs entering the fray, it’s admittedly very hard to suppress a gleeful smile in anticipation for what comes next. VHS Dreams‘ re-engineered incarnation of ‘Rendezvous’ swiftly follows, staying stylistically relatively true to the original while also adding plenty of personality to keep things interesting, and before long Bret Autrey, (known more commonly under Blue Stahli, and previous Dreams of Neo-Tokyo contributor with his ‘Shout’ remix), emerges to present his latest Sunset Neon offering, remixing the titular ‘Monochrome’. It’s a fun, 70s funk-esque mix that completely radicalizes its rather dramatic twin, much of the tense atmosphere instead swapped out for a far more lively approach to things.

Further reconstructing Monochrome, Robots With Rayguns brings ‘A Thousand Years’ into more downtempo territory, opting to focus on subtler instrumentation and somewhat moodier atmosphere, a stylistic direction that Synthatiger‘s ‘The Veil’ remix also chooses to tread, while the double-barrelled offering of ‘Thriller’ remixes (compliments of PYLOT and Robert Parker) offer a fairly stark contrast to each other; PYLOT immediately kicks things off with werewolf howls and before long the track has plunged into 80s horror clichés with a funk driven bassline and wailing synthesizers, while Robert Parker takes things into far more conventional, modern house territory. Further forwards, Arcade High succeeds in drenching ‘2518’ in your favorite 8-bit arcade theme, and as odd as it initially sounds, it actually works very effectively mixed in with the more cinematic musical elements and dramatic vocals of the original track. Closing the album, ‘Future Bloodline (Magic Sword remix), spectacularly presents one final epic chapter before things come to an end, very nearly acting as the perfect culmination of virtually everything the album represents, with moody bass work, scorching electric guitar leads and enthralling synthesizers charging forward through the mix.

Overall, it’s evident the album has already thrown itself wholeheartedly into exactly what made its predecessor such an enjoyable compilation of material, but it’s also worth noting Dreams in Monochrome isn’t just restricted to the material of it’s namesake; Turboslash‘s ‘Time Crime’ remix instead originates from a 2018 single, released in promotion for what will eventually become the third Scandroid studio effort. Overall, it’s generally a rather faithful remix, maintaining the gorgeous saxophone work and much of what instrumentally featured in the original, but strips back some of the more cosmic synthesizer work and opts for a grittier, more raw direction stylistically. Also featuring from Scandroid are further remixes ‘Neo-Tokyo (Chromatique remix)’, ‘Aphelion (Battlejuice remix)’, ‘Neo-Tokyo (Autoreiv remix)’, ‘Awakening With You (Turboslash remix)’, and ‘Shout (DJ Stranger remix)’. It could perhaps be argued that these are all here to provide some padding for the album, maybe even risking detracting from the Monochrome side of things, but all in all these simply add further material to an already abundantly enjoyable assortment of contributions, and if anything proves that a remix album is the perfect place to forgive a little repetition here and there.

As a whole, Dreams in Monochrome is the kind of album that is perhaps best described as “doing exactly what it sets out to do”; the adoring endorsement of all things neon and retro, that Monochrome so enthusiastically endeavored to utilize, are all just as prominently seen throughout Scandroid‘s second remix album. Perhaps what delights most of all is the sheer amount of variety throughout the 15-track album, from disco to funk, synthwave to electronic rock, and there’s certainly something for everyone within the depths of Dreams in Monochrome. Essentially, it’s the perfect follow up to its predecessor, fantastically produced and exactly what it needed to be; a damn good fun remix album.

Dreams in Monochrome releases April 20th. Pre-order now via FiXT;

https://fixtstore.com/collections/scandroid

Shinedown Premiere ‘The Human Radio’ Single

American rock band Shinedown have debuted the second single for their highly anticipated upcoming album, Attention Attention.

Due for release May 4th, the album serves as the band’s latest studio offering since 2015 record Threat to Survival, and has been described to be a concept album, focusing on overcoming personal struggles for new beginnings.

The new single, ‘The Human Radio’, features slick basslines, massive guitar riffs, and a gang-vocal heavy anthem of a chorus driving the track forward, continuing the band’s trend of catchy alternative rock, bound to cause a few headaches after the head banging stops.

Listen to ‘The Human Radio’ here:

 

Breaking Benjamin Release 5th Single ‘Save Yourself’

A week prior to the release of their sixth studio effort, Ember, American post-grunge outfit Breaking Benjamin have debuted a fifth single; ‘Save Yourself’.

Continuing the band’s classic style of hard rocking tracks with huge choruses, blasting guitar riffs and guttural vocals, Breaking Benjamin‘s latest single ‘Save Yourself’ sees the band once again proving that despite staying true to the style of old, the Pennsylvania quintet still has the same capability to captivate as they did a decade ago.

Ember, scheduled for release April 13th, features as the band’s follow up to 2015 effort Dark Before Dawn, and their second release following the band’s 2010-2014 hiatus and lineup change (save for frontman Benjamin Burnley).

Check out ‘Save Yourself’ here:

 

Jen Ledger Debuts New Solo Single ‘Not Dead Yet’

Skillet drummer and co-vocalist Jen Ledger has released the first single from her upcoming debut solo EP, Ledger.

The solo project, titled LEDGER, sees the English musician signing with Atlantic Records and collaborating further with Hear It Loud, with Skillet band mate Korey Cooper acting as producer for the six-track EP. Skillet front man John Cooper has also been confirmed to appear on the track ‘Warrior’.

The lead single, titled ‘Not Dead Yet’, sees Ledger following similar territory to the signature anthemic alternative rock sound Skillet have become well known for, with a somewhat harder edge and sharing similarities to ex-Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm.

LEDGER has also been confirmed to perform live as the opening act to Skillet‘s Unleashed Tour, also featuring For King and Country.

Hear ‘Not Dead Yet’ here: