Unsung Materpieces

Unsung Masterpieces: Off With Their Heads- Home

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Punk music has always been one of those genres that I’ve loved since first listen. It goes all the way back to being about 5 or 6 and hearing the Ramones. From that point onward, I was hooked. There was something about the simplicity of the music that hit home but also the honesty. Granted the latter part didn’t really hit till I got older, I could still sense there was something special about this style of music. As time passed I got more and more into punk music from the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Then 1994 happened and punk music exploded yet again with bands like Green Day, The Offspring and Rancid. It was then that I really delved into what punk music was all about. I then discovered bands like Black Flag, Bad Religion, etc. It was then that I realized the “heavier” side of punk music was for me. So over the years I found myself seeking out those bands that fit that style more. Which brings me to a band I heard a few years ago that has always stood out to me.

Back in 2013 there was an album that came out called Home by a band called Off With Their Heads, and there was something about this record that really left a mark. This band had the whole package, from hard hitting riffs and super punchy bass and drums to the honest lyrics and vocal delivery that made it all believable. Home, Off With Theirs Heads’ third full-length (though it could be considered their fourth depending on if you count the Hospitals record as an album), found the group diving deeper into experimentation without compromising their roots.  This album is “real” and it’s grit shows through. When you have songs that tackle topics like anxiety, anger, and self loathing, it’s tough not to feel a connection. There is an underlying sense of catharsis to these songs which makes the end result feel very positive and optimistic. Songs like “Start Walking,” “Shirts,” “Nightlife,” “Focus On Your Own Family,” “Don’t Make Me Go,” “Always Alone,”and “Stolen Away” are not only standout songs but, anthems as well.

Singer Ryan Young has a voice that you feel every word he sings. It’s one of those immediate voices that will stay with you and act as a mantra of sorts. Musically, Off With Their Heads hit you like a ton of bricks. There is a real sense of urgency to the way they play and deliver the songs. You can really hear that on Home. Off With Their Heads are the type of band that has much in common with their punk influences but also bands like Jawbreaker and Jawbox. The realness and honesty (there’s that word again) really shines through in this band. That is something that will always have a lasting effect on those that listen and take the words to heart. Do yourselves a favor and take a listen to this unsung masterpiece and, celebrate a true work of art!

 
Off With Their Heads- Home:

Unsung Masterpieces: Snapcase- Progression Through Unlearning

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There are certain albums that over the years have made quite an impact on so many bands. In the punk, hardcore/post hardcore genres specifically there is one album that is often sited as a huge inspiration not only in songwriting but also production. That album is Snapcase’s 1997 album Progression Through Unlearning. Just as The Shape Of Punk To Come by the Refused helped to change the landscape of hardcore and punk, Snapcase really ignited a fuse within the hardcore/punk community.

Interestingly, Progression Through Unlearning was actually a rebirth of sorts for the band. Their primary songwriter, guitarist Scott Dressler, left the band for graduate school. Thus leaving the rest of the guys in their tiny, dungeon-like basement practice space with a new member and a new lease on band life. The first song they wrote with their new line up was the first song on the album “Caboose.” Progression Through Unlearning was produced by the now legendary Steve Evetts. The band chose Steve based on his work on Lifetime’s Hello Bastards and Deadguy’s Fixation on a Coworker. 

The finished product was 32 minutes of pure and unrelenting hardcore. The band has stated over the years that with Progression and working with Steve Evetts, it was the first time anyone had been able to capture the true essence of what Snapcase really is. Something else that makes this album stand out from all their others is the lyrical content. Progression Through Unlearning was based around the idea of self-improvement through inward reflection. It encouraged the listener to take a look at the layers that society defined them by to discover the strength buried underneath.

After Progression was released, Snapcase hit the road with bands like Deftones and Quicksand, as well as a spot on the Vans Warped Tour. The legacy of the band’s live shows and this album in particular has helped to pave the way for so many bands that came after them. The production of this album is something that sort of also lives in infamy. So many bands, including Deftones have tried to replicate what was created with Progression Through Unlearning.

Snapcase were always out there on the road and grinding it out through 2005 when they called it quits. Over the years though, Snapcase have reunited for various one off shows. Now in 2018, it seems that Snapcase are preparing for a return and it will be one welcomed with open arms.

 

Snapcase- Progression Through Unlearning:

 

Snapcase- Spike Up Your Tone (first new song in 16 years!!!!):

Unsung Masterpieces: Danzig III- How The Gods Kill

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The year is 1992 and most of the musical world is caught up in the Seattle sound. It seems as though metal and music of that ilk has been swept aside. But was it really? No it wasn’t, instead it quietly stayed in the shadows and began to create it’s own entity just as punk music did in the 80’s and early 90’s. During this time many bands found a new way to evolve and grow to create albums that would become monumental and impactful. One such album is Danzig III: How The Gods Kill.

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Unsung Masterpieces- Alice In Chains- Alice In Chains

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When you look back at Alice In Chains’ discography, most people tend to look at Dirt and Jar Of Flies as the bands masterpieces. Facelift is often looked as a great album as well. Their self titled and final album with Layne is often overlooked. The album, most commonly referred to as “the tripod” album due to the three legged dog on the cover, is quite possibly one of the deepest and darkest albums the band has ever written.

This album is truly a remarkable record filled with all the things you know and love about Alice In Chains. In a way, it has a bit of a Jar Of Flies vibe to it with the way the acoustic layers are put in, as well as the signature heavy sound. Something else that I’ve always held in high regard about this album is that Layne wrote all the lyrics for the album minus three songs (“Grind,” “Heaven Beside You,” and “Over Now,” all of which Jerry sang lead on). Before this album was recorded, Layne spent his time working with Mike McCreedy on the Mad Season album.

I remember first hearing this album when it came out in 1995 and I was hooked, and that’s not just because “Again” was a rad song. There are so many great songs on this album that have truly become timeless classics like “Sludge Factory,” “Shame In You,” “Brush Away,” “Head Creeps,” “God Am,” and “Frogs.” Though Alice In Chains never toured on the record, probably due to Layne’s increased drug use, some of these songs were performed live during their Unplugged performance. My favorite of these songs done at that time has to be “Sludge Factory.” What a great song that is. I really wish the band would play more from this album live these days. Layne’s performances on these songs are absolutely remarkable. He’s always had a knack for creating great vocal melodies but on this album he really set a standard for how it should be done.  Something else about this album that I’ve always loved is the way it flows. The themes of depression, isolation, drug use, anger and death are all found throughout but, the way the arrangement of the songs are on the album, really leaves a lasting impact the way all the emotions hit you.

I highly recommend you all taking some time and re-introduce yourself to this unsung masterpiece. Not only will it leave you with a sense of awe but, it will add another level of love for Alice In Chains.

 

Alice In Chains- Self Titled:

 

 

 

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Led Zeppelin- Presence

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Looking back at Led Zeppelin’s catalog there is an album that hardly ever gets its due. The first 6 albums are all acclaimed and highly regarded but, there is one in particular that really needs to be in the conversation as well, and that album is Presence. Released in 1976, Presence is an album that strips it down to the root of drums, bass, guitars and vocals. Presence was written and recorded after Robert Plant was recovering from a serious car accident. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time in Malibu, California working on the ideas that Plant had written during his convalescent period. After some time Page and Plant joined up with John Bonham and John Paul Jones for rehearsals before they went to the studio. After 18 days in the studio, Presence was recorded and mixed.

The songs on the album are quite substantial and poignant. Starting off the album with “Achilles Last Stand” is a statement all on it’s own. This song is the epitome of what Zeppelin is. The 10 and a half minute epic that is “Achilles Last Stand” sets a standard on how to kick off an album. “For Your Life” oozes with blues and pain, as Robert was in a wheelchair while he recorded his vocals for the song. “Royal Orleans” has a funk vibe to it, allowing John Paul Jones to show off his seriously underrated bass skills. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a classic Zeppelin blues jam. Jimmy Page really shines on this song. His guitar playing is astounding and beyond influential. “Candy Store Rock” is probably my least favorite song on the album. It seems like a filler song to an extent and doesn’t have the gusto that other songs on the album have. “Hots On For Nowhere” has an interesting history. The first making of the song goes back to Physical Graffiti as well as live renditions of when Zeppelin would play their extended version of “Dazed and Confused.” Ending the album is “Tea For One,” one of my all time favorite songs by the band. The slow mid tempo build that evolves into a blues epic, along with Robert Plant’s vocals and lyrics. “Tea For One” is also the perfect compliment ending to the album.

Presence is a rock n roll album to the fullest. The guitar tones on this record have been copied throughout the years. Not to mention the overall sound of the album. There is a purity about Presence that shines through and through. Perhaps it’s because of what Robert Plant was going through, or even the bands need to capture their roots again but, I will say this, Presence is a game changing album for any music lover. If you are a fan of rock music, then you need to listen to this album and feel all that it has to offer.

 

Led Zeppelin- Presence:

Unsung Masterpieces: Godsmack- Awake

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There are a lot of bands out there that catch a lot of flack. Sometimes it is justified and others well it’s just unwarranted. Recently,while putting together some topic ideas for an upcoming podcast and radio show (stay tuned for that!!!), a thought crossed my mind. Why do people hate on Godsmack so much? I will admit that their name isn’t the most original and at times the lyrics are a bit juvenile but, Godsmack are a band that is absolutely necessary. Think of them more as a gateway band into heavy music. Godsmack are a really solid hard/heavy rock band, mixing bit of Alice In Chains and “Black Album” era Metallica. They emit a sense of accessibility and melody, that sometimes gets lost in translation as you delve into heavier genres. For someone that is young and is starting to get into “rock” music, a band like Godsmack is a great place to start.

The reason I mention all this and single out Godsmack, is because of how good their second album Awake is. They really stepped up their game from their debut. The sound of the album kept a “raw” edge to it, without sounding too polished. The songs were riff heavy but with a ton of groove to them. For a second record, the band shows a sense of maturity throughout the music written. You can tell on the first single “Awake” that they were trying to separate themselves from being lumped into the “nu-metal” tag, by adding guitar solos, and the song being 5 minutes long. “Sick of Life” and “Greed” are solid rock songs, minus the lyrics. Other tracks on the album like “Mistakes,” “Trippin,” “Forgive Me,” “Vampires,” “The Journey,” and “Spiral” really make this album as good as it is. The production on this album was top notch as well.

Godsmack delivered a solid heavy rock album, and continue to do so. Over the years, the juvenile lyrics have subsided and matured. Awake showed a range of songwriting. Songs that weren’t all about depression and hopelessness. Instead themes of reincarnation, and rebirth were very prevalent. The band also has a secret weapon in bassist Robbie Merrill. He has a feel to the way he plays that stands out. Guitarist Tony Rombola, is a student of the 70’s and early 90’s. He’s able to blend those two together just as Jerry Cantrell, but on a simpler level. Sully Erna, on this album started to come into his own. It wasn’t until their fourth album though, that he really found his own voice. The drums on this album are something else to be intrigued by. Tommy Stewart laid down some really great grooves. Though I will say, Shannon Larkin has really taken the songs from the first two albums and made them his own. He’s a true underrated drummer, that should get a ton more credit.

Say what you want about them but, know this, without bands like Godsmack, generations of kids wouldn’t get into heavier music. Take a listen to Godsmack’s Awake and just appreciate the music if anything.

 
Godsmack- Awake:

 

Unsung Masterpieces: Will Haven- Carpe Diem

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If there is one thing that has always been mind blowing to me is that the bands that are huge influences on so many “Bigger” bands are often overlooked by the masses. The strange reality of all this justifies my thoughts that those in charge really don’t have a clue what is good and isn’t. There is a band from the Sacramento area that really left a huge mark on the bands like Deftones and Far. That band is Will Haven. In 2001, Will Haven unleashed what I consider to be an unsung masterpiece entitled Carpe Diem. Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, the ten songs on the album are honest, emotional and chaotic with dashes of atmosphere. There are so many things about this album that have rubbed off on other bands from the guitar tones, song structures, vocal delivery and style, and even lyrical content. Songs like “Bats,” “Carpe Diem,” “Dolph Lundgren,” “Dressed In Night Clothes,” “Finest Our,” and “Moving To Montana,” have been my absolute favorites on this album and still hold up over 15 years later.

If you are a fan of heavy music and you’ve never heard this band or album, I urge you to stop what you are doing for the next hour and listen to this. And if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to Carpe Diem, stop what you are doing and take a trip back to 2001 and rediscover a great album.

 

Will Haven- Carpe Diem: