Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Real Seven Nations Army

SEVEN NATIONS – “Time As The Enemy” CD ’08 (Moriah, US) – While New York’s Black 47 has been the Celtic rock band that’s impressed me the most from a lyrical and musical standpoint, seldom has a band ever occupied a part of my psyche as Florida’s SEVEN NATIONS did in the early ‘00’s. Having gone through a period of personal upheaval during that very era, I found myself often buoyed by the perceptive thoughts and immediate catchiness of songs from the band’s “The Factory” disc (’99). From the heart-searing “This Season” & “Twelve” through the staunch & hard delivery of “The Ballad Of Calvin Crozier,” SEVEN NATIONS and their leader Kirk McLeod (vocals, guitar) took me on their backs & got me through the shit…not something I can say about many bands. 7N (as they’re known by their loyal following) seemed to be poised for success as the decade began to unfold, and their 2002 effort “And Now It’s Come To This” actually surpassed “The Factory,” in my opinion, remaining one of the greatest records of the decade thusfar. The musical climate seemed right and with the right push at the right time, I thought they were going to unseat the wildly-overrated Dave Matthews Band in the college-rock arena and yet…just didn’t seem to happen. The band went on to issue another superb albeit bit-of-a-left-turn in 2005’s all acoustic “…Thanks For Waiting.” Now another 3 years have gone by and Kirk & Co., despite still making the rounds of decent-sized clubs and Celtic festivals, have dished out another gem, “Time As The Enemy.” Yes, it’s true that SEVEN NATIONS have not become household words, except for that crap White Stripes song that pisses me off every time I hear it. And yet, the truth is, I don’t personally give a fuck because this band still rules…completely! Once again, the 7N line-up is populated by Mr. McLeod, Struby – bass, Scott Long – pipes and Crisco Macelli –drums. A difference here is the fiddle work, handled long-time by Dan Tracey, has now been taken over by Victor Gagnon. This latter blip is barely noticed as, I’m delighted to say, the band has returned to the rock format with a record that has me doing Irish step dances for joy…and this white boy can’t dance! For anybody who’s familiar with 7N already, “Time As The Enemy” jumps right back into the fray of “The Factory” and “And Now…” with big freaking boots. From the very opening of “Infinity” there’s no question that SEVEN NATIONS is here to rock this time out. And if there was any doubt, “Mugs Away,” with it’s “I wouldn’t want to be you!” chorus leaves little doubt. The rhythm section of Macelli & Struby synch up like a fine-tuned hot rod as McLeod lays down chords that range from jagged to lush and Long & Gagnon stir in their Celtic leads to the mix. All that aside, there’s nothing saying the boys still can’t deliver a stirring ballad or two, as the heartfelt “My Favorite Photograph” proves, nor are they shy about really piling on the Celtic flavor in brand new pipe and fiddle sets. Of course, the question comes to bear as to whether or not this CD is the equal of “The Factory” and, while not trying to side-step the issue, I’ll say that it truly doesn’t matter. In this case, despite the fact that massive stardom has still eluded them, time has been anything but the enemy for SEVEN NATIONS. 9.5

KARCIUS – “Episodes” CD ’08 (Unicorn Digital, Can) – Instrumental music is a funny deal. I mean, let’s face it, how many times have you heard a tag line that goes something like, “Well, for an instrumental album, it’s pretty good.” Or how ‘bout “One of the best instrumental discs of the year.” See, there’s almost always that qualification. I wonder why that is? Actually I know why that is. It’s the matter of “songs.” We, as rock fans, have been conditioned over time to respond to hooks, patterns, etc. that are far more easily indentified and remembered when accompanied by vocal melodies, I think. Therefore it’s much more difficult for something sans singing, crooning, yelling, screeching, hollering or growling to etch it’s way into our musical brains. And yet…there are exceptions. Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” is one of the key examples of the masses embracing an instrumental “hit.” But even those of us on the periphery often have a difficult time really pulling a vox-less record to our bosoms. Still, we have a handful of our own “Frankensteins,” records that we nearly universally regard as classics despite their lack of emanations from the human pie hole. Return To Forever’s “Romantic Warrior” springs to mind as does Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue.” And while I’m not quite ready to include Canada’s KARCIUS in the company of the previous 2 artists, they certainly have made some noise with “Episodes,” their 3rd release. Sporting a 4-piece line-up (Simon LeEsperance – guitar, Dominique Blouin – bass, Thomas Brodeur – drums, Mingan Sauriol – keys), these guys go for the gusto right from the git-go by opening the disc with a 31 minute piece! Now while this may sound intimidating, or just downright tiring to the jaded reader, I gotta tell ya, fear not. “Elements” (composed of 3 sections, “Submersion,” “Sol” and “Combustion”) is as tight and focused as many numbers a fraction of it’s length. What KARCIUS does is play a super-hot, vibrant blend of heavy (at times damn metallic) prog that slides easily into a jazzy fusion and is a magnificent treat for the ears. Axeman LeEsperance has a real command here, alternating distorted crunch with fluid lines of liquid lead and biting licks. Still, what I like about this dude so much is that he never over-plays. He allows plenty room for Sauriol’s keys and, in fact, all 4 musicians play in a way to converse rather than compete. It’s a special feeling that you only get from a band who is not only firing on all cylinders but doing so with a truly fierce joy. Lengthy cuts rule the day on “Episodes,” as of the remaining 4 tracks, only one comes in at less than 7 ½ minutes but don’t let that daunt you. KARCIUS lavishes their scintillating jazzy-metallized-prog with generous dollops of melody that will have you pushing the “repeat” button many more times than once. I have to really thank the folks at Unicorn Digital for sending this one my way, as “Episodes” is simply a corker! The best part? No annoying singer! 8.5

AEOLIAN RACE – “Landlocked Nation” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Here is a 3-piece band from Massachusetts who ply the trade we’ve come to know as progressive rock. In that end they are indebted, influence-wise, to people with names like Waters, Gilmour, etc….that is, Pink Floyd. And AEOLIAN RACE do a pretty decent job of it through the 11 cuts here, with some attention-holding tracks like “Tethys Ocean” and “Stillborn.” I’m left thinking that this release may have served the band better had they limited it to an EP length, however, as a few of the numbers really wander afield such as the cringe-worth pop of “Alligator.” Still, with that and a few technical wavers (the vocals could be stronger), AEOLIAN RACE makes me wonder what they have in store next. 6.0

VALIENT THORR – “Immortalizer” CD ’08 (Volcom, US) – North Carolina’s VALIENT THORR have gotten a bit of a bad rap from the underground, in my opinion, for having been a participant in the emo-trendy Warped Tour. Surely not anything I’d regard as emo, this latest disc is pretty much up-yer-ass-styled metal, complete with twin Gibsons sending cascades of riffs & harmony leads flying all over the hills & dales, loin cloths & cod-pieces being the fashion of the day. As happens so many times however, these guys are somehow infinitely more popular than bands like Bible Of The Devil, Slough Feg & Colossus, each of whom cause a higher quality brand of axe-laced decibel damage on a regular basis. So, for anybody who’s already privy to the latter brain-bashers, this would be a genre-complete-ist purchase. Anyone else, head to BOTD’s website and duck! 6.0


Michael said...

You make SEVEN NATIONS sound totally great - will make a point to check em out soon.

BTW: Have you check out the BOILED IN LEAD "Silver" CD from 2008? Effin' brilliant Milwaukee Celtic rocking, imo. I think you might take to it, too.

raysrealm said...

I had an older disc by BIL and liked it...will have to check this one out as well, thanks for the tip!