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CD Reviews – November 2013

CANDLELIGHT RED – RECLAMATION (Imagen Records) Candlelight Red ups the ante and ratchets up the intensity on their second longplayer with Imagen Records, called Reclamation. Produced by Sevendust’s Morgan Rose, Reclamation shows an overall more aggressive edge and tighter songcraft. Brian Dugan’s drums and Jamie Morral’s bass sound weightier and deeper, Jeremy Edge’s guitars pack more snarl, and the counterpoint between singer Ryan Hoke’s melodic delivery and Morral’s rabid backing bark is more pronounced. Lyrically, Hoke’s words stick to mostly darker themes of troubled emotions, inner demons and a world gone awry. The influence of producer Rose and his mothership band shows itself on several heavier numbers, including “Like a Disease” and “Demons.” The disc opener “Reflecting” shows aggression and a rapidly evolving arrangement that hits paydirt quickly. Songs like “Broken Glass,” “Life as We Know It,” “Requiem” and “RX” couple clever and alluring melodies with varying angles of attack. Candlelight Red isn’t all storm and firepower on the disc; the first single “Feel the Same,” shows a somber and more subtle side of the group’s persona, and the disc finisher “Sleeping Awake” provides perhaps the album’s strongest hook, around which the song gradually evolves from an acoustic and ethereal start to a majestic and powerful homestretch. The performances are strong and confident, and the set is cohesive and flowing. Morgan Rose’s production and Mike Ferretti’s mix give Reclamation ample teeth and thunder, while applying just enough polish to give the songs a complete sound without sacrificing any of their edge. Reclamation signifies forward motion and progress for Candlelight Red, a powerful set that should score early and often with modern rock fans, and should only add to the group’s rapidly-growing fan base.(The CD can be obtained at stores or through the group’s website, www.candlelightred.com.)

CLOUD PARTY – THE DYING ART OF LIVING (DRP Records) It was first believed that the current technology age was supposed to make life easier for everybody, leading to shorter work weeks and more leisure time. But the opposite has happened; more people are now working longer hours and multiple jobs to make ends meet, and in the rat race to keep up with not just the Joneses but extravagant lifestyles promoted through mass media, people are stressing out and forgetting…how to live. These observations were not lost on Cloud Party singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and philosopher Jim Speese; and the result is Cloud Party’s first CD since 2005, called The Dying Art of Living. The disc follows the loose theme of society losing touch with the simple pleasures of living, played out over a baker’s dozen tracks. Speese, guitarist Mark Steffy, bassist Keith Smoker, rhythm guitarist Gerry Ronning, drummer Kevin Adams and pianist/backing singer Evelyn Christian explore various components of this modern-day dilemma; while serving up an eclectic sound that blends elements of classic and alternative rock, blues and Americana. The leadoff track “All the Nights” awakens to the reality that life is more than just television and credit cards, and yearns for meaning in that life. “Nowhere and Everywhere” makes a similar realization, that life is empty without moments and memories. Perhaps the centerpiece of the album, “Alive” gives a definition to being alive, being conscious and living every moment. Speese’s wit and candor prevail on several tracks, including the observational “The Irony of You,” and “The Superhero Song’s” wishful thinking. Speese and Cloud Party achieve some impressive tranquil moments on the album as well, including the acoustic ballad “Sad Eyed Rose” with its throwback to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” the cello-assisted ballad “Waiting All This Time,” and the hopeful acoustic lullaby closer “Dreamland (Julie’s Song).” With a seasoned vocal style channeling elements of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Jim Carroll; Speese sells his words with varying levels of hope, wonder, wit and cynicism. The rest of Cloud Party serves the arrangements and moods of each song, giving each its own distinctive flavor while retaining a consistent thread and presence throughout. The Dying Art of Living amounts to Cloud Party’s most complete and engaging set yet, as the group hones its artistry while retaining its edge personality. (The CD can be obtained through Cloud Party’s website, www.cloudpartymusic.com.)

44MAG – OUTLAW PSYCHOSIS (no label) Defending the faith of traditional classic and thrash metal, Williamsport’s 44Mag hones their hard-hitting attack on their second full length CD, Outlaw Psychosis. Through the disc’s 10 tracks, 44Mag carries the torch of forefathers like classic Pantera, Slayer and Metallica with no-nonsense power metal; featuring scorching guitars, battering ram rhythms and caustic vocals. The dual-guitar tandem of Josh Welteroth and Pat Cioffi lights things up on the frets with searing leads and attacking chords, driven by the aggressive beats of drummer Jesse Roedts and Jason Miller’s taut bass lines. This sonic aggression sets the backdrop for frontman Jared Mondell, who blends rage, acidity, sarcasm and a touch of humor into his feral howl. On the sarcastic side, Mondell ponders the misadventures of today’s youth on the boisterous disc opener “Brain Douche,” taunts society and law enforcement on “D.U.I.” with its gang shout choruses, and vents against a drugged-out society on the disc closer “Rock Smoker.” Mondell explores the self-destructive mind on “Die Tonight,” stands tall after life’s hard journey on the Sabbathy “50 Miles,” and dresses down manufactured rock stars on the high-octane assault “Mr. Rock’N’Roll.” 44Mag yields a metal epic with the multi-tiered “Heroes of the New Aeon,” and offers socio-political commentary on the Slayer-ish speed burner “Hands of Misery.” The songs are stronger and more concise than on the group’s 2007 Past Sins debut, and their instrumental intensity plus Mondell’s authority and presence makes this a more cohesive set. The production and mix by the band and Ben Rosato enables 44Mag to bare their teeth here, letting their metal do the talking with minimal studio bells and whistles. Outlaw Psychosis is a clear step forward for 44Mag, showing a band that has achieved a focused attack, sound and insanity. Fans of old-school heavy metal aggression will find this disc well worth cranking loud. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.44magmetalband.com.)

SMALL TOWN TITANS – FROM FIGHT TO FLIGHT (no label) York’s Small Town Titans deliver a big, hard-hitting modern rock sound on their first full length CD release, From Fight to Flight. Singer/guitarist Phil Freeman, lead guitarist Ben Guiles, bassist Ed Roberts and drummer Jonny Ross generate a powerful, riveting modern rock sound over the disc’s 11 tracks. The group draws on 1990s hard rock influences like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Temple of the Dog, while incorporating a rigid modern metal/hardcore edge. Disturbed bassist John Moyer co-wrote four of the songs; including the disc-opener “Flight 24,” which appropriately sets the tone for Small Town Titans’ bone-jarring journey, the “The Great Escape” with its angular arrangement, the powerful ode to media manipulation “A Beautiful Lie,” and the agitated “Universal Limits.” With its Alice in Chains-informed choruses, “Line By Line” champions music as a therapy for overcoming emotional pain. Small Town Titans show their softer side twice on the disc, with a decided Temple of the Dog flavor on the acoustic-geared “9 to 5,” and the weighty blues of “Sittin’ Alone” with its message of living for today. Phil Freeman’s freewheeling vocal performance is front and center on the album, as he varies his attack between high-ranging vocal howls, fast-firing Serj Tankian-styled tirades, and sullen, withdrawn moans. He and the remaining Titans render charged arrangements that erupt into action, anchored by a booming rhythmic presence. Produced and engineered by Jason Rubal at Seventh Wave Studio, From Fight to Flight sounds vibrant, explosive and full. Each song provides its own distinctive twist, while the mix and the band’s presentation maintain a consistency throughout. Small Town Titans deliver an engaging set with From Fight to Flight, and their balance of melody and storminess should win attention and propel them forward. (The CD can be obtained through the group’s website, www.smalltowntitans.com.)

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