All Harm Ends Here
Bloomington, Indiana's Early Day Miners are intrigued, if not obsessed, by the darker hues of the indie rock spectrum. Nevertheless, they succeed at being dramatic without becoming melodramatic. Nowhere is this more apparent than on All Harm Ends Here, an album that follows the nine-year-old band's already established pattern of layering seas of guitars and singer/frontman Dan Burton's rich, dark vocal harmonies. All Harm Ends Here is a reminder of a bygone era of indie rock — specifically, the early and mid-90s, when bands like Slint and Codeine were being ignored by virtually everyone outside of their tiny (yet devoted) fan bases. And, like those seminal groups, Early Day Miners prefer a slow-and-steady approach to making music, often building songs from one sustained chord or repetitive beat. Burton's lyrics carry with them an attitude of both indifference and self-importance, highlighted by little gems of insight. Snippets of pre-chorus countermelodies sound as if they came from inspired notes jotted down on the way to pick up a prescription for Thorazine. But during its brightest moments, it offers textbook examples of how music so thoroughly understated can be so captivating as well.
Track to burn: "Comfort/Guilt"
Okay, lemme see if I have this straight — a two-piece, male-female, guitar-drum-and-vocals-only act riffing off old blues lines in a garage-punk fashion, singing about love-gone-to-shit and raising questions about the nature of their off-stage relationship? Only one question remains: What color are the matching costumes?
To be fair, The Kills don't employ the red-and-white barber pole shtick of that other male-female, drum-and-guitar, swamp-biues-peddling couple, The White Stripes, and with their sparse programmed drum beats their songs are, if anything, meaner, dirtier, and swampier than anything in Jack White's arsenal. But because sometimes timing is everything, The Kills must de facto overcome notions of acolytism and trendiness — at least until they make us forget all about Jack and Meg, and No Wow takes a step in that direction.
The Kills (Florida's Alison "VV" Mosshart and Britain's Jamie "Hotel" Hince) have developed a solid reputation as a, well, killer live act, built primarily on Mosshart's prowling stage presence and frank, PJ Harvey-like sexuality, along with Hince's distorted guitar attack.
That sultriness permeates No Wow — the repetitive, pumping backbeat; thick, pulsating guitar riffs; Mosshart's growling snarl and Hince's accompanying whisper — throughout its 11-song, 40-minute duration. The title track spotlights the duo's raw aesthetic and sound in a powerful five-minute crescendo; "I Hate the Way You Love," (parts I & II) shows the band at two varied tempos; and the X-like country-noir number "Rodeo Town" gives the record another welcome dimension.
No Wow isn't without faults; which grows wearier sooner — Meg White's rudimentary off-the-beat drum-banging or The Kills' programmed drumbeats — depends solely on your tolerance level for either. But by the end of the final track, "Ticket Man," with Mosshart intoning the refrain in ever-increasing urgency — "Here's the ticket, what's the problem?/Too many tickets is the problem, ma'am/Here's the ticket, what's the problem?/Too many problems is the ticket, ma'am" — you may just feel the urge to light up and share in the afterglow.
Track to burn: "MurderMile"
Angel of Retribution
Rob Halford's back, and it's almost as if all that hey-let's-get-that-kid-from-the-tribute-band-to-sing-for-us unpleasantness never happened. Stylistically, Angel of Retribution would've served nicely as the transition from Ram It Down to the more extreme-metal sounds of the last Halford-fronted effort, 1990's Painkiller. Drummer Scott Travis' double-bass mastery is in full effect, and overall, Angel of Retribution strikes a comfortable balance between "classic Priest" and later hit-and-miss attempts by the band to update its identity.
There's less scrambling for a new sound here. The group seems at peace with itself, though its trademarked simple, driving verse riffs often assume a more postmodern vibe; the foundations of tunes like "Judas Rising," "Revolution," "Demonizer" and "Hellrider" come off like interesting hybrids of "Breaking The Law" and a less mechanized Ministry.
There are at least two new classics in attendance ("Deal with the Devil" and the elaborately brooding "Worth Fighting For"). Halford's voice hasn't aged a day, and Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing remain one of metal's most talented — and underappreciated — dual-guitar teams.
Track to burn: "Retribution"