Saint Asonia – “Flawed Design” (Spinefarm)

Saint Asonia – Flawed Design
(Spinefarm)

‘The fire in me hasn’t died,’ Saint Asonia frontman Adam Gontier defiantly proclaims on “Blind,” the opening track off the band’s new album Flawed Design. We are all the benefactors of that statement as rock music is better when the former Three Days Grace throat is laying his voice on wax. With Art of Dying bassist Cale Gontier  (Adam’s cousin) and Staind drummer Sal Giancarelli joining the fold for their Spinefarm Records debut, Saint Asonia deliver a steady record full of the requisite moments of hard rock bliss (“Blind,” “This August Day,” “Justify”) counterbalanced with pace tempering ballads (“Ghost,” “Flawed Design,” “Martyrs”). You’ve heard “The Hunted,” one of this year’s best rock tracks, featuring Godsmack’s Sully Erna, who helped write the track, as well as “Beast,” the album’s first two singles that double as two of the albums strongest moments. “The Fallen” properly pays fitting tribute to late vocal icons like Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Tragically Hips’ Gord Downie.

Flawed Design is an album that reflects the extreme highs and lows Gontier has endured in the four years since releasing their self-titled debut, including narrowly avoiding death after a substance relapse and becoming a new father, because the argument could be made that these 11 songs are some of the best he has ever written. It’s clear that these songs were written with purpose and not just for the sake of releasing a new album. If nothing else, this album is the light at the end of the tunnel for Gontier, a shining beacon that he has survived the seismic changes life can bring, because like I said, the rock world is better when he is making music.

Go Download: “The Hunted”

The Darkness – “Easter Is Cancelled” (Cooking Vinyl)

Easter Is Cancelled, The Darkness’ first ever concept record centered around a musician’s role in today’s society and their responsibility to challenge the establishment, is a wonderfully woven and picturesque tapestry of the game’s best guitar licks laid atop of sturdy bed of frontman Justin Hawkins’ nearly unparalleled vocal register.

The album is brilliantly bookended by true polar opposites in lead single “Rock and Roll Deserves To Die,” which finds Hawkins defiantly claim, ‘rock and roll your time has finally come, now I’m afraid you must die,’ a rather resounding return to form for the band, and the closing “We Are the Guitar Men,” which sees Hawkins flip the script with lines like ‘we are the guitar men, long live rock and roll.’ Perhaps at some point between the opening and closing tracks, the band drank their own Kool Aid and changed their mind on the future of rock and roll? Either way, I’m glad they changed their minds.

The majority of the body of Easter Is Cancelled is classic Darkness six-string wizardry bookended by Hawkins’ trademark falsetto-fueled hooks (“How Can I Lose Your Love,” “Live Til’ I Die,” “Heart Explodes,” “Easter Is Cancelled”), “Heavy Metal Lover” is delicious nod 80’s hair band sonic excess, complete with the heaviest riffs the band has ever put to wax and The Darkness goes full on ballad mode with their love song “In Another Life.”

The world of rock music is a better place when the Darkness have their guitars in hand, and if you need proof of that, go listen to Easter Is Cancelled. Chances are you’ll be better off because of it.

Go Download: “Rock and Roll Deserves To Die”

Shinedown and Company Prove Rock Is Alive and Well in Buffalo

I have long loved bands with two lead singers – Darwin’s Waiting Room, Linkin Park, Lacuna Coil, Atreyu, From Autumn the Ashes, to name a few – and now I can add Savage After Midnight to that list. This was my first time seeing these dudes live and it was a damn memorable performance. It’s the goal of the opener to warm up the crowd and leave them wanting more, which is exactly what SAM did, even though they only were allotted time for five tracks. They opened with “Unleash,” then fired right into “King,” before the crowd came alive during their heavy take on Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” which came complete with a breakdown. When you’re an opening band that not everyone is familiar with, the classic play is to break out a cover. After that, I got what I wanted when SAM played “Overrated,” the best song off their 11:59 EP in my opinion, before closing the night with their single “Ten Feet Tall.” While Savage After Midnight’s sound is tailor made for arenas, I’d revel in the chance to see them again in a more intimate venue. My guess is they’d blow the fucking roof off of it. Come back soon lads.

Asking Alexandria came next, complete with frontman Danny Worshop’s impeccable fashion sense – his plaid three-piece suit was to die for. Fashion icon alert. They wasted no time in firing off their new single “The Violence” and the equally killer “Into The Fire.” Their acoustic version of “Vultures” was the best version of the song I’ve ever heard, but the highlight of the show came before “Moving On,” when Worsnop feigned a shredding guitar solo as lead guitarist Ben Bruce played the licks off stage. The crowd roared loudly during “When The Light Come On,” and closer “Alone in a Room” was one of the tracks I was looking forward to. When I saw these guys on the last Warped Tour last summer, they killed it, and this performance was no different.

Having just listened to Papa Roach’s latest album Who Do You Trust?, and not caring for it too much, I was on the fence about how their set would be. I was even more nervous as two of the three tracks were off that record (“Who Do You Trust?”, “Elevate”), though all my reservations were quickly vanquished when P Roach ripped off Infest classics “Between Angels and Insects” and “Blood Brothers,” before playing “Last Resort” a few tracks later, following a short break that saw frontman Jacoby Shaddix reemerge onstage wearing a Jack Eichel jersey, which he kept on the remainder of the show. I was stunned to hear “Blood Brothers,” assuming we would get “Broken Home” if anything. Shaddix even made his made through the crowd and up into the stands during “Help,” which was pretty awesome to see. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen Papa Roach live (including one time Shaddix landed on my head in the mosh pit after leaping off a metal stanchion, but that’s a story for another time), and it’s great to see them still putting on a great live show. “It sounds like rock and roll is alive and well here in Buffalo,” Shaddix said at one point. Truer words were never spoken.

As expected, Shinedown’s set was littered with single after single, including “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom), “Enemies,” “Monsters,” “I’ll Follow You,” “Bully” and oh so many more. I’m a major proponent of bands using fire onstage, which Shinedown did in spades here. And it helped that I was so close to the stage I could feel the heat. We got “45” and “Simple Man” too, before “Sound of Madness” and “Brilliant” closed out the night in style. This band has quite the ability to control a crowd; it was truly something to see.

Not to say that my love of heavy music was waning or anything close, but I felt reinvigorated after this show. I loved seeing Asking Alexandria again, Papa Roach was still able to blow me away after all these years and Savage After Midnight solidified me as a diehard. I want, nay, need, to see these guys again in a smaller venue. I might lose my mind. Let’s make this happen boys.

Cold – “The Things We Can’t Stop” (Napalm Records)

As Cold, a product of the early-ought’s nu-metal movement, returns with The Things We Can’t Stop, their Napalm Records debut, they sound like a band reborn, rather than a simple retread from a bygone era.

Harkening back to the layered emotional intricacies of their [brilliant] eponymous debut (minus the heavy grunge), The Things We Can’t Stop is teeming with one contextual moody alt-everything jam after another (“Shine,” “Snowblind,” “The Devil We Know,” “Better Human,” “The One That Got Away”). Perhaps the band spun Death Valley Dreams’ Lust In The Modern World (guitarist Nick Coyle’s side project) on repeat in the rehearsal space?

But The Things We Can’t Stop isn’t easily pigeonholed – Cold does justice to Snow Patrol in a wonderful reimagining of their hit “Run,” “Without You” is a throwback to the radio-readiness of 2003’s Year of the Spider, longtime frontman Scooter Ward flexes his familiar range on expansive standout “Quiet Now” and passionate ballad “Beautiful Lie” follows previous emotive bangers like “Bleed,” before Coyle steps in the share vocals duties with Ward on memorable closing sequence “We All Love.”

Rather than being the answer to the question, ‘hey, remember this band, they sang that song,’ The Things We Can’t Stop plots a new sonic course for Cold. And hopefully this is the start of a much welcomed second act.

Go Download: “Snowblind”

Vinnie Caruana – “Aging Frontman” (Know Hope Records)

With the sullen lines ‘unlock your tired heart, we won’t have this pain forever, just let your demons free, let the warmth wash over you,’ The Movielife frontman Vinnie Caruana embarks on perhaps his most emotional and introspective journey yet of his tenured solo career with his latest EP Aging Frontman. ‘Do I make you better?’ he stridently asks on opener “Better,” just the first of a handful of reflective tracks to come. From there, “Dying in the Living Room” delivers immersive textures awash in hazy screams, the brooding “I Love You, Please Watch Over Us” offers a brief respite from the rest of Aging Frontman via fuzzed out guitar strums, “Providence” is a slice of folksy, front porch Americana, and “Tex ‘The Rock’ Johnson” closes out Aging Frontman with some serious country western vibes. Aging Frontman finds Caruana pouring his heart onto wax for all the world to hear, which was clearly the most difficult part of the process, and all we have to do is listen, which is the easy part.

Go Download: “Better”