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Blasting out of London, then moving to California because, gosh darnit, THERE JUST WASN’T ENOUGH SMOG IN LONDON, Alien Breed consist of guitarist / electronics programmer / chief songwriter Ben Astrop, bassist / extraterrestrial lookalike Ed Pepper, and drummer (really good drummer, too! Neat jazzy fills and such!) Matt Bayne.

Charmingly, the band actually think more than two people read my reviews on a regular basis, and so they sent me their debut album, Antidote, for free! You hear me? FREE!!! There was a catch of course, and that is that I had to review it.

Truthfully, the type of music these guys are sporting isn’t really my bag. Their website says their aim is to 'create a hybrid of rock and hard dance beats', and, funnily enough, that’s exactly what they do ... lots of crunchy guitar riffs mixing and mingling with electronic doo-dats and whatchamacallits with occasional backing synth washes to be moody an' stuff.

If Antidote sounds sort of like Linkin Park (minus the rapping, thank god - except for one song, I guess), hold your horses there big fella, because - even though I was originally turned off by that impression - repeated listens reveal that the album doesn’t actually suck.

See, unlike Linkin Park, who really have absolutely no idea how to make anything approaching interesting music, and just use the same electronic doodads and three guitar chords in every song, Alien Breed are quite adept at making the production in their songs quite interesting and fun.

Frontman Astrop apparently has a history in that whole drum‘n’bass scene (that I have no idea about, because I’m really unhip), but the fact that this is a guy that actually knows something about Techno shows that this sort of modern techno/metal hybrid can be done reasonably well in the right hands. Plus, beyond the cool rockin’ techno dance beats, diddley-doodley electro-gadgets, and occasional background synth washes, he does lay down some interesting guitar bits here and there ...

... the suprisingly tasteful solo sections in “Evil Twin” and “Come Alive” are great, the acoustic / techno-overdubbing crap in the second half of “Stealing Sunshine” is neat, and a pseudo-Middle Eastern guitar riff in “Slither” is bitchin'.

A lot of the guitar parts are just basic chords and whatnot (with occasional acoustic pickin’ as well, most notably on “Stealing Sunshine”), but the chord sequences are somewhat more interesting than found on modern rock radio that the kids nowadays love so much, and they’re nearly always underpinned by Astrop’s drum‘n’bass knowhow, and thus remain for the most part, very cool.

But whilst I do dig a lot of this album, there’s one place (and a rather important one at that) that I find Antidote painfully lacking, which is why it ends up with a pretty average rating, and that is in the songwriting department ...

I’ve listened to the album something like eight or nine times, and still - when I look at the track listing - I can only remember the choruses to two of the tracks (and the second one is actually just a remix of the first one). So Astrop has managed to write only one truly memorable song to go with the neat, super-busy production he’s splattered over everything. Thankfully, that one song - “Colorblind” - rules! And it’s the first single off the album too.

The band clearly selected that track to be a single wisely (which is important, because I think part of the reason The Toadies’ second record tanked so badly was that the single - “Push the Hand” - was the weakest song on the album). - “Colorblind” has a bitchin’ chorus that’s been stuck in my head for days, and the second half features a goofy section where Astrop's vocals are all treated and fucked-with to hell. And the remix, “Colorblind V2.0”, at the end of the album, is fascinating, what with its strings and faux-eastern sounding plinky instruments and vocal overdubbing, all underpinned by a subtle electronic backing.

Nothing else is as memorable as that though, which is a problem. Most everything else here, melody and songwriting-wise, is just so overwhelmingly okay that I can't remember anything at all beyond the chorus to “Colorblind” and some of the neat instrumental bits. The flip side of that of course, is that very few tracks are bad, though there are a few exceptions to that rule as well.

I don’t like “Slither”, because Astrop actually tries to rap in it, though it’s partially redeemed by the cool riff I mentioned before that pops up halfway through. “King for a Day” features the mentally retarded 'moon, June, soon' rhyming triplet, and “Pick Me Up” is just boring and mediocre in every sense.

I think the lack of memorability is partially due to Astrop's sort of whiny voice, which isn’t bad per se, but isn’t very good at carrying a melody, and in its worst moments sounds like a bizarre mixture of Raine Maida and Chester Bennington. Better than Geddy Lee though.

Antidote isn't the best music I’ve ever heard, but a lot of it strikes me as the type of music so many shit acts (like say, Linkin Park) are trying to do, but can't, because most rock bands have no idea how to use electronics to good effect in their songs. This band does. Now they just need some better songs.

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Posted: Sunday 7th Apr 2019 9:47 AM

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album review
Out of Exile is surprisingly good, so much so that I think this new-fangled supergroup may have some sort of future. Not so much mind, that I like the album any more than the new offering by Coldplay, so I won't get carried away here and proclaim Audioslave the new kings of modern rock.

Whereas Audioslave's material typically sounds like sub-par Rage Against the Machine (with Chris Cornell singing), Out of Exile sounds in many places more like a Soundgarden record. It seems the band have decided on a direction with this record, and that direction is in the softer material that Chris Cornell obviously wrote, that sounds just like late-period gentle Soundgarden tracks.

The rockers are actually competent this time too! Well, some of them. For instance, the opening one-two punch of “Your Time Has Come” and the title track provide more interesting riff power, groove, and compact driven crunch than any of the rockers from the last album (especially “Cochise” which is still terrible), and while the later rockers, such as “Drown Me Slowly”, “The Worm”, “Man or Animal”, and “#1 Zero” may not be that great, they’re certainly tolerable.

The production is better this time as well, and the loud guitars actually burst through the speakers and sound alive, doing away with the over-compression that hurt the last album. Heck, some of the solos in “The Worm” are Tom’s best work since Rage, and that's not an isolated incident (his box o’ guitar effects is everywhere on this album), so when mediocre riffs and dull grooves pop up, they’re at least saved by some cool other stuff.

But it's the melodic material where this album, like its predecessor, makes sweet, sweet cash ... “Be Yourself” is essentially a carbon copy of the winning balladic singles from the last album (no surprise it was the first single), but it’s nice and fine and pretty an' all, so no complaints.

The real winners though - shockingly - occasionally do things altogether different from “Like a Stone” or “I Am the Highway”. “Doesn’t Remind Me” for instance, is something reviewers have gotten to calling 'Southern-tinged'. It’s not, but it's real good - the intro and verses are very gentle, with subtly melodic slide guitars underpinned by very tasteful rhythm work, before busting out into the inevitable hand-waving chorus, then the unexpected light-as-air bridge leads into the even more inevitable guitar solo.

“Heaven’s Dead” is a lovely gentle power ballad, with excellent crooning from Cornell, and the vaguely psychedelic power/pop “Dandelion” is the song from this album that immediately jumps out as being 'cool' and 'different from previous Audioslave tracks', although if you stuck it in the middle of Down on the Upside I’m not sure many people would notice. But as I like that album a lot, I also like that song.

The closing ballad “The Curse” is my pick of the litter however. It’s slow and plodding and uses two chords, but Cornell’s singing is absolutely transcendent, the melody is ace, and I feel that for what it is, it's extremely well-done. It’s big and powerful and makes me think Audioslave are actually capable of making a great album one day, even though they’re really just a grunge version of Asia.

And finally, for the sake of completism, I don’t remember a damn thing about “Yesterday to Tomorrow”.

Pretty solid album then ... the playing is better, the songs are better and more diverse (there are more than two distinct types), the singing is vastly better, and overall everyone just stepped up their game a notch. They need a few more notches before I start thinking of Audioslave as anything more than an altogether strange alliance of two superior, albeit dead, entities, but at least they’ve made that important step up from mediocre to decently enjoyable.

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Posted: Wednesday 24th Apr 2019 10:15 AM

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