Review: “Dominion” by Hammerfall

by Nick Keseric

I recently reviewed Dragonforce’s newest album, Extreme Power Metal, and my thoughts on Hammerfall’s newest album, Dominion, are eerily similar. I would both critique and commend both bands as one thing: consistent. Hammerfall’s early albums were amazing, and at the time were very fresh. As they went on, Hammerfall got better and better…until they peaked, and then kept on at the same level, fluctuating a bit every album.

Barring 2011’s Infected, most of Hammerfall can be described as “templar metal” – lyrically, there’s a low fantasy vibe to most of their music. Musically, Hammerfall stands somewhere between full-on power metal and classic heavy metal, and that’s very evident on Dominion.

The album opens up with “Never Forgive, Never Forget,” something that sounds a lot like it belongs on 2009’s No Sacrifice, No Victory. The slow opening that quickly builds up energy really brings you into the album, and the rest of the song keeps up that high energy.

Following up Never Forgive is “Dominion,” the titular song. Both “Dominion” and “Testify” are a bit slower than some of the other songs on the album, but more than make up for it by being powerful. Both Joacim Cans’ vocals and the backing vocals sting hard in these tracks, and both Oscar Dronjak’s guitar work and the drum work of David Wallin on these songs hit just as hard.

“(We Make) Sweden Rock” is one of those “metal songs that glorify metal,” as well as being an anthem for the band, and it works well for that, though it brings up an issue I have with the album. The album, lyrically, skirts the usual “templar metal” themes of the band, and “(We Make) Sweden Rock” brings me out of that immersion the band brought me into. Even worse is when it’s followed by “Second to One,” It’s almost obligatory for Hammerfall to include a ballad-style song on their albums, and while “Second to One” is good, it serves to bring the album a bit away from their usual themes. “Scars of a Generation” and “Dead by Dawn” sort of bring it back, but it’s not until “Bloodline” that the album really feels like “templar metal” again.

“Bloodline” would have worked well as a title track for the album just as well as “Dominion” would have; for that matter, with the intro track “Battleworn” in front of it, it would also worked very well as an opening track. “Bloodline” certainly feels a lot more “power” than “heavy” by Hammerfall standards, and its follow-up, “Chain of Command,” stays with this theme. A lot of the tracks between “Testify” and “Bloodline” feel kind of in the middle. Finally, we end with “And Yet I Smile,” a sort of metal-ballad that ends the album really well.

All in all, Dominion is a good palette of what Hammerfall has to offer: some powerful songs at the front and more melodic yet still hard hitting hits at the end. It’s still not the band at its height, but it is the band doing what it does well.

Dominion gets 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a bit run-of-the-mill for Hammerfall at this point, but they still made a good album that fans will enjoy.

If you’re interested, you can listen to Dominion on Spotify here.

I also recommend checking out Napalm Record’s Dominion Track by Track on Youtube, for a little bit of context into the songs on the album by lead singer Joacim Cans.

Review: “Extreme Power Metal” by Dragonforce

by Nick Keseric

Dragonforce is one of my favorite bands, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been excited by any of their new releases. I first started listening to them shortly after they released their 4th album, and I was less than impressed with their 5th album, especially as their original vocalist ZP Theart had left. I haven’t really gotten into any of their more recent albums; I’ve given them a listen, but very little left a strong impression like the material on their first four albums. I can safely say however that with their new album I’ve gone back to being excited by Dragonforce’s new material.

I was a little hesitant at Extreme Power Metal; I wasn’t a big fan of their newer music, and the fact that the album name was reused from an earlier song (E.P.M, from their album Ultra Beatdown, was an acronym for Extreme Power Metal, a term they use to refer to their specific style of power metal) but I was pleasantly surprised to find a solid album.

“Highway to Oblivion” is a strong opening song that really shows you what the band is about. It’s nothing too new, but it’s a great addition to the band’s library. Following “Highway” is the over-the-top (both in name and in sound) “Cosmic Power of the Infinite Shred Machine.” Marc Hudson’s vocals really shine here, giving the song that “epic” feel that Dragonforce is so apt at creating. Both of these songs clock in at just over 6 and a half minutes, which is where Dragonforce’s ability to carry on their “extreme” guitar melodies shines the most.

“Heart Demolition” is also an excellent tune, although lyrically it clashes with Dragonforce’s usual motifs. Unfortunately, as one gets further into the album, the songs stop impressing as much. There’s not a single bad song on the album, but the further down in the track list a song is, the shorter it is, and a lot of the shorter songs just don’t impress as much as the longer tracks.  “Razorblade Meltdown” is one such track; good, but if I was putting together a Dragonforce playlist, I just wouldn’t include it since it would get in the way of the band’s other, better work. “Razorblade” manages to at least have a memorable music video – a rather fun video where the band more or less goes full “Tom and Jerry” on each other – but that’s the only thing keeping it from joining “Strangers” and “In a Skyforged Dream” in being forgotten when I’m not listening to the album.

The most notable songs on the album are definitely “The Last Dragonborn” and “My Heart Will Go On.” I stand by “Highway” and “Shred Machine” being the best, but “Dragonborn” and “My Heart Will Go On” are unique. “The Last Dragonborn” is a tribute song to The Elder Scrolls video game series, particularly Skyrim. It’s a nice tribute song, but it completely clashes with the band’s sound and is a weird inclusion on the album. Going from “Shred Machine” to “The Last Dragonborn” and then back to “Heart Demolition” is a huge whiplash. Ending the album is “My Heart Will go On,” a cover of the theme from Titanic. It starts with a chiptune cover of the intro, but the rest of the instrumentals of the song are almost unrecognizable as a cover of “My Heart Will Go On.” That said, the vocals still sound like the original song, keeping it recognizable, and the end result is that Dragonforce made a cover of Celine Dion that still sounds like a great Dragonforce song. And, despite being one of the shortest songs on the album, it never really suffers from the usual mediocrity that the shorter songs suffer from.

Extreme Power Metal is a typical Dragonforce album in many ways. Their longer songs really shine with their unique style, even if they’re nothing new for the band. The shorter songs slap less hard, but are still worth a listen. It’s something that fans of the band will enjoy, and even casual listeners of the band will find it enjoyable at least. It’s certainly my favorite album of theirs post-Ultra Beatdown, for what it’s worth.

Extreme Power Metal gets 3.5 stars out of 5; a better-than-good album in many ways, but not the best Dragonforce has released.

If you’re interested, you can find Extreme Power Metal on Spotify here.

I also recommend checking out the music videos for “Highway to Oblivion,” “Heart Demolition,” and “Razorblade Meltdown” on their official YouTube channel.

Coldplay’s Take on Our Society’s “Everyday Life”

Review by Jared Moser

When I heard Coldplay were releasing a new album, I didn’t know what to think. Part of me was ecstatic, considering their previous album, Head Full of Dreams, was released a whopping 5 years ago, and they’re one of my favorite bands. The other part of me was worried, because there’s a lot of pressure to cap off the decade with a creative bomb shell.

Dropping on November 22nd, Everyday Life is a double LP, separated into two parts, Sunrise and Sunset, each with eight songs. The album attempts to look at today’s society through music, which explains why it’s the first time (out of their eight studio albums) that a Coldplay album is explicit. It’s on the slow side, even for Coldplay, with what I like to call “Imagine Dragons Syndrome,” where an album has a couple of standout songs and the rest seems like filler. With this in mind, Everyday Life has maybe four standout songs, and a couple of others that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I can sense won’t age very well.

The album starts off with a melodic symphony piece, “Sunrise,” similar to the intro track to Viva La Vida, “Life in Technicolor.” It gives an all-instrumental taste of what the rest of the album’s aesthetic is. Though slow, I don’t mind it, because it sets a nice foundation for the album.

Within the first few songs, “Trouble in Town,” stands out among the others. It has a slow, melodic feel, and in place of the bridge, they use a recording of an argument between two men in the city. This is a cool way to bring the grit of reality into the album early. As the men argue, the music swells, developing into a Pink Floyd-like instrumental breakdown around the men yelling. It’s early place in the album gives the rest of the album hope.

The next stand out song is “Daddy,” and while it’s extremely slow, Coldplay implement a classic piano ballad, while lead singer Chris Martin sings softly about father and son issues. From the point-of-view of a son reaching out to his father, seemingly needing him, the father and son relationship is open to interpretation.

While not radio material, “Cry Cry Cry” is my favorite song on the record. It consists of Martin singing softly, alongside an altered voice that sounds like a young child, providing the song with a sense of innocence, over a short and sweet piano piece. Throughout the song are fuzzy crackles and pops, making it seem like you’re listening to vinyl; it’s a fantastic addition that gives the song texture. “Cry Cry Cry” combines the band’s simple and catchy style with their new raw and unfiltered sound, sounding like a classic hit from the 50’s or 60’s with the production value of today.

“Arabesque,” “Orphans,” and “Everyday Life” are some other standout songs of the album for me. From the vocals, sound, and overall feel, they’re essentially what the rest of the album lacks, though I’m not sure Coldplay wanted the whole album to be as production-based and radio worthy as these songs.

Chris Martin said this album is very personal and unfiltered, and the decision they made was to be totally raw and pure. That could explain why the band isn’t doing much promotion or touring, with the exception of an SNL appearance, and a gorgeous live stream of the album being performed in Jordan when it debuted, literally timing it with the sunrise and the sunset.

Even with “raw and unfiltered” as a goal, Everyday Life somehow lacks quite a bit of depth and substance, leaving you unsatisfied when the 53 minutes of music comes to an end. On the surface, the album is beautifully produced and poses “woke” and deep issues. However, as you dig deeper and deeper, it comes off as muddy and has a very unfocused message. It’s an above average album for just any band, but not for a monumental band like Coldplay, leading me to give Everyday Life a 5/10. At the end of the day, though, I’m a Coldplay fan at heart, and I’ll continue listening to, and enjoying, whatever they put out.

The Faim at Chop Shop in Chicago

On October 6th, I had the opportunity to see and photograph an up-and-coming band out of Perth, Australia, The Faim, at Chop Shop in Chicago. The band is currently touring their debut album, State of Mind. From the start of the show, it was evident that the band was going to have quite a stage presence. With their booming punk-alternative sound, the room was filled with music and the crowd was invested. It was the type of show where you could rock out even if you didn’t know a single word to any song.

With the amount of crowd surfers and people singing along, you could tell that every person in the crowd had been looking forward to that show, and rightfully so. The Faim had a way of bringing everyone in the crowd together for a truly unique experience that night. If you’d like to check out their sound for yourself, they released their debut album ‘State of Mind’ earlier this year, and if you ask me, it is worth the listen.

‘Real’ By Dezirae Schalice Review

I’ve been gushing over Real by indie-pop singer-songwriter Dezirae Schalice for weeks now. Since its release on September 16th, I’ve been captivated by Dezirae’s work during my walks on campus and in the studio. Dezirae remarkably infuses electronic keys, distorted guitars, and honest, metaphorical lyrics in her songs about topics such as gaining independence, confronting demons, and questioning what is “real.” There was a lot of excitement and anticipation over this album after Dezirae’s 2018 single “Beautiful People,” and several others came out and left many craving a full release. Real was undoubtedly worth the wait! Below are my thoughts on 5 tunes off of Real:

Loosen Up My Tongue 

Kicking off the album with “Loosen Up My Tongue” was a smart move. The atmospheric guitars at the beginning draw the listener in. This song has a sense of psychedelia and contains cool musical elements that give it its trip. The use of the bells is highly mind-bending. “Loosen Up My Tongue” invites us into Dezirae’s world and captivates listeners right off the bat. 

My Demons 

The vulnerability it takes to write a song like “My Demons” is incredible. The lyrics are truly heartbreaking and honest. Many can relate to being at war with themselves and feeling hopeless. One can hear the raw emotion in Dezirae’s voice, and the harmonies are stunning and add to the power behind this enchanting song. “My Demons” confronts internal struggles that resonate with many. 

My Fault 

Twisted and sexy are two words I would use to describe “My Fault.” The line “Maybe I took the apple just to bite it/And maybe I liked it,” is possibly the favorite line of mine off the album. “My Fault” has a sultry and mischievous tone. The drums stick out to me with how they build up to the chorus and the neat fills tucked in throughout the tune. Also, I love myself a good horn section. The effects on the vocals and the call-and-response technique frequently used are unique aspects of the “My Fault.” 

Not This Time 

“Not This Time” is the boost of empowerment I’ve been longing for in a song! Lyrics like “This is my own damn story/This is my own damn song,” and “I’m granting myself grace/Excuse me for the lack of shame,” are ones that are likely to be shouted in the shower. “Not This Time” is about taking charge of your life and not being so hard on yourself. Whether you’ve recently quit a job that didn’t serve you well, or left a partner that hindered your confidence, this song will leave you feeling strong and loving your new-found independence. “Not This Time” is an example of the many positive messages that that you can find in Dezirae’s work. 

Real 

The beautiful piano ballad that is “Real” shook me to the core. It makes sense why this is the title track, with its gripping lyrics and the power behind Dezirae’s voice shining through. The line “Slowly how you crept it/ stealing drops of serotonin/making me see what you want and leaving me distraught,” is an example of how transparent “Real” is. The song presented itself to me as being about how despite the fact manipulation can distort one’s perception, one can become “free” and overcome with a new sense of self. Dezirae’s vocals and words leave a lasting impact in “Real,” and I can only imagine how intimate this song is performed live. Dezirae sings every word with raw emotion, and it’s truly captivating, and the song gave me major goosebumps. 

I urge you to listen to “Real” in its entirety. Dezirae Schalice is one to look out for in the Chicago-land music scene! Her uniqueness, creativity, and talent make her the star that she is! Make sure to follow her on Instagram and Facebook! She’ll also be joining me in-studio for Local Chaos on October 6th for a live performance and interview! Don’t miss it!  

Local Chaos at Empire Open Mic Night

Meeting and listening to musicians from all over the Chicagoland area was an awesome way to flip around my long, tired Tuesday. I’m a regular at Empire Burger and Brew’s weekly open mic night, but I’ve never seen the place as crowded as it was this last time around. It was my first-time as the open mic’s host, and I had a wild time! There was a great mix of fresh faces who’ve never hit Empire’s stage before, and folks that are constantly coming back for another Tuesday night jam. There’s a great variety of people and music every Tuesday night, and it’s a positive and friendly environment, as well as a fantastic way to connect with local musicians.

I had the pleasure of watching rising pop-singer and songwriter Ava Morse, a Naperville native, who impressed the audience with her strong vocals. This was my second time seeing her perform at Empire, and I can see how much growth she’s had in the last couple of months. She belted her newest single, “I Should Be Leaving,” and left the crowd wanting more! Check her out on Instagram (@avamorseofficial) and Facebook to keep up with her upcoming releases!

Another artist that I was stoked to see back at Empire was Derek Vaden. Derek brought the house down with his explosive energy and incredible guitar riffs. The first time I saw him play live, my jaw dropped to the floor; this time around was no different. When he got on his knees and soloed in his tune, “Novel America,” he left the crowd shook. Derek’s stage presence is uber exciting and makes it very difficult for one to look away. Alongside Derek was Mike Dooley on the drums and Antony Picardi playing bass. Before their set, Derek announced that Mike came out all the way from Colorado to partake in the local music celebration. If you’re interested in keeping up with these guys, go give Derek Vaden a follow on Instagram (@thegroovefreak) and check out his videos on Youtube!

There were many more musicians that blew me away the other day at Empire. I had a lovely time with 89.1 FM music director, Tyler Mason. It’s always a great time to discover new music that can one day be played on our station! Live music is always great to witness but it is even better when you get to support your local music community! If you’re interested in getting to hear up-and-coming musicians from your backyard, get down to Empire every Tuesday night for their rockin’ open mic. It’s totally free to attend and participate, and sign-ups to perform are at 8:30 with performances starting at 9:00. Listen to Local Chaos every Sunday from 8 to 10pm to hear about more chances to get involved in and support the Chicago local music scene!

Frank Iero and the Future Violents at The Social in Orland, FL – 6/14/19

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Frank Iero and the Future Violents in concert at a small venue called The Social in Orlando, Florida. Following the May 31st release of their new album, Barriers, Frank Iero and the Future Violents played a set consisting of a nice mix of old and new songs. They opened the show with “Moto-pop,” the eighth track off their new fourteen-track record. With the heavy guitar riffs accompanied by a blast of confetti into the crowd, it made for an exciting, energizing start to the show that got the crowd fired up.

Something sentimental Frank Iero does at all his shows is plays a song called “B.F.F.” – a song Frank always makes sure to mention was written by his daughter, Lily, to her twin sister, Cherry. I asked Frank before the show if his daughters know he plays their song, and he assured me that they know and love that people all around the world sing along every night.

Frank Iero and the Future Violents closed their set with a song called “Great Party” featuring Kayleigh Goldsworthy on the keyboard. They followed this with an encore of two songs from their 2016 album, Parachutes, ending the show with a crowd favorite, “Oceans.” Overall, the energy of the show remained high, and it was easy to see the passion on these musicians faces as they played a killer set. It was the type of show you never want to see end because the music was phenomenal, the whole venue was riding on positive vibes, and everyone in the room was having a great time. If you’d like to share in that type of experience, you can check out Frank Iero and the Future Violents when they come to Riot Fest in September, and check out their new album, Barriers, now. I also had a chance to talk with Frank Iero, which you can listen to below.

– Bender –