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It’s incredibly hard to stand out in today’s crowded rock scene, and there’s a lot of decent bands that get lost in the shuffle of a big release or two rappers warring with each other on the charts. Still, for those willing to take a chance on something else, but not completely different or unique, there’s plenty of acts roaming around your record store itching for you to purchase and give them a spin. Another Animal is precisely that band.

Forming another one of rock’s “supergroups,”; Another Animal (comprised of members from Godsmack and Ex-Ugly Kid Joe vocalist Whitfield Crane, storms on to the scene in their debut hosting a varied set of musical styles that keeps the album fresh throughout, but lacks some of the consistency you would expect. This can be attributed, mainly, to four of the five band members being credited as vocalists throughout the disc’s 44 minute runtime.

Each track has a distinct sound. From the very beginning with “Find A Way“; and its traditional Indian chanting leading into a soft guitar before the drums explode on to the scene and the frantic finger-work begins on the lead guitars you know this is going to be something different. From there the first half of the disc produces tracks which have a unique flavor by the band, but play the “sounds like”; game.

Find A Way,”; after it gets going, has a sound akin to Stone Temple Pilots, both lyrically and musically. “Broken Again“; takes on a tone attributed to Seether, sound similar to The Punisher single “Broken“; featuring Amy Lee by the aforementioned band. As the disc progresses, and the Ozzy like “Amends“; leads into the needless instrumental “Interlude“; the disc finally seems to take on a tone of its own. Maybe it is at that point when the listener forgets the preconceived notions of the band sounding exactly like Godsmack.

The album stays particularly on the hard side of rock, but takes a few tracks to show a lighter side. “Before the Fall“; features an easy flowing chorus and the aforementioned “Interlude“; breaks up the seemingly harder stuff from the softer stuff towards the end.

Another Animal’s members set out to define themselves differently than how they were defined in Godsmack, and for the most part they’ve succeeded. The distinct sound of Sully Erna’s voice is noticeably absent but made up for by the unique vocal achievements of other members of the band. Some parts of the disc will come off as sounding a bit too run of the mill at times, but the music is solid, there’s hard drums, and plenty of thrashing guitar work throughout to keep rockers rocking. This is a solid debut from the band, and while it may not be the most unique outing in years, it certainly gets the job done.

Whether your liked Creed or not is beside the point when looking at the former-side-project-turned-major-act AlterBridge. Sure the band is 75% former members of the Wind-Up based faithful rock group (Mark Tremonti, Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips) but the binding ways of Scott Stapp’s vocals yield to former Mayfield Four frontman Myles Kennedy creating one of the ever popular “supergroups.”; Yet, AlterBridge isn’t it merely for the name, they’re in it for the art, and the band’s second release successfully keeps the sophomore slump at bay while crafting a fine, hard rock album worthy of your purchase.

Alter Bridge’s 2004 debut, One Day Remains, played it a little too safe to with a generic, almost Creed-like sound that didn’t do anything overly ambitions, but didn’t stick around in fans minds too long after the singles disappeared from the radio. The disc did achieve gold status, but was no where near the multi-platinum success Creed was able to produce. Its hard to talk about the band without mentioning their former work, but with Blackbird, the four-some really makes a name for themselves journeying farther and farther into the mainstream (with musical spots in CSI: Miami promos) while still preserving that garage band mentality of personally written songs with a hard, non-conforming edge.

Blackbirds’ lead single “Rise Today,”; released way back in July, really solidifies the sound the band was aiming for with this newest release. All 13 tracks produce a hard edge, with infectious guitars and Kennedy’s recognizable, yet soothing voice backed by great writing. The biggest different between Remains and Blackbird is the inclusion of Kennedy in the songwriting process, which successfully breaks the mold formed by member’s former band and gives a more unique and distinctive sound.

Guitarist Mark Tremonti was quoted as saying: “It’s a natural evolution after three years of working together. We knew Myles was an amazing singer, that’s why we hired him. What we found out when we toured the first record was that he’s also an incredibly gifted guitar player and songwriter, as well as a vocalist. It would have been a crime not to utilize all that talent. We wanted to use every weapon we had in our arsenal for this album”; (Source: Wikipedia). The evidence is clearly displayed throughout the album as the continuous flow from track to track creates a cohesive, engaging experience.

AlterBridge has successfully escaped the shadow of Creed by producing a record that both stands on its own and above the work of the Stapp fronted quartet. The album starts off hard and never lets up through its near hour runtime with the meat lying in the middle, rather than being front loaded. Fans of the band should be relieved to find out that the sound is still there, but behind that is a commendable effort to stand out as one of hard rock’s leading bands taking more chances and reaping the benefits. Even the radio-ready lead single strives to break the mold and makes Blackbird a must purchase for any hard rock fans this holiday season.

onesidezero’s self titled release doesn’t come out and hit you over the head with a radio burning single or watered down, pop-influenced track to goad you into a purchase, instead its 49 minutes, and 13 tracks of solid music that boasts an impressive variety in each song’s sound while all seemingly flowing together into a cohesive package.

Being produced by Ulrich Wild, who has done some great work with heavy acts like Pantera and Static-X as well as more melodic bands like Taproot certainly shows an influence in onesidezero’s work as the album progresses. There’s times vocalist Jasan Radford pulls off an uncanny impersonation of 30 Seconds to Mars’ Jared Leto while brooding through some of the album’s slower tracks, and the faster, heavier, more metal tracks scream of a band like Static-X.

The aforementioned writing is dark throughout the album, with emotions running high, its impressive to see the band not catering to what necessarily gets played on the radio, but making music for themselves, and still managing to change things up from track to track giving the listening something different. The album itself takes a few runs through to really click with the listener though. The first time through I wasn’t necessarily impressed with the sound, as it seemed like just about everything out there from a certain standpoint, but after really listening to it, your perspective changes, and you hear that this isn’t like any other generic rock outing from four guys with instruments, it’s a finely crafted piece of work.

There’s a movement of bands to shy away from what made them famous to try new things, and entice new fans in a radio-ready environment, and then there are bands like onesidezero who failed to compromise in the beginning, and through all the trials, breakups, and raw emotion that has been the band’s life, they’ve crafted a fine album that reads like a good book. You don’t pick up everything until the second or third time through, but when you do, everything seems to click and you wonder why they aren’t more popular, burning up that radio dial as true musicians should be.

TRAPT’s third major label release, TRAPT Live!, is pretty much the standard live album fare with a collection of live tracks from the band’s two Warner Bros. releases including the successful singles “Headstrong”; and “Stillframe”;, but the real draw is the band’s first new studio single in nearly two years, “Stay Alive”;.

The band’s self titled release was seen by some, including myself, as a capitalization on the post-grunge sound made famous at the end of the 1990’s and early into this millennium, it didn’t really offer anything new, or bring anything substantially better to the table, but it went along at its own pace. Vocalist Chris Brown was keen to yell at us in “Headstrong”; but the band was also able to capture audiences with the infectious sound of “Stillframe”; (still this reviewer’s personal favorite track from the band). A maturing of the band could be seen in their second release, Someone in Control, but its here, with “Stay Alive”; that the band really begins to hit its stride and break out of the sophomore curse.

Proving that they aren’t a one hit wonder, TRAPT’s latest singles, previously only available on the band’s MySpace page, certainly cements them back into the rock scene with hard hitting guitars and Brown’s unmistakable voice in a state between outright yelling and his indoor voice.

The CD, however, is a pretty generic recording of only nine live tracks, which seems on the short side of things where other live albums, like Reel Big Fish’s Our Live Album is Better than Your Live Album continue on for nearly 30. Looking at the track times, the Live performance isn’t any more than a 40 minute set. Granted TRAPT doesn’t have the back catalog that bands like RBF have, but with two studio albums, and two indie albums before they were signed, I think fans might be expecting a bit more from the quartet.

In some respects the disc may be just a filler to put the new singles out there for the mainstream and hold everyone over until the release of the band’s upcoming studio album due to street in March 2008.

There’s no doubt that underground hip-hop artist Talib Kweli’s debut on a major label is a step in the right direction for the rapper who holds his roots as important as his tenuous relationship with religion, but his latest release, Ear Drum, works against him in many ways and the strive for commercial success while being true to his origins.

Kweli’s ability to hold a steady flow, and his lyrical pairings and masterful rhyming aren’t the biggest problems with this disc, those are the somewhat generic and cliché pitfalls that only seem to hinder the everlasting stagnation of the genre. From name dropping himself and his record label, to general verses about big breasted women and how much God has provided for him. Kweli’s strengths are overshadowed by his inability to bring anything dramatically new to the table.

Never mind some truly bizarre lyrics ranging from silicon posteriors on women to the nutrition quotient of the words he’s spitting at you in a blinding pace, the album presents his best work in the first half dozen tracks and doesn’t pick up anything interesting deep into the disc at track 13 with “Hot Thing”; featuring Black Eyed Peas which is also the most single ready thing on the disc.

The collaborations are inspired and range from the aforementioned to Justin Timberlake, Norah Jones, and Kanye West which brings that bit of marketability and consumer attention to the album only needed that hit single with a well known mainstream artist to propel the album up the charts.

Underground fans of Kweli will no doubt find what they are looking for in Ear Drum, but for casual and indifferent fans weaned into the genre on a steady supply of 50 Cent and Ludicrous, they wont’ be able to find much here that hasn’t already been done. Those hoping Kweli’s label debut would yield a rap revolution receive nothing more than a minor uprising out of the watchful gaze of the public.

Nikki Sixx has lived the life of excess throughout the years, but now his take on sobriety has yielded a highly anticipated book and a soundtrack to accompany it, and wouldn’t you know it, The Heroin Diaries actually turns out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year.

As one of the founding members of Mötley Crüe, Sixx knows how to rock, and his evolution and talent as a songwriter are more evident than ever with his new band Sixx: A.M. It may be the source material that Sixx is pulling from, but the way the album is structured and its searing tinge of regret and hindsight really pull the listener into the depraved world of drug addiction and its self loathing inhabitants.

The album is a mix of rock styles ranging from slow, brooding retrospective to the fast-paced, almost pop. The album’s first single “Life is Beautiful“; actually sounds more akin to 30 Seconds to Mars while Sixx is never able to reach the same screaming pitch as Mars’ front man Jared Leto, the sound alike quality is definitely there. The mix of genres throughout the album all exhibit the transgression of Sixx into the hole of addiction focusing on the neglect of God to save him, the abandonment of those he cared about, and the questioning of why he got high in the first place.

The one thing that distracts is the spoken word tracks leading off, finishing, and transitioning in the middle of the disc. Sixx’s voice over a soft melody in the background seems to be reading directly from the diaries mentioned in the album’s title, but it really breaks up the flow of the album (especially the intermission) and doesn’t really seem to add anything.

It’s hard to call Sixx: A.M. a debut when the members of the band have been around for a long time, but their collaborative effort coupled with the material from Sixx’s Heroin Diaries proves to be an interesting and intriguing combination. The song writing is a long ways away from Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls“; but the tracks here hit a much deeper cord and still manage to be marketable and relevant for anyone recovering from such an addiction. Reading the diaries while listening to the albums should prove to be a horrifying, yet enlightening experience. 

The story of Drowning Pool is ripe for an episode of Behind the Music, the band broke on to the scene with the unforgettable single “Bodies“; which was used in movie trailers, sporting events, etc. to much acclaim. The album which the sing was released, Sinner, went Platinum and made it as high as number 14 on the charts. After the untimely death of lead singer Dave Williams, most bands would have called it quits.

Drowning Pool bounced back though, with former tattoo artist Jason Jones taking over lead vocals on Desensitized only to leave the band due to creative differences. Finally former SOiL Ryan McCombs joined the band on this latest release, Full Circle, and while the band’s newfound activism for men and women in the armed forces is admirable, it’s overshadowed by the decidedly generic and tame nature of this release.

It isn’t to stay that Full Circle is a bad album; it could be the changing nature of the band due to so many personnel changes that they haven’t really been able to find a rhythm, but Full Circle comes off mostly as a late-90’s early 2000’s mainstream rock album with a handful of throw away songs, a few radio ready singles, and the obligatory cover thrown into the mix, and nothing that really sets it apart from the rest in a crowded genre.

Even the aforementioned activism inspired single “Soldiers“; comes off rather tame, it never really picks up the energy you would expect, like the piercing screams of “Bodies“; or the flow of “Step Up“; managed to do, instead it just steams along until it ends, complete with the almost cliché stock sound effects of battle in the background. Drowning Pool has really stepped up the push for veterans affairs and USO support, so it’s a real shame that the single just isn’t better to bring the awareness level up even more.

The rest of the songs are easy to listen to, but just as easy to forget when the disc stops spinning. Even after a lengthy review period with the album, there’s not much here you’ll be adding to playlists, mix CDs, or the like.

The only really stand out track on the album is the cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell“; which is the only time in the discs 50 minute running time that you feel as pumped up as you should from a hard rock act.

It’s to be expected that the band would live and breath differently than it did when the “Bodies“; hit the floor in 2001, but a lot has changed in music, and while change can be a doubled edged sword (see: Linkin Park), some level of re-inventing must be done to have you stand out in a crowd. Unfortunately, Drowning Pool doesn’t bring this reinvention to the table with Full Circle, but one can only hope the band will grow with a stable lead singer and a follow up release will show that maturing nature of the band and its music.

Maybe if the climate in the music industry was different LinkinPark’s departure from their tried and true rap-rock sound would come through better. Maybe if fans were more akin to such a drastic change in style, and an almost abandonment of what made them great in the beginning Minutes to Midnight would be welcomed with open arms by the legions of fans who made Hybrid Theory one of the biggest albums of the last 10 years. Instead LinkinPark’s ballad-laden, political outcry is neither welcome nor accepted and this eagerly awaited album falls upon disappointed ears.

There’s such a change from Hybrid Theory and its continuation into Meteora that the sound we’d come to universally charge to LinkinPark is gone. Left by the wayside is back-up vocalist and lead rapper Mike Shinoda who is negated to two tracks on the new disc, each really lacking the punch you’d come to expect from such an explosive rock group.

Truth be told, Midnight is a slow trotting, ballad-riddled mess with no consistency between tracks, no flow. As you break out of the high-intensity “Given Up“; you go back and forth between Shinoda rapping, the pre-packed single “What I’ve Done“; and lead vocalist Chester Bennington’s screeching emo-ballads as the album gets stuck in second gear, barely able to make it up to any speed you’d attribute to Linkin Park, like an engine half rebuilt which runs, just not firing as hard, or as intense as you’d like.

Its seems ironic now that the critical plague cast upon Meteora was the fact that it sounded too much like Theory only to have the different sound of Midnight and the longing for more of the same be the ultimate undoing of this new outing. There’s so much the fans want to see in this new album only to be thoroughly disappointed by what feels like an entry waiting to get going and ends before it really can. Even true fans of the band will see the faults in this new release, and one can only hope that LinkinPark’s inevitable follow-up will return them to their tried-and-true roots and leave the sorrow behind.

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