Category Archives: Music Reviews

Melodic death metal band Astralborne keeps its debut, Eternity’s End, fresh with a handful of stylistic changeups

Photo Courtesy of Prosthetic Records

Last year, Toledo trio Astralborne self-released its hour-long debut album, Eternity’s End. But now, the hearty LP — forged by two members of the Viking metal band Hammer Horde and Paul Fuzinski from Blood of the Prophets — has been re-released by Prosthetic Records, widening the reach of the Ohio band’s melodic death metal sound.

Overlooking the expected electric guitar riffs and guttural vocals one would expect from a death metal record, what’s most pleasantly surprising about Eternity’s End is its use of acoustic instruments. Both the opening and closing songs, which act as album bookends, feature an acoustic guitar as the lead accompanied by swelling background chords. A cello also makes welcome appearances on the epic 12-minute title track and the song “Architect of Suffering,” the latter adding a small dose of piano, as well. The brief respites these instruments offer from the surplus of blast beats and shredding makes Eternity’s End more dynamic than the average melodeath release.

As for electric contributions, Derik Smith’s layered guitar playing and Fuzinski’s growled vocals stand out as the driving forces of Eternity’s End. Although drummer Jayson Cessna’s double bass rhythms provide a strong foundation and even shine on songs such as the title track, the melodic elements on this record take center stage. Smith’s breakneck clawing on the single “Transcendence of Flesh” and subtle riff around the three minute mark of “The Obliterators” create memorable moments that expand upon the genre’s standard mold.

Thematically, however, the album doesn’t stray from the usual subject of metal music, namely mortality and the nature of the world. Fuzinski’s lyrics ponder celestial rebirth in places such as the chorus “Transcendence of Flesh,” where, bolstered by Smith’s guitar, he sings “Voice of a soul/Reborn in by fire/Decode and decipher the language of stars.” Later, on the paradoxically-named title track, he remains “watching and waiting for the end of eternity” when he can finally “break free from these chains” and achieve the post-human form he seems to seek throughout the album as an ultimate goal.

Unfortunately, while Fuzinski’s vocals are impactful and discernible, his bass playing is buried so far down in the mix that it seldom comes to the surface with exceptions on songs such as the groove metal changeup “Centuries (In Agony)” and the instrumental showcase of “Inglorious 20XX.” Additional low end would have given even more oomph to these 11 tracks, but it’s absence doesn’t cause any major problems.

Astralborne, by carefully mapping out every riff, drumbeat and lyric, manages to craft a debut that shows musical and conceptual ambitions, separating Eternity’s End from death metal albums that simply rest on being brutal and dense. If the Ohio trio continue to put the same amount of care and effort into its future releases, they will certainly attract listeners who seek out heavy metal that’s elevated beyond its traditional form.

4/5

Threadbare channels many musical styles through a jazz lens on debut LP, Silver Dollar

Photo Courtesy of NoBusiness Records

Threadbare’s Silver Dollar isn’t a conventional jazz record. Despite having instruments that might belong to a jazz trio — bass clarinet, guitar and drums — the Chicago group infuses rock, metal and free jazz flare to give each of the eight tracks a unique feel.

The only two similar tracks on the 50 minute release are connected by title. “Threadbare 02,” which comes first, is a sparse tundra marked by negative space, faraway cymbal crashes, spacey guitar notes and Jason Stein’s masterful bass clarinet playing. By the end of the nearly nine minute track, the band sounds like it’s on the cusp of playing an actual song. Later in the record, the nervous follow up “Threadbare” shows the band finding a song structure using skillful harmonies and a memorable guitar vamp to close it out.

And speaking of guitar, guitarist Ben Cruz’s inspired playing on Silver Dollar elevates each track, whether it’s his heavy, distorted chords on the title track, his interplay with Stein’s careening clarinet on the opener or fretboard-spanning lines on the closer, “Untitled.” Despite Stein’s status as a bandleader in a couple groups, Cruz manages to outshine him at points, creating his own spotlight moments.

Drummer Emerson Hunton, who plays with Cruz in the band Moontype, also offers his restrained, jazz drumming, giving both of the “Threadbare” parts an ethereal sense of rhythm. Hunton’s punchy, chaotic hits on the album’s shortest song, “Funny Thing Is,” give it a bebop feel that makes the track stand out among the alt-rock textures he and Cruz create on “70 Degrees and Counting Down” or the doom metal influence on “Silver Dollar.” They both provide an engaging template for Stein’s ducking and soaring clarinet soloing.

Although Silver Dollar contains no spoken lyrical statements, Stein’s expressive playing acts as the next best thing. The Chicago veteran musician shows great tone control over his clarinet and often hangs in the spaces between notes to create an eerie effect. The album’s best moments come when he plays in harmony with Cruz’s guitar, creating a melodic texture you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The only downside is that it happens so infrequently throughout the record’s runtime.

Fusing jazz playing with the flavors of several different types of music, Threadbare have released an engaging debut that never fails to hold attention. With each track contributing a new feel or furthering a previous arrangement, Silver Dollar makes a strong, holistic impression through its various styles and textures, as well as its tight musical chemistry.

4.5/5

Mourning [A] BLKstar present more than an hour of heartfelt neo soul on fourth LP, The Cycle

Photo from Don Giovanni Records

The Cycle might run a little long with its surplus of slow-to-mid tempo love songs. But, Mourning [A] BLKstar’s ambitious double new album holds interest by drawing listeners into more than an hour of lush, energetic atmospheres that have no shortage of booming drums, soaring vocals and a tight brass section. Continue reading Mourning [A] BLKstar present more than an hour of heartfelt neo soul on fourth LP, The Cycle

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

Photo Courtesy of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding

It’s rare to hear jazzy instruments like the vibraphone or the double bass accompanied by the smooth swelling of a string quartet.

But on Last Flight Out, the second collaboration between Chicago singer-guitarist Steve Dawson and his backing band Funeral Bonsai Wedding, unconventional musical pairing intertwine to create a uniquely bright and buoyant soundscape. The album’s musicians skillfully adjust their playing for what each jazzy folk tune demands, supporting Dawson’s lyrics that strive toward creating a better tomorrow. Continue reading Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer

Photo Courtesy of American Dreams Records

Red Summer, the sixth and latest album by avant gospel innovators ONO, marks the Chicago group’s 40 anniversary with a record that surveys the many racial injustices of American history and indicts the authorities that permitted it. Continue reading ONO surveys America’s history of racial injustices on biting new album, Red Summer