Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Four Owls - Natural Order

Our incomparable hip hop mogul is back! Chris Brown leads you through the latest offering from UK label High Focus. Here he is with The Four Owls and Natural Order. 

Here's a little something for all the hip hop lovers in the land. Back again to supply ya'll with more goodness from the label that continuously takes the genre to new and incredible heights. You got it, it's High Focus. This time it's the ornithologically themed UK hip hop super group who recently swooped in and dropped their new album, Natural Order.

When unmasked, you may know them as Fliptrix, Verb T, Leaf Dog and BVA; four individually talented artists, each with a different story to tell. After putting a tonne of hard work into their involvement within the genre, they now stand on the very forefront of UK hip hop. Wearing those trademark masks, Big Owl, Bird T, Deformed Wing and Rusty Take-Off are better known as The Four Owls.

Before going into hibernation back in 2011, the Owls released their first album Natures Greatest Mysteries, which really set the bar for UK hip hop. It's truly an incredible album and you haven't heard it. I think it's about time you changed that. Check out Life In The Balance featuring the one and only Jam Baxter. Go ahead and click on the video below, you may just love as much as I do. 

Throughout the whole album I felt a strong sense of unity, kinda like the way I felt when I heard their first album. They don't just happen to work well together, they bond like brothers. This is something which is pointed out in the album. The good stuff doesn't just stop at that, this release is bursting at the seams with flavour, originality and some genius lyricism. As for Leaf Dogs production on the entire album but one, it's summed up in one word, flawless. Dirty Dike and Jam Baxter return to collab once again, Smellington Piff makes an appearance as well as the legendary DJ Premier. That was a piece of news which left me shocked and excited to the very core. This is a history making collaboration, a bridge between UK hip hop and US hip hop is being built. It's something to be exited about!

The entire albums foundations are a clever construction of infectious classic hip hop, boombap style beats. You know the kind that just take over your mind, the head nod starts and you just can't stop. A brilliant blend of Soul and Jazz samples sit comfortably atop the beats. Rice Torture displays this in excellent style. If you don't previously know who the Owls are, this track is full of their personal perspectives giving the listener a clear insight to what they stand for. The slick changes between the four of them have always been easy to distinguish. Lyrically I won't say a word, just check the vid below. 

Silent Flight was the first single from this album, before the albums official release. This track is laced with twinkles of piano keys and well time soulful vocal samples, complete with yet another infectious head bobbing beat. This track is a favourite of my mine, which takes me to my second favourite, Feels Great, which is a track overflowing with feel good vibes. They show how appreciative they are of their positions within the genre, as well as the fans who show love and support, and the positive outlook on life that's given them. 

Think Twice caused major excitement within the UK hip hop community. Produced by the great DJ Premier, more famously known as the second member of the hip hop duo Gang Starr. The track starts with Premo introducing himself and the Owls; "This time, we're going overseas! Four brothers better known as The Four Owls!'' This intro is underpinned by a harmonious instrumental section that plays in the back, creating an air of nostalgia before the beat kicks. Premo's unmistakable, unique style of scratching combined with sampling follows this and it's just perfect. I gotta say The Owls perform outstandingly here and really bring this collaboration together with their razor sharp wit and genius word play. The video for this is pretty sweet too:


The next track, Pay The Price, is ultimately about decisions that people make and the actions that follow, all resulting in them inevitably paying the price. The Owls take no shit in Defiant (almost a direct quote). Control is toned down a little, is a little more chilled and I found this track quite thought provoking. Following is The Four Elements which features DJ Sammy B-Side. 

Then we have Dawn Of A New Day. The track is a straight up banger, Deformed Wing (Leaf Dog) cranks those boombap beats back up to eleven. The lyrical flow and its content hit hard! Big Owl barks "Things are changing the dawn of a new day, Four Owls, front of the crusade you don't like it? Fuck what you say!" Smellington Piff closes with an absolute killer verse. Approach Assassination with caution, it hits hard and bites harder. The Owls take off with some aggression over the top of that devious beat, throwing out methods on how to do the job properly, if you know what I mean! Wherever Dirty Dike is there's a lot of potential for 'aggressive' expansion. 

The boombap beats don't stop in Ain't Like It and neither does that killer flow! Despite not being able to eradicate it, The Owls show they've no desire to put up with needless drama in The Drama. Up next is Open Book featuring Jam Baxter. Followed by Judgement, a personal favourite. This track is easily relatable because it applies to everybody, those who misjudge and those who fall victim to it. The hook; "Are you looking behind the cover you see or judging me by the things the world made you believe? Are you looking at the way that I dress and thinking that it corresponds to the things in my head?'" Beautiful

The thought provoking Old Earth comes second to last on the album. The Owls show their reflective sides, speaking of the tough challenges as life progresses whilst keeping positive outlook in order to overcome them. This is a track that needs to be heard in order to really connect with it. The video is stunning so full screen it, sit back... Relax.

Motivation finishes the album on a high note with positive vibes flowing throughout. Laidback production with a chilled beat compliments this track superbly. Big Owl opens the track speaking about his passion for music and how that has been his driving force. Deformed Wing shows appreciation to those that surround him, including the haters, as they give him strength. Bird T uses his easy going lyrical flow to explain his progression from chasing money to staying true to the music. Followed by Rusty Take-Off who closes the album with his verse that contains not even the littlest bit of hate in his voice, not even for his haters. 

If you're all for that big sound hip hop, the kind where artists constantly show off and brag about their money and fame, then maybe this album isn't for you. This album is loaded with real substance and relatable subject matter, It connects with real people and it did it for me on so many different levels. The production ticks all of the boxes and the lyricism, I've already said it many times but it's just incredible. The Four Owls have literally created a masterpiece and if all of what I've had to say here sounds good to you, I believe Natural Order is for you.

Article by: Chris Brown

Purchase Natural Order Here:

High Focus Store
High Focus Store Limited Edition 

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Friday, 27 March 2015

Review: Gentle Storm-Endless Sea

Here at Musical Chairs we love new music by new artists with an exciting vision and that is what we have here. We let Gary Lee loose, on the metal 'side' of The Endless Sea, the first release by The Gentle Storm.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Gentle Storm are a metal band that are very 'European' in flavour. Taking the conceptual storytelling of prog, the sound and rhythm of folk and the power and energy of power metal to create something very much their own. The Endless Sea is the first full length release for this project, which has been contributed to by a bevy of musicians from different backgrounds and bands. The release itself is an interesting concept. A 2 disc format, both containing the same songs but executed in different styles and with different arrangements. Disc 1 contains the 'gentle' versions of the songs, which take on a more acoustic and folk led style. However, disk 2 contains the 'storm' version of the songs, which fuse the aforementioned folk style with a metal approach. I must stress that both versions of each of the songs are worth checking out. Although, this being a metal review, I will be dealing solely in the 'storm' versions of the songs.

The album opens with The Endless Sea and The Heart of Amsterdam, both of which were the first two singles from this release. The Endless Sea kicks the album off just as you imagine it should; a sample of the sea plays while the tolling of what I can only assuming is some sort of harbour or lighthouse bell tolls. Instantly an ambiance is created, lulling you into the story of the sea and the journey you are about to undertake. There is a short choir/chanting section, along with a dramatic chord progression which pulls you in further before Anneke's siren vocals embrace you. The song is drama and tension played out in music and even though this is the 'storm' version of the song, the folk elements are still very much the vocal point here, with the drumming being the most apparent metal attribute. Although the guitar solo that points towards the outro of the track is a nice touch, while being nothing ground-breaking, it sure does sound nice.

While The Endless Sea showed the drama and power of The Gentle Storm, The Heart of Amsterdam typifies the energy and seduction of folk music and pairs that off with the pace of metal music, with the bridge being a particular highlight. Anneke's beautiful vocals now reach their full operatic range and the interplay between all the stringed instruments is much more interesting than it was in The Endless Sea. All of this is underpinned by a simple, but effective, bass/drum line that gallops along and pulls the listener with it.

Once the two singles are out of the way, the album moves sorrowfully to The Greatest Love.The song itself is not particularly weak, but unfortunately it is sandwiched between The Heart Of Amsterdam and The Shores of India, both of which are battling it out to be my favourite song from this release and as such The Greatest Love becomes somewhat forgettable.

The Shores of India opens with a horn section that play out the main melody of the song and I love inclusion of the gong. However, it isn't long before the guitars crash through and add a whole new level of presence to this song. Speaking of presence....that snare! I just wanted to take a moment and mention how snappy that is, it punches through the mix well and really hooks the beat. Anneke's vocals are once again really on display here, the pre chorus with its almost sinister, perhaps threatening, rhythm and lower tone works so well with the chorus and its higher, much more powerful range. Once again, there is something seductive about this song, it has a power and a presence that almost calls on you to hear more of it.

This tension is continued through Cape of Storms, which opens with a low end, threatening sound of strings which gradually lighten and open up, once again, doing all they can to beckon the listener through the journey of this release. Whereas The Moment opens in a grander fashion, much in the way The Shores of India did, but continues the exploration of the 'love' in the story, offering a contemplative side dish to The Greatest Love.

The Storm appropriately ups the the metal elements, beginning with an oscillating riff that conjures up images of a powerful storm whipping about. The folky elements are still around, but taking a bit more of a backseat than usual here, while Anneke's vocals are less operatic than they were in any of the singles. However, the choir is back to offer their help in that department, once again adding tension and drama to the song in a very 'movie soundtrack' kind of way. The song does a tremendous job of managing the emotional build and fall that most auditory art must master, a great piece of story-telling.

The Brightest Light shines a spot on the optimism of a deed done and a return home. Filled with uplifting major chords and the grandeur of power metal, this is a victory/success song through and through. Making a refreshing change after all the songs that sought to build tension, we are back to the jovial end of the folk sound. New Horizons then continues this motif, before the album wanders through Epilogue:The Final Entry, the closing track to this vagabonds release.

The Endless Sea is a fine d├ębut for a project I can only hope continues. It tells an interesting story, both musically and lyrically. It also explores ground in an interesting way with the dual release. However, prog/power metal can sometimes be considered a bit too grand, or flimsy for some. Yet all things considered, it has turned out interesting and I believe it has achieved what it set out to achieve rather astutely. The Endless Sea is available now, released on Inside Out Music and can be purchased here  or found on iTunes.

Article by Gary Lee (@thewheelbear)

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Single: Etherwood-You'll Always Be a Part Of Me

Med School Music heavyweight Etherwood is back to his chilled ways as his releases his new single You'll Always be A part of Me. Usually our resident metal head, Gary Lee takes a gander at this soulful offering.

Etherwood has been a mainstay of the Med School Music label since Unfolding was released on the New Blood '13 release by his label, an annual release that showcases the new talent signed on to its roster. Since then he released his first full length album in November 2013, titled Etherwood. In that same year, he won 2 awards at the annual Drum and Bass awards, winning "Best Newcomer" in the DJ and Producer category. However, things got fairly quiet for Etherwood, at least on his two more frequent labels. Only releasing a mixtape in May 2014 through Med School's parent label Hospital Records, alongside a contribution to their compilation album Hospitality 2015.

Finally, with the release of You'll Always Be a Part Of Me the signs point to Etherwood preparing to new material and readying for another album release. Etherwood, who is a multi instrumentalist playing guitar and piano, has become well known for his chilled out version of drum and bass. Crafting thoughtful heartfelt melodies and knowing how to use silence and space well, takes the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach here.

Piano chords and Etherwood's soulful vocals dominate the song, while an occasional swell of bass hits through the mix while the beats take a slow and purposeful approach. Offering a hip/hop or R&B take, rather than the usual barrage of energy that comes with drum and bass. Overall this is not music to dance to, but rather music to think to, to contemplate moments rather than create them. A blissful release from the Lincoln born producer and (hopefully) a sign of good things to come

You can buy the single either through Itunes here, or the Hospital Records shop here

Article by Gary Lee (@thewheelbear)

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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Album Review: Pyramids-A Northern Meadow

You cannot always expect the major labels to issue interesting, fresh music with new ideas to offer. But you can always trust Musical Chairs to at least point you in the direction of where you can find some! Gary Lee checks out the new offering by Pyramids, released this month by Profound Lore Records.

Music to melt to, that's it. That's all I need to describe A Northern Meadow by Pyramids. Pyramids are a Texas based experimental metal band. They are essentially one big stewing pot of sounds and styles; crushing, oppressive, atmospheric sounds of doom mixed with the high end shrills and 'evil' scales of black metal. Throw in some dreamy shoe gaze, some avant garde sounds and ambient soundscapes and you have Pyramids. This musical stew is then served up in one gloop so thick that it is difficult to tell where one influence ends and another begins. Right from the outside, this oceanic tide of music swept me up and I drifted in it, drowned in it and melted in it. Whichever metaphor you use, at an atomic pleasantly time consuming level, I was consumed by this music.  

The album opens with In Perfect Stillness, I've Only Found Sorrow. A high end, highly polished, fuzzed up blackgaze track, with a slow methodical doom style beat and some beautifully haunting vocal work that reminds me of Thom Yorke; pained, rich and with a discordant melody. The song meanders along on its melancholy like a lost piece of driftwood almost melding with The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths of Whales, the next track on the album. This track also carries on along the same motif, slow and methodical versus dreamy and haunting. The repetition of vision however, makes this track no less worthy of your time.

The Substance of Grief is Not Imaginary is a very apt title for this particular track. It is the track where the melancholy of the previous songs 'wins' and the dreams become nightmarish. The song itself is slightly more black metal in style, although still with those beautifully sung clean vocals. However, there is an undercurrent of industrial style distortion and sampling that adds an unsettling 'crunch' to this track. Theres a few elements of what seem like screamed vocals, although they could well be filtered spoken words, I am unsure, either way it does little to settle the imagination. A fantastically evocative song.

Back to the cleaner style of otherworldly climbs comes Indigo Birds which is one of the longest tracks on the album at just short of 8 minutes. I often feel that the longer tracks are the measuring sticks for bands that have a slightly more eclectic style and this one does not fall short. Another well layered track that has plenty of interesting peaks and folds to wander around in. There's a spot around the 4:50 mark where most of the instruments drop out and everything gets a little harp-y. I'm not sure what exactly is making these sounds and it could well be synthesised (if so, great, I love to see bands reach for things outside their given 'genre'). But I love this section, its a prefect moment to exhale and take stock of the music before it, to ponder where this song might be going and where the other songs have taken, or will take you.

Although, I hope you used that moment to do plenty of exhaling, because I Have Four Sons, All Named for Men We Lost to War cuts through the serenity with a gut punch of doom metal stylings. A gut punch so furious it carrys through into I'm Sorry, Goodbye which sounds as meloncholic as its title suggests it should.

The final 1-2 punch on this album comes in the form of My Father, As Tall As Goliath which brings back some of the lighter atmospheric work and harmonies, and Consilience which probably fits the bill of being the 'exhibition song', it shows a little of everything that the album has already shown, but does so in new and interesting ways.

If I was to criticise this album I would say that it is difficult to take in a piecemeal way. It's definitely the sit down and listen to it from beginning to end type of album which, in some scenarios and for some types of audiences, may make it hard to access. I would also advise that this album is not going be for everyone but it is so well layered and passionately crafted it certainly deserves its place. In fact, just for the creative progression bands and releases like this bring, I am in love with this release and what it may do for its respective genres.

Find the album here

Article By Gary Lee (@Thewheelbear)

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Friday, 13 March 2015

Review! Enslaved-In times

As the year begins to hit the Spring and Summer months, we are gearing up and looking towards some heavyweight releases! Enslaved offer what may well be the first of these. Gary Lee takes a look:

Prolific Norweigian metal band Enslaved are back with their 13th Studio album In Times which is released on Nuclear Blast. Right out of the gate I want to point out that this is not a band I have followed closely and as such, I am not overly familiar with how this stacks up against their back catalogue. But by its own merit, I feel this album is worth a purchase. Like fellow Scandinavian metaller's Opeth, Enslaved do a great job of straddling genres; at times seeming like extreme or black metal, but often mixing that with melodic and/ or prog elements. Enslaved also do a fantastic job of keeping the listener enthralled during the time of the songs and the album. This is especially of importance when you consider that the album is only 6 songs long, but still clocks in at just under an hour.

The opening track, Thurisaz Dreaming, is a tour de force of songcrafting. It opens with a cacophony of blast beats, black metal-esc screams and a riff progression that appears to be snatched from the very same genre. This then develops into some swirling guitar work. However, at 1:20 this begins to slow down as a galloping drum rhythm appears. At 1:40 clean vocals come in, taking on a more melodic, almost wistful tone singing the rather apt "Ive taken on another form/Learning once again to speak". The guitar work becomes more gentle and once again melodic, as the listener is taken on a thoughtful journey. At around the 3:40 mark the screamed vocal work is back but the more melodic music remains, thus creating a nice song wide 'call and answer' type effect. Discordant guitar effects begin to gnaw at the edges of the music, threatening a return to the intro. Slowly this begins to build as power metal style vocals belt out of the now more aggressive music. Finally, at 5:40 we are back to full throttle blast beats and the black metal sound! It is this style that leads the song away to the choir led outro and caps off a fantastic first song and a bold album opener.

The album then sails through the slightly proggier styled Building With Fire which is then followed by One Thousand Years of Rain. The song is another mesh of styles and vocal approaches. I do feel though that it is the cleaner sections that are the strength of this song, they have a haunting power. The almost religious approach to the breakdown with the chanted vocals is fantastic and adds a real presence to the whole album, although my favourite spot in the song is the intro. There is a weird guitar hook that feels a little broken and dissonant, but in a clever way. I feel it really does a lot to draw you into the track and stands out from the crowd rather well. Overall, another well though out and engaging track.

Nauthir Bleeding follows on from this, another solid track with a rather fun and hypnotic guitar line. This leads to the longest track on the album, which is also the title track, In Times. The intro carries forward the almost power metal 'epic' feel sound that One Thousand Years Of Rain held. Again the vocal work is stunning. The screams carry a mighty and terrifying quality, while the clean singing holds a power and clarity. I also find myself enjoying the breakdown that hits around the 5:20 mark, which wanders from the chant motifs to something more melodic before crushing black metal style drumming and riffs come into to play, pushing the song towards its once more melodic outro. If I were to offer any song to anyone who had not heard of Enslaved and wanted them described, it would be this one.

The last track on the album, Daylight, is no less powerful. The song opens with a methodical and pounding doom sound. The intro soon gives way to some particularly evil sounding black metal stylings and from then on the song continues down similar, but no less interesting paths. The album in general is another one for 'album of the year', certainly 'album of the month'. Interesting. Epic. Powerful. Fans of Opeth should check this out.

Article By Gary Lee (@thewheelbear)

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Review: The Midnight Ghost Train-Cold Was The Ground

Musical Chairs, back. Metal, back. Gary Lee, back! The Midnight Ghost Train released Cold Was The Ground, March 2nd. Our very own metal god takes a look.

Hailing from Topeka, Kanas (although some of the band members can trace their roots back to Buffalo, New York) The Midnight Ghost Train (TMGT) are a 3 piece band currently comprised of Steve Moss (Vocals and Guitar), Brandon Burghart (Drums), and Mike Boyne (Bass). They have now released their third studio album, Cold Was The Ground.

Stylistically, TMGT are a hard rock band but take influences from delta blues and southern rock. Occasionally the thick, raw bass sound can force the songs to take a sludgier element. Fans of Clutch, Mayleene and the Sons of Disaster, Alabama Thunderpussy, Truckfighters and Baroness will find something to like here. Personally I love this album. It's deep, dirty and down-low rock that's force fed through your speakers with swagger and aggression. I would have perhaps liked the band to take the songs further, most of them tip off at the 5 minute mark, showing a move towards a more radio/single friendly length, as oppsosed to the longer tracks of their previous offerings.

The album opens with Along The Chasm/Gladstone. Along The Chasm is a fuzzed up, riff centric intro track, whose main riff has a thick delta blues vein. The track shows off the swagger and groove of TMGT from the get go and is a great way to introduce the album and the band. The intro track however, also acts as an intro to Gladstone with the two tracks bleeding into each other. I like this decision, it benefits the album by giving it some pace and would help the band live, where they are known for fast paced and intense shows. Gladstone was the single from this album. Once again the track is thick with chunky blues riffs and swagger. The vocal performance by Steve Moss takes the form of aggressive growls that rumble through the mix adding to the macho bravado of the music. I also believe that these two tracks pretty much sum up TMGT well; so if you aren't a fan by this point, I would advise you to move on. TMGT are not a band that sweep styles and genres, you will not find something for everyone here. If you like blues, if you like groove, if you like aggression and energy then TMGT are certainly the band for you.

The album continues with BC Trucker, which exhibits some interesting rolling drum work and Arvonia which features the sludgier end of the TMGT's bassline work before making it's way to One Last Shelter. This is a beefy, in your face, fast-paced instrumental that sticks to the sludgier end of the spectrum offered by Arvonia, while overlaying some more blues based picking and guitar work. Once again nothing here is particularly surprising, but it is certainly entertaining and well executed. I feel like this track picks the energy back up and it's from here that the album hurls you through the rest of the songs.

The feedback from One Last Shelter leads into the feedback that opens The Canfield, which is mostly a drum led track (although a guitar riff adds a memorable hook). The chorus opens up the guitar work a bit more and leaves the floor open to some big headbanging moments. But mostly this is a drum led groove that drips with the fun and swagger of southern rock.  The album chugs along on the bluesy Straight To The North and the more fast-paced and somewhat thrashy No.227 before stopping off at The Little Sparrow. 

The Little Sparrow is an interesting spoken word track that has a somewhat trippy quality played over a fanstasticly memorable walking bassline. It could be argued that it discusses the highs and lows of being an artist. The pressure of having music locked in you and trying to find a constructive way to communicate that. However, it is discussed in a rather dark, morose and striking way. The groans that play through the "chorus" of this song only add to the unnerving quality.

The album closes with Twin Souls, which opens with a thunderous drum section before cutting into some wailing blues riffs. The track has a crunchy groove that becomes infectious and really carries the song through the 1:30 mins of no vocals. Once again the vocals are on point with a higher pitched growl that to be honest is quite hard to explain, but man it cuts through everything so well, completing the stomp that this track offers. From the 3:22 mark this track rolls on and doesn't look back, ripping out solos and chugging bass before crashing into Mantis. There isn't much to be said about Mantis that hasn't already been said here. Another fine offering, on an album full of fine offerings.

In summation, this is a good album, there isn't much more to it. It's a no thrills approach to southern blues/rock/sludge, a band who play with passion and put their all into everything that they do. The charm of this honesty shines through in their recordings and while I may have liked a longer track here and there or perhaps more examples of the trippy side of TMGT, I can appreciate what these guys are doing and the quality that it is executed with. One thing is for sure, this release has helped to kick March off fantastically.

Article by Gary Lee (@Thewheelbear)

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