CD Reviews – September 2019

NATE GATES – GHOST ON THE RIVER (no label) Roaring Spring-based singer and songwriter Nate Gates has been creating music for the past two decades, and developing his distinctive style of roots-based original American rock and roll along the way. Nate’s latest CD, Ghost on the River, features 20 original songs that tap flavors spanning rock, folk, punk, traditional blues and honky-tonk. These songs become a musical tapestry of Nate’s world, as he weaves often cynical vignettes based on his experiences, observations and perspectives about the times, places and people he has encountered. With Nate singing, playing various guitars and harmonica, a number of area music scene guests help shape his stories; including album co-producer Chris Rattie on drums, percussion, bass, keys and backing vocals; Chad Buterbaugh with lead and slide guitar, Gus Tritsch on fiddle, Mike Hill and Nate Cutshall on harmonicas, and Kai Schafft on banjo. A Neil Young & Crazy Horse country-rock vibe permeates the disc-opener “It Don’t Matter Anymore, depicting desperation and desolation in the rust belt. Reminiscences about that rust belt – particularly Pittsburgh – provide the basis for the rockabilly-geared title track “Ghosts on the River.” “Cassey” and “Valley Blues” display blue collar blues, while electric delta-flavored blues powers the rowdy and caustic stomp “Idols Fall.” In a softer vein, the soulful “Driftin’” and slow blues of “Long As I Got a Window” wax reflective, dreamy and contemplative. Nate offers a biting reality check on the edgy “Freewillfreeluvfreetrade” and the rockabilly rant “Everybody Sees the Brick Wall Comin’ But Nobody’s Stoppin’ the Train,” delivers social commentary on corporate-run society with the rowdy “Rebel Child,” and observes the transition between past and current plagues on “From the Hollar to the Hood.” Nate explores doo wop on “Gonna Walk” and honky-tonk flavors on “Almost Saw the Eclopse,” while Bob Dylan-ish folk informs “Skylight (With Apologies to OB Hardison),” “Never I Said” and the disc-finisher “Tomorrow’s Here…Now What?” Nate’s passionate, raspy and acidic vocal provides a connecting thread throughout the set, and his wordplays are frequently thought-provoking and visceral. Co-produced by Nate and Chris Rattie, and mixed and mastered by Daniel Collins, Ghost on the River merges classic rock, blues and folk atmosphere with a punk-edged bite, enabling the power of Nate’s words and music to fully radiate. The result is a compelling listen; Nate Gates successfully channels ghosts of traditional cutting-edge American roots music into his own vibrant musical flavor on Ghost on the River, and repeat listens enable the full strength of this body of work to shine. (This album can be obtained through CD Baby and other online platforms.)

IRON WOLF – STRONG NEVER BROKEN (Iron Fury Records) Based in Ligonier, brothers Alec and Austin Wolf formed Iron Wolf in 2011. Soon joining Alec on bass and Austin on guitar and keys were their friend Blake Brendlinger on guitar and another brother, Andrew Wolf, on drums. On their debut album, Strong Never Broken, Iron Wolf introduces their classic heavy metal sound, rooted in the traditions of Yngwie Malmsteen, Ronnie Dio-era Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and more. The group crafts anthemic and majestic compositions with rolling thunder rhythms, flowing melodies, lead guitar harmonies and virtuosity, and lavish vocal choruses and harmonies over the disc’s 11 tracks. The group’s lyrical subject matter explores familiar classic metal themes of warriors, bravery, battles and unity. The group sets the album’s tone with the opening combo, with the medieval-flavored instrumental prelude “The Hunt” setting up their title song “Iron Wolf,” which rides a rumbling arrangement that culminates in a layered, choir-like chorus homestretch. The group paints mystical lyrical and sonic imagery with the sturdy rockers “Darkness,” “Hellfire” and “Fear,” before showing a more aggressive edge with “Invaders.” “Nightmare” and the faster-paced “Riders of the Night” channel a more prominent Iron Maiden influence, while “Evil Angel” shows a more Sabbath-toned flavor. The group then delivers the masterful album title track “Strong Never Broken,” featuring a powerful melody backed with an elaborate arrangement and instrumental detail; before the prog-metal epic “The End” fittingly closes out the set. Iron Wolf’s overall presentation is strong; all four musicians show plentiful skill on their respective instruments, with tight execution, fluid soloing and guitar harmonies. Alec and Austin Wolf display bold, soaring voices up front, and the group’s intricate vocal harmonies add color and depth to the group’s presentation. Recorded and produced by the group in their own Iron Fury Records studio, Strong Never Broken sounds full, powerful and clear from start to end, with all instrumental components and vocal performances shining through clearly. Iron Wolf delivers an impressive debut with Strong Never Broken, proudly carrying the torch for the majesty and artistry of classic 1980s-era heavy metal. (The CD can be obtained through the website

FYRE – 2 KEYS (no label) Altoona’s Fyre first established their adventurous brand of progressive, classic-styled metal music on their 2017 debut CD, III Ghosts, a concept album spinning a Faustian tale of selling one’s soul to evil forces. Fyre continues with a similar theme on their follow-up disc, 2 Keys, another concept album dealing with issues of choosing good or evil. This album follows a supernatural storyline of a protagonist examining his inner mind to encounter and mitigate the evils that lie within. The instrumental cast of (now former) lead guitarist Zach Kensinger, rhythm guitarist Sean Stringer, (now former) bassist Joe Earnest and drummer Tanner Kaurudar construct tense, busy, leviathan backdrops rooted in the traditions of Iron Maiden, 2112-era Rush and early Queensryche. Lead singer Matt Stoyanoff again takes center stage with his high-flying voice, occupying a soaring middle ground between classic Bruce Dickinson, Geoff Tate and Fly By Night-period Geddy Lee, while a few times morphing into bestial death metal snarls as his lyrics encounter the story’s dark forces. Fyre sets the album’s theme with “The Lurking Fear,” as the protagonist ponders addiction and looming evil, and what to do about it. The plot thickens with “Premonition,” thus beginning a journey into the dark crevices of the mind. Trouble looms and tension builds on “Into the Void,” leading to the chaotic “The One Who Sleeps.” The bluesy-leaning “Ghosts of the Stratosphere” finds our protagonist arriving at the juncture of his past and future. This leads to the CD’s climax, Fyre’s 8-minute-plus epic “The Life and Times of a Demi-God”…With guest and studio guru Cody Hoover manning the keys, the composition starts with Matt’s wife, Denice Stoyanoff, singing lead as the protagonist’s tour guide to a pivotal crossroads, which musically plays out with a monstrous midsection and torrid backstretch, leading into a gentle homestretch where the vocal duet of Matt and Denice lead the protagonist to safety. The return to sanity and redemption continues with “Back to the Past,” before the disc-closer “The Onyx Skull” suggests that the struggle between good and evil is never totally resolved. Fyre raises the bar here; the songwriting is more elaborate and cohesive, and the melodies more defined. The instrumental execution is tighter and sounds cleaner, and Matt Stoyanoff’s voice sounds mightier and more poised. Fyre ups the ante on their mythos with 2 Keys, pushing the boundaries of their musicality and lyrical storytelling. This album should satisfy fans of progressive metal, while whetting their appetites for whatever Fyre next has in store (The CD can be obtained at shows or through Fyre’s Bandcamp page.)

WRATH OF TYPHON – KINGDOM OF FEAR (no label) Wrath of Typhon came together a decade ago to bring their brand of savage metal maelstrom upon the world. Their second full-length CD, Kingdom of Fear, finds the York foursome proudly tapping their influences as they forge their own distinctive style of aggressive power metal. Slayer, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath inform the group’s collective sound, and the group blends elements of classic, thrash, power and death metal into a terse, 11-song set. Frontman Jason Robison unleashes vocal savagery, ranging from maniacal howls to monstrous death metal growls to soaring screams – backed with bristling backdrops generated by guitarist Bill Miskowitz, drummer Dave Miskowitz and bassist Alan Derrick. Yet savage as their metal is, Wrath Of Typhon infuses effective melodies and hooks into the mix, giving these songs direction and purpose. True to their name, Wrath Of Typhon’s lyrics often involve deal with forms of wrath brought on by man, nature, nations, corruption and more. The volatile assault “Livermore” examines nature’s wrath on locations called Livermore – a town in California devastated in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and a western Pennsylvania town of the same name ravaged by floodwaters in 1936. The rumbling “Son of Sam” recalls the wrath of New York serial killer David Berkowitz, exploring the voices in his head that directed his killing spree. Wrath Of Typhon forecasts a bleak future on “Extinction of Possibilities,” while the album’s Sabbathy title track “Kingdom of Fear” describes an evil empire. The performances are enthusiastic and forceful; Jason displays presence and intensity, and his jagged voice sells the songs’ fierce lyrical themes. Bill generates malicious riffs and scorching guitar solos, while Dave and Alan anchor the attack with abundant thunder. Recorded and produced by Mike Bardzik at Noisy Little Critter Studio in Downingtown, Kingdom of Fear sounds appropriately thunderous, sharp and balanced, enabling Wrath Of Typhon’s attack to achieve full sonic fury. Wrath Of Typhon administers their convincing power metal wrath on Kingdom of Fear, further defining their terse musical landscape and delivering a volatile journey from start to finish. (The CD can be purchased through the group’s Bandcamp page and CD Baby.)

AFRO N’AT – AFRO N’AT EP (no label) Launched two years ago. Johnstown’s Afro N’at has fast become popular throughout western and central PA with their hot fusion of funk, jazz and African musical flavors. The group’s self-titled, all-instrumental, four-song EP gives listeners a lively introduction into their musical world. Afro N’at is led by the powerful horn section of sax man Alec Zander Redd, trombone and euphonium player Mere Kae Redd, trombonist Tom Buchko and trumpet player Rich Williams; with Matt Partsch playing guitar, Randy Penrod on bass and Elias Ghantous on drums and percussion. The group lays down captivating, infectious grooves that quickly hook listener attention, and build into vigorous blends of horn, guitar and percussion savvy. The disc-opener “Fuzzy Pharaoh” starts out with a reserved Latin flair, before escalating into a busy groove of full horns, drums and hand percussion. “Cannon” and “The Wind-Up” provide energetic funk-jazz workouts that mix broad group passages with instrumental solo highlights. The disc-finisher “Remedo” quickly establishes a tricky time signature, and escalates this cadence toward a soaring climax; the cycle then repeats, with interesting solo highlights and a well-placed stoppage keeping this musical journey compelling throughout. Enthusiasm and fun permeate all four tracks, and it’s easy to sense the happy and adventurous vibes Afro N’at bring throughout the set. The talent level and coordination are strong, and the solo displays are ambitious and heartfelt. Produced by Daniel Blake at Schoolhouse Recording Studio in Greensburg, this EP sounds full, balanced and vibrant throughout, with each instrument well represented in the mix. This EP provides a fun listen, and a strong introductory glimpse into Afro N’at’s moving and grooving musical world. (The EP can be obtained at the group’s shows, also through CD Baby and other online platforms.)