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CD Reviews – November 2017

JONAH WHALE – MOBIUS (Adamsapple Records) On the first track to Jonah Whale’s fifth full-length CD, Mobius; the intro to the song “I Put Down My Gun” bears some resemblance to the intro to the original Star Trek television series. Like that show intro beckons, Jonah Whale seeks out new sonic frontiers, and boldly goes where no artist has gone before over Mobius’ dozen tracks. The Bloomsburg-based artist crafts a distinctive, progressive-rooted hard rock sound; defined by booming, cavernous beats, industrial-strength guitar riffs and power chords, and topped by Jonah’s powerful voice and singing style that often channel peak-period David Bowie and Roger Waters. Melodies are key throughout the disc – Jonah shows a knack for captivating song hooks, inventive and tricky rhythms and time signatures, and intriguing lyrics and wordplays. “Break the Silence” uses such wordplays to suggest that science doesn’t have all the answers, and that we should teach future generations to be more open-minded and question what they see and hear. A clever word cadence helps power the message of the tough rocker “Live for Tomorrow,” to “crawl out of the wreckage” and move forward from life’s adversities. “Your Heart You Must Follow” also establishes an intriguing lyrical cadence in its theme of being true to oneself. Jonah generates a Bowie-esque upbeat cut-the-rug exercise with “Dance,” sings praise to all that life offers on “Hale to the King,” and expresses vulnerability on the confessional closer “Not Made of Stone.” Jonah sings this material with intensity and purpose, with vocal layering and harmonies complementing and elevating his presence throughout the set. The arrangements and instrumental execution are tight and precise, and the songs each stand strongly on their own while working together as a cohesive set. Written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Jonah at his Adamsapple Records home studio, Mobius sounds consistent, powerful and clear. Mobius shows that Jonah Whale clearly knows his musical turf, and offers a vibrant, captivating listen. (The CD can be obtained through the website www.jonahwhale.com.)

 

JACK PYERS – DEAD ON THE FLOOR (Sticky Records) Former Harpo and Dirty Looks member Jack Pyers got his acoustic feet wet on his 2015 album No Road Home, as he left his electric past behind and embraced the new frontier of acoustic guitar music. Pyers continues his acoustic journey on Dead on the Floor, and enlists the help of several musical guests to flesh out his song material. Bret Alexander on guitars, mandolin and dobro (he also produced the CD), Jeremy Hummel on drums and percussion, Mario Reggino on bass and Tom Martin on harmonica color and flavor each of the disc’s eight new songs, giving each a different mood and personality. To illustrate the impact of the additional musicians, stripped-down acoustic versions of seven of the songs follow the initial eight tracks on the album. The guests help give the opening track “She Said Okay” a driving country-rock twang, and busy rhythms and instrumentation give an urgent, exotic presence to “The Truth.” Martin’s harmonica accompaniment helps propel the title track “Dead on the Floor” into an uptempo blues-folk ride with an accelerated ending, while an escalating full-band arrangement helps elevate and emphasize the life-cleansing lyrical theme of “Let It Rise.” The anti-suicidal theme of “Can You Help Her” is shaped by a gentler, somber arrangement, while harder rock guides the deceit-born angrier mood of “Lies.” The song quality is stronger overall on Dead on the Floor, as Jack Pyers hones his songwriting skills and evolves more detailed song structures. Likewise, his singing shows more versatility and conveys more emotional impact. Bret Alexander’s production provides just the right touch to each song, enabling each to establish its own presence and stand apart from one another, yet work together as a cohesive entire set. Dead on the Floor displays Jack Pyers’ progress and development as an acoustic artist, and shows his rising comfort level with his current musical path. (The CD can be purchased through Jack Pyers’ website, www.jackpyers.com.)

JON SMITH’S VOYAGES – INDEED (no label) Reading native Jon Paul Smith plays no less than 15 different instruments on Indeed, the debut album from his solo project, Jon Smith’s Voyages. And Jon’s musical roots become quickly apparent over the course of the disc’s 11 tracks; he pretty clearly likes the theatrical and even psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and 1970s, channeling influences from ragtime-toned Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and peak-era Queen into Jon’s own distinct musical persona. Jon implements guitars, pianos, horns, woodwinds, bass, drums, mandolins, accordions, ukuleles and more to craft his freewheeling sound, topped with a voice positioned somewhere between the theatric side of Bowie and the sarcastic side of John Lennon. Smith’s music is his playground, as he crafts catchy, often intricate melodies with unpredictable twists and turns. Scott Joplin, the Beatles and Queen collide head-on on the playful disc-opener “Excuse Me,” while the soulful side of David Bowie is channeled on “I’ll Get Around To It” with its words about youthful coming of age. Jon crafts a Ziggy Stardust Bowie-flavored acid burn on the hard rocking track “Heard It Over Yonder,” and even channels a Mott the Hoople flavor on “Reginald.” Fab Four-edged pop presides over “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend,” while ragtime-styled horns merge with retro 1960s-geared songcraft on “Too Hot for Me.” A “Killer Queen”-flavored arrangement informs the delightfully quarky “Absurd,” while a more reserved Bowie vibe serves the suitable finale track, “Nothing Remains.” The song arrangements are clever, with instrumental change-ups keeping each track on edge and offering fresh nuances throughout the disc. Produced, mixed and mastered by Smith, Indeed sounds crisp and balanced, with all the instruments in his musical stew sounding clear and distinct. Jon Smith’s imagination, adventurism and fearless approach to his music makes Indeed a captivating listen, and – indeed – an impressive retro-flavored journey. (The CD can be obtained or digitally downloaded through Jon Smith’s Bandcamp page, https://jonsmithsvoyages.bandcamp.com.)

PHOBOS ANOMALY – PHOBOS ANOMALY (no label) The State College-based music anomaly that is Phobos Anomaly has existed off and on since 2005. After resurfacing from dormancy last year, the group – guitarist/singer Jon Spearly, bassist/singer Mark Holland and drummer Damien Page – has issued their 10-track, self-titled CD. Phobos Anomaly’s sound has evolved into a freewheeling mixture of hard, punk-fueled modern rock with touches of psychedelic and progressive rock flourishes. The group’s song arrangements are often charged and high-velocity, and mix various textures and tempos, intriguing melodies and vocal harmonies, often cryptic lyrics and more. Developing from a Spanish guitar-flavored introduction, the disc’s opening track, “7 of Diamonds,” sets the table for the rest of the album with its go-for-broke tempo, chugging guitar riffs and soaring vocal harmonies.  The group maintains a heated tempo on numbers such as “Dollface,” the furious boogie-driven “The Bearded Lady,” the acidic “Skeleton” and the agitated “Breaking in the Tomb of God.” The group experiments with acoustic tones on “Grandfather Clock” and the slower-grooving “Cleaning Dirt,” dabbles in a surf-toned dynamic on “Silent K,” and mixes multiple angles of attack on the inventive “Misfortune Biscuits” and the disc-closer “Celestial Catastrophe.” Phobos Anomaly delivers these tunes with feverish intensity, and constantly stirs the pot for a variety of sonic angles. Jon Spearly’s guitar attack ranges from punk-styled buzz chords to manic, Robert Fripp (King Crimson)-flavored acidic burn. Holland and Page keep the rhythms continually busy and intriguing, and the group’s production implements various studio and vocal effects to keep the mix chaotic and never staying in one place for too long. The end result is an action-packed, moving debut album; Phobos Anomaly establishes the parameters of their sonic turf with this first chapter, and sets a captivating foundation for further exploration and experimentation. (The CD can be obtained through CD Baby, www.cdbaby.com.)

FŸRE – III GHOSTS (no label) Heavy-hitting sextet Fÿre started igniting on Altoona area stages in 2014, introducing their blend of original classic, progressive and power metal. A concept album, Fÿre’s debut CD, III Ghosts, explores a Faustian theme of a protagonist who sells his soul to the Devil to save a loved one’s life, and the body count and chaos that ensue from that decision. Influences spanning Iron Maiden to King Diamond/Mercyful Fate to Ghost BC inform Fÿre’s sound, with the group incorporating elements of power, death metal and hardcore at various points through the disc’s seven tracks. Anchoring Fÿre’s attack are the battering rhythms of drummer Tanner Kaurudar and bassist Joe Earnest, with the battery of lead guitarist Zach Kensinger and rhythm guitarist Sean Stringer providing forceful riffs and searing solos. Singer Matt Stoyanoff displays a siren-like wail and dramatic singing style that sells the album’s story line, with Denise Stoyanoff providing backing vocals. From its Maiden-ish intro, “Madness” sets the music and story in motion with a stern, forceful rumble. The sullen power ballad “Memo” introduces the story’s Faustian angle as it intensifies, and the body count begins with the hammering “Doctor Doctor.” “Doorbell” is informed by a lead guitar door chime and pulsing hardcore-like bass surges, while Kaurudar’s double-kick drum thunder powers “Thy Will Be Done.” “No Remorse” steps up the aggression with some Slayer-like guitar fireworks, before the tense title track “3 Ghosts” storms toward a death metal-infused finale. Fÿre develops intriguing melodies and angles of attack throughout the disc, executing their song material with tightness and purpose. The music and plot are cohesive from start to end, and the production and mix sound balanced, crisp and full. III Ghosts establishes Fÿre as a creative and innovative metal-geared force, and provides a strong, ambitious opening chapter. (The CD and digital album can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp page, https://fyretheband.bandcamp.com.)

PENSIVE FEAR – THE AWAKENING (Scarifide Records) Longtime Altoona-based guitarist Tom Brown started his original heavy metal studio project Pensive Fear in 1996. After recording various EP’s and single songs through the years, Tom has issued Pensive Fear’s first full-length album, The Awakening. Tom wrote the music and words for all 11 tracks, and plays lead guitar and keys on the album. Also appearing are Tom’s son Shawn on lead guitar, Fÿre frontman Matt Stoyanoff on lead vocals, Bob Gailey on bass and Dan Way on drums. Pensive Fear’s sound is rooted in the ‘80s-era classical heavy metal tradition of Yngwie Malmsteen, and is also informed by the progressive and power metal adventurism of Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Queensryche and Judas Priest. The songs feature complex melodies and arrangements with frequent tempo and chord changes, highlighted by Brown’s arpeggio-laced guitar pyrotechnics and Stoyanoff’s powerful, high-soaring vibrato. Lyrically, the songs ride loose themes of good vs. evil, absolution vs. condemnation, facing fear, and decisions and their consequences. From its sinister, horror movie-like beginning, the title track “The Awakening” opens the album with warning of a day of reckoning. Life’s crossroads and the quest for truth permeate the words of the terse “Where the Answer Lies” and “The Wrong Path,” while internal pain drives the hammering assault “The Anguish and Betrayal.” Brown’s composition and guitar skills take the forefront on the instrumental track “A Nightmare of Sorrow.” The performances and instrumental execution are tight and focused, and the album maintains a steady consistency throughout. Stoyanoff’s strong vocals reach incredible, majestic highs while sounding clear and distinctive throughout. The frequent changes and shifts in the arrangements keep the songs interesting and unpredictable. Recorded, mixed and produced by Brown, The Awakening sounds busy and cavernous, deep and thunderous. Tom Brown’s creative vision culminates in Pensive Fear’s The Awakening, an adventurous set that should provide intrigue to fans of classic and progressive metal. (The CD and digital album can be obtained through the Pensive Fear Bandcamp page, https://pensivefear.bandcamp.com/.) 

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