7 Stone Riot Releases ‘Scratching the Surface’ EP

7 Stone Riot is a hard rock band from Birmingham, Alabama. Formed in 2013, the five piece act has been crushing the local and regional scene since its conception, playing shows with such bands as Trapt and Nonpoint. They are soon to add Fozzy and Adelita’s Way to that list.

Last year, 7 Stone Riot shared two singles — “I’m Alive” and “Time Will Tell” — in preparation for the upcoming EP, and this past Wednesday Scratching the Surface was released.

7 Stone Riot has a raw energy that bleeds through on record. Front man Whit Millsap has a very distinctive voice, clean but not without a gritty edge, that works well over the heavy-yet-melodic approach the band takes to many of its songs. I would draw a comparison between them and Fuel, Like a Storm, Breaking Benjamin, etc.

Any track from Scratching the Surface would be at home on the airwaves of a rock/metal station. I particularly enjoyed “Talking in Circles” and “Time Will Tell.” The former has some standout work by bassist Tyler Millsap, while the latter is slower and threaded with beautiful guitars and the haunting lyrics to match.

I would highly recommend checking out Scratching the Surface. You can find the EP on all digital platforms. Signed physical copies are also available.

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Album Review: Tremonti’s A Dying Machine

Band: Tremonti

Album: A Dying Machine

Genre: Rock/Metal

Release Date: June 8, 2018

Standout Tracks: “Desolation,” “Traipse,” “A Dying Machine,” “Trust,” “The First The Last,” “As the Silence Becomes Me,” and “A Lot Like Sin”

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I have labeled half of the album as “standout,” if that is any indication of my love for Tremonti’s A Dying Machine. I had a pretty good idea from the moment the title track, which is the core of this rock opera, was released that I was going to adore this record, but nothing could have prepared me for the perfection that would soon be gracing my ears. A Dying Machine kicks off with the hard-hitting “Bringer of War” and carries the listener on an intriguing musical journey, concluding with the instrumental “Found.” In the middle is some of the best work I have heard from Tremonti.

While staying true to their metal influences with such songs as “From the Sky” and the blistering “The Day When Legions Burned,” Tremonti also takes a left turn into the unexpected (“Take You With Me”) and the emotional (“Desolation”). They have used everything in their creative arsenal to tell us this story.

A Dying Machine is the perfect lovechild of its predecessors, yet it surpasses all of them. With each album, the band — consisting of Mark Tremonti, Eric Friedman, and Garrett Whitlock — has evolved. Their musical prowess has reached new levels, enabling them to take chances that certainly have paid off. Mark has grown as a lyricist, and his vocals on this latest effort are magnificent. His performance on the title track from Dust, as well as “Unable to See,” heralded what was to come; however, he pushes himself further on A Dying Machine, using his voice to evoke emotion more than he ever has before.

I can’t praise Tremonti enough for their unwavering dedication to this new wave of metal, heavy and melodic, unafraid to include a softer, more vulnerable side, or to bring in elements that supposedly have no place in the genre (something Mark has been doing with Alter Bridge for years). These unique inclusions are what make Tremonti stand out. In fact, they make the band rise above many of its contemporaries.

Offering a breath of fresh air to the hard rock/metal scene, A Dying Machine is my pick for Album of the Year. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I rate this record 5/5 stars.

And keep your eyes open: there will be a book based on A Dying Machine.

Review: Shinedown’s Attention Attention

Band: Shinedown

Album: Attention Attention

Genre: Rock

Release Date: May 4, 2018

Standout Tracks: “Attention Attention,” “Creatures,” “Get Up,” “Special,” “The Human Radio,” and “Brilliant”

As if it’s not obvious from the above list of songs I’ve labeled as standouts, I really enjoyed Shinedown’s Attention Attention. The record’s first actual track is “Devil,” which is an immediate one-two punch of heavy riffs and Brent Smith’s strong vocals. This was not too different from prior Shinedown singles and gave me no warning for what was to come.

“Black Soul” hits the ground running. While undoubtedly aggressive, the song grabs the listener and pulls us along for the ride. I was captivated from the keyboard riff that introduced this track, all the way through the fast-paced, the melodic, the raw and unfiltered, the heartfelt, and Brent’s calmly stated “Until next time” at the conclusion of the album.

With Attention Attention, Shinedown touches on the anthemic (“Attention Attention”), the hard and angry (“Kill Your Conscience,” “Pyro”), and their own unique brand of balladry (“Get Up,” “Special”). The record spans the range of human emotion, taking its audience high and low.

Brent Smith stated in interviews that Attention Attention was for the fans, and the sentiment is clearly there. It’s a whirlwind journey from darkness to light that is simultaneously enjoyable, encouraging, and a musical masterpiece.

I am clearly a sucker for the softer songs, and that’s why “Get Up” and “Special” tug at my heartstrings and claim positions one and two of my favorites from the album. However, I was also delighted by the head-bobbing funky bass and beat during the verses on “The Human Radio,” and the slow then blistering ride that is “Brilliant.”

From start to finish, there is nothing about Attention Attention that I did not like. I give this record 5/5 stars without any hesitation.

Review: Sevendust’s All I See Is War

Band: Sevendust

Album: All I See Is War

Genre: Rock/Metal

Release Date: May 11, 2018

Standout Tracks: “Descend,” “Moments,” “Not Original,” “Life Deceives You,” and “Medicated”

I am not one of the Sevendust faithful, so to speak. I don’t watch the calendar and count the days until the Georgian metal band’s next release. However, when I read Lou Brutus’s praise for All I See Is War, I knew I needed to check it out.

I was not disappointed. Though I found the first two tracks — “Dirty” and “Risen” — to be par for the course, there is something about the album as a whole that really appealed to me. The latter half, in particular, really jumps out.

I have always appreciated Lajon Witherspoon and company’s lack of fear when it comes to showing a softer side to their typically hard-hitting music (“Skeleton Song,” anyone?). Needless to say, the melodic heaviness and gorgeous crooning on tracks such as “Descend,” “Moments,” and “Life Deceives You” were the highlights for me.

All I See Is War has the staples that Sevendust fans have loved for the last two decades. Add in the time-relevant lyrics and the ratio of melancholy, ruthless, and groove-driven, and you get a record that is a must for any music collection.

As a side note, I would like to say that I don’t even have the words to describe “Not Original.” Lajon’s vocal delivery is worthy of chills, and the guitar work from Clint Lowery and John Connolly carry the soulful performance to new heights. It is definitely my favorite song on the album.

Overall, I would give All I See Is War 4/5 stars. A balance of old and new, there are plenty of interesting elements here that make me excited for the future of Sevendust.

Album Review: Almost Kings’ Forever This Time

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Band: Almost Kings

Album: Forever This Time

Genre: Rap/rock

Release date: August 25, 2017

Standout tracks: “Better Than This,” “OMG,” “Closer to You,” and “Bad One”

I never know what to expect from Almost Kings, and that may hold true more for this album than any of their others. After a few lineup changes, including the addition of a second rapper and a DJ, there was no way to anticipate how Forever This Time would sound. Every record Almost Kings has released has been different from its predecessor, but what direction would they take with only two of the original members left?

Well, I’ll tell you. There is not a single dull moment on this album. In the opening track, “With Force,” the listener immediately receives an introduction to Jude Buckingham, who lends his own brand of rap to Bozeman’s smooth flow. There is also a shining example of what DJ Breezus Khrist can do.

And the formalities end there.

Almost Kings storms in at the top of their game, and they don’t slow down until Bozeman’s promise at the very end of the record: “We ain’t leavin’.”

The band stays true to its interesting blend of rap and rock with songs such as “Envy and Enemies,” “Forever This Time,” and “Where It All Ends.” The rock edge is heavier than ever, the subject matter matching the vibe, tending towards rising above your enemies and the realization of our own mortality.

Not for nothing, though, is Almost Kings known as a party rock band. Want something to get you moving? “OMG,” “Bad One,” “Lit,” and “The Weekend” fit the bill nicely, further showcasing AK’s funk/dance/hip-hop side.

A harder and funkier punch than their past releases, intricately woven with that uniqueness that keeps the AK faithful coming back, Forever This Time is a perfect example of why we love this Atlanta-based sextet. This album has something for everyone. You’ll go from headbanging, to bobbing your head, to dancing like a fool, and you will love every minute of it.

I don’t have an official rating system, but I used “stars” when I reviewed Alter Bridge’s The Last Hero, so… I give Forever This Time 5/5 stars. If you’re already familiar with Almost Kings, I’m certain you’ll be satisfied. If you’ve never heard them, then this is a fantastic place to start!

Review: Alter Bridge’s The Last Hero

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Band: Alter Bridge

Album: The Last Hero

Genre: Rock

Release Date: October 7, 2016

Standout Tracks: “Show Me a Leader,” “My Champion,” “Cradle to the Grave,” “You Will Be Remembered,” “Twilight,” and “The Last Hero”

 

I don’t know the best way to describe Alter Bridge’s The Last Hero. Several words come to mind — magnificent, flawless, great — but I don’t believe any of them quite cover it.

Chills erupt the instant “Show Me a Leader” begins. Musically, the track is exceptional, and lyrically, it is powerful and relevant and doesn’t pander to either side, a feat that is very difficult. Vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy’s brilliant songwriting is showcased from the get-go.

“Show Me a Leader” is followed by two heavier tracks filled with social commentary, “Writing on the Wall” and “The Other Side.” Touching on an edgier, darker vibe, these two songs should satisfy even the pickiest of metalheads.

With the rapidity that only Alter Bridge can manage, the album then takes a complete one-eighty, and we are given “My Champion.” I would categorize this as a more basic rock song musically, except for that guitar solo. However, the words are some of the most beautiful I have ever heard. Myles is the king of encouragement, of writing lyrics that make you both laugh and cry. “My Champion” is my favorite, by far.

After this breather, the album plunges back into the harder side of things, with the darkly melodic “Cradle to the Grave” and “This Side of Fate.” These precede “You Will Be Remembered,” the only thing resembling a ballad on The Last Hero. Beautifully written, this is definitely another highlight for me.

The album concludes with the title track, “The Last Hero,” a fitting close to such an amazing album.

From the first second until the final note, The Last Hero is fabulous. Filled with tasty guitar licks and complex solos, carried by masterful bass and drums, and topped with Myles Kennedy’s million dollar voice, this album is a 66:13 rollercoaster ride, speaking of social frustration and hopelessness, but also of personal triumph and self-belief. As soon as it is over, you want to jump on again.

I don’t have a rating system, but The Last Hero gets 5/5 stars. After a three year wait, this Alter Bridge fan is 100% satisfied.

Review: Tremonti’s Dust

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Band: Tremonti

Album: Dust

Genre: Rock

Release Date: April 29, 2016

Standout Tracks: “My Last Mistake,” “Dust,” “Tore My Heart Out,” “Never Wrong,” and “Unable to See”

Let me start by telling you that there aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to fully express how much I love this album. From the first second of “My Last Mistake” to the final moment of “Unable to See,” Dust is, simply put, a masterpiece.

Filled with delicious guitar licks carried by flawless drumming and bass, the work on Dust should satisfy even the most critical of rock fans. I can’t do this track by track or this post will be a novel, so I will address the high points, of which there are many.

The first three tracks–“My Last Mistake,” “The Cage,” and “Once Dead”–have that gritty edge I’ve come to expect from Tremonti, an edge that speaks of the fact that the band is heavily influenced by artists such as Metallica. However, as you can probably tell from my list of standout tracks, I am personally most won over by the slower, more melodic songs. ” Tore My Heart Out” and “Never Wrong” are absolutely beautiful, but it is the title track that has me hooked. With lyrics that hit deep, a guitar solo that gives me chills, and what is arguably Mark Tremonti’s strongest vocal performance ever, “Dust” is…perfect.

The album closes with “Unable to See,” which opens with a riff like a hard rock lullaby paired with more of Tremonti’s gorgeous singing and brings the listener to catharsis.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that I don’t love about this album. 5/5 stars, A+, whatever rating system you use, Dust gets full marks. Go pick it up right now! I promise you will not regret it.

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.