Artist Spotlight: Varna

varna

If it was possible to buy shares in bands on the stockmarket, I would be putting a bit of my hard earned cash into Los Angeles’ three piece rock monster, Varna.

Can I be honest, readers? When it comes to hard rock and metal music, I have a confession to make, one that may be offensive to some, but here it is. I don’t like female vocalists. Its not a sexist thing, it’s simply a personal preference (don’t worry, there’s plenty of male singers I don’t like either – like, every emo band in history). I don’t know what it is, but, (and there are exceptions), it just doesn’t sound right to me. Often you have great female singers, technically, who front a rock or metal band and either try hard too hard to sound heavy, or they stick with a vocal style which is more suited to pop music. Ok, that’s off my chest. But in showing that I’m not totally sexist and dismissive, I did give Varna a try, and I am VERY glad I did.

Vocalist Tiana Woods brings something special to this band – her voice is pure power, and for a reason I can’t put my finger on, she just clicks with this music. It just works, simple as that.

Musically, Varna have a tough edge, heavy guitar riffs and drums that you can tell are being hit exactly how drums should be hit – fucking hard. Guitarist Rossen Pinkas does some really great work, and it is nothing to do with playing fast or complicated solos – its in the groove of the riffs he chugs out, and in the lead licks that come in and out of the songs at just the right time. While some may dismiss his playing because he’s not throwing around lightning fast solos, I would argue that it just isn’t the sort of music that needs it. What he shows is an extraordinary command of song structure and an ability to make a song sound heavy without sacrificing an ounce of commercial appeal.

Rob Shin brings the drums and I really enjoy his style. There’s no mucking around, there’s no 2 minute drum solos in the middle of songs – there is simply a discipline to pound the skins hard with intent, and put some real power behind the chunky guitar riffs and the soaring vocals.
I can’t speak highly enough of what Tiana Woods brings to this band also. The vocals sound…well…real. Nothing is contrived, she’s not there to be a token female lead singer in a rock band – she is genuinely bringing some serious power behind the mic.

Varna have released one EP titled ‘This Time, Its Personal’, and it is a killer EP. 3 tracks that are all begging for huge commercial success. Check out their video for ‘My Heart’ below.

You’re getting a genuine, modern hard rock band here with Varna, and while I don’t know when there is some more music coming from this band, but when it does, expect it to be HUGE.

Check out more:
https://www.facebook.com/varnaband

Twitter.com/varnaband

 

 

Blog Pic

Craig Shepherd

Follow this blog, or follow me on Twitter: @cshepherd10

Advertisements

Artist Spotlight: Kill Shott

killshott

Straight out of Melbourne in Australia, I’d like to welcome you all to Kill Shott. I came across these guys purely because a band I know played a show with them recently and I figured I’d give them a listen, with pretty low expectations because I had figured there weren’t many great rock bands kicking around Melbourne.

Well, whether I’m right or wrong on that point, I was definitely wrong to have low expectations of Kill Shott. This band has attitude both in their music and their look. When I first heard Kill Shott, my thoughts immediately turned to the first time I heard Swedish sleaze-rock band Crashdiet. The joy I felt when I found a new band who was writing genuinely good songs in that sleaze rock genre of music…and now I’m excited again because I’ve found another one.

Bands who attempt this style of music don’t always get it right. Maybe there’s a theory that attitude and a rock n roll image is enough to compensate for weak songs and poor playing – hey, maybe in 1985, but these days, if you’re going to talk the talk, you’d better be able to walk the walk. Kill Shott definitely walk the walk, with fast, driving guitars and great solo licks throughout the songs. Gunslinger knows his way around a fretboard and makes each song explode with ferocity. The vocals are also often an issue with these types of bands but singer Ted Dempsey is brilliant. His vocals have the right amount of attitude without sacrificing the need for a little bit of melody.

There are two tracks on their Facebook page, being ’50 Sold’ and ‘Hunt You Down’. Both of them are very strong. Powerful drums, and as previously mentioned, the guitars are excellent. The solo work in ’50 Sold’ is some of the best I’ve heard in new rock music for quite a while – particularly in a genre which often suffers from the unfair criticism that its all about image rather than talent.

If I had to liken Kill Shott to any band in particular, I would definitely say they sound a lot like Crashdiet. But since not everyone will know who they are, lets say Skid Row instead – you know, that sound that is heavier than glam, but not quite heavy metal? That kinda vibe.

Kill shot are a four piece featuring Ted Dempsey on vocals, Tommy Sunset on bass, Nick Caligula on drums and Chris Gunslinger on guitars. They have a self titled EP available which I haven’t gotten my hands on yet, but these guys are really worth checking out if you like you rock n roll sleazy and powerful!
More info:
https://www.facebook.com/Killshottband

Buy the digital EP here: http://killshott.bandcamp.com/

Blog Pic

Craig Shepherd

Follow this blog, or follow me on Twitter: @cshepherd10

 

April 1984 – 30 Year Old Music Project

Well, for my first little write up regarding my 30 Year Old Music Project, I’m just going to talk about the things I found in March and April. I’ve been going at this since December 2013, but I’m not going to go through everything I’ve found to date. For the uninitiated, you can read what this is all about here – but basically, I’m trying to experience music as though I were a music fan 30 years ago. So when I talk about ‘new’ stuff I’ve discovered, it is possibly stuff that I’ve heard before (I’m not completely ignorant to the great music I’ll be discussing) – read the intro to get the idea.

So, March and April 1984….what did I learn?

Yngwie Malmsteen released ‘Rising Force’, and I was able to confirm what I already knew. Great guitarist, but the music just doesn’t interest me. Is ‘guitary’ a word? Well it is now, and it’s just too guitar for my liking.

Savatage released their second album. I haven’t heard the first. I’ve heard some of their later work and quite like them, but I’d have to say this early stuff leaves a bit to be desired. Messy, pretty poor production (even by 80’s standards), and lacking in structure. But hey, the good ones all start somewhere.

Grave Digger’s debut, ‘Heavy Metal Breakdown’ came out in March ’84. I didn’t know much about these guys, I’d heard one of their albums in the 2000’s and quite enjoyed it but I had no idea they were this old. The debut is actually pretty cool, and fair bit more ‘thrashy’ than I expected, based on the slower, heavier stuff I had heard previously. Pretty cool and I’ll happily await their next album.

I feel like I hit the jackpot on the glam front though, that’s where the gold was for me. Great White’s debut album came out in March ’84. They were a band who I had heard a few selected tracks from over the years, and while I sort of enjoyed what I heard, I never really bothered going back to listen to them properly. Their debut album, self titled, is great! Dirty rock n’ roll at its finest. These days they’re one of those bands who have split up and certain members have formed two different versions of the band – but for their debut, a big thumbs up from me! Ratt were the other glam band who put out their debut in 1984. Oddly enough, my experience of Ratt was pretty similar to Great White. Had heard a few songs (even played one in a cover band) but had never delved too much into their back catalogue. Their debut, titled ‘Out Of The Cellar’ has the two songs that I identified as their biggest, being ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Back For More’, but the rest of the album is pretty cool too. If I was watching these two run in a March 1984 debut album race, I’d have to say that for me, Great White are first past the post by a small margin.

March 1984 also marked the release of Scorpion’s album, ‘Love At First Sting’. What a great record. I’ve always liked Scorpions but again, never really immersed myself in their back catalogue. This album features their biggest rock hit, ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, but there are plenty of great songs on this record. This album probably typifies why I wanted to do this project. I’ve enjoyed the band, but never really listened to full albums they did back in the 80’s. This project has allowed me to learn the songs and really experience properly.

April ’84 saw the second full length album from REM. I’m a big REM fan, and while I already had this record, titled ‘Reckoning’, it was never high on my list when I wanted to listen to REM. So it was great to go dust it off and give it a good listen. It actually holds up surprisingly well, despite not having the hits and commercial success of their 90’s work.

I also had a chance to listen to a band I had always wanted to listen to, but had never really bothered. Rush. I’m really glad I did. Their album ‘Grace Under Pressure’ came out in April ’84 and it’s fantastic! In reading about the album, I discovered that it is about a range of different topics, but to me it really has the feel of a concept album about the end of the world, or at least the post-apocalyptic aftermath of some great catastrophe. It is a little bit more ‘prog’ and experimental than the music I would normally listen too, but I really loved this record and it has found heavy rotation for me over the last month.

The only real ‘miss’ I had during the month was an album by Steve Perry, of Journey fame. I guess I just expected it to be like Journey – a mistake that I assume many fans would have made when this record came out, being his first solo record. It sounded like a pop album to me, just didn’t hit the spot for me.

Other albums that I checked out with little expectation, but just out of curiosity, were Rick Springfield’s ‘Hard To Hold’, The Cars ‘Heartbreak City’, Black Flag’s ‘My War’, Minor Threat’s self titled album, and Reagan Youth’s ‘Youth Anthems For The New Order’. They all lived up to their low expectations. Oh, lets not forget Run DMC’s debut, self titled record too. Not my thing, but I guess it’s important in a music history sense.

That’s all for now – follow this blog for further updates – join me on the journey and celebrate some 30 year anniversaries for great albums!

Blog Pic
Craig Shepherd
Follow this blog, or follow on Twitter: @cshepherd10

Artist Spotlight: Second Impulse

secondimpulse

Second Impulse are a melodic rock band from Maryland, USA. They’ve been around since 2008 but from what I can gather, they acquired a new singer in 2011, being Mike Raymond. Other members are David Brewer (guitars), Joe Morrison (drums), Luke Shagogue (bass). From what I have read, there were quite a few lineup changes and other issues in the early days of the band, but they now seem to be fairly settled.

In trawling the web for tunes to listen to, there’s a few older tracks on YouTube but they seem to feature an old lineup and I’m not going to talk much about that stuff (if only for the reason that the newer tracks I’ve heard are far better). What I will say about the older songs – you can tell that the talent is there and the songs are far from bad. It is more a case of the new lineup seemingly having a bit more polish and a stronger sound.

Usually I’d like to hear a bit more music before writing about a band, but in terms of music from the current lineup of Second Impulse, I’ve only been able to hear two tracks. Fortunately though, neither of them disappoint. The two tracks in question are ‘Pioneers‘ and ‘Guilty As Sin’, both featuring on their EP, titled ‘Hostiles’. In good news for fans of the band, they have another EP in the works.

Bands like Second Impulse can sometimes tread a fine line in the direction their music takes. I say this because they seem to have some good players in the band, and the vocalist is great – really strong, melodic vocals which compliment the band beautifully. Sometimes, a band with these qualities can lean on the side of commercially appealing, softer rock sounds. I’m a fan of great melodies in songs, I love hearing clean guitar parts mixed in with some heavier parts, and Second Impulse do this really well, and they do it in a way that still showcases a level of passion and power in the music which ensures they don’t come off sounding like Nickelback or their contemporaries. When I say ‘melodic vocals’, in no way do I mean that everything is softly, softly with Second Impulse. Raymond’s vocals have an aggressive touch to them as well – just enough to let you know he actually believes in what he’s doing behind the mic.

Second Impulse have elements of 90’s and early 2000’s alternative rock, but they have a bit of a harder edge as well, which blends well. Despite only hearing the two tracks so far, I’m comfortable to say that Second Impulse are going to provide a bit of a unique experience to the listener. The chorus to the song ‘Pioneers’ has worldwide radio hit written all over it, so I hope these guys can take the next step.  Rock fans – get behind them and make it happen!

Check out more on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Second-Impulse/142773147815

Blog Pic

Craig Shepherd

Follow this blog, or follow me on Twitter: @cshepherd10

Artist Spotlight: The Kill Circuit

killcircuit

The Kill Circuit are a tricky band to write about, for me at least. They are a 4 piece hailing from Virginia, USA, and they are difficult to describe. The reason I find them difficult to write about is because they have a pretty unique sound to me. They list some influences as Helmet, Turbonegro, Radiohead, Riddle of Steel, Isis and Shiner. I confess, I don’t know the last three, and I’m not a fan of the first three. During the 90’s I loved my share of music which fell into the ‘alternative rock’ genre, but these days I find that genre all tends to blend into one mess of questionably talented musicians and bland songwriting. Somewhere along the life cycle of ‘alternative rock’, I feel like the ‘rock’ part disappeared. It got boring. Then I stumbled onto The Kill Circuit.

Really, I’m only talking about this genre of music because they mention those particular bands in their bio, but also because I can’t find any other slot to pigeonhole them into – and I think they pride themselves on this. One track I heard called ‘Search For Echoes’ had some really cool, driving guitar work which reminded me of Smashing Pumpkins, yet the song itself sounded nothing like a Pumpkins tune. That is probably the strength of The Kill Circuit. They’ve obviously got a diverse myriad of influences, and influences are always going to pop up in people’s music but these guys don’t let their influences overtake their songs.

Members are Mike Ragan on guitar/vocals, Joey Rudacil on drums, EJ Toudt on bass/vocals, and Pete Raffetto on guitar. From what I can find out, the members of the bands aren’t new to this music caper – having all played in some bands through the 90’s, so they bring plenty of experience to the table and it shows. They craft their songs really well and nothing sounds messy. Each riff, each section of a song seems like it belongs to the rest. And I suppose that is something which often annoys me about potentially similar bands – things sound really messy and disjointed and is explained away by ‘artistry’. Well, fuck your artistry, Id rather listen to a band like The Kill Circuit who just rock hard, sound good, and make sense.

I really enjoy the vocals too. As this blog grows, readers will notice a theme, being that I can’t stand indecipherable vocals whether it be growling or screaming. Just a personal preference, and dual vocalists Ragan and Toudt do the job for me. Good quality, good variety – nothing sounds tired or boring, and more to the point, they bring some solid, clean melodies to the songs. Thankfully – a band who realises you can have some heavier rock driven guitar riffs and keep the melodies in the vocals. These guys simply rock hard and sound fun, and while the music isn’t pretentious, you know that they’ve got the goods and they aren’t mucking around either. Perfect combination for a quality rock band in my book.

I’m certainly keen to hear some more from these guys and I hope they keep working towards having some more music out soon. Everything you need is online:

https://www.facebook.com/TheKillCircuit

YouTube: The Kill Circuit – Low Resolution

Website: http://www.thekillcircuit.com/

They have one EP called ‘We Could Have Been Unstoppable‘, as well as a full length album called ‘Low Transit‘ and you can buy/download/listen to some tunes on their Facebook page. Do yourself a favour and check out The Kill Circuit!

Blog Pic

Craig Shepherd

Follow on Twitter: @cshepherd10

Artist Spotlight: AnAkA

Anaka

So I came across this band Anaka as a featured artist on http://www.unsigned.com, and although my intention with this little section of my blog was to find unsigned bands, have a listen, and share my thoughts – it would appear that these guys are actually signed to an outfit called Godsend Records in new York. Still, they rock, so I’m going to keep going.

Anaka list their influences as Alice In Chains, Metallica, Megadeth, Black Label Society, Corrosion Of Conformity, Slipknot, Down, Godsmack, Killswitch Engage and Black Sabbath. You know how you read a bio from a band and they list influences as the bands they like, even though their music sounds nothing like thir supposed ‘influences’. That’s not the case here. Even after listening to a few Anaka tracks, I’d heard most of these influences pretty clearly. Aside from this, I’m not going to go through a history lesson because basically I can’t find a lot of information about their origins, except the band features two brothers Jimmy Pallis on vocals and Peter Pallis on guitar/vocals. Other band members are Matt Bene on guitars, Karl Andreassen on bass/vocals and Tony Heredia on drums.

In my opinion, all band members rock their given instruments well, however that is a very small part of heavy music for me. Lets face it – when it comes to metal music, we all know those local bands who can play like the devil himself has impregnated them with a filthy, Jesus-hating shot of musical talent – yet they can’t put a decent song together no matter how they try. Anaka’s songwriting is what impresses me the most.

From what I can gather, they have 4 albums: 2001′s ‘Down Devil’s Road’, 2004′s ‘Rust and Jade’, 2009′s ‘The Glorified Crusade’ and 2012′s ‘Into The Great Unknown (The Acoustic Sessions)’. While I haven’t been able to get my hands on any of these albums (this humble blogger is from Australia, so I’m going off whatever clips I can find online), I have had a good listen to the tunes on their website, and you should too. The songs I’ve heard from the Rust and Jade album seem to be pretty heavily 90′s influenced. I’m picking up lots of Godsmack influence there, and generally the work sounds pretty raw (not uncommon with early recordings from bands). The earlier stuff from Down Devil’s Road, particularly on the vocal side of things when Jimmy Pallis leans to a heavier style – it is very obvious that Mr Hetfield from Metallica is an influence. Not a bad thing. What I do like though, in listening through their catalogue of songs on their website, is that even the older songs don’t sound shit. I mean that nicely too – plenty of bands you discover, you go and find their early albums and sometimes wonder how they ever got past the demo stage because their old stuff is just so god awful. Anaka’s early stuff though (aside from sounding a bit unpolished in the production), you can tell that the songwriting skills are there from the start. And even more impressive is that you can definitely hear a progression through their albums. As they go on, you can tell that they are finding their own sound and relying les and less on their influences to guide them. From what I can tell, 2009′s ‘The Glorified Crusade’ was where they reached that point where they were now being influenced by each other and the music they were creating, rather than the bands they loved. I’ve only managed to hear 3 tracks from this record, and you can just tell that this is where they’ve really hit on something great. There is a new kind of class in the song structures, the styles, and also the vocals – Jimmy Pallis is starting to sound like a massive fucking rockstar instead of just a good singer in a good band. The same could be said for all of the instrumental work on these tracks too, mind you – all of the boys in the band seem to have stepped it up a notch.

And then comes the latest release. How ballsy is it to release an acoustic album when you’ve really only just arrived on the scene? Still, it works for me. All it does is serve to highlight what I mentioned above about the improved quality of the playing and songwriting. Sadly I’ve only been able to hear one track from this record so far (the title track), and I can’t help but think it is a terrific metaphor for where the band was at in 2012 – marching into the great unknown world of rock stardom, brothers in arms, ready to take on the world.

I’ll openly admit that I’m not a fan of a lot of the American heavy metal bands that seem to make it big these days, with either too much nu-metal influence or the indecipherable roaring vocals, but Anaka are a step above this in my book. The vocals are great, which are often the deal breaker for me. I cant listen to that roaring nonsense, or the screaming of various types of ‘core’ bands. I like to be able to sing along (badly) in the car – a task that is made all the more difficult when you can’t understand what the hell a singer is trying to say. I would definitely love to hear more from these guys and can categorically say they have more songwriting credibility than a hell of a lot of bands who are playing massive festivals and getting noticed on a large scale.

So if you want to hear some sweet new metal tunes (not nu-metal tunes), treat yourself to a bit of Anaka. Best spot I can find is their official website: www.anaka.net

Blog Pic

Craig Shepherd

Follow on Twitter: @cshepherd10