Review: Manuals – In A Clean, Well Lighted Place

Manuals - In A Clean, Well Lighted Place reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands punk, emo and post-hardcore zine

It’s pretty impressive that Manuals can make this much noise, given that there’s only two of them. Alex and Andy hail from that place up north called Leeds and make very noisy, discordant emo. Their latest single In A Clean, Well Lighted Place brings back memories of emo’s first wave, with atmospheric, yet fuzzy-as-hell guitars, and a desolate sonic landscape that’ll satisfy that one person you know who’s still trying to rename all the titleless Indian Summer tracks.

There are very few vocals to be found throughout the eponymous track, and fewer snappier lyrics. Instead, Manuals have focused on making it as hard-hitting as possible, and what words can be found cutting through the frantic riffs and razor-sharp drums are bleak and glorious. There’s beautiful peaks and troughs as the music rises and falls with wonderfully twiddly riffs. ‘In A Clean, Well Lighted Place’ is pretty perfect.

‘A Room Of Our Own’ blends in perfectly. As it goes on, it starts to sound a bit too much like its predecessor, but it’s a difficult thing to get right in this genre. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to love, and if you were missing the pained, frustrated screams, they make an appearance halfway through, completely bringing the track together. But as the song hits the three minute mark, a long and barely distinguishable speech takes over, backed by a ton of distortion, and it just totally destroys the feeling.

However, what Manuals demonstrate throughout these two tracks is that there’s still a place for music like this. It’s not for everyone, but that’s part of what makes it great. Keep experimenting.

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3.5 out of 5 high fives

From Chicago Softcore to Arena Tours: Can Fall Out Boy Still Be Punk?

I went to go see Fall Out Boy last month. This probably doesn’t come as much as a surprise to anyone who knows me, or anyone who reads this zine/blog/collaborative punk rock endeavour on the regular. The number of times that I’ve seen Fall Out Boy live throughout the years has clocked into the double digits, only beaten by New Found Glory’s insane touring repertoire. But last month, it was the first time I’d ever seen them take to an arena stage, and for me, the magic had gone.

Fall Out Boy, back in the day

There’s a light on in Chicago, but nobody’s home any more.

Fall Out Boy were probably in the best form they’ve been in for years. Patrick’s weight loss is more than just cosmetic – he can sing without losing his breath, and he dives around the stage like a charismatic little maniac. He has, finally, become the frontman he always should have been. Joe’s still an absolute hero, pulling off sweet guitar solos like nothing else matters, and Andy’s Andy; a vegan straight-edge no-nonsense motherfucker who gets down to business. Pete looked a little weathered, and the realisation that the entire front four rows are just screaming teenage girls meant that he didn’t dive into the crowd for ‘Saturday’ like before, but hey, we’ve all got to grow up sometime, and there’s still a little bit of that devilish charm left in our boy Wentz. Perhaps that’s it – Fall Out Boy are finally grown-ups, and Pete is no longer Peter Pan; those tired eyes are no longer hidden behind smeared black eyeliner. This added maturity obviously isn’t bad at all, and Save Rock and Roll is an extremely accomplished album. Ten solid slices of radio-friendly rock gold (and ‘Save Rock and Roll’ but we don’t talk about that), all tied together with one weird video concept, which actually made a great backdrop for the night. The stage at the NIA was backed by a huge array of screens, showing various bits from the Save Rock and Roll videos. They played a couple of token tracks off Take This to Your Grave. There was a good selection off From Under the Cork Tree. In theory, it had the makings to be one of the better sets I’ve seen from Fall Out Boy, but I left feeling a little bit empty. It’s not their fault; they’ve just moved on.

Fall Out Boy are saving rock and roll... somehow

From Under The Cork Tree hasn’t hit the fire just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

To truly understand why this hurts, you have to realise what a huge part of my adolescence Fall Out Boy were. I didn’t have a great amount of friends in high school. I was the school goth for a while, and after that, I was just another loser. The friends that I did have didn’t quite get my love of punk rock, black metal and Japanese pop music. There was one boy who did, and he pretty much took my heart and stomped on it, over and over. But Fall Out Boy were always there for me. Pete’s perfect poetry and Patrick’s dulcet tones carried me through, and I developed a fervour for them that even my adoration of AFI didn’t quite match. My love affair with AFI is a lifelong, consistent dedication – always there, burning slowly in the background. My obsession with Fall Out Boy was more like young love; it hit me fast and hard. I made friends with a bunch of people on online forums who felt the same, and when I felt lost, they were always there for me. My sister and I went to as many FOB shows as our parents would drive to, and we would sit wide-eyed in the back seat on the way home, awestruck by what we’d just witnessed. It’s not necessarily that FOB were technically that good (as a live band, they seriously took it up a notch at the NIA last month, but I’ve seen them just going through the motions before), but we always felt at home in those festival crowds, at those London venues, and we screamed the lyrics until we couldn’t scream any more.

I sang a little at the show last month. I mouthed the words a bit. I’m not totally jaded; give me a sweaty punk rock basement show and I’ll throw down with the best of them. Eyeliner can always be reapplied, clothes can always be changed, but the spark that the right show can ignite is priceless and dangerous. There’s a reason why punk rock and authority have never been great bedfellows. Fall Out Boy no longer ignite that spark in me. In a huge arena, denim vests covered in Fall Out Boy patches sell for £50, and boys in SoulCal polo shirts shrug when the show ends on ‘Saturday’. Middle-aged women who heard ‘Young Volcanoes’ on Radio 1 dance drunkenly around me, and there’s a girl in a Ramones t-shirt that didn’t recognise ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ when they played it through the PA before the set started. I can’t say that Fall Out Boy sold out; who am I to deny them the success that they completely deserve? Moving on musically increased their popularity phenomenally after the trainwreck that was Folie a Deux (I mean seriously, what the hell was that), and Save Rock and Roll is still a great album, even if it lacks the emotional depth and the youthful arrogance of its predecessors. And I don’t want to be elitist; I don’t want to claim FOB for myself and teenage girl misfits everywhere. I just want to feel something when I listen to their records. I just want to feel connected when I see them up on that stage. I just want to feel unafraid and reckless.

Instead, I felt very alone that night, awash in a sea of perfectly practised motions. My boyfriend provided a much-needed lifeline (and he let me rant as much as my brain could handle) but Fall Out Boy are no longer the heroes I need. They may have saved rock and roll, and they once stirred my young and fragile heart, but they’ve gone onto bigger and better things. It takes something different to light that fire in the core of my soul now, but it burns stronger than ever. Thanks for the memories; they were truly great, but memories are now all they are.

Review: Naga – Hén

Naga - Hen reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - UK black, doom and death metal zine

When you think of the Italian musical canon, bone-crunching and gratingly scuzzy doom metal are not high on the list of stylistic attributes often associated with the Italian musical output. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you’ll find the Mediterranean nation is adroit at spawning some downright hellish bands whose aggression is festered by a socio-political landscape in a perpetual state of tumult. The country may seem to possess a low profile in comparison to its European mainland cousins in regards to its output of confrontational bands whose repertoire lays in the realm of the aurally destructive. However, angry music is alive and well in Italy, especially in college towns where the country’s youth search for mediums in which to vent their fury at the incompetence of the self-serving political elite.

Recorded in Naples, in the shadow and ever-ominous presence of Mt. Vesuvius, Hén is a monolithic slab of down-tuned bulldozer riffs and thirteen-minute tracks that drag the listener through several stages of aural attrition. Despite Naga consisting of just three members, they produce tracks with fuzz several inches thick that is both impregnable and all-consuming. A swampy palette is sliced intermittently by shrill screams and vicious gurgles from noise-mongering guitarist/vocalist Lorenzo de Stefano, the exact nature of his vitriol obscured by contorted gargles to such an extent that whether his vocal barrage is delivered in Italian or English is a matter of ambiguity.

Sabbath-inspired riffs are dispensed with the venomous scourge of Toni Iommi. This is, if the hero of heavy metal had stubbed his toe immediately prior to recording the take and vehemently attacked his six-strings with a uniform derision. Hellish power chords are enlightened with discordant open-note stabs whilst some riffs remain employed for several minutes at a time, grinding down the listener with a pummelling monotony. Such monotony is amplified by the languorous pace at which the lumbering riff-machine advances, rarely diverting from a stoic plod that seems to sit at the perfect BPM to enact the ritual of supremely stoned head-banging.

The album’s namesake, ‘Hén’, indicates The One: the divining principle that rules over the entirety of reality. It is what Becoming implies. Although it is dubious whether any divine affinity can be extracted from Hén, the album itself practically forces listeners to stare directly into the abyss, inducing a state of existential uncertainty through its endlessly repeating sludge from which the only salvation can be found in the self. Hén is a record with enough outward malevolence to constitute a satisfactory casual listening experience. However, it is only when you fully immerse yourself in the pulverising scuzz that the record provokes a reaction that transcends the usual rhythmic bodily twitches into notions that offer insight into the nature of one’s true self.

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3 out of 5 high fives!

Review: Red Seas Fire – Confrontation [EP]

Red Seas Fire - Confrontation reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - West Midlands metal, alternative and hardcore zine

There’s a little bit of a gap in the UK metal scene at the moment. Tech-metal is constantly on the rise and fall, metalcore maintains a consistent presence and otherwise, it’s a bunch of bands who’ve been around for years and years. Of course, there’s your radio-friendly Bring Me The Horizon-esque sound too, but very rarely is there anything that blends all of this together to create something that’s diverse enough and heavy enough to please a number of different camps – well, now that Chronographs have gone all alt-rock, that is. Red Seas Fire have risen forth as a true contender, and Confrontation is an exciting, progressive and thrilling record.

‘Tyrants’ begins slowly, with haunting, echoing melodies, before leading into a powerful, atmospheric verse laden with ambient synths. The rough vocals are just on the right side of unrefined, yet still maintain a great degree of control. The switch to clean for the chorus is so unexpected, and Robin Adams sounds like a young Chester Bennington – you know, before Linkin Park got horrifically boring. The abrupt segue into ‘The Gold Room’ feels visceral, with a few hints of ‘core influence rearing their heads alongside the complex riffs. Each song is so tightly constructed, with perfect structure and a formidable rhythm section – highly impressive for such a young band. The touches of electronics throughout the record are just perfect, and the production levels are incredibly high while still maintaining a raw and instinctual feel. ‘The Grand Escape’ provides an ideal centrepiece to the EP, with a heavier reliance on synths than previous tracks, before the record finishes on the completely clean ‘Compass’. Remaining clean the whole way through lends a power to the track that it might otherwise lack, and it’s the perfect way to end the EP, as heavy bass contrasts amazingly with really sweet incidental guitar.

Red Seas Fire are absolutely ones to watch this year. Confrontation is part of a much wider vision, and will be combined with predecessor Exposition and forthcoming EP Resolution to create a complete full-length. Now available for free on Red Seas Fire’s website, Confrontation deserves your full and rapturous attention.

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4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Review: A Werewolf! – Because Why Not?

A Werewolf - Because Why Not reviewed on TwoBeatsOff.co.uk - Worcestershire punk, rock and alternative zine

Because Why Not? is a very apt name for the debut EP from Worcestershire mathrock duo A Werewolf! The entire record is a whistle-stop tour through genres and musical styles to complicated rhythms with crazy, crazy film quotes thrown in. I’d like to say that if you’ve got a record in front of you with a song called ‘Chop Yourself Off at the Knees and Pretend You’re Tom Cruise’, you kind of know what you’re getting into but with Because Why Not?, you totally don’t. And that is not a bad thing at all.

The record starts off intense. ‘Hellbent on Duck Slaughter’ is the mathiest track of them all, and if you’re not into crazy riffs bordering on the wrong side of jazz, then this will probably put you off for life. However, listen closely and you’ll find that there’s an incredibly full sound coming from these guys, despite the fact that they’re a duo. It’s all completely instrumental, and in most cases, this works. In tracks like ‘Come At Me Bro’, which are less complex, vocals are missed somewhat, but that punk edge instils a great sense of fun anyway.

Where A Werewolf! truly shine though is in their more post-rock sounding tunes – ‘Psycho Scientist vs Super Massive Giant Swan’ and ‘Sanka Ya Dead?’ both feature jangly guitars and incredibly tight drums with a more laidback feel than the rest of the record – slowing down slightly truly enables their talent to shine through. However, they’re still highly exciting when they’re playing more frenetic stuff – ‘I Have To Return Some Videotapes’ effortlessly mixes funk and metal with those complex time signatures with awe-inspiring effect. It’s probably not the kind of stuff you’d just stick on in the background, and nor should it be – Because Why Not? deserves to be dissected and digested and to be appreciated fully.

Because Why Not? is ambitious and it’s completely mental, but most of all, it’s great fun. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re willing to try something a little different, you’ll have struck gold with A Werewolf!

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4 out of 5 high fives!

  • Missing Alkaline Trio tonight :( but excited for Brody Dalle on Saturday!,
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  • RT : Hello Kitty is quite possibly the best thing since Call Me Maybe ,
  • Like first-wave emo? You'd probably be into Manuals - ,