All albums with an overall rating of 8.0 and above are Certified Rockin'
A Coup De Grace - "The Work of Ravens" (9.7)
Ashes of Alexis - "Neurosis" (9.2)
Bottom Shelf - "Winter's Coming" (8.5)
Bourbon House - "Wild Abandon" (8.3)
Bright Eyed & Blind - "Life Trip" (9.2)
Ceteri - "Tough $h!+" (8.2)
Disappearance - "Humanity Pending" (8.0)
The First Rule - "Welcome to Sucksville" (8.3)
The Martyr Complex - "Construct" (8.7)
More Then Merry - "No Ceiling" (7.3)
Murder Generation - "Murder Generation" (8.7)
Sacred Endless Hatred - "Sacred Endless Hatred" (9.0)
Scarlet Curve - "Decennial" (7.0)
Green Bay based A Coup De Grace delivers a filthy odyssey on "The Work of Ravens" that will please fans of Wage War, Fit For a King and even Soilwork, among others.
Sometimes you hear a studio record that makes you feel like you're in the crowd experiencing the energy transfer between a band and the audience you feel at a live show. This is that album. It feels alive.
The production of "The Work of Ravens" is abrasive in the very best of ways. It's in-your-face attitude pulls you in and the band comes at you in waves. A Coup De Grace has mastered the ability to race the listener up a mountain with speed and tenacity, then push us off the summit and instill an incredible weightlessness when the song drops into a brutal breakdown.
Individual performances on this album are nothing short of impeccable. Vocals from Joshua Everetts are nasty. The screams claw their way into your ears. The combination of chaos and clarity is refreshing to hear as a metal fan. Guitars are downtuned yet maintain a high-strung attack. They are crisp which enables them to cut through the madness well. There is fantastic play on this album from Derek Pamioncutt. I do wish the solo in "Across the Tracks" had a bit more shine in the mix. The bass (Jose Whiting) and drums (Alan Greenberg) again help the live feeling on the album. Fantastic production, definition and execution of the rhythm section. At times they throw the weight of the world on the listener with a mighty wallop and yet there's also times they ease up and let the song breathe.
At six songs, I wish there was more. I really do. However, the record is still 31 minutes of excellence and only narrowly misses perfection.
Standout moment: The final devastating moments of "Raze the Throne"
Reviewed by: John
Building off of 2019's "Catharsis" is the snarling April 2020 EP "Neurosis" by Fox Valley's Ashes of Alexis. At six songs and 27 minutes, this EP borders a full-length and in addition to the six members of the band, "Neurosis" features guest appearances by Joshua Rundgren on "Hooligans" & Francesco Antonio Mastrocola-Kochan on "Frantic Scribblings and Incoherent Thoughts"
Hands down, my favorite thing about Ashes of Alexis is that they aren't afraid to take risks and bring something new to the table. Yes, you'll find elements that you expect to hear from a Deathcore/Metalcore record such as breakdowns, tempo changes, downtuned guitars, growling vocals... but what you might not expect is the legitimate use of keys - both in synth & piano forms - clean vocals, and other rewarding surprises. Writing their own definition of the various "heavy" genres is without a doubt one of the Ashes of Alexis' strongest traits.
With six members of the band, sometimes a mix can feel crowded. This isn't the case on "Neurosis". The vocal performance from Rob Ellis is dynamic and ferocious. Enunciation never gets lazy, even during the hardest attacks. Guitars from Jordan Allen and Josh Bradford shine on this album. They are given a generous placement in the mix and they do not disappoint. The end of "Hooligans" offers melodic moments with rhythm & lead guitars playing off of the work set up on the keys by Kyle Cowling. Kyle is also a major contributor on "Sasquatch" - a track knocking down the walls on what heavy music can/should be. Bass from Andy White could be given a little more room in the mix, especially knowing the kind of chops he has as featured on "Catharsis". However, Andy has a few moments to shine alone in between moments of chaos on this album that help to establish his presence. Finally, the drums are played - and played very well - by Brandon Dodd. Creativity from Dodd behind the kit has gotten stronger and his frequent use of his toms give the backbone heaps of delicious low end.
In summary, Ashes of Alexis is very quickly ascending into elite territory when it comes to heavy music made in Wisconsin.
Standout moment: The beginning of "Oh God" will blow you away.
Reviewed by: John
Coming in at 7 songs and 24 minutes is "Winter's Coming" - the debut EP from Green Bay / Two Rivers metalcore quartet Bottom Shelf. While the debut may not have extreme technical prowess, there's evident passion and belief in the art crafted. They do not lack in the "Soul" category. What sets Bottom Shelf apart from other metalcore acts is the amount of different elements blended seamlessly into their sound. Panning, delays, echoes, fades and numerous other tricks are prominent and help to greatly expand upon the metalcore foundation. There is also consistent themes of mental health awareness throughout the EP. This, for me, and hopefully many other listeners, goes a long way in establishing genuine meaning behind the music.
Individual performances by all four band members are well-executed. Vocals from Carter Tietje are devastating, yet offer moments of cleaner streaks and everything in between. He offers plenty of "amp-up" moments outside of the lyrical sheet that help give this studio album a live feel. Chance Voysey takes on guitar duties and his tone is deadly. The deeper into the album you get, the more dynamic his playing becomes which was a refreshing change to present something more substantial than the typical metalcore hammering of open fat strings. A fuzzy yet distinct bass from Sean Kiley sounds incredible and easily marks one of the highlights on the EP. Kudos to give an often overlooked instrument the chance to play a significant role in the overall sound! Finally, James Willoughby mans the drums and does a great job of not only laying down filthy beats but giving them a more compelling factor by mixing in tasteful fills. The snare and bass work well together and the overall tone of the drums & cymbals is outstanding.
The production on "Winter's Coming" is well-balanced, overall and exceptional for a debut. At times the mix can feel a little flooded with guitars while the drums & vox feel slightly pushed back. However, this can be a personal preference issue?
As it stands, this is a debut EP from a very young & talented group of guys from a part of Wisconsin that fights for every bit of love they can get. "Winter's Coming" should certainly help get them much-deserved attention.
Standout moment: "Falling" - easily the most balanced song on the album.
Reviewed by: John
"Wild Abandon" (the second release from Bourbon House) rides high on wave after wave of soul. Vocalist Lacey delivers throughout with range, feels and a hold-nothing-back attitude. Drums overall feel like they take a back seat to the heavily-featured bass guitar and the guitars - while good in the beginning - get even more interesting the deeper into the album you get. While the rocking parts feel good and get your head bobbing, the quieter moments of this album are superb.
The production of "Wild Abandon" is dry, crisp and groovy... never feeling over-saturated or over-produced. In a manner of feeling, the album manages to balance a resemblance to a "modern stoner rock" while also feeling like a vehicle for Bourbon House's 60's & 70's funk rock influences.
This album stands on it's own well and just like bourbon itself, "Wild Abandon" will age well over time.
The interlude/bridge during "Take Us Away"
Reviewed by: John
Milwaukee-based Bright Eyed & Blind jump onto the scene in May of 2020 with their full-length debut album "Life Trip." Initially forming in 2018 with guitarist Steve Draganchuk, bassist Dave Smid & drummer Kent Schaaf, the trio caught a stroke of luck when vocalist Jalena Hegemann responded to a classified ad Steve placed long ago for a previous band. Fast forward to 2020 and Bright Eyed & Blind since formed into the powerhouse quintet you hear today with the addition of Dennis Jernberg on keys.
"Life Trip" is a constant balancing act between uplifting melodies and one well-executed power chorus after another. Throughout the album, the band redefines themselves and journeys into genres that you don't expect. Not only is this extremely refreshing and significantly increases their repeat listenability, it proves their songwriting strengths and overall musicianship. While the overall scope of the album is best described as good old "Rock and Roll" - there is so much more to discover and this album has something for everyone.
Jalena fronts Bright Eyed & Blind with incredible range and attitude. Her voice - especially when in the midst of a harmony, was made for wide open, driving rock choruses reminiscent of Gwen Stefani's days of rocking in No Doubt. While Jalena spends most of her time on the record bringing the fire, there are exceptional moments of more vulnerable, soulful deliveries that help to showcase her range of talents. Steve gives us so many different moods in his guitar playing. From palm muted verses to open-strummed choruses to finger-tapped solos to pinch harmonics - it's all here and it's pristine. Dave handles bass duties and is given great spacing in the mix to shine. It's refreshing to hear the bass featured prominently throughout the record to the point where Dave gets the unquestioned leading role on "Mindset." His tone is superb. Kent gives us hard-hitting moments on drums and excels in his quieter / build-up moments. His steady bass drum and rack/floor tom work in the bridge of "Leave Me" is spectacular and sets the tone for the best instrumental piece on the album. Dennis' work on keys is arguably the biggest reason for this album having such a good repeat listenability factor. The layers he's able to inject into the band's sound flow seamlessly with the other member's contributions and while he has great leading-role moments, it's his underlying presence that tie all the band's sounds together.
Bright Eyed & Blind is a band that gels like they've been at it for a decade. Putting an album like this together in the short amount of time they've been a complete unit is a testament to their individual - and collective - talents.
Standout moment: "Leave Me" - Soul & grit in the verses/choruses. Strips it down to feature a beautiful breakdown and build up during the bridge.
Reviewed by: John
With a runtime of just under 24 minutes, this 8-song release from Milwaukee-based pop-punk quintet Ceteri falls somewhere between an EP and a full-length album. The overall feeling of the album is that the songwriting & music production fall closer to the punk end of the pop-punk spectrum. The production is a bit rough around the edges - yet it feels right for the genre and overall vibe of the album. There is a bit of pop flavor injected in (during the chorus of "Breathe" for example) but this is a punk release more than anything.
Vocalist Steve Wilson has the perfect voice for this album. Never reaching for a range he can't handle, he delivers cleans, sing/screams, and angst without it ever feeling out of place. Wilson delivers on several vocal styles throughout the release and gives the songs dynamics that tell us Ceteri isn't a one-trick pony that can oftentimes plague the genre.
Ron Pershing (bass/vocals) & Kenny Clark (drums) work well together in the rhythm section. Each have their moments to shine over the course of the album with the bass lines executed smoothly and the drum fills punchy.
The guitars on "Tough $h!+" from Darryl Kuyper & PJ Millane also have their standout moments. You get a little bit of everything from the duo of players: Rhythms, leads, solos, and even tasteful acoustic work on "Will He Answer" performed by Wilson. While the album may have a relatively short runtime, there's a wealth of different guitar elements to enjoy.
There's a couple songs on the album that are destined for fun anthems during live sets in lieu of truly marketable tracks. However, "Breathe" deserves radio airplay and shows the band has what it takes to write songs enjoyable for the masses. A fun surprise was listening to the nastiness of "Rainbow Road" where Ceteri pushes the envelope the further into the song you get. It's catchy. It's filthy. It's just good.
The buildup through the Bridge during "Breathe"
Reviewed by: John
Since their inception in 2013, Disappearance has grown a lot. Moving on from former singer Megan Orvold (now of Casket Robbery), they chose to have two singers, one clean and one aggressive. Their sound has only become more intense.
The production on their sophomore effort, Humanity Pending, is excellent. The heavy influence of metalcore/djent stalwarts Periphery and Veil of Maya definitely comes through on this album. While the music isn't exactly breaking any new boundaries of the genre, it will definitely draw interest of those fans and keep heads bobbing through the length of the record. There are some memorable guitar riffs and breakdowns and the rhythm sections holds it down admirably throughout. The aggressive screams and growls are consistently good as well. Where the album tends to falter a bit is in the clean vocals. They are not nearly as well produced as the growls, and simply not as well executed either. The melodies have lots of potential, but the singer needs to hone his craft a bit. There are many times during the album where the song really chugs along only to be derailed by a sloppy clean chorus or the vocals falling off key. However, you can tell they put their hearts into this music and that goes a long way. "Wolves Amongst Sheep", the opening track, is definitely a standout and it was smart of them to start the album there and pull in the listener. The breakdown at the end absolutely DESTROYS. Other highlights include "Declaration" and a cover of the Lil Jon classic "Get Low".
Disappearance gave it a hell of an effort on this album and they seem poised to break out of the Madison, WI scene and make a name for themselves. Look out!
Standout moment : The breakdown in "Wolves Amongst Sheep"
Reviewed by: Matt
The First Rule are a Kenosha-based alternative/rock/punk quartet and undeniable kings of the hook. Their Spring 2020 album "Welcome to Sucksville" is loaded with 14 songs that feature instantly memorable moments throughout the 34-minute runtime.
If there's one word that comes to mind when listening to Welcome to Sucksville, it's "joy." Yeah, that might be ironic, but when everyone else is trying to be as hard as can be, The First Rule is an upbeat party that will pull you in. The superior songwriting ability over the course of the record is evident for it almost doesn't seem to matter what genre they dive into, the outcome is consistently radio-worthy tracks. The First Rule favors faster tempos and this album in particular perfects the balance of a rapid instrumental attack with smooth, catchy vocals - all while maintaining listenability for fans of numerous genres.
As a whole, Welcome to Sucksville has a playful pendulum swing that moves from as serious as can be to straight up goofy. Regardless of where you are in that arc, you're going to be having a good time.
Standout Moment: Knowing I'll never be able to get a pizza delivered again without wondering "Where the Fuck is My Pizza?"
Reviewed by: John
The Martyr Complex's "Construct" is a six song (27 minute) EP released in March of 2019. On this album, the West Bend quartet unleash a brutal onslaught while carrying on a consistent sci-fi feel throughout.
The production on "Construct" is simply outstanding and sounds better than many albums you'll hear with a big label backing the band. The songs come at you very hard, yet all aspects of this recording feel clear, precise and intense. Over the course of the EP, The Martyr Complex show that they can deliver in both the craziness as well as providing some great solace from the madness through well-executed quieter moments. While every song proves to be exceptionally heavy & blistering, "Voyager" and "Zetsu" feel slightly less abrasive than the other songs on the album.
There are no clean vocals on this deathcore / djent release but vocalist Francesco shows enough versatility in his screams and growls to keep things interesting over the length of the album. The band plays well off of each other and their chemistry shines through and gives the EP balance. The breakdowns on "Construct" come rather unexpectedly at times - but they do not make the tracks stumble in any way. By resisting the all-too-predictable method of build-up before breakdown, The Martyr Complex throws the listener into the breakdown, which further escalates the chaos.
If this was the band's 2nd/3rd release, it would be impressive... considering this is the very first release from The Martyr Complex, it goes down as a stellar recording and sends the band into the "must listen" category for whatever they do next.
Standout moment: The breakdown in "Second Chance"
Reviewed by: John
At 22 minutes in length, the "No Ceiling" EP by Oshkosh trio More Then Merry was released in 2018. Founded in 2012, this EP is More Then Merry's sophomore effort and the follow-up to 2017's "Long Live Vinyl".
On "No Ceiling", More Then Merry works well as a trio to give one another equal moments in the spotlight. Throughout this release, you'll hear guitar solos, tasteful drum fills and even some bass licks - each of those having their moment as the rest of the band backs them up. Over the course of the EP, you find that the sound is stripped down to vocals, clean guitar, bass & drums. There are times where an additional percussion element is mixed in or an effect is thrown onto the guitar, but overall, this is a very straightforward approach from More Then Merry. You won't hear a wall of sound. Instead, you catch more detail in what each musician is doing at every moment. At times, this works and the rawness and simplicity of the mix feels good, but there is also a feeling of instrumental breaks between verses and choruses extending on for a long time, particularly when it's a standard riff in the song. The vocal performance and lyrics on "No Ceiling" feel safe - I wanted those moments where I was blown away and really caught up in the vocals. The vocals are performed well including some on-point harmonies, but I want to feel them more. The closing track "Nashvillain" provides a breath of fresh air in that it stands apart from the other five songs on the EP - however, it may have benefited from a middle-of-the-album placement to break up the other songs that sound relatively similar to one another in comparison.
Overall, More Then Merry showcases plenty of talent on the instrumental side from all three members on "No Ceiling" - but where the band can make the most headway is by improving the lyrics & vocals for their next effort. This band is certainly worthy of your attention as their musicianship is excellent and their potential in future releases mimics the title of this EP: No Ceiling.
Standout moment: Wet Washington 8103's last minute / outro.
Reviewed by: John
Formed in 2018 and hailing from Milwaukee, Murder Generation is a gritty punk trio that boasts incredible lyrical prowess on their debut full-length & self-titled album.
Immediately, they hit the ground running on "Media Slow Death" which features vocal lines like "Silence shunned as wasted time / Bodies self-objectified / Suppress the anger and the madness / Edited for the masses." This is a band that you will definitely have fun jamming to, but is without a doubt very cerebral. There are prominent themes of pushing back against the takeover of social media, calling to light the struggle people have with online activity, substance abuse, violence and more.
The production of "Murder Generation" feels thin, but not to a fault. It's very stripped down to guitar, bass, drums and vocals. No frills. Overall, the focus here is without a doubt on the lyrics & vocals. Going forward for Murder Generation, I hope to hear a little more dynamics & variety in the instrumental songwriting. A punk record definitely shouldn't sound "polished & pretty" but the sky is truly the limit for Murder Generation if musicianship can get into the realm of the lyrics & vocals.
This album is 18 minutes in length, but 10 songs - only one of which reach the two-minute mark. They come at you fast & furious and leave an impression. I think because the album has such a short runtime and features thoughtful topics throughout, it's listenability increases substantially. It's very easy to run through it and then start at the top and run through it again. I love that in an album - no matter what it's length is.
If you're looking for music with substance, you've found it on "Murder Generation"
Standout moment: Verse lyrics on "Nostalgia Kills"
Memories you edit
Never get a clear view
Can't see where you're headed
Eyes glues to the rear view
Living in the past tense
Progress ever slowing
Never get a real sense
Where your life is going
Reviewed by: John
Making their self-titled debut in March of 2020 is Appleton's Sacred Endless Hatred (formerly "SEH"). The tightly executed 11-minute EP reveals undeniable brilliance and keeps the listener engaged through the use of several flavors of metal throughout all four songs. There are definite nods to classic thrash metal blending seamlessly with modern melodic influences. If this release fell into the middle of a band's discography, it would stand strong... considering this is a debut, there's no doubt it officially puts Sacred Endless Hatred on the map.
Roman Voronov fronts the four-piece with deep gutterals and screeching highs. His best delivery falls in between the two when he's attacking in the mid-range with full force (i.e. the end of "Cacophony"). It's the perfect blend of aggression and clarity. Vince Bevers handles guitar duty exceptionally throughout the EP. He's whats truly driving the classic thrash / modern melodic feel and when it's wrapped in his crunchy and defined tone, you can't help but to groove along with every riff. Sam Bartman handles bass duties and he makes a great impression in moments like the blast-beat section of "Cacophony" where the low end takes the wheel to my delight. Finally, on drums is Nate Helton. The kit sounds great and the balance between snare & kick is perfect. I feel the biggest individual triumph of the entire record is Nate's ability to offer us a ridiculous array of approaches and techniques within the 11-minute span of the EP. The variety he gives us enables us to feel any range between weightlessness and a thunderous pummeling.
All I can say now is that I wish this was longer.
Standout moment: The bridge in "Stench of Chaos" - it has everything. Snarling vocals + tasteful riffs + pinch harmonic galore + great low end + beautiful work on the floor toms.
Reviewed by: John
Scarlet Curve's Decentennial sounds like it was recorded live. It has a really wide open vibe as if they're standing in front of you on a stage playing it for you. Listeners will either love or hate this approach, as many desire the more polished production of today's larger acts.
They sound like classic R.E.M. with a bit of Coldplay sprinkled in at times. The singer definitely has a Michael Stipe thing going on. He isn't going to blow you away with his voice but it fits what Scarlet Curve is doing well. The band is well put together and play off each other with ease. There are memorable guitar solos and harmonies throughout the album. At times they are more straight alternative rock and at times they mix in a sort of psychedelic vibe, such as in the closing track "The Bridge".
At a slim 32 minute length, Decentennial flies by. However, there are moments where the listener is almost lulled to sleep. Scarlet Curve has a signature sound that they do well, but they may err on the side of many of the songs sounding TOO similar.
Overall, it's a good effort by a band who is clearly influenced by another musical era and did a wonderful job of getting that to come across in the recording, but they would benefit from more variety in their songs.
Standout moment: Guitar solo in "Old Man"
Reviewed by: Matt