This month we continue to look at various musicians who contacted me after the publication of last month's article. Again there is certain diversity to the musicians on show. We'll be concerned with the topic of diversity this time round, establishing whether certain bands are too uniform regarding their sound.Firstly we can turn our attention to Shrapnel who, from name to image, represents thrash metal and any adaptations thereof in this month's article. The band has undoubtedly got the image part of the job spot on. Long hair, brooding looks, and morose artwork are all in evidence, but what about the music? Shrapnel undoubtedly has one exemplary track, that being Warhead which features a couple of apt wailing guitar solos without being overtly flashy. I do feel that aside from this Shrapnel's songs could do with some work, particularly insofar as the songs don't really all come across with the same intensity as Warhead. That is not to detract from the fact that what is on show is some reasonably good quality thrash metal, but for a band that hails from Norwich, England, the band is perhaps overly reliant on the Big Four of Thrash Metal. Shrapnel leaves the listener begging the question as to why an English band is revelling in such obvious American influence. Listening to Shrapnel without prior reading, it is nigh impossible to tell from which country the band members come. This might not be a criticism as such, but just an observation that there is a worrying tendency to stick to archetypal structures in modern music.For those of you who are fans of rock/metal genre, turn your attention to Sweden's Wasteland Skills. Wasteland Skills' Fire Under My Feet can perhaps be compared to a more musically inclined Gallows song. This is a group of guys who have booked their studio time and used it wisely. Everything sounds very polished, but maybe too polished in places. That said their songs reminds me of Metallica's Death Magnetic in the sense that it doesn't seem to include much dynamic variation. Everything seems to have been recorded at similar volume, regardless as to whether it's a chorus that could do with a volume boost, or a verse that would benefit from a gradual building up of suspense. The songs are there, but I just feel more time should be taken to ensure that they are being conveyed appropriately. The situation improves a little in the introduction of My Own Application, and perhaps that can serve as building block to improved usage of an effect as simple as volume control. Aside from these qualms, it can't be denied that there is a consistency to these tracks to which other bands that have featured in this column cannot lay claim. I would like to hear a few more lead guitar parts, and Wasteland Skills would also benefit from having more tracks like A Thousand Needles within which there is more intensity and screaming with regards to the vocals. I just feel that it suits the style of music more than the more melodic singing, and the melodic backing vocals do a great job of complemented the screams. Wasteland Skills sometimes sounds like someone is bludgeoning through one's eardrums, but a few subtle quirks and guitar licks could help to add to this brute power. Listen to these Swedes; they know what they're doing, but need time to develop and nurture their brand of metalcore.I know all about Livingston in West Lothian, Scotland, so I'm more than pleased to feature another artist who plies his trade there. Michael O'Neil is a solo artist of the acoustic/folk genre who has written and recorded some really quirky songs, but don't get me wrong: there are some serious songs on show, and although they might not be polished, they have certain aesthetic appeal. Do You Get What You Want commenced, and I was immediately struck that it pointed to disaster. I feared that a pseudo-Southern United States accent would be presented to me. Fortunately I O'Neil proved me wrong. A Scottish accent of reasonable strength met my ears, and tickles me to this moment. Other highlights of O'Neil's repertoire include The Legend of Jimmy Gamble. O'Nei tells a fast-paced campfire story throughout, and I urge you to listen to how someone can take influences from one culture, throw in some Queens of the Stone Age eccentricity and still have enough of one's own personality and background to spare. That is what you can learn from Michael O'Neil. Just listen to the breakdown in The Observer, which, by the way is not a political tirade about the newspaper!Attack Memphis is an experimental/progressive metal band whose members go for the controversial by denouncing the metal breakdown in their biography. The band name alludes to what the members call the take-over of Memphis by the most ignorant, selfish, and treacherous people'. I suppose this might be a little bit of pseudo philosophy, but it suits the band's intensity and vocalist Steve's vehement scream. Alas, if you would like to read a fuller story behind the band's name, have a look at the band's myspace blog. Fortunately the origins of Attack Memphis's name are not the most exciting thing about this band. Take, for instance, the band's logo/artwork. It really does look perfect for merchandise, and palpably suits the band's overall theme. It looks like someone has put a lot of effort into its design, and I would happily wear a t-shirt with such a design. Cosmetics aside, what is the music like? Fortunately, Attack Memphis is not only experimental by self-description. This is some really good quality stuff with an electronic edge. With Every Intention Our Dreams Are... is practically a pop song in the intro, with its intensely memorable harmonies; ignoring Steve's harsh vocals, one finds musical talent and worth in this in spite of the somewhat less than perfect recording quality. This isn't a dig at Steve's vocals, which are excellently delivered, as he switches from harsher screams to yelled never-failing tirades; rather, it is the acknowledgement that Attack Memphis doesn't use Steve's screams as a concealer or foundation with which to disguise poor musicianship. With a dual guitar section, this opens up many possibilities to Attack Memphis with Derrick and Jake both contributing to Attack Memphis's harmonized-stereo sound. This is a positive because as opposed to the production being somewhat hollow and echoed, Attack Memphis's songs are bursting with character, atmosphere and resolve. These musicians glide with ease from smooth, more cultured moments to less cultured brutality in songs such as I Am the Culri. There are many aspects to Attack Memphis, and I feel that they haven't quite yet finished pushing their own boundaries. This might not be as refined as Wasteland Skills, but surely Attack Memphis has got something interesting on show.
I hope you have enjoyed this edition of the column. Do get in touch with me even to discuss the column, but primarily if you want to put forward your band (or someone else's) for inclusion in a future article. Remember that professionalism and organization are both vital to your inclusion in this column, particularly in having prepared a selection/variety of songs to which I can listen. If you have emailed me and I haven't replied, email me again! Persistence and tenacity are definitely required in any band. Sending a few emails is a great help to me. Send me news updates and future plans too. Until next time...
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- Samuel Agini