‘Emperor of Sand’
11 songs, 51 minutes
Reprise Records (2017)
An old friend once joked that he expected the next Mastodon album to sound a lot like Nickelback.
The guy was taking a swipe at the decidedly un-metal direction this Atlanta-based group has taken on recent albums. And if you listen to “Show Yourself,” the second track on the new record, you can kind of see what he meant.
But despite some obvious pop overtures, “Emperor of Sand” really isn’t a bad album. The song “Steambreather” locks in a mean prog-rock groove that calls Rush to mind. “Roots Remain,” the following track, is just as solid.
This is Mastodon’s best offering since 2009’s “Crack the Skye.” As long as you don’t go into it expecting to hear songs in the vein of “March of the Fire Ants,” you should have no problem enjoying this one.
‘Like an Arrow’
12 songs, 48 minutes
Legged Records (2016)
This is a band that’d sound equally at home opening for ZZ Top as it would opening for Eric Church — and has, in fact, already done both.
On last year’s “Like an Arrow,” Blackberry Smoke lays out a down-home Southern swing and, occasionally, hard-rock stomp. Charlie Starr’s voice is comparable to that of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, and the group’s singing dual-guitar leads and walking piano lines evoke ghosts of the original Skynyrd lineup.
Highlights of this album include “Waiting for the Thunder,” a righteous rocker, and low-key “The Good Life.” Also worth noting that “Free On the Wing,” a collaboration with the legendary Gregg Allman, makes for a sweet closer.
The group’s music and merch can be found at www.blackberrysmoke.com.
Southern Lord Recordings (2017)
Unless you were heavy into the stoner-doom scene of the early ‘90s, Sleep means nothing to you musically.
This obscure three-piece act enjoyed a brief cultish fandom at the time for playing slower than just about anyone for longer than just about anyone. “Jerusalem,” released in 1999, includes six eponymous tracks with an average length of eight minutes each — essentially a single 52-minute composition.
So at a hair longer than nine minutes, consider “The Clarity” the band’s experiment with brevity. The band’s droning, Sabbath-meets-Chains, grind-it-out style ages remarkably well: You could have found this song on an old bootlegged tape cassette under your ripped flannels and never blinked.
No metal collection is truly complete without some Sleep in the catalog. See what the buzz is about by sampling on Spotify and then, you know, buy it on vinyl and stuff.
11 songs, 46 minutes
Melantopia Music (2016)
A lot of the music featured in this spot comes by request from area musicians hoping to spread the word.
Sometimes, however, a solicitation comes from outside the region. And, in the case of Melantopia, it comes all the way from Europe.
“Norwegian Summers” is an instrumental composition by Jarl Aanestad of Norway. The style is electronic and ambient, at times eerily similar to music on “The Fragile,” as if Aanestad stole some B-sides from Trent Reznor’s basement. (That’s not a knock on Melantopia — “The Fragile” was among the best records produced anywhere in 1999.)
In spite of its name, the music on “Norwegian Summers” is actually a nice pairing with our dismal winter months in western Pennsylvania.
Stream this mood music now by searching for Melantopia on Spotify.
13 songs, 64 minutes
Independent Artist (2016)
If you frequent venues such as The Castle Pub in Ebensburg, Slammin Sam’s in Moxham or The Alley near Central City, you may already know about these guys.
Based out of Nanty Glo, One Adam 12 is making sure that original rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and well on the local circuit. The group infuses radio and horror-movie samples into their punk-styled songs in a way that’s reminiscent of some of groups prominent in the 1990s. There are also similarities to Coliseum, a Kentucky-based trio whose 2013 release delivered, quite frankly, some of the genre’s best tracks since the dawn of the new millennium.
“Earworm” represents a comprehensive and ambitious effort by this group. In an age where many bands are tossing out two- or four-song EPs like candy from a Halloween float, these guys have penned a full-length with panache.
To hear what’s happening in Blacklick Valley, look them up on Spotify — or check listings at any of the venues mentioned in the lede for a live experience.
‘Caught up in the Gears of Application’
11 songs, 38 minutes
Housecore Records (2016)
All the acumen is there.
For the non-immersed in heavy metal culture, Superjoint features former members of Crowbar and Pantera, the latter being architect of the indisputably heaviest album ever to debut at Billboard’s No. 1: “Far Beyond Driven.” So what you get is a shepherd’s pie of sludge and punk, drizzled with death metal squeals and less-than-appetizing subject matter.
The songs most sample-worthy on this effort include the title track, “Ruin You” and “Receiving No Answer to the Knock.”
With three full-lengths under their belt, these guys still have yet to pen their metal masterpiece. But with this recent display of discordant aggression and raw vehemence, these middle-age thrashers show no sign of mellowly aging with grace.
Amen to that.
10 songs, 42 minutes
RCA Records (2016)
Their original fanboys and fangirls will be disappointed that the group’s roots as blues-inspired Southern rock seem gone for good. But Kings of Leon seems content enough in their more contemporary role as torch-bearers of arena alt-rock.
“WALLS,” the band’s latest release, appears to confirm this, as the Followill family writes a tight bunch of safely assembled pop numbers.
There are high points, to be sure. “Reverend” is driving and undeniably catchy, “Around The World” a sure-fire dance hit and “Muchacho” takes the music into refreshingly instrumental territory, with a fine solo backed by a Latin beat.
Still, it’s hard not to expect a little more from these guys. And even their more recent fans seem to agree: After debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 20, the album dropped swiftly to No. 20.
‘Countach (For Giorgio)’
Nine songs, 40 minutes
BCR Records (2016)
The formula for Shooter Jennings could have been simple and quite lucrative.
As the son of country music legend Waylon Jennings, all he had to do was hire some Nashville writers, perch a cowboy hat on his head and croon about tractors. But Shooter aims for whatever fits his whim — and his fans are richer for it.
With the release of “Countach (For Giorgio),” Shooter pays homage to famous Italian producer Giorgio Moroder, who worked with artists such as Blondie, David Bowie and Donna Summer. All tracks on the album were either composed or inspired by Moroder.
The result is a decidedly ‘80s-sounding assortment of up-tempo, ambient tracks featuring a diverse list of studio guests: Marilyn Manson, Brandi Carlile and Steve Young (the country singer, not football great). It’s a fun, easy listen, one that’s far less than intense than 2010’s “Black Ribbons,” which was darn near a masterpiece.
“Countach (For Giorgio)” probably isn’t Shooter’s best album, but if death is boredom, this release can be said to at least keep things lively.
‘The Boy Who Died Wolf’
11 songs, 45 minutes
300 Entertainment (2016)
This was a band with a whole lot to live up to.
Highly Suspect’s major debut, “Mister Asylum,” included Grammy-nominated “Lydia,” a song that dominated the airwaves last year like perhaps no other in rock. Enter just one year later “The Boy Who Died Wolf,” where fans find a sound slightly more nuanced and reserved, dosed heavily with a classic blues infusion.
Topics on the album range from the deeply personal (”My Name Is Human” and “Serotonia”) to the fiercely political (”Viper Strike”). All throughout they maintain the grungy feel and intoxicating potency not heard since Cobain left us in ‘94.
Maybe this one won’t have the same transcendent appeal of “Mister Asylum.” Bottom line: Highly Suspect is still among the best and freshest power trios in contemporary rock — period.
‘The Direction of Last Things’
Seven songs, 46 minutes
Century Media Records (2015)
When it comes to sonic diversity and technical complexity, good luck beating Intronaut.
This progressive California outfit has the nasty-yet-irresistible habit of bringing heavy metal and jazz fusion together in mind-bending ways — and on “The Direction of Last Things” the group continues in this, well, direction. Songs such as “Fast Worms,” “Digital Gerrymandering” and “Sul Ponticello” are exemplary of a style virtually unmatched in its polyrhymic and harmonic excellence.
If Between the Buried and Me, Tool and Opeth are already in your catalog, consider adding Intronaut. They temper harsh disonance with phenomenal melody and unpredictable hooks. The result is ecstactic.
Tasty samples can be found at https://intronautofficial.com.
‘A Brooklyn Biography’
Six tracks, 22 minutes
Wake Up Records (2016)
Amy Priya and Stephen Sunshine wonder if their style of music might be characterized as “urbangrass.”
Sub-genre classification remains debatable, there’s one thing that’s clear about this duo: Their music is eccentric and old-timey — an off-color coffee-shop-type experience.
Sunshine Nights beams brightest when the instrumentation takes focus. Solos on song such as “NYScene,” “Bedford Stomp” and “Coney Island” immerse the listener in a tactful mastery of scales.
Priya and Sunshine plan to tour this fall and spring. Sample their songs and check the dates at sunshinenights.com.