Bands I Have to Thank My Parents For: The Alan Parsons Project

The Alan Parsons Project consisted of two core members–Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons–as well as various session musicians and a few repeat performers. Woolfson was a songwriter, composer, and pianist while Parsons was a producer and engineer. In fact, Parsons had worked with a few big artists at the time The Project was formed, including The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

While I like basically everything I’ve heard by The Alan Parsons Project, my favorite album will always be their first, Tales of Mystery and Imagination. It was my introduction to the band. I can remember being very young, not even school age, and my mom putting on the record. We used to dance around the living room to “The Raven” with her singing along. She now recalls that that was the song I always requested by The Alan Parsons Project, which more often than not led to us listening to the entire album.

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So, if you didn’t know, Tales of Mystery and Imagination consists of songs that retell certain stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe. The track list on the original album is as follows:

Side One

1. “A Dream Within a Dream” (instrumental)
2. “The Raven”
3. “The Tell-Tale Heart”
4. “The Cask of Amontillado”

Side Two

1.  “(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”
2. “The Fall of the House of Usher” (instrumental)
3. “To One in Paradise”

In 1987, The Alan Parsons Project “revamped” the album to be released on compact disc. Two of the most notable additions are the new guitar passages in “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

I can’t really describe this album. It has a bit of everything, but overall can be categorized as rock. Orson Welles narrates “A Dream Within a Dream” and as the passage comes to an end, a simple bass line begins. Bom, bom, bom … bom, bom, bom … bom, bom, bom … This transitions straight into “The Raven,” and the moment that song starts, I get chills. The song quickly progresses from that repeating bass line and vocals performed through an EMI vocoder into an epic piece of rock music, complete with an orchestra and a choir. It’s just fantastic!

“The Tell-Tale Heart” opens with a bloodcurdling scream, which sets the tone for the entire song. The way the vocals are handled, you can practically hear the storyteller losing his mind. “The Cask of Amontillado” is a piece full of piano and beautifully haunting vocals, contributed by John Miles, and then, there is “(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.” This is my favorite track on the album. A funky guitar riff is intertwined throughout the entire song, then emphasized in the short solo near the end. The music is fun with a great beat, and the rhyming lyrics make singing along easy and enjoyable.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a sixteen minute, ten second instrumental divided into five parts–“Prelude,” “Arrival,” “Intermezzo,” “Pavane,” and “Fall.” With nothing but music, this track shares the story of the weary traveler approaching the House of Usher, the storm that wails outside, and the destruction of the house itself as the traveler rides away, glancing back once to see the house sinking out of sight.

The album closes with the slower tempo and gentle lyrics of “To One in Paradise.” Some have theorized that this song is more about Poe himself than any of his works.

This is an album that everyone should definitely listen to at least once.

Bands You Should Know: Almost Kings

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Band: Almost Kings
Genre: Rap/Rock
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Sounds like: Rage Against the Machine meets the Beastie Boys, with Eminem as the singer
Discography: Filthy Nice (2009), Club Rock EP (2011), Hear Me Out (2013)
Suggested Tracks: “Bounce,” “On Like That,” “Unstoppable,” “Cheers,” “Hold On Me,” and “Lose Control”
The best way to describe Almost Kings is with the clichéd “they are not like anything you’ve ever experienced before.” Only in this case, it’s true. There is no way to fully convey what listening to Almost Kings–or seeing one of their performances–is like.
I was first introduced to the band in July 2012, when a friend urged me to come to a show in Florence, Alabama. I was told that they were rap/rock and was given comparisons to everyone from Linkin Park to Hollywood Undead. Honestly, it left me with no idea of what to expect…and not a lot of hope for what I was about to witness. But I soon discovered that my friend had not done Almost Kings justice. At all.
The show was amazing! Vocalist Bryan Bozeman, guitarist Ryan Yunker, bassist Daniel Helms, and drummer Kevin Compton went non-stop. There was never a dull moment, and the guys didn’t slow down until it was over. They were energetic and interactive, and they gave 100% to every aspect of their performance. I have since found out that this is true at every show. (And it doesn’t hurt that they are four of the nicest guys you will ever meet.)
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While the live shows are nothing short of spectacular, they wouldn’t be what they are if the music itself wasn’t up to par. I asked the band to describe their music in a single word, and Kevin said “diverse,” which summed it up pretty accurately. I have defined them as rap/rock, but they actually span multiple genres. There are so many things about each album, each track, that are appealing, and my interest was held by the fact that no two tracks sounded exactly the same. The only problem with that is it makes it extremely difficult to recommend just one song to a person unfamiliar with the band. It all depends on tastes. Want rap? Listen to “Bounce.” Want rock? Check out “Hold On Me” or “Shadows.” Want something with a touch of funk? Crank up “Lose Control.” Want something fun with a catchy chorus? “Cheers,” “On Like That,” and/or “Unstoppable” should fit the bill nicely.
I have to acknowledge that the first thing that caught my attention was the skill of Bozeman. His rapping is just mind-blowing, and he integrates it in with a full band so seamlessly. I can’t think of anyone else who combines rap and rock as well as Almost Kings.
While Bozeman’s vocals are the most easily discerned part of their sound, when one gets down to it, there is a depth to the music. Almost Kings is one of the few bands that has earned what is perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay a band: they are multi-faceted. They are not stuck emphasizing one member over and over again, because all four of them are very talented. This makes it possible for them to highlight a different element in each song.
Putting it simply, Almost Kings is the most fun you will ever have listening to music, and one of  the most entertaining live shows you will ever witness. Easily enjoyed by anyone, but with the talent to satisfy fellow musicians and music connoisseurs alike, this is a band that should definitely have a place in your music library. Do yourself a favor and check them out. Now!

Review: Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail to the King

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Band: Avenged Sevenfold
Album: Hail to the King
Genre: Rock
Release Date: August 23, 2013
Standout Tracks: “Hail to the King,” “Heretic,” and “Acid Rain”
There is no way I can do a review of an Avenged Sevenfold album without letting my fan status come in. It’s just not possible. I have loved this band since 2005. Everything about them is amazing. However, despite being a bit biased, I still think I am able to be fair and honest about their latest release, Hail to the King.
The Orange County natives have earned new fans with each successive album, and this time is no different. Hail to the King is much more simple and straightforward than what they usually do, which a lot of people enjoy. It is undoubtedly a great rock album, but not Avenged’s best. I do not intend this to be an insult; I am simply partial to City of Evil.
I have never before heard Avenged sound so much like their influences. There have always been bits and pieces of Metallica, Guns N Roses, Led Zeppelin, etc. However, I have never been able to listen to a song and immediately say “This sounds just like [insert song title here] by [insert band name here].” On this album, I was able to do that on multiple tracks. Again, this is not an insult. I’m just not used to that on an Avenged Sevenfold record.
Front man Matt Sanders, aka M. Shadows, really rocked it this go-around. His vocals were better and stronger than ever, especially on the title track and “Acid Rain.” And while less complex than what the band normally comes out with, I really enjoyed the fun groove-oriented music the band created.
Lastly, I have to note that “Acid Rain” is literally one of the best songs Avenged has ever done. It’s so different from their other stuff, and we all know how the band is constantly changing. The song hints at a direction Avenged could head on the next album.
I see a lot of potential in this lineup. The loss of drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan in 2009 was a devastating one, but I believe that newcomer Arin Ilejay is not beyond his depth here. This album was his introduction to how the band does things and a chance for him to get settled in. I feel that he did not show all he has to offer…yet. But I am sure there is much more to Mr. Ilejay than we have seen.
As I said, the album is great overall, though it is easy to tell that they are having to learn how to play with a new member. There are specific tracks–“Heretic” and “Acid Rain,” for example–that make me very confident in Avenged Sevenfold’s future. The guys are going to be fine, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Review: Lynam’s Halfway to Hell

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Band: Lynam
Album: Halfway to Hell
Genre: Rock
Release Date: December 17, 2013
Standout Tracks: “Dead Man’s Parade,” “Cold,” and “Store Bought Halo”
When I sat down to write this review of Lynam’s 2013 release entitled Halfway to Hell, I found it very difficult for two reasons. First, I’ve been a fan for nearly six years, so my natural inclination is to compare/contrast the EP with Lynam’s other albums, and that would tell absolutely nothing to anyone not familiar with the band. Second, I have established a friendship with Lynam over those six years…and that makes it harder to be objective. But here it is.
An all-encompassing “this record is great” doesn’t really begin to cover it. This album is darker (in its subject matter, at any rate) and heavier than anything Lynam has done before–and it is absolutely magnificent. With the addition of Lonny Paul, who was in Adler alongside vocalist/guitarist/main songwriter Jacob Bunton, the band has reached new levels. I personally believe that Lonny’s input was just what they needed; a fresh perspective that lit a spark in not only Jacob, but drummer David Lynam and bassist Mark Dzier as well. Their influences (all things 80’s) are still evident, but there’s a touch of something else, too. Something that I would call “purely Lynam.”
The EP opens with “Rise Up.” Have you ever heard someone say that certain songs make them want to drive fast? Well, this is that song. The instant it begins, the volume has to be cranked up. A call to anyone who is “so sick of it all,” the song is appropriately fast-paced and angry. The drums beg for listeners to pump their fists and stomp their feet. Plus, let’s be honest, how can you not love any song that encourages its audience to “get your fingers up”? This one will undoubtedly be a huge crowd pleaser at live shows.
“Halfway to Hell” is fun with a catchy chorus, but it is the third track on the album, “Dead Man’s Parade,” that immediately stood out to me. There is nothing I don’t like about this song. The entire 2:49 is a carnival ride complete with an attention-grabbing groove, low gritty vocals, and a short sweet guitar solo thrown in as icing on the cake.
Next is “Cold.” Slower and more melodic, this is definitely another high point on the album. The only words for Jacob’s crooning are “beautiful” and “shiver-inducing.” The music itself is rock-and-roll at its most straightforward, until the 2:50 mark, when the guitar solo is reached. This particular solo offers a taste of what Jacob can do and, luckily, the following track showcases even more of his talent.
“Store Bought Halo” is the shortest of the six songs, yet it quite possibly packs the biggest punch. From start to finish, this song seizes you by the balls and refuses to let go. It’s dirty, it’s sleazy, it’s everything great about glam rock/hair metal mixed with the relentlessness of punk. The simple chorus that you can chant along with, some seriously awesome shredding, the fast-paced beat, and the driving rhythm add up to make this one of the best songs on the album and another that will surely go over well when included on Lynam’s set list.
Finally, the album closes with “Wrong Side of the Grave.” As if the title didn’t give it away, this song has a darker feel to it. The unholy growl/scream in the intro serves to enhance this vibe. The guitar solo bleeds into a breakdown, complete with a chant of “Hey!” that gives this song an anthemic quality. Despite being the last track, “Wrong Side of the Grave” does not feel like an end and undoubtedly leaves the listener wanting more.
If this EP is a sign of things to come, I couldn’t be more excited.